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Egret in Central Park 

Central Park is an oasis.

Though wildlife can be found anywhere in New York City, sprawling Central Park -- 843 acres of forests, meadows, and ponds -- is hallowed ground for many urban naturalists. Indeed, some visit the park so often that they have become known as the Central Park Regulars. "We are a very loose-knit community of people," explains WALL STREET JOURNAL columnist Marie Winn, a Regular who recently wrote a book, RED-TAILS IN LOVE, about the park's wildlife. The Regulars "are somehow or another drawn to the park pretty much every day to follow the progress of the seasons, observe the migratory birds, and learn about the lives of the animals," says Winn. Like many New Yorkers, Winn says she didn't truly appreciate the richness of the park's natural bounty until she stumbled across the Regulars' worn logbook, kept in a boathouse near the park's rowboat pond. In her book, Winn writes:

    A Red-Tailed Hawk 

    Red-tailed hawks are city dwellers.

    "I remember casually picking up the plain, blue canvas loose-leaf notebook with its sloppily hand-lettered legend on the front cover: CENTRAL PARK BIRD REGISTER AND NATURE NOTES: ENJOY BUT PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE. I opened it for a quick glance at its contents. Then, with that greedy feeling one gets after cautiously tasting some unpromising new dish and discovering it to be delicious, I stood there devouring page after page.

    "I had known there were robins and sparrows and blue jays in Central Park. I had even seen a warbler or two on occasion. Now I read of owls and snipes, goshawks and scarlet tanagers, flycatchers, vireos, kinglets, and twenty, thirty species of warbler -- all, it appeared, more accessible than in any wild forest or meadow.

    "Squirrels, rats, and dogs were the only mammals I had encountered in my past visits to the park. Here were raccoons and woodchucks and bats. And snapping turtles laying eggs. And bullfrogs croaking at dawn. And butterflies and dragonflies. And so much more, all to be found at such intriguing locations as the Humming Tombstone, Willow Rock, the Oven, Muggers Woods, the Point, the Azalea Pond. Where were these places? I wanted to find them."

Eventually, with the help of other Regulars, Winn did learn to comb the park for wildlife. But of all the creatures she encountered, the most mesmerizing -- and the focal point of her book -- were a pair of Red-tailed hawks who took up residence on a Fifth Avenue apartment building, a swanky address three floors above actress Mary Tyler Moore's apartment and across the street from filmmaker Woody Allen's. In the middle of Manhattan, Central Park spreads over 843 acres.The nest, which is still there and can easily be seen from a bench near the park's model boat pond, provides "a rare opportunity each spring to get closely involved in the private life of a wild animal," Winn says. "Here is this nest, out in the open, that one can observe sitting on a comfortable bench. You can see the hawks building a nest, courting in the sky above you, mating on top of a telephone antenna. All this is visible, down to that incredible moment when a little white head [of a hawklet] is seen peeking above the edge of the nest."

The widely publicized nest, which attracts crowds of amazed lunchtime onlookers, "has widened the horizons" of many New Yorkers, Winn believes. "To know that this is possible in their city, to know that these other lives go on, has given many people this feeling of kinship," she says. "The nest is right in the middle of this big city. You don't have to buy camping equipment, or watch it on television -- you can see it for yourself."





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