Lev was born in St. Petersburg, Russia but now resides in Huntsville, Canada. He has a keen interest in all forms of wildlife that began with looking for insects at the family cottage near the Finnish border when he was a young boy. He started working as a ranger for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in one of Canada’s most famous parks – Algonquin, shortly after finishing high school. He spent nearly a decade educating thousands of visitors about various aspects of the park’s ecology, as well as maintaining and contributing to the extensive collection of records and specimens in the archives. As this was mostly a warm-season endeavor, he spent his free months working at birdwatching lodges in Central and South America, on a boat in North Carolina spotting seabirds, and as a biologist conducting bird, plant and ecosystem inventory all over Ontario – anywhere where he’d be able to get outside with birds and people. His pursuit of birds and wildlife brought him to many different countries. He is particularly fond of the American tropics, where he’s spent many months leading tours and seeking birds on personal trips.
What got you into birding?
My parents, while they were not birders, were outdoorspeople and supported my constant need to be outside. On one excursion to a local zoo when I was about ten years old, they bought me a pair of binoculars. They were massive prism-type things – but they got the job done, and while the zoo was interesting, I got more enjoyment from using them afterwards in the field. I remember it being an autumn day and there was a large passage of wood-warblers in my local woodlot. I knew a few birds then, but these were unfamiliar to me at the time. Seeing them up close with binoculars and being able to tell them apart using features I’d never seen with the naked eye really appealed to me – and it was all uphill from there!
What attracted you to a career in tourism?
I’ve always obtained a lot pleasure from showing people things they have not noticed or seen before – even as a kid I would proudly show off my haul of scarabs or tadpoles if any passerby was interested. Once I started really getting into birding and seeing how popular it was, I realized that this positive attention is what is going to save these animals. As a ranger, I learned a saying – “hearts first, then minds” – which means that once somebody develops a personal connection to something, they are more likely to learn more about it, and ultimately more likely to think in favour of conservation. While I enjoy surveying in the field, I believe that the most effective way to save the things we love is to help others love them – and that’s what I enjoy doing most!
What are some of your other hobbies?
Birding is number one for me, but I also have a large place in my heart for other wildlife – especially insects, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, and fishes. Insects are what I started with and I still maintain a photographic and a specimen collection today – I’ve found many new records for my district that way. They’re just so cool, and many species are largely unknown – plus there’s something about running around with a net that makes studying them very fun. Mammals and herps take a lot of wit to find – and often a long time – so it’s especially satisfying seeing particularly tough species. I enjoy SCUBA and snorkeling immensely and especially enjoy it in freshwater, where some of the species are just as beautiful as in the sea but go largely unnoticed.
Are you a lister?
I am! I keep a world list and an American Birding Association Area list, as well as a variety of lists for non-birds.
Are you a keen bird photographer?
I’m an amateur photographer, and I’ve been lucky enough to have photographed some species that have only rarely been documented this way. I’ve been published a couple handfuls of times – mostly obscure mammals or insects. I am not one to spend many hours trying for the perfect shot, but I do enjoy photography and believe it’s a powerful tool for conservation – especially for those cryptic species unlikely to be seen by most.
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
My years of working with children from elementary to high school level have given me infinite patience, which has proven to be a virtue when I’m guiding. I enjoy the challenge of finding specific target species as much as I enjoy observing interesting behaviors of common species. I believe it is important to see the big picture when visiting a new ecosystem, so I point out unique plant and non-bird species and their relationships to some of the birds we’ve been seeing during the slower parts of the day. I plan my days to be where the birds are at the best possible times of the day and like to use local intel to help us find them.
I’m pretty easygoing and easy to talk to, and enjoy answering people’s questions to the best of my ability – about birds or anything else that we might see. I’m proud to have amassed a lot of knowledge on various subjects concerning ecology in my travels – and enjoy sharing it whenever I can!