At the Symposium: Programs and Speakers

Among the speakers we have confirmed for the Midwest Birding Symposium are:


MBS Speaker Bios

John Acorn

John Acorn was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1958, and has been fascinated with animals his entire life. He still lives in Edmonton, with his wife, Dena, and their two young boys Jesse and Benjamin.

John is perhaps best known as the writer and host of the television series "Acorn, The Nature Nut," a family-oriented, how-to-be-a-naturalist show. He also hosted "Twits and Pishers," a travel show for bird watchers, and is the video host for the galleries of the Royal Tyrell Museum. John has written 17 books, including many well-received field guides. These days, John teaches at the University of Alberta, and is actively involved in natural history research with a focus on Alberta.

John is the recipient of the National Science and Engineering Research Council's Michael Smith Award for Science Promotion, the University of Alberta's Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Royal Society of Canada's McNeil Medal for the Promotion of Science.

MBS Topic: Birding Deficit Disorder

John Acorn describes his talk: "After many years working on field guides, hosting television shows, and speaking at birding and nature festivals, I am now an instructor at the University of Alberta. Some of what I teach involves bird identification and many of our students go on to work in environmental consulting or related fields where bird identification is a marketable skill. You might think that a captive audience of intelligent 23-year-olds would be the ideal group to teach birding to, but to be honest I'm starting to miss the retired folks and the everyday fanatics. You folks are better students, but it's not the young peoples' fault. In this talk, I will share some of my experiences, successes, failures, and frustrations, and I will relate my stories to the notion of 'nature deficit disorder' and its unsung relative, 'birding deficit disorder.'"

George Armistead

George is the events coordinator for the American Birding Association. Prior to that he guided birding tours for 10 years, leading trips to all seven continents. He is also a research associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. When not working on bird book projects, he spends his free time observing and photographing birds at his favorite haunts along the coast between Cape May, NJ, and Cape Hatteras, NC.

MBS Topic: pOrnithology—The Birds and the Birds and the Bees

A review of some interesting reproductive strategies in birds and the associated unusual behavior, with copious innuendo and anthropomorphism to keep the concepts in perspective.

Al Batt

Al Batt of rural Hartland, Minnesota is a writer, speaker, storyteller and humorist. Al writes four weekly humor and nature columns for many newspapers, and does a show three times per week about nature on a number of radio stations. He writes a number of popular cartoon strips that are syndicated nationally. He is a columnist for Bird Watcher’s Digest. He has received the Ed Franey Conservation Media Award from the Izaak Walton League and was given the Thomas Sadler Roberts Award by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union for outstanding contributions to birding.

MBS Topic: Stories by Al Batt

Listen to stories from a man of whom the President of the United States once said, “Who?” Find a tee-hee’s nest with a ha-ha’s egg in it as you listen to Al Batt’s talk. You will learn why Al has never been asked to bring the potato salad to the Association of Normal People’s Picnic. Some people claim that Al is a storyteller from Minnesota, but he’s just a guy who loves birds.

Al’s new book, A Life Gone to the Birds, will be making its debut at the 2013 Midwest Birding Symposium.

Jessie Barry

Jessie Barry joins us from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where she is the project leader for Merlin, an upcoming online bird identification tool. Jessie has a passion for bird ID and sharing it with others, and is a regular speaker and guide on the birding festival circuit. She is also a member of the Cornell Lab’s Team Sapsucker, which holds the national record for the most species of birds tallied in 24-hours, 294 species.

MBS Topic: Frontiers in Digital Birding

Discover ways to improve your birding experiences. Find more birds, explore new places, and expand your birding toolkit. Jessie will share the latest online resources from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, introducing Merlin, eBird's Hotspot Explorer and more. Learn about exciting ornithological discoveries and new tools for birders coming from your eBird observations.

