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Nico Arcilla (PHD ’08) and Libby Mojica (MS ’06): Paying it forward

You never know when Warnell paths will cross.

At last November’s Raptor Research Foundation meeting in Colorado, Nico Arcilla ran into Libby Mojica. The two overlapped briefly during their time at Warnell—they recall meeting during an Audubon Christmas Bird Count—but went their professional ways.

Nico in a Latvian forestNow, years later, their shared love of birds of prey drew them back together, but the circumstances were vastly different. Arcilla had only planned to attend the raptor conference in support of her friend, Oscar Beingolea, a Peruvian expert in peregrine falcons. Arcilla had assisted with Beingolea’s study that had been accepted for publication in the Journal of Raptor Research, and she convinced him to present his findings at the November meeting.

The study was important: It was the first peer-reviewed paper linking peregrines breeding in North America with their wintering grounds in Peru, showing new dimensions of the birds’ migratory connectivity and timing. Up until now, the vast majority of research on these birds has focused on their breeding grounds, with little known about their wintering areas and migration pathways.

But, tragically, Beingolea died of pancreatic cancer just before the conference. Arcilla was devastated. But she also knew it was important to keep telling his story and sharing his work. “I felt intimidated because I’m not a raptor specialist, but I was just amazed because everyone was so friendly,” says Arcilla. “At the awards ceremony I thought, what we could pay tribute to him by supporting the collaborations that are possible between citizen scientists and professional researchers?”

That’s when the meeting of Arcilla and Mojica was crucial. Mojica, president of the Raptor Research Foundation, was open to an idea that Arcilla proposed: A grant in Beingolea’s memory. They began fundraising and are now more than halfway to their goal of establishing an endowed annual grant to support field research on raptors in Latin America and the Caribbean. Thanks to support from the Raptor Research Foundation, the first $1,000 award will be given this year, as fundraising efforts continue.

Libby Mojica with a raptorArcilla received a number of grants and fellowships during her years at Warnell, and not only did that money help her complete her degree, but it also opened up doors she hadn’t even considered. For example, a Tinker Foundation Award from UGA’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute helped her set up her dissertation research on Amazonian birds. Through that experience, she realized how few opportunities there are in many parts of the world to fund field work or assist with journal publications.

“One thing I learned from my experience in Peru is how much of people’s knowledge of the natural world never makes it into scientific journals,” she says. “Oscar spent his entire life tracking these birds. He loved doing research. People like that, who are so passionate, inquisitive, and dedicated, make all kinds of discoveries that can teach and enrich us all. We hope this grant will make it a little easier to do just that.”

For more information or to donate to the grant, visit raptorresearchfoundation.org.

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