References on the natural history of Inwood, New York City, and beyond

I expect this will be an on-going and evolving page of books and articles about the birds and natural history of the New York City area and beyond with a starting emphasis on my home park of Inwood Hill Park in northern Manhattan. I plan to add to it as I think of and/or discover items and (probably most importantly) find the time. It is not meant to be exhaustive, and never can be – it represents my own preferences/favorites. At the moment the list is in no particular order, but it may get some organization as it grows. Many of these books are out of print, but can be found in libraries or the used book market. (Bookfinder is a good place to look.)

The Forest and Wetlands of New York City by Elizabeth Barlow (1971. Little, Brown and Co.) – A picture of some of New York City’s parks four decades ago with a chapter on Inwood Hill Park.

Green Metropolis: The Extraordinary Landscapes of New York City as Nature, History, and Design by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers (2016, Alfred A. Knopf) – A successor to Forest and Wetlands (above), with chapters on Staten Island, Jamaica Bay, Inwood Hill Park, the Ramble in Central Park, Roosevelt Island, Freshkills Park and the High Line. My Central Park AMNH walks are featured in the Ramble chapter.

Inwood Hill and Isham Parks: Geology, Geography and History by Sidney Horenstein (2007, in Natural History of New York City’s Parks and Great Gull Island (Transactions of the Linnaean Society of New York, vol. 10)) – Sid lives in the neighborhood and perhaps no one knows more about the geology and history of Inwood. A pdf of Linnaean Transactions 10 which includes Sid's paper is available here .

A Natural History of New York City by John Kieran (1959, Houghton Mifflin) – Now over fifty years old, but still a classic look at the city’s natural history. See also the same author’s earlier Footnotes on Nature (1947, Doubleday).

Mannahatta:  A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson (2009, Abrams) – A fascinating look at the natural history of New York City and what the area looked like before the arrival of Europeans. Contains digital reconstructions of some of the original landscapes.

Concrete Jungle: New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future by Niles Eldredge and Siney Horenstein (2014. University of California Press) – A look at the past, present, and possible future of the ecosystems of cities with particular emphasis on New York City. Contains much information about Inwood Hill Park and Central Park.

Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York by Ted Steinberg (2014, Simon & Schuster)  – Another recent look at the changing landscape of the New York City area especially its wetlands and waterways.

Birds of the New York Area by John Bull (1964, Harper & Row) – Now fifty years old and hence dated, this was my birding bible when I started birding. You will still find much historical information in it about the birds of the NYC area that you will not find in the modern on-line resources.The earlier classic accounts of the birds of the city area are Birds of the New York City Region by Ludlow Griscom (1923, American Museum of Natural History) and Birds Around New York City: Where and When to Find Them by Allan D. Cruickshank (1942, American Museum of Natural History). Both also contain much fascinating historical information about our birds.

Bull’s Birds of New York State edited by Emanuel Levine (1998, Comstock) – An updating of Birds of New York State by John Bull (1974, Doubleday). Still the most recent published reference on the birds of all of New York State.

The Falconer of Central Park by Donald Knowler (1984, Karz-Cohl) – A look at birding in Central Park. See also the more recent Red-tails In Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn (1984, Pantheon Books) on the same subject.

Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012, Music Box Films) – An Emmy nominated, documentary film about Central Park, its birds and birders by Jeffrey Kimball. All the birds were filmed within Central Park.

Days Afield on Staten Island by William T. Davis (1992, Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences) – A charming little book on the natural history of Staten Island in the late-19th century. This special edition was published to celebrate the centennial of the original edition.

Unseen Life of New York: As a Naturalist Sees It by William Beebe (1953, Duell, Sloan and Pearce) – Another wonderful old look at NYC natural history by a legendary naturalist/author.

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky (2006, Ballantine Books) – Part history, part natural history. New York harbor was once the oyster capital of the world before pollution destroyed them.

The Urban Naturalist by Steven D. Garber (1998, Dover) – A look at some of the plants and animals that make-up NYC’s natural history. This is a reprint of the original 1987 edition.

Heartbeats in the Muck: A Dramatic Look at the History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor by John Waldman (1999, The Lyons Press) – The subtitle says it all. The same author's The Dance of the Flying Gurnards: America's Coastal Curiosities and Beachside Wonders (2002, The Lyons Press) includes natural history material for the whole country but contains much of relevance to our area and is very well written.

