The finest collection of trip leaders and guides providing world class instruction and with one of the best guide-to-guest ratios on the festival circuit!
Take a leisurely scroll and to get to know them.

Mark GarlandMark is a naturalist who has been sharing his enthusiasm for nature with others professionally for nearly 40 years. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture Work experience includes 6 years as a Ranger/Naturalist with the National Park Service, 17 years with the Audubon Naturalist Society (based in the Washington, DC area), and 4 years with New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory.

He has also led tours for Smithsonian Journeys, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Riveredge Nature Center, and Betchart Expeditions. He teaches week-long birding classes in Cape May for the Road Scholar program by Elderhostel each spring and fall, and he also teaches at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine. He continues to lead many field trips and workshops for both Audubon Naturalist Society and the New Jersey Audubon Society. From 2006 to 2016 he planned and operated the Nature Travel Program for the Audubon Naturalist Society.

He is the author of the book Watching Nature: A Mid-Atlantic Natural History, published by the Smithsonian Press in 1997, and of the chapter Canal Walk in the Anthology City Birding, published by Stackpole Books in 2003. He founded the Cape Charles, Virginia, Monarch butterfly research project in 1995, and in 2015 he became the Director of the Monarch Monitoring Project in Cape May, New Jersey. He has co-authored 3 scientific papers on the Cape Charles monarch migration project.

Since early 2015 he has authored the “Birders Question Mark,” Q&A Column for Bird Watchers’ Digest. For over 15 years he appeared regularly on the weekly radio program Metro Connection on Washington’s public radio station WAMU. He has written regular columns for the Cape May Star and Wave, for birdcapemay.org, and for the Audubon Naturalist News; one of the latter pieces was awarded the Excellence in Mass Media Award by the American Association of University Women in 1995. He is a frequent speaker at various events, ranging from nature and birding festivals to bird club monthly meetings.

Mark currently runs his own small business Garland Cunningham LLC, which plans and conducts the programs and private tours he leads and tours led by other naturalists.   

To learn more about Mark, go to mgnature.com

Jim McCormacJim worked for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for 31 years as a botanist, and later specializing in wildlife diversity projects, especially involving birds.

He has authored or coauthored six books, including Birds of Ohio (Lone Pine 2004); and Wild Ohio: The Best of Our Natural Heritage (Kent State University Press 2009). The latter won the 2010 Ohioana Book award. He is a coauthor of the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II book. His latest book, coauthored with Chelsea Gottfried, is Gardening for Moths (Ohio University Press 2023).

Jim writes a column, Nature, for the Columbus Dispatch, and regularly publishes a natural history blog. He has written numerous articles in a variety of publications, and has delivered hundreds of presentations throughout the eastern United States. He was named 2015 Conservation Communicator of the Year by the Ohio League of Sportsmen.

Jim is an avid photographer, shooting a range of natural history subjects. He has had hundreds of photos published in various forums. His photography can be sampled at jimmccormac.com.



Katie FallonKatie is the author of the nonfiction books Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird (University Press of New England, 2017) and Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird (Ruka Press, 2011), which was a Finalist for the Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment. Katie is also the co-author of two books for children, Look, See the Bird! (2017) and Look, See the Farm! (forthcoming 2018), both from Hatherleigh Press.

Katie’s essays have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines, including Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Ecotone, Bark Magazine, Appalachian Heritage, Now & Then, Isotope, Fourth River, the minnesota review, The Tusculum Review, and elsewhere. Her essay “Rebirth” (published in River Teeth, Fall 2013) was listed as a “Notable” in Best American Science & Nature Writing 2014, and her essay “Hill of the Sacred Eagles” was a finalist in Terrain‘s 2011 essay contest. She has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize. Katie has taught creative writing at Virginia Tech and West Virginia University; she is currently Guest Faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where she teaches Nonfiction in the Low-Residency MFA Program.

Katie is also one of the founders of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds through scientific research; outreach and public education; and rescue and rehabilitation. The ACCA is based near Morgantown, WV, and each year treats more than 300 injured wild birds, conducts dozens of environmental education programs, and sponsors citizen-science research projects.

To learn more about Katie and the ACCA, go to katiefallon.com and accawv.org


Dr Bill Hilton JrBill’s job allows him to do all day what he likes best, so his vocational activities are almost indistinguishable from his hobbies.

