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Finding Refuge, and a Snowy Owl, in Central Park

  • March 04, 2021

For that matter, during the early months of the Covid quarantine, it was the parts of the city outside Central Park that felt the most surreal to many New Yorkers: the streets suddenly emptied of cars and people, whole neighborhoods transformed overnight into ghost towns or haunted spaces from a de Chirico or Edward Hopper painting — lonely and desolate and apprehensive.

In Central Park, at least the illusion of normal life could be sustained: people running and biking and walking their dogs, birds going about their birdy lives — hunting for food, building nests, taking flight over the lake or the reservoir. The beautiful Mandarin duck (whom I photographed for Bette Midler’s new children’s book “The Tale of the Mandarin Duck: A Modern Fable”) didn’t return during the Covid quarantine, but lots of other wildlife did — including at least five owls, a coyote, a rabbit, a bald eagle, a peregrine falcon, a variety of herons and hawks, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, thrushes, adorable titmice who will eat peanuts from people’s hands, a confusingly large assortment of warblers, flotillas of Canada geese and ducks of many sorts (including wood ducks, buffleheads, northern shovelers, mergansers, green-winged teals and ruddy ducks).

Two mallard families grew up on the Sailboat Pond during the summer, and the young raccoon who lived in a tree trunk near the pond had four adorable babies, who quickly grew accustomed to the mask-wearing humans who stopped by nearly every day to take their picture. Later in the year, a soulful-eyed barred owl — whom fans named Barry — came to visit the park and has stayed on for more than four months. A second barred owl, as well as a great horned owl and a long eared owl also stopped by, and in 2021, the snowy owl miraculously flew in — the harbinger, people hoped, of a new era.

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