VIRGINIA

Dead Sea Birds Wash Onto Atlantic Coast

Wildlife officials are trying to determine what is killing hundreds of sea birds that have washed ashore in Virginia Beach and other locations along the Atlantic coast in the past several weeks.

Most of the birds are greater shearwaters, which are migrating north from their breeding grounds in the South Atlantic. The greater shearwaters are common birds that resemble gulls in appearance and size, with brown to gray heads and white undersides, webbed feet and dark, tubelike bills.

They typically stay far offshore, where they feed on small fish and squid.

Shearwaters fly nearly 5,000 miles during their annual migrations to and from nesting grounds on Tristan da Cunha, a chain of volcanic islands in the South Atlantic, said Will Post, an ornithologist and curator at the Charleston (S.C.) Museum. The cold-water birds breed in April and May and then fly to their summer grounds off New England and points north, he said.

Since June 12, more than 500 dead sea birds have been reported from Maryland to Florida, said Emi Saito, a wildlife disease specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis.

"It's unusual to see so many," Saito said.

Wildlife pathologists are examining the birds for exposure to toxins, pollutants and infections, she said.

Phone Scam Collects Bank Information

The state's attorney general is warning Virginians to watch out for a telephone scam that's designed to trick them into revealing bank account information.

The scheme works like this: Callers identify themselves as Wal-Mart representatives and tell consumers they've won a $400 to $500 voucher that can be redeemed for merchandise or cash. All they have to do, they say, is send $4.95 within five days of receiving the voucher.

But there's a catch. The callers tell consumers they need to verify their bank name and routing number. If the consumers hesitate, the callers ask them if they'd like to speak to a supervisor.

Attorney General Judith W. Jagdmann said her office has received information about these calls from Fredericksburg and Virginia Beach residents.

Man Drowns in Rappahannock River

A 26-year-old man drowned yesterday afternoon in the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Stafford County authorities said.

Dispatchers received a call about a swimmer who had gone underwater about 12:30 p.m. yesterday. When emergency crews, including dive teams, arrived at the scene it was too late to revive the man. His body was recovered from the water.

Authorities have identified the man but are not releasing his name until they notify his family.

Charlottesville Trying to Keep Amtrak

Charlottesville is fighting to save its Amtrak station as Congress debates drastic cuts that would eliminate the only passenger trains that run through the facility.

Last month, the House of Representatives voted to restore the funding. An amendment reinstated about $626 million in cuts to restore Amtrak's budget to its current level of $1.2 billion.

But the battle isn't over. Some opponents of Amtrak funding have argued that the struggling passenger rail company has been mismanaged, requiring repeated bailouts by the federal government. President Bush is seeking to end all federal support of Amtrak. Last month, a Senate committee called for cuts totaling about $656 million, which would force the national passenger rail to close lines, including the two through Charlottesville.

Big Foot Takes On Page County

A crew is shooting a Big Foot movie in Page County -- and some residents are rallying around the filming.

Independent filmmaker John Poague won't reveal his budget, although he says it's low. "I'm spending as much on this movie as Steven Spielberg would spend on his food," he joked.

Production started this month at Steve's Produce north of Stanley, with store employee Lois Roll grabbing a role snapping green beans. It wraps up July 14.

Poague's Capital Film Studios is based in Manassas. The movie could be available on DVD in six months. If released in theaters, it would hit screens next year, he said.

Alexandria Woman Sets Eating Record

A 105-pound Alexandria woman, Sonya Thomas, set an American record yesterday at the annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest in Coney Island, N.Y., by eating 37 beef franks in 12 minutes.

A regular on the competitive eating circuit, Thomas, known as "the Black Widow," ate her buns and hot dogs separately. She dipped the dogs in water, making them easier to chew and swallow.

Thomas, who manages a Burger King, was the highest-ranking American in the contest but finished second overall to a Japanese man who ate 49 franks in the same 12-minute period.

MARYLAND

Bartlett Uses Holiday to Push Flag Bill

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett has again introduced legislation that would override rules prohibiting flag displays.

When his original bill died last year, Bartlett, a western Maryland Republican who represents Frederick, proposed it again this year.

Bartlett is using patriotic holidays, including Flag Day and Independence Day, to promote his bill.

Flag dealers across the country also are working on a grass-roots attempt to gain support, with some taking Bartlett's legislation to this year's gathering of the National Independent Flag Dealers Association.

Restrictions on flags often revolve around a homeowner's desire to put up a flagpole. Colorado, Florida and Maryland have changed their laws to allow people to fly flags.

Missing Man Returns to Group Home

A 48-year-old man who went missing Saturday was back at his group home in Prince George's County last night, police said.

Dennis Lee Federline, who suffers from bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, had last been seen by his family members at 4 p.m. Saturday at his sister-in-law's home in the 200 block of Rolling Road in Gaithersburg, police said yesterday.

Federline reportedly left the residence with a gray and red backpack, rain poncho and four bottles of water and took a taxicab to Dickerson with the intention of going to the Appalachian Trail, police said.

"I feel very happy. . . . All Hispanics should vote. It's the only way to ensure our rights."

-- Jose Salazar, 70, a restaurant cashier from Mexico who became a U.S. citizen yesterday along with 40 other area residents. -- B7

Compiled from reports by staff writers Jonathan Abel and Philip Rucker and the Associated Press.