Meet Your Tropical Birding Guides & Staff

OUR GUIDES

Listed in alphabetical order. Click here for our office staff, and click here for a fun slideshow of the Tropical Birding team.

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Nick Athanas

Nick gave up a lucrative career in geophysics to go watch birds in South America a decade ago and has never looked back. He is Tropical Birding’s most experienced guide in South America and has a strong passion for both bird photography and sound recording; when not leading tours, can often be found in odd corners of the world adding to his collection. His blog and almost all of his photos can be found on his personal website, antpitta.com. Nick guides mainly in the Neotropics and occasionally elsewhere, such as in Madagascar and Malaysia. He is using a Swarovski scope and binoculars. He is the lead author and photographer of Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide, published in June 2016.

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Keith Barnes

Keith realized that he was no longer a scientist when a significant difference in the tail lengths of larks didn’t make a significant difference in his life! Turning his back on the ivory towers, he helped to found TB and has never looked back. He lives in quirky Taiwan, but guides birding and photography tours just about everywhere. Asia and Africa are favorite haunts though. Before Keith was able to actually see the birds he wanted to, he sat in an office and wrote about them in various books for BirdLife International. He coauthored Birding Ethiopia and Wild Rwanda published by Lynx Edicions, and Animals of Kruger, Birds of Kruger, and Wildlife of Madagascar with Princeton University Press. Keith is using Leica binoculars and a Swarovski scope. Click here for Keith’s facebook profile.

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Ken Behrens

As a boy, Ken discovered Flickers in the Pennsylvania woods, and has been chasing birds ever since. In his teens, he was the ABA/Leica Young Birder of the Year and the Wildbird Birder of the Year. For parts of 6 years, he worked for Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory in far-flung and usually remote locations between Montana and New Mexico. He spent one fall counting the monumental raptor migration in Veracruz, Mexico. Ken also spent parts of three years counting birds in Cape May. There he developed a particular interest in seawatching, and he is the co-author of the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight, a ground-breaking field guide published by Houghton-Mifflin. He was a member of the team that set a North American big day record in 2008. Ken lives in Madagascar and guides tours all over Africa, Europe, and Asia. His non-birding interests include history, classic literature, fishing, climbing mountains, gardening, cooking, and eating. He is a keen photographer, and enjoys guiding photo journeys. He considers the lack of Dr. Pepper one of the few hardships of living in Africa! Ken co-authored Birding Ethiopia and Wild Rwanda, and has several other book projects in the works.

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Iain Campbell

Iain ended his career as a geochemist in West Africa when it dawned on him that his life list was more valuable than gold. He packed up his G-pick, said goodbye to fufu, and headed to South America, which better suited his style, where he built Tandayapa Bird Lodge. He lived for many years in Ecuador, but now resides in the US. Besides being one of the original guides of Tropical Birding, Iain is near fanatical about getting more people into birding and wildlife photography, and works with many organizations trying to achieve this main goal. He used to be a fanatical lister, but now much prefers to photograph the world’s specialties. Iain uses Zeiss binoculars and scope, and shoots with Olympus camera gear.

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Phil Chaon

A life long naturalist, Phil found an interest in birds while coping with the crushing reality there were not, and never would be, alligators in Cleveland. At 18 he left behind the power plants and gull flocks of his childhood and spent a year living in the Andes of Northwest Ecuador. Life among Lyre-tailed Nightjars and Ocellated Tapaculos taught him that, for him, the US was really only a place to visit between forays to the tropics. After some time studying botany and wildlife biology in the redwoods of Northern California, Phil spent the next few years taking field work jobs all over the globe. Banding birds in Peru, monitoring Fairy-wrens in Papua New Guinea, and surveying bird communities on coffee farms in Kenya were all great introductions to these areas. However, upon realizing how much data collection interfered with quality birding he turned to other channels. Now, when not guiding he can be found searching out areas with new birds and ample quantities of chilé. When the birding is slow he occupies himself with long nighthikes, diving, horticulture, fishing, and divining the secrets of perfect barbecue.