Jen Brumfield

Birds have captured Jen’s soul since the age of two. She eagerly ingested every field guide to birds that she could lay hands on, and spent a vast amount of time in the field. Awe, respect, and fascination for birds and birding, and the natural world, led Jen to travel widely at a young age, attending birding camps, field institutes, and working for the Smithsonian Institute doing breeding bird surveys. Jen is a naturalist/artist for Cleveland Metroparks, bird illustrator, author of several natural history field guides, birding tour guide for Tropical Birding and a rep with Leica’s Birding Optics Prostaff team. Currently residing in Cleveland, Ohio, she runs dozens of weekend specialized birding tours and field trips throughout Northeast Ohio each year, through Local Patch Birding Tours.

MBS Topic: Making History: Birding Lake Erie by Land AND Boat

Jen’s talk will offer a brand new look at birding Lake Erie and has set historical precedents in birding Ohio. From August through November, these trips record point-blank looks at Sabine’s gulls and pomarine and parasitic jaegers—species that are often difficult to see from shore. She explains the mystery behind fall waterbird migration on Lake Erie, while offering vivid photos of incredible birds and adventures on the lake. From glorious water spouts to Sabine’s gulls, jaegers to 265,000 mergansers in one day, this is one hour of intensity you cannot miss.

Mark Cocker

Mark Cocker is one of Britain’s foremost writers on nature and the author of several best-selling books, including Birders: Tales of a Tribe, Birds Britannica, and Crow Country, which was shortlisted for several awards and won The New Angle Prize for Literature. He has written regularly for most of the major newspapers in the United Kingdom and his column “Country Diary” has appeared in The Guardian since 1988. His most recent book, with photographer David Tipling, is Birds and People, which examines the cultural significance of birds around the world. This epic book was seven years in the making, including five years of writing, and includes 650 contributors from 81 countries.

MBS Topic: Birds and People: Exploring the Cultural Significance of Birds

All over the world human cultures have their own unique relationships with birds. For the better part of a decade, author Mark Cocker and photographer David Tipling traveled far and wide seeking out and documenting the human-bird connections. Mark Cocker writes in the book: “The sense of freedom evoked by birds in flight has been a source of inspiration alike to tribal communities and the world’s major civilizations. Writers, poets, artists and composers have drawn on the qualities of birds for thousands of years. Today birds often play the role of ambassador in our entire relationship with nature. For environmentalists they are collectively the miner’s canary, their populations helping us to gauge the health of natural environments from the inner-city to the remote Arctic tundra. Yet our connections with birds far exceed any simple utilitarian value. Very often at a domestic level they are cherished for their own sake, as simple companions, as aesthetic adornments, and as expression of some unspoken bond between ourselves and the rest of nature.”

Mark's talk will share some of the most interesting human-bird connections while taking the audience along on a global journey of discovery.

Cameron Cox

Cameron Cox is a birding guide with Tropical Birding and has worked with major optics companies as a pro-staffer. He spent much of the last year serving as a birding guide on St. Paul Island in the Alaskan Pribilofs where he spent many hours watching seabirds. His recent book The Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight co-authored with Ken Behrens is the definitive guide for identifying coastal birds in flight.

MBS Topic: Seawatching

Seawatching is the challenging act of identifying waterbirds in flight. Since many different species can fly past a waterfront observation point, often at great speed or in tightly packed, mixed-species flocks, identification of these distant shapes can be a mystery. In this talk, Cameron Cox shares the subtle clues that unlock the identity of flying waterbirds, be it wingbeat cadence, individual structure, flock shape and behavior, or subtle flashes of color.

Lang Elliott

Lang Elliott is the author of numerous books and CDs celebrating the sounds of nature, especially the songs and calls of our native birds, frogs, insects, and mammals. He is the co-author of BirdTunes, an iPhone app that features 2,500 songs and calls of 674 species of North American birds. More recently, Lang has launched musicofnature.com, a source of premium pure nature sound recordings for relaxation and personal enjoyment.

MBS Topic: The Music of Nature & Ways of Listening

Lang’s presentation introduces the various ways one can listen to the sounds of nature and gain an appreciation of them, including both scientific (objective) and artistic (subjective) approaches. Emphasis will be on developing the skill of “deep listening,” whereby one can move at will between the different domains. You will hear lots of amazing nature sound recordings, as Lang encourages you to refine your listening skills.

