MIscellaneous

Rediscovering New York: Liliana Bobo – A Patron of Central Park’s Feathered Set

Lilian Bobo and friend and goose in Central Park

Lillian Bobo, a daily bird feeder, sits with one of her many charges on The Lake in Central Park

I was so disappointed.

I was basking in the glow of a wonderful wildlife moment and in she ruined it. Not on purpose mind you, I know that, but without warning, my subject: a big, beautiful Canadian goose who was stretching and preening like a supermodel for my camera, abandoned me, leaving me bewildered and annoyed.

In fact, I watched as all the pigeons, mallards and geese I was shooting turned and race across The Lake in Central Park, their tiny, pointed, feathered butts leaving me in the proverbial dust.

WTF?

Canadian goose poses for a portrait

A goose portrait

Then she appeared on the lake opposite me. Dressed in an over-sized white coat and baggy jeans, her shoulders slightly stooped as if her jacket were too heavy. What was this woman up to?

She made her way to a small rocky peninsula that gently sloped into the lake and faced the Hernshead where I stood. Carrying a battered blue tote, she pulled out seeds and bread and threw some of her stash into a semi-circle on the ground in front of her.

In a deafening roar of honks, quacks and flapping wings, the birds that had been in front of my lens only moments before, were suddenly at her feet hundreds of yards away, scooping up her offering in an enthusiastic frenzy that would make a riot seem half hearted.

Canadian Goose stretches its wings in Central Park

A willing participant in my photo shoot, this goose stretched and flapped its wings seconds before it blew me off to eat on the other side of the lake.

It was clear that the possibility of becoming a beautiful image on my wall couldn’t compare to a loaf of bread. If I wanted to continue to photograph the birds I would have to follow them across the lake.

I arrived on the other side 10 minutes later. The woman, I’m guessing in her late 50’s, maybe 60’s, watched over her brood as they gobbled up her treats. Her expression was serious but attentive, like that of a headmistress addressing beloved pupils.

Lillian Bobo feeds the birds of the Hernshead in Central Park

Standing where I’d stood 20 minutes earlier, Liliana lured the birds away from me with a bag full of seeds and bread.

I plopped myself down on the edge of the cold rocks and began shooting the feathered spectacle.

I should have asked. I knew I should have asked, but she didn’t seem very friendly and I chickened out. Within in a minute she was eyeing me with a steely gaze, and by one minute thirty she grabbed her bag and in a bit of a huff she left.

Whoops…

I felt bad. I knew better. My gut told me to ask her before I started shooting. Even if she wasn’t the subject of my photography, she obviously felt the birds were her domain.

Lesson learned.

Lillian Bobo feeds pigeons in Central Park

Liliana’s two-toed friend eating right out of her hand

I stayed to photograph the birds she left behind when….. whooooooooshhhhhhhh…they were off again! In a moment of exasperating deja vu, I looked across the lake and there she was, throwing food to the traitorous lot and standing exactly where I’d been 20 minutes before when she lured them away the first time. I looked around me and all of them had gone.

Well played lady. Well played.

Lillian Bobo feeds a flying pigeon in Central Park

Liliana makes sure to feed all of the hungry birds that come to see her

Two days later I was on my way to the same little rocky peninsula when the woman passed me, her blue bag swinging by her side. Oh crap, I thought. What am I going to do now?

I shot for a while in the woods and then took the path to the lake and found her already feeding the hungry hordes. I waited until she turned around and still feeling a bit sheepish, I smiled and held up my camera to ask her if I could shoot. Stone-faced, she looked at me briefly and then nodded her head.

SUCCESS!

I situated myself at a distance so that I could get a wide shot of the scene: the rocks, the woman, the birds, the lake and the City looming in the background. Two seconds later the mishmash of pigeons that had congregated at her feet flew into the air in a rush of warbles and feathers, racing away as if their tails were on fire.

