“He really was an enchanting person. In some way he was like the spiritual father of everybody…. It is hard to imagine Central Park without Charles Kennedy.” Marie Winn, author of Red-tails in Love, and close friend of Charles, remembering him after his death in October 2004

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On the Anniversary of Charles's Death

On October 20, 2004 Charles died, one day after his 67th birthday. A couple of weeks later NPR's Margot Adler offered a heart-felt tribute piece in remembrance of Charles. Here's a link to that piece: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4159505

Some years the October 20th date has sneaked right by before I could capture it, but not this year. Charles and I shared a love of this season and autumn has been breathtaking here this year. There have been many times during this month that I have thought about phone chats with Charles about rare migrating birds in chill air surrounded by flaming colors. I went across the big road today to ogle a rare Red-throated Loon on the state park lake. The bird was a fine specimen, but it was upstaged by the scene around it––large flotillas of migrating ducks and grebes; golden sunlight igniting all the raging yellow cottonwood trees; cool, sweet late morning air; a backdrop of  lightly-powdered mountains nestling up into a cerulean sky.  So, I came home and listened to the NPR story just to hear Charles's voice waxing ecstatic about nature. Bittersweet.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An Owling Family and Central Park in the Dark

Charles Kennedy in action!
One of the loveliest parts of bringing Charles's collections to publication is that it keeps me close to members of his New York City 'birding family'. So, in order to shine a light on the owling portion of that family, I'm posting a piece of my introduction to the Owls of Central Park.   
     While I am at it, I will urge you to find and read Marie Winn's book, Central Park in the Dark, which features all of these same characters and many more in masterfully told tales of nighttime naturalist excursions in the greatest urban park in America.  Marie has graciously allowed me to use material from her fine books in the Charles collections for which I am eternally grateful. 
From my introduction to Owls of Central Park:
     The last time I was with Charles was two weeks before he lost his battle with cancer. During that last quiet time together, what he most wanted to do was read to me from his newest compilation, his “owl book.” He had engaged his friends in producing, by hand, large copies of the book--in part to keep them from focusing on his deteriorating health, and in part to make sure it was finished and available to his close network of friends and family. As Charles read his book about Central Park owls he charged me with tending to his large body of written and photographic work. So this book has a special place in my heart. It also is a favorite among Charles’s friends and acquaintances. 
     As I prepare these comments, I am paging through an original, hand-bound copy of the owl book. I strain to hear Charles’s warm, vibrant voice, adding pithy, parenthetical notes about the photos and the stories. The main bookbinders at Charles’s bedside were his closest birding buddies: Marie Winn, Noreen O’Rourke, Lee Stinchcomb, and Jim Lewis. They were original hawk-watching stalwarts, and they appear in Charles’s hawk tribute, Pale Male and Family (Cerberus Press). They all became Central Park owling buddies, so they are main actors in this book as well.
     You will also meet up with Central Park über-birders Tom Fiore and Sharon Freedman as well as Central Park Conservancy woodlands boss, Regina Alvarez.  And look for cameo appearances by Big Apple luminaries such as Joe DiMaggio and Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. It’s true! Charles always brought his love of art, music, literature, and sports to his encounters with nature.
     In this book, Charles indulges other passions as well. He takes us deep into owl science, at one point providing evidence that refutes a belief that owls’ eyes are fixed in their sockets. And, as always, he illuminates his feathered subjects in masterful haiku poems. The haiku Charles chose for his owl-tribute book are perched throughout.*At Charles’s urging, Ms. Winn wrote her lovely book, Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).  Her book paints, on a larger canvas, the fascinating nighttime, nature adventures of Charles and his friends. 
     This collection contains the original owl book (as Charles created it) with special excerpts from Ms. Winn’s book––offerings of call-and-response and contextual harmony. Charles also kept an audiotape journal of well-developed ideas for magazine articles. His journal is excerpted throughout this volume as well.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Owl Eyes: An Amazing Tale

     In the newly-published Owls of Central Park, Charles tells an entrancing tale of a saw-whet owl in desperate straits. Charles found the tiny owl struggling mightily to expel a pellet from its gullet. In the midst of the struggle the bird crosses its eyes, something many experts believe is not possible for an owl, or at least not at all common.

                                                      Photo by Charles F. Kennedy
     I claim the third photo to be the first picture ever taken of a Saw-whet with its eyes crossed.  Is that true?   I have no idea, but I did show it to my optometrist.  She said she’d never seen a bird with this problem before.  “It crossed its eyes for close focus.  No correction is needed.”           
     So why the big deal about an owl with his eyes crossed?  Because the literature consistently says that owl eyes are immobile.  In fact, that’s Roger Tory Peterson’s word for them: “immobile.”
     Lewis Walker in “The Book of Owls” says “their eyeballs are fixed—like headlights on a car.” 
     Paul Johnsgard in “North American Owls”: “The eyes of owls are so large that they are immobile in their sockets.”
     Joel Welty in “The Life of Birds”: “Owls, unable to focus their eyes on close objects, must back away.”
     In this case, our Saw-whet could not back away, as the owl was quite attached to its pellet.  What’s an owl to do but defy the literature and cross its eyes.

The entire story and photo sequence are truly amazing and entertaining.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

OWLS OF CENTRAL PARK is now available!!!

I’m back and with a new book and a new publisher—Cerberus Press!!! I am so very pleased to announce the publication and availability of Owls of Central Park: Essays and Photographs by Charles F. Kennedy.

The publisher, Mark Perna, and designer, David Mittelman, have done a beautiful job with this book and we have it available at a very nice price! It is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.  Just in time for holiday giving! Click on book images in right column to purchase.

Book summary:
Charles Kennedy loved the natural world of Central Park with a singular passion and Owls of Central Park provides the evidence. When he died in 2004 he left behind this remarkable collection of unique photographs, rich essays, field notes, and masterful haiku poems. Owls of Central Park captures the nighttime adventures of Kennedy and his intrepid New York City friends as they explore the habits and intrigues of several owl species in Central Park. The reader will find plenty of hard owl science and history, e.g., visiting a clinic where an owl's cataracts are investigated or in a series of photos that refute the long-standing belief that owls eyes are fixed in their sockets. There is also plenty of high adventure, great photographs, and fine writing. If you are a fan of owls, or of New York City and Central Park, or if you simply love gorgeous nature photos and stories, this is a book you will love.

AND more great news from my little corner: Cerberus Press has now published the other two Charles Kennedy books, too, in absolutely stunning renditions---- and at the nice price.

More to come… Thanks so much for continuing to follow this blog, even as I have been away from it for a long while. There is new energy for the blog. I’m glad to have you along!  Much love, Steve.