Dave FitzSimmons

David FitzSimmons is an award-winning freelance photographer and writer as well as a university professor. David photographs and writes for various magazines, including Outdoor Photographer, Popular Photography, and Shutterbug, newspapers, and online publications. His 100+ calendar credits include numerous titles by BrownTrout and Barnes & Noble. David currently is at work on a handful of books. His most recent books include Animals of Ohio's Ponds and Vernal Pools (Kent State UP, 2011) and Curious Critters (Wild Iris, 2011), which has won five national book awards.

One of five Sigma Pro photographers in North America, David presents seminars and workshops to a wide variety of audiences, from public school groups and college classes to nature centers and civic organizations. His works have been exhibited at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, the National Center for Nature Photography, and the Telluride Photo Festival, among other venues.

David, a former high school English teacher, has been teaching for 20 years. He is a professor at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio. David holds a Ph.D. in English from Ohio State University, with a specialty in narrative theory—investigating the components of storytelling—something that influences his photography and writing.

David was inspired to photograph and write about nature by his parents, Mick and Judy FitzSimmons, active environmentalists and life-long teachers, and he is assisted in his natural history endeavors by his wife, Olivia, a naturalist and librarian, and his three daughters, Sarah, Phoebe, and Annabelle.

MBS Topic: How to Photograph Birds: Tips and Techniques Made Easy

Photographer David FitzSimmons will share the secrets of producing prize-winning, eye-catching bird images. Learn principles of composition, the best bird photography equipment, and the software to make your images shine. In addition, David will show some of his latest studio bird portraits, some of which will be appearing in his next Curious Critters children's picture book.

Alvaro Jaramillo

Alvaro Jaramillo was born in Chile but began birding in Toronto, Canada, where he lived as a youth. He was trained in ecology and evolution with a particular interest in bird behavior. Research forays and backpacking trips introduced Alvaro to the riches of the Neotropics, where he has traveled extensively. He is the author of the Birds of Chile, an authoritative yet portable field guide to Chile's birds. Alvaro writes the Identify Yourself column in Bird Watcher's Digest. Among various projects he is currently finishing part of the sparrow chapter for the Handbook of Birds of the World, and is writing a photo guide to the birds and wildlife of Patagonia. He runs the birding and nature tour company Alvaro's Adventures, where the focus is to have fun, learn a thing or two, and truly enjoy nature. Alvaro lives with his family in Half Moon Bay, California.

MBS Topic: Gull Identification

If identifying gulls gives you a headache, let Doctor Alvaro ease your pain. He’s a leading expert on gull identification and seems to actually enjoy figuring out the trickiest of gulls, including the totally confusing individuals that have not yet reached adult plumage. Al will take you by the hand and walk you through the process of gull identification, from the basics to the bafflers. And along the way you’re sure to laugh at the unique way he looks at the world of birds.

Seabrooke Leckie

Seabrooke Leckie is co-author of the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. A bird biologist by training, she discovered moths while on a field contract in British Columbia in 2007 and barely looked back. Most warm nights between March and November she moths at her rural property in eastern Ontario, where she's tallied more than 500 species.

MBS Topic: Night Wings: The Fascinating World of Moths

After the sun goes down and the birds go to bed a whole "nother" world of winged creatures comes awake. Discover the fascinating world of moths: who they are, what they do, and most importantly, how to find and enjoy them. Seabrooke Leckie shares a little about this astoundingly diverse hidden world—containing some 11,000 species in North America alone—and what makes mothing so fun.

Rue Mapp

During her childhood, Rue Mapp split her time between urban Oakland, California and her families’ working ranch in the Northern woodlands, where she cultivated a passion for natural spaces, farming, and learned how to hunt and fish. As a youth, her participation in the Girl Scouts and Outward Bound broadened her outdoor experiences, such as camping, mountaineering, rock climbing, and road bicycling. But Rue was troubled by the consistently low numbers of African Americans participating in these activities. So for two decades, Rue has used digital media as an important and practical tool to connect with people of color who share her outdoor interests. Outdoor Afro emerged naturally from these experiences.

