Friday, March 29, 2019

Bill Thompson III (1962 - 2019)

A pensive Bill Thompson III gazes over the waters of Lake Erie, on the ferry from the Marblehead Peninsula to Kelleys Island. This was on September 8, 2009, and we were on a field trip for a fall warbler symposium organized by the Ohio Ornithological Society.

As many of you know by now, the birding community lost one of its great leaders last Monday night, when Bill lost a tough battle with pancreatic cancer, a battle no one wins. His diagnosis last December came like a punch in the gut to everyone who knew him, but Bill being Bill bravely faced up to it and continued with his typical productivity for as long as he possibly could.

His wife of 25 years, artist and author Julie Zickefoose, wrote an elegantly descriptive synopsis of Bill's life in the Marietta Times, and you should read it RIGHT HERE.

I could add nothing beyond Julie's thoughtful conspectus, other than to relay some of my personal experiences with Bill. In 1978, a small fact-packed and delightful magazine hit the presses - Bird Watcher's Digest. As a lad of 16 and thoroughly hooked on birds, I got my mitts on the inaugural copy and ate it up. I did not yet know the Thompson clan, who started and published BWD, but did in a way through their magazine for many years before making any personal connections.

In 1997, I finally met Bill at a Midwest Birding Symposium at Lakeside, Ohio. By then, we knew each other by reputation, and upon actually meeting, hit it off. We're only a few weeks apart in age, shared the same passion for birds and spreading the word of birds, and a similar corny sense of humor and fondness for bad jokes. Over the years, we spent a lot of time together, in leadership roles in the Ohio Ornithological Society (both of us served as president), on trips far and wide, and just hanging out. Eventually, Bill offered me opportunities to write for Bird Watcher's Digest, the magazine I had long eagerly devoured. And I still wield a BWD pen to this day - in fact, the current issue's cover story is about Wilson's snipe, and it's mine, thanks to Bill. Only a few weeks ago, he sent me a nice note about being part of the Bird Watcher's Digest family, and in spite of his struggles was still working hard with the publication he loved.

Like many of you, I have so many good memories of Bill and time spent in his company that I could write a book. Instead, I dusted off some of the numerous photos that I managed to take of our adventures over the years, and a pictorial remembrance follows. I'll miss Bill dearly, as will so many others. Again, read Julie's wonderfully written obituary for an excellent recap of Bill's life and accomplishments, HERE. Also, back on February 6, Bill and I recorded one of his This Birding Life podcasts. The wide-ranging discussion was posted on March 6, and can be heard RIGHT HERE.

My condolences to Elsa, Julie, Liam, Phoebe, Wendy, Andy, Laura, and everyone else in Bill's extended family, and I know my sympathies are shared by thousands of people around the globe who personally knew Bill.

The following photos are all just quick snaps taken with phones or point & shoots, unedited, and in no particular order. They all bring back fond memories.

Bill (L) and possibly our guide Hugo slog through a heavy downpour in a Guatemala jungle, March 4, 2008. The man was nothing if not hardcore, and had enough adventurous treks around the globe to last ten lifetimes.

I took this snap of Bill (far L) and the staff of Bird Watcher's Digest out front of their Marietta, Ohio offices on July 31, 2008. Bill served for many years as editor, and unparalleled front man.

Bill peeks through Guatemalan jungle foliage on our epic March 2008 trip to this fabulous country. We were on our way up a rickety canopy tower.

Bill points to another ornithological luminary, Jon Dunn. The glacial grooves of Kelleys Island form the backdrop. This photo dates from September 9, 2007.

This shot from the streets of Flores, Guatemala, was either right before or after Bill saw his first bat falcon. He didn't see new birds often, because he had seen most everything, and as the bat falcon is one of the world's coolest birds of prey, this was cause for special celebration. March 2, 2008.

Your narrator and Bill serve as scale models (and darn good looking ones I would be tempted to say) for an amazingly enormous palm leaf. Near Flores, Guatemala, March 3, 2008.

Bill shares a laugh with the one and only Greg Miller. We were at the offices of the Hebron (Ohio) Fish Hatchery for a board meeting of the Ohio Ornithological Society. September 16, 2006.

This is a screen cap from a presentation Bill gave at a 200+ person Ohio Ornithological Society raptor conference in Zanesville, Ohio, on December 3, 2005. Bill is a slide to poke fun at my botanical proclivities, and provide clear differentiation between birders and botanists.

This was a fun scene, and it unfolded in the Vista Real Hotel in Guatemala City on March 2, 2008. Bill, I and others were down there for a birding tour, when Julie Zickefoose unexpectedly (to Bill) showed up to join us, and surprise him.

I know when and where this was - May 4, 2011 in West Virginia at the New River Birding & Nature Festival - but I have no idea what Bill is doing with that cantaloupe or whatever it is.