Lillian Bobo and pigeons in Central Park

Pigeons fly back to Liliana after being frightened off briefly by a hawk

What had I done? She started to turn and I thought, oh hell, I’m in trouble now! I figured I inadvertently frightened the birds away. She looked into the trees, then at me, and as if she knew what I was thinking said, “Hawk.” Oh thank goodness! It wasn’t me. Behind her the pigeons were already flying back to finish their meal.

“I’m Susan,” I offered.

“Liliana”.. she replied, a thick Romanian accent shaping her words and as she spoke, her demeanor softened.

Mallards sit on a rock in Central Park

Sated mallards rest a moment before going back into The Lake in Central Park

Liliana, I learned, is a veteran Central Park bird feeder. She’s fed the pigeons, geese, mallards and whatever else has flown her way, every morning for the last three years. She recognizes many of the birds and pointed them out to me when they appeared.

“See that one with the missing toe? I’ve fed him for two years now.” And right on cue, the maimed pigeon hopped up on her knee and with an entitled air began to eat directly out of her hand.

“He knows me,” she said with a slight grin. “Those two are hybrids,” she said pointing to two identical ducks that had a mallard-like appearance but much darker. “They were domesticated but someone let them loose in the park.”

She told me how she saved an injured goose hidden in the bushes near the lake’s edge by carrying it to the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine on Columbus Avenue at 88th Street. (Not an easy feat by the way, geese are a tall as a toddler and can weigh up to 20 pounds!) I didn’t even know they had a bird hospital in New York, and thankfully, the goose came through with flying (yes, pun intended) colors.

On the whole however, Liliana didn’t talk much and we relaxed into periods of comfortable silence.

Goose lands on the water in Central Park

Anxious to get their share of Liliana’s stash, two geese land on the water nearby

At one point I saw a thought spring into her head and she began to look around as if she misplaced something.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“The geese,” she muttered. There were no geese, but that was exactly her point.

Hmmm… That’s strange, where could they be?

Goose walks up on the rocks in Central Park

A large goose walks up the rocky slope of the peninsula headed for Liliana and her bag of bread

“HONK! HONK! HONK! ”

I swear they were psychic. On the other side of the Hernshead we heard the geese honking in the distance. Apparently, up until that moment they didn’t know that Lillian was in the hood. They flew towards us like high-speed rockets.

“Wait! Wait Liliana! They honked. “Don’t forget us!…..We’re coming! Save some food! ….Move out of the way you silly pigeons!”

They landed gracefully, sliding into the water with a splash. Then waddling up the stone slope, they nipped and chased the other birds from their path.

“Where were you?” She scolded, a small grin on her lips.

“Honk! Honk!”

She sat on a rocks and held out her hands. Needing no further invitation, they dove right in.

Lillian feeds goose by hand in Central Park

A particularly precocious goose enjoyed being hand fed

Feeling a bit nippy, I asked, “Do you come here in the winter?”

“Oh yes, it’s more important in the winter,” she replied.

Of course, it made perfect sense. The birds would probably need food in the winter. But as I sat there shivering in the cold, I thought how brutal it must be when it snows. I imagined myself bundled up looking like the Michelin man. It wasn’t pretty. Liliana was a dedicated woman.

After an hour she exhausted her supply and my butt was frozen from the stone. The birds, having eaten their fill were back in the water preening themselves.

We walked together until we reached the entrance of the park on 72nd Street and Columbus Ave. “I go this way,” she murmured pointing to the left. I was headed straight. She smiled, we waved, and we parted ways.

For a second I felt a little sad. She was a special lady and it had been a good morning. I was sorry to see it come to an end.

But then I remembered I knew just where to find her.

 More from my feature: Rediscovering New York

 

 

 

27 replies »

    • Susan,
      I really enjoyed your story. I did a bird walk in Central Park in September when Robin and I were visiting NYC. We were in the area near Lillian’s bird feeding “station.” I didn’t see her, but wished I had. Maybe next time I’m in NYC. Anyway, the story was great as well as your photographs.

