Golden Plover

While warblers are the main draw during The Biggest Week in American Birding, one of my favorite encounters from the 9 days that I was there in Ohio in May 2018 had nothing to do with warblers. It mostly had to do with dandelions.

golden plover
5-6-2018 – Howard Marsh, OH – Sally Ingraham

Golden Plover was a life bird for me, and there were probably close to a thousand there during the Biggest Week festival, taking a break from migrating in the perfect habitat that is Howard Marsh (nice mudflats and plenty of open ground). Their migration is one of the longest among shorebirds (from the Arctic to central/southern South America) so it was a well-deserved break, and made for a real treat for many people other than myself.

The fact thatĀ Howard Marsh was there for the Golden Plovers this year was really exciting too – it’s a brand new Metropark in the Toledo, OH, system. Formerly part of a working farm, the acreage was recently turned over to Metroparks and developed back into a wetland, providing a crucial stopping off point for many species of migrating birds, and contributing to the restoration of the waters of Lake Erie.

Howard Marsh had that squeaky new feel to it, with it’s bright white gravel roads and shiny boardwalks, but the crowd of birders who flocked to see the Golden Plover and other interesting shorebirds (Wilson’s Phalarope was another great sighting!) took a bit of the gleam off – in the best sort of way.

I was there without a spotting scope the first time I visited, so I personally saw to beating down a trail along the dikes in an effort to find a spot where I could get a better look at the Golden Plover through just my binoculars.

Because of this, I was treated to the spectacular view, detailed in the comic above, of the plovers in the field of yellow flowers – a spot that was hidden behind a dike from the main viewing platforms. I sat on the dike for an hour watching the birds dip in and out of the flowers, marveling at their glorious breeding plumage.

I could (and probably will) fill a book with memories of bird encounters from just this 9-day period along the coast of Lake Erie. As the weeks have passed, however, and my excitement over Snowy Owl and Black-billed Cuckoo and Cerulean Warbler has faded to a pleasant glow, the image that has hung on, the memory that rises unbidden every couple of days is of the plovers in the yellow field, a blaze of hot gold somehow sending a shower of light UP to greet the sun – and me at the edge, riding this magic carpet along to a moment of perfect, complete joy.


Cuckoo for Cuckoos

I have seen a lot of cuckoos lately (and not just of the human variety!) Early last month in Ohio during Biggest Week a Black-billed Cuckoo made a shockingly visible appearance along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, joining a terrific quantity of warblers right overhead for a moment, before winging off to a hidden perch where (as is more typical) it remained for hours, occasionally vocalizing just to remind folks that it was there, but of course still invisible.

Then there was the Greater Roadrunner that I saw at the Albuquerque International Sunport on May 30th (there’s a comic-version of that story HERE).

Back home in Pittsburgh, PA, I went to Duck Hollow for the first time in weeks, and I just had this funny feeling that I would see another cuckoo…!


cuckoo june 2018_smaller
6-1-2018 – Duck Hollow, Pittsburgh, PA – Sally Ingraham


While I was traveling throughout May, the woods down along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, PA, turned into a veritable jungle. So green and tangled and full of birds that are buried in too much foliage to really see them…! On the evening of the first day in June the trail from Duck Hollow, which follows the riverĀ beneath the Homestead Greys Bridge and runs down almost to Hazelwood, was a tunnel, full of purple shadows and puddles of dimming sunlight.

I had this feeling, like I said, that I would find a Yellow-billed Cuckoo down there that night, and incredibly, not only did I find one but I got great looks at it. It flew from one side of the “canopy” along the trail to the other, and then sat in a nice window of tree branches for quite awhile. In fact, I wandered off in search of an Orchard Oriole before the cuckoo moved, although it was gone when I looked back down the trail for it.

With these 3 species under my belt for the year, I now feel compelled to see MORE cuckoos – however, the remaining options are all scarce. I’ll have to trek to certain parts of FL with some serious intent to find a Mangrove Cuckoo, and to Alaska (if I can get there right now!) to probably NOT find a Common Cuckoo. More possible is the Groove-billed Ani (yes, it’s cuckoo!), which I’ve seen before in TX and which I just might be able to find when I am there this year in November… And if I find that, why shouldn’t I be able to find the even rarer Smooth-billed Ani?!

In the end I may have to content myself with the little wooden cuckoo which pops out of the clock every 15 minutes. That, and my local lovely Yellow-billed friend.


May 2018 – PA, OH, and NM

I was traveling for much of May 2018, zipping over to Ohio to participate in The Biggest Week in American Birding and then spending time in New Mexico with my Mom. One trip had everything to do with birds, while the other provided me with relatively incidental opportunities to bird watch.

