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Who We Are

We believe deeply that the culture of the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program is as important as the work we do.  We work hard to create a positive work environment that fosters communication, engagement, and learning. For example, on larger projects we hold weekly dinner meetings where everyone can come together and talk about the week behind and the one ahead.  These meetings have been instrumental in the evolution of our program.  In a busy field-season, there often isn’t the time to stop and reflect on the work, to listen and appreciate the comments and observations of your colleagues, or to suggest ways of improving efficiency to all of your peers.  We value these meetings specifically for these reasons, and because of how they have developed a sense of community. In addition to our in-season efforts, we work closely with our former biologists to aid them in their development beyond their involvement in our Program. We take great pride in the successes of our colleagues and friends. Here are our permanant staff and a sampling of the many remarkable alumnae of our shorebird demography studies:

Jim Fraser –
Jim joined the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in 1981 as an assistant professor. He currently is a professor of Wildlife Conservation. He founded the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in 1985 with a study of piping plovers on Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia, and continues to be driven by an enthusiasm for conservation-oriented research.

Dan Catlin –
Dan is a Research Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech where he received his Ph.D. for his work with piping plovers on the Missouri River. He has been with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program since 2004, managing and collaborating on various efforts, including the Missouri River piping plover and least tern project, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response, the sea-level rise project, and the Long Island project.

Sarah Karpanty –

Sarah joined the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and the world of shorebird conservation, in 2004 after earning her B.S. at Miami University and her Ph.D. At Stony Brook University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the department and mentors undergraduate and graduate students on a diversity of shorebird and tern projects on our U.S. coasts. Sarah is interested in projects that explore how human activities impact animal behavior, population dynamics, and community ecology. Most importantly, she seeks to use the knowledge gained from those studies to proactively develop and/or evaluate management actions to mitigate or minimize human impacts on wildlife. Sarah and her students have worked and continue to work on Red Knots, Wilson’s Plovers, Piping Plovers, Least Terns, Common Terns, Roseate Terns, Gull-Billed Terns, and Black Skimmers. When not working on the beach, Sarah explores similar questions with lemurs an their predators in Madagascar.


Shannon Ritter –

Shannon started with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in 2011 as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. She holds a M.Sc. in Geology from the University of North Carolina. Her background in sedimentary environments, paleontology, biology, and environmental geology means that she has been training all her life to be a shorebird biologist without realizing it. She has assisted the team with all aspects of project management, as well as contributing to computer-mapping of habitat and demographics for piping plovers, red knots, and other shorebirds.

Donald Fraser –

Don joined the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in 2005 as a technician and boat operator. In 2010, he was promoted to Watercraft Operations Manager. He holds a B.S. in biology from Virginia Tech, and a U.S. Coast Guard license of master of steam and motor vessels of not more than 50 gross tons on inland waters, and mate of steam and motor vessels of not more than 50 gross tons on near coastal waters.

Sara Zeigler -
Sara is a U.S. Geological Survey Mendenhall Fellow and works collaboratively with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program. Sara joined the program after earning a M.Sc. in Conservation Biology and a Ph.D. in Geographical Sciences from the University of Maryland. She also recently finished a post doc with Dr. Jeffery Walters in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech and remains an active member of the IUCN’s Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. Sara works with various collaborators at the USGS, Virginia Tech, and the USFWS to study predicted levels of sea level rise (SLR) along the Atlantic Coast of the United States and the implications of that SLR for piping plovers and other shorebird species.

Dan Gibson -
Dan has recently joined the Virginia Tech shorebird program as a post-doctoral fellow. He received his Ph.D. from University of Nevada, Reno where his dissertation focused on assessing how greater sage-grouse behaviorally and demographically respond to environmental change, such as anthropogenic perturbations and weather variability. Dan’s research interests include understanding what factors influence spatiotemporal patterns in demography, life history, and behavior observed in populations and communities, as well as investigating the biases associated with study design or statistical models used to assess these relationships. Dan plans on assisting the multiple on-going Piping plover research projects by incorporating new quantitative approaches to help address questions related to population processes in degraded environments.


Eunbi Kwon –
Eunbi is joining the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in January, 2016. Eunbi received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology education, from Konju National University (Korea). She received a Master of Science degree in behavioral ecology from Ewha Woman’s University. She received a Ph.D. degree in Ecology from Kansas State University. Her first effort in the VT shorebird program will be to review decades of historical data from Cape Hatteras National Seashore to look for trends and to evaluate the Seashore’s data collection protocols. Eunbi’s research interests include evaluation of the effects of environmental changes on the spatial and temporal distribution of consumers at an ecosystem level.

