Photo: Bryan Stokes

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.


Deirdre Robinson

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. 


Steven Reinert

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 (with Deirdre Robinson) of the Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative (SALSri).



Jim O'Neill

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 co-webmaster for and helps the project with field work. 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.


Joel Eckerson

Joel is a 17 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) this summer (2020).You can find him on eBird at:


Miranda Zammarelli

Miranda Zammarelli joined the SSRI Team for the 2020 breeding season shortly after graduating from the University of Rochester (class of ’20) where she earned degrees in Anthropology and Brain and Cognitive Science, and where she worked as a Writing Fellow for the University’s Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program. Miranda now looks to pursue a doctorate in evolutionary biology with a focus on birds. As a 2020 intern with SSRI, Miranda’s focus is on quantifying the habitat characteristics of Saltmarsh Sparrow nest-sites—and at randomly located sites on the Jacob’s Point marsh. She will subsequently perform analyses comparing the vegetative makeup of the nest-sites to the randomly selected sites. Miranda lives in Scituate, RI, currently, and plans to join the SSRI team again in 2021. See her published article on the design of Writing Centers.


Olivia McCarthy

Olivia McCarthy joined the SSRI team towards the end of the 2020 field season. She has always had a passion for the natural world, but her interest in wildlife and the sciences jump-started when she spent a summer in high school as an intern at Rhode Island College. There she worked in the campus apiary as an assistant to James Murphy, the RIC Sustainability Coordinator. From that point on, she has been developing her skills and knowledge through volunteer work and coursework to pursue a career in environmental and biological sciences. Her main interests are in coastal ecosystem management and restoration. Olivia will be graduating in the fall of 2021 from the Environmental Studies program at Rhode Island College, and aims to attend graduate school the following year.


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 now (2021) brings her enthusiasm to the SSRI team 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.


Evan Lipton

Sparked by backyard birds and photography in 2011, Evan has been birding nonstop ever since. He was first introduced to bird banding at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge; and was extremely lucky, after a move to Rhode Island, to team up with Deirdre and Steve for Rhode Island Audubon banding demonstrations and the SALSri project. 


Graphic and web design are among his passions in addition to bird illustration and photography. He held a banding internship at Manomet Bird Observatory during spring and fall 2019. He did field work in 2020 at the Farallon Islands NWR in CA.


Find him on his website:

Katie-Banding 25 May_008-600.jpg

Katie Christ

Katie Christ’s interest in birds began at a young age, as her parents are avid birders and gardeners. Growing up sailing and fishing on Narragansett Bay instilled a particular love for this area with all its unique flora and fauna. Katie recently graduated from University of Rhode Island with a degree in Wildlife Conservation Biology. She has been volunteering with the SALS project for several years and is excited to see how it continues to grow.


Aidan Furze

Aidan is a 19-year-old Senior at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, studying Biology. His thesis project is assessing any potential use of Magnetoreception in the foraging patterns of woodpeckers and other wild birds through feeder experiments. Originally interested in Neuroscience, his ambitions changed in the spring of 2018 when he developed a love for birds and field ecology. Now known as “the bird boy” by his friends, Aidan is excited to continue to explore his passion for birds with such a unique and vulnerable species as the Saltmarsh Sparrow. As a native of Rhode Island, he is incredibly pleased to have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the salt marsh ecosystem and its critical importance to the Saltmarsh Sparrows. In the future, Aidan hopes to continue to take part in bird monitoring projects with shorebirds and raptors.


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