Lianne Koczur

Bird Conservation Biologist

Lianne Koczur grew up in Massachusetts and attended the University of Maine - Farmington where she studied Biology. After graduating, she worked several seasonal jobs across the country, including monitoring plovers and terns in South Dakota and Black-capped Vireos in Texas. She gained her M.S. and Ph.D. at Texas A&M Transportation Institute. She is examining the daily and seasonal movements of Brown Pelicans in the Bahia Grande wetlands and lower Laguna Madre.

Ethel Cantu

TX Master Naturalist & TX Master Gardener

Ethel Cantu has been studying the native plants of the Lower Rio Grande Valley as a hobby for over 25 years. She and her husband Rey worked with Mike Heep who designed the landscape for their home in Rancho Viejo. The woods in the backyard were kept in their natural state with paths that wander down to the resaca. All the plants in the landscape are native to the LRGV with the exception of two citrus trees. More recently, she and Rey installed a landscape at their South Padre Island home that features plants native to the island. Both Ethel and Rey are Texas Master Naturaists and Ethel is currently working on certification as a Texas Master Gardener. 

Janet Schofield

TX Master Naturalist & TX Master Gardener

Janet Schofield is a Texas Master Naturalist and Master Gardener.  She has specialties in compost and plant propagation. 

Janet is passionate about finding methods to use Hugel Culture in the RGV. She promotes use of Hugel beds in the Hidalgo and Cameron educational gardens as well as the Mercedes community garden and her own yard. 

Mike Heep

Native Plant Nurseryman

Mike Heep loves nothing more than to be surrounded by the native plants he has grown. 

As a horticulturalist, he specializes in growing native plants at Heep's Nursery, the nursery that he and his wife Claire own in Harlingen. Originally from San Antonio, he went to school upstate where he majored in horticulture and botany. He then went on to grow palms in 1979. After the December 1983 freeze that killed much of the plant life in the Lower Valley, Heep started cultivatig native plants. As soon as he started growing more plants, the community became interested in buying them so they could revive their lost plant life. The most popular are the ones that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. 

Heep is also very involved in the Native Plant Project of Weslaco. Mike, along with the NPP, seek to increase the community's awareness about the importance of native plants in the Lower Valley by encouraging their use in public and private landscaping. 

Jennifer Herrera

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension

Jennifer Herrera, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Agent, Cameron County Horticulturalist and Master Gardener Coordinator. Originally from San Benito and is now trasplanted in Harlingen, TX. On her spare time she is a microgreen grower and red wiggler wrangler. She enjoys spending time outdoors working in the garden or out fishing on the bay . Life's a garden, dig in!

John Yochum - Texas Parks & Wildlife

Presenting on the Butterflies and Dragonflies of the RGV

John Yochum hails from Hicksville, Ohio, but got to Texas as soon as he could (Thanksgiving 2006)! He has since been employed by Texas Parks & Wildlife as a Park Ranger, first at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park in Mission and currently at Estero Llano State Park in Weslaco. When not exploring the great birds, butterflies, dragonflies, plants, herps, mammals, etc., of South Texas, he spends time with his spouse of 30 years, a dog, three parrots (an African Grey, a Red-crown, and a Blue-and-gold MaCaw) and his wild jungle of a yard. 

Christina Mild

Edible Native Plants Mrs. Mild will present a PowerPoint of native fruits and other plant parts which are edible. Fond of tasting things along the trail, she will share knowledge of the tasty and medicinal plant parts found in wild and revegetated spaces. You may want to grow some of these things in your own yard. If you don't enjoy eating them, wild critters certainly will.

Mild has an M.S. in Biological Sciences from SIU-Carbondale, IL. For most of her professional life, she taught science classes to high school students. This was followed by volunteering to teach science and environmental subjects to all ages. She continued formal education with Botany classes taught by Dr. Alfred Richardson and Dr. Robert Lonard, at UTB and UTPA (now both UTRGV). Her first contact with the valley naturalists was as a director at Valley Nature Center, almost 21 years ago. Since that time. She has planted native seeds and transplants in her onw yard and at Ramsey Nature Park, gaining experience in revegetation by practical application. Mild is pleased to be an Honorary Master Naturalist, RGVCTMN chapter, she resides in Harlingen with cardiologist husband, Charles Mild.

