Tales of a Low-Rent Birder by Pete Dunne. First published 1986. As reviewed and pictured: softcover, 157 pages.
Pete Dunne’s Tales of a Low-Rent Birder is subtitled 19 Flight of Fancy by America’s Second-Best-Known Bird-watcher. The book’s forward comes from the best-known birder of the time, Roger Tory Peterson. Low-Rent Birder republishes 19 essays and articles which first appeared in birding newsletters and magazines from 1977 to 1985.
While I have thoroughly enjoyed other Dunne works, I found the 19 pieces in this book to be hit or miss, with more misses than hits. I love the poetic style he uses for factual essays, as in the wonderful “Overflight,” which recounts an epic day of shorebird surveying over Delaware Bay via small aircraft. I could feel the excitement in the plane when staggering numbers of birds were spotted on Moore’s Beach. Dunne also has a fantastic way of infusing humor into birding stories. I enjoyed “Birdathon ’83 — A Saab Story” — but then I’m a sucker for an exciting Big Day tale. Another enjoyable piece is “First-Year Bird,” which remarkably brings the reader in to the intimate world of a young and struggling Red-shouldered Hawk, without anthropomorphizing her at all.
Whether told with tongue in cheek or not, the non-fiction essays are by far the most enjoyable in the book. However, several of the fictionalized tales fell flat for me. There is “SVAT,” a fantastical story about the Species Verification Attack Team, a division of PABLUM, the Pure American Bird Listers Uber-Membership. At nearly 23 pages, its one of the longer stories in the book. With bad German accents and ridiculous character interactions, this was a struggle to read in its entirety. “The Legend of Jesse Mew” is another unsuccessful piece. Here we learn the story of a legendary Peregrine Falcon spotter, a man whose eyes are deformed, “the result of incalculable hours spent looking into the sun for towering Peregrines.” Another goofy fiction tale that I just didn’t enjoy at all.
So while I would gladly give a 5-finch rating to several stories, others barely warrant 1. Overall, then, I give Tales of a Low-Rent Birder 2.5 Goldfinches out of 5.