Birding Festival: Tour Leaders

17th Annual


May 15 - May 19, 2024

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Tour Leader Bios

    Aimee Way has spent the last 20 years conducting environmental work in Colorado, the last 17 years in the Four Corners Area. She is currently an Environmental Specialist with CDOT, and tries to escape from her computer whenever she can to be outside! Her bird experience ranges across all of Colorado’s habitats, from high mountains to western deserts. Her “spark” bird was the Chestnut-sided warbler at the age of 14 growing up in rural Connecticut, but she is most comfortable birding at home in Colorado with the diversity of birds the state offers. Aimee has led several tours for the festival in the past and is returning after a hiatus.
    Amanda B. White studied ornithology under Ernie Szuch at the University of Michigan in 2009, and has been hooked on birding ever since. She obtained her Doctorate of Physical Therapy, but she has been voraciously learning as much as possible about the natural world in her free time. She currently is completing the CSU Master Gardener s program, and enjoys identifying plants and birds. Amanda appreciates the Four Corners area for its incredible diversity of microhabitats, and loves high alpine birding. She has been birding the Four Corners Region since 2015, has a La Plata list of over 200 species, is co-Vice-President of the Durango Bird Club, and looks forward to sharing the Boggy Draw area with those on her trip.
    Carolyn Gunn is a retired small animal veterinarian and also served as the Aquatic Veterinarian for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She has participated professionally and as a citizen scientist in Black Swift research since 2000.
    Catherine Ortega, Ph.D. received a B.A. degree in 1987 and a Ph.D. in 1991, both from the Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As a faculty member at Fort Lewis College from 1997-2009, she taught numerous courses, including, but not limited to, ornithology, wildlife management, and wetland and stream ecology. Dr. Ortega is currently a consultant and writer and has contributed her expertise and energy, in volunteer capacities, to many agencies, organizations, and tribes. She has over 100 publications and is committed to reaching both scientific and general audiences. Currently a consultant, she can be reached at
    As a coauthor of “Birds of Western Colorado Plateau and Mesa Country” (2004), Coen Dexter knows his birds. Coen and his wife Brenda Wright have seen and recorded more of the birds in this area than just about anyone, being long-time teachers and residents of the Colorado Plateau. They have also birded most of North America and in more than 30 foreign countries.
    Dave Ross is a wildlife biologist who has spent more than 20 years building partnerships towards restoring habitat of all kinds with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Dept. of the Interior. He loves Lewis’ Woodpeckers, warblers, canyon wrens, etc., etc, as well as amphibians and native plant communities.
    David P. Faulkner has a BS from BYU in botany with an emphasis in ecology and natural resources. He did Master’s work in Range Ecology from Oregon State University and research in applying remote sensing to natural resources. Most of his career has been as a natural resource consultant to such diverse organizations as NASA, EPA, United Nations FAO, BLM and USFS, BIA, Lakota Sioux, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo tribes and several energy companies and private landowners. He has lived in the Cortez area for 40 years and has served with several community organizations including county planning board and the Friends of Hawkins Board. He has also taught classes in CSU Extension Service. He has conducted several threatened and endangered plant studies and range ecology surveys in the Four Corners area. Since retiring as a Natural Resource Biologist, he is pleased to be able to devote more time to birds and their habitats.
    Diane Cherbak has a background in food science and engineering, but has been birdwatching for more than 20 years. Her passion grew after moving to Mancos in 2010 and joining the Birding Festival planning committee. She has been chairman of the planning committee since 2012. She has been involved with Cornell’s Project FeederWatch as a citizen scientist for more than ten years. She became part of the NestWatch network in 2016 and monitors nine nest boxes on her property during breeding season. She has had Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Violet-green Swallows and Mountain Chickadees use the boxes.
    Don Marsh has a degree in Wildlife Management, but spent most of his working career in Information Technology in California. Don is on the board of the Black Canyon Audubon Society where he is also the Field Trip chair, and on the board of Western Field Ornithologists. In addition to those activities, he stays busy leading birding field trips, conducting breeding bird surveys and volunteering at Ridgway State Park. He is an eBird reviewer for five western Colorado counties and one California county. He enjoys the fact that there is always more to learn about our avian neighbors. His birding highlight for Colorado (so far) is finding the first state record for Varied Bunting.
    Emilee and Steve Tarnowski are local birders in Montezuma County who like to bird all throughout the Four Corners area. Emilee has a graduate degree in Biology and has been a park ranger at Grand Teton and Grand Canyon National Parks, as well as Aztec Ruins National Monument. Stephen is an attorney who shares Emilee’s passion for the natural world, particularly birds.
    Eric Moore is the owner of The Lookout and Arizona Field Optics located in beautiful Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid bird watcher for over 50 years and enjoys teaching classes on bird identification, leading bird walks to help individuals create a connection to nature and equipping individuals with birding gear including quality optics and field guides. Birding is more than a hobby, it is a passion, perhaps even an obsession!
    Erik Hendrickson is a retired National Park Service engineer, and is pleased to call Cortez and Montezuma County his home. His Park Service assignments included Crater Lake, Gateway (in New York and New Jersey), Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone and Denali. He has birded from Unalaska to the Everglades, from the Rachel Carson NWR in Maine to San Diego. He enjoys searching for Black Swift at waterfalls in southwest Colorado and for Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the southeast United States.
    Jim Beatty is an active eBirder in SW Colorado and has served as the sub-regional editor for southwest Colorado for “North American Birds” published by the American Birding Association, and for “Colorado Birds” published by the Colorado Field Ornithologists, for their News from the Field articles. Jim has traveled throughout the US and Canada, including three trips to remote Alaska. His ABA area life-list is over 700 species. He retired to Durango in 1998 from Cincinnati and now concentrates most of his birding in SW Colorado. Jim is past President of the Colorado Field Ornithologists.
    John Bregar retired, worked as a geologist and geophysicist in oil and gas exploration for 32 years. In autumn of 2006, he and his wife Dorothy moved from Calgary, Alberta to Durango, CO, where he enjoys leading wildflower trips, birding trips, and hiking and mountain-climbing trips. John is a past Chairman of the Southwest Chapter of the Colorado Native Plant Society and a past Chairman of the now defunct Southwest Chapter of the Colorado Mountain Club. He currently organizes field trips for the SW Chapter of CONPS and for the Durango Bird Club.

