About Me

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Mission, Texas, United States
I'm Tiffany Kersten, a professional bird guide based in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I spent 2021 traveling, birding, and gifting personal safety alarms to women birders I met on the trails along the way during my Lower 48 States Big Year. In 2022, I founded Nature Ninja Birding Tours, offering customized private tours in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Nature Ninja Birding Tours

Hi! I'm Tiffany Kersten, a Wisconsin native, turned Texan by way of New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Hawaii. I hold a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology from Northland College, have been a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association for Interpretation, and spent over a decade as an environmental educator. I've taught about raptor identification and migration with the Cape May Bird Observatory, monitored shorebirds on Cape Cod, banded Honeycreepers in Hawaii, and finally landed in South Texas where I first worked at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, then Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center, and managed the McAllen Nature Center, before completing a Lower 48 States Big Year in 2021, and founding Nature Ninja Birding Tours in January of 2022. I have been connecting people to nature through the joy of birding since 2006. 

Please use the links below to navigate to the page with the information you're looking for! 

Private Day Tours in South Texas  

Group Tours in South Texas

International Tours 

Lodging Suggestions (Rio Grande Valley & Elsewhere)

"Birdie Big Year: Elevating Women Birders" Presentation Schedule 

Weekly Rio Grande Valley Rare Bird Alert (Updated Mondays, November through May) 

Birding Sites in the Rio Grande Valley

To read through my 2021 Birdie Big Year blog, see below. 

Email: tiffanykersten@gmail.com

Call or text: 715-209-5751

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Great Skua Attempt

Dec 27 

The first day I was scheduled to fly to Norfolk, Virginia, and then drive down to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina for a winter pelagic in hopes of Great Skua. However, the night before, I received an email stating that the pelagic had been moved from December 29th, to the weather date of December 30th, due to rough seas. I moved my flight from the 28th to the 29th. 

Dec 28

I received a call that the pelagic for the 30th had been cancelled, but that if there was enough interest, a trip would run on December 31st. I committed to the trip, and changed my return flight from the 31st to January 1st. It was too expensive to change my flight out from the 29th to the 30th, so I'd fly on the 29th and spend an extra night in a hotel. 

Dec 29 

I happened to wake up at 3 am, and checked my phone, finding a notification that my 9 am flight was delayed to 11 am...causing me to miss my connecting flight, and they'd rescheduled me for a flight that got in to Norfolk around midnight. BUT they offered the opportunity to change to a flight the following day free of charge. BINGO! It was the best case scenario given the situation - I'd eliminated the need for a hotel and rental car for an extra day. 

Dec 30 

I flew out at 6 am, with a three plane itinerary - McAllen to Dallas, Dallas to Charlotte, Charlotte to Norfolk. I'd recently reached Platinum status with American Airlines, and had free upgrades to first class on all three flights. How early in the day is too early to ask for free red wine?!? 

McAllen to Dallas went smoothly, Dallas to Charlotte went smoothly, Charlotte to Norfolk went -- well, we got halfway through the 45 minute flight, and the captain announced that visibility in Norfolk was 1/8 mile, and they needed 1/2 mile to land...and that we had enough fuel to circle the airport for a bit, but if it didn't clear in time, we would need to head back to Charlotte, and all get booked for different flights later in the day. Three minutes later, he got back on and announced that the Norfolk Airport had advised us to turn around. Lots of groaning on the plane. The woman next to me openly announced she was switching to alcohol, and ordered another drink. The captain went on to say that no planes had landed in Norfolk since 9 am, which made a lot of us wonder why we had even left the ground in Charlotte. It was already going to be 3 pm, and I had no idea how late I'd get to Norfolk, with a three hour drive to go still to get to Hatteras. 

Three more minutes went by, and the captain got back on the speaker...announcing that we are indeed landing in Norfolk! In another 15 minutes, we touched down, and the fog was so thick that the flight attendants had to run to their jump seats as the ground suddenly appeared beneath us. 

I was in the first row, and wound up being the very first person off the plane. The staff in the airport let us know that, in fact, we were the only plane that has landed all day. It was 3:03 pm. I was grateful to have landed. 

