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A Beautiful Old Bird Book

My great-grandfather was a man of many interests. He came to the United States from Ireland in 1853 at age 13, and during his long life assembled a large, diverse library. I was fortunate to inherit a book from his library entitled The Birds of North America, published in 1888 and containing 119 “colored plates representing the different species and varieties, drawn and colored from nature” by Theodore Jasper, A.M., M.D.

Though it is missing its front cover, and in a very fragile state, I treasure this book as one of the few I have with my great-grandfather’s book plate: Simon Fogarty, 90 Broad Street, Charleston, South Carolina.

I have photographed some of the sea and shore birds pictured in this book and have used them as fillers in this issue where I normally use photos of shore birds. Each one is identified according to the naming used in the book, though some common names have changed over the years.
As the population of the United States has grown, all shore nesting birds have been driven from their nesting areas by human beachgoers, and these species have been saved from extinction by the creation of offshore wildlife islands created from dredged material.

My great grandfather’s book contains a five-page description of the passenger pigeon, describing a migration that the ornithologist Audubon witnessed in 1813 that lasted three days. In 1888, these birds were still abundant, and the author says “there is no zoological garden where this species is wanting.” But by 1900, no passenger pigeons could be found in the wild, and in 1914 the last passenger pigeon remaining in captivity died at age 24. They had been hunted to extinction.

Fortunately, because of the foresight and knowledgeable activities by scientists at the Waterways Experiment Station in the last decades of the 20th century, endangered shore birds have been saved from the passenger pigeon’s fate. These experts began building bird islands in the lakes, rivers, bays and shores, pumping in material from maintenance dredging projects, planting and grading the surfaces to create the habitat needed by each local bird for nesting. The birds flocked to the islands, many of which were off-limits to humans, and species that were once on the brink of extinction are now plentiful.

The Western Dredging Association motto that says “Dredging Creates a Strong Economy and a Cleaner Environment” could truthfully state “Dredging Creates a Healthy Environment for Wildlife”.

My bird book includes quite a few shore birds, many of which are familiar to dredging people because their names are included in the specifications of dredging projects, accompanied by warnings against disturbing their nesting areas. So some of these pictures will not be new to readers of this magazine.

We’re slowly catching up on our publishing schedule, though this issue is a few weeks behind. My sister Keena Powers was visiting me while I was working on it, and she did the research and editing of the contracts page, which was a big help. I hope she’ll agree to do more writing and editing for us in the future.
Judith Powers
Editor and Publisher

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