Popular birding sites across the country, are facing stricter regulations -- in some cases being required to hire a police escort -- as authorities beef up national security.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have been subject to increased government restrictions and scrutiny at airports and elsewhere. That bird-watchers have become a target is somewhat surprising, since all they do is ''walk quietly through the woods," as Brinkley put it.
But those woods are often around military bases, wastewater management plants, and dams -- places where government authorities fear that terrorists disguised as birders could lurk or strike.
And the equipment they carry -- binoculars, telescopes, and cameras -- can make birders look suspicious at first glance.
Birding at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel used to require only an annual permit that was easily available via mail, telephone, or fax; about 800 were distributed annually. To enter any of the three northern islands, which are not open to the public, a birder would only have to show the permit, a photo ID, and vehicle registration. The southernmost island, which has a restaurant and a fishing pier, is open to the public.
''Anyone could stop [on the islands]. We had no idea who was on the islands and who was not," said Clement Pruitt, director of operations and chief of police for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
But earlier this year, after Virginia's Department of Transportation determined that the ventilation buildings on each of the four islands were poorly secured, fences were erected around the buildings, and the three northern islands were closed to all but employees.
Under the rules, which took effect Friday, individuals or groups of no more than 15 people will have to arrange their visits in advance and pay $50 an hour to be escorted by an off-duty police officer. Upon arrival, all birders must provide photo identification and vehicle registration. Their belongings and vehicles may be examined at check-in and at any time during the visit.
''These sorts of national security issues seem to be intruding in ways one would never have expected. You expect airline security. You don't expect it when you go birding. Who knew you'd have a police escort?" said Perry Plumart, director of conservation advocacy for the American Bird Conservancy. (LA TIMES article via Boston Globe)
* The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Website