Call someone a birdbrain and you may be giving him more credit than he deserves.
Those birds are regular flying Einsteins. Sure, laugh. But do migrating birds need radar towers or air-traffic controllers? Weather bureaus? Telephones to make plans up the road? No way. Birds migrate twice a year with a ruffling of a mere feather or two, thanks to some amazing in-born navigating skills. They have an innate sense of time. They use the stars and the sun as compasses.They utilize wind currents and can estimate the earth's gravity and the pull of the magnetic field, then integrate it all to figure where they're going.
They've got AAA beat by miles.
More than two-thirds of the 660 species of nesting birds in North America migrate; iths easy to get a gander at some of the 250 species that pass over this neck of the woods, either in-town or within a few hours of D.C.
The best of times for the migrating birds is the wordst of times for the birders (formerly "birdwatchers," a term now considered too "passive"). Southerly breezes will carry the feathered critters over without time out for snack or snooze. But days with northerly winds, or just after stormy weather, birds are more visible as they wait it out for sunnier skies.
Everyplace is a potential birders' paradise, according to Claudia Wilds, the "Voice of the Naturalist." A recording that the Audubon Society keeps current with word of the latest and the greatest birds seen in the area (652-1088). At the same time, places that are supposed to be great can have days with nary a pigeon around. Last year, a lesser black-backed gull settled in between tees at the golf course at Hains Point and hung around long enough to be photographed before resuming his trek (one probably begun in Iceland: birds seen here can come from as far away as the Arctic and be headed to points as distant as the southern tip of South America).
Any wooded area, including city parks, can offer glimpses of bird: Thrushes are at Glover Archibold park, on Reservoir Road, and at the National Arboretum -- two sites good, too, for migrating warblers. The C&O Canal is a favorite for birds and birders alike, with its swallos along the river, swifts overhead and early Canadian geese. More in-town bird haunts include Roaches Run Laggon (just north of National Airport); though that place has gotten polluted, Wilds say "Gulls are tough," and some unusual ones have shown up there. The mouth of Four-Mile Run (between the sailing marina and the airport) is good for gulls as is the part at the junction of Mount Vernon Avenue and Glebe Road. Unusual sparrows often show up at McKee-Beshers Wildlife area (out River Road, beyond Potomac Village about six miles to Hughs Road, then left to the ponds and field around there): like other brushy areas north of the District, it's good for general birding.
Bodies of water cause most birds to settle mid-migration before going on; for that reason birders can head for the shore, any shore, to see gulls, seaducks, loons and shorebirds. Ocean City's inlet is close and good for that. Cape May in New Jersey isn't as close but is a good place to expect the unexpected, as is Cape Henlopen in Delaware, just across the Delaware Bay; those shores host migrating flickers, swallows, and warblers. Later on in November, birders there can expect red-throated loons, snow geese (also at Blackwater in Maryland and Chinoteague): brant, snow buntings and sparrows that breed in the Arctic.
PLACES TO GO, BIRDS TO SEE
C&O CANAL TOWPATH IN MARYLAND -- Birdwalks September 26 and October 17, 8 a.m.: meet in Great Falls Tavern. good for warblers, vireos, scarlet tanagers. 299-3614.
ROCK CREEK NATURE CENTER -- Red-shouldered hawk, green heron sighted recently.Warblers, thrushes. Birdwalk October 8 at 8 for migrant songbirds. Call 966-0220.
DUMBARTON OAKS PARK -- Good for general birding. 342-3200.
KENILWORTH AQUATIC GARDENS -- Birdwalk October 4. 426-6905.
POINT LOOKOUT STATE PARK -- excellent for migrant birds. 301/872-5688. Birdwalk October 3 at 8. 301/283-6970.
LAUREL RIDGE CENTER/CLAUDE MOORE CENTER -- National Hawk-Watching Week October 4-10: birdwalks Mondays at 7. Call 790-4434 (days) or 437-9413 (evenings).
LONG BRANCH NATURE CENTER -- Birdwalk September 26 at 8, and September 30 at 9. Free but reservations needed. Considered one of the best areas for birding: Connecticut and worm-eating warblers, red-breasted nuthatch seen. 558-2742.
NATIONAL COLONIAL FARM -- Birdwalk October 25 at 8. 283-2113.
VIRGINIA GREAT FALLS -- Birdwalks September 27 and October 18 at 8. 759-2925.
COVE POINT in Calvert Cliffs State Park, Maryland: Birdwalk November 8 at 8. 535-5851.
BLACKWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE -- Waterfowl, eagles. From Cambridge, Maryland, take Routes 16 and 335, or 16 and Egypt Road.
SANDY POINT -- East end of Bay Bridge. Migrating land birds, gulls, ducks, hawks.
HUNTLEY MEADOWS In Alexandria: Birdwalk October 3 at 9. Red-shouldred hawk, gret blue heron, warblers. 768-2525.
ASSATEAGUE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, and shorebirds, herons, sparrows, longspurs, egrets, whistling swans. Canada geese.
LILYPONS WATER GARDENS, Maryland: Now peak for warblers, woodland birds: October is best for hawks, November for ducks and geese. 428-0686.