Special features

Pete Dunne publishes the ‘director’s cut’ of his guide for beginners

We publish roundups of new books about birds two times a year, in our June and December issues. For our December 2015 issue, we wrote about 18 titles, including the book featured here. Scroll down for links to our other reviews from the issue.
By Matt Mendenhall | Published: 10/20/2015

Pete-Dunne-on-Bird-Watching_300If you’ve been reading Pete Dunne for any length of time — in his books, in “Birder at Large” in BirdWatching, or in his work for other publications — you’ll probably recognize the name Floyd Wolfarth. Pete has written about or mentioned Floyd, his mentor, on a number of occasions.

Floyd was a veteran hawk watcher; the founder of the Boonton, New Jersey, Christmas Bird Count, which is about to mark its 80th year; one of the founding members of the Urner Ornithological Club; and a friend to many young birders. (A portrait of Wolfarth — looking a lot like Donald Sutherland, with his white hair and beard — accompanied Pete’s December 2014 column.)

The recently published second edition of Pete Dunne on Bird Watching allows anyone — beginning birders, especially — to find in Pete their own Floyd Wolfarth: an expert who shares his knowledge generously and with flare and wit.

The new edition has been described as a “director’s cut” of the 2003 original book, featuring all-new material and revisions and updates throughout. The new book is a bit thinner and is printed on higher-quality glossy paper than the first edition. Instead of black-and-white photos, they’re now all in color. Pete also writes about apps and eBird — tools not available a dozen years ago.

The book’s purpose remains unchanged: “to tell you how to find, identify, and enjoy birds,” Pete says in his new introduction. Chapters cover backyard birdwatching, binoculars and field guides, the basics of bird ID, tips to better birding, and more. He admits that it’s a bit like a textbook — ironic since he never cared much for textbooks. But sprinkled throughout are sidebars, called “Wing Bars” and “Tale Spots,” that offer tangential information on related topics and keep the tone light and lively. Well-known members of the birding community wrote several. One, about the distribution of birds, is by our founding editor, Eldon Greij.

The best parts of the book, for me, are the essays that introduce each chapter. In particular, “The Man of the Mountain,” at the start of chapter four, stands out. Here Pete tells the story of meeting Floyd Wolfarth in the mid-1970s on Kittatinny Ridge, the hawk watch in northwest New Jersey. The tale involves a Northern Goshawk and a Boreal Chickadee and a newly formed bond among birders — a perfect statement about the value of mentorship in an avocation as complex and rewarding as birding.

Pete Dunne on Bird Watching: Second Edition: A Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Identifying and Enjoying Birds, by Pete Dunne, Stackpole Books, 320 pages, paperback, $19.95.

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