I made several comics during both trips, only one of which ended up being posted on Interesting Ducks – you can revisit that Chain of Events HERE. Here are the others, with a few comments to set the scene.


yellow warbler May 2018
5-1-2018 – Frick Park, Pittsburgh, PA – Sally Ingraham


I saw my first warbler in Pittsburgh, PA, along the Nine Mile Run trail to Duck Hollow, in Frick Park, on the first day of May. On May 4th, during an afterschool comics class I teach at The Ellis School, I quickly drew a memory of it – partly in anticipation of the wealth of warblers I expected to see the next morning. I was leaving class and driving directly to Port Clinton, OH, to meet up with my Dad and the ZEISS team for a week or so at Magee Marsh! I saw many, many more Yellow Warblers over the course of what turned into a 9 day trip – but this first flash of exuberant yellow bird was my favorite.


zeiss biggest week
5-11-2018 – Black Swamp Bird Observatory, OH – Sally Ingraham


While in Ohio for Biggest Week, I spent 5 days exclusively birding, and 4 days working for ZEISS in the Optics Tent. There’s nothing better, when you’re trying to sell optics, than walking outside with an interested customer and showing them what a pair of bins can do for you in the wild – and of course, no one can complain when there are wonderful birds like the Wilson’s Warbler to study!


5-24-2018 – Red Rock State Park, Gallup, NM – Sally Ingraham


My Mom and I spent some time in Gallup, NM, doing volunteer work later in the month of May. My parents lived in the area for 10 years and I was born in Gallup, so it is always interesting to be back there. On our one day off, Mom and I went hiking in Red Rock State Park, where we explored the trail to Church Rock, which I remembered hiking as a kid. We then climbed to the top of Pyramid where we got an incredible 360 degree view of the area – 100 miles in every direction.


5-24-2018 – McGaffey Lake, Cibola Nat’l Forest, NM – Sally Ingraham


That same day, after the hike, I requested that we drive into Cibola National Forest beyond Fort Wingate, to see if I remembered a favorite picnicking spot from my childhood. Maybe it was different, but I couldn’t be sure. I was certain that the Northern Flickers were different out there, however! Around Pittsburgh, PA, they are “yellow-shafted” as opposed to the Western “red-shafted” birds. The markings on their heads are quite a bit different. The “red-shafted” Flicker is seen above, while the variation that I am more familiar with can be seen in this comic from April.


5-30-2018 – Albuquerque International Sunport. NM – Sally Ingraham

In the “sunport” in Albuquerque, on the day Mom and I left NM, I marveled that we had been in the state for nearly 10 days without seeing a Roadrunner. We were lingering in the beautiful Observation Tower (a space that makes the ABQ airport my favorite in the country) and I had just barely finished speaking when a Greater Roadrunner appeared on the tarmac below. I could instantly tell, just by its silhouette, what it was, and I shouted for Mom to look. We had to laugh as it zoomed around for a minute, before it disappeared behind a plane parked at a nearby gate.


It was a nice way to end a fantastic month of birding, making the 71st species I saw in the month of May and the 185th bird of the year!


A Chain of Events


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5-5-2018 – Magee Marsh, OH – Sally Ingraham


Reporting live from Ohio where I’m taking part in the Biggest Week in American Birding! Since last Saturday I have spent my days mostly watching warblers around the boardwalk at Magee Marsh – but now and then I have ventured to other areas to see what else I can find. This chain of events – a bullfrog scaring me and then me scaring a Sora Rail – really did happen 4 times in a row one afternoon…!

Next comic I’ll have some warbler stories, I promise.

Nebby Neighbors

I was out for a walk yesterday in Frick Park on the first really warm day of the spring here in Pittsburgh, PA. It was early, so there were a lot of birds bouncing around and vocalizing.


4-13-18 Flicker
4-13-2018 – Frick Park, Pittsburgh, PA – Sally Ingraham


These two Carolina Chickadees continued to hang out on the power line while the Flicker went in and out of the hole it was excavating. The Chickadees reminded me of nebby neighbors (“nebby” is the Pittsburgh equivalent of “nosy”) who catch you in the midst of yard work, and then stand around gabbing and offering advice while you break your back digging a post hole…!

Not that the Flicker seemed to care. It is breeding season, and there was another Northern Flicker calling nearby. Later on I saw them both in trees a few yards apart, “singing” (if you can call it that) their piercing rattle of a tune to each other.

There are noticeably more birds now, both species and quantities, and the Goldfinches are getting really yellow. Spring has been very slow to arrive, but I do believe it is finally here.

Hermit Thrush

3-21-18 hermit thrush
3-18-2018 – Frick Park, Pittsburgh, PA – Sally Ingraham

I can’t count how many times I’ve stood at the edge of a woodland, listening to a Hermit Thrush sing, trying to pinpoint the sound and find the bird in the undergrowth or on a low bough. The thrush is often impossible to locate, seemingly singing right at your feet but completely invisible, despite being a fairly large, round bird.

Therefore I was startled into near-laughter when one flew across my path the other day, and although I didn’t get to enjoy it’s lyrical, echoing song, I did get a very nice look at it’s spotted tummy and russet red tail.

Quite a treat for a winter afternoon in Pittsburgh, PA.