A New Leaf St. Louis Couple Have Found Their Calling - Leading Nature Expeditions to the Tropics

Article excerpt

TALK ABOUT changing careers.

Dale Delaney was a civil engineer, armed with prestigious degrees from Purdue University and chasing a string of high-powered jobs - including director of the Water Quality Control Institute for the state of California and director of marketing for Neste, Brudin and Stone, an international civil engineering firm - when he walked away from it all in 1979.

Or rather, drove away, spending a year traveling in a Volkswagen camper through Mexico and Central America, down to the Panama Canal. "Maybe I was having my mid-life crisis prematurely," says Delaney, now 53. "But I felt like something was missing in my life . . . and I didn't want to spend another 20 years doing what I had been doing." Delaney, who grew up in Indiana, had found living in Southern California to be one of the most appealing perks of his career. In his spare time, he became casually involved in the environmental movement, and spent a three-day weekend on an Audubon Society-sponsored trip to Morro Bay, on the Pacific coast north of Los Angeles. "I fell in love with bird-watching there," he recalls. "I couldn't believe I had gone all my life without being aware of all the wonderful species existing all around me." When divorce left him with the realization that "I was responsible to no one but myself, and a change could hurt only me," he quit the corporate world. Cold. He found his life's new direction while exploring tropical ecosystems. "I was awed, just overwhelmed, by the biological diversity of different habitats. And I decided that, somehow, I was going to make a career out of sharing this with others," he says. Delaney started his new career by landing a job - or, as he calls it, a "labor of love" - with a Miami-based outfit called Bird Bonanzas. "I was paid $85 a day to lead bird-watching tours through the neo-tropics. I probably led 15 ten-day tours my first year - and lived off my remaining savings." To conserve money, Delaney left high-priced California and moved back to Indianapolis. A few years later - now an experienced tour guide - he hooked up with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours of Austin, Texas. Though he specialized in tours throughout the Caribbean, and Central and South America, he also traveled from the Arctic Circle, where he thrilled to the sight of snowy owls, seals and whales on Hudson Bay, to the Antarctic Peninsula, where he followed penguins on the Falkland Islands. "I loved what I was doing, and I was making enough money for a single person to subsist on," says Delaney. He was traveling 10 months of the year. It was on one of those trips - to a Venezuelan rain forest in November 1992 - that he met Dr. Nancy Guggenheim, of Kirkwood. An internist with a subspecialty in endocrinology at Health Key Beacon in St. Louis, Guggenheim had taken a sabbatical from work and was devoting much of her time to her bird-watching passion - involving herself with the Webster Groves Nature Study Society, the World Wildlife Sanctuary, even the raptor show at Grant's Farm, where she says she was "in seventh heaven walking around with an eagle on my arm." Guggenheim also had signed on for a research trip to Mexico to band birds as part of a migration study. When the trip was canceled, she chose the Venezuelan excursion - even though many of its participants had opted out because of a political coup in Caracas. "It was a fabulous experience. Dale is so incredibly knowledgeable in the field - he has such pattern and voice song recognition as far as birds. And, of course, personally, we hit it off immediately," she says. Ten months later, Delaney and Guggenheim were married. …