About Us

Audubon Mississippi Staff

Audubon Mississippi operates two centers, a coastal bird stewardship program, and state staff
Photo: Bill Stripling
About Us

Audubon Mississippi Staff

Audubon Mississippi operates two centers, a coastal bird stewardship program, and state staff

Sarah Pacyna, Program Manager of the Audubon Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Program

Sarah has been stewarding wildlife conservation since 2000.  At Fordham University where she completed her bachelors, she focused her studies in sociology and anthropology.  She continued her education at Columbia University studying conservation biology.  Sarah has worked in many diverse locations promoting healthy wildlife populations by creating comprehensive approaches that involve stakeholders to conserve animals and the habitat they depend on.  Working to save species ranging from Western Lowland Gorillas and Forest Elephants to Whale Sharks, Hawksbill Turtles, and Humpback Whales have led her to work in diverse locations including New York City, the Central African Republic, Belize, Fiji, Gabon, and beyond.  Most recently, Sarah settled with her daughter on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to oversee the Audubon Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Program.  She is happy to be doing what is first and foremost a passion for her. Contact: spacyna@audubon.org

Abby Darrah, Biologist for the Audubon Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Program

Abby grew up in the Columbus, Ohio area and was always a nature-lover. She first became interested in birds while attending college at Ohio University, thanks to an ornithology class that included mist-netting and a multi-day field trip to South Carolina. After taking several short-term field jobs working with birds all around the country, she moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she got her Master’s degree and then PhD in biology. She studied King Rail habitat use and distribution for her Master’s project, and for her PhD dissertation she studied the behavior and ecology of mixed-species flocks in Amazonian Ecuador. After graduation she worked for a 1.5 years as a postdoc at the University of Arizona, taking part in many different research projects on the effects of land use on migratory birds. She then worked for two years as a postdoc at the State University of New York – College of Environmental Science and Forestry, developing a decision support tool for beach managers to use when deciding whether or not to use nest exclosures for Piping Plover conservation.  She joined Audubon Mississippi in March 2017. In her free time Abby enjoys running, birding, and traveling. Contact: adarrah@audubon.org 

Molly Folkerts Caldwell, Stewardship and Outreach Coordinator for the Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Program

 Molly Folkerts is from Auburn, Alabama. As the daughter of two biologists, she grew up traveling to pitcher plant bogs, swamps, and other habitats of the southeast, and learned to love nature at an early age. She received a B.S. in Zoology with a concentration in Conservation and Biodiversity from Auburn University in 2012. In May 2015, she completed her Master’s in Field and Organismal Biology from Louisiana State University in Shreveport. In cooperation with Audubon Louisiana, she conducted her thesis research on Green Heron nesting success at Audubon’s Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary in coastal marshes of southwest Louisiana, as part of the largest ever Green Heron banding project. Molly moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the summer of 2015 and shortly after joined Audubon Mississippi as a volunteer.    In her spare time, Molly enjoys birding, running, kayaking, and spending time with her dog, husband, and family. Contact mfolkerts@audubon.org

Melinda Averhart, Biological Field Technician for the Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Program

Melinda Averhart is responsible for conducting surveys and monitoring the coastal birds of Mississippi. Melinda has worked with breeding Least Terns, Black Skimmers and Wilson’s Plovers for Audubon in Florida, Louisiana, and currently Mississippi. She graduated cum laude from Florida Gulf Coast University, with a bachelor’s in Environmental Studies and a minor in Interdisciplinary Studies. Her senior research was focused on the effects of Fish Crow abatement techniques on a Florida seabird breeding colony. Melinda held varying positions on the Board within her local Audubon chapter, Vice President being the last, while also filling the roll of Program Chair for 5 years. She fell in love with shorebirds during her time spent working as a Naturalist and Stewardship Coordinator on the beautiful beaches and barrier islands of Southwest Florida. Melinda joined the Audubon Mississippi team in September 2017 and moved to Ocean Springs to further her experience along the Gulf Coast. She is currently working on beach-nesting bird outreach and education in varying capacities. Contact Melinda at maverhart@audubon.org.         

Bryan White, Biological Field Technician for the Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Program 

Bryan is a native of Kansas City and graduated with a B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in conservation from the University of Central Missouri in 2011.  His fascination with birds started at a young age while thumbing through his Father’s Golden Guide to the Birds of North America, and backyard bird watching at their home in Kansas.  Following graduation, he worked with the United States Geologic Survey, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and Humboldt State University conducting seabird and shorebird research on the coast California and on Southeast Farallon Island.  Most recently, he has worked as a biological technician for National Park Service studying Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers.  Bryan moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the winter of 2017 and lives in Ocean Springs.  In his free time, Bryan likes to work on his photography and loves to cook.  Contact bwhite@audubon.org 

 Mary Cowan, Finance and Grants Coordinator for both the Coastal Stewardship program and the Pascagoula River Audubon Center Mary is responsible for various accounting & grant related duties pertaining to both programs.  With 25 years experience in the accounting field, Mary has worked in various positions within both the public and private sector of business.   Mary’s passion for photographing shorebirds is another talent she brings to the program.  When she is not Kayaking or spending time at one of the Barrier Islands, she and her husband enjoy time with their 2 children and 2 grandchildren.  

Mike Muraco, Center Director of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center.

Mike Muraco joined Strawberry Plains Audubon Center as the Operations Manager in July of 2015, and became the Center Director in 2016. He is a 30 year veteran of the zoo and aquarium community with a primary focus on research, education and conservation.  In his current position with Audubon, Mike is responsible for the daily management and continued development of the Strawberr Plains Audubon Center and for advancing Audubon’s mission throughout northern Mississippi.