      Laurie Kent

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      • I’m so glad you enjoyed the story Laurie. Lillian seems to be get around 7-8am so next time you’re in town perhaps you can schedule your walk around then. You can’t miss her..just look for all the birds. LOL

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    • Thanks a million Robin. I know a lot of people really count on the wildlife but I’m trying to diversify a bit more. Especially since I can’t be in Africa half as much as I would like. I’m glad you like this feature. 🙂

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    • Susan, Liliana humbly shared this link with my wife. Beautiful photos and story that capture the enigma that is Liliana. We are blessed to have her in our community of Saint George on West 54th. Though she is currently unable to attend or to feed the birds, we hope she will be back home and at the park again soon.
      Fr Jim
      http://www.SaintGeorgeNYC.org

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I loved reading this Susan, what a great story and adventure you had, do you think you will go back in winter to see if you can see Lillian again? How wonderful it would be to see the birds in the snow.

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    • Thank you Leanne. I absolutely will go back and see Lillian, especially when it snows. Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about what I’ll need, clothing-wise, to wear so that I can stay out for a decent amount of time that early when it’s cold and still be able to move around comfortably. I’m looking forward to some snow here just so I can take a look. 🙂

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  2. good evening, just back from lake, the second time on saturdays since on sunday i go to church and am not able to feed them. a friend, a real newyorker covers sunday afternoon. sorry you “lost” my e-mail and i wouldn’t be able to see the pictures if a nice lady, Gigi wouldn’t ask if i am lilian. i didn’t answer, but she insisted and she said that she read a blog and she showed me on her phone…was this more then a month ago…i forgot already… just this Wednesday a park worker, a lad, took a picture while i was feeding the pigeons out side the park and she said “i have to report you” i came closer, smiling with my seeds bag in one hand in order for her to make sure to take a good shot of infractor…so sad…there are so many problems and we get stuck on pieces… and for the record, this solstice i am 70 and 6 month. wish you well and i admire you for heaving such a perfect ear and knowledge about foreign accents, since other people are trying hard to detect my accent, people well traveled, as you are…but i didn’t tell them where am i from, i give them 3 chances…i told you where i am from. May The Nativity give you joy and whatever God provides for you and your loved ones. you have my e-mail now. happy New 2015 year !

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    • Lilana! Hello! Yes, I did lose your email. I had to write everything from memory because I accidentally deleted the note I wrote my information on.. I will also make sure to correct my spelling of your name. I ended up traveling right after I saw you, unexpectedly and that’s why this took so long to come out. I will send you an email right away! Thank you so much for commenting!

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    • Hi Sabina – So glad you liked it. As it turns out Liliana ( I heard her wrong, she’s not Lillian as I wrote), reached out today on the comments. I was so happy she did as I lost her email and didn’t know how to connect without going back to the lake. I plan to return but it’s been brutally cold and I can be a wimp sometimes. LOL .. Thank you for taking the time to read the post and i hope you return. All the best, Susan

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      • Hi! I was searching for something else and came upon your blog again. I met Liliana in December 2014 during one of my weekly walks in the park and told her about your blog :-), great to see her comment! Wonderful article and photos, Susan!

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      • Glad to have you back Gigi! I haven’t seen her in awhile, mainly because I’ve not been in the park much. I have to there soon. Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you liked it.

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  3. What gorgeous, breathtaking photos and equally beautiful, sensitive writing. I am the woman Liliana mentioned who takes over the job on Sundays. I love to tease Liliana about the “bad family” of four geese she has raised and spoiled rottenly. But, we both know it is in fun. She is a wondeful woman who has personally helped me to rescue a dying goose, a domestic duck and a mallard with fishing line around his leg. Don’t know what I would have done without her. But, more importantly, where would our wildlife be without Liliana? Many of these birda owe their lives to Liliana — especially after last winter which was so tough on wildlife everywhere. Thank you so much for this beautiful piece which I am sharing on FB. 🙂

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