Be the leader that you are

Robert G. Stanton, former Director of the National Park Service, came to speak at the University of Colorado. Mr Stanton grew up during the civil rights era of the 60’s. He was the first African-American National Parks Service Director. He went on to do many great things for the National Park Service, the American public, and in many ways, paved the road for people of color in the environmental field. He delivered a motivational talk on the history of the park services, the importance of the preservation of our parks and the importance of a diverse group of future stewards. He is what many would call a natural born leader and he knows exactly who he is. I am also very fortunate to know who I am. That is a strange thing to say, but at the same time how many of us can answered that with full clarity. On Wednesday morning I drove down to Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, where I attended a workshop hosted by the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education and the Denver Foundation on inclusiveness in non-profits. The workshop was to be run by an Angela Park, founder of Mission Critical (look her up when you get the chance), advisor in some sense for the white house, and someone that looked like she knew her stuff, yet I didn’t know what to expect.

2013 EFTA Intern Michelle Mendieta (Left) 2015 EFTA Intern Carlos Lerma (Right)

2013 EFTA Intern Michelle Mendieta (Left) 2015 EFTA Intern Carlos Lerma (Right) at the CAEE and Denver Foundation workshop on non-profit inclusiveness.

The reason I share this with you is because of what I learned on that Wednesday at that workshop, that helped me shift my perspective. Angela Park opened her wonderful workshop with a very important message, consider yourself a leader in this field of inclusiveness. That’s it! I want to make sure that very single being, no matter what color, gender, age, orientation, belief or what, is in one way or another involved in conserving their beautiful earth and the creatures that live on it. Now that’s some inspiration! She added that we could not be effective leaders without “answering the why” and what she meant was, why is it important to your organization to become diverse (in all sense of the word), why is it to you. We all chuckled as she gave us some comedic renditions of previous environ groups she’s worked with struggling to answered the simple question of why; many of them not being able to conjure a reason that didn’t seem self-interested, but she said it’s okay if it’s a selfish reason as long as it’s YOUR reason. See that is what is most important; you can’t be inclusive because it is “the right thing to do,” while it is totally the right thing to do there has to be a clear, concrete reason that will guide your organization to inclusiveness. She continued on to talk about identity, as an individual, group, organization and so on. Now this is were I felt that a lot of us could learn more,  because the topic of identity is so complex and convoluted, I don’t think half of us even know what to call ourselves and others. That’s the thing about people, we can’t help but just label everything, and this was my problem. I Identify as Latino, very proud of it, and that’s how every person of any background should be, proud of it. The problem is when you let your group identity become your individual identity and maybe I had let my group identity slip a little into who I am as and individual. That’s why when Angela reminded us that while in some ways we might associate with the subordinate group, in others we might be part of an oppressive dominant group, whether conscious of it or not. Yes I am Latino, but I’m also a male and heterosexual, which give me big time privilege when it comes to certain things in life.

It is crucial for us moving forward that we all understand that we have some privilege in on way or another. I can’t disproportionately say that I am at a disadvantage because I am Latino, I have advantages in so many other ways. Mr. Stanton was an African-American student at Huston-Tillston University when he first started working for the Park Service, during arguably one of the most difficult times to be a person of color. Yet we can see now 50 years later, that back then he embraced his privilege and decided to be a leader; to know who he truly is and not let himself be defined as someone who is disadvantaged, but instead someone who through hard work and perseverance is a reminder, just like a monument is or a state park, to all of  us that we can all be leaders in the field of inclusiveness as long as we are willing to acknowledge and accept all the parts of who we are.

Rally Rálidos-Colombia (Rallidae Rally- Colombia)

(La traducción al Español está por debajo de la sección en Inglés)


Rally flyer


The Association Calidris group during the Rallidae Rally survey in LAGUNA DE SONSO- Colombia. 2014.


My first experience working in the field with Asociacion Calidris was during Colombia’s first Rallidae Rally. During the rally we dedicated a morning to surveying Sonso, about an hour north from Cali, Colombia.

Our team prepared for the surveys at the Calidris office, where Yanira gave a presentation on the study area, methods, and the rail species common to Colombia. During this training we learned how to ID the rails through visual and vocalization characteristics.


The objective of the survey:

  • Obtain information
  • Identify local pressures and threats toward rails
  • Determine the status and population tendencies over time
  • Awaken interest within the ornithological community


With a group of 13, we split up into 4 groups – 2 groups on land and 2 groups on canoe/kayak.