Rue has a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was inspired by her study of the artistic representation of the American forests. She is also a successful entrepreneur whose game and hobby store start-up It's Your Move remains an important part of the Oakland community. In 2010, Rue was honored to be invited to the White House to participate in the America's Great Outdoors Conference where President Obama signed an historic memorandum to help reconnect all Americans to the Great Outdoors, and was invited back to take part in a think-tank to inform the launch of the First Lady's Let's Move initiative. She was also appointed program officer at the Stewardship Council's Foundation for Youth Investment where she served for two years to manage its grantmaking program.

Recently, Rue was named a Hero in Backpacker Magazine, honored as part of the Root 100 of the top black achievers and influencers for 2012, and received the Josephine and Frank Dunaneck award for her humanitarian efforts. The proud mother of three active children, Rue lives in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, and especially enjoys hiking, camping, biking, birding, and kayaking.

MBS Topic: Re-connecting More People to Nature: Why It Matters

In this talk Rue Mapp will share through personal stories the motivation behind her organization Outdoor Afro; its evolution and social impact to date. She will also outline the urgency for why more diverse audiences need to build a relationship with birding, and other recreational activities as a pathway toward greater community health and environmental sustainability.

Sara Morris

Sara Morris began birding at seven. When she told her mother that she wanted to be an ornithologist when she grew up, her mom had to look it up to see what that meant. She was lucky enough to have many people who nurtured her interest in birds and encouraged her passion. Sara went to Cornell University for her Master's and PhD, which involved the study of migration off the coast of Maine. She has served on the Wilson Ornithological Society council for more than 10 years and is secretary of the American Ornithologists' Union. Each summer since 1990, Sara has migrated to Maine to study songbird migration and to share her love of birds with students at the Shoals Marine Lab and participants in the Audubon Ecology Camp in Maine. She continues to explore many areas of migration ecology as a Professor of Biology at Canisius College in Buffalo. She and her students have worked on projects ranging from the development of new methods to determine how long birds stay at stopover sites, comparison of stopover rates and durations between seasons and between sites, the effects of ticks on migrant songbirds, and bird mortality at television towers. Her current research focuses on migrant birds' use of flight calling.

MBS Topic: Taking the Sexism Out of Birding: The Art of Identifying Female Songbirds

“Taking the Sexism Out of Birding” is an identification workshop that uses slides (they don’t fly away) to work on bird identification skills. We will focus on field marks, making connections between the males and females of the same species, and using field guides (please bring your favorite field guide, and you might want a pencil).

Jen Sauter

Jen Sauter is the current president of the Ohio Ornithological Society (OOS). She is a founding member of the OOS, and has been volunteering since its inception in 2004. She is credited with much of the success of the organization to date, particularly in the areas of events, membership, and international expeditions. She has a degree in wildlife management with a specialization in avian ecology from The Ohio State University. Jen has a passion for birds and nature. She also is an avid flower gardener and dabbles in textile painting, including silk painting and batik. She and her husband, John, currently live on 85 acres in Hocking County, Ohio.

MBS Topic: Put a Bird On It: Decorating Your Life with Birds

Jen has a great passion for birds and she surrounds herself with birds in as many ways as possible—indoors and out. In every corner and crevice in her home, there is a bird in some sort of figurine, drawing, painting, and other forms of artistic media. Jen and her husband John live on 85 acres in the Hocking Hills of southeast Ohio, so her outdoor surroundings are also filled with garden sculptures, bird feeders, nest boxes and all kinds of bird imagery. This presentation will focus on decorating tips and ideas so you, too, can surround yourself with birds. Join Jen Sauter as she opens up her home and surroundings with a colorful examples of how to “put a bird on it!”

John Schaust

As chief naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited Inc. (WBU), John has spent the past nine years supporting more than 280 WBU stores in encouraging their customers to be active backyard bird watchers and knowledgeable stewards of the environment. Along the way, he has also managed to nurture his obsession for birds, birding, and bird feeding. It’s been a tough job...but somebody had to do it!