Ms. Thoren Lassen Thorbjornsen "Teebs"

Director, SPI Native Plant Center

Teebs Thorbjornsen has a long career in fisheries management and coastal ecosystem restoration. As the founding president of Ocean Trust, a national nonprofit organization focused on fisheries, coastal wildlife and the marine environment, she partnered with federal and state agencies and corporate sponsors on several fisheries sustainability and wildlife protection projects over a 25 year period that brought her to South Texas in 1995. There Ocean Trust worked with the shrimp industry and others on the Binational Kemp’s Ridley Recovery Program and helped construct the Kemp’s Ridley Turtle Protection Camp in Tepehuajes. For ten years, Ocean Trust was a NOAA Coastal Restoration partner supporting projects on all coasts of the U.S. which included the awarding-winning Bahia Grande restoration within the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. In 2014, Ocean Trust began construction of the Native Plant Center to provide a local source for native and coastal plants, and to establish an education center & display garden for native plants and other tropical species.

Chuck Malloy

An advocate for the valley's trees and palnts, which cannot speak for themselves

Chuck Malloy moved to the Lower Rio Grande Valley from Florida in 2013.  His grandfather was a Florida State Forester for 42 years and horticulturalist who first introduced Chuck at a young age to the wonders of air layering, grafting and exotic gardening.  Chuck’s ancestors in the mid to late 1800’s were some of the pioneers in the first citrus industry in Florida.  After serving his country in the US Army during the Vietnam War era, Chuck went to Louisiana State University to further develop his knowledge with courses in Spanish and Botany.  While at LSU he was given the privilege of caring for the University’s greenhouse over one summer.  Chuck eventually returned to his home state of Florida, where over the years he tried his hand with palm and citrus trees.   Along the way he met a girl who introduced him to the LRGV, and the rest is history; he married the girl and left Florida behind.  He became a Cameron County Master Gardener shortly after arriving in the LRGV and subsequently served as president of the Association for three years.  Currently he is a member of the Palm Society of South Texas and serves as an advisor to the Native Plant Center on South Padre Island.  Chuck has made several presentations about citrus and palm tree care.  His two-part article, “Silence of the Palms”, was recently published in the Valley Morning Star and picked up by the International Palm Society and printed in their newsletter.  In his spare time, Chuck personally takes care of his home landscaping, a menagerie of pet friends, backyard birds and spends time with his wife, Elena.

Palm trees are here to catch the wind.  If you listen closely you will hear their song.  They have lots of emotion to share with us.

Javier Gonzalez

Naturalist Educator, South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center

Javier is the Naturalist Educator at our host site, The South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center. He is a biologist, avid naturalist, and photographer. He has a special interest in birds, butterflies, habitat ecology, and pollinator conservation. He is the project lead in SPI's NWF Mayor's Monarch Pledge project and has studied Monarch butterfly ecology and conservation on South Padre Island on his free time.   

Boyd Blihovde

Refuge Manager at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Boyd Blihovde has been the Manager of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge since July 2013. He has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2003. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology from the University of Central Florida, where he specialized in herpetology. Before moving to the Valley, he worked for the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, Fla

Brandon Hill

City Of South Padre Island Shoreline Director

Brandon Hill was born in Ohio and raised on a corn and soybean farm hundreds of miles from the nearest Ocean. He transferred to Texas A&M University at Galveston his Junior year of undergrad. He began working for the Sargassum Early Advisory System (SEAS) in satellite imagery analysis. During the next three years, Brandon wrote for the local papers, published work within peer-reviewed journals and worked as a NASA funded scholar on his work. The SEAS lab cemented its place as the only lab capable of forecasting Sargassum landings throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Brandon graduated with his Masters of Marine Resource Management and began working for the City of South Padre Island two days after accepting his diploma. He now serves the City of South Padre Island as the Shoreline Director utilizing his Ocean-system approach to better manage the valuable resources found here in Cameron County. 

