"Central Park in the Dark"

Marie Winn writes of the moths, slugs, bats, and other creatures she encounters in nightly patrols of Central Park.

Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife By Marie Winn Farrar, Straus and Giroux 320 pp. $25

Author Marie Winn is a bird watcher and a nature lover and she’s also quite courageous. For 11 years, Winn wandered through Central Park at night to document the encounters with moths, slugs, bats, owls, and other creatures she describes in Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife.

A former Wall Street Journal nature columnist and author of the best-selling “Red-Tails in Love,” Winn once again tackles urban wildlife with gusto.

Winn’s engaging tales begin with her love of bird watching, but as she trains her binoculars she discovers that she’s not alone in her urban oasis. Through her curiosity for nature, she finds other like-minded people – citizen scientists – whom she befriends. Together they gather at night to identify moths’ wing patterns and watch with fascination the mysterious mating rituals between two slugs hanging from a tree limb.

They save screech owls from colliding with car windshields, and shudder when the cicada killer wasp, the largest wasp on the East coast, emerges from its underground tunnel.

Although her story doesn’t follow a chronological timeline, Winn manages to lead readers through her 11-year experience with poise and an alluring wealth of knowledge.

She provides readers with facts about all the animals she meets – the owls’ eyes and their ability to see at night, the life cycle of a cicada, and where a moths’ ears are located. While she sometimes overwhelms with information, readers will learn much from Winn’s discoveries and her writing is telling and even poetic at times.

But what I most enjoyed about “Central Park in the Dark” is Winn’s ability to describe nature with a hint of humor. I laughed along with Winn as she mentioned her friend who harbored rescued pigeons in her bathroom and chuckled when a flustered Winn tried to explain to a police officer why she was searching for owls in a shrub with a flashlight in the dead of night in Central Park.

From screech owl rescues to slug sex, Winn pulls the reader into this tight-knit circle of people all searching for the same thing: a glimpse of nature in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city.

Amy Farnsworth is an intern at the Monitor.

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