Fish-shape Paumanok: Nature and Man on Long Island by Robert Cushman Murphy (1964, American Philosophical Society) – Less than 70 pages long, this little book is based on a lecture on Long Island natural history by the legendary, Brooklyn-born ornithologist.

The Other Islands of New York City: A Historical Companion by Sharon Seitz and Stuart Miller (1996, Countryman Press) – Not a natural history book, but a look at the history of the many small islands that dot the city.

The Hudson River: A Natural and Unnatural History – Expanded Edition By Robert H. Boyle (1979, Norton) – Not specifically about New York City, but the city would not exist without the Hudson River. Two other classic books on the Hudson River are also worth reading – The Hudson: From the Wilderness to the Sea by Benson J. Lossing was first published in 1866 was reprinted in 2000 (Black Dome Press) with a foreward by Pete Seeger; and The Hudson by Carl Carmer (1939, Farrar & Rinehart) was part of The Rivers of America series. 

Written in Stone: A Geological History of the Northeastern United States by Chet Raymo and Maureen E. Raymo (1989, The Globe Pequot Press) – If you are at all interested in the natural history of the New York metropolitan area at some point you will want to know about its geology. This small book (170 pages) is a well written, nontechnical introduction to the geologic history of the northeast from New Jersey to Maine. Focusing on New York State, but on a more advanced level is Geology of New York: A Simplified Account edited by Y. W. Isachsen, E. Landing, J. M. Lauber,  L. V. Rickard, and W. B. Rogers (1991, New York State Museum/Geological Survey, Educational Leaflet No. 28). This "leaflet" is 284 pages long and extensively illustrated. Finally, The Geology of New York City and Environs: An Illustrated Guide to the Geologic Evolution of the Metropolitan Area, Including Eight Detailed Itineraries of Regional Field Trips by Christopher J. Schuberth (1968, Natural History Press) focuses on New York City but being nearly fifty years old is very dated - you will not even find "continental drift" or "plate tectonics" in the index!

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America by Russell Shorto (2004, Doubleday) – Not a natural history book, but if you are interested in the history of New York City you must read this book.

Unearthing Gotham: The Archaeology of New York City by Anne-Marie Cantwell and Diana diZerega Wall (2001, Yale University Press)  Covers over 10,000 years of NYC history. The Archaeology Of New York State by William A. Ritchie (1994, Purple Mountain Press) looks at the entire state from its first known human inhabitants to the arrival of Europeans.

The Encyclopedia of New York City, Second Edition edited by Kenneth T. Jackson (2010, Yale University Press and the New-York Historical Society)  Not a natural history reference, but this nearly 1600 page tome is packed with information about the city. You can spend days (weeks?, months?) thumbing through it at random learning things about the city or looking up specific subjects or people.

The Encyclopedia of New York State edited by Peter Eisentadt (2005, Syracuse University Press)  What the above volume does for New York City this massive (nearly 2000 pages) reference does for New York State.

Travels Into North America by Peter Kalm (1972, The Imprint Society)  Kalm was a Swedish naturalist and student of Linnaeus who traveled in the American colonies, mostly between Philadelphia and Canada, from 1748 to 1751. The genus that includes Mountain Laurel (Kalmia) was named for him. This is a reprint of the English translation (1770) of his account of his 1848-1849 travels, much of which was in the future New York State. The Travels of Peter Kalm, Finnish-Swedish Naturalist, Through Colonial North America, 1748-1751 by Paula Ivaska Robbins (2007, Purple Mountain Press) is a recent biography of this pioneer naturalist.

Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher (1955, Houghton Mifflin)  The grand daddy of birding big year accounts, though Peterson and Fisher's whirlwind tour of America only took fourteen weeks and took in far more than just birds. One chapter covers their time in NYC, but the whole adventure is a thrill. One of my personal favorite birding books is Kingbird Highway: The Story of a Natural Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand by Kenn Kaufman (1997, Houghton Mifflin), an account of Kenn's 1973 big year. On a local level, A Big Manhattan Year: Tales of Competitive Birding by David Barrett (2013, privately published) has a lot of fun showing you don't have to travel thousands of miles to do a big year. Dave visits Inwood a number of times on his quest.

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