BODEGA BAY, Calif. - "Birds are not aggressive creatures, Miss. They bring beauty to the world ..."
-- Mrs. Bundy, to Melanie Daniels, in "The Birds"
When last seen -- cinematically, that is -- this pleasant town on the Sonoma County coast had been engulfed in Hitchcockian horror. Birds, birds everywhere. Crows, gulls and sparrows. Angry birds, not of the smartphone species.
Of course, that was in 1963, when the moviegoing public was macabrely captivated by Alfred Hitchcock's thriller "The Birds," filmed in Bodega Bay and its smaller cousin, Bodega, five miles inland.
Now, 50 years later, as the community makes plans for the golden anniversary of this silver-screen classic, an avian invasion once more has taken hold here.
It's the annual winter migration of all kinds of birds, attracted in large numbers to Bodega Bay by the irresistible geographic combination of open shoreline and diverse flora. The National Audubon Society has called this area one of the nation's top birding spots.
On any late-winter or early-spring weekend, you're as liable to see as many folks peering through binoculars as fisherman dropping pots for Dungeness crab. Bird-watching ranks with whale-watching, crabbing, camping and hiking as the prime outdoor activities for a Bodega weekend trip.
But, yes, movie buffs still make a pilgrimage to "The Birds" shooting sites, though they may leave disappointed. The inland hamlet of Bodega is a better "Birds"-watching locale, with the movie's schoolhouse intact. Alas, no tours. Private residence.
No such disappointment for real bird-watching.
"It's a top area because it's right on one of the five principle migration routes," said Tom McCuller, a member of the Madrone Audubon Society of Sonoma County. "Both spring and fall, not only seabirds but a lot of land birds use it as a migration route. It's a special place."
About the only species you won't find flitting around Bodega Bay -- at the harbor, along the Spud Point mudflats, the rocks overlooking Bodega Head and the shoreline at Doran Beach -- are good ol' American crows. Those, along with gulls, were the prime avian villains in "The Birds."
McCuller shook his head, wryly, when asked about crow-spotting.
"I heard (the movie) people went to a dump somewhere to get a bunch of crows and gulls," he said. "They don't really have any here."
"Don't they ever stop migrating?"
-- Annie Hayworth, looking warily to the sky
On an hourlong tour of birding hot spots hosted by McCuller, though, you can see the crow's larger and more majestic kin -- the raven. But just one. They aren't plentiful in the Bodega Bay area, perhaps still smarting from all the bad publicity the movie engendered.
Gulls, on the other hand, are ubiquitous, soaring and diving and rising again. Nary a one swooped down and pecked our foreheads, which happened in the film to Tippi Hedren's character, Melanie.
Every month or so, McCuller leads Madrone Audubon tours of the Bodega Bay hot spots -- Hole in the Head, Rail Ponds, Doran Beach, Bodega Head and the harbor in general. One place he doesn't take groups, but recommends to birders on their own, is an area of dense foliage, including willows and Japanese maples, below the deck of Diekmann's Store on Highway 1.
"A great secret spot," he said.
Other spots welcome birders, who marvel at the array of avian visitors.
On our quest, we saw scores of yellow-rumped warblers at the marshy area called the Rail Ponds, their telltale dabs of hind-end brightness flashing as they snatched insects.
Birds are so omnipresent here that all we had to do was walk to the other side of the road to catch a group of western grebes, shorebirds with necks similar to the swan's, in repose on the mudflats.
All along the harbor, horned grebes, Brant geese and a variety of loons hang out. The loons are McCuller's favorite.
"Starting in March and into April, they get their breeding plumage, and they become magnificent," he said. "Completely different colors. Their hormones are flowing so they start mating rituals, pairing up, you know."
He pointed excitedly beyond some docked boats.
"Look at that one, diving down!" he said.
The above-the-marquee birds, those the general public will instantly recognize, are slightly more reclusive here.
Two peregrine falcons make Bodega Bay home, McCuller reports, one perching in eucalyptus trees, the other at Doran Beach. Bald eagles perch in cypress trees near the fire station at Doran Beach. Black-crowned night herons congregate at Hole in the Head, a pond near Bodega Head that resulted after townsfolk stopped construction of a nuclear-power plant in the 1960s.
"This is a 'migrant trap,' a place that sticks out into the ocean with trees," McCuller said of Hole in the Head. "Most land birds migrate at night. They see these trees and come down. There are lots of Eastern birds that come from the Arctic and get lost and wind up here."
The town's birds certainly seem to like these digs. They rise up, do something approximating the Harlem shake,