Prior to joining Wild Birds Unlimited, John spent 26 years as a professional interpretive naturalist with federal, state, and local agencies, specializing in environmental education, nature center operations, and natural resources management. He is an avid birder and has been a federally licensed bird bander for more than 30 years.

This combination of experience makes John the perfect person to provide a fresh look at the avian neighbors we share our home territories with every day.

MBS Topic: A New Look at Some Old Neighbors

Backyard birds? What could be new? How about this: Backyard birds that eat up to 14 feet of prey in a day! Birds that live to a record age of 30 years old! Or male birds that keep a harem of up to 15 females! And by the way, just what is a hippocampus and why would a chickadee be hungry without it?

For the complete scoop on these and many other fascinating facts, join John for an uncommonly fun look at our most common backyard birds.

Scott Shalaway

Dr. Shalaway writes a weekly newspaper column that reaches more than one million readers each week. It appears in more than 15 newspapers, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Charleston (WV) Gazette. His magazine credits include Bird Watcher's Digest, Birder's World, WildBird, Wonderful West Virginia, and Birding Business; and he has written eight books, including Building a Backyard Bird Habitat (2000, Stackpole).

On weekends he hosts nature-themed radio shows in Wheeling, WV (Saturday, 8 to 10 a.m. on 1370 WVLY, wvly.net and 1600 WKKX), and Pittsburgh (Sunday, noon to 2 p.m. on 1360 WMNY, wmnyradio.com). And he speaks to dozens of groups every year on a variety of natural history topics. He lives on a wooded ridge top in Marshall County, WV with his wife, Linda, and their dog, Pip.

20 Years of Bird Questions... and 50 Minutes of Answers

Scott’s talk will cover all the most-interesting bird questions he has been asked during the past two decades. Bring your own bird questions and Scott will be happy to answer them for you.

John and Cathy Sill

About Cathy Sill

Cathryn (Cathy) Sill was born in Asheville, NC. She grew up in the small town of Franklin, NC., where she still lives. Her parents were nature lovers and instilled in her an appreciation of the natural world. She is a retired elementary school teacher. A desire to use natural history books with her kindergarten class prompted her to write easily understood and informative books. With her husband John as the illustrator, she has created two award-winning series of nonfiction books for children that now include 19 titles, published by Peachtree Publishers, Ltd. Cathy has always had an interest in music and continues to play the flute and sing in various choirs.

About John C. Sill

John was born in the coastal plain of North Carolina in the small town of St. Pauls.

John got his love of birds from his Aunt Della who had an abundant interest in all of creation. His father, a talented watercolor artist and an able naturalist, gave him instruction and encouraged him in his career. John has worked as a freelance artist and illustrator since 1971. His art has been exhibited in highly acclaimed shows and appeared in a number of books and magazines. John was the illustrator for the Bird Identification Calendar published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society from its beginning in 1980 until 2007. He has been the instructor of the Field Sketching and Bird Illustration Workshop for the Institute for Field Ornithology sponsored by the American Birding Association. While the subjects of most of John’s work have been birds (both real and imagined), his illustrations for his wife Cathryn’s much-awarded “About” series of children’s books have expanded his art to include other wildlife. John is currently working on the plates for A Field Guide to the Birds of Honduras.

MBS Topic: Little-Known and Seldom-seen Birds

John and Cathy Sill have a unique way of "looking" at birds. Or perhaps we should say a unique way of looking at "birds." They simply let their imaginations run wild.

In the introduction to their latest book, A Field Guide to Little-Known and Seldom-Seen Birds of North America, the Sills wrote:

"When the first edition of this field guide was published, there was much uncertainty in the birding community. Some of the new species described were a bit speculative, since little scientific data was available at that time. Now, 25 years later, we are pleased to say that the birds described in this updated volume are not only accurate, but also artfully arranged and sufficiently ambivalent. Simply put, this guide is the serious birder's best friend, but it will allow even novice birders to have an adjustable experience. The present guide clearly elucidates where newer studies have shown that original characteristics of certain species were incorrectly interpreted as being mistakenly accepted as unconfirmed fact."