Audrey DeRose-Wilson –
Audrey received her M.Sc. from Virginia Tech in 2012, for work evaluating demography, habitat use, and effects of military overflights on Wilson’s plover on a North Carolina barrier island. She now works for the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program as project leader on the Long Island project, monitoring the piping plover population response to new habitat created by Hurricane Sandy, and subsequent anthropogenic habitat modifications on Fire Island and Westhampton Island, New York.

Kelsi Hunt –
Kelsi received her undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota where she worked as a research technician on the Great Lakes piping plover project. She joined the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program as a part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in 2010 and has continued with the program on the Missouri River since then. She recieved her M.Sc. studying the effects of flooding on piping plover prey, growth rates, and demography and manages all operations on the Missouri River.

Kayla Davis –
Kayla worked for the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program on the Missouri River during the 2012 and 2013 breeding seasons, and back in Blacksburg, investigating piping plover post-fledgling movements.  In January 2014, Kayla began graduate school at Virginia Tech to study roseate tern staging at Cape Cod National Seashore.  Her M.Sc. work focuses on parent-offspring relationships during the pre-migratory staging period and to what extent natural and anthropogenic disturbances affect these interactions.

Meryl Friedrich –
Meryl is a Research Specialist with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program. She earned a B.A. from Denison University, double majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies. Since 2011, her work on the Missouri River piping plover and least tern project has included analyzing the mate and site fidelity of Piping Plovers on the Missouri River, managing the database, and corresponding with people who resight color banded plovers on the wintering grounds.

Erin Heller –

Erin is a Ph.D. student working with the federally threatened rufa red knot on Virginia’s barrier islands, researching how global climate change is affecting red knot populations through alterations in ocean temperature/currents, island geomorphology, and prey distribution. She received her B.Sc. in Wildlife Science from Virginia Tech in 2011 and her M.Sc. from Old Dominion University in 2015, looking at how urbanization effects tick parasitism rates on birds in coastal southeastern Virginia. Missing the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, she returned to Virginia Tech for her Ph.D. research.

Chelsea Weithman –

Chelsea received her B.Sc degree from Clemson University in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, where she discovered her passion for avian ecology. She joined the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in the 2013 and 2014 breeding seasons on the Missouri River piping plover and least tern project. She is thrilled to continue to work with the VTSP on breeding piping plover demography that is influenced by habitat and human interactions on the barrier islands of North Carolina.

Samantha Robinson –

Sam is a Ph.D. student working on the Long Island project, relating Piping Plover demography to habitat alterations from Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent anthropogenic impacts. She received her M.Sc. in 2015 from Kansas State University studying lesser prairie-chicken survival and space use in relation to habitat and anthropogenic features. She started with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in 2012 as a technician on the Missouri River piping plover project and is very excited to return to Virginia Tech for her Ph.D. research.

Henrietta Bellman –

Having found her way to the States from across the pond, Hen started work with Virginia Tech in 2014 when she was employed as a seasonal field technician on the Missouri River Piping Plover and Least Tern Project. In 2015 she returned to work as a Crew Leader on Fire Island studying the demography of the Piping Plover post Hurricane Sandy. She is excited to be starting her Masters in the Spring of 2016 with the Shorebird Program investigating the habitat requirements and restrictions on Fire Island for the Piping Plover.

Katie Walker –

Katie received her B.Sc in Wildlife Biology from the University of Vermont. In 2014, she joined the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program studying piping plovers and least terns on the Missouri River in South Dakota. She continued her work with the VTSP during the summers of 2015 and 2016 on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, studying piping plover demography and movement. After two winters working with Fire Island data, she is excited to be starting her Masters research with the Fire Island crew in the fall of 2017 researching piping plover habitat selection and distribution following Hurricane Sandy.


Lauren Deets

Up until the spring of 2013, working with shorebirds was only a dream to me. When I was offered the opportunity to work as a technician for Virginia Tech on the Missouri River Piping Plover and Least Tern project, I could not have been more excited. I had finally broken into the shorebird world! The next season, I came back as a crew leader. That was the position that has forever changed my professional life. With a couple of seasons of shorebird monitoring and a newly found confidence in my ability to lead a team, I had the necessary tools to proceed down the shorebird biologist path I had envisioned for myself. Now, I work for the Audubon Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Program as a Biological Technician. We are working with other parties to conserve the Gulf Coast’s rich avian population and to spread a mission of coastal bird stewardship to Mississippi’s citizens. Although I have moved on from the Missouri River, I have not left my VT plovers behind me; I get to see plenty of them wintering down here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast!

