When I was growing up in Brooklyn and then living in Queens with my husband, New York's Central Park did not have a good reputation - muggers behind every tree, bicyclists and wallets stolen at gunpoint, homeless men and women sleeping (and doing lord knows what else) on park benches.
That was particularly bad in the 1980s when the city had devastating fiscal problems and police couldn't keep up with simple crime like graffiti on subway cars, much less murder.
Things changed as the economy improved and, for better or worse, Rudy Giuliani became mayor in the early 1990s on a platform of, among other things, fighting crime and encouraging tourism. More police were hired and hit the streets as well as Central Park and, slowly, more people started to feel safe going in there.
In the late 1990s, a Wall Street Journal reporter named Marie Winn collected her writings about a particularly light redtailed hawk who'd improbably made a nest on an upper 5th Avenue building facade facing Central Park. The book was "Red-Tails In Love." It not only put the focus on the redtail nicknamed Pale Male (inspiring two movies and at least one song, by Steve Earle) but on Central Park in general and the birders who'd never stopped going there even during the bad times in particular.
I have never met Marie Winn but she is a wonderful email correspondent. Thanks to her website, http://mariewin.server304.com/index.htm, you can find Central Park nature notes and information about Pale Male's story and her other books.
But what I found most valuable about her site when I first went to it was her publicizing the New York City Bird Report. Unfortunately, the site no longer posts active sightings and is now a historical database. But between 2003 and 2007 it told you what visiting birds were in different New York City parks every day.
A correspondent to this list was Tom Fiore, also featured in Marie's book, whose detailed reports were a major reason I (and no doubt others) started birding Central Park more often.
When nycbirdreport.com ended active reporting, Marie mentioned other interesting sites including ebirdsnyc (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ebirdsnyc/) and the NY Birding List, part of www.birdingonthe.net, a service that provides lists of bird sightings by state and by rarity.
One recent mention on the New Jersey list, for instance, sent hundreds of birders from across the state and beyond to a small private lake in Washington Township (Bergen County), NJ, for a sight of a rare pinkfooted goose. Based on subsequent list comments, township residents didn't know what hit them when the birders flew into town. Such is the power of the list.
I enjoy reading the lists, and those who wish to subscribe can post their own sightings and comments. These list services are great when you want to bird beyond your backyard, so check them out.