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Home > Author > Bill Hilton Jr.
Bill Hilton Jr.

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  Bill Hilton Jr.

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I'm an educator-naturalist with a particular interest in birds--especially hummingbirds. Since everybody loves hummingbirds, you'll surely love me!

Background Information

• University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul MN, M.S. Ecology & Behavioral Biology (1982); Thesis: “Behavioral Ecology of the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata”
• Winthrop College, Rock Hill SC (Undergraduate work 1969-70; graduate work 1971-77); M.A.T. (Master of Arts in Teaching) Biology (1977); Thesis: “Ferns & Fern Allies of York County, SC”
• Newberry College, Newberry, SC
A.B. Philosophy; Biology & Chemistry minors (1970)
• Indiana University American Wilderness Leadership School, Jackson WY (1985)
• Clemson University/Advanced Placement Biology Institute, Clemson SC (1985)
• University of Minnesota/Lake Itasca Biological Station, Lake Itasca MN (1979)
• University of Virginia/Mountain Lake Biological Station, Pembroke VA (1977); Research Topic: “Territoriality in Eastern Wood-Pewees, Contopus virens”


From the Author's Preface to "The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1, 1986" (published 1988):

By the spring of 1978 I had been teaching biology and physical science at Fort Mill (S.C.) High School for seven years. I had wonderful experiences in the classroom and served several terms as science department chairman. My wife and I had built our own modified A-frame on a wooded tract in central York County, and our firstborn son had arrived in early 1977. I should have known my co-workers and students would be startled when we put the house up for sale and announced without warning that the family was moving to far-off Minnesota.
Having attended Newberry College, a small liberal arts school in the heart of South Carolina's Piedmont, I had a good background in aspects of science normally taught in pre-med programs. I took courses in genetics, bacteriology, organic chemistry, parasitology, and the like, but had precious little instruction in field biology and ecology. Each year I taught high school I became more aware I wasn't really meeting my students' needs or interests. The curriculum dictated I teach them the intricacies of photosynthesis and DNA replication--all that stuff of importance for pre-med programs--but these were topics without much relevancy for tenth graders.
When I interspersed my lectures with living examples from the "real" world, my students showed genuine interest, and they became involved in biology in a whole new way. They talked more about "biological experiences"--things like watching red-tailed hawks soar overhead, or finding roadkill raccoons for impromptu dissections--and my biology course became more exciting. We began taking short field trips around campus, and on weekends we made longer excursions to Congaree Swamp or Edisto Island.
The more interested my students became, the more I realized my own shortcomings as an ecologist. I took courses at Winthrop College, bought every field guide I could find, and spent afternoons in the woods with Rudy Mancke and the South Carolina Association of Naturalists. My good friend Jim Shuman came back from Africa and taught me to like birds, and a summer with Dr. David Johnston at Virginia's Mountain Lake Biological Station nurtured this into a full-fledged passion for ornithology. Finally, I admitted to myself that the only way I could ever become a competent ecologist would be to change course in mid-career and go back to graduate school fulltime.
Dr. Luckett Davis, my esteemed entomology professor at Winthrop, helped me select 40 colleges with ecology programs. I wrote each for catalogs and ranked them as the literature arrived. After lengthy consideration, I concluded the University of Minnesota had the best field biology set-up in the country, and that's where I wanted to go. Following a strategy I would never endorse for my students, I put all my eggs in one basket and applied only to Minnesota.
Luckily, Minnesota's ecology faculty had faith in my credentials and accepted me in September 1978, when I began four years of intensive instruction and field work. At Minnesota I had some of the best instructors imaginable. Dr. Elmer Birney, editor of the Journal of Mammalogy, taught me incredible things about his area of interest. Dr. Frank McKinney, the internationally-known behaviorist, enlightened me about ethology and evolution, and Dr. Donald Gilbertson helped me understand symbiotic relationships. Dr. Harrison B. Tordoff, who became my thesis advisor, demanded perfection of me as a lab instructor, a field researcher, and a scientific writer. With slashes of his red pen, he taught me more about writing than all my English teachers combined.
My first summer at Minnesota I immersed myself in field courses at Lake Itasca Biological Station, enrolling in "Soils and the Ecosystem," "Ecology of Fishes," and "Plant Communities." These all provided useful information, but the most exciting course was "Minnesota Summer Flora," taught by Dr. Thomas Morley.
Tall, frail, and graying, this chuckling old botanist tirelessly dragged me and my classmates through brambles and bogs and the headwaters of the Mississippi River--ever pursuing "just one more plant." He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat to keep off deer flies, bathed in bug spray to deter the omnipresent mosquitos, and spoke in such a low whisper that we had to hang on his every word just to hear what he had to say. We could never stump the man on identification of any specimen, and not only did he know the common name, the genus, and the species, but he could regale us for hours about a plant's origin and medicinal uses. I knew then I wanted to be for my own future students what Dr. Morley was to me--the quintessential old-school field biologist with all sorts of neat secrets to share.
Despite Dr. Morley's botanical influence, I went on to study "Behavioral Ecology of Blue Jays" under Bud Tordoff, and uncovered many things about breeding behavior in this much-maligned bird species. By the end of four years at Minnesota, my head was reeling with more field biology trivia than I could stand to keep inside, so in 1982 we uprooted the family once again and returned to South Carolina.
Fortunately, there was an opening at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, where I initiated a program in Advanced Placement Biology, and wife Susan was hired as a counselor at Rock Hill High. After barely surviving in Minnesota on my graduate assistantship, we now had real jobs and sufficient money to purchase a home and some land. We started looking at property with a realtor and only had to make three stops. The third was an old farmhouse on 12 acres with a pond in the backyard and a magnolia tree out front. After four white winters in Minnesota, we could hardly pass up this place just outside of York. While moving in, we decided to call the homestead "Hilton Pond," and many of the essays in this book were sparked by experiences I've had there.
My Northwestern students often visit Hilton Pond to study with me, and I'm now able to talk confidently with them about ecology. Although I'm blessed with up to 150 students each year, I still look for ways to help even more people appreciate the natural world. Since April 1986 my "Piedmont Naturalist" column has appeared in Sunday editions of THE HERALD (Rock Hill, SC), and I'm grateful publisher Wayne Patrick was willing to let me use it to extend my teaching to the general public.
I decided to limit most columns to the natural history of the Piedmont--that under-rated and under-studied "foothills" region extending from southeastern New York to central Alabama. South Carolina's mountains and coast are well known to layman and scientist alike, but the Piedmont needs a lot more work.
These "Piedmont Naturalist" columns have brought me great pleasure--not only in writing them but in knowing that the readership is interested in something I care about a great deal. I have been amazed at how many people really do want to learn about the natural world, and I appreciate the many phone calls and notes when you wanted to know even more.
Many readers of THE HERALD encouraged me to publish my work in book form, and this volume is a compilation of columns I produced during my first year as a nature writer. Although these essays especially reveal my personal infatuation with birds, I've tried to include information about the delicate balance of nature, the importance of plants, and my own general wonderment about what's going on out there.
I believe my true calling is to be an educator, and I'm privileged to have students who are interested in what I like to teach. I hope that you, too, can learn something about nature from these essays. More than that, I hope you'll be inspired to put on binoculars, jam a field guide in your hip pocket, and roam the Piedmont on your own to study this amazing world in which we live.
After all, the more we know, the more chance we have of saving that world for--and from--ourselves.


