Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The New York Times featured two [well, I guess three] Central Park chroniclers in an article last Sunday. [Please note Postscript at the end].

March 26, 2006
Reading New York

. . . and on the Wing


Who knew? Pale Male has been a household name for more than a decade, but only the Regulars, as they are described by Marie Winn, whose 1998 book chronicled the celebrity hawk, might be aware that Central Park is one of the nation's top spots for birding.

In 1886, the park's first official bird census counted 121 species. Since then, 282 have been observed. Twice a year, more than 200 species — one-third of all those found in the United States — fly though this Manhattan oasis as they migrate.

Cal Vornberger's vivid photographs of 116 of those native and visiting species, arranged artfully by season and accompanied by a pocket guide, practically fly off the pages of "Birds of Central Park" (Abrams, $35). Though published late last year, the images are, like Pale Male, perennial.

Mr. Vornberger, a television and theatrical designer, turned to photography full time in 2001, but the attacks of Sept. 11 doomed his prospects as a travel photographer. That October, walking in Central Park, he was captivated by a great egret in the Turtle Pond. So began his odyssey.

"I tell people that I don't take bird photographs — I take photographs with birds in them," he writes. "I would rather have a good expressive photo of a common bird than a dull snapshot of a rare bird."

In her forward, Ms. Winn describes Mr. Vornberger as "a tree in human disguise," one who can lure birds from their hiding places. "For Cal Vornberger," she adds, "patience, almost beyond human understanding, is the magic flute."

A more recent contribution to the subject of New York birds, by Bob Levy, is "Club George: The Diary of a Central Park Bird-Watcher" (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95), a charming and intimate chronicle of a 50-year-old laid-off corporate executive's encounter with a red-winged blackbird.

"My behavior changed in significant ways as a direct result of my first interactions with George," Mr. Levy writes. "I believe that is all the more remarkable because he initiated those interactions."

His book is as much about the habits of people — how human nature helps us cope with the faceless crowd by compartmentalizing it — as it is about birds. Both can be gregarious, and worth watching.

"I make no claim to have a special skill or talent that attracts birds to me," Mr. Levy continues. Instead, he credits the park itself: "There are not many places I can think of where so many birds and so many people come into contact with each other routinely."

Postscript: Below, info on a forthcoming book signing on the Upper West Side.