Fun times, and in no small measure to the guy front and center in the blue hat, mugging for the camera. Ohio Ornithological Society annual conference at Shawnee State Park, Ohio, April 27, 2014.

Bill, in his semi-mulleted phase, enjoys the company of Hugh Kolo-Rose and Jen Sauter at an Ohio Ornithological Society conference at Mohican State Park in Richland County, Ohio. May 19, 2007.

Bill co-leads a field trip with Greg Miller (just right of the scope) at the OOS conference at Mohican in 2007. No one did field trips better than Bill.

Bill serves as emcee and resident minstrel at an Ohio Ornithological Society event in 2006. He nearly always would sing a song either before or after the main event. Sometimes he would even modify the words of a well-known song to fit the speaker he was introducing. Like so many other things, he was a one of a kind when it came to emcee'ing and entertaining crowds.

Bill sends me a signal at the OOS raptor conference in Zanesville, Ohio. December 3, 2005.

Bill takes to the lectern at the aforementioned raptor conference. Notice the expressions on the participants faces. Very typical reactions during a Thompson performance.

Bill, along with Dr. Bernie Master, present Carl Slater with a prize - Brian Wheeler's excellent raptor guide - at the aforementioned OOS raptor conference. On one epic day in May in the early 2000's, Bernie, Bill, Dan Sanders and myself set out to break the Ohio Big Day record (most species seen in a 24 hour period). We came close with 185 species (if memory serves), just missing the mark, but it was an incredible day of companionship, jokes, madhouse birding, and hundreds of miles traveled.

Bill and Peter King, OOS treasurer at the time, present a young Ethan Kistler with a check to help fund Ethan's attendance at an American Birding Association birding camp in Arizona. This was at an OOS conference in April 2005, and fourteen years later Ethan is a world call birder leading trips around the globe, and especially in Africa. Bill was HUGE into encouraging young people to engage birding, as epitomized by his book The Young Birders Guide to Birds of North America.

Hamming it up, Bill poses with Paul Kammermeier (I think) and his longtime buddy McCarthy. This was at The Wilds in Muskingum County, Ohio on an OOS field trip. December 6, 2005.

Bill is bookended by your narrator, and Peter King (the little fellow). This was at an OOS event in 2005 and we had a barrel of laughs at these things. Man, am I going to miss these times.

Bill, with hat, looms large from the fantastical birding tower that he and Julie appended to their house in Whipple, Ohio. You can see everything from up there and lots of good times were had in that aerie. This was on October 9, 2011, while we were conducting a "Big Sit" (an effort to see how many species could be recorded from an area no larger than a 15-foot diameter circle in a 24 hour period).

A photo of part of the Big Sit group, atop the tower. I'll let you guess which one is Bill.

A group shot from the Big Sit atop the birding tower. These things were a blast, in large measure due to the energy that Bill injected into them. The guy was indefatigable. I remember on a few occasions being the first one to arrive for a Big Sit at the Tower, in pre-dawn darkness. There would be Bill, his silhouette visible atop the tower, already at it and identifying flight calls of nocturnal migrants. He'd be the last one done at the end of the day, too.

Bill snuggles the legendary Boston Terrier, Chet Baker, at his Whipple estate. October 7, 2006.

A human chain forms around the buttressed base of an enormous jungle tree, with Bill on the right. Tikal, Guatemala, March 5, 2008.

Bill poses with his longtime editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lisa White. Bill authored or coauthored many books on birds, and penned scores of articles over the years.

Bill (orange hat and lugging scope) leads a crew of birders up magical Bobolink Hill in southern West Virginia as part of the New River Birding & Nature Festival on May 5, 2006. A consummate field trip leader, Bill always strived to ensure that everyone got good looks at everything. Like thoughtful leaders do, he would carefully watch the group to see who was having troubles seeing things, and prioritize his assistance accordingly.

A renaissance man with a remarkable memory and many interests, Bill loved music and sang, and played guitar and bass guitar. He and his band - the Rain Crows and other iterations - were a staple at birding events. Here he poses with wife (also an excellent musician, and bandmate) Julie Zickefoose on the left. At this gig in West Virginia in May 2006, they played with Jesse (sorry, can't recall her last name) in the center.

Your spirit lives large, Bill, and thanks for the profound impact you had on so many lives, in so many ways.


Anonymous said...

Jim, Thanks so much for posting this wonderful tribute to BT3. Great memories, great friendships! Regarding photo #10 in the series (May 4, 2011, New River Festival), I don't recall what the food item was but I distinctly remember we had just discovered bay-breasted warblers overhead and Bill was thrilled with being able to share them with the group. Connie

Fernando said...

The global birding community has lost a legend. I never met Bill but read many of his writings and listened to his voice on his podcasts so I feel like I have known him for a while. My condolences to his family and friends in the birding community at large. RIP Bill, may your soul soar to the heavens and see every bird that has ever existed.

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