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 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 that 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.