Leica Birding Team: Bill Schmoker

By Doug Gochfeld

Bill Schmoker is one of the leading bird photographers among North American birders, (and has over 640 species of North American Birds in his high quality portfolio). However, it is not remotely just this that makes me ecstatic to have him on board the Leica Birding Team. In addition to being one of the best birding guides in the Interior West, he has devoted an inordinate amount of time to assisting with and promoting Young Birder initiatives, as well as lending his expertise to several organizations as an instructor for courses ranging from nature photography, to building birding skills, to advanced gull identification. A Coloradan since 1st grade, now living in Longmont, Bill transitioned fully into birding around 2000, through his passion and skill as a photographer, and his love of the outdoors. He had been aware of and interested in birds since his formative years though, when spending summers in northwestern Wisconsin he knew Veery and Ovenbird by song long before he had laid eyes on either one, and got to hear the heart-stopping duets of breeding Common Loons and Whip-Poor-Will choruses most nights. These days, he gets to enjoy the intellectual exercises, photographic challenges, and camaraderie that come with the territory of not only being a passionate birder, but having progressed to a highly in-demand bird guide. The Veerys and Ovenbirds of his youth have been replaced over and over again with a litany of memorable birding experiences, including a magical morning where he got to watch a Golden Eagle strafe lekking Greater Sage Grouse amidst a dawn snowfall on the sage flats of North Park.

Young 9-year old Bill already flexing his photographic muscles

Young 9-year old Bill already flexing his photographic muscles

As a middle school Earth and Life Science Teacher in Boulder by day, Bill sits on too many diverse committees and councils in this capacity to even begin to list here. On many non-school days, when he’s not gardening, riding around on his unicycle, or being sad about the Broncos super bowl defeat, you can find him sporting his Ultravids and camera gear while he cruises the Boulder County back roads for wintering raptors, or circuits the area reservoirs looking for migrant waterbirds. Boulder was also the site of one of his best days of birding ever, a 159-species tally as part of a team that broke the record for a Boulder County Big Day by 30 some odd species during the Boulder Bird-A-Thon. On a local level, he is also the Compiler for the Boulder Christmas Bird Count. Over the last few years, Bill has had the extraordinary opportunity to indulge his love of seabirding WHILE teaching. Bill spent July of 2013 sailing from Iceland to Greenland as a National Geographic Grosvernor Teaching Fellow aboard the National Geographic Explorer. While this would seem like a once in a lifetime opportunity for most people, this was actually the 2nd time he had been hand-picked to be part of a select crew on an exploration of the Northern Oceans. In 2010, he was a PolarTrec teacher on an International Extended Continental Shelf Survey through the northern Arctic Ocean aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the USCG’s largest and most technologically advanced icebreaker.

Willy sets up on some waterfowl at the local reservoir

Willy sets up on some waterfowl at the local reservoir

Bill has been President of the Colorado Field Ornithologists, is a Colorado eBird reviewer, and currently serves on the Colorado Bird Records Committee. He has also been an instructor or guide for The Partnership for International Birding, the Boulder County Nature Association, National Audubon Society (Master Birder Program), and the Nature Conservancy. Whether it’s from the inside of a coal-fired power plant complex (leading a Gullapalooza trip along with over 300 participants), or while entering one of the farthest north eBird checklists (North of 81° Latitude), Bill has birded in lots of unique birding locations in a litany of diverse situations, and his experience is an invaluable resource to the Leica Birding Team. Bill has the instructional skill to seamlessly switch from holding the attention of a group of middle schoolers while talking about Earth Science, to keeping adults interested in how to identify first-year hybrid gulls, and I’m very excited to see the upcoming content that we’ll get to see from him, as it is guaranteed to be exciting and interesting.

Sharp-shinned Hawk digiscoped by Bill Schmoker

Sharp-shinned Hawk digiscoped by Bill Schmoker