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 - 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. 

Banding 7 July_002.jpg

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).



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 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.


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:


Erin Foreman

Erin is a NOAA Hollings Scholar working with SALSri and Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve during her internship in the summer of 2022. She is currently working towards two Bachelors of Science degrees at Virginia Wesleyan University for Biology and Earth and Environmental Science. Erin’s research experience has centered greatly around marsh and estuarine ecology, including serving as a field technician in her home state of New Jersey for two field seasons with Barnegat Bay Partnership. Her work shifted to focusing on ornithology after assisting in Canada Jay behavioral research in Maine as well as completing research on fish and wading bird diversity in relation to eelgrass loss from eutrophication in Barnegat Bay. Erin’s internship will focus on learning techniques for surveying avian populations and nesting at Jacob’s Point marsh to be applied at Prudence Island’s Providence Point marsh. This is of particular interest as Providence Point has not been surveyed previously and has been ranked fourth in RI by the FWS Saltmarsh Sparrow Habitat Prioritization Tool.


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. As a 2020 intern with SSRI, Miranda’s focused on quantifying the habitat characteristics of Saltmarsh Sparrow nest-sites—and at randomly located sites on the Jacob’s Point marsh. She subsequently performed analyses comparing the vegetative makeup of the nest-sites to the randomly selected sites. Miranda lives in Scituate, RI. See her published article on the design of Writing Centers. Miranda is now pursuing a doctorate in evolutionary biology with a focus on birds at Dartmouth College. View her presentation on her research at Jacob's Point.


Olivia McCarthy

Olivia McCarthy joined the SSRI team towards the end of the 2020 field season and work with us during all of 2021. 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 graduated in the fall of 2021 from the Environmental Studies program at Rhode Island College, and aims to attend graduate school.


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.


Jessica A. Szpila

Jessica has always had an affinity for birds. She recalls a time when she would lay in her backyard, imagine she was aloft with them, and count as many species as she could observe. Still an avid birder, she now keeps a nature journal and illustrates or photographs the birds she sees. She was also fortunate to spend many days of her youth exploring the salt marshes of her hometown, Tiverton. Jessica could never ignore the lure of the coast, and found herself first working for Mass Audubon's Coastal Waterbird Program, researching Piping Plovers. A student in the Wildlife & Conservation Biology program at URI, she found her way to SSRI after sitting for a guest webinar on Saltmarsh Sparrows during her field ornithology course. Attending this meeting sparked a magnetic interest in the species, and she knew she must find a way to work with them. In 2021 she was accepted to URI's Coastal and Environmental Fellowship Program, and decided to pursue an independent fellowship project on SALS under the supervision of Steven Reinert. She has since fallen in love with SSRI, and decided to concurrently pursue her senior thesis research on Saltmarsh Sparrow nesting ecology. Jessica is hoping to pursue a PhD in the field of avian ecology after graduating from URI, and hopes to continue working with this species.


Kylie Rezendes

Kylie joined the SALSRI team in the summer of 2021 where she learned hands-on techniques in mist netting, bird banding, and vegetation surveys. She is studying towards a BS in Conservation and Wildlife Biology at the University of Rhode Island. At URI, she participates in Dr. Brian Gerber's Applied Quantitative Ecology Lab . In the lab, Kylie organizes and deploys remote camera traps for Snapshot USA, a nationwide effort to sample mammal populations. Kylie is also a field technician on the first-ever, research-based fisher (Pekania pennanti) trapping team, the Rhode Island Fisher Study. The team collects information on the fine scale movements of the RI population of fisher by collaring and tracking individuals. Throughout the summer and winter Kylie kayaks or walks the state's waterways in RI conducting semi-aquatic mammal occupancy surveys. This study aims to better understand where species like muskrat, otters, and beaver are living throughout the three main watersheds: the Blackstone, the Pawtuxet, and the Pawcatuck. In the past, Kylie worked as a field technician on a bobcat population study utilizing remote camera trapping and non-invasive fur sampling techniques. Kylie enjoys science and conservation across all species and has volunteered checking eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) nests for the Audubon Society of RI, surveying for box turtles, and collecting amphibian samples along transects to study the impacts of roads on amphibian crossing.


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