Balcones Songbird Festival
Meet Your Guides
When I was 14 years old, I spotted a tall, gray-blue bird standing in a creek with a wiggly crawfish in its mouth. I ran home to get the Texas Birds field guide. I searched until I found a picture of a Yellow Crowned Night Heron. Wow! Ever since then, I have been a birder, curious and excited to see all kinds of birds. Much later in life, I spotted my first Golden-cheeked Warbler singing in the sunlight on a Travis Audubon “Two Hour Tuesday.” I joined the Travis Audubon Society and now participate on various committees: Field Trip, Youth, and Blair Woods. I enjoy interacting with beginning birders of all ages, and I’m often outside leading groups and looking for birds.
Terry has been birding for at least 20 years, probably more, and is the classic “bird nerd”. She loves to lead field trips and her favorite place to go is a park, usually the state parks. Somehow she was lucky enough to be gifted good birding ears, so more often than not she can hear birds before she has seen them. She confesses this has made her a little lazy in the bird spotting and field identification department, but she is working to rectify this situation.
She thinks that now more than ever birders have the opportunity to teach their community about the importance of birds and nature. We need to draw everyone into the fold – young, old, people of all colors and nationalities, abilities, beliefs, even those who have different political persuasions than us. She believes there is nothing more important to survival than being good stewards of the planet, and helping birds survive is being a good steward. She thinks we can work together to help everyone to see this important truth.
Bio Coming Soon!
Bio Coming Soon!
Coco Brennan is a Texas Master Naturalist as well as a Bexar Audubon member. Coco moved to the Hill Country in 2006 after spending the previous 10 years overseas with an international oil company. She started volunteering at the Refuge in 2007. Coco also works with Texas Parks and Wildlife as well as Audubon doing Golden-cheeked warbler surveys in Bexar and Comal counties. She performs bird surveys with Cibolo Nature Center in Kendall county. Coco is heavily involved in education and interpretation for Audubon and Bat Conservation International.
Martin Byhower leads field trips for The Williamson Audubon Group (WAG) and other organizations. A professional birding guide and award-winning science teacher from CA, he is reveling in the biodiversity in Central Texas. He is past president of the Palos Verdes/South Bay (CA) Audubon chapter and has been active with numerous conservation organizations in CA and now in Texas. He is a Texas Master Naturalist with the Good Water Chapter, and has his own native plant retail/garden business. Martin lives in Georgetown and is one of the area coordinators for the Georgetown Christmas Bird Count.
John Chenoweth & Bill Reiner
John Chenoweth and Bill Reiner have been birding together since they worked as a team on the refuge from 2001 to 2004. In those years, they mapped territories of the refuge’s two endangered bird species, though their primary task was monitoring and control of the oak wilt fungus, earning them the nickname The Oak Wilt Boys. Today they are both employed as biologists with the City of Austin, where they continue to monitor and protect Golden-cheeked Warblers and Black-capped Vireos on lands of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. They enjoy challenging each other’s bird and plant identification skills, and sharing with refuge visitors their passion for exploring the natural communities of the Texas Hill Country.
Bio Coming Soon!
Janet M. Davis
Janet M. Davis is a professor of American Studies and History at the University of Texas at Austin, where her scholarly research and teaching focuses on transnational approaches to American cultural, social, and environmental history—paying special attention to the history of human and animal relationships. She comes from a long line of birders, including her late father who shared his passion for birds with her throughout her childhood in Hawai’I and the Upper Midwest, as well as in India, where he visited her while she studied abroad in college. Her husband Jeff shares her love of birding. Indeed, they spent their first dates at several key birding areas in Wisconsin, including Horicon Marsh and the Wisconsin River corridor. Their respective work lives mostly keep them birding close to home in Central Texas, where they greatly enjoy sharing their passion for birds with other people as fieldtrip leaders for Travis Audubon.
Shelia Hargis was first introduced to the amazing world of birds during the summer of 1996 when she took an Introduction to Birds class taught by Fred and Marie Webster. She encountered her first male Painted Bunting, and her world transformed! She quickly slid down the slippery slope into obsession and has happily remained there for over 25 years. She spends most of her free time birding or thinking about birds. (She spends some of her work time thinking about birds too, but please don’t tell her boss!) Within the last few years, she has become very interested in watching bird behavior to better understand how birds live their lives, and she is completing the Cornell Lab’s Ornithology: Comprehensive Bird Biology online course with some of her birding buddies. Shelia gives presentations on a variety of bird topics, teaches the Introduction to Bird Behavior and eBird classes for Travis Audubon, surveys birds for the City of Austin and the North American Breeding Bird Survey, participates in numerous Christmas Bird Counts each year, and regularly leads birding field trips. She is Past President of both Travis Audubon and Texas Ornithological Society and is still very active in both of those organizations. She is also a proud graduate of the Capital Area Master Naturalist Class of 2022. Yes, Shelia is totally obsessed with birds!
