Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Cricket Crawl Saga

The back story:
Riverside Park is right across the street from our apartment house .To the left is a shot of the park entrance on 91st St.
and Riverside Drive from our 4th floor window.. [You can see part of the window sill in the foreground.]

Last year and the year before, whenever we opened our living-room window in late summer, we could hear the loud song of katydids coming from the park. This year we heard them too. We had always assumed they were Common True Katydids,
the kind you hear in the country,

A few weeks ago we received notice of a forthcoming city-wide census of crickets and katydids called The Cricket Crawl. And to our amazement, the Cricket Crawl folks seemed to suggest that Common True Katydids might no longer exist in New York City. Wiped out. In that case, then, who were the critters we'd been hearing from our window every summer? They sounded exactly like the country katydids. Were we completely nuts?

We were determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. And clearly the song was the clue. If we could get an expert, someone from the American Museum of Natural History perhaps, to come and listen to the Riverside Park katydids, "our" katydids as we thought of them, that man or woman
could quickly tell us whether our nocturnal singers were True or False.

We knew busy museum experts were hardly likely to come and investigate every time someone wanted a creature identified. Obviously, the best thing to do would be to get a recording of "our" katydids to bring to the expert for identification. One night while the katydids were making an enormous din in a certain Pin Oak in Riverside Park [see photo at right]., I had tried holding my cell phone up to the tree and calling someone on the Cricket Crawl team to listen. But the cell phone didn't pick up the sounds well enough for anyone to identify the katydids. I'd need to find someone with better recording equipment.

Then I thought of Margot Adler, a journalist for NPR whose stories often run on "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." She had interviewed me twice about the Pale Male story, and once when my latest book had first been published. She'd certainly have good recording equipment. Maybe I could interest her in the Cricket Crawl.

The Cricket Crawl is a journalist's dream -- it only took one e-mail to entice Margot Adler. Of course first she would have to come over and record "my" katydids.

The photo at right shows the park bench
where I met Margot Adler on the night of September 6. We sat on the bench and listened to the katydids loudly proclaiming. Then she held up her microphone to the same tree where I'd stood with my cell phone a few weeks earlier. But she had better results.

Adler's excellent audio equipment caught the katydid song. She sent her recording as a WAV file to Lou Sorkin, a noted entomologist at the AMNH. And on Wednesday, September 9, he called me with his verdict: Our Riverside Park singers were TRUE not false! Now our team could send out a report on the night of the Cricket Crawl refuting the hypothesis that Common True Katydids had been extirpated from NYC!

The night of the Crawl, 9/12/09 : [It was postponed one day by rain.]

A.Miller & M.Winn

Here is the True Katydid Search team about to set forth on Saturday night.

Our mascot for the evening had appeared on an ornament near our building's entrance

and then on my shoe[Its true home is on display with other orthopteran treasures on a shelf in my living room.]

Our Cricket Crawl expedition began in Riverside Park. At 8:05,p.m. sitting on the same bench I'd sat on with the NPR reporter, I used my Blackberry device to report our sightings, or rather soundings, of three of the target species: the Fall Field Cricket, the Jumping Bush cricket, and -- hurray! -- the Common True Katydid.

We went to three other spots : 104th and Central Park West, where Rebekah Creshkoff had reported hearing CTKs singing earlier in the week;
Fifth Avenue and 64th St, inside Central Park, due south of the Arsenal. I'd heard katydids singing there a few years ago; and finally, a tree between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues on 86th St., just outside 107 W. 86th St where I'd heard CTKs singing in 2004 and 2005. We didn't find CTKs in any of these locations.