Ecology Workshops and Biotic Surveys

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For The Naturalist School, walking is a school of thought. So is crouching, stooping, stalking, squinting, muddy knees and peering through binoculars or a hand lens. And we take copious notes; here we know nature by experience, by hand, face to face, skin on skin. There are many nature programs that will line you up in chairs in a dark room to look at slide after slide, make you register on line and pay for parking. TNS meets in small groups* to explore native places and the only power point we use is fingers.

pondhawk male

We bring experts on wide varieties of taxa into the field to walk and work with us. But the eyes and ears belong to the volunteers that join us in the field. Together we grow in knowledge and intimacy with worlds that pulse with wildness still and commit ourselves to protecting them. If you would like to join us, let us know! The only requirements are quiet curiosity and good boots.

The Naturalist School Ecology Faculty

Ted at Pahuk

Ted Burk Ph.D. is Professor of Animal Behavior and Behavioral Ecology at Creighton University. He leads frequent pollinator and insect field sessions for TNS.

Mark and that tree.

Mark Hirsch is a nature photographer, photojournalist, and author of That Tree. Mark travels throughout the country giving workshops and displaying his photography. He lives in Platteville, Wisconsin. Mark has been instrumental in teaching TNS how to create photographic records of organisms in the field with smartphones and digital cameras.


Craig Maier is a tallgrass prairie ecologist and coordinator of the Tallgrass Prairie Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium based in Madison, Wisconsin. Craig has worked for a variety of conservation organizations including The Nature Conservancy and the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

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Jeff LeClere is author and photographer of “Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Iowa” and


Joseph Phillips, Ph.D is a research scientist at Holar University and Lake Myvatn Research Station in Iceland, where he studies aquatic food webs and population dynamics. When at home in the midwest, Joe helps with surveys and teaches TNS workshops.

Katie Thompson

Katie Thompson, M.S., is a Ph.D student in lichenology at University of Wisconsin who loves to share her passion and lives to be outdoors.

Neal Ratzlaff

Neal Ratzlaff is a naturalist and field guide author. Neal is a retired radiologist with a lifelong interest in natural history, and past president of the Nebraska Native Plant Society and the Nebraska Ornithological Union.

Kevin Smith at New Tree School

Kevin T. Smith Ph.D. is a long-time mentor and friend of The Naturalist School. He is Supervisory Plant Pathologist for the US Forest Service Northern Research Station in Durham, New Hampshire.


Robert Smith is a naturalist, nature photographer, tree planter, native seed collector, saunterer, and long-time member of The Naturalist School. His cell-phone photography is featured throughout the TNS website.

The data we collect and the species lists we create inform the conservation plans of our program partners and contribute to ongoing ecological research. Our current program partners are Loess Hills Alliance, Harrison County Conservation, Iowa DNR, Golden Hills RC&D, and Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium. If your agency or nature center would like to host The Naturalist School for workshops, biotic surveys or volunteer-based field studies, contact Jack Phillips at


(Photos by Robert Smith, saw-whet owl by Abbe Richardson.)