Clifton was born and raised in the foothills of western NC. He has always had a passion for nature and the outdoors but did not discover his love for birds until he saw a Painted Bunting off the coast of North Carolina on an early summer morning. Soon after this eye opening experience, Clifton had the opportunity to participate in a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course in Brazil where he was overwhelmed by the beauty and diversity of the birds of the Amazon Rainforest. Following this experience, Clifton went to Appalachian State University where he majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a focus in Ornithology.
Clifton worked for the Manu Bird Project in the Peruvian Amazon where he banded a wide range of avian species. He has worked the past two summers for the NC Audubon Society studying the Golden-winged Warbler on its breeding grounds in northwestern NC.
Clifton has conducted ornithological and ecological research throughout the United States, Brazil, Peru, Nicaragua, and Vietnam as well as traveled throughout Africa, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Canada and Europe.