Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review: Red Tails in Love

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been doing a lot of reading. I am not a library book sort of reader, however. I like to OWN my books. I like to take my time reading a book, and I often have two or three going at once. Books with a time limit just don't work. Also, I tend to write in my books, mark passages that resonate, make notes and so on. Librarians frown on their books being treated in this way.

For a starving artist to be able to afford a book habit, library books sales, used book stores and "buy it used" on Amazon must be utilized. The "nature" section at most book sales tends to be overlooked, and one can walk out with a generously packed bag-o-books for $5 bucks. That is where I picked up Red-tails in Love: Pale Male's Story--A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park.

This was a rather light read compared to some, a good one to start my "book review" with since it didn't require a great deal of note-taking or soul searching. It is not in the least philosophical. It is a simple story of nature--and the people who watch it--in New York City's Central Park.

The book is laid out much like a theatrical production, with acts and scenes rather than chapters. The author, Marie Winn, starts out explaining how she came to be a part of a group of regular birdwatchers in Central Park, and she introduces the main players, a few of them biologists from the American Museum of Natural History. But most of "The Regulars," as they're known, are just ordinary people seeking nature and knowledge in the middle of one of the world's biggest cities.

The book moves along at a pretty good clip. We meet Pale Male early on, the unusually light colored red-tailed hawk who appears in Central Park in November of 1991. From his first failed attempts at nest-building and mating to his later fecundity, the tale is interspersed with the stories of other birds' trials and tribulations resulting from a life lived in such close proximity to humans. From the oriole's nest tree being chopped down (with nest and nestlings still in it), to the killdeer family facing down bulldozers, to the loons that appeared, briefly, on the Reservoir, we live the drama of everyday life of a bird in New York City.

There are successes and failures, drama and comedy. Building a nest on a high rise in the ritzy neighborhood of Fifth Avenue and 74th Street will bring out human adversaries. Then there are people who do nasty things just because they can. But throughout, the dedicated birdwatchers--naturalists if there ever were any--manage to protect these magnificent animals while sharing the wonders of Central Park's wildlife with tourists and city dwellers alike.

I enjoyed this book because it was an easy read, and I could relate to the thrill these birdwatchers got observing nature carrying on around them. Central Park, it turns out, is a prime location for birdwatching, especially during the spring and fall migrations. It lies along a major migration route and is a "wilderness" in the middle of ever-increasing urban sprawl. So if you're looking to take in an off-Broadway show and do a little wildlife viewing in one trip, New York City is your destination.

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