Owens Lake Bird Festival Tour Leaders & Speakers


2017 Trip Leaders


Chris Allen is a Watershed Resource Specialist for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He is returning for his third year at the Owens Lake Bird Festival. Chris has many years of monitoring birds at Owens Lake.

Jora Fogg is the Preservation Manager for Friends of the Inyo and an avid birder and naturalist. She worked previously for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Collette Gaal is a Watershed Resources Specialist for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in Bishop. Collette studied Biological Sciences and received a Master’s degree in Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry at University of California at Davis. Collette has done bird, plant and other biological monitoring, reporting and permitting on Owens Lake since 2009. She is an avid birder.

Lacey Greene is a Biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bishop. Lacey works on the 62 miles of the Lower Owens River Project and also at Owens Lake. She is a board member of the Eastern Sierra Audubon chapter.

Tom and Jo Heindel, Inyo County’s preeminent birders, taught and birded in Big Pine in the 1970s, in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, retired in 1990, and returned to Big Pine. Since then they have been gathering avian data with a cadre of birders, who are also bird-data gatherers, in order to present the results in their book on The Birds of Inyo County including Death Valley National Park.

David Herbst is an aquatic biologist with the University of California Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory. Dave has studied saline lakes from the Great Basin to the South American altiplano of Bolivia. Owens Lake is one of the places he has studied aquatic invertebrates and algae, documenting many species of aquatic invertebrates, where they live, their salt tolerance, and role in food webs. Dave also studies streams of the high Sierra - source waters to saline lakes - and how climate change and drought are affecting headwater ecosystems and aquatic life

Julie Anne Hopkins is Conservation Chair of the Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. She is a retired BLM wildlife biologist and botanist and a tireless worker for native plant conservation.

Debbie House is a Watershed Resource Specialist for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. After studying small mammals and birds in the increasing fragmented habitats of southern California, and finishing her master’s degree, she reached “escape velocity” from the city and, every day for the last 16 years, has been happy to call the eastern Sierra home.  Debbie has worked for years on birds at Mono Lake, the streams of the Eastern Sierra, and at Owens Lake. She co-leads the Spring and Fall Owens Lake Big Days with Michael Prather.

Chris and Rosie Howard are long-time residents and active birders here in the Owens Valley. They have lead Eastern Sierra Audubon chapter field trips and participated in local "Birds in the Classroom" programs. They have extensive experience at Owens Lake. Chris is a past president of Eastern Sierra Audubon Society and the compiler for the Bishop Christmas Bird Count. Rosie started birding when she met Chris 22 years ago. She is a retired teacher and taught "Birds in the Classroom" to Bishop third graders for 10 years. Together Chris and Rosie have birded six continents, and high and low in the Eastern Sierra and Inyo County.

Andrea Jones is the Bird Conservation Director for Audubon-California. She has worked tirelessly with our local Eastern Sierra Audubon Chapter in seeking the enhancement and protection of bird habitat at Owens Lake. Andrea leads Audubon’s coastal programs and works with staff and the network of Audubon chapters across the state to implement conservation projects at high priority Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across California. She oversees conservation efforts in priority bird species and serves as a spokeswoman for bird conservation across California. Prior to California, Andrea worked at Massachusetts Audubon where she served as the Director of the Coastal Waterbird Program. Andrea received her M.S. in Wildlife Conservation/Ornithology and her B.S. in Wildlife Biology and Management from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is a past board member and continues to volunteer for her local Audubon chapter, Morro Coast Audubon Society.

Russell Kokx has lived in Lone Pine for 12 years and is a field biologist working all over the region on bird and plant surveys. At Owens Lake he has done snowy plover surveys and has strong knowledge of local plant species. Russell has worked on birds all over the world with a special interest in Thailand - the food as well as the birds!

Paul McFarland lives in rustic Lee Vining, California tucked into the incomparable Mono Basin. A rank amateur in the original sense of the word, Paul explores as much of California's public lands as possible with his wife, Yvette, and three kids, Solomon, Henry, and Lydia. Believing it's best to keep one's feet firmly planted in the earth, Paul was trained in Geology and now loves listening to, learning, and sharing stories of the land and its inhabitants, from cottontails to cabin dwellers.