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Jacob Cooper

Jacob’s passion for the outdoors took a dark turn when he saw his first Brown Creeper at the age of ten. He soon became obsessed with birds, and honed his new passion in the red rock canyons near his Colorado home. Not content with the birds of the United States, Jacob soon found himself travelling to Ecuador, Jamaica, South Africa and beyond to study avian diversity in person. He now attends the University of Kansas pursuing a master’s in Ecology, and spends what little free time he has traveling to some of the most remote places on earth in search of the world’s least known birds. Jacob uses Kowa binoculars.

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Alan Davies

Born and bred in North Wales, Alan has always been passionate about birds, and there’s nothing he enjoys more than sharing exciting birds and wildlife with other people. For six years, he was the Site Manager of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve at Conwy on the North Wales. In 2008, along with his partner, Ruth Miller, he set a new world record for the number of bird species seen in a single year, during the adventure they dubbed “The Biggest Twitch”. Alan has also written the popular site guide Best Birdwatching Sites in North Wales. Alan and Ruth now operate some of Tropical Birding’s tours in Europe.

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Pablo Cervantes Daza

Pablo came to Tropical Birding by accident; this die-hard city-loving engineer had to go and help out in Tandayapa for a week, and suddenly realized there was far more to life than Quito nightlife. He became hooked on bird photography and quickly started taking out professional photographers and helping with photography workshops. He now guides trips around Ecuador, Brazil, and Mexico. He is currently working with other TB gudies on several new photo field guides for birds and wildlife of Ecuador and Mexico. He also manages Tandayapa Bird Lodge, and you can find him tinkering with new techniques for shooting hummers.

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Fito Downs

Fito was born in one of the most privileged regions in the world for a birder to be raised, the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica. Since he was a little kid he has been interested in the natural history of the rainforest, and especially the identification of birds. Since 2001, Fito has been working as a full-time guide, not only in his native Costa Rica, but in 8 different countries in all within Central and South America. Some of the areas he has guided in include Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, English Guyana, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil. Fito has also worked as an active educator, developing naturalist guides in the fauna-rich region of Sarapiqui in Costa Rica; worked at the world famous La Selva Biological Station in the same region, both as a guide and field researcher; and previously worked for the Smithsonian Institute in Panama, undertaking biological studies in Barro Colorado Island and Soberania National Park. Fito has also been a regular contributor to the Christmas Bird Count in Costa Rica. Somewhere amongst all this, he has also found time to play basketball and soccer in his spare time, and loves nothing more than taking a dip in his local Sarapiqiui River in the tropical lowlands of Costa Rica! Fito speaks Spanish, English and Portuguese.


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Lisle Gwynn

A mixture of rugged Celt and English gentleman, Lisle grew up among the heaths of southern England where, as a teenager, he quickly developed a preference for birds and beasts over video games and parties. After graduating from a British University chosen solely for its birding potential, a scholarship from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology led him to the beautiful Cape of South Africa, a place he now considers a second home. There he spent several years birding widely whilst studying birds of prey and fynbos endemics. A keen photographer and ‘mammal enthusiast’, Lisle is as comfortable seeking and photographing mammals as he is birds, something he has pursued across 6 continents. With a full year at sea under the belt, spent across most of the world’s oceans, he is also a knowledgeable and obsessive ‘Petrel-head’, with tubenoses and marine mammals being two of his greatest passions in life. Lisle is shooting with Olympus camera gear.

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Charley Hesse

Charley’s devotion to birds began when he could first lift binoculars to his face. Before graduation at university, he eloped with his life list to India and Mexico. He studied mixed flocks in Cameroon and compiled inventories of rainforest birds in Malaysia before heading to Japan for work in international public relations. Today, Charley works as a bird guide in five continents, having birded much of South America and over 60 countries worldwide. British by birth he is now also fluent in Spanish, Japanese and also tries his hand at Portuguese, French, Afrikaans & Mandarin. Charley uses Zeiss binoculars and a Swarovski scope.


