Our Guides & Instructors

For our expeditions and courses, we use specially trained and certified guides that are experts in their field of study. Rather than just being "general" naturalists, they have years of "in the field" experience directly related to the focus areas for the programs they are leading.  In addition to our own experts, each expedition includes local guides who intimately know the flora and fauna of the specific area visited so that the unique and fascinating features for each place are revealed.

Lee Burton - Founder and Owner
Lee Burton
Founder & Owner


Lee grew up exploring the lands and waters of the Texas Hill Country.  After earning a degree in aerospace engineering he moved overseas and over several years worked on numerous conservation projects, spending significant time in southern Africa, the jungles of Central and South America, Himalayan China and central Asia.  Upon returning to the American Southwest he worked under the tutelage of Jon Young, becoming a Bird Language Leaders Instructor and a Master Naturalist, as well as getting certified in Wildlife Track and Sign by Cybertracker Conservation.  Prior to starting Naturalist Ventures, he organized and led wolf tracking trips in the mountainous regions of the western U.S.

Casey MacFarland - Guide
Casey McFarland
Wildlife Tracking & Trailing Guide

Casey McFarland trains biologists, research teams, eco-tourism guides, and the general public to see and interpret the tracks and sign of wildlife—from beetles to brown bears.  A Senior Tracker and International Evaluator for CyberTracker Conservation, he works across the planet with groups to assess, develop and support tracking skills. Casey conducts Track and Sign and Trailing Evaluations--as well as other specialized trainings--across North and Central America, Europe, and Asia.  He is co-author of Bird Feathers:  A Guide to North American Species (Stackpole 2010), and is co-authoring the new Peterson Field Guide to North American Bird Nests (2019) as well as a revision of Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species (Stackpole 2003). 

Chris Hyde.jpg
Chris Hyde
Wilderness Survival Instructor & Wildlife Tracking Guide

In his youth, Chris loved to be outdoors exploring wild places. While fishing along the coast and hiking the trails of state parks across Texas, he discovered the mysteries that nature offered in every nook and cranny.  As an adult, he traveled across the country taking classes from dozens of different outdoor schools that focused on native and traditional skills; afterward, he began teaching archery, bow making, wildlife tracking, edible plants, permaculture and survival skills. In 2014 Chris created Natureversity to help homeschool communities around Austin and Dripping Springs reconnect with nature through the practice of living closer to the earth.  He enjoys helping create community and continues to travel in order to learn about indigenous cultures.

Dr. Katie Sieving - Instructor
Dr. Katie Sieving
Avian Ecologist & Bird Language Instructor


Dr. Sieving is a professor at the University of Florida whose research focuses on the extraordinary vocal complexity of chickadees and titmice.   She studies what affects their vocalizations, which are packed with useful social information for other small birds, have on population, community interactions, and behavior of eavesdropping animals.  Her work involves recording avian acoustics in the wild, then analyzing that data in the lab to unravel the complexities and inherent meanings embedded in those messages.  She uses the results from this research for conservation purposes, determining how normal information exchanges between animals are disrupted by human encroachment in rural and urban landscapes.

Jon Young - Instructor
Jon Young
Bird Language Instructor


For almost three decades Jon Young has been teaching people the nearly lost art of bird and language.  He has been leading communities world-wide to rediscover these skills via lectures, workshops, and most importantly through hands-on training.  Since his early boyhood, Jon's family nurtured his interest in nature through fishing, hunting, caring for wild pets, using field guides and listening to the birds for their messages.  Upon this foundation, Jon built a deep understanding of the language of nature through his mentoring with now famous tracker and author Tom Brown, Jr., and in 1983 he founded the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington state.  He is the author of the seminal work on bird language, What the Robin Knows.