I was happy to have been able go on a kayak! During the survey, we paddled along the edge of Sonso’s lagoon. In my previous internship with EFTA, in Alaska, I did A LOT of kayaking so being able to get back in a kayak brought a little nostalgia.


During our survey we stopped near the edge to listen and watch carefully for 10 minutes every 100 meters. We noted the initial time and end of the survey, the species we observed, information about the habitat, and took GPS coordinates for each of our survey points.


From previous visits the team expected to see a lot of common gallinule (Gallenula galeata), but to our surprise we saw and heard a lot of American coots (Fulica americana), a species that I have previously observed in California.


We all had a lot of fun. I learned a lot in such a short time. I learned the Latin names, visual and vocalization identification characteristics for rails in Colombia, with a little more practice it becomes a little easier.


My next adventure with Calidris involves traveling to Colombia’s Caribbean to reunite with a group of birds that I am familiar with from my internship in Cordova, Alaska- SHOREBIRDS!


( Español )


El grupo de Asociación Calidris durante la encuesta de Rally Rálidos en LAGUNA DE SONSO- Colombia. 2014.

Mi primera experiencia trabajando en el campo con la Asociación Calidris fue durante el primer Rally Rálidos de Colombia. Durante el rally nos dedicamos una mañana conduciendo una encuesta en Sonso, a una hora al norte de Cali, Colombia.


Nuestro equipo preparo para las encuestas en la oficina de Calidris, donde Yanira hizo una presentación sobre el área de estudio, los métodos y las especies comunes de rálidos de Colombia. Durante este entrenamiento, aprendimos a identificar a los rálidos a través de las características visuales y de vocalización.


Los objetivos de la encuesta:

  • Obtener información
  • Identificar presiones y amenazas locales a las que el grupo es sometido
  • Determinar con el tiempo el estatus y tendencias poblacionales
  • Despertar el interés de la comunidad ornitológica


Con un grupo de 13, nos dividimos en 4 grupos- 2 grupos en tierra y 2 grupos en canoa / kayak.


Yo estaba feliz en un kayak! Durante la encuesta, remamos por el borde de la laguna de Sonso. Desde mi pasantía previa con EFTA, en Alaska, estuve trabajando mucho en kayak así que la posibilidad de volver en un kayak me trajo un poco de nostalgia.


Durante nuestra encuesta nos detuvimos cerca del borde de la laguna para escuchar y observar cuidadosamente durante 10 minutos cada 100 metros. Tomando nota de el tiempo inicio y el final de la encuesta, las especies que observamos, información sobre el hábitat, y las coordenadas con GPS de cada uno de nuestros puntos de encuesta.


Desde visitas anteriores de el equipo anticipamos ver una gran cantidad de gallinula común (Gallenula galeata), pero para nuestra sorpresa vimos y escuchamos muchas fochas común (Fulica americana), una especie que he observado antes en California, EE.UU..


Todos nos divertimos mucho durante la encuesta. Aprendí mucho en tan poco tiempo. Aprendí los nombres en latín, las características visuales y de vocalización para identificar los rálidos en Colombia, y con mas practica se hace un poco mas fácil.


Mi próxima aventura con Calidris implica viajar al Caribe de Colombia para reunirme con un grupo de aves que estoy familiarizada desde mi pasantía en Córdova, Alaska -AVES PLAYERAS!

El hambre

Varied Thrush, studied by Klamath Bird Observatory Taken by KBO Bander Aracely Camacho

Varied Thrush, studied by Klamath Bird Observatory
Taken by KBO Bander Aracely Camacho

Evening Grosbeak,  studied by Klamath Bird Observatory Taken by KBO Bander Aracely Camacho

Evening Grosbeak, studied by Klamath Bird Observatory
Taken by KBO Bander Aracely Camacho

Phew. A heavy sigh of relief escaped my mouth. Ten birds handled in under twenty-five minutes, that was a record for me, and the normal, safe rate at which a bird bander is expected to handle a live specimen. After a month of scrambling to bring my skills up to par, I finally achieved the 3 minute challenge: take the birds out of the net in under three minutes, collect the data in under three minutes, and release the bird back along its happy way. For this brief moment, I felt competent, like I could actually go about calling myself a bird bander…Until I went off to carry out a point count and mistook a Western Scrub Jay call for a Gray Jay. To the untrained ear, this may seem like a trivial mistake, but for the sake of protecting avian wildlife, it’s a critical error that could skew data necessary to understand where the birds go and what resources we may focus on in land management plans.