Jessica had decided in the morning that she would come down for the pelagic, and she picked me up form the airport around 4 pm, and we drove the three hours to Hatteras. I'd found a shockingly nice room at the Breakwater Hotel for the price tag for $59 per night after taxes. But first, we met up with Matt and Jamie for dinner. 


They both did a North Carolina big year, with Matt breaking the record. They stayed at the same hotel as us, after hearing of the amazing rate, and they introduced Jessica and I to Wingspan, before we passed out on seasickness meds around 10 pm. 


Dec 31 

5:15 am came early, as we dragged ourselves out of bed, with only a one mile drive to the harbor. After the standard orientation, we were on our way. I was so tired - so ready to be done with the year. These last few weeks chasing individual birds by plane have been incredibly exhausting and much less fun than the weeks-long road trips I'd been doing much of the year. 


I'm pretty sure I had my eyes closed for half of the boat trip. I simply couldn't stay awake - there was nothing to look at the majority of the time. One Manx Shearwater, one Black-capped Petrel, and twenty-some Red Phalaropes were the only birds aside from Northern Gannets and gulls. We returned to land around 4 pm. 

Well, I can't say I didn't try, up until the very last day! After a dinner with Jessica, Matt, and Haley, Jessica and I made our way north to Norfolk for the night, passing out right after we got to our hotel by the airport. I'd fly home the next morning, on my 76th and 77th airplanes of the year. 

Final Year List: 726 (breaking the previous record by two species)

Friday, December 24, 2021

Northern Lapwing - 726!

Dec 23 
After a scheduled and then cancelled flight for Steller’s Sea-Eagle, which disappeared at 1 pm the previous day, and a scheduled and then postponed flight to the Northern Lapwing in Maryland (I freaked out over the idea of chasing the bird which had only been present one day, and decided to wait another day to see what happened), I flew to Philadelphia. Debbie picked me up from the airport - an essential part of the planning, as my flight was scheduled to get in at 2:30 pm, the bird was 45 minutes from the airport, and sunset was at 4:40 pm, and renting a car may have been cutting it a bit close to sunset. 

Debbie picked me up and swept me away to New Jersey immediately. She’d sweetly packed me a bagged lunch / dinner, with tasty vegetarian food, plus fancy Lindt chocolates for dessert. It was much appreciated after a day of short connecting flights and avoiding expensive airport food. 

We chatted and caught up on the drive- I’d met Debbie in 2011 at John Heinz refuge in Philly when I saw my lifer Least Bittern. I’d seen her for about 15 minutes, also at Heinz, a week and a half ago while looking for Rusty Blackbird after picking up Barnacle Goose, but there wasn’t much time to catch up. 

We arrived to a few cars and half a dozen people enjoying close views of the Northern Lapwing. The light was perfect! It wasn’t even a state bird for me- I’d seen two in New Jersey in 2013, but these views were so much more incredible than the looks I’d had at those birds, that it pretty much felt like a life bird. Those head plumes! It looks like a bedazzled Killdeer. 
I met several women at the lapwing spot, including Shannon and Kacey - a mother / daughter birding duo from Virginia. 
There were a couple of hilarious moments for me, including a woman whose friend had sent her a picture of me, telling her I was going looking for this bird today, and that if she saw me, she could count ME as a lifer! 
Another truck passed by as we were about to leave, and it was a family of non-birders, who happened to have watched The Big Year (now on Netflix) a few days prior. They happened to be driving this random country road with cars parked, and asked people if they were birdwatching. Debbie and I were already in the car. They had asked the other birders, jokingly, if anyone was doing a Big Year, and the others motioned to us and sent them to drive up to our car. The look on his face was absolutely priceless, and I was thoroughly enjoying how excited a complete non-birder was about the whole thing! I hope this family finds some binoculars and joins the global birding family pronto! 

Afterward, Debbie took me to Sara’s place where I’d spend the night. Sara picked me up a week and a half ago and took me to the Barnacle Goose. She is doing a Pennsylvania Big Year and remains five birds short of the new record. It’s been fun to compare and contrast big year experiences. Sara made an amazing vegan chili for dinner, and we celebrated the added year bird with peanut butter whiskey shots. Sounds awful, tastes amazing. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

BAT FALCON Breaks the Record!

