Monday, March 26, 2007

Birding by Metro: Introduction

Many Washington residents are carless, some because of the hassle or expense of finding parking, others out of necessity. Some residents own cars but choose to limit their driving because of high gas prices, the annoyance of sitting in traffic, or concern over greenhouse gas emissions. Some DC-area birders fall into these categories. How can birding fit into a car-free lifestyle?

The answer is that birding is still a viable pursuit in the District, even without driving, through the use of public transportation. While the use of public transportation imposes some limitations, most major sites are indeed accessible. This series will discuss the birding sites that fall along the various Metro routes, along both rail and bus lines. Since this post will serve as an introduction, here are a few general principles to birding by Metro.

  • Know the fares and schedules in advance. Timetables and fare information for rail and bus routes are available on the WMATA website. Buses require either exact change or a SmarTrip card.
  • Map locations in advance. Use mapping resources to plan a route from the birding site to the nearest rail station or bus stop. This is especially important if the birding site is in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Google Maps and Google Earth offer sharp satellite images of the District.
  • Be safe. All of the sites and routes that I will cover in this series are generally well-patrolled, and I have not had any uncomfortable or dangerous incidents. Still, use common sense: take a friend for birding in isolated or unfamiliar areas, and watch out for traffic at busy intersections.
  • Be aware of limitations. Not all of the best birding areas are easily accessible by Metro, and some require a substantial walk from the station or bus stop. Factor for these when you plan for time and distance. For some locations, travel by Metro may take longer than travel by car, so plan accordingly.
As I have mentioned before, I do not own car, so I have to use the Metro system if I want to bird within the District. I learned the best routes by trial and error over the first year that I spent birding. The downside of getting to sites by Metro instead of by car is that it restricts which sites I can visit easily; there are some places that I rarely or never visit. There is an upside, though, and that is getting to know some places very well. In particular, I have explored most of the nooks and crannies of the National Arboretum in my search for new birds.

Posts from this series will eventually be compiled into an article for the DC Audubon website.