Monday, September 27, 2010

Breakfast with Pete Dunne

Spending time in the field with Pete Dunne, the director of the Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May, N.J., makes a good birder realize just how inadequate he or she is.

Rosann Kovalcik, owner of the Grosse Pointe Woods Wild Birds Unlimited Store, and Bill Rapai, president of Grosse Pointe Audubon, recently ate breakfast and spent time in the field with Dunne at the Kalamazoo Nature Center on Saturday, Sept. 11, and were wowed by his identification skills. Standing in a field near the nature center’s bird banding station, Dunne was able to identify a black-and-white warbler in flight, while the only thing all the other birders could see was a black silhouette against a leaden gray sky.

Dunne has taken bird identification to a new level by considering a bird’s shape and flight pattern in addition to its plumage. He was able to identify the black-and-white warbler by its shape and length of wings relative to its body size. Dunne says many birders still rely on 19th century identification skills that rely on plumage alone. He urges all birders to improve their skills by learning birds’ flight patterns and shapes. He adds that The Sibley Guide to Birds is the first field guide to include accurate information on shape and flight pattern, aspects that had been ignored in previous identification guides that relied upon plumage alone.

Still, Dunne is modest about his skills. He readily admits he has much to learn and, yes, has been known to make a bad call on bird identification.

Dunne visited the Kalamazoo Nature Center as part if its 50th Anniversary Celebration. He gave a speech at a fund-raising dinner and spent time in the field with birders the following morning. During an in-hand examination of birds that had just been banded, the birders got a sense of Dunne’s dry humor when he referred to a blackpoll warbler “vermin.” That’s because at Cape May, Dunne can see hundreds if not thousands in fall migration when a storm blows the migrating birds into shore off the Atlantic Ocean.

Dunne, who is also an author, signed books and posed for photos with participants. Dunne also writes the “Birder At Large” column in Birder’s World magazine.

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