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José Illanes

José grew up in Sani Isla, an Amazonian community in eastern Ecuador. His uncle, José Hualinga, was one of the pioneer guides of the Amazon, spawning a whole ream of quality guides that have now emerged from there. Therefore, it was only natural that José Illanes became a bird guide too, although, unusually, he began his training in the Amazon at the tender age of 12! After working at the famous Amazon lodges of La Selva and Sani (where he also helped to compile the official bird lists for the area), his reputation as a bird guide quickly grew, and so in 2002 he moved out of the Amazon and into Ecuador’s capital, Quito, after taking a job with Tropical Birding Tours and Tandayapa Bird Lodge. He is now one of the senior guides for Tropical Birding, having worked there for 14 years; and he continues to live in Quito, with his wife and young, soccer-mad son, Casey. His long-term experience as one of the most well known guides in Ecuador, has led him to make a series of overseas presentations promoting birding in both the Quito region and Ecuador as a whole, including in the US (at an ABA convention in Maine); and the UK (at the largest birding festival in the world, the British Birdfair). José has now led birding and bird photography tours to 5 different countries (Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, Australia, and the Galapagos too), and traveled to Africa and Asia too, in pursuit of birds. He is known for his relaxed guiding style, keen sense of humor, and, especially, his sharp eyesight, which leads to his uncanny ability to find roosting owls in the daytime, a skill that makes him a very popular tour leader!

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Emma Juxon

For as long as Emma can remember, she has spent her life knee-deep, (quite literally on many occasions), in the natural world. Her innate passion for wildlife led to a degree in Zoology along the stunning Cambrian coastline of Aberystwyth, Wales (UK). Here, Emma found the abundance of Red Kite as much as a distraction as the Student Union, and graduated fueled with a desire to inspire others about the world around us. She found herself focusing her interests on birds and blubber which has taken her from the glacial high arctic to the jeweled volcanic islands of the South Pacific. After working offshore as a marine wildlife and seabird surveyor for a few years, Emma decided to hang up her coveralls and steel toe-capped boots, because let’s face it, sharing incredible sightings with like-minded enthusiasts is far more exciting than completing spreadsheets and writing reports for the offshore industry! She now resides in the Surrey Hills, UK, educating the community for the local wildlife trust when not guiding for Tropical Birding Tours. Having travelled the world to many a remote place, Emma is as at home traipsing through thick jungle to ‘sailing’ across flooded calderas in rapidly sinking rust buckets, to being sprayed in the face by blowing blue whales. Her experience took her across six continents, regions including the Arctic, South Africa, the Indian Ocean, New Zealand, South Pacific islands, and the Americas. Emma uses Zeiss Victory SF binoculars, and a Swarovski scope.

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Ben Knoot

Ben is a nature photographer originally from the state of California. He has been photographing the natural world since the age of 9, focusing mainly on wildlife. It was through the lens of his father’s camera that he first observed the beautiful green and purple sheen of a Common Raven. Observing the fine hairs at the base of the birds massive bill, Ben became passionate about sharing the beauty of the natural world around him. From then on, Ben’s desire to educate others blossomed. He self-published a children’s book The Color of Birds to help young children learn their colors through bird identifications. He has traveled the United States extensively, especially in the Pacific Northwest where he completed college. While in school, Ben further honed his desire to teach with a degree in Environmental Policy and Education. Ben’s work has been published since 2007 by multiple organizations including: Natures Best Photography, Audubon, Ranger Rick, NANPA, Wildlife Photo Magazine and the BBC. Ben shoots with Canon gear and specializes in natural, action photography.


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George Lin

Wildlife has always been a passion for George while growing up in Taiwan and the Jersey Shore. After serving his time in Bermuda as a software engineer, George pursued wildlife and photography by guiding in the Neotropics & Asia in places like Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and Borneo. George uses Nikon binoculars. George also speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently.

