Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City

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What do you think of when you heard the words, "New York City"? Money? Skyscrapers? Broadway plays? Restaurants? Millions of people living in tiny apartments? Fire hydrants spurting water on hot muggy days? Rotting garbage on the sidewalks? How about birds: do any of you think of birds and other wildlife? Most people don't. Many people, especially visitors, are unaware of the wealth of green spaces and parks in NYC, along with their resident and migratory wildlife. However, the recently published book, Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City by Leslie Day, will forever change this erroneous impression.

This wonderfully written and well organized book is 355 pages long, and is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter is a brief overview of the natural history of the rock that NYC is perched on, from its earliest days as part of the supercontinent, Pangea, to the large city it is today, home to 30,000 acres of parks with five hundred miles of coastlines that are occupied by thousands of species of all sorts; birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, crustaceans, worms and insects, as well as trees and wildflowers and mushrooms.

The second chapter provides a brief overview to several parks from each of the five boroughs, including habitat descriptions, and mentions the animals and plants that are commonly seen in each location, along with photographs, maps and directions for reaching the park by car, bus and subway. The third chapter is a brief exploration of four of the 48 "forever wild" nature preserves within the five boroughs of NYC, and includes a very detailed chart for the remaining 44 "forever wild" preserves. This chart lists a variety of habitat types, wildlife, plants and rock formations that a visitor can expect to find in each of these locations.

Chapter four -- the largest by far -- discusses the common animals (invertebrates, arachnids, insects, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) that are present in NYC, then the following chapters focus on common plants, mushrooms, and finally, the common geological features of NYC. Especially important was the way in which the plant and animal species were presented, for each species listed had the following topics bulleted and addressed on one page;

Etymology of name
Common locations
Notes of interest
Ecological role
Key points

While on the next page, the animal or plant species was illustrated. The animals and mushrooms are illustrated with lovely watercolor paintings by artist Mark Klingler, while the plants are described with both photographs and paintings, and the geology section is illustrated solely with photographs. At the back of the book, the author lists nature organizations in and around NYC along with the URLs of their websites, a bibliography and an 11 page index.

There were several very, very minor errors in the book, which I note here and have also emailed to the editor, so they can be corrected before this book's third print run. First, the author neglected to note that the 1-train stops across the street from Central Park at Columbus Circle, upstairs from the A, B, C, and D lines (which were correctly noted in the book). She also erroneously reports that the 9-train stops at Columbia University, when in fact, the 9-train hasn't run for at least two years. I also was surprised to see that the author noted specific bus routes on some of her maps, but neglected to mention bus routes on other maps, for example; bus routes are shown for Riverside Park, but not for Central Park, even though busses regularly run alongside and through Central Park as well.

For those of you who are looking for an exhaustive listing of all living species within NYC, this is not the book for you (indeed, I doubt that such a book exists and further, I really doubt that you could carry such a volume with you in the field). This field guide is different from most others that you are familiar with. For example, it does not show its birds in several several plumages and ages, as you find in the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, it does not rely on photographs of the birds or other animals, as you find in the Audubon Field Guide to the Birds (although it does include photos of trees and it relies exclusively on photos of rock formations), nor does it show range maps for the animals. Instead, it is filled with watercolor paintings that are both whimsical and artistic and, quite frankly, a lovely reminder of what the animals look like that you seek.

In short, this useful book is, quite simply, beautiful: the paper is heavy, the binding is robust enough for field use, the color pictures and paintings are rich and brilliant, and both the hard-cover and paperback editions are a joy to hold in your hands. Not only is this accessible book a work of art that will be enjoyed by bibliophiles everywhere, but it functions extremely well as a primer to the flora, fauna and rocks of NYC. I wish that every major city had a nature guide like this. I highly recommend this book to anyone with a love of exploring nature, to those who love well-written and produced nature books, to those who live in NYC and especially to everyone who plans to visit this amazing city.

NOTE: this book was awarded second place for scholarly/reference books (design), Bookbinders' Guild of New York 2008 New York Book Show.

Leslie Day is an environmental and life science educator at the Elizabeth Morrow School and an adjunct faculty member at Bank Street College of Education. She developed the City Naturalists Summer Institute with the Central Park Conservancy and has a doctorate in science education from Teachers College Columbia University. She and her husband live on a houseboat on the Hudson River in Manhattan.

Mark A. Klingler is a scientific illustrator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He was trained at Carnegie Mellon University and Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts. His work has appeared internationally in major scientific journals and popular magazines, as well as museums and art forums across the country.


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They were selling this in the bookshop in our building. I flicked through it, and it looked interesting. I didn't buy I because it doesn't seem much use in Helsinki. But I was tempted, because it does look nice.

I'll have to pick up a copy when I get a chance. The section about the "forever wild" areas seems really interesting.

One of the better books I've bought about nature in NYC was a guide to trees put out by the NYC Parks Dept. and the central park conservancy. It has a really useful section about the parks in NYC.