Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife

Overview

Love and loss, life and death, among the nighttime creatures of the city that never sleeps

Like her bestseller Red-Tails in Love, Marie Winn’s Central Park in the Dark explores a once-hidden world in a series of interlocking narratives about the extraordinary denizens, human and animal, of an iconic American park. Her beguiling account of a city’s lakes and woodlands at night takes the reader through the cycle of seasons as experienced by nocturnal active beasts (raccoons, bats,...

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Overview

Love and loss, life and death, among the nighttime creatures of the city that never sleeps

Like her bestseller Red-Tails in Love, Marie Winn’s Central Park in the Dark explores a once-hidden world in a series of interlocking narratives about the extraordinary denizens, human and animal, of an iconic American park. Her beguiling account of a city’s lakes and woodlands at night takes the reader through the cycle of seasons as experienced by nocturnal active beasts (raccoons, bats, black skimmers, and sleeping robins among them), insects (moths, wasps, fireflies, crickets), and slugs (in all their unexpected poetical randiness). Winn does not neglect her famous protagonists Pale Male and Lola, the hawks that captivated readers years ago, but this time she adds an exciting narrative about thirty-eight screech owls in Central Park and their lives, loves, and tragedies there.

An eye-popping amount of natural history is packed into this entertaining book—on bird physiology, spiders, sunsets, dragonflies, meteor showers, and the nature of darkness. But the human drama is never forgotten, for Central Park at night boasts a floating population not only of lovers, dog walkers, and policemen but of regulars young and old who, like Winn, hope to unlock the secrets of urban nature. These “night people” are drawn into a peculiar kind of intimacy. While exploring the astonishing variety of wildlife in the city park, they end up revealing more of their inner lives than they expected.

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Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Royte
On the whole, Central Park in the Dark is a delight; I'd follow Winn into the park at any hour.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

What happens when curiosity about Central Park fauna trumps fear of the dark? The charm of Winn's wildlife accounts—besides its descriptions of the nighttime habits of New York City screech owls, bats and slugs—is its depiction of the community of fans who gather to observe and document even the slightest movements of the park's shyest denizens. Winn (Red-Tails in Love) is part of an informal group of bird-watchers who turn to the study of nocturnal species; using a black light and a sheet, they track moths, observe slugs having sex and search out the "boy's dormitory" of robins. Winn's riveting account of the last stage of cicada metamorphosis highlights the animating philosophy of these after-dark naturalists: "sharing our adventures increase[s] our own enjoyment of them." A surprising amount of science (owl-pellet dissection; official names for the stages of twilight) is packed into these narratives, illuminating the somewhat arbitrary line between enthusiast and expert, but never bogging down the reader. Winn's style is as conversational as a good friend's and as informative as a seasoned guide's. (June 10)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Winn, author of the popular, well-received Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park, continues to chronicle and celebrate the surprising abundance of wildlife in the midst of New York City's massive urbanization. She engagingly describes the park's crepuscular and nocturnal owls, bats, moths, frogs, cicadas, katydids, rodents, and much else. The sex lives of slugs even rate a chapter. Despite living in a city bright with light pollution, Winn writes of the abundant and quite visible astronomical phenomena: planets aligning, how to tell a waxing from a waning moon, and more. The three stages of twilight and their proper nomenclature are also included, as are the different classes of clouds. She even works in a little neurophysiology. As interesting as this night wildlife is the diverse and abundant cast of human characters who observe it: the expected naturalists as well as astronomers, musicians, celebrities, couturieres, and even a secretary of the treasury. Winn is witty, literate, and extremely well informed and writes with flair. Highly recommended for all popular natural history collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/08.]
—Henry T. Armistead

Kirkus Reviews
Even blanketed in darkness, Manhattan's crown jewel teems with fascinating wildlife. So says Winn, though she admits that as a youngster she was terrified of Central Park after dark. Now, on balmy summer nights, the fearless author and her merry band of "night people" (including a man dressed as Dracula) can be found traversing the park's leafy, serpentine pathways, armed with flashlights. They have rapturously observed moths rallying around a sap-dripping tree, rodents scampering through the underbrush and various owls on the wing. (The text devotes particular attention, compassion and emotion to these nocturnal fliers.) For Central Park's "bioblitz," a daylong census of all living things in specific areas of the park, Winn's group intrepidly ensnared bats with a net to identify species and habitat. Inviting readers to share her love for animals in their natural habitat, the author mingles personal observations with a plethora of factual information: the echolocation abilities used by bats, distinguishing details of owls, etc. She also includes meticulously detailed notes sent to her by fellow explorers and a posthumous homage to nature-walk "accomplice" Charles Kennedy. Pale Male and Lola, the two hawks perched high above Fifth Avenue chronicled in Winn's previous book (Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park, 1998), make cameo appearances here. Her group turned its attention to insects at the Parks Department's "Bug Night"; an entomologist pushing a portable generator to power his black light showed them a host of colorfully winged wonders (mostly moths) fluttering over the Ramble. Though she chronicles a few unsettling encounters with questionable characters lurking in theshadows, Winn does her best to mitigate our instinctive fear of after-dark jaunts in the urban jungle by showing what a breathtaking array of insects and animals it harbors. Exuberantly illuminates Central Park's vibrant, 843-acre nocturnal world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374120115
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 6/10/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Marie Winn is the author of Red-Tails in Love: Pale Male's Story; The Plug-In Drug: Televisions, Computers, and Family Life; and many other books. She was born in Prague, but has spent most of her life in New York City, where she lives not far from Central Park.

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Table of Contents


A Word About Chronology     ix
Before the Beginning     3
Party-Crashers and Flying Mammals     9
The Ghost of Charles     29
Much Ado About Mothing     61
The Moth Tree     77
Miss Jones, You're Beautiful     99
Slug Sex     121
Birds Asleep     139
Pale Male Asleep     169
The Owls and the Pussycat     185
Little Red and the Big Bad Owl     207
The Rescue Fantasy     231
Unhappy and Happy Endings     265
After the Ending     283
Selected Bibliography     289
Acknowledgments     293
Index     297
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