Stephanie Bilodeau

Coastal Bird Condervation Biologist

Stephanie Bilodeau is a Coastal Bird Conservation Biologist working for the Coastal Bird Program within Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP). She is based in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and her work is primarily focused on habitat management for colonial waterbirds on the spoil islands throughout the Lower Laguna Madre. Her work also includes research and monitoring of breeding and wintering shorebirds in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Captain Gencho

Local Fishing Guide for 25 Years

Captain Gencho was raised in Port Isabel and has over 40 years of boating experience. He has been fishing the Laguna Madre for over 25 years and specializes in using Live Bait. All Live Bait and tackle is furnished when you book a 5 hour trip, 8 hour or all day. Captain Gencho has a 24- foot Carolina Skiff and fishes up to 6 people comfortably.  Once you are booked on a fishing trip you will be fishing for Redfish, Trout,Flounder, Snook, Black Drum, Sheepshead, Mangrove Snapper and other species from the Laguna MAdre

Marilyn Lorenz


Unofficially Marilyn has been a naturalist all her life but could not devote the time she wanted to until
she retired from the University of Connecticut. An ongoing quest of visiting every National Wildlife
Refuge in the U.S. has greatly increased her knowledge of birds and other wildlife and moving to
South Texas has opened a whole new world. Earning her Texas Master Naturalist status has
focused her in the right directions and she is now a guide at the SPI Birding Center and the Laguna
Vista Nature Trail and offers presentations on Valley wildlife using her husband's photos. She is a
regular contributor to SPI Parade and Valley Star and a participant in The RGV Birdfest, as well as

Jonathan Wood

The Raptor Project

What's this item about? What makes it interesting? Write a catchy description to grab your audience's attention...The Raptor Projects is an extraordinary and outstanding array of eagles, hawks, falcons and owls that have won the rapt attention of enthralled audiences throughout the nation. Presenting almost 1000 educational programs to over 10 million people annually, The Raptor Project leads the way in outstanding, top quality, professional wildlife education. Featuring 15-20 raptors from diverse habitats at each presentation, these dynamic fierce predators capture hearts of both young and old.The Raptor Project founders, Jonathan and Susan Wood of New York's Catskill mountains have assembled a traveling collection of feathered predators that is unrivaled in scope and size anywhere in the world. Jonathan Wood is a Master Falconer and Wildlife Rehabilitation, bringing unique insights, observations and humor to his exciting, riveting, nationally acclaimed shows. Many of the birds in The Raptor Project have permanent handicaps and have been donated to his project by crowded wildlife centers around the country because they were unable to be re-introduced to the wild. Some faced euthanization and now have been tamed and trained to educate the public as charming ambassadors of their species and the environments they inhabit. Jonathan and Susan Wood and their staff operate the organization from a beautiful 14 acre, private facility in New York's Catskill mountains. All birds are housed, exercised and cared for in spacious, state of the art aviaries.Jonathan Wood works with birds in a wide rage of sizes. From small falcons and owls weight 3-4 ounces to majestic eagles with 6-8 foot wingspans. He is honored with 35 years of handling experience and has produced and presented The Raptor Project to over 10 million people... up close and personal!