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Alex Luna

Alex became interested in birds at a very young age when he moved to Mindo, Ecuador. As a boy, he was lucky to have the opportunity to meet great birders who inspired him to have the same passion for birds, and he got well and truly hooked when a friend gifted him a field guide to the birds of Ecuador. Alex started to keep track of the species he had seen, and he started to travel throughout Ecuador searching for more lifers. After graduating from university, Alex decided to follow his dream of becoming a guide, and he has led many trips for both birders and bird photographers. Alex uses a Swarovski spotting scope.

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Ruth Miller

Originally from Kent in southeast Britain, Ruth has always had a passion for the great outdoors, and she is happiest when watching great birds in beautiful places. She worked at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Head Office before moving up to Llandudno in North Wales. She has written a series of walking books called Birds, Boots and Butties, which gives you a clue about some of her other passions! Ruth met Alan Davies, her partner, at the RSPB; in 2008, they gave up their jobs and spent the whole year travelling the world during The Biggest Twitch, setting a record as they saw nearly half the world’s birds. While the record has since been broken, Ruth is still the female world record holder. Ruth and Alan now operate some of Tropical Birding’s tours in Europe.

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Scott Olmstead

Hopelessly addicted to birding, fascinated with culture, and passionate about sharing wildlife and travel experiences with others; there’s no doubt that tour leading is a strong match for Scott. Originally from Connecticut, Scott now resides amid the Sky Islands and Sonoran Desert of Arizona, but he spent his most formative guiding years living in South America and learning firsthand why it’s called “The Bird Continent”. He is equally at home searching for elusive antbirds in the steamy Amazon jungle, stalking hummingbirds in the vast high Andes, or just trying to sample all the local foods wherever he goes! Scott now dedicates much of his time to teaching Spanish, but continues to guide for TB when his calendar permits, primarily in Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Brazil. When not in the field or at school, there’s a good chance you will find him entering old sightings into eBird or watching sports on TV. Scott uses Leica binoculars and a Swarovski scope.


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Laurie Ross

Laurie is originally from New Zealand, but recently based in Australia’s Northern Territory, where he now calls Darwin home. He has traveled across every state and territory in Australia over the past 10 years and has forged a name for himself as one of the Top End’s leading bird finders and photographers, both locally and nationally. Laurie gave up a lucrative career in the new car industry, to follow his passion for birds, and now spends the majority of his time showing visiting photographers and birders the best local and endemic species that make this part of Australia so unique. Laurie is equally at home with the demanding bird photographer or targeted birder. He is renowned for having razor sharp birding skills and endless drive to get that perfect photo, and he holds one of the most stunning photographic collections of rare North Australian birds. Has also travelled extensively though Southeast Asia, North and South America, with a fascination with all creatures great and small. Laurie guides in Australia, Southeast Asia and North America. Laurie’s extensive collection of bird photos can be seen here: Laurie Ross Bird Photos.

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Daniel Aldana Schumann

Daniel is the Tropical Birding guide for Guatemala tours. He was born and raised in Guatemala with an ornithologist for a father; so, he has been birding as long as he can remember. After graduating from high school, he started college but decided to dedicate his life to birds instead. Working as a field tech for researchers from Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy. Later, he was elected to be part of the Guatemalan Birding Tourism board of directors, so he started working on birding tourism and started guiding all over this wonderful birding destination. He has also been an avid e-Birder ever since he heard of it and is currently one of the top e-Birders for Guatemala, while also working on the very first field guide dedicated to the birds of Guatemala. Daniel uses a Leica scope and bins.

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Andrés Vásquez

Andrés has been chasing birds all over his native Ecuador for well over a decade now. As part of our team he leads tours regularly in Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, and Belize plus sporadically in Japan and other destinations. Andres has also explored Southeast Asia and South Africa learning new families and tons of new birds. Based in Quito, when not in the field, he can be found at his computer working on book publishing; he has already released several wildlife guidebooks for Ecuador, including a field guide to the birds of Northwest Ecuador, one for the birds of the Amazon and he just finished Wildlife of Ecuador: A Photographic Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians. Andres uses Leica binoculars and a Kowa scope.

