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David Ascanio is a Venezuelan naturalist and birding tour leader with a special interest in empowering local guides and communities with the economic and social benefits of birdwatching. His passion for birds and wildlife started when he was a kid, living at the edge of a large city next to a sugar farm, where he had his first contact with night birds such as the Great Horned Owl and the Pauraque (a nightjar species). This was also a novel opportunity to obtain views of antshrikes, tanagers, seedeaters, and woodcreepers. As soon as the Spanish version of Birds of Venezuela was released (1979, Phelps Ornithological Museum), he was exposed to a world that was no longer restricted to his backyard. In turning the plates of the field guide, he discovered the tinamous, toucans, and cotingas of his home country, triggering a desire to explore the unknown countryside.

Bitten by the travel bug to search for birds, David explored the Llanos of Venezuela (plains of the Orinoco) and the impressive and spectacular tepuis, learning about their unique avifauna. He also went birding in the Venezuelan Andes and the enormous Orinoco Delta. Venezuela was, by then, a hotspot for world birders. David remembers his first contact with international birdwatchers, around the mid ‘80s, when he bumped into a birding group from the USA led by Richard ffrench, author of the first field guide to the birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Soon they became good friends, and David was invited to be the local guide for ffrench´s annual birding tour to Venezuela. This experience opened the door to a new profession, one that carved a path of traveling, guiding, and birding.

David has vivid memories of his first contact with VENT. Back in the ‘90s, he connected with Steve Hilty, who was guiding a tour in northern Venezuela at the time. After Hilty finished the daily checklist session, David approached him and asked, “You are Steve Hilty, right? I am David Ascanio, and I want to work with you!” David took Steve birding the next day, beginning a professional friendship that has kept them co-leading tours for decades. He started working for VENT as the Venezuelan local guide, and later, in 2004, he was given the opportunity to lead international tours.

Working with VENT, David has led tours in his native Venezuela and in neighboring Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, and Brazil, as well as Peru, Chile, Argentina, Panama, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, Norway, the Dominican Republic, and the Lesser Antilles. He has had the privilege of discovering a bird unknown to science (the Delta Amacuro Softtail) while guiding, and contributing with new recordings and the rediscovery of many lost birds. In addition, David has been able to bird the entire Amazon River from its mouth in Belem, Brazil to Iquitos, in Peru, and has traveled lengthy sections of the Orinoco, Suriname, and Essequibo rivers.

David, formerly a business administrator, is self-taught in ornithology, and his main passion is bird voice identification. His knowledge of the Neotropical avifauna has led to his appointment as Associate Researcher of the Phelps Ornithological Museum in Caracas, and to being the first coauthor of the latest Field Guide to the Birds of Venezuela (Helm, 2017).

David is a strong believer that a visit to any destination must allow the tour participants not only to enjoy the natural world (birds and other wildlife) but also to learn about and change the lives of those who live in these natural areas. He believes that birdwatching can be enormously beneficial to everyone´s well-being. David works hard to make sure that a group dynamic is built, that everyone sees the bird or the species observed, and that all tour participants enjoy the journey in good spirits.

Currently, David leads a broad variety of tours. He co-leads the Amazon River Cruise and the Lesser Antilles Cruise. In addition, he guides our popular “Relaxed & Easy” tours to Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru. And, he is the first leader on VENT’s regular birding tours to Brazil (Pantanal Safari and Harpy Eagle Extension), Colombia (Inirida and the Llanos), Costa Rica, Cuba, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic. This variety of tours allows participants to choose those that offer the best fit, and although the nature of each of these destinations is different, David will make sure that everyone enjoys nature to the fullest!