Among his awards are: South Carolina Science Teacher of the Year, and SC’s Outstanding Biology Teacher; one of “50 Best Brains in Science” in the December 2008 issue of Discover magazine; Carolinas Guardian of the Environment; Outstanding Alumnus, Alumni Ring, and Luceo Mea Luce Awards from Newberry College; and the Prize for Excellence from Yamagata University in Japan in an international competition for projects involving “Nature and Human Symbiosis.” In 2023 the Governor of South Carolina recognized Hilton's accomplishments in science, education, and conservation with The Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian award.
Bill holds a BA in Philosophy from Newberry College, Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Biology from Winthrop University, and an M.S. in Ecology & Behavioral Biology from the University of Minnesota. Newberry also awarded him an honorary doctorate (D.Sci) for professional achievements and commitment to the College.

Bill has studied extensively and trained students, teachers, and biologists in the U.S. and eight other countries. He continues his work as an educator through lectures and workshops; as a consultant in science curriculum design and implementation and in outdoor learning; and as a widely published author on nature and education. Bill also works with outdoor learning and nature centers to design trails, interpretive exhibits, and comprehensive education programs. In 2008, Hilton began exchange work as Consulting Director for New River Birding & Nature Center at Wolf Creek Park in Fayette County WV and designed the Wetlands Boardwalk.

In 1999 Bill launched “Operation Ruby Throat: The Hummingbird Project,” a cross-disciplinary initiative that builds international collaboration among students and teachers. An active field researcher, Hilton is authorized to capture wild birds and has banded and released more than 7,500 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, a non-profit organization where he has banded an addition 77,00-plus birds of 126 species. He has led 30 “citizen science" expeditions into Central America to band and observe ruby-throats on non-breeding grounds in the Neotropics.

To learn more about Bill and his work as an educator-naturalist, go to rubythroat.org and hiltonpond.org and "Like" his Facebook pages facebook.com/HiltonPond for timely updates on nature topics, and facebook.com/rubythroats for info about hummingbirds. Follow him on Twitter @hiltonpond.

Dr Thomas PauleyThomas was born and raised in West Virginia and is a graduate of both Marshall University and West Virginia University. With a doctorate he is a professor of biological sciences at Marshall University in Huntington WV. His teaching specialties are ornithology, herpetology, and conservation biology.

He has conducted numerous research focused herpetological studies since the 1960's, and has subsequently developed an impressive list of published papers, abstracts, government and private sector documents, books, brochures, manuals, field guides, and contributions to books.

In October 2018, Pauley was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Forest Service in recognition of his career and contributions to the field of herpetology and the biology of the Cheat Mountain Salamander.

In 2019 newly described species of salamander found in West Virginia and parts of Kentucky and Tennessee was named the Yellow-spotted Woodland Salamander, Plethodon pauleyi, for Thomas Pauley, “protector of salamanders.”

To learn more about Thomas and his work at Marshall University, go to marshall.edu/herp and read this article by Peter Krch in the 10/2022 issue of “Wonderful West Virginia.”


Jim RappJim is a naturalist and tireless promoter of nature and heritage travel experiences on the peninsula that comprises the State of Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia (known regionally as “Delmarva”). He started birding in 1989 while attending Salisbury University, and became active in Delmarva’s birding community after attending the Eastern Shore of Virginia Birding & Wildlife Festival in 1991.

Jim is the director of the Hazel Outdoor Discovery Center, a 500+ acre wildlife preserve and outdoor recreation hub located in Eden, Maryland. The mission of the HODC is to provide opportunities to explore and celebrate nature, and to promote harmony between all people through natural experiences. Thanks to Mr. Hazel’s generosity and vision, the HODC is made available to scout, school and youth groups at no cost. Learn more at www.HazelOutdoors.org.

Jim was employed as director of the Salisbury Zoological Park from 1994 through 2007. During his service as zoo director, Jim helped develop innovative wildlife education programs, and earned accreditation on three separate occasions from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. In addition to managing the daily operations for a living collection, buildings, and grounds that hosted 200,000+ annual visitors, Jim also found time to help found and manage the award-winning Delmarva Birding Weekend.

From 2007 through 2011, Jim was employed as director of Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences (DLITE). Under Jim’s direction, DLITE received tourism awards from the Delaware and Maryland Offices of Tourism for the innovative social media-marketing program Host Our Coast, and from the Delaware Office of Tourism for the Delmarva Birding Weekend. Jim was named Tourism Person of the Year in both Wicomico and Worcester counties in 2004 and 2006 respectively.

With much assistance from partners, Jim also led efforts to create water trails for Smith Island, the Nanticoke River, and Maryland’s coastal bays; develop interpretation training programs for Delmarva nature and history; and establish the Smith Island cake as Maryland’s official state dessert.

