I have been developing a healthy obsession with birding since my freshman year roommate at Brown, Peter Capobianco, introduced me to the ‘sport’ in 2003. I regularly lead birding field trips locally and internationally, have written a couple books on birds and regularly update my birding blog: Birds on the Brain. I served as Vice President of the Carolina Bird Club, the ornithological society of the Carolinas from 2013 to 2015 and review manuscripts for its quarterly journal, The Chat. I regularly spot seabirds on pelagic trips out of Cape Hatteras organized by Brian Patteson, of Seabirding.
I have birded the blue devil state from the highest mountains, where I recently documented the southernmost confirmed breeding record for Northern Saw-whet Owl, all the way out to the pelagic zone, where I photographed one of North America’s first adult Black-browed Albatross. By visiting all the habitats between these extremes and chasing some odd rarities I’ve managed to amass a list of more than 370 species. Though it’s become increasingly difficult to see new species in my home state, I still love to get out in North Carolina when I get the chance.
It’s no coincidence that my dissertation research field site, also happens to be a mecca for diverse and abundant bird life. While out doing field work at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, I have stumbled upon a couple birds that had previously been recorded in state only a handful of times: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and White-faced Ibis.
I got hooked on tropical birds after conducting a bird inventory at La Hesperia Biological Station on the west slope of the Ecuadorean Andes in 2010. The station’s 200-hectare natural reserve spans from 1200 to 2000 m, an altitudinal transect that over 6 months never failed to produce new and unexpected species. With my Colombian birding partner, Natalia Ocampo-Penuela, I began leading birding trips to neotropical countries for the Carolina Bird Club starting with a trip to the Caribbean Coast and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia in 2014. In January 2015 we led a group all over the Dominican Republic and in December we organized an ornithological workshop for birders at Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador.
Central America, South America and the Caribbean host a staggering richness of bird life, but also a troubling large proportion of species threatened with extinction. To address local bird conservation challenges we have directed the Carolina Bird Club to donate half of trip fee surpluses to conservation organizations. We donated nearly $4000 to SavingSpecies (see page 9), an NGO that purchases land for conservation in Colombia, and nearly $3500 to Grupo Accion Ecologia, an Dominican NGO that runs environmental education programs for rural Dominican school children.