Mary Jo Bogatto

Cactus Creek Ranch owner

Crittters II "A Place Called Home" will be the presentation for WOWE 2018 about
Cactus Creek Ranch and Mary Jo Bogatto, owner, who started Cactus Creek Ranch, or
CCR. Starting with only a few blades of grass and some local cacti in 1995, CCR
currently consists of 400 acres that has been revamped into an ideal native habitat with
nine man-made ponds.
Mary Jo walks the three-mile research trail around her 400-acre property to make sure
nothing’s out of the ordinary. Along the trail are markers identifying red ant beds and
horned lizards which are protected on the ranch. Trip cameras document all activity of
the ranch. Bogatto said she has a great respect for nature so every animal that is on the
property or wanders onto it is going to be protected.
Bird research via bird banding was begun on Cactus Creek Ranch during 2011 with
Mark Conway. Site fidelity of both permanent residents and winter residents is the main
emphasis of the project. Longevity of all species will be looked at as time goes on. We
have been able to document two pairs of birds returning to Cactus Creek Ranch as a
pair. This important documentation shows that two separate species have been
recaptured at the ranch. These pairs were recaptured on the same date at the same
time suggesting that they travel and migrate together as a unit. Mary Jo is elated
because she is the romantic and sees it as a parent and child or couple returning to her
and to CCR. Documentation on the ranch also shows the longest living Black-crested
titmouse banded on CCR in 2011. To view the records go to bird banding lab and click
on longevity.
Recently, Mary Jo has been working with a Texas State University Ph.D. student and
bird bander, Mark Conway, to document the Tuffed Titmouse. The Ph.D. student’s
research was focusing on behavioral and social aspects of ornithology of the blackcrested
titmouse. The study discovered the formation of kin-structured neighborhoods

through limited juvenile natal dispersal which was a first for this species. The longest living titmouse was again captured and banded in 2017 along with its mate and siblings. Mary Jo Bogatto was acknowledged for her contributions with Bill Clark's research on the Harris Hawk in the THE WILSON JOURNAL OF ORNITHOLOGY Vol. 129, No. 2, June 2017. Future research and critical questions related to understanding sociality in Harris’s Hawk’ breeding strategy are, “What is the origin of the extra birds at nests? Are they related offspring from that group, or are they extra birds that are not related to the primary breeders? And, how does this relate to a polygamous breeding strategy?” Future research should evaluate these questions. Nestled close to the southwestern edge of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife, CCR is a center for environmental conservation and the preservation of endangered wildlife species. Bogatto calls it a “living classroom” that creates a “living diary of the plants and animals and their diverse habitat.” Bogatto works with LANWR on ocelot protection and with TPWD to protect the horned lizard and Texas Tortoise. Alligators, ocelots, bobcats, snakes, wild pigs and numerous species of birds and insects are just some of the types of animals that can be seen on the ranch. Bogatto said, “When you’re here, you always have to be aware of your surroundings.” She notes with a touch of laughter that she is an “everything watcher.” The ranch works with the Nature Conservatory and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and private donors. As a dedicated Partner in Wildlife, CCR’s habitat restoration has been undertaken through the direction LANWR and TPWD. The ranch is a recipient of TPWD’s Lone Star Land Stewards Award, and Bogatto has been honored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality with its Texas Environmental Excellence Award in the individual category for her work to restore habitat. Every effort has been made to protect and preserve endangered wildlife species and to create an environment that focuses on the best that Texas has to offer. Mary Jo has made it her mission to educate the public on conservation and the importance of protecting the habitat.

Every effort has been made to protect and preserve endangered wildlife species and to create an environment that focuses on the best that Texas has to offer. Mary Jo has made it her mission to educate the public on conservation and the importance of protecting the habitat. Visit Cactus Creek Ranch Facebook for her photos and information on ranch.

Greg Storms


Photographer, Greg Storms, started taking snap shots with his first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, at the age of 10. Greg used the Instamatic to document family vacations. One of his first Instamatic successes was to capture dolphins mid-air at a Florida aquarium.


In junior high he received a Pentax SLR as a gift and used it for years to document research and science projects, trips, nature and science activities by his students, as a junior high science and math teacher. 

He purchased his first Nikon as a yearbook adviser. Greg continues to use Nikon digital cameras today.

Joining TexNEP, Texas nature and Environmental Photographers, has had a significant impact on his photography. As has his long time science colleague, Robert Brashear, an award winning outdoor writer and photographer. TexNEP members, both professional and amateur, share tips and ideas willingly.

Learning from pros like Robert, Lance Kruger, Ruth Hoyt and Hector Astorga, all nationally known, has helped Greg see and work more productively.

Greg's activities have included contributing to several Chamber of Commerce publications, photographer for La Jarra Ranch. photo-book and magazine documenting the wildlife at La Jarra Ranch in Raymondville.

Please reload

South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center 6801 Padre Boulevard, South Padre Island, TX 78597 call 956-761-6801.

© 2015 by Blue Starfish Design