Catching flight: Local bird expert offers tours around the world

Steve Shunk, owner and lead guide of Paradise Birding, teaches his guests about wildlife, habitats, ecology and conservation, with an emphasis on the natural history of birds. He leads tours in Oregon and around the world.

Courtesy photo
Steve Shunk, owner and lead guide of Paradise Birding, teaches his guests about wildlife, habitats, ecology and conservation, with an emphasis on the natural history of birds. He leads tours in Oregon and around the world.

It turns out, Silver Falls State Park is a great place to birdwatch.

“American Dippers at the waterfalls, a sheer abundance of Wilson’s Warbler and Pacific Wren and Red-breasted Sapsuckers just about everywhere,” says Steve Shunk, owner and lead guide of Paradise Birding. “You can catch the morning songs of the Varied Thrush and Swainson’s Thrush, and just being in the temperate rainforest habitat is invigorating.”

Soon after moving to Oregon 20 years ago, Shunk started his touring company. He teaches his guests about wildlife, habitats, ecology and conservation, with an emphasis on the natural history of birds. His annual birdwatching tour draws many “birders” to the park during the annual Silver Falls Mother’s Day Birding and Wildflower Festival.

Shunk was raised with a deep love and respect for nature, and went on to study meteorology and environmental studies in college.

“I was teaching outdoor nature classes for kids in San Jose, California, and a friend handed me a pair of binoculars,” Shunk says. “One look at birds through new ‘eyes,’ and I was hooked.”

Now Shunk passes on his passion for birds via tours he conducts throughout Oregon, North America, and other parts of the world, including Honduras, Mexico, Jamaica, Japan and Peru. The thrill of finding different birds reminds him that “there is so much to learn and experience in nature,” he says.

“Paradise Birding prides itself on offering tours that appeal to birders from all walks of life and with a wide range of skills and abilities,” says Shunk, who also co-founded the East Cascades Bird Conservancy, serving as its first president. The conservancy evolved into the East Cascades Audubon Society chapter.

Shunk has run two Christmas bird counts for the National Audubon Society for well over a decade. He was also co-founder of the Oregon Birding Trails program and coordinated its flagship project, The Oregon Cascades Birding Trail.

His company is known for touring with small groups of four to eight birders, “with everyone getting a window seat,” he says.

Each tour is led by two guides plus local experts and provides participants with “a relaxed pace, high-quality lodging, excellent meals and a fun atmosphere,” he says.

“We focus not only on identifying birds in the field, but making time to enjoy watching their behaviors,” he says. “We also share our knowledge of the natural and cultural history of the regions we visit.”

In addition to leading a guided tour at Silver Falls, Shunk leads tours each year at the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival in Oregon.

“In 2015, we began developing a series of new tours focused on learning about and supporting conservation work on some of the world’s 20 species of threatened woodpeckers,” Shunk says. “Conservation has always been a part of our birding ‘message.’ We like showcasing healthy ecosystems, but for these places to sustainably persist, we need to ensure they are conserved.”

Shunk calls conservation a “gargantuan task.”

“Our small company can only hope to have a small impact on the health of the global ecology,” he says.

For three seasons, Shunk monitored black-backed woodpecker populations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, as part of the Institute for Bird Populations’ Sierra Nevada Bird Observatory program. He also helped with Bonnelli’s Eagle Project in Sicily, the High Desert Wildlife Rescue program, the Italian League for Bird Protection, and other projects dedicated to protecting birds.

Most recently, he announced the publication of his book, the “Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America.”

Just a few hours east of Salem, the city of Bend happens to have the highest concentration of nesting woodpeckers — 11 species — to be found in North America, Shunk says.

To more fully explore the wonders of woodpeckers in Oregon, Shunk founded the Woodpecker Wonderland Festival, which was adopted by the East Cascades Audubon Society and is held at Camp Sherman. Shunk also gives presentations at ornithological societies, bird festivals, local bird clubs and other venues.

An Aumsville birder told Shunk, “You marveled me with the number of bird voices you recognize, your ability to imitate many of them, and the breadth and depth of your knowledge of birds.” This and other testimonies can be found on the company’s website.

“Running a small business in a competitive industry is challenging, but the rewards come from watching people get excited about seeing birds,” Shunk says. “Birding offers us a wonderful opportunity to escape from our over-civilized lives.”

For a full list of upcoming tours, or for more information on Paradise Birding, contact Shunk at 541-408-1753, steve@paradisebirding.com, or visit paradisebirding.com. Private tours can also be arranged.

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