Dec 18 

I arrived straight off the plane around 4:30, and ran all the way from the parking lot to the tower, getting distant looks at the Bat Falcon immediately, and then walking a bit down the tour loop road, where the Bat Falcon was so cooperative  that people were literally just walking away from stupid good looks. https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1jtgJf7qW3oWcIPgRfGfNteL0NYBLfSWN
I lived on-site and worked here as a Visitor Services Specialist in 2012-2013; it is the job that first brought me to South Texas. I joined the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor board, which supports the refuge, in 2017, and very soon after found myself organizing rallies and protests, and lobbying in Washington DC to protect Santa Ana from a border wall. An ABA first, in my home county, in this special place incredibly dear to my heart, was the perfect way to break the Lower 48 Big Year record. #725!https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=18uVCqZFsLSYW7YX62TmupbZa6UPExVUQhttps://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1-k4urZBQkX7SgL0HqB5JyuQh-6AzeK3F

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Quick New Birds Update

I’ve been traveling without my computer, and Blogspot formats posts I make from my phone differently, but I know people are anxious and I wanted to give you all a quick update; I’ll flesh out the details more after I’m home. 

First I flew to Philadelphia and picked up Barnacle Goose (720) and Rusty Blackbird (721).

Then I flew to Boston, got on board a fishing boat out of New Hampshire, saw about ten Dovekie (722), and drove back to Massachusetts for Black-headed Gull (723).

I tried and dipped on the Northern Lapwing in Connecticut. 

I’m currently en route to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Smith’s Longspur should tie me for the #1 spot with 724! 

After that, I have tickets to Chicago for a Gyrfalcon in Indiana, OR Minneapolis for Northern Hawk Owl at Sax-Zim Bog, OR home if neither of those birds are being cooperative. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine when it comes to what bird is going to break the record! It’s CBC season and I’m expecting more rarities to be turned up! 

Thank you so much to everyone who’s contributed in some way, whether it’s been a meal, a ride, a bed to sleep in, or donations to my GoFundMe. So far, thanks to donors and the amazing partnership I have with She’s Birdie, I’ve been able to gift 239 personal safety alarms to women I meet along my travels. My fundraiser is still open and can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/birdie-big-year-elevating-women-birders

Dec 18 

I got my Smith’s Longspur to tie the record at 724. Heard first, then seen, I was in the middle of getting documentation when a message came through that the Bat Falcon first found on December 8th was refound! We abandoned the documentation mission, went straight to the airport, and I was on a plane home just before noon. I’ll get to Santa Ana around 4:30 pm with about an hour of daylight remaining. The next bird will break the record! 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Home, and Another Year Bird

Dec 8 

Sometime along my flights home, a message came in from Troy that he'd just had some Mountain Plovers in West Texas. That was the cue I was waiting for- they should be in the RGV too! I got home immediately unpacked, did my laundry, and repacked. This has been my life now - forever on the go, never knowing when I may need to leave by car or plane at a moment's notice! 

Dec 9 

I'd said a few weeks ago that I was done guiding for the year, but scheduling worked out to guide Rebecca from Connecticut for one day. My plan was to go looking for Mountain Plovers north of Harlingen after we parted ways, but local birder Mary Beth found them about 30 minutes northwest of my house, instead. It was getting late in the day, and I'd decided I'd just wait until morning to go looking for them. 

Dec 10 

Up early, yet again, to be out around sunrise. I had drinks and snacks with me, prepared to spend as many hours as it would take to find Mountain Plovers in the vast expanse of bare, freshly plowed fields in McCook, Texas. 

To my great surprise, it took less than 30 minutes for me to pick them out of a distant field with my binoculars; though it took getting a scope on them to confirm the ID 100%. 


I messaged Jessica and Paul, who were just up the road and had started looking from the opposite end. They came to meet me, and we enjoyed the Mountain Plovers for a while, counting at least 21, before they headed off for more birding, and I  headed home. 


I napped on and off through most of the rest of the day, enjoying every second of the stillness and peace. 

