A prolific writer with essays published in a number of birding magazines and author of numerous books on birds and birding, Pete Dunne is Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and founder of the World Series of Birding. I know you will find his answers fun and interesting. And a personal thanks to Pete Dunne for his time in answering my questions. Enjoy!
1. Do you find the appeal of birding to be different for you now than when you were a fledgling birder? In what ways?
What a thought provoking question! When I was a beginning birder, I was driven by the excitement of possibility. Exciting discoveries lurked around every bend in the trail. Every encounter of a new bird was test of skill and every successful identification a new arrow to stick in my growing arsenal of knowledge. In some respects little has changed. Possibility still drives me. If we knew what we were going to find every time we donned binoculars and stepped outdoors why would we bother? But now I use, and push, my skills to identify birds quicker and farther away than I could before. I also go out less to test and push myself than I do to simply encounter and enjoy "old friends"–i.e. birds that I have become familiar with and that experience tells me I might run into in the right habitat and during a particular time of year.
The old drive hasn't been lost or supplanted. It has been augmented by a lifetime of encounters and the desire to renew old acquaintances again and again.
2. In one of your essays which appears in Good Birders Don't Wear White, you say "show me an accomplished field birder, and I'll show you a person who set his sights on becoming precisely that." Did you have your sights set early on to become a great writer?
Another great question. Tricky one, too. My answer: Yes. And I still aspire to someday be a great writer.
3. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to make birding a career?
Even in grade school I wanted to work in an outdoor field. Forest ranger, game warden, outdoor photographer. There was really no such thing as a birding career, not in the 50s or 60s. That vocational pathway didn't open until the birding population grew large enough to support an industry to serve it. Upon reflection, I think I decided to just dedicate myself to studying raptors more than I decided to make birding a career. I was so wrapped up in birds of prey I didn't care if I starved. When New Jersey Audubon offered me a job counting hawks in Cape May in 1976 for $500 I felt like I was cheating them. Heck, I would have paid them for the privilege of counting hawks in Cape May.
So…I think making a career and having a career happened more or less simultaneously and without a lot of planning or thought. My ambition was to forge a Cape May Bird Observatory. What you call a birding career just went along for the ride.