Mike’s primary area of expertise is animal behavior and welfare.  Throughout his career he has participated in a variety of wildlife rehabilitation efforts with species as diverse as manatees, sea lions, dolphins, otters, sea turtles, waterfowl and more. He is a strong supporter of research and has co-authored several peer reviewed publications.  Mike is also very engaged in the community having served on several nonprofit boards.

Mike brings to Strawberry Plains Audubon Center tremendous leadership and management experience having worked at such iconic companies as Disney, Six Flags, and MGM Mirage in Las Vegas.  His training as a biologist paired with his impressive management career will serve Audubon well in the coming years. Contact Mike at mmuraco@audubon.org

Mary Lynn Riley, Office Manager for Audubon Mississippi (State Office, Strawberry Plains, and Pascagoula River)

As Office Manager for the Audubon Mississippi State Office located at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, Mary Lynn Riley handles various accounting and administrative duties. Mary Lynn came to Audubon in March 2003 with experience as a bookkeeper at her family owned farm supply store and traffic manager at a local manufacturer. While raising two children, she worked her way up to inventory control manager in addition to serving as office manager for the manufacturer of nationally known food and health care products. Mary Lynn's work ethic, experience and dedication make her the glue of the Strawberry Plains team. She has four grandchildren and one wild Chihuahua that contribute to her busy life! When there is spare time, she loves reading and road trips with her friends. Contact Mary Lynn at mriley@audubon.org

Mitchell Robinson, Conservation Education Manager and Land Manager for Strawberry Plains

Mitchell Robinson joined the staff of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center as the Conservation Education Manager in 2013. In the fall of 2015, he assumed additional duties as the Land Manager for SPAC'S 3,000 + acres, promoting our restored native grasslands, wetlands and forests as a demonstration site for active land managment. 
Mitch graduated from the University of the South, Sewanee, in 2007 with a B.S. in Natural Resources and the Environment, and previously served as the Education Coordinator, Land Manager and Interim Director at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve in Austin, Texas. Within those capacities, he helped develop and implement active land management plans for endangered species within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve System, including Golden-cheeked Warblers and Black-capped Vireos. His expertise includes endangered, threatened and invasive species management; interagency and non-profit collaborations; research design; private lands consultation; and naturalist education.
Mitch lives in Holly Springs with his two dogs and can usually be found at home reading to them or playing their favorite folk songs on the guitar when not exploring the grounds at Strawberry Plains. Contact Mitch at mrrobinson@audubon.org

Stephanie Green, Ecologist with Strawberry Plains

Strawberry Plains welcomed Stephanie Green in September, 2017, as our new Ecologist and staff member. Stephanie  arrived in Holly Springs by way of Florida, where she was born and raised and established her career in conservation, including over 12 years of land management and prescribed fire experience, working with private land owners and habitat conservation/restoration.
Her venture to Mississippi has brought her back to familiar habitats and landscapes of the Mid-South, as she honed her skills in Appalachia via a BA in biology from Berea College and a MS in Forestry from the University of Kentucky, focusing on forest ecology and habitat systems.
An avid birder and outdoor enthusiast, Stephanie has found like-minded company in our Strawberry Plains family of staff and volunteers, preferring any excuse to ‘get-outside’. When not sauntering outdoors, she enjoys spending her leisure reading and baking, though she’s been known to sing a little, mostly in church.
Stephanie will be leading Strawberry Plains's work with private landowners in the region and brings a wealth of additional knowledge to our conservation education programming and active land management of our 2,600 acres of forests, meadows and wetlands.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Steph, we hope you will come out soon and introduce yourself. In the meantime, feel free to send her a note and welcome her to the family, at sgreen@audubon.org

Tim Bisenius, Facilities Manager at Strawberry Plains.

The Center's positive image is largely due to Tim's hard work and varied skills. Tim moved to Holly Springs from Connecticut to start work at Strawberry Plains when it first became the property of the National Audubon Society in 1998. Maintenance of a facility that includes 15 miles of hiking trails, numerous buildings and infrastructure as well as making preparations for numerous special events and programs at the Center, keeps Tim much busier than the average guy. The Center's positive image is largely due to Tim's hard work and varied skills. Contact Tim at tbisenius@audubon.org

Mark LaSalle, Center Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center

 Mark LaSalle is the Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center which is located in Moss Point, Mississippi . He is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D). In his current position with Audubon, Mark is responsible for coordinating the continued development of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and expanding Audubon's educational and citizen science programs in south Mississippi.

Mark is a wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He also conducts a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is the coordinator of the Audubon Master Naturalist Program, an adult volunteer training program focusing on natural history. Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award. Contact: mlasalle@audubon.org

Erin Parker, Programs Manager at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center

 Erin is a Michigan native who completed her bachelor’s degree in Ecology and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University on the shores of Lake Superior. After moving to Wisconsin, she began working as an educator and naturalist at Aldo Leopold Nature Center and returned to school to become a high school science teacher. During seven years in the classroom, Erin worked hard to get her high school students outside and appreciating the natural world. She completed her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin- Madison with a focus on science literacy. After a big cross-country move to Mississippi to join Audubon in 2015, the only things she really misses about the upper Midwest are autumn weather and swimming in cold freshwater lakes! On her days off she enjoys exploring the entire Gulf Coast region by bicycle and kayak, traveling, adding to her life list of birds, and, with any remaining free time; gardening and raising an ever-increasing menagerie of animals with her husband. Contact: eparker@audubon.org 

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