    Joseph C. Ortega, Ph.D. earned a B.A. degree in 1980 from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Ph.D. in 1988, from the Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He then spent two years at the University of California, Santa Barbara, funded by a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, where he studied dialects in the flight whistle of male Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) and their recognition by different populations of cowbirds. He then returned to the University of Colorado, where he completed a one-year Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship examining the interactions between Brown-headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus).

    He is currently a Professor of Biology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where he has taught since August 1991. Among other avian interests, his research has examined the demography and reproductive biology of birds, as these can be related to avian conservation and management, and as related to both natural and anthropogenic disturbances including presence of exotic plants (along riparian corridors), grazing regimes, fire, and habitat variation. He has taught a wide variety of various lower division courses and also including upper division courses in ornithology, mammalogy, ecology, senior seminar, and senior thesis. He has over 30 publications in peer-reviewed journals and especially enjoys sharing information about birds, mammals, other wildlife, and ecology with general and scientific audiences. His professional email address is

    Kristina Kline, a Colorado native, received her B.S. in Environmental Biology from Fort Lewis College in 2010. Shortly after, she worked as a biologist for a private company conducting avian surveys and threatened and endangered species surveys in SW Colorado. Along the way, she assisted with the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas II, volunteered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) working on black bear-human conflicts and became a naturalist, leading students on nature hikes. Kristina finished her M.S. in Wildlife Ecology at Oregon State University in 2016 and for the next 6 years worked as a private lands wildlife biologist for Bird Conservancy of the Rockies where she partnered with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, CPW and landowners to design and implement wildlife habitat restoration projects. Kristina is now a lead biologist for SWCA Environmental Consultants working to ensure threatened and endangered species, bald and golden eagles, and their habitats are not impacted by renewable energy projects in the four corners region.
    Melissa May is an enthusiastic birder who has been living and birding in the Four Corners region for 11 years. She has an MS in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from Penn State, where she ironically did not take a single ornithology class despite it being her main passion. As Executive Director for the Mountain Studies Institute, she has the pleasure of promoting environmental research, restoration, and citizen science in the San Juan Mountains, and is excited for this opportunity to connect more people with the beautiful habitats and birds of southwest Colorado.
    Melissa Schreiner works as an entomologist for Colorado State University Extension, focusing in the Tri-River Area of Colorado. She obtained advanced skills in vegetable production, horticultural entomology, insect and spider identification, and scientific illustration. Her extension and research program helps to solve agricultural, urban, public health, and natural resource issues relating to pest management and entomology in western Colorado.
    Mike Thompson is an eBird reviewer for SW Colorado and has an active, passionate interest in local birds and population trends. With roots as a 6th generation Coloradoan and having lived in McElmo Canyon for the last 20 years, the ability to make local, meaningful contributions to avian science through platforms like eBird has developed into an obsession. Learning from birds provides essential balance to his life and career as a Professional Geologist which is focused on mineral development, environmental compliance, and mine reclamation projects throughout North America. When not eBirding SW Colorado or working, expect him to be exploring far reaches of Grand Canyon or Alaska.
    Paul Morey has worked in the natural resources field for 30 years researching and managing a wide array of animals including songbirds, raptors, coyotes, and wolves. He is currently the Chief of Natural Resources at Mesa Verde National Park where he oversees the wildlife, vegetation, and physical sciences program.

