“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.” Richard Adams, Watership Down
Bill Thompson III aka BT3 was always someone I was happy to see. Years ago before there was any “Birdchick” and I was trying to get published, I sent bird articles to anyone. The ones from his family’s publication Bird Watcher’s Digest were the nicest, “This is a great article, but isn’t right for our publication.” It was handwritten and everything.
I first met Bill in my days of working for a wild bird feeding store, working birding trade shows called Bird Watch America but really got to know him at Tucson ABA Convention. We had a late night and he introduced me to what is my favorite beer to this day: Fat Tire. I have to admit that as nice as he was, I was really hoping to meet Julie Zickefoose and hoped he’d get me an in.
Not long after that I ran into him in the Rio Grande Valley. I was there on my own for the first time and he was leading a field trip. He dashed over to hug me and say hi and then pointed out my very first great kiskadee and informed me that they don’t say, “kisk-a-dee, kisk-a-dee” what they are really saying in their call is “Fuck the world! Fuck the world!”
Fuck the the world indeed. He’s gone too soon.
I have so many special birding moments or stories that I tell friends that he was part of. He may not even be mentioned in those stories, but he was there experiencing them with me. He was always someone you were happy to see when he walked in a room. He was generous with his time, advice and ear. He was always trying to make birding as approachable and fun as possible. The New Birder’s Guide is still one of the best books out there for someone who wants to make the switch from backyard birding to full on birding.
Here are some of my favorite memories of Bill.
It was a my first time in North Dakota at the Potholes and Prairie Festival. The weather had been challenging and I’d missed the Baird’s Sparrow and Sprague’s pipit. Kim Risen and BT3 had made plans to go birding the day after the festival and were kind enough to let me join them. The weather was perfect, cool and sunny and very little wind. The light made the prairie glow. We got to the spot and a Baird’s sparrow sang within 10 feet of us. A Sprague’s pipit hovered over the harmonizing with the Baird’s. On top of that we had other prairie birds singing like wester meadowlark. We sat in silence for well over an hour. BT3 even napped. It was peaceful and everything I loved about birding: sharing their wonder with good people. My sense memory to that perfect moment comes back every time I see this photo.
BT3 and I were part of a fam trip to Israel. We saw so many lifers and that crane migration is something to put on your bucket list. We were also on the trip with Bill Oddie which was a treat for many reasons—one being we are the same height so when all the tall people were zipping up a mountain, I had a fellow shorty to keep me company behind the group. At one point BT3 came over to us and said while laughing, “I’m sorry, but I have to tell you that when I’m around you two, I feel like Gandalf walking through the Shire!”
At the end of our trip BT3, Pete Dunne and I had a long evening before we had to catch our flight. We walked the beach in Tel Aviv to Jaffa and had a beer. When we got back to our hotel, I stood on the balcony and watched the people below. A bunch of young men stripped down to their underwear and began playing volley ball. BT3 caught me using my binoculars to enjoy the show and shouted, “Sharon!!!!”
So many trips, so many drinks, so many laughs…that time we drunkenly sauntered down the Alps and peed behind a dumpster together. That time we watched a wallcreeper on a castle and then followed Chris Wood’s idea that we go into Liechtenstein so we could be the top eBirders for that principality.
Hundreds of more memories that I just can’t put into words this morning.
He was a great friend on the road and incredibly helpful to my birding career. The birding community is not going to be the same. Oh hell, I suddenly remember he and Julie let Non Birding Bill and I stay at Indigo Hill and we made a video on How To Do A Big Sit.
This was one of the Midwest Birding Symposiums and I got to get to know Wendy Clark. This was a gorgeous night on Lake Erie. The sunset was stunning in its colors but we thought the moment should be captured in black and white.
Bill, Julie and Wendy have been brutally honest about what this pancreatic cancer journey has been like for the family. The comment that broke me was a photo on Facebook of BT3 with Michael O’Brien and Zemaitis. They had run into each other in customs in November while returning from different birding trips. It popped up last week and BT3 wrote, “Turns our that was my last birding trip. So glad we crossed paths!!”
I’m not ready to contemplate what is going to be my last birding trip. Do all the things you want to do. Go on that birding trip. Skip the laundry and go look for warblers this spring. Eat all the carbs. Tell those important to you how important they are.
Thank you, BT3, for being such a great companion on the road. Thank you for all that you did to help me get to where I am today. Thank you for all you did to get people to notice birds. Thank you for sharing your music.