These small slip-ups are also my reminder that a challenge met is not a final destination, but rather the beginning to a new path of learning. Attaining wisdom is much like a first encounter with your favorite food item. That first bite seals your fate, a fleeting moment of euphoria that you will forever desire when hunger inevitably strikes. From that moment on, you will always look forward to the next meal, and all of the satisfaction that it will bring.

I remember it distinctly: the day I discovered the glory of the empanada. At just barely eight years old, my parents shipped my brothers and me to Argentina. With five thousand miles on the plane and thirteen hours on a bus to travel, when we finally arrived three days later we burst out of my uncle’s decaying car as chaotically as the loose screws and bolts that precariously pieced the scrap metal together. The scene we happened upon offered no relief: ingredients were sprawled out across a long table, exclamations of “Che!” and “Epa!” randomly interrupted passionate conversations, and sporadic echoes of chastising slaps cut through the crisp air as a warning to keep our prying hands away from the food. After a few failed attempts at sneaking in for a handful of food, my mother put me to work at the table, showing me how to cautiously fold the edges of the dough to tuck the ingredients into a neat pie. Getting my hands in the mess made me more anxious. What would this appetizing packet ultimately taste like?

There is no equivalent feeling that I could relate to explain the glory that consumed me when I finally took my first bite into an empanada. With the juice of sauteed meat and vegetables dripping down my cheek, my family violently attacking the hot trays of food, and the whistles of curious birds in the background, in that moment my mind was awakened to the beauty of good food and company. This wisdom has left me longing for more, a curiosity that I fill with dreams of what kind of empanada (meat, corn, onion, tomato…), where I will eat it next and who I will share this precious knowledge with. Learning is my intellectual empanada; I love it too much not to enlighten others when I fulfill a new tidbit of understanding. It’s a vicious cycle, the more you know, the more you ask, and the more compelled you are to keep seeking answers.

When I first started my adventure into the world of birding, I understood close to nothing about a bird’s biology, need to sing, why they leave for the winter, and significance in society. It was a massive surprise to me that I landed a job with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to work with birds. Something strange happened to me over the course of the year I worked for the Institute–I became insatiably curious about the movements of birds.  While the work empowered me with knowledge of songbirds on the East coast, I was very aware of how little of the surface I scratched. Environment for the Americas called me at just the right time–saying yes propelled me through a series of disparate projects that introduced me to new families of birds and entirely new habitats. By the end of the summer, I had taken on the persona of Yaquina Head’s “Crazy Bird Lady” and often found myself in conversations with strangers about how insanely cute Snowy Plovers are. Yet, even then, I knew I was still swimming in the shallow end of the pool.

EFTA’s suggestion to apply for Klamath Bird Observatory was my invitation to accept a new challenge: to learn about the songbirds of the West coast. Through this experience, I am operating where I feel most comfortable learning–out of my comfort zone. My colleagues, trainers, and Stephanie are all pushing me to be a better biologist, advising me on where I can improve my technique in handling wild birds and inspiring me to study the bird’s life cycles in more depth. I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by stimulation, and be able to study our subject matter up close through banding with KBO. On our first day our supervisor handed Stephanie and me a checklist of materials and tasks he wanted us to master. As I go ticking off the checks, my mind rolls into a conflict of complacency and impatience; each step I conquer paves way to another hill to climb. In the field, I am happy to embrace my slip-ups, because they bring to light my weaknesses and force me to bridge the gaps in my understanding. Much like the craving for empanadas, questioning my developing expertise is my motivation to keep learning.

Spend a lot of time with coworkers and somehow you end up matching! Here are two my colleagues, Kendall (our resident photographer) and Aracely. Both are great teachers, and inspirational biologists.

Spend a lot of time with coworkers and somehow you end up matching! Here are two my colleagues, Kendall (our resident photographer) and Aracely. Both are great teachers, and inspirational biologists.

A Common Cause

Alexis Diaz with a Western scrub-jay

Alexis Diaz with a Western scrub-jay

I was extremely excited when I met Alexis Diaz, a fellow Peruvian participating in the KBO bird banding internship. I don’t see many Peruvians these days, especially in the sciences working in bird conservation, so I was intrigued by his background and experience. He has not been in the country for long, in fact he traveled from Lima to Oregon this past May to obtain his bird banding certification and become a banding trainer. He will bring his knowledge and skills back to our home country, where he is in charge of the Santa Eulalia River Biological Station-Corbidi (Estación Biológica Río Santa Eulalia- Corbidi). It is exciting to see the kind of avian conservation work that is taking place in Peru and I’d like to share it with you.