    Ryan Votta, originally from northwest New Jersey, became fascinated by birds at a very young age. On his seventh birthday he received his first pair of binoculars and his first bird book, Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds. After this, he was hooked and has been passionate about birds ever since! Career wise, Ryan started with New Jersey Fish & Wildlife working at the Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery. The hatchery was an amazing hot spot for birds, with diverse habitat and a series of over 100 freshwater ponds. Working with NJ Fish & Wildlife, he had the opportunity to assist with Golden-winged Warbler mist netting surveys, waterfowl surveys along the Jersey shore and an annual Canada Goose banding project.

    In April of 2015, he accepted a job offer from Colorado Parks & Wildlife to become the new Fisheries Technician at the Durango State Fish Hatchery. Since his move to Durango, he has recorded 242 bird species in La Plata County, with some of his favorites including; Lewis’s Woodpecker, Western Tanager, Pygmy Nuthatch, Steller’s Jay and American Dipper. His birding claim to fame is finding the first La Plata County record Pacific Wren! He enjoys meeting folks that share his enthusiasm for birds and looks forward to the Christmas Bird Count each year. In his spare time, besides birding, he enjoys most outdoor activities including; fishing, camping, kayaking and hiking. Currently he is the Assistant Manager at the Durango Hatchery, where he is fortunate to live on site adjacent to the Animas River. The hatchery is a hot spot for birds and he is lucky to have had several rarities in his yard including; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Harris’s Sparrow. He loves living in Durango and loves the diversity of the avian friends it provides!

    Terry McLaughlin has been in love with nature her whole life. Starting by dissecting Bladder Campion (silene vulgais) in a horse pasture as a child and moving on to design and implement 2 state-of-the-art naturalist training programs, she has spent her life and career outside. A self-declared penguinephile, Terry’s newest passion is the adaptations of the birds inhabiting the Southern Ocean.
    Tyler Lausten is an avid photographer and is captivated by flight. He turned to birds after a trip to Denali National Park in 2019 and hasn’t looked back. Residing seasonally on a ranch in southwest Colorado, he is always on the lookout for hawks, owls, and other wildlife. Favorite raptors include Northern Goshawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Pygmy Owl, and Great-horned Owl. Spring is a fantastic time for migrating raptors, and he looks forward to showing them on the tour.
    Vern Gersh started his career as a bird watcher 25 years ago when a friend showed him a nesting Red-tailed Hawk. Once bitten by the birding bug, bird watching blossomed beyond a hobby into a passion for Vern. His passion has taken him all over the world, seeking out obscure species. He is proud to have misidentified birds on six continents!

songbird silhouetteBirding Festival General Information

  • The Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival is the major fundraiser for the Cortez Cultural Center. All proceeds benefit the Center.
  • All tours require pre-registration.
  • A registration fee is required for all tours except as noted. Full registration includes keynote banquet and all lectures. Daily registration includes that day's lectures. Full registration is required in order to qualify for the free early bird t-shirt.
  • Unless otherwise noted, tours will return to the Center at approximately 3:00 pm.
  • Carpools/caravanning will be used for all tours. Drivers will be reimbursed for gas by passengers at the GSA rate of 66 cents per mile, divided among all participants in the vehicle.
  • Tour size is generally 13 or less.
  • Cancellations considered on a case-by-case basis up to 21 days prior to start of Festival. All cancellations subject to a processing fee.
  • Availability of restrooms depends on the tour. Nearly all guides scout out restroom locations as well as bird species. Some tours are in parks or other facilities that have established restrooms. Some have outhouses. Others, the only option are bushes. Usually, the leader will mention the restroom plan at the beginning of the tour.
  • All tours depart from and return to the Cortez Cultural Center.
  • Tour times listed are the DEPARTURE time. Please arrive 15 minutes prior.

For Birding Festival information email

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