Photo from October 2008 with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (seated, center) during the signing of legislation designating the Smith Island Cake as the official State Dessert of Maryland.

Jim has served the community as a volunteer leader with several Delmarva-area nonprofit organizations, and has chaired the Board of Directors for the Assateague Coastal Trust, Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council, Wicomico Environmental Trust, and the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance. He is currently the chair of the Wildlife Diversity Advisory Committee for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Prior to forming Conservation Community Consulting with Dave Wilson, Jim served as a consultant for the Rackliffe House Trust from 2011 through 2016. He also produces monthly travel videos with Unscene Productions for Worcester County Tourism’s Beach and Beyond YouTube channel.

To learn more about Jim and Conservation Community Consulting, go to conservationcommunityconsulting.com

Tom StephensonTom has been birding since he was a kid under the tutelage of Dr. Arthur Allen of Cornell University. His articles and photographs are in museums and many publications including Birding, Birdwatcher’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 African and Eastern Himalayan rarities and other species 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 team won the World Series Cape Island Cup. Tom and team also hold the US record for a Photo Big Day, capturing 208 species on camera in a 24-hour period.
As a musician he played concerts and did studio work for many years, working with several Grammy and Academy Award winners as well as performing with members of the NY Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His clients included the Grateful Dead, Phil Collins and the FBI. He joined Roland Corporation in 1991, managed the recorder division, and retired recently as Director of Technology.
His latest book, The Warbler Guide, is published by Princeton University Press and recently won the National Outdoor Book Award. The Warbler Guide App won the 2015 Design Award for AAUP Book, Jacket and Journal Show. His new app, BirdGenie, a “shazam” for bird song is available since 2015. Tom is endorsed by Zeiss Sports Optics.

To learn more about Tom, go to thewarblerguide.com


Jeff GordonJeffrey Gordon has been a part of the Festival family for 20 years, reflecting his abiding love for the event, the place, and those who call it home—human, avian, and otherwise. He is an internationally-known writer, speaker, photographer, tour leader, and naturalist, having worked for organizations including the US National Park Service, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, BWD, and the American Birding Association, where he served as President for over a decade.

Throughout his career, Jeff has never lost his love of guiding and of being part of a group sharing the beauty of birds and the wonders of discovery in nature. He and his wife, Liz, live in Media, Pennsylvania with 2 standard poodles and 2 indoor cats.





Dorian Anderson started birding in his backyard in Philadelphia at age seven. His interest grew to include the Delaware Valley and Jersey Shore during his preteen years, and he attended several of Victor Emanuel’s youth birding camps as a teenager. He envisioned himself a life-long birder until his educational rise and coincident alcoholism extinguished his birding desire. With his focus split between science and drinking, his birding passion birding atrophied through twenties, until he got sober at thirty and reconnected with his former obsession.

Despite the aforementioned alcoholism and much coincident drug use, Anderson received his B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Stanford University, did predoctoral research at Harvard University, and earned his Ph.D. in Developmental Genetics and Molecular Cell Biology from New York University. Moving to Boston after getting sober, he spent three years as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Molecular Neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital before resigning the academic rat race and undertaking his bicycle Big Year.

Momentum from that life-changing project opened many doors including public speaking and travel writing. Anderson worked in Colombia as a consultant for the National Audubon Society, and he is currently a guide for Tropical Birding. He is an accomplished bird photographer and has just finished his long-awaited memoir, Birding Under the Influence: Cycling across America in Search of Birds and Recovery. You can find his book, "Birding Under the Influence: Cycling Across America in Search of Birds and Recovery," at amazon.com.


Dawn HewittDawn is a field naturalist for Zeiss Optics, and writes posts for Zeiss Birding social media. She is also the Spotlight columnist and managing editor for the new BWD Magazine, and is the former editor of Bird Watcher's Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. She was bitten by the birding bug in 1979 during an ornithology class at West Virginia University. Consequently, many of the first birds on her life list were found in West Virginia. While working as a copy editor and reporter for The Herald-Times newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, she was also the newspaper’s weekly birding columnist.

She is a past president of Sassafras Audubon Society, in Bloomington, and a founding friend of Friends of Goose Pond, based in Linton, Indiana.

She has been to all 50 states, and birded in most of them!





From near and afar, depending where you are, these terrific people provide tremendous support and camaraderie. Local talent tossed into the mix enhances the flavor of cultural and natural history on each field trip. Their good humor, knowledge and love for the West Virginia mountains are sincere and appreciated.

