BY JOAN AMATO AND CLIFF CONNER | Dennis Leroy Edge, who became known to locals as “The Birdman” of Tompkins Square Park, died on Sept. 1. He was 85.
A passionate birder and bird photographer, he and his long-lensed camera were a familiar presence in recent years in the East Village.
Dennis was born on March 16, 1938, in New York City, but his family soon thereafter returned South. He grew up in North Carolina, attended college in Richmond, Virginia, served in the Army from Aug. 15, 1961 to Aug. 14, 1963, and received an honorable discharge. He worked as a city planner in Atlanta, Georgia, and returned to the city of his birth in 1970.
In that year, he moved into an apartment on E. 9th Street. He was a resident there for the last 53 years of his life, while also spending time in Larchmont, New York, and North Carolina.
In his Atlanta years, in the 1960s, Dennis became active in the civil rights movement, and then in the movement against the Vietnam War. His political activism led him to become a proud socialist, which became a lifelong commitment. In New York, he designed book covers for Pathfinder Press, a socialist publisher, where he formed friendships for life.
Dennis met Lois Carlo at Lord & Taylor. They worked together for two decades at Carlo Associates. They lived together for more than 40 years and were married on Dennis’s 75th birthday, March 16, 2013. They shared a lifelong interest in the environment, art and politics.
Dennis was a man of many skills, talents and interests. In addition to his photography, he painted beautiful gouache botanicals. He loved music — folk, jazz and classical. He was a fisherman and boater, and he worked on wooden boats and classic sports cars. He was also a certified Citizen Pruner who volunteered to care for New York City’s trees.
But Dennis’s passionate love of nature was most artistically expressed through his bird photography. His legacy to birds and birders is beautifully preserved by a collection of his bird photos entitled “Tompkins Square Park Birds,” published in 2023, just weeks before he passed away. As Dennis explained, “When I began photographing birds in this 10-and-a-half-acre city park, I never thought there would be enough species to make a book.” But over a span of 10 years, he photographed 108 native and non-native species in and around Tompkins Square Park.
One of Dennis’s birding colleagues, Anne Lazarus, described how Dennis was perceived by those who knew him best: “Dennis was the heart and soul of Tompkins Square Park.” When “Tompkins Square Park Birds” was published, Anne wrote to him to express her appreciation: “You have immortalized this charming park. This book is an inspiration to others to love and protect nature.” It will, she added, “encourage people to explore their little patches. Magic and surprises are everywhere.”
Following Dennis’s passing, Anne said, “Dennis influenced many people in Tompkins Square Park to become birders.” And with regard to the impact his book will have, she added: “Just show this book to someone, and you will have a birder.”
Another longtime Tompkins Square denizen, Florence Marcisak, recalled Dennis’s influence, saying: “I wouldn’t have even known we had the variety of warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, songbirds and raptors in our park if it weren’t for seeing Dennis on a regular basis with his camera,” she said. “And he was so kind when I and others would stop him to ask what he was photographing, and to talk about the birds migrating through our little park. I had no idea! All the beauty I was missing… . He really started a movement toward wildlife appreciation in our park.”
Another testimonial to Dennis’s place in local history was offered by Jeffrey Rabkin: “Dennis was a pioneer,” he said. “Before any of the other Tompkins Square birders were traipsing around the park, Dennis was forging his reputation as the neighborhood’s “Birdman,” always happy to answer people’s questions about nature. Dennis attracted a cadre of local birdwatchers, who still follow in his footsteps.”
Dennis is survived by his wife Lois Carlo Edge, who wrote in memoriam: “Birding with Dennis was one of the joys of my life. Godspeed, my darling, I will look for you in the stars and the wildflowers.”
Dennis is also survived by his devoted niece, Joan, and in North Carolina, by his sister Faye Oxendine, her husband, Teddy, and their son, Terry, also an artist and fisherman.
Most of the photos in this article are from Tompkins Square Park. There are a few exceptions: The photo of the hawk family was taken on the Christodora building at Ninth Street and Avenue B; the Scott’s oriole portrait could have been taken in Union Square Park or Tompkins Square Park since it was in both places. The robin feeding chicks on top of the stop sign was taken on Avenue B near the park.
Those wishing to buy a copy of Dennis Edge’s book “Tompkins Square Park Birds” can do so on PayPal at paypal.me/BirdsbyDennis. To pay by check, include a mailing address with payment to “Birds of Tompkins Square Park LLC” and mail to: East Village Postal, 151 First Ave., Box 24, NY, NY 10003.
The price of a book, including shipping and handling, is $59. Add tax where applicable: NYC $5.24; NYS $2.36. There is no tax for shipments outside of the state.