Thursday, September 13, 2007

BOTB--An Appreciation

Thursday, September 13, 2007
This one's sweet. Jim McCormac is the best all-around naturalist I've had the pleasure of accompanying. Being in the field with him is like having a walking, talking nature encyclopedia that pumps iron, sneaks cookies and makes terrible jokes. His blog is terrific, an immersion in Ohio natural history. Check it out! I'm touched that he's decided to make a tribute to Bill in his guest post.--JZ

Hi all ye BOTB devotees. Let me start out by saying it is truly an honor to guest blog here at my friend Bill Thompson’s electronic portal to the world whilst he trots around the jungles of Peru finding birds the rest of us are only dreaming of. I’m flattered he asked me to do this.

It wasn’t hard to come up with a subject for this post. I choose Bill. Probably many of you know him, but I bet some of you don’t except perhaps through his writings and this blog. And since Bill would never blow his own horn or talk about himself, I’m going to.

I first met him back in 1998 or ’99, when we became jointly involved in a birding conference here in Ohio – one of scores of birding events that benefits from the life that Bill breathes into such affairs. Although he might deny it, we’ve become pretty good friends since then, and have spent much time together birding, partying, serving together on the board of the Ohio Ornithological Society, and otherwise having a good time.

This is (L to R) Jeff Gordon, world-class bird guide, ornithologist and naturalist, Bill, and your guest blogger at the 2003 Texas Birding Classic Big Sit just north of the Mexican border. Not pictured is Jeff’s wife Liz. We found 92 species from our 15 foot diameter circle and had a great time. I recall suggesting that Bill looked like an outcast from The Village People in that hat. He was mildly offended, but did not remove it.

Bill is one of those very rare people who can get along with anyone, and somehow seems to make time for all, in spite of a schedule that is often beyond hectic. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to go along on a field trip with him knows just how patient and helpful he is. Bill always watches for those who seem to be especially quiet or having trouble seeing birds, and pulls them into the action. No one knows for sure just how many, but the number of people that Bill has gotten life birds for is huge – I mean, really huge. And such an occasion is always made memorable, often due to his insistence that we all do some sort of dance when life birds are encountered for anyone. He makes birding fun, that’s for sure.

Something that is possibly not recognized as widely as it should be is JUST HOW GOOD a field birder Bill is. I’ve spent scores of hours in the field with him, and have been routinely blown away by calls he’s made from extreme distances of unexpected birds he saw before anyone else and named instantly. I remember a birding session from the tower at his Whipple, Ohio estate; another Big Sit, I think. Most of us weren’t thinking Peregrine Falcon, as the unglaciated hills of southeastern Ohio aren’t noted for producing them. Suddenly, Bill whirls around and instantly shouts PEREGRINE! And it was, spotted as a speck so tiny against the far hills it took a while to get everyone on it. The magnificent raptor eventually flew right by, offering wonderful looks. If you don’t have his book, Identify Yourself: The 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges, be sure and pick one up. Bill being chauffeured about in a golf cart on Kelleys Island in Lake Erie last weekend. Fortunately, we weren’t saddled with the task of finding him a Connecticut Warbler. After years of trying and experiencing soul-crushing failures, he just added that to his life list last year after hiring a team of special Minnesotan tour guides to take him to hidden breeding grounds.

This past weekend, the Ohio Ornithological Society co-sponsored a Fall Warbler Symposium along the shores of Lake Erie. This event was a big deal to us, and attracted 230 people. Of course, we all wanted Bill as emcee for the evening festivities, which featured keynote speaker Victor Emanuel, founder of VENT. The reason? No one makes a better emcee than Bill – he is upbeat and funny, sings, and tells bad jokes. Bill’s enthusiasm and personality always uplift the group.Involving the 230 participants at last weekend’s warbler symposium in a sing-along, before introducing Victor Emanuel.