Rich Kostecke & Veena Mohan
Rich has a BS in Biology from the University of Kansas, MS in Zoology from North Dakota State University, and PhD in Wildlife Science from Texas Tech University. Over the last several decades, mostly in the non-profit sector, Rich’s work has focused on the conservation, ecology, and management of birds and their habitats in Texas, land conservation in general, and conservation planning. Currently, he works for Hill Country Conservancy. Rich has long been involved with recovery efforts for the Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler and has also worked on grassland birds and on sky island bird communities in west Texas. Rich has been an avid birder since 1995 and is currently the eBird reviewer for Terrell and Williamson counties in Texas. Although birds are his foremost passion, Rich is interested in all biodiversity, is active on iNaturalist (moths and other insects are a new-found interest) and spends a fair bit of time and effort in propagating/landscaping with native plants in his NW Austin yard. Rich is often accompanied by his wife, Veena Mohan, on his birding adventures. She developed a great love of the outdoors on her many trips with her intrepid husband, traveling through the neotropics and South India.
Bio Coming Soon!
Cheryl McGrath has lived in Austin since 1982, and has been actively birding Central Texas for the past ten years. Growing up in Central New York, her mother was an avid birder, who in 1975 spotted a Snowy Owl hanging out in nearby fields. It was a good bird to launch a life list, and a life-long fascination with birds great and small!
Jeff was born in Madison Wisconsin, and spent as much time as he could outside while growing up. His first real appreciation of birds really came through hunting, and he eagerly learned the silhouettes of all the likely ducks to be encountered before going out to the blind in the early morning. One of his favorite all time birds is still the Ruffed Grouse that he first encountered during this time. In his 20’s he bought my first real camera, learned how it worked, and practiced taking photos of many wildlife subjects, including the wintering eagles that fished on the Wisconsin River. On one of their first dates, he and his wife Janet visited those eagles below the Sauk Prairie Dam. As a young married couple they moved to Northern Wisconsin (where he taught Conservation and Life Sciences) and found themselves outdoors almost every day, often on skis or snowshoes, and frequently carrying a child on our back, while noting wildlife along the way. By the time they moved to Texas in 1998, he considered himself a casual birder. After the children left home they both really ramped up their bird finding, which soon turned into an almost daily habit. Being a teacher, he really enjoys showing others how to find birds and to better appreciate the workings of the natural world.
Dennis Palafox is a native Texan and first moved to Austin in 1975. He has B.S. and M.S in Biology. He has close to 40 years of experience in the natural resources field. Dennis developed his interest in birds as part of job duties. He says he “officially” became a birder about 14 years ago after taking Byron Stone’s Sparrow Class. He has expanded his knowledge about birds by taking classes, attending workshops, and by participating in Breeding Bird Surveys and Christmas Bird Counts. He has birded throughout Texas and the U.S. as well as Central America and Europe.
Dennis has been leading field trips for the Travis Audubon Society (TAS) for about three years. Recently, he became the TAS Field Trip Committee Chair. Dennis believes that birding should be a fun learning experience. He particularly enjoys leading field trips for new birders because he enjoys seeing their enthusiasm as they become more familiar with birds. His philosophy in leading field trips is that it’s a collaborative effort whereby the leader participates as a facilitator and works with participants to locate, identify, and become more familiar with birds. He also enjoys the social aspects of birding because he gets to make new friends with a shared common interest. More recently, like other birders, he has developed an interest in photographing and digiscoping birds. His goal is to take a picture of every species he sees.
Randy life has been defined by birds & birding since 1972. His focus is Texas and North American birds although he enjoys neotropical birding and has traveled widely in Mexico and Central America. Pinkston has a wildlife science degree from Aggieland and at one time hoped to make some sort of living in birds. Instead, he took the easy way out and became a surgeon so that he could afford to live a comfortable life while birding. He has led numerous birding tours in Texas & Arizona over the past 30+ years, including several central Texas winter sparrow workshops for Texas Ornithological Society. As a Life Member of TOS he has done Pineywoods breeding warbler trips and has served on its Bird Records Committee. He co-authored the Texas column for North American Birds magazine since 2004. Recently Randy has taken an interest in birding with a digital camera and telephoto lens.
Dr. Sexton has been active in environmental issues for over 25 years in Austin and around Texas. He grew up in southern California and migrated to Austin in the mid-1970's to attend graduate school at the University of Texas. Dr. Sexton received his doctorate in 1987 studying the impacts of urbanization on birds. Chuck is an acknowledged expert on the biology of both the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. He came to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as the staff biologist for the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in December 1994. Chuck is an accomplished botanist and butterfly enthusiast and has presented programs on Texas natural history to a wide range of groups. He writes extensively about Texas birds, most notably with his friend and co-author Greg Lasley in American Birds/Field Notes/North American Birds for the past 17 years.
Dr. Stone is an Austin physician and naturalist with a lifelong love of the outdoors. He has been an avid birder for over three decades, and has traveled all parts of Texas to observe birds and wildlife. Recently, his sparrow identification talents were touted in the Wall Street Journal (Birdwatchers Find Sparrows Often Are A Tough Nut to Crack, dtd Feb. 23, 2006). Dr Stone is the Past President of the Texas Ornithological Society.