W.O.W.E Presenters

Dr. Amy Bonka

Amy was named Chief Conservation Officer for Sea Turtle Inc. in 2020. With extensive sea turtle nesting, sea turtle research, and community building experience, Amy will play a significant role in sea turtle conservation.  As the organization’s first Chief Conservation Officer, she will lead the conservation and rehabilitation of sea turtles and grow Sea Turtle Inc.’s research program.

Before the call into the nonprofit role, Amy excelled in academia. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a concentration in marine science. Following graduation, Amy spent several nesting seasons working with Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. Inspired by this work to focus on the Kemp’s ridley during graduate school studies, she obtained her Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in biology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research has focused on the ecology, biology, and conservation of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, Texas’s state sea turtle! Her research interests include the dynamics of arribada nesting, the mass nesting events that occur in Kemp’s ridley (and Olive ridley) sea turtles, as well as hatchling biology.

Dr. Hudson DeYoe

Dr. DeYoe is a long-time Marine Ecology and Marine Botany proffesor at UTRGV and has a special interest in aquatic ecology, marine conservation and biology, seagrass-algal communities, and human impacts on water quality. Most of his research is done on the Lower Laguna Madre.

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Javier Gonzalez

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 and loves to share his knowledge with visitors to the center. He will be a guide on most of the field tours taking place. 

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John Yochum - Texas Parks & Wildlife

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. 

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Jonathan Wood

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!

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Marilyn Lorenz

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 late husband's photos. She is a regular contributor to SPI Parade and Valley Star and a participant in The RGV Birdfest, as well as WOWE.

Mark Conway

Mark Conway is a biology teacher at Harlingen South High School and has been banding birds in the RGV and especially in the Laguna Atascosa NWR for more than 20 years. He has banded more than 20,000 birds in his time, contributing an amazing array of valuable data for a great diversity of bird species. He is always keen to share the knowledge and experiences he's gathered over the years. 

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Mary Jo Bogatto

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 

Black-crested 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.

Robin Gelston

I have a MS in Environmental Science from the UT at Dallas, and worked on varied environmental issues over the past 40 years with the federal and state governments, and independent consultant firms.  Since 2010 I have worked at TxDOT facilitating the research that have assisted with the pelican concerns along SH 48 in Brownsville, Texas.  When I am not working I enjoy volunteering with TMN, hiking, and fishing.

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Shane Wilson

Shane Wilson is a resident of South Padre Island and a retired school teacher from the Point Isabel School District. Shane founded Fishing Future in 2007 on South Padre Island and today sports more than 60 chapters scattered across 19 states. They are growing nationally and recently recognized and the #1 Aquatics Education Program in America. He will be teaching surf fishing techniques required to successfully fish the local waters.

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Stephanie Bilodeau

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.

Thomas Bainter

Thomas Bainter is a South Padre Island local and has spent a lifetime combing the beaches around the world for special treasures including the past 4 years on South Padre Island. He will be sharing his finds and the interesting stories behind them. This presentation will be insighful on how ocean currents and and weather connect the world!