Birth Place
Pittsburgh, PA USA

• Honored as a Carolinas “Guardian of the Environment” by The Charlotte Observer (1998)
• Elected Board Member, Catawba Lands Conservancy, Charlotte NC (1998-99); Chair, Education Committee (1999)
• Appointed to national education committee of the Raptor Research Foundation (1996)
• Awarded Cooperative Fellowship through U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to conduct educational research for the National Youth Science Foundation (1991-92)
• Awarded National Teacher Fellowship by Earthwatch Expeditions Inc. to assist in field research on pollination ecology of honeyeater birds (Family Meliphagidae), Flinders Chase National Park & University of Adelaide Research Station, Kangaroo Island, South Australia (1988)
• Selected to receive Distinguished Teaching Award for 1987-88, South Carolina Academy of Science
• Awarded Dissemination Grant to write for statewide distribution of booklet about EIA bird-banding project (see next entry), Education Improvement Act (EIA), S.C. Dept. of Education (1986)
• Awarded Competitive Grant to Improve Teaching Practices & Procedures (Bird-Banding: Experiencing the Scientific Method), EIA, S.C. Dept. of Education (1985)
• Named runner-up for 1986-87 Award for Excellence in Secondary School Science Teaching, S. C. Academy of Science
• Awarded full scholarship & travel stipend as the Carolinas delegate, National Teacher’s Workshop in Wildlife Ecology & Conservation; sponsored in Jackson, Wyoming, at American Wilderness Leadership School by Carolinas Chapter, Safari Club International (1985)
• Selected to receive Distinguished Teaching Award for 1984-85, S. C. Academy of Science

•• Named South Carolina Science Teacher of the Year for 1983-84, Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, Clemson University

•• Named South Carolina Outstanding Biology Teacher for 1983-84, S. C. Association of Biology Teachers

• Selected as one of two teachers spotlighted in 1984 on “The Magic of Learning,” a half-hour television program produced for statewide ETV
• Awarded Honorable Mention for 1983-84 South Carolina Science Teacher of the Year competition, S. C. Academy of Science
• Selected South Carolina Teacher Delegate to the national meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Denver, Colorado (1977)

•• Named South Carolina Science Teacher of the Year for 1976-77, S. C. Academy of Science

• Elected President, South Carolina Association of Biology Teachers (1975-76 & 1988-89)
• Appointed Regional Director, South Carolina Junior Academy of Science (1975-78; 1984-89)

Additional Information

My current writing activity focuses around "This Week at Hilton Pond" on the Web site for Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History (see below). For a free electronic subscription to these weekly nature photoessays, just send an e-mail to guestbook(at) . :-)

Contact Information
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History
1432 DeViney Road 
York SC 29745   USA
Contact Author: Bill Hilton Jr.

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