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Remembering Bill Shepard, a Great Friend of Butterflies

By Paul G. Johnson (guest author) on 28. January 2021
Paul G. Johnson (guest author)

On November 18, 2020, we lost a great friend of butterflies and a wonderful human being, with the passing of Bill Shepard. I met Bill 18 years ago when I led a butterfly walk at Pinnacles National Park for the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA). It was his first visit to Pinnacles, which he would later enthusiastically refer to as “My favorite place on the planet!” Bill returned many times for butterfly counts, and for celebrations of birthdays and wedding anniversaries with his wife, Ginger.

Bill helped with eleven NABA Butterfly Counts at Pinnacles, during which his count parties recorded a total of more than 4,000 butterflies. In all, he participated in sixty-seven butterfly counts across Northern California. For two decades Bill also helped with Xerces’ Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, surveying several East Bay overwintering sites and discovering a new site at Berkeley Aquatic Park. He also supported butterfly conservation through the Xerces Society, Lepidopterists’ Society, NABA, and Nature in the City.


A man and a woman stand nest to each other in front of a grove of old trees.
Bill Shepard with Mia Monroe, another long-time volunteer and coordinator of the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, at the monarch overwintering site on Albany Hill, on the east side of San Francisco Bay, in 2018. (Photo by Ginger Morris.)


Several years ago at the annual Mid-Winter Gathering of Northern California Lepidopterists, Bill enlightened the group with a presentation about his work with overwintering monarch butterflies. And at the 2019 Gathering, he shared a story about how a conversation with an entomologist neighbor likely contributed to the development of the Entomologist Barbie doll.

As a middle school history teacher, Bill found a creative way to foster future generations of butterfly enthusiasts. He arrived at the science class “disguised” as a naturalist with hat, field guide, binoculars, a note pad, and his butterfly net. All the students received a copy of his self-published guide complete with photos, facts, and ID tips for sixteen common local butterfly species.

I always appreciated Bill’s enthusiasm and dedication to butterflies and their conservation, and I enjoyed his company on many butterfly counts and walks. Bill and I shared the same favorite butterfly species, the mourning cloak.


Two men, carrying butterfly nets and wearing sun hats, stand in a mountain valley, with pines behind and a view of a distant lake.
Bill was seldom happier than when he spent time with butterflies. Here he is with Liam O’Brien (right) at the 2016 South Lake Tahoe Butterfly Count. (Photo courtesy Liam O’Brien.)


Bill often carpooled to butterfly counts with Liam O’Brien. When Liam heard of Bill’s passing, he said: “I can’t imagine a butterfly season without him. For the last few decades his boyish enthusiasm kicked off every season for me. He got excited about each butterfly like he’d never seen it before, and it was genuine. Was there ever a person who loved butterflies more?”

Stu Weiss shared this: “I'm a three-decade long monarch researcher and conservationist. I met Bill only in 2017, and was blown away by his dedication and passion for natural history, and especially by his detailed knowledge of where and when monarchs used Albany Hill and other East Bay sites. His tour of the hill guided my data collection and interpretation. I'm saddened by his passing, he still had so much to offer to us and the butterflies in this age of monarch population crashes which has shocked everyone.”

When Bill was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, he was given “a couple years.” But he lived more than twice that long, with much of his time spent outdoors with butterflies. This June, despite failing health, he rallied his strength for one last butterfly count in Berkeley, where he and Ginger recorded eighteen species in under two hours (compared with my seventeen species in five hours that same day).

Bill devoted so much of his time and energy toward sustaining butterflies and their habitats. It’s no secret that butterflies in turn sustained Bill and his passion for life.


A bearded man sits behind a table speaking to a small gathering of gardeners.
Bill speaking at Monarchs Day, hosted by Annie's Annuals nursery in the Bay Area. Sharing the table with him is Angela Laws, an endangered species conservation biologist with the Xerces Society. (Photo by Michele Rappaport.)


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