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Our Nature Guides

The BTG is proud to host Guided Nature Tours every weekday during the season with one of our “perennial” speakers.  The tours are free and reservations are not required.  Speakers will wear a portable microphone if the group is large.  Please wear good walking shoes because we often go off-road. If your schedule doesn’t match our tours, use exploreCHQ, our free app offering Self-Guided Nature Tours!

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Betsy Burgeson

Chautauqua Institution Supervisor of Gardens and Landscapes

Since 2015, Betsy has been transforming the grounds to a new level of excellence by designing and implementing innovative ecologically and economically sound plans. She demonstrates an exemplary work ethic and effort with projects such as returning the Arboretum to its original purpose as an outdoor nature classroom and implementing the century-old plan for the Ellen Biddle Shipman Garden at Miller Edison Cottage. Betsy earned a Bachelor of Science in earth science and biology education at SUNY Fredonia. She then taught biology for seven years at Panama Central in southern Chautauqua County. There, from 2008 to 2009, she held a grant position that promoted outreach and greater public awareness of the effects of human activity on the health of Chautauqua Lake. Betsy grew up locally and is a “third-generation gardener.”

It was her love for gardens, ecology, and Chautauqua Lake that led Betsy to the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and ultimately to Chautauqua Institution.

Jack Gulvin

Naturalist, Forester, Purple Martin expert

Our Purple Martin Chat Host, Tree Walk Guide, and Nature Guide! Jack learned about plants and birds as a teenager from Jamestown Audubon specialists Gib Burgeson and Bob Sundell and that set him on his path to earning a BS in Forest Management at Syracuse. He was employed by the US Department of the Interior for 13 years working in parks with diverse a landscape from Yellowstone, Grand Teton to Cuyahoga Ohio. A nationally known expert on Purple Martins, he attends to dozens of houses on the Institution grounds and throughout Chautauqua County, carefully charting out their records per house. Jack's knowledge of his subject matter and friendly manner make him an ideal speaker/guide for all ages. 2023 is Jack’s 24th season as a BTG guide.

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Joe McMaster

Arborist, Naturalist, Grape Grower

Our Garden Walk Leader: Joe grew up in the Chautauqua area. Following a three-year agricultural stay with the Peace Corps, a BA in Comparative Literature, and tree work and landscaping in Denver, he returned to Chautauqua County. A certified arborist, Joe has also farmed juice grapes on the Lake Erie plain and owned and operated a landscaping company. Joe’s tour route varies from week to week based on what’s in bloom. His wry sense of humor makes him a favorite guide.

Ruth Lundin

Birder

Ruth leads our Bird Walks! Ruth is the retired president of Audubon Community Nature Center (ACNC) in Jamestown NY. During her 19 years at ACNC, Lundin welcomed in dramatic change from the acquisition of a Bald Eagle to the expansion of school programs into Warren County, Pa. Most recently, she spearheaded the effort to change the name to Audubon Community Nature Center, working to make it welcoming to all and to open the door to a new and vibrant future. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Nature Center Administrators, including a term as president, Lundin served for 10 years on the board of the Audubon Council of New York State, three years as Vice Chair, and five as Secretary. She was recently presented with the Council’s highest affiliate honor, the prestigious Norman I. Stotz Award that recognizes the Audubon New York member who best demonstrates extraordinary leadership on behalf of the Audubon Society in broad-based state-wide, regional, and local contexts, and their contributions to the environmental cause. Ruth is the incoming President of the Jamestown Rotary Club. 

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Twan Leenders

Conservation Biologist, Birder, Teacher

Twan leads some of our Bird Walks and is often a speaker and leader for special events. Twan currently serves as the Ecological Restoration Manager of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy. A biologist from The Netherlands whose interests are in birds, animal ecology and conservation management, with a specialty in amphibians and reptiles. Twan is also an avid nature photographer and writes and illustrates field guides. For more than twenty years his work with birds, mammals, plants and especially tropical amphibians and reptiles has taken him to various places on the planet. As a former researcher at Yale University’s Peabody Museum and other institutions, he participated in many international expeditions that helped gather data to better understand and protect biologically important areas and their unique species and habitats. He is the author of Amphibians of Costa Rica and Reptiles of Costa Rica and coauthor of The Wildlife of Costa Rica. His photographs have been featured in many books and magazines, including National Geographic, New Scientist and National Wildlife. Before coming to western NY, Twan taught biology at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT and led the Science and Conservation Office of the Connecticut Audubon Society. Prior to his recent position, he was President of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.

Jonathan Townsend

PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University at Buffalo, Co-Owner - Royal Fern Nursery

Jonathan has led our Bat Chats as well as some of our Lake Walks and Special Events! Jonathan grew up near Olean, NY, where he developed a love and passion for the natural world, particularly bat biology and conservation. This fascination with ecological relationships led him to pursue a BS in Environmental Science and an MS in Biology, both from SUNY Fredonia. Jonathan has worked with various state and local municipalities, private environmental consultants, and nonprofits in his career and focuses on studying bats and promoting the many benefits they provide. Currently, Mr. Townsend is pursuing a PhD in Biogeography from the University at Buffalo, where he is investigating bat habitat use, diet, and the potential for plastic pollution to impact bats through the insects they eat and the water they drink. He also works as a Biologist and Native Plant Specialist at Royal Fern Nursery, a native plant nursery specializing in western New York flora. Jonathan sits on the Board of Directors at Greystone’s Bat Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary and is an Adjunct Professor in the Geography Department at UB."

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