Refirement story : From engineering excellence to birding brilliance


Most men might be said to show a keen interest in birds. But Peter’s interest is in birds of the feathery kind. And this love of birds now sees him, in his late sixties, not retiring from a career but refiring to a life of birding – of discovering, documenting and building databases of literally thousands of birds from all over the world.

This England-born and educated man moved to South Africa in 1976. A civil engineer, he went on to graduate MBL (Unisa) in 1984 and was M.I.C.E and M.S.A.I.C.E as well as C.Eng and Pr.Eng, dropping his professional title on retirement.

Peter’s career has been successful: his positions include Group Consulting Civil Engineer for Anglo Platinum and Marketing Director for Quadrem in Africa. His later years saw him as Anglo American’s IT department’s leading business consultant on the development, design and implementation of Anglo’s “Global Expenditure Reporting System”, a database of over 132 000 suppliers across 30 countries and 15 languages.

But it’s his interest in birds that is taking him into his post-retirement years. It all began one day in the mid-1980s in the Kruger National Park. Something colourful flew in front of his car! A year or two later, again in Kruger, his then-13-year-old daughter suggested they make a list of what they saw so that they could compare it to what they spotted the next day. “On that trip, we saw 144 species in four days,” says Peter. “I was hooked!” Since then, Peter has built his own database with every bird species – and many of the subspecies – in the world (over 10 900 records). This retired engineer knows exactly what, where, when – and how often – he has seen the over 3 000 birds on his life list, 1 000 of which have been photographed.

But that’s not all. In 2011, Peter decided to retire properly. But this only prompted him becoming the administrator of the Birds in Reserves Project (BIRP), a monitoring project at the Animal Demographic Unit (ADU) at UCT. Peter runs BIRP when he isn’t travelling to new locations to see and photograph birds. “My love of travel (70 countries and islands on all seven continents) compliments my birding,” explains Peter, “and enables me to search for interesting birds in interesting places. I also take fellow birders on my adventures.”

Since then, Peter has been invited to sit on an advisory board in conjunction with the ADU as the representative of Citizen Scientists (15 000 people – many retired – who submit observations of birds, mammals, butterflies, reptiles, scorpions, frogs and other creatures to the ADU database). His efforts have been directed at sustainable funding for ADU and resulted, in 2014, in him being asked by Citadel Wealth Managers to become an independent trustee on one of their philanthropic foundations, which aims at passing knowledge on to future generations and helping society better protect and preserve the environment.

So, from enthusiastic engineer to brilliant birder and philanthropic partner, Peter is an inspiration to anyone looking to make a meaningful contribution in their later years.

What advice does he have for anyone else wanting to do the same?

  • Don’t leave things too late. No, it’s never too late to start a new hobby. But at 50, it almost is! Life is not all work and no play. Make sure you develop interests in your working like that can blossom in retirement.
  • If you find retirement boring, you only have yourself to blame. Become a hedonist! Get out there and enjoy yourself before it’s too late. When life is exciting and exhilarating, that’s when it is really worth living!