A WORLD OF WATCHERS by Joseph Kastner


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The role played by bird watchers in the development of the natural sciences in America is carefully delineated here. The leading characters and lesser lights in the field are portrayed, and from patricians to cads, they are sometimes eccentric and often formidable. Full of drawings and illustrations, this is the kind of book that opens one's eyes and rouses the latent birding instincts in us all. The Indians were the first bird watchers followed by enthusiastic amateurs like the grandfather of Virginia Dare and other legendary pathfinders. The giants of the field are all here--Audubon, Nuttall, Wilson, Giraud, Brewer, Cassin and Baird (the man who organized the science of ornithology). He was the model watcher, patient with nature's idiosyncrasies and a master at winning the support of a legion of collaborators. With the help of army officers in fat-flung posts, he set up a network of budding scientists. In the early days, birds were shot and examined by hand, and it is disquieting to hear of the numbers killed by our scientists in a day's hunting. However, the advent of the field glass, and later binoculars, made the use of the gun unnecessary. It had played a bloody, but perhaps necessary, role in the exciting and demanding mapping of avian life in America. With grace and sympathy, Kastner brings these very special people and the issues, causes and feuds which motivated them into sharp focus. The environmentalists owe much to these daring explorers and chroniclers. In their work we see the very best and most attractive qualities in American scientists. The author's skill is in making us care about our world. Nature lovers do not often realize they stand on the shoulders of giants, but now, thanks to Kastner, his readers will be gracefully informed of it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf