Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Review in the Christian Science Monitor

Here's a link:

There's also an interview with the reviewer after the end, if your computer can deal with that sort of thing.

PS My first set of answers to questions about Central Park wildlife was posted this afternoon on the NY Times blog City Room. Here's a better link than the one below:

Sunday, July 20, 2008


This is a reminder that next week I'll be the designated question-answerer on the New York Times blog City Room. On the left of this blog are articles by Times city desk reporters. On the right is an item called Taking Questions. Those questions, next week, will be for me. Readers can write them in on Monday and Tuesday, and my answers will appear on Wednesday, Thursday and maybe Friday [if there are enough questions, I guess.]

Here's a link to the blog. I'll look forward to your questions!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Nice review in Wall St. Journal

The Wall Street Journal

July 18, 2008




Acquainted With the Night

July 18, 2008; Page A11

[Acquainted With the Night]

Central Park in the Dark
By Marie Winn
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 304 pages; $25)

Urban living does not lend itself to encounters with the wild, and city dwellers might be forgiven for thinking that wildlife consists of rats, pigeons and a few squirrels – that "real nature" exists out beyond the last line of high-rises. Maybe so. But if one lives in America's most razzled urban environment, New York City, and craves the experience of nature, it is right there in the middle of things. In Central Park.

There are birds in the park, as anyone who has walked through it knows. But 244 species? This is the number recorded by one diligent Manhattan birdwatcher. Among the most celebrated birds of recent times are the pair of red-tailed hawks that messily took up residence alongside a high-rise at Fifth Avenue and 74th Street in the early 1990s, eventually causing a controversy among the building's tenants that captured the interest of a lot of other New Yorkers. The hawks were the central figures of Marie Winn's best-selling "Red Tails in Love" (parts of which first appeared in The Wall Street Journal). When the saga ended, Ms. Winn didn't stop observing and recording her encounters with Manhattan wildlife, of course. She simply sought out its nocturnal side.

In its very title "Central Park in the Dark" calls to mind something mysterious and perhaps frightening. Over the years there have been plenty of horror stories, lavishly recorded in the tabloids, to make anyone reluctant to enter Central Park once the sun has gone down. But for Ms. Winn, the darkened park is a place of magic, not menace. Raccoons come out to feed. Owls stir themselves and go on the hunt. Bats take flight. Moths of many types appear in vast numbers. The park comes alive.

"In all the years I've been walking around the park at night, both alone and with friends," Ms. Winn writes, "I've had only two scary experiences." One occurred when she encountered some faux undercover cops – Guardian Angel types with whom she eventually exchanged pleasantries – and the other involving real undercover cops who were less convivial. Otherwise, she says, the prevailing mood has been one of enchantment.

As it turns out, Ms. Winn often makes her nocturnal rounds with other park enthusiasts and lovers of the urban wild. They compose a kind of nightly audience for nature's theater. And there is much to observe – like the emergence of a cicada from its nymph stage: "Suddenly fluid begins to throb through the veins. At first the wings take on a golden, glittery color that sparkles in our flashlight beams. Then, almost immediately, they turn as bright green as the legs. Let there be life! The rapt audience lets out a collective exhalation – ah!"

Ms. Winn's passion for the life of the park extends to all manner of creatures – the large, the small and even the slimy. There is a whole chapter (no kidding) on the sex life of slugs, and while it is not exactly erotic in the most appealing sense of the word – slime has a limiting effect – it is fascinating. "Like our own species," Ms. Winn writes, "slugs prefer to engage in sex under the cover of darkness. Yet people who have managed to observe the arcane rituals of slug sex by lantern or flashlight confirm that what happens when slug embraces slug is ravishingly beautiful."

She is equally lyrical on observing the fly-out of an owl – the occasion when the bird awakens, preens, looks around and in various stages of contemplation decides finally to get up and go to work. Those who gather to watch the fly-out with Ms. Winn are a precise lot, given to recording in their notebooks the exact moment, from night to night, when the owlish event occurs. "Seeing the clock time of an owl's exit change over the months serves a deep purpose: it provides a powerful connection with what Thoreau called 'the steady progress of the universe.' As you stand on terra firma watching the same little drama every day, over time, you begin to absorb the realities of the life on a planet rotating on its axis."

Sample-collecting can be another part of the nightly vigil. At one point Ms. Winn takes some owl pellets that she has gathered – the undigested remains of whatever an owl has killed and consumed and then regurgitated – to the nearby American Museum of Natural History to be analyzed. The pellets are from a barred owl, a species rarely seen in Manhattan. Ms. Winn and her associates are curious about its diet. It turns out that the owl is killing and eating pigeons. This is one version of urban justice.

Among Ms. Winn's nighttime park companions are a group that calls itself the Central Park Mothers. Together they witness the moths that come to an English oak just south of the Boathouse Restaurant, in the middle of the park. The tree gives off a "strong alcoholic smell," suggesting that it is diseased. But the aroma makes the tree attractive to the moths and thus also a gathering place for Ms. Winn and her compatriots. The Central Park Mothers are especially fond of the moths known as "underwings," perhaps because their names are so suggestive: Inconsolable Underwing; Tearful Underwing; Dejected Underwing. Keats might have made something of such melancholy.

Ms. Winn writes as affectionately of her park companions as she does of the wildlife experiences that are their bond. When one of them dies – Charles Kennedy, who "loved Central Park with the passion of the Iowa expatriate that he was" – his friends scatter his ashes near the site where he had seen "his first prothonotary warbler," after a 10-year quest. "We didn't feel sad at all," Ms. Winn writes. "We joked around about Charles's devotion to the stunning warbler. Who else would have chosen such a hard-to-spell name for his e-mail address?"

Mr. Norman, a writer in Vermont, is the author of "Two for the Summit: My Daughter, the Mountains, and Me."

Anne Raver piece in today's NY Times

Photo by Bruce Yolton on p. E30 - NYTimes 7/18/08

Here's what's called a permalink to the story in today's Times Weekend ARTS Section: p. E 27

Here;s a link to a podcast done that day, entitled Mothwatching in Central Park:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Today's Observer

I can't say I like the review by Damien Da Costa of Central Park in the Dark in today's New York Observer. It isn't really negative.It's just sneery and snide about nature lovers in general . The headline tells all:
A Nerdwatcher's Guide: Beware the Slug-Sex Crowd!

Among those Mr. Da Costa includes in the Nerd category: bird-watchers,, lepidopterists, mammalogists and even malacologists [He feels inordinately proud of himself for knowing that the latter word means slug scientists]

Well, you can't win 'em all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

City Room postponed a week

Because of the Charles Rangel-rent stabilization brouhaha, the Metro Desk City Room blog I was going to be part of today is sticking to that story this week and postponing the Questions and Answers about Central Park in the Dark to the week of July 18.

Here's how the City Roomblog works: On Monday and Tuesday, on the right side of the blog page will appear the Taking Questions box, where readers have an opportunity to submit questions. On Wed, Thurs and Fri, the "answerer" of that week will answer at least 5 of those questions.Next Monday and Tuesday you'll be able to submit questions about Central Park in the Dark. DO WRITE IN next week!
You can check out today's City Room blog about rent stabilization.
The blog address is

Sunday, July 13, 2008

TLS, City Room and WILL

If any of you read the Times Literary Supplement [TLS] a British publication, there's an article on p. 16 of the latest issue, dated July 11, about Central Park in the Dark.

Also, next week I'll be answering questions on City Room, a New York Times blog. You can find it among the blogs on the NYTimes website, and I'll try to find a more specific address by tomorrow. As I understand it, readers can send in questions on Mon and Tues, and I'll be answering them on the blog on Wed, Thurs and Fri.

Finally, for any of you in the Urbana Illinois area, I'll be doing a live interview on WILL, an NPR affiliate, between 2:06 and 2:50 on Tues, July 15

Friday, July 11, 2008


The Arsenal - entrance from Fifth Avenue

There's a reading from and signing of Central Park in the Dark,
next Tuesday -- July 15 --between 6:30 and 8 pm-- at the Arsenal. This is the big castle-like building just off 5th Ave, at the Zoo entrance, around 64th St. This event is sponsored jointly by the New York City Audubon and the Parks Department. There will be a Question and Answer period.

And on Tuesday, July 29 at 7 pm, I'll be reading and signing at Barnes & Noble, the Upper West side store at Broadway and 83rd St [right near Zabars].


If any of you are wondering what happened to the article about Central Park in the Dark I had thought would appear in the Weekend section on Friday, June 27, the latest news is that it will appear on Friday, July 18-- that's also the Weekend section

Monday, July 7, 2008

Betty Jo from California writes:

Marie!!! You don't have it on your list of reviews --CP in theD is on Oprah's list of 27 terrific summer reads! Now it is my understanding that folks just dote on her every word and read what she tells them to read. In fact, I bought the magazine to get that list of "terrific summer reads" which was a cover feature.
I almost got up at midnight, turned on my computer to e-mail you.
Here's the review in case you don't read O:

"Where does a sophisticated New Yorker go for a night on the town? To a great green oasis where hundreds of exquisite winged insects alight to drink sweet sap from a tree, and swarms of devoted mothers (rhymes with "authors") gather in the dark for a sighting. Marie Winn's deliciously voyeuristic CENTRAL PARK IN THE DARK is filled with such glimpses of elusive nocturnal visitors, including sexy slugs, rare owls, and some of the most curious creatures on two legs."
Congratulations on all your good reviews.

Betty Jo

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Today's Review in the NY Times

This is the important one!

July 1, 2008
Books of The Times

A Night Stalker in the Center of Manhattan, Spying on Owls and Moths


More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife

By Marie Winn.

304 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25.

In her charming 1998 book, “Red-Tails in Love,” Marie Winn chronicled the story of Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk who made his home in the heart of New York City, romancing a series of mates over the years and siring nearly two dozen offspring from a nest high on the 12th-floor facade of a fancy Fifth Avenue apartment building — a story that would gain worldwide attention in 2004 when the residents of that Fifth Avenue co-op had the nest removed, provoking an outcry from bird lovers and even some hard-core, bird-agnostic New Yorkers.

In “Red-Tails in Love” Ms. Winn also gave us some enchanting glimpses of Central Park as the place where the wild things are, and her new book, “Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife,” is very much a companion volume to that earlier account. In these pages she gives us a delightful chronicle of the animals that come out to hunt and play in the park at night, while providing, in her operatic account of the ups and downs of a group of screech owls, a gripping narrative that rivals that of Pale Male and his mates.

Ms. Winn, a former nature columnist for The Wall Street Journal, is not only highly knowledgeable about the park and its many inhabitants, but she is also able to communicate her passion for this patch of urban wilderness with grace, humor and √©lan. She gives us affectionate portraits of the other wildlife aficionados who share her willingness to brave rain, snow, cold and dark to observe the park’s nocturnal critters.

At the same time, she conveys the magic and enduring mysteries of Central Park, a place, as she noted in her earlier book, that was created “as an improvement on the wild” where “city dwellers could come and enjoy the illusion of wilderness without any of its inconveniences or dangers” but that through nature’s alchemy has begun to turn from facsimile into the real thing.

Here, in an oasis of green sandwiched between apartment buildings of steel and concrete, live raccoons, squirrels, woodchucks, frogs, butterflies, mice, rats, bats, catfish, bass, carp, Canada geese, mallards, woodpeckers, vultures, kestrels, hawks and owls: a free-range menagerie rivaling the captive collection at the Central Park Zoo. Here, former pets — goldfish, turtles and rabbits, abandoned by their owners — have made new lives for themselves. Here, some 275 bird species have garnered the park accolades as one of the nation’s top birding sites, right up there with Yosemite and the Everglades.

Here, on the north side of the Great Lawn, Ms. Winn tells us, is a tree where hundreds of robins, mainly males in need of a bachelor pad while their mates sit on their eggs at home, gather to spend the night. Here, on the East Drive, a little south of the Boathouse Restaurant, is what Ms. Winn and her friends call the Moth Tree, a tree that used to ooze sap that attracted an astonishing variety of moths. (More recently, she reports, the ailing tree recovered, stopped leaking sap and hence became less of a moth magnet.)

The one problem with “Central Park in the Dark” is that Ms. Winn rarely records the year something happened, only the day and month, arguing that “exact dates aren’t particularly significant in natural history,” an observation that, even if true, still makes for irritation on the part of the lay reader. A smaller quibble is that she has also elected not to provide any pictures of the many species of birds, animals and insects that she discusses in these pages, even though she points out that she took hundreds of photographs that “helped me get the details right.”

So what exactly did Ms. Winn and her fellow night stalkers find in Central Park in the dark? They found more than 100 species of moths. They observed the weirdly complex and (to some) exuberant spectacle of slug sex. They witnessed the last stage of cicada metamorphosis, by which the dull, brown nymph is transformed into a gauzy green creature of fairy-tale beauty. They experienced the “quasi-religious exhilaration” of seeing owls make their evening fly-outs to hunt for food. And they used bat detectors — devices that translate “ultrasonic bat songs into frequencies people can hear” — to look for bats in the Ramble and the North Woods.

Ms. Winn tells us that one winter more than 1,000 grackles and starlings crowded into 3 of the 10 trees surrounding the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel, suggesting that some atavistic memory caused the birds to pick a well-lighted, public place where nighttime predators might be less likely to attack. She tells us that a pheasant family with five chicks used to graze in the little meadow below the stairs to Belvedere Castle, where human fans worried that the birds were at risk from dogs let off their leashes at night. And she tells us that a great horned owl, a huge bird that reaches a height of 22 inches, once came to stay in Central Park for an unprecedented 40 days.

The most compelling story in this volume, however, is the saga of the little screech owls that were released as part of the parks department’s efforts to reintroduce 10 plant and 10 animal species into the city’s parks. Several were casualties of car collisions, an increasingly dire hazard given the birds’ flight patterns and increased auto traffic in the park. One seemed to have been eaten by the great horned owl. And another appeared to have been murdered by a different screech owl, which perhaps coveted its territory.

Ms. Winn’s accounts of the owls she and her friends came to know best — Little Red and her mate, known as the Riviera gray, and another pair known as Spiffy and Unmade — possess all the anthropomorphic charm of her telling of the ballad of Pale Male and his mates, and they leave the reader eager, upon finishing this book, to rush to Central Park in search of a glimpse of Harry Potter’s favorite birds.

“As I write these last words at the last possible moment before my book goes to press,” Ms. Winn says at the end, “the owl scene is hopping in Central Park. Three pairs of screech owls are nesting in various parts of the park — owl etiquette prevents me from telling you the exact location, I’m sorry to say, but someone will show you the way. Wear binoculars — that’s the key. And beware — owl-watching is addictive.”