Pete Dunne has been a birder since he was 7 years old. He is now director at the Cape May Bird Observatory and was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Sept. 17 Migration Fest at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. His subject was On the Shoulders of Giants.
Center Executive Director Dan Kunkle said the most important thing he can say about Dunne is that he is a conservationist.
"He gets us to laugh at ourselves as birders," said Kunkle.
Dunne said being called a conservationist is the highest honor he could receive. He said of the Nature Center that "this is a life nature center, a life hawk watch."
As a neophyte hawk watcher, he went to Hawk Mountain every day for two weeks and became an ardent watcher. One day there were a couple in front of him, obvious beginners, often paging through birding books.
Dunne saw a bird "way out there" and kept watching it. He said it was a harrier and when it came closer, added, "It's a male, an adult male."
The couple said they could not even see it and Dunne saw its genitals. Hawk gender is frequently a matter of size, not coloration. By the next day the story was going the rounds.
He talked about some of the early watchers such as Maurice Broun at Hawk Mountain and Don Heintzelman at the Wildlife Information Center, a predecessor of the nature center, and Bake Oven Knob.
Ed and Lana Mills were from a still earlier period in 1975 and traveled to Raccoon Ridge 70 miles west of Manhattan. The weather was always iffy. His prize possession was a pair of binoculars he bought at a pawnshop. He stayed all day Saturday and returned on Sunday.
Walter Frittln said it is easy to be a passionate hawk watcher when there are a lot of hawks but harder when there are only a few. People said hawks did not come up the Kittatinny Ridge in the spring but he proved they did.
When eagles were in decline they were something special to see. Al Nickelson wanted desperately see an eagle but he had left the beach when four came along. "It was certainly a majestic golden eagle," he said.
Then he realized people were talking about eagles. "Oh," said Al, "there were more than one." Dunne said yes.
Al said there could only have been one other, but Dunne said "Actually there were three others." Al walked off a broken man.
Raccoon Ridge got its name after a dead coon, so named because it helped keep the shooters out.
Floyd Wolfarth worked for the Works Progress Administration in a logging camp. He took kids under his wing. Dunne wrote about Floyd and heard other stories in return.
"You never know whom you can affect," Dunne said.
Malinda was in the field. She got into her date's car without having time to wash. He said she was wearing an intoxicating perfume. "Cutters," she said (a bug repellent).
Female watchers normally went to Big Coon, the public site, but she went to Little Coon where the experienced birders were.
Floyd did not want her to put a rock dove (pigeon) on her bird list. He considered it merely a food source for raptors.
"I'm sure what you say has merit, but in this case I'm right and you're wrong," said Malinda.
"Hawk watching has everything to do with people and is a shared experience that welds strong bonds. The people I brought to the podium today are part of the hawk watching past. We carry the cumulative wisdom in our minds," said Dunne.
He asked the older watchers such as Howard Drinkwater about watching hawks for material for a book.
Drinkwater told him, "You young have so far exceeded our skills. Every new generation pushes it ahead."
Dunne's life wish is a northwest wind and a few more tomorrows. He was signing copies of his latest book, "Arctic Autumn, A Journey to Season's Edge."