Kristie Nelson has had a love for birds since some of her earliest memories. She has conducted ornithological fieldwork throughout much of the state, serves on the California Bird Records Committee, and has been the project leader for California Gull research at Mono Lake since 2005. She lives in the Mono Basin and is very familiar with its assemblage of bird life. When not engaged in birding activities, she is busy running a small diversified farm with her husband Joel.

Jeff Nordin is a Watershed Resources Supervisor for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in Bishop. After studying community ecology and receiving a Master’s degree in Biology at Cal Poly, Pomona, Jeff came to the Owens Valley and currently lives in Big Pine. Jeff has been involved in planning efforts for the Owens Lake Master Project and has helped manage Owens Lake Dust Control and other City of Los Angeles lands in the Eastern Sierra for the past 10 years.

Mike Prather has lived in Inyo County since 1972, both in Death Valley and Lone Pine. During that time he has worked on desert issues such as wildlife, water, wilderness and parks. He has been birding at Owens Lake since the early 1980's and organized the first voices calling for the protection and enhancement of Owens Lake’s birds and their habitat.

Richard Potashin is a 30-year resident of Owens Valley, and is a Death Valley National Park Ranger working at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine.  He worked for many years collecting oral histories for the Eastern California Museum and also worked to save Owens Lake’s sister lake, Mono Lake in the nineties.

Martin Powell has lived most of his life here in Lone Pine. He has explored every inch of Inyo County and has recently found a strong interest in the photography of birds. His tour will be a non-technical photography trip out to Owens Lake to look for birds and photograph them in a relaxed manner.

Max Rosan first came to the Eastern Sierra in the spring of 1973 from Palo Alto (his home town) on a high school field trip, which culminated at the Saline Valley hot springs. This turned out to be a life-changing event. By 1979, Max had relocated to Furnace Creek, in Death Valley, and later to other Inyo County towns. In 1992 Max began work with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and retired in February.

Karen Riggs has lived in Keeler since 2003 in an historic house that she has restored from meager beginnings. She has a love of history and the stories of old – especially the rich past of the Owens Valley. Karen works for the Manzanar Historic Association.

Ali Sheehey, aka Nature Ali, is a Certified Master Naturalist with a love of all things nature. She is an avid birder and photographer. She has explored every natural area in Kern County. She is Programs Director at Sequoia ForestKeeper, a non-profit organization that promotes non-consumptive activities in Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument.

Bob Steele is a professional bird photographer from Inyokern. He has been involved in birding and bird photography for over 20 years. Inyokern is in the bird-rich Kern County, an area centrally located at the convergence of multiple bio-regions, providing the opportunity to photograph many avian subjects. Bob has also traveled around the country, to Central and South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, and the Southern Ocean, photographing birds along the way. Bob’s photos can be seen in many publications: Birding, Wild Bird, Birder’s World, Ducks Unlimited, National Geographic Traveler, and National Wildlife magazines; books include: multiple National Geographic field guides, the Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America, the American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America, and the Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America. bobsteelephoto.com

Susan Steele’s interest in birds began as a child in Idaho with evenings spent on the porch listening to meadowlarks. This interest blossomed into a passion when she moved to the California desert more than 20 years ago. An accomplished birder with many state and county records, she spends her free time birding, hiking, and enjoying the flowers in the Eastern Sierra.

Dave Wagner was a geologist with the California Geological Survey (CGS) for 35 years and currently resides in Independence. Most of his career has been spent conducting regional geologic mapping, though he has investigated the 1983 debris flows in western Marin County, the American River Canyon landslide that closed Highway 50 in 1997, and the 2008 Oak Creek debris flows in Owens Valley. He received BA and MS degrees from San Jose State University, is a registered professional geologist and a certified engineering geologist.  Since his retirement in 2005, he has worked as a consulting geoarchaeologist.

Ben Wickham spent much of his adult life chasing snow in the mountains in winter and whitewater in river valleys in the spring. When he began teaching outdoor education at the McCall Outdoor Science School, he realized that skiing and kayaking combine central elements of the water cycle and give an innate, experiential understanding of snow science, hydrology, and ecosystem services. Ben is currently the Membership and Outreach Coordinator for Friends of the Inyo. 

Birders at Owens Lake