Modesto resident Bill Amundsen, a founding member of Stanislaus Audubon Society, passed away earlier this week. He was on the Audubon Society’s Board of Directors for almost forty years. His only interruption in service after its establishment in 1973 was during the period he served as his son’s Boy Scout Master.
He was a big man who during his college years served as a nightclub bouncer. His love of nature was exceeded only by his love of family.
Bill was an avid birder and an even more committed conservationist. He was a key participant when Audubon helped preserve habitat at the confluence of the Tuolumne, San Joaquin and Stanislaus Rivers so that the land could be included in the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge became key wintering grounds in the successful recovery of the Aleutian Cackling Goose, which went from a population low of fewer than 600 birds to today’s total of over 200,000. Later, the refuge became his favorite local birding destination. He led many field trips there, introducing dozens of local nature lovers to its riparian forest and wetlands.
Bill was a dependable regular for Stanislaus Audubon’s two annual Christmas Bird Counts. On one, he discovered the first Stanislaus County record of an “Oldsquaw,” later renamed “Long-tailed Duck.”
According to a the Stanislaus Audubon Society website,
Bill got introduced to birding in the mid-1960s, when he transferred to Humboldt State University for the Wildlife Management program. One of his professors, Stanley Harris, was an expert birder. Through his classes and field outings, he developed his lifelong love of birding. Be it backyard birding, hiking in Yellowstone, meandering along the bluffs of Mendocino County, or wandering trails along the top edge of Grand Canyon, he always carried his binoculars and birder’s guide.
As time went on, he discovered the joy of pelagic trips, as well as day excursions around the San Joaquin Valley. Eventually, he was lucky enough to bird not only parts of Hawaii, but also coastal and inland Alaska, the pacific Northwest, New Mexico, North Dakota, the states around lake Michigan, and then the High Desert area in Southeast Arizona — to name a few.
Probably no one will ever know how many Wood Duck and Western Bluebird nest boxes Bill built and put up. It seemed like he was always at it. Even as his health began to fail, he was placing ladders on precariously uneven surfaces, climbing them with heavy nesting boxes, and attaching them to trees so that nature would have a chance at revival even after so much had been lost. He was also a faithful recorder of nesting success, always thrilled when a nest yielded a Screech Owl or other unexpected visitor.
There are those among us who throughout their lives serve as the unpaid and unacknowledged guardians of our rivers, forests, and grasslands. Where others may mar and diminish, they monitor and preserve, always giving more than they take. Bill Amundsen was among the best of nature’s quiet stewards. May his spirit fly high forever.