In the afternoon, a Barnacle Goose was found in Pennsylvania. Flights were crazy expensive for the weekend, but I have a ticket booked for Monday morning, and I'll be trying again for Rusty Blackbird there, too. 

Final stretch - just six species away from breaking the record! 

Year List: 719 

Nemesis Chase!

Dec 6

Dave dropped me off at the Portland airport at 6 am for my flight. I'd get to Newark by 7:30 pm. Yuck! I've been flying with American Airlines, and nearly everything goes through Dallas. A 3 hour 40 minute flight, followed by a 3 hour 27 minute flight. 

I arrived in Newark, picked up my rental car, and went straight to my hotel, too tired to stop anywhere for food. I bought microwave popcorn in the hotel vending machine, and made it in the microwave in my room. There are so many unglamorous aspects to big years that only other big year birders will fully understand. 

Truth be told, I'm really getting ready to be done. I'm tired of traveling, of airports, of the stress of chasing birds, or perhaps more aptly put, the stress of the possibility of missing birds, when so much time effort and financial investment is involved. 

Dec 7

After a full night's sleep, I jumped in the car and started the drive to eastern Pennsylvania in search of Pink-footed Goose. There had been a bird an hour closer, in New Jersey, that I had planned to go look for, but it wasn't seen at all yesterday, so I was erring on the side of the bird that was seen yesterday. Also, the Pennsylvania bird was reliable in the morning, and the New Jersey bird had been most reliable in the afternoon. One of my financial tactics has been to get in and get out of places as fast as I  can, minimizing days of car rentals, hotel rooms, meals eaten on the road. 

I arrived at the reservoir to a couple of birders already scanning, but most without scopes. I surveyed the flock of Canada Geese twice with my scope, and nothing. 


Scores of geese were making their way into the reservoir by the minute, likely having roosted somewhere in the nearby fields for the night. On the third scan - there it was! 


My heart nearly skipped a beat. I'd gone in search of this species so many times during the years I  spent living in Cape May, New Jersey, soon after college - ten years ago! Pink-footed Goose

I stuck around another twenty minutes or so, making sure the other birders got on the bird, before heading to Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge to look for Rusty Blackbirds. 


After spending an hour at Great Swamp with no luck, I decided to prioritize the King Eider that has been hanging out on Staten Island, New York. My friend Gabriel already had the bird pinned down. I drove the hour, met him in the parking lot, and we walked out to the sleeping King Eider. 


We waited about 30 minutes, in hopes that it would lift its head or decide to go for a swim, but it was pretty content to just sit with its bill tucked into its back. 


We tried for and dipped on Rusty Blackbird at a spot on Staten Island. Next was trying for Purple Sandpiper, which had been reported along artificially placed rocks whose primary purpose appeared to be to prevent beach erosion. Walking up, one was obvious immediately, and eventually we found almost a dozen of these cute little Purple Sandpipers investigating all the wet rocks for tasty morsels, and not minding if they got half-covered in water from a wave in the process. 


I said goodbye to Gabriel, and made my way to a spot that Rusty Blackbird was reported in New Jersey, dipping again not long before sunset. I made my way back to my hotel, and, once again too tired to drive anywhere, walked to the Radisson next door and had dinner at their restaurant. It was the first real meal I'd eaten since dinner in Oregon! 


I walked back to my hotel, went to drop my luggage in my room before returning my rental car, which I'd return within 24 hours and just take the hotel shuttle in the morning - another strategic money-saving tactic. I couldn't get into my room! My key card wasn't accepted, or rejected. No lights came on. It turns out, their maintenance worker had to manually take apart the entire lock in order to get into my room, found that the batteries in the mechanism were dead, and told me they'd have to get me a new room, which wound up taking another fifteen minutes. I still had to return the dang rental car, but I was so exhausted. I got my new room, dropped the car, took the air train to the very other side where the hotel shuttles were, and took the Radisson shuttle since it was the first shuttle I saw, then walked back to my hotel. I packed all my luggage to be ready to fly home in the morning. 


Oh, how I was so ready to be home, to sleep in my own bed, to see my dog, to simply rest. 

Year List: 718