Leica Birding Team: Tiffany Kersten

Harris's Hawk - Banding in Mission, TX with Bill Clark

Harris’s Hawk – Banding in Mission, TX with Bill Clark

How would thousands of Sandhill Cranes in a field, backlit by the day’s golden hour affect a fledgling nature lover? In the case of Tiffany Kersten, such an experience at the age of 12 inspired her world view to one attuned with the lives of birds. It opened her curiosity about all things wild at an early age, leading her through a series of field jobs and research projects that have contributed to an impressive career outdoors.

Tiffany is now Supervisor of Environmental Education at Quinta Mazatlan, a renowned birding location in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, a component of the World Birding Center. Upon meeting her, it won’t be long before conversations turn to birds, making evident her broad knowledge and experience. But it is when she talks about giving young people an opportunity to become interested in nature that her passion really shines. She understands firsthand the power nature holds as a great teacher, and believes children should be exposed to it and allowed to grow in their appreciation of the natural world. And she aims to do just that through an ambitious birding education program she is spearheading at Quinta Mazatlan.

Teaching a young birder at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Teaching a young birder at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

If you’ve ever been out birding anywhere from Cape May to Southeast Arizona and bumped into Tiffany, you were likely impressed by the large-lensed camera strapped around her shoulder, her sharpness and easy demeanor. Or maybe you’ve seen one of her excellent photographs of birds in flight, no doubt influenced by her experience monitoring raptors and seabirds. In her photos one can almost see reflections of those 2,000 cranes that sparked her interests during childhood.

As a kid growing up in the small town of Kaukauna, Wisconsin, her love of the outdoors came naturally. She often accompanied her dad on hunting expeditions for small game and deer. At home, Tiffany and her younger brother could not stay long before their parents encouraged them out of doors again.

Photographing shorebirds in Cape May, NJ

Photographing shorebirds in Cape May, NJ

It was also around this time period that she received her first binoculars as a Christmas gift. Although they were an inexpensive beginner’s pair, they were useful during an 8-week  birding course she took after school. Following that, she’d spend plenty of time inspecting the House Finches in her yard and comparing them to the 1984 Peterson field guide at her house.

Although Tiffany remained a backyard birder through childhood, a turning point came when she took an ornithology course as part of her Natural Resources BS at Northland College. During a field exercise using a scope, she surprised herself and all others by her ability to identify dowitchers – birds with names she had not summoned since having read them in her field guide as a child. Before long, she made her first migration out of Wisconsin to Cape May, New Jersey – a place that remained high in memory from nature lessons earlier in life.

She had only applied for one job outside her native state, and realizing it may be a life changing move took a position as seasonal Interpretive Naturalist for the Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) on the Hawkwatch . Tiffany’s love for birds was solidified that season. She soon understood how special her situation was when she found herself surrounded by some of the best mentors in the industry, the likes of Pete Dunne, Michael O’Brien and Kevin Karlson.

Osprey banding at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

Osprey banding at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

During this field interpretation experience she came into contact with Leica Sport Optics for the first time, as part of the company’s sponsorship of CMBO’s Hawkwatch. She was in awe of how excellent these binoculars were in comparison to what she had been using before then. She never put those Leicas down. Today, she continues using Ultravids, and loves how the 8x42s fit in her hands. Her scope of choice is the portable APO Televid 65. As a Leica Birding Team member she has shared her experiences through social media and this blog, and has shared her optics and observations while leading trips during many events.

Tiffany brings many assets to her position at Quinta Mazatlan, and this Texas outpost will surely shine with a good dose of her influence. She has surveyed for songbirds and raptors for the U.S. Forest Service, monitored shorebirds for Massachusetts Audubon, banded honeycreepers in Hawaii and seabirds in Maine, and above all she has cherished her experiences as an interpreter and an educator. Hearing her speak ardently about her current projects, it is easy to get excited about the programs she is developing, including a series of bird ID and behavior workshops, and a young birder’s club. She is also working on plans to revive the World Birding Center circuit and working with her community to expand that network of sites dedicated to nature education and recreation. Hearing about that project brings to mind the reasons why the Lower Rio Grande Valley is one of the birding meccas of the world. Now that Tiffany Kersten is involved in strengthening the Valley’s offerings, there is little doubt that the region will continue attracting the attention of nature enthusiasts for generations to come.

With an Atlantic Puffin chick on Seal Island, Maine

With an Atlantic Puffin chick on Seal Island, Maine