Michelle Stantial

My name is Michelle Stantial, and I am currently an M.S. candidate at the State University of New York – College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) with a focus in Fish & Wildlife Biology and Management. My graduate research project will examine piping plover movements, flight heights, and avoidance of obstructions during the breeding season with implications for risk of collision with wind turbines and other human structures. I have been working with nesting piping plovers since 2008 with various organizations including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Audubon Society. During the winter of 2010/2011, I had the privilege of acting as a crew leader for Virginia Tech on a project assessing the impacts of the Gulf oil spill on wintering piping plovers. My favorite things in life are hanging out at awesome coffee shops, listening to NPR, and playing my harmonica exceptionally loud!

Shea Armstrong and Jared Zimmerman

Shea Armstrong and Jared Zimmerman met while working as technicians during the 2006 field season in South Dakota.  Since working on the project, they have each completed master's degrees, Jared in Biology and Shea in Ecopsychology.  They also firmly established themselves as wildlife professionals while working as biologists for the state of Florida. Most recently the couple consulted on a sustainability and permaculture design for an ecovillage in the Peruvian Amazon.  The couple is committed to choosing a sustainable lifestyle as an extension of their service to threatened and endangered species recovery.  Shea and Jared were married in 2008 and applaud the piping plover project for not only sparking their professional careers but also their personal relationship. 

Bobbi Carpenter

I am originally from a farm in southeastern North Dakota. I received my B.S. from North Dakota StateUniversity in 2004. I have worked with an assortment of bird species including Greater sage grouse, Belted kingfishers, Mourning doves and waterfowl. But my interests are not limited to avian species. I was a member of the Piping plover research crew for three field seasons (2006-2008), leading a crew the last two seasons. I have been working for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission since spring 2009. I have worked on a variety of coastal bird research projects throughout the state of Florida, mainly focused on shorebirds and seabirds. Some of the projects include: wintering shorebirds and seabird habitat use, migratory shorebird prey availability, Red knot movement within wintering grounds and wintering American oystercatcher in Cedar Key. I was involved with monitoring nesting beach birds in the central panhandle for two summers. I am also a member of the team that is working with partners to building a statewide shorebird and seabird monitoring program.

Matthew Hayes

I am currently working on my PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the International Crane Foundation studying dispersal and population genetics of sandhill cranes in the Midwest. My work focuses on following sandhill cranes during their sub-adult phase (the first 2-3 years after independence) to understand more about the choices that these young cranes make in choosing a mate and setting up a territory to reproduce. I am also measuring gene flow between core areas in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Ontario and currently growing areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York to understand which core area may have provided pioneers for this growing part of the population. I plan on finishing my PhD in May 2012, and from there...who knows...

Emily Heiser

My name is Emily Heiser, and I am currently a biological technician with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's Endangered and Nongame Species Program. I received my B.S. in Wildlife Management from Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. I have been working with piping plovers since 2008 and am a proud veteran of Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. I migrated south to the Gulf of Mexico in the winter of 2010–2011 to work on the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. It was perhaps my most profound field season assessing the impacts of the spill on wintering piping plovers. I love being close to the water, birding Cape May, my dog Penny Lane, and knitting!

Lauren Solomon

I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan and graduated from Michigan State University in 2005 with my B.S. in Zoology. Working for Virginia Tech on the South Dakota Piping Plover crew in 2007 was my first venture in field biology and after that I never looked back.  Since then I have traveled across the country, and around the world to Australia and Costa Rica, to work on a variety of avian research and conservation projects. I returned to Piping Plovers in 2010 when I assisted on Virginia Tech's project assessing the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on wintering plovers along the Gulf Coast.  In August 2014 I will put my travels on hold while I attend graduate school at Eastern Illinois University.  For my Masters research I will be investigating the effects of urbanization on avian migration stopover sites in Illinois.

Nuray Taygan

Nuray is the lead Shorebird Biological Technician for the North District of Cape Cod National Seashore, implementing day-to-day shorebird management and protection operations including: monitoring nesting and reproductive success of piping plovers, least terns, and American oystercatchers, assessing habitat use of migratory shorebirds and seabirds, and managing data. An important part of Nuray’s job is communicating with park visitors to promote appreciation for shorebirds and beach habitats, and to enhance compliance with protection measures. Nuray also serves as an active member of the interdisciplinary team for developing the park's comprehensive shorebird management plan and associated EA.