Ventures Tour Guides

 Simon Thompson


         Originally from Suffolk, England, Simon has lived in North Carolina for over 20 years. Prior to moving to the US he lived in Lebanon, Kenya, Yemen, and Ghana, where his interest in birds and natural history began. In addition to traveling extensively in the United States, Simon spent six months in China studying the crane and bird of prey migration as a member of the British "China Crane Watch" expedition. He is on the board of the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society in Asheville, NC. As owner and operator of Ventures Birding Tours, Simon has led many birding trips all over the world.

 Aaron Steed


     Aaron has been interested in birds and natural history his entire life. Originally from Wilmington, NC, Aaron holds a B.S. in General Biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and has worked numerous ornithological field positions in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas, California and Arizona, focusing primarily on endangered or imperiled species (such as the Black-capped Vireo and Lesser Prairie-Chicken). Instead of going to grad school in 2013, Aaron decided to take the opportunity to become a professional bird guide and began working for Ventures Birding, leading local day trips in the Western NC region. In the years since, he has taken groups to Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras, Belize, Peru, Cuba, and Spain as well as a multitude of destinations across the US. Aaron likes to have fun with his groups, bringing a low-key professionalism and relaxed atmosphere to his tours. When he’s not guiding, he’s hard at work in the Ventures office, answering phones, writing itineraries, & researching new destinations. He’s currently working on expanding Ventures’ operations in Europe and has planned upcoming trips to Spain, Romania, and Belarus to name a few. As much as he loves traveling and birding new places, he’ll always be drawn back to the incredible biodiversity of the Southern Appalachians (specifically Asheville), where he lives with his fiancée and menagerie of pets (2 cats, 1 dog, 15 chickens, and a beta fish).

 Emilie Travis


     Emilie Travis was born and raised in central NJ having always enjoyed watching birds but didn’t discover the hobby of birding until she attended University of Vermont for a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and Forestry. Emilie was first taken by birds radio-tracking double-crested Cormorants in Lake Champlain, VT. After graduating, Emilie birded her way between amphibian breeding grounds, acquiring some birding experience with several western species throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Emilie has assisted on bird banding projects in the Northeast and Midwest, gaining a tremendous amount of experience handling and identifying neo-tropical migrants. She acquired her Master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison studying the impact of communication towers to migratory birds. Emilie has also assisted on a variety of other wildlife research projects over the past 14 years so if bird activity gets slow, she is guaranteed to be distracted by a salamander, trying to identify a tree, or looking under a rock. Emilie has worked with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission as a Wildlife Diversity Technician, coordinating the NC Bat Acoustic Monitoring Program, mist-netting and conducting summer roost surveys for bats, tracking bog turtles, conducting point counts for Cerulean Warblers, and assisting with salamander surveys. Emilie is passionate educating folks and getting them excited about the natural world. Emilie now resides in Delray Beach, FL so if you are looking for a weekend or week long bird venture to south Florida, contact us for more info!

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 Clifton Avery


     Clifton was born and raised in the foothills of western NC.  He has always had a passion for nature and the outdoors but did not discover his love for birds until he saw a Painted Bunting off the coast of North Carolina on an early summer morning.  Soon after this eye opening experience, Clifton had the opportunity to participate in a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course in Brazil where he was overwhelmed by the beauty and diversity of the birds of the Amazon Rainforest.  Following this experience, Clifton went to Appalachian State University where he majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a focus in Ornithology.  Clifton worked for the Manu Bird Project in the Peruvian Amazon where he banded a wide range of avian species.  He has worked the past two summers for the NC Audubon Society studying the Golden-winged Warbler on its breeding grounds in northwestern NC.  Clifton has conducted ornithological and ecological research throughout the United States, Brazil, Peru, Nicaragua, and Vietnam as well as traveled throughout Africa, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Canada and Europe.

 Ashley Peele


     Growing up in central FL, Ashley spent her childhood running around swamps and watching the alligators, turtles, and birds that dwelt there.  During college at Ohio Wesleyan University, she discovered that one could make a profession out of such pursuits, which set her course for a life of bird-nerdiness and wildlife study. In the past ten years, she has worked on studies of Mexican Spotted Owls in Utah, salt marsh nesting sparrows in Delaware, and Snail Kites in Florida. Additionally, she has birded extensively all over the eastern US, as well as Ecuador, the Galapagos, Southern Mexico, California, Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado. She recently graduated from Tulane University with her PhD in Avian Ecology. Her research took her to Jamaica for five years, where she focused on migratory and endemic songbirds population dynamics. While in the US, she spent the rest of her time working and birding in Louisiana and the gulf coast region. She has taught Field Ornithology courses in southern Louisiana and is excited to continue teaching about not only bird identification, but also life history. Having moved to the Asheville area, she hopes to continue sharing her love of birds through teaching and guiding.

 Kevin Burke


     Kevin was introduced to birding while taking an ornithology class in Ohio and has been birding every day since. He has a degree in Resource Recreation and Tourism from the University of Idaho. He really started to hone his birding skills while living on the coast of North Carolina teaching environmental education. Birding has brought Kevin across the country and abroad. He has led expeditions in Washington's San Juan Islands, Idaho's back country and the Southern Appalachian chain. Kevin has recently started to expand his birding outside the United States with trips to Portugal and Colombia. Birding is becoming a life long journey for Kevin and he loves to share his knowledge and help others grow their skills in bird identification. Originally from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Kevin Burke now lives with his wife and two young children in Hendersonville, NC.


Michael Plauche'


      Michael grew up in south Louisiana, spending his time exploring the bayous, swamps, marshes, beaches and forests. An abiding appreciation of all nature has continued throughout life. In the mid-2000’s, he found birding and became a dedicated and restless birder. Since then, and, with the tutelage and encouragement from many great people in the birding community he has become an accomplished birder and advocate for birds and nature.
   In 2015 he moved to Brevard, NC, a small community in the mountains west of Asheville. Enamored with the vastness of the national and state forests that are immediately accessible, he spends time birding everyday and volunteers for bird projects at every opportunity. He compiles the Transylvania County Spring Bird Count, the Brevard Christmas Bird Count and regularly leads walks with the Transylvania County Bird Club. He is delighted to live in an area where he’ll be exploring for the rest of his life.

     Scheduled Trips


 Keith Watson


     A native to Sevier County, Keith has over 35 years of national birding experience, including East Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains.  He began his birding experience as a conservationist and birder in the mid-1970’s in Knoxville, TN as a student at the University of Tennessee.  He often traveled to and experienced the “waves” of warblers on Sharp’s Ridge (Knoxville), known regionally for its attraction to migrating songbirds.  During his career with the National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service, he advanced bird conservation in the Caribbean, Appalachian Mountains, Southeast Coastal Plain, and the Piedmont regions of the U.S. and developed an Avian Conservation Implementation Plan for each national park unit in the southeastern region of the NPS (57).  After leaving federal service, Keith and his wife Ruth moved “home” to the Smoky Mountains where he established the Southern Appalachian Bird Conservancy, a small business to assist local and regional conservationists with bird conservation needs.  He has assisted the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Peregrine Falcon monitoring, Breeding Bird Surveys, Christmas Bird Counts, and special wetland surveys and developed an Avian Conservation Implementation Plan for the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the Piedmont Bird Conservation Region.  Together with fellow birders, he has documented birds never reported for Sevier County, TN.