Meet Your Tropical Birding Guides & Staff

OUR GUIDES

 

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

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 one of the founders of Tropical Birding and their most experienced guide in South America. He has a strong passion for both bird photography and sound recording, and 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 Leica binoculars, and shoots with Canon gear. He is the lead author and photographer of Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide, published in June 2016.

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.

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.

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 suits his style. He is very involved in bird conservation, having created Tandayapa Bird Lodge and Mindo Cloudforest Foundation. Besides being one of the original guides of Tropical Birding, Iain is near fanatical about getting more people into birding, 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.

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.

Cameron Cox

Not your average stalker, Cameron has been an avid birder for 19 years. Birding adventures have led him to all corners of North America, from southern Mexico to the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. He is particularly interested in the identification challenges presented by waterbirds and recently finished a flight identification guide to eastern waterbirds to be published in fall 2014. He was a member of the team that set a North American Big Day record in 2008 with 260 species in a single day in Texas. Cameron’s love and enthusiasm for birds is apparent in his willingness to share the knowledge he has gained over the years, and he is the co-author of the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight. Working as the Birding expert for various optics companies, Cameron is a well known guide on the bird and photo festival circuit. We have finally persuaded him to take the dive into leading bird and photography tours, and we are very excited to have him on the TB team. Cameron leads tours in North America, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.

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. He shoots Canon and uses Swarovski binoculars.

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.

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.

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.

Wes Homoya

Wes Homoya’s foray into the birding world began at age 6 when his father handed him a Peterson’s field guide, which he soon memorized completely (almost!) after seeing his first Brown Creeper. A passion for soccer and basketball derailed this interest during his formative years, but eventually he returned to his first love. His modern state of avian obsession is a result of spending a year in Hong Kong in 2007-08, birding there extensively on his days off from the orphanage where he volunteered. Upon returning to the states, he graduated from the wildlife program at Purdue-West Lafayette, and took up the mantle he still holds as vice president of the Sycamore Audubon Society. He conducted research on American Golden-Plovers as an undergraduate, and later worked with the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project collecting data on their endangered honeycreepers. Wes is passionate about birding and conservation, and through his work he hopes to inspire others to not only enjoy, but also protect our amazing but imperiled birdlife. He currently leads tours to Ecuador, but intends to also start leading trips to places as diverse as China, Japan, Thailand, and Hungary. In his spare time, he helps his brother, and sister-in-law, with their craft hard cider business in Indianapolis, which is named Ash and Elm Cider Company.

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!

Nick Leseberg

After ten years in the Australian air force, Nick decided he wanted to bird for a living instead of just on his holidays and weekends. He spent nearly three years living in the U.S and birding throughout the Americas which included a two month stint at Tandayapa trying to figure out tyrannulets. He has now returned to the land of parrots and is based in Brisbane, Australia. Nick guides for Tropical Birding throughout the Australasian region, and recently celebrated the birth of his first child, Miriam, in May 2014. Nick uses Leica binoculars and a Kowa scope. Click here for Nick’s facebook profile.

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 shoots with Canon and uses Nikon binoculars. George also speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently.

Scott Olmstead

Less than a month after finishing college with a degree in Latin American Studies, Scott headed straight for Costa Rica, where he began learning the birds of Central America. When his money ran out, he returned home for a few seasons of fieldwork across the US, banding songbirds, counting migrating raptors, and studying eagle nests. In 2006, when he could stay away no longer, Scott came back to the Neotropics as a tour leader. He guides TB trips in Brazil and Ecuador, where he enjoys chasing elusive antpittas through the thick understory. Originally from Connecticut, Scott is now based in Arizona. Scott uses Leica binoculars and a Swarovski scope. Click here for Scott’s facebook profile.

Jay Packer

Jay started birding at the age of 12 after an extended family road trip to the great national parks of the Western U.S. He was initially interested in mammals, but quickly gave them up when he learned that many can only be reliably identified by the shape of their teeth. Fortunately, he joined a local bird club on a field trip in his West Texas town where he discovered the joy of kingfishers and Cactus Wrens. From that moment on, he was hooked. He began traveling across Texas, then the U.S. and at 20 years old, took his first trip to the tropics in Costa Rica. Epic road trips to Mexico ensued, where he and friends subsisted on peanut butter and tortillas for days, pulling the car into the woods to camp and getting a hotel once a week for the shower. When he met his wife, Jay settled down, earned a master’s degree in ornithology, and became a high school biology teacher. He also honed his skills in photography. In their summers, Jay and his wife traveled for birds. A study abroad to Europe, then Ecuador, Australia the next summer, followed by Brazil, then Africa, Southeast Asia, and India. After traveling on break for nine weeks but wishing for ten, Jay realized it was time to trade a classroom of students for a classroom in nature. Jay loves showing people birds and teaching all things birding and photography related.

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. He uses Canon Camera Gear & Swarovski Optics.

Andrés Vásquez

Andrés has been chasing birds all over his native Ecuador for a decade now. As part of our team he has not only explored his country extensively but also he has birded Argentina, Peru, Brazil, 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 fieldguide to the birds of Northwest Ecuador, one for the birds of the Amazon and he is close to releasing a wildlife book for the entire country. Andres guides in South America. Andres uses Leica binoculars and a Kowa scope.

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.

Scott Watson

At a young age Scott’s passion for birds and wildlife began in the lakes and forests of southern Ontario. University semesters abroad in China, New Zealand, and Arizona, fuelled the fire for world birding. After a guiding stint at Tandayapa Bird Lodge in Ecuador, followed by another in the Brazilian Amazon, the love of birding and the thrill of guiding was too much. Scott now guides throughout Africa, Asia, and Australasia, where weird birds, incredible mammals, and diverse foods have become the new obsession. Scott uses Swarovski binoculars and a Swarovski scope.Click here for Scott’s facebook profile.

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.

 

OFFICE STAFF

Cristina Campbell

Cristina is TB’s General Manager. 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 is in constant contact with most operators. If there is something to be arranged, whether it’s an intense birding trip in the Amazon or an independent trip to the Galapagos, she is the one to contact. 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.

Yi-fang Wang

Yi-fang has been with Tropical Birding since it’s inception in 2001, concentrating primarily on logistics and communications in Asia, where she is based in Taiwan. Yi-fang spent 18 years in South Africa where she fell in love with the bush…who wouldn’t, and although she loves seeing leopards more than anything else, she always has a look at the colorful barbets and turacos.