The Santa Eulalia River Biological Station  has been active since 2012 and it is part of the Corbidi’s (Center of Ornithology and Biodiversity) Banding Program. The banding station is one of five and is located in the Santa Eulalia river basin, just a few hours from the capital of Peru. This area is home to four endemic species to Peru, the black-necked woodpecker, rusty-bellied brush finch, rusty-crowned tit-spinetail, and bronze-tailed comet, which little are known about. Their mission is to better understand the life history of the avian population in this part of the Andes, looking at productivity, longevity, survival, distribution, molt patters, and morphology of birds. They also aim at offering training to college students and provide educational sessions to the community on birds, their science and conservation. The field station is volunteer-based, hosting monthly banding outings to do their work. Participants involved get to camp for a weekend and hike through the beautiful mountains while bird watching and banding, essentially offering conservation or homestay tourism for Peruvians and foreigners.

The environmental group in action

The environmental group in action

In terms of their practices, they follow the same code of ethics as we do here in with Klamath Bird Observatory and in fact they use the exact same manual, the North American Bander’s Manual and Study Guide. In 2012, they operated for eight months, accounting for 704 hours of open net time. During this time, they observed 36 species of birds from 18 different families, the majority being tyrant flycatchers at 19%, followed by hummingbirds at 16%. In terms of banding efforts, they captured 226 birds from 20 different species, the most common being the rufous-collared sparrow. That year they had a total of 23 recaptured individuals contributing to a 10% recapture rate. This offers great input into determining migratory routes and rest areas of birds. So far this year, they’ve had great success, banding 918 individuals from 33 different species, recapturing 214 individuals and increasing the recapture rate to 13.51%!

I am excited to see  what kind of findings the Santa Eulalia station will have in the future. For now, their plan is to compile information from the many specimens they have to create an identification book of peruvian birds similar to Pyle’s “Identification Guide to North American Birds”. It is comforting to know that there is a dedicated group of people in Peru that are working towards conserving endemic species and its habitats. I encourage you to take part on this conservation and get in contact with the Santa Eulalia River Biological Station if you are thinking of visiting Peru and want a unique and unforgettable experience. There are opportunities for banding not only in Santa Eulalia, but also northern and southern Peru, in Piura and Ica, as well as, in the rainforests of  Iquitos and Madre de Dios.


The Santa Eulalia banding crew

For more information visit their Facebook page,  or contact them at

Hello, you’ve got mail!

From: Passenger Pigeon

To: Me and You!

I’ve been thinking lately, that many of us don’t know that birds are truly the messengers of the natural world. When you think of a bird messenger, if you’re like me at least, then you think of a pharaoh from ancient times, in his robes made of the finest silks and gold, delicately placing the characters of an urgent message on a papyrus scroll, which he then roles up to give to his falcon as it flies off into the distant desert sunset. Very Hollywood right? But in reality while historically there has been some “avian delivery,” the real message that they bring is more subtle and of greater importance.

They are, in some cases, the sole indicator of the overall health of an ecosystem; a task that is so perfectly achieved by them. Everyone has heard of the ‘canaries in the mine’ reference, so it’s known that birds are greatly affect by there surroundings. With that being said, do you wonder how many researchers are looking at the responses that birds are having to the environment?

Well many actually, I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on a Webninar hosted by Allison Vogt, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Ken Rosenburg, Cornell Lab of Ornithology where they went over the NABCI State of the Birds Report for 2014. For those of us who don’t know what the State of the Bird Report or the NABCI are, let me shed some light. The State of the Bird Report is one of 5 yearly reports that goes back to 2009, which uses data from citizen science groups like North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count to analyze the populations of birds in distinct ecological habitats as a way of understanding the trends of the populations in those habitats and the environments themselves. NABCI is a congregation of federal agencies, conservation organizations and others that together work to maintain happy and healthy bird life in North America; and thanks to all the hard work and collaboration we now have a “report card” as Allison put it, for how effective our conservation efforts are. There are people looking at the affects of our environmental manipulation on birds, and while many species are in decline there are still some hope.

So I encourage you to read the report if you haven’t already, it isn’t technical, long or confusing; it’s main audience is policy makers and the general public. Learn about what habitat you belong to and the severity of the decline of species. Understand how appropriate governmental policies can bring about change for birds, the environment and yourself. Don’t let the messages that our feathery friends are sending go unread.