Nicole Apelian - Instructor
Eric Knight
Botanical Guide and Edible, Medicinal, and Rare Plant Expert


Eric grew up exploring the natural wonders of central Texas.  After studying environmental engineering at the University of Texas, he took part in an apprenticeship program at Earth Native Wilderness School and studied herbalism at the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine. He  previously was an environmental educator at the Austin Nature & Science Center, and currently works as an environmental consultant as well as running the wild-harvested Local Leaf yaupon tea company with his wife.  He leads foraging classes for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, being especially knowledgeable in edible and medicinal plants, plant systematics, and tracking down rare plants.  He is also certified in wildlife tracking by Cybertracker Conservation.

Nicole Apelian - Instructor
Dr. Nicole Apelian
Wilderness Survival Instructor and Medicinal Plant Expert


Dr. Nicole Apelian is a scientific researcher, traditional skills instructor, and medicinal plant expert.  She has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology to go along with a masters degree in biology.  Her doctoral research involved indigenous-based tourism and its role in maintaining intergenerational knowledge in tribal communities, and she has also performed ethnobotanical studies of San Bushmen plant uses in the African Kalahari Basin.  Nicole is highly proficient in wilderness survival techniques, as evidenced by finishing as one of the final three contestants in the survival series Alone on the History Channel.  She is also an authority on edible and herbal plants, regularly teaching classes in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.

Beau Harger - Instructor
Beau Harger
Wildlife Tracking Instructor & Medicinal Plant Expert


Beau is a compounding pharmacist and an avid outdoorsman, who spent his youth exploring the woods and marshes of the Deep South in the U.S.  He has achieved a certification in Wildlife Track and Sign through Cybertracker Conservation, as well as having done extensive research and experimentation with native medicinal plants.  He is highly skilled at making salves and producing tinctures as well as other concoctions, using extracts from local plant species to treat numerous maladies, including common injuries like wounds and insect bites.  Besides his medicinal plant and tracking expertise, Beau's other outdoor interests include bird and big game hunting, shooting sports, retriever training, and wilderness survival skills. 

Zarek Cockar - Guide
Zarek Cockar
Wildlife Tracking & Bird Language Guide


Zarek is an accomplished tracker, having been certified in Wildlife Track and Sign by Cybertracker International in Africa.  He has also attained Trails Guide qualifications with the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa, as well as recently joining the ranks of the twenty highest qualified (Gold Level) guides in Kenya, under the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association.  Zarek is a fourth generation Kenyan, and has grown up with a great appreciation for Kenya’s wild places and natural history, starting with safaris and camping trips with family and friends from a very young age.  He is trained in ornithology and has nurtured a passion for the smaller aspects of life, including birds, spiders, insects, and frogs.

Marco Priori - Instructor
Marco Priori
Wilderness Survival Instructor & Wildlife Tracking Guide

Marco is the co-president of the Italian Survival Federation (FISSS) and one of the few Master Survival Instructors in Italy.  He holds both a PhD in environmental engineering and a master's degree in geological science, along with studies in ethology and wildlife conservation.  He teaches wilderness survival skills in both his native Europe and in Africa, has filmed and directed several survival documentaries in extreme locations in Canada and Kenya, and is also an expert canoer having paddled down some of the most challenging rivers in North America.  Marco is likewise a highly skilled wildlife tracker, tracking wolves and other large carnivores on various continents and teaching classes on wildlife management at the University of Siena.  

Ritish Suri - Guide
Ritish Suri
Wildlife Tracking Guide

Ritish is an expert on the behavior of large mammals such as tigers and elephants on the Indian subcontinent, including being highly skilled at trailing them over long distances.  He has trained extensively with wildlife professionals from across the globe, and has been a key player in conservation initiatives in and around Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve in northern India.  He has been guiding wildlife tours for over two decades and his expertise extends from the Corbett landscapes to Ladhak and the Western Himalayas, northeast India, and the conservation parks of central India.  Ritish is a keen photographer and also has an extensive knowledge of the birds, butterflies, and reptiles as well as the varied flora of India.