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Crammy Wanyama

Although his full name is Wanyama Jimmy Crammy, he goes by the name Crammy. He started off in IT after getting a diploma in business administration from Kampala International University, but long hours sitting at a desk began to take a toll, and he started dreaming of a life outdoors. At that juncture in life, he met the great doyen of Ugandan birding, Herbert Byurhanga, who completely changed his life. He was quickly hooked on birding and there was no turning back, especially after locking eyes with a scarlet-and-sable Black-headed Gonolek. Soon enough he was interested in the toughest groups in Africa; the weavers, greenbuls, cisticolas, larks, pipits and honeyguides. Crammy loves showing people birds, and over the last five years he has been able to do that while traveling intensively all over East Africa.


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Sam Woods

Sam’s unhealthy obsession for birds began with a pair of tits in a London park at age 11. He famously proclaimed the evening before “I’m not looking at birds; they’re boring”. Rarely have words haunted someone for so long. Sam was instantly hooked, starting off by spanning the British Isles in search of birds, which quickly expanded to the wider world, and has now traveled to all seven continents over the last thirty years. He has been working as a full-time guide for Tropical Birding since 2005, since when he has guided on six different continents. Sam attended Plymouth University in Devon (UK), getting a degree in Environmental Science, which led him to the Andes of Ecuador to undertake research on hummingbirds. This stoked an interest in the Americas; originally from the United Kingdom, he now resides in Ecuador (South America), but arguably spends just as much time overseas, as he does there. He is most at home, when he is away. Sam has also been a co-author on several books on Australian birds and wildlife. He uses Swarovski ‘scope and binoculars. You can read Sam’s blog Lost in Birding.

 

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OFFICE STAFF

Cristina Campbell

Cristina is TB’s General Manager, and it is through her good work that our tours run so smoothly. An Ecuadorian, she has a thorough understanding of business in South America and beyond. She has two children, Gabriel and Amy, and currently lives in Maryland where the Tropical Birding head office is located. She is an occasional birder too, but prefers colorful toucans to skulking tapaculos. Cristina uses Leica binoculars.

Katty Cerda

Katty grew up on the banks of the Rio Napo in the Amazon of Ecuador. Although she has since moved to the capital, Quito, she retains close links with her Amazonian community in Limoncocha. She took a degree in tourism in Quito, with a view to becoming a national guide in her native country. Since then, she has worked with another Amazonian community, Sani, in helping with the running of their namesake lodge. Katty has a passion for birds, and in particular some of the more gaudy ones, like hummingbirds, toucans and tanagers, for which her home country is rightly famous. Katty now assists with the logistics of tours in our Quito office, in between spending time with her family, and with her community. She is bilingual, speaking Spanish and Quichua, but is learning English fast!

Desirée D’Sylva

Desirée was raised in Quito, but her life has taken her on many exciting adventures to the most beautiful places in the world. She lived on merchant ships during her teens, and saw spectacular scenery and culture throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, and is the only person in TB to have sailed through the Suez and Panama canals. After finishing a degree in history, she developed a farm in NW Ecuador to produce ecofriendly palm oil. Desirée manages our Africa and Asia logistics.

Paola Villalba

Paola is a true nature lover, thanks in no small part to family trips from an early age, to many beautiful wildlife sites in her native Ecuador. She studied eco-tourism at university, which led Paola to manage logistics for several eco-lodges on the coast, in the Andes and Amazon of Ecuador, and, later, manage the world famous Ecuadorian bird lodges of the Jocotoco Foundation, before joining Tropical Birding in the spring of 2016. Paola has traveled around Ecuador and other countries like South Africa, USA, Thailand, Malaysia and Brazil, not only looking at birds, but enjoying nature in general and immersing in the culture of these areas. In spite of not being an avid birder, she has some great rarities on her life list, like Masked Saltator, Sapayoa, and Crescent-faced Antpitta! Her other passion is helping dogs; she volunteers at a foundation that helps street dogs in her native Quito. Paola manages Tropical Birding’s New World tours.