4. Which came first, your interest in poetry and writing or in birdwatching?
Actually, this is not a simple question to answer. I grew up in rural
My interest in birds really picked up though when I moved to
5. What advice would you give to young people looking to combine their interests in birds (or nature) with writing?
If you’re interested in both birds and writing, you simply want to follow both of those impulses and sharpen your skills with each. There are certainly plenty of things available now—birding trips with expert guides, audio guides in addition to visual guides, workshops—that can improve your knowledge of birds and make you a better birder. As for writing, there are plenty of writing courses, at the college level at least, that can make you a better writer. To me, the writing is much harder. You have to be really serious about it and work at it. I’ve been doing it for quite awhile now, and though I think I’ve become a better writer it never gets easy.
6. How did you come across the idea for both books? What was your motivation for writing them?
I’ve already said some things here that relate to how I came across the idea for Birdsong, so I’ll talk about A Parrot Without a Name. It was really a stroke of luck. I wrote an article for a magazine about Victor Emanuel (of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours), and at some point Victor told me I should write a travel piece about the Explorer’s Inn in Peru, and that if I wanted to do that I should call a guy named Ted Parker and ask him about the place because he spent a lot of time there. A few months went by, and then one night I called Ted and said Victor had recommended I talk to him about the Explorer’s
My mouth was still hanging open. I thought that all the birds of the world were already known and named. I quickly redirected the conversation to the discoveries, and Ted talked for a long time about it. And then he said I should call John O’Neill if I wanted to know more because John was responsible for a kind of renaissance in the ornithological exploration of
As for motivation, with A Parrot Without a Name it was simple. I couldn’t believe that no one else had written about this yet—that new birds were still being discovered in South America, mainly
As for Birdsong, again it was a subject that few people had written about, and there was so much being discovered. The whole discipline—studying the vocalizations of birds—was relatively new as a science, but was also something that has fascinated people for centuries. There was no way to really study it until the portable tape recorder was invented in the mid-20th century and along with that the audio spectograph so that sound could be displayed as something visual that scientists could study for its nuances, for things that our hearing isn’t good enough to pick up. And, as I mentioned, in the back of my mind I always had the feeling that I was doing this for Ted Parker who would have loved to see a book that showed how important birdsong was to our understanding of birds.
Return tomorrow for part 3