The Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, holds more than 180,000 Peterson transparencies as well as yet uncounted black-and-white prints and negatives. Many times the 20th century’s best known field-guide author proudly acknowledged his obsession with birds, but such a photography collection indicates that picture taking had a powerful hold on him as well. For him, photography was a sport that provided an escape, freedom from the tyranny of field-guide deadlines. And eventually during his later years, it overtook birdwatching as his most desired pastime.
In his often-autobiographical 1948 book, Birds Over America, Peterson described his early passion for birds: “In my teens, the mere glimpse of a bird would change my listlessness to fierce intensity. I lived for birds. It was exciting just to see them move, to watch them fly. There was nothing thoughtful or academic in my interest; it was so spontaneous that I couldn’t explain it.”