The Sills promise that this new program is filled with exciting new "science."

Tom Stephenson

Tom Stephenson has been birding since he was a kid under the tutelage of Dr. Arthur Allen. His articles and photographs are in museums and many publications including Birding, Bird Watcher's Digest, Handbook of the Birds and Handbook of the Mammals of the World and Guide to the Birds of SE Brazil. He has lectured and guided many groups across the US as well as in Asia, where he trained guides for the government of Bhutan. He has donated many recordings of Eastern Himalayan rarities to Cornell's Macaulay Library of Natural sounds. He was on Zeiss's digiscoping team for the World Series of Birding and in 2011 his own team won the Cape Island Cup. As a musician he played concerts and did studio work for many years, working with several Grammy and Academy Award winners. He joined Roland Corporation in 1991, managed the recorder division, and retired recently as Director of Technology.

MBS Topic: The Warbler Guide: A New System For Identifying Warblers

Identifying the warblers and other species singing in the field is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying aspects of birding. However learning and remembering the important ID points of difficult and similar vocalizations can be challenging.

This lecture will cover many new techniques that make it easier to identify singing warblers and other species. This workshop will first cover how to understand and use sonograms to learn what makes a vocalization unique and how to differentiate similar-sounding species.

Based on a new system outlined in The Warbler Guide Tom will explain and demonstrate how understanding a song's structure, and the characteristics of the elements and phrases that make up the song, can speed up the identification process and make it easier to remember all kinds of vocalizations. There will also be a discussion of how to use a song finder to quickly identify a singing warbler using the objective, easy-to-hear qualities of a song.

The author will also explain a simple 3-step memorization system that he has used many times to memorize 300 or more songs for a trip to a new country.

Sharon Stitler

MBS Topic: SmartPhone Birding (camera, maps, field guide and rare bird alerts all in your pocket)

Sharon Stiteler was given a Peterson Field Guide to Birds when she was seven years old and snapped. She loves birds, it's just the way she's wired. Since 1997 she has made it her goal to get paid to go birding. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com and has been in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on NBC Nightly News as well as making regular appearances on Twin Cities' TV and radio stations. She's an international speaker and her writing can has been found in several publications including WildBird Magazine, Outdoor News, Birds & Blooms, 10,000 Birds and Birding Business. She wrote the books Disapproving Rabbits, City Birds/Country Birds and 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, is #32 in the Geek A Week Trading Card set and works part-time as a National Park Ranger. When she's not digiscoping or banding birds, she's a blue-ribbon beekeeper. Follow her on Twitter @Birdchick.

Julie Zickefoose

Julie Zickefoose makes her living interpreting what she finds wonderful, beautiful, fascinating, and disturbing about nature, especially the boundary where it intersects with people. Her job is to look closely, figure out what might be going on and how she feels about it all, then share what she finds. She has parlayed this job description into two well-received books: Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, In the Woods, and The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds. She's now at work on a third magnum opus: a book about the day-to-day development of nestling songbirds, as interpreted in words and watercolors, made directly from life.

MBS Topic: A Deeper Connection to Nature

Poetry, writing, drawing, painting, song—there are so many ways to interpret the world around you. It is in interpreting nature that we come to understand it. If you've ever taken a botany class and been asked to draw the parts of a flower, that can be a revelatory moment. You instinctively grasp how the flower is put together, in a way that would be difficult to put into words. It's a spatial understanding, inspired by the act of looking at it closely enough to draw it.

In a similar way, writing prose and poetry about one's experiences in nature teases out a deeper connection than you could build by simply moving through the natural world without attempting to relate what you find to someone else. This talk is aimed at inspiring you to create a product of your own. Presenter Julie Zickefoose might fairly be described as a compulsive creator of content, ranging from life sketches and watercolors through blogposts, essays, books, and even songs. We'll take a close look at some of her pieces, with the goal of demystifying the creative process and launching you on your own path of discovery and production.