Dr. Kathi Borgmann, Rainforest Trust’s new Latin America Conservation Officer, discusses bird conservation and her experience working with some of Rainforest Trust’s most established partners in Latin America.
Tell us about yourself in a few sentences.
I grew up in Wisconsin, but have lived in practically every US state doing conservation work. I did my Masters at Ohio State University studying the effects of non-native plants on birds. Later, I went on to do my PhD at the University of Arizona. My research looked at how seasonal changes in the environment affect nesting success of songbirds in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
How did you first become interested in birds and conservation?
I started out studying botany and cultural anthropology, but it was not until I took my first ornithology class as an undergrad that I fell in love with birds. I got my first field job studying birds right after I finished my Bachelors degree and have been into birds ever since.
My very first job was in New Mexico’s Chihuahua Desert where I spent my days looking for bird nests and measuring vegetation. I learned a ton about desert birds and fell in love with avian field ecology. Some other field highlights have included working in Yosemite National Park and being a part of a long-term fruit dispersal project in South Carolina.
Later, I journeyed to Latin America on an ambitious multi-year bird expedition. It wasn’t until that trip that I really got into tropical conservation, learning about the birds and meeting the players involved in their conservation.
Do you have a favorite bird species?
I love Antpittas. They are just super cool, super secretive and there is not a lot known about them. While traveling through Latin America, I was recording for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and was able to get recordings of the Perija Rufous Antpitta. Few recordings exist of that species, so it was really rewarding for me to able to record new vocalizations.
Generally, I love all the secretive, mysterious birds. It’s fascinating that there are still species out there we know so little about, especially in the tropics. I love the sense of discovery – it’s exciting.
I understand you’ve worked with some of our established partners in Latin America, such as ProAves and Fundación Jocotoco – can you tell us a little about that experience?
I think it’s amazing what ProAves and Fundación Jocotoco are doing. To have such passionate, dedicated people in-country is inspiring. For example, Francisco from ProAves is so dedicated to what he does. It’s really great to see that people in-country have that dedication.
Little by little we can work towards changing peoples’ minds about conservation. I remember in Ecuador I went up to a remote mountain reserve to look for a rare Cotinga species that Bob Ridgely had discovered. Up there, we ran into community members who were clearing the water duct that heads into the village below. I spent a few moments talking with them about what I was doing in the mountains. As I started talking about birds and the importance of the area, they grew more interested and started asking about how they could work towards bringing ecotourism at their site to provide income while protecting the land. It was one of those moments where I realized as a traveling birder that I could meet local people and get them excited about birding and conservation. It was an inspiring moment to see that passion, and have a chance to share.
As Rainforest Trust’s new Latin America Conservation Program Officer, what are some things you’d like to accomplish?
It’s really exciting for me to be involved in land conservation. To protect birds and other species, you first have to protect the land from being deforested. Being able to protect and preserve all these amazing places and save species on the brink before its too late is important. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and Rainforest Trust is the place to do it.
Header photo: Kathi climbing an observation tower in Colombia. Photo by Josh Beck.