SEEING WILD ANIMALS has never been easier. All you have to do these days is flop onto a couch, hit a button, and the glittering pixels of a digital television bring you images of almost any creature you like. You see it eating, sleeping, birthing, mating, dying, the works. Still, let’s get real. Ogling virtual wildlife on TV isn’t half as satisfying as finding the real thing in the wild.
Where to go looking? Ah, that’s often the question. How to find animals to watch when you get there? That’s a perennial puzzle, too. The new glossy New York Wildlife Viewing Guide, developed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in association with Audubon New York, the Nature Conservancy, the New York City Parks Department, and an array of other groups and individuals, aims to supply us with answers. The publisher is Adventure Publications in Cambridge, Minnesota. No author or specific team of authors is named.
The book is beautiful. It’s full of great photos by Gerry Lemmo, Jeff Nadler, Bill Banaszewski, and others, and the page layouts are accessible and appealing. The writing is solid, and good intentions spill from every page.
Does the book accomplish what it sets out to do—to tell us how and where to find wildlife in New York? Yes, up to a point. Adirondack hiking guides abound, yet there’s little in print to help the nature lover who wants to actually see things in the woods, rather than just cover ground. This book takes us in the right direction. It gives descriptions of and directions to fine places such as Ferd’s Bog, Forked Lake, Newcomb’s Adirondack Interpretive Center, and Silver Lake Bog. There’s a good introductory section on observing and stalking skills, too.
In covering the Adirondack region, the committee that produced the book made choices I don’t understand. Perhaps politics were involved. Out of fourteen wildlife-watching sites listed in the section titled “Adirondacks,” a full six (nearly half!) are not actually in the Adirondacks. Examples include Robert Moses State Park in the Thousand Islands and the Perch River Wildlife Management Area north of Watertown. Why? We’re hardly lacking in first-rate places to go.
At the same time, a favorite spot, the Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smith’s, with its miles of excellent nature trails, richly deserves to be here, yet it’s missing. Peculiar, too, is the fact that the Wild Center, a wondrous place offering some of the finest indoor nature watching in the world, stands as the sole “premier” wildlife-watching spot in the entire Adirondack region. It deserves to be there, but so also do more ecologically diverse and expansive properties that are given lesser designations or, like the Paul Smith’s VIC, are left out entirely.
In the description for Silver Lake Bog, the reader finds the sentence, “Wood frogs, leopard frogs, toads, porcupines, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hares, white-throated sparrows, olive-sided flycatchers, gray jays and boreal chickadees comprise the wildlife that visitors are most likely to see here.” Aside from its misuse of comprise, this sentence (and there are many like it in the book) has problems. I’ve been to Silver Lake Bog a half-dozen times, and I’m a wildlife-watcher by trade. Yet aside from the birds mentioned, I’ve never seen any of the other animals there. Porcupines? No doubt they’re present, but few see them. The same holds true for leopard frogs, wood frogs, and snowshoe hares. Given that the point of a guide is to encourage readers, not discourage them, it’s important to avoid the temptation to pluck exciting animals off lists and imply that one is likely to find them on casual visits.
A great advantage of the New York Wildlife Viewing Guide for lovers of the Adirondacks is encouraging them to explore the rest of the state. The Hudson Valley section includes extraordinary places such as the Albany Pine Bush, John Boyd Thacher State Park, Bear Mountain, Fahnestock, Constitution Marsh, and two Westchester County preserves that merit warm places in my heart because I used to live and work in the middle of them: Teatown Lake Reservation near Ossining and the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in the towns of Lewisboro and Pound Ridge.
Central Park? You’ll find it described, along with other wildlife hotspots in metropolitan New York such as Jamaica Bay, Pelham Bay, and Van Cortlandt Park. There are directions for finding Fire Island and Montauk on Long Island, Slide and Hunter Mountains in the Catskills (along with Mohonk and Minnewaska, which are actually in the Shawangunks), Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and Sapsucker Woods in the central region, Letchworth State Park and the Jamestown Audubon Center in the West, and plenty more.
All in all, the New York Wildlife Viewing Guide offers a good introduction to wild places across the state. It’s an earnest effort, worth the $14.95 price. This would be an excellent book to keep in the car. Next time you’re out in Buffalo or down in the Hudson Valley, buzzing past the Catskills, or cruising up the Adirondack Northway, pull over, pick a spot, and go there. See what you can see. ■