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It is hard to believe that I have been guiding for VENT for nearly a decade. As I write this, I am in the process of packing the final boxes I will leave in Florida, where I have lived for most of my life. I am heading to Mexico for personal reasons, and plan to return sometime in 2022, maybe to Florida, but possibly elsewhere in the U.S. All my belongings, which are primarily painting materials, now fit into an 8’x10’ storage unit.

VENT is based out of an amazing and diverse “continent” of a country, from sea to shining sea, and I have had the fortune of guiding nature tours in a dozen states over the years, from Florida to Alaska. I look forward to reopening our South Florida and the Dry Tortugas tours this spring, the first time since the start of the pandemic. Beyond the Sunshine State, my travels will take me to Trinidad, Chile, Argentina, Japan, Mongolia, the Caucasus and more. I hope you will join me and VENT for a tour in the future.

There are inseparable lines connecting the places we love to a diversity of points across the hemispheres, drawn by the movements of birds. Our personal flights in pursuit of nature not only connect us to birds, but to kindred folk with a shared passion for the outdoors.

When my family first arrived from Peru, many of my initial experiences in the outdoors were in the agricultural fields of Florida. Some transformative experiences took place while hauling produce on a semi across the peninsula, accompanying my father at the age of 13. That was my birding summer camp, while laboring through the vast expanse of farmland from Homestead to Okeechobee. I owned no binoculars and barely spoke English, but always carried a thrift-store 1947 Peterson field guide in my pocket. I remember seeing my first Eastern Meadowlarks along highway stretches, and a loading stop by a flooded swale where a dozen Black-necked Stilts rested.

What were the chances that a boy from Peru, lost in the shuffle of ESOL school programs and cultural disenfranchisement, would find birding to build a rich and fulfilling life? Today, I combine the joy of guiding for VENT part of the year with a serious dose of painting plates for a series of field guides, and my work as coordinator for the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.

The Florida Keys Hawkwatch marked its 24th anniversary this fall. We ran the longest season in project history, starting our count on August 1st with the aim of documenting Swallow-tailed Kites, which migrate earlier than other raptors in our region. As a result, we documented 500% more kites than in previous years. The project keeps me connected to the conservation and birding communities in Florida, and is a great opportunity to work with young birders and the public.

I started drawing and painting birds in my early teens. I have collaborated on many projects that have featured my illustrations. I got my break as the illustrator for a schoolyard ecology manual for teachers, published by National Audubon in English and Spanish. After that, my travels led to an extensive stay in the Caucasus, where I collaborated with the BirdLife International affiliate in the Georgian nation, creating a number of educational initiatives and field guides for the region. One of my points of focus was the spectacular migration of raptors along the Black Sea, observed from the coastal town of Batumi in southwestern Georgia. You can spot more than a million birds of prey of 30 species during the fall. In the early 2000s, I was part of the effort to first document that spectacle, and to use my illustrations for the creation of materials to encourage ecotourism and dissuade a pervasive poaching problem.

What initially took me to the Caucasus was a love of Georgian polyphonic chants. I ran a record label in the 1990s that focused primarily on jazzy rock music. After the fall of the Soviet Union, I traveled the mysterious country of Georgia with a portable recorder and visited many villages from the highlands to the eastern steppe to record family choirs that had knowledge of the ancient art of chanting. I published about a dozen collections of chants, primarily with the Zedashe ensemble, and also with Anchiskati, Mtiebi, and Apshilava choirs.

I am passionate about combining my love of birds, culture, and music into VENT tours. We have new multi-faceted tours that are a great choice for those looking to add cultural experiences to their birding, including “The Lands of Carmenere & Malbec: Birds and Wines of Chile & Argentina,” “Snow Leopards of Mongolia,” and “Caucasus Georgia: Birds, Ancient Chants & Wine.” I look forward to sharing my love for nature and culture during an upcoming VENT tour.