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Meet the Team

Our team is comprised of a small group of core members who share a common interest in Conservation Biology, plus a number of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds.

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Deirdre Robinson - Co-Director

While an Assistant Professor in the Physical Therapy Program at the University of RI, Deirdre earned a Masters Degree in Biological Sciences, specializing in Avian Ecology. Her first encounters with Saltmarsh Sparrows (SALS) were in Galilee in the early 1990s; she had hoped to do her thesis work on SALS, but a barge accident causing an oil spill at Moonstone Beach suddenly changed that. She researched the foraging behavior of Piping Plovers on an oiled beach vs. two control sites for her thesis, and returned to the salt marsh twenty years later. To update banding skills, she completed the Powdermill Avian Research Program's course on Molt Identification in (PA , May 2017) and the Institute for Bird Populations Advanced Banding course in (VA, Sept. 2017). She is intrigued by the the behavioral ecology of saltmarsh birds and is grateful for the opportunity to work on such an enigmatic species as the Saltmarsh Sparrow and coordinate such a great team of students and volunteers. 

 
 
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Steven Reinert Co-Director

Steven Reinert has studied birds in Massachusetts and Rhode Island for over 40 years, and has authored several scientific papers, monographs, and book-chapters on the region’s avifauna. His areas of specialty include coastal- and estuarine-bird ecology, and land-bird migration. He received his bachelor of science degree in Zoology from the University of Rhode Island in 1975, and his Master’s in Wildlife Biology from URI in 1978. He has worked as an ornithologist for the University of Rhode Island and the Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies in South Dartmouth, MA; has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency on studies of salt-marsh sparrow ecology; and has served on the boards of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and the Barrington Land Conservation Trust. He is a master-bander (since 1983), and has served as the volunteer data manager for the Block Island Banding Station since 1996. Since 2008 he has been presenting educational bird-banding programs for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and he serves, since 2016, as co-director of the Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative (SALSri).

Publications

 
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Jim O'Neill Co-Director

Since his retirement and move to Bristol, RI in 2015, Jim has become an avid amateur birder and photographer. Jim worked in website support and administration at Boston College.  He is webmaster for salsri.org and helps the project with field work and mapping. In addition to the SALSri project, Jim is a nest monitor for the Rhode Island Audubon Osprey Monitoring Project. You can find him on Cornell University’s eBird as jazzjmon and see his photos in the Macaulay Library.

 
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Joel Eckerson

Joel is a 19 year old birder who grew up spending every free hour outdoors. But it wasn't until he was 7 years old that his brothers and he decided to go out and see how many species of birds they could count in their backyard. This ultimately sparked them to be hooked on birding and seek out a total of 214 species in their yard alone. Joel enjoys keeping a nature journal, wildlife photography, recording birds, Krav Maga, hiking, looking for rare birds and pretty much every sport. He is currently running a bird club in his town and frequently leads bird walks to teach his community about birds. He feels very excited to be working with the Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative (SALSri) for his third summer.You can find him on eBird at: https://ebird.org/profile/NTMyNDYx/US

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Ianna Leshin Szewczok

Ianna Leshin Szewczok graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2015, with a BS in Wildlife and Conservation Biology. Since finishing her undergraduate work, she has volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation center, interned with USFWS, and worked with several endangered species. She is also an experienced educator and is currently working for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island as an environmental educator and public program coordinator. She brought her enthusiasm to the SSRI team in 2021 as an experienced bander and animal handler. When not working in the environmental field, Ianna enjoys rock climbing, hiking, yoga, art, and spending time with her pets.

 
 
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Riley Jung

Riley Jung joined the SSRI team during the summer of 2022 while working towards a BS in Biology and a concentration in Maritime Studies at Williams College. While pursuing her academic goals, she is employing her computer skills in performing various database management tasks for the SSRI project. These tasks will facilitate the production of manuscripts targeted for publication during 2022 and 2023. While Riley was always interested in learning about living things in nature, she fell even more in love with birds while doing research during her first summer at Williams where she recorded and analyzed house finch song sequences. She came to learn about the Saltmarsh Sparrows while participating in the Williams-Mystic program where she sailed in the Caribbean and did a research project focused on marine and coastal habitat conservation. Riley’s other academic interests include genetics and evolutionary biology; she is currently studying tandem duplicate genes in fruit flies in an evolutionary genetics lab at Williams. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in biological research and eventually attend graduate school.

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William R. DeRagon (1951 – 2019)

William obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources from the University of Rhode Island in 1980. Over the next 2 years, during his Master’s research there, he gathered some of the most detailed data yet recorded on relationships among Saltmarsh Sparrow nest ecology, nest success, marsh elevation, and tidal inundation (see link to thesis below). His results clearly validate current concerns about the impact of sea level rise on this species. William then worked for 9 years as a Research Associate in the Department of Natural Resources Science at URI, collaborating with faculty from a broad range of disciplines. In 1991, he was hired as a Biologist by the Environmental Resources Section of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers in the Albuquerque District. Shortly after his retirement in 2016, the Corps presented him with its Distinguished Retiree Award, which notes that “William is recognized as an expert in avian and wildlife biology, hydrology and hydraulics, geomorphology, riparian zone ecology, and restoration ecology.” William remained a highly valued advisor to SALSri on Saltmarsh Sparrow ecology until just days before he lost his battle with cancer on May 9, 2019.

Thesis: Breeding Ecology of Seaside and Sharp-tailed Sparrows in Rhode Island Salt Marshes