Bill’s presence at that conference is telling of his willingness to help out. With little rest and not feeling at his best, he nevertheless drove five hours to Lakeside, Ohio, was a big part of things, and then only hours after the above photo was snapped, drove to Cleveland and jumped on a plane for ten days in Peru. Those of you that have engaged in International travel know how stressful it can be, and I dare say very few of us would have agreed to play a major role in a large conference the evening prior to such a trip.
One more photo from last weekend. That’s Bill on the right with birding legend Jon Dunn, and me on the left. Bill is known and respected throughout North America and far beyond. Few people – anyone? – knows more people in the birding world than does our own BT3. For all of the reasons I’ve listed above, and many more. Much of his soul and personality come out in the pages of Bird Watcher’s Digest, of which he is editor. Be sure and subscribe to that fine mag, if you don’t already.

So, I hope you’ll forgive me for trumpeting the virtues of my friend, but I’ve never before had such a good opportunity to do so. And in return for all that Bill’s given to us, a tip of the hat to him is certainly in order.

Thanks, Jimmy Mac. You're right--he'd never say any of this about himself. And you've outed him. He's in Peru, seeing pink Amazonian freshwater dolphins and water tyrants, among other things. I trust he'll bring back photos, as well as an oversized diamond tennis bracelet, or at least a cool bedspread or two. I of course am home with the kids and our savage attack-trained Boston terrier, who stands ready to lick any cyber-stalker to death on command.


On September 13, 2007 at 10:37 PM KatDoc said...

Amen and Hallelujah, Rev. Jim! BT3 is the greatest - so generous and helpful to new birders, so giving of his time to all.

~Kathi, who has at least 3 Lifers courtesy of Bill

BTW, Jimmy Mac is no slouch either, as Zick says - an all-round naturalist with the knowledge of a college professor and the enthusiasm of a 10 year old boy

On September 14, 2007 at 5:53 AM Anonymous said...

I am actually a BT3 and Zick groupie!

I think the world of you two!



On September 14, 2007 at 6:32 AM Jayne said...

What a wonderful tribute to a friend and fellow birder. I can only imagine the fun you all have when you are together!

On September 14, 2007 at 6:50 AM Jim McCormac said...

Thanks, Jayne. We do have a great time together. As Julie can attest, Bill is very immature and acts like a schoolboy at times. I try and be a responsible adult-like influence on him when Julie isn't around. But, I have ennjoyed expanding his repertoire of bad jokes. I was able to turn him on to the "round hay bale" joke, which is also one of Julie's absolute favorites. They both have used that one many hundreds of times, I am sure :-)

On September 14, 2007 at 7:25 AM stay at home mom said...

I might substitute the word "mentality" for "enthusiasm" in Katdoc's comment,if I weren't still so touched by Jim's post.

On September 14, 2007 at 7:31 AM Mary said...


This is a wonderful tribute to a good friend. I haven't met BOTB but I do appreciate him. His cool personality and wild sense of humor shines through in his blog.

Thanks for this great post.

On September 14, 2007 at 9:17 AM Rondeau Ric said...

JM, you won't post a comment on a blog, you just lurk, and then you do something like this post.

Bill got me a worm eating warble, in the open, perching and preening when we were in West Virginia. You were only able to get a boring, old cerulean.

Watching him at a festival is really amazing. He works the crowd to get everyone involved and makes each person feel special. He treats everyone like a long time friend.

Bill is so enthusiastic, friendly, knowledgeable and eager to help people that you can’t help but admire him.

Then of course there’s Julie, the other half of The Dynamic Duo.

Cheers Bill.

On September 14, 2007 at 9:57 AM Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

OK- What's the round hay bale joke?

On September 14, 2007 at 10:18 AM Anonymous said...

"I recall suggesting that Bill looked like an outcast from The Village People in that hat. He was mildly offended, but did not remove it."

Of course he didn't. Outcasts are very stubborn about that sort of thing.

On September 14, 2007 at 7:34 PM KatDoc said...


You really don't want to hear the Round Hay Bale joke, do you?


On September 14, 2007 at 8:19 PM Jim McCormac said...

Ah, I wish I could deliver the infamous ROUND HAYBALE JOKE here, but it is very much a visual joke and requires props. To merely send the typed words out there would be quite incomplete, like a Ferrari without an engine, or Chet Baker without his tail...

Now if Julie would invite all of us down to Whipple, I could zing the lot of you with perhaps the most memorable joke ever devised...