What birder hasn’t dreamed of having a big year? Sure, as a newbie to the hobby, one’s first reaction might be that big year birding is slightly, well, crazy, but after the birding bug grows I think most birders wouldn’t pass up the chance to spend a year doing nothing but birding, birding and more birding for one year. This kind of allure is what makes books about big years so enticing to readers. And that is one of the big draws of Pete Dunne’s fabulous birding memoir The Feather Quest.
Quest follows Dunne and his wife Linda as they bird some of the most famous birding sights in North America. The book chronicles a year (1989), more or less, of non-stop birding in such places as the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the Florida Everglades, New Jersey’s Cape May, and Attu, Alaska. The Dunnes don’t have a competitive big year as their motivation, so they take the reader along on a leisurely journey through these hotspots where they can actually savor the birds, spend time with the locals, and put the birding experience into historical perspective. For example, their visit to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania isn’t just a quick stop along the way. The history of the area is explored and the story of how the famous Hawk Watch came to be is shared in beautiful, poignant detail.
I love Dunne’s descriptive, witty, and clear writing style. I especially love the rather uniquely abrupt way several chapters of the book close, which somehow manage to leave some things up to the readers’ imagination in this non-fiction tale. The book is full of humor, and even as a newer student of birds I found myself nodding in agreement or really laughing out loud in recognition of the more humorous situations birders may find themselves in. The book is full of “universal truths of birding.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading more Pete Dunne. I give The Feather Quest 5 Goldfinches out of 5.