Hosts & Guides - go to "Who We Are"
Rachel Davis
Geoff Heeter
Paul Shaw
Keith Richardson 
Jodi French-Burr

Rachel Davis is a lifelong Appalachian and avid naturalist who seeks a better understanding of wildlife through observation and research. She believes in curiosity, appreciation, and coexistence. "Learnin'" began with dear ol' Dad teaching her about tracking, wildlife, plants, and the fun of Appalachian folklore. After college experiences where she studied fine and applied arts, marketing, business, and community/economic development, Rachel is now a small business owner, event planner, property manager, nature tour guide, et cetera.

Since 2007, Rachel has been with the New River Birding & Nature Festival as the Marketing Director, co-coordinator/co-host, and local guide. As one of the original developers of the New River Birding & Nature Center in 2008, she continues to organize and provide educational opportunities and programs in the outdoor classroom for students, organizations, and adults. In 2020, Rachel began leading off-road nature tours with New River ATV.

Over the years, thousands of young people have attended free environmental education programming at the the New River Birding & Nature Center. In 2022, it won "Best Birdwatching Spot" in the "Best of the Blue Ridge Awards" in the "Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine." In 2023, the Department of Environmental Protection highlighted it as one of twelve "Wild & Wonderful Wetlands in West Virginia." In 2024, through an agreement with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, the site will host a MOTUS tower to track and study movements of radio-tagged birds.



Jodi French-BurrJodi is a life long natural and cultural heritage enthusiast. Growing up hiking and camping led her to earn a degree in Recreation & Wildlife from Ohio’s Hocking Technical College were she began an in-depth study of flora and fauna and developed a fondness for wildflowers and Appalachian ecology. Jodi currently is an Intreptive National Park Service Park Ranger for over 30 years. As a "teacher in a park," she strives to share her love of nature with others and help people find their own connection to the world around them. In her work at New River Gorge National River she helped develop and coordinate the annual events New River Gorge Wildflower Weekend (2000), Hidden History Weekend (2009), and Youth Arts in the Parks and youth wildflower art contest (2009). Jodi is a Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics Master Instructor, as well as an instructor and a leader for the New River Gorge Chapter of West Virginia Master Naturalist. Her love of nature comes through in her naturalist work as a storyteller, sharing tales of flora and fauna folklore and mythology. “There is always something exciting to discover and learn in nature!”



Allen & Mindy WaldronAllen and Mindy Waldron are a pair of local West Virginia birders living in nearby Raleigh County.  Mindy has been a birder for many years.  Allen came to birding in the 90’s.  Both are members of the Bibbee Nature Club and the Brooks Bird Club in West Virginia. They spend the summer months operating two MAPS ( Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) bird banding stations.  They stay busy throughout the year with 3 Breeding Bird Surveys, Breeding Bird Point Counts, Christmas Bird Counts and the Big Sit.  Raleigh and Summers Counties in southern West Virginia are their favorite locales for birding, botanizing, and enjoying all aspects of nature.  







Alma LowryAlma Lowry became interested in birding 30 years ago after her children left the nest. Since then, she has expanded her circle of friends and knowledge of birds on outings with the Brooks Bird Club and Bibbee Nature Club. Vacations have been primarily focused on birds and Alma has added life birds at destinations around the United States and internationally. She has participated in the New River Birding & Nature Festival, first as a participant and then as a local guide for more than ten years. Alma is excited to share her joy of birding with fellow enthusiasts. 







Rosanna is a West Virginia native, growing up hiking and exploring the Cranberry Wilderness and backcountry areas. During those years she developed a love for the outdoors and natural world. She is a conservation educator and certified interpretive guide through the National Association for Interpretation. Rosanna has worked for the Forest Service for 17 years, spending 13 of those years at the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center involved in programing, event planning, helping with West Virginia native snake programs, developing and tending the pollinator and native wildflower beds, and leading tours of the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area.

Rosanna has a passion for wildflowers and enjoys hunting down rare species and native orchids.  She is also an avid nature photographer. Some of her work has been used in WV publications and on interpretive panels and displays. 







Mitchell Dech lives on a farm near Mount Hope in the New River Gorge area where he practices sustainable and permaculture agriculture by grazing their sheep in fruit, nut and berry orchards.

He has hiked the Allegheny Trail and part of Mary Ingles' 1755 journey, and enjoys birdwatching and wildflowers, and especially discovering old trees!

Mitchell and his son participate in a variety of volunteer activities for the New River Gorge National Park Service and the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association.