Mandy Roberts has learned patience really is a virtue since she first began birding in 2014.
In 2014, during a Black Swamp Bird Observatory raptor/owl field trip to Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area near Upper Sandusky, she was antsy and could hardly wait for the others to stop gazing at little brown birds so the group could proceed to the owl part of the trip. Today, she will spend hours waiting to see certain species.
“I wasn’t interested in what most of the group was doing. I wanted to hurry up and look for owls. Now I stare at cornfields 4-5 hours at a time,” she explained. “This is a great hobby, but it can be time-consuming.”
One would call her an expert as she begins her seventh year traversing Allen County and Ohio hoping to add new species to her list of sightings.
“People getting started in birding usually have a spark bird that gets them interested and mine was the Snowy Owl,” she said.
That was during an irruption year when the Snowy Owl from the arctic swung well south of its range for food and was sighted across Ohio.
She has seen these white birds at Bresler and Williams reservoirs and at the Bluffton Airport. In late November, she saw one along Hume Road where Kemp Road deadends. Allen County Wildlife Officer Craig Barr had informed her about that sighting.
An owl lover, she recalled, “driving way up to Lorain and saw one sitting on the ice on Lake Erie near the lighthouse.” That got her “hooked” and she went back the next day and “got some beautiful pictures.”
She sighted five owls in 2020 including the Snowy, Barred, a Great-horned pair, Short-eared, and a Saw-whet, which is about the size of a softball. The Saw-whet was the first one seen in the county.
Although she spends much of her bird time in Allen County and Ohio, she and a friend went to Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota, over New Year’s in 2018, hoping to see a Great Gray Owl. The temperature was minus 49 degrees and they didn’t use a heater so their equipment, which had to be brought to temperature carefully, would not fog up. And they got their bird.
“It was the most amazing experience,” Roberts said.
A special education teacher for Lima City Schools at South Sci-Tech Magnet, Roberts spends much of her free time birding.
She began checking on the number of species that have been sighted in Allen County and discovered through records from the 1970s until 2019 that 194 had been recorded by one person over the course of that time. During 2020, she alone sighted 228, including 33 warblers and several county firsts.
“That’s a pretty big deal,” Roberts said.
During 2018, she traveled close to 25-30,000 miles across Ohio spotting 305 species. She finished fifth in the state among birders reporting species.
During the Ohio big year, if she heard from friends or saw something on social media, Roberts may have been “off to maybe Cincinnati one day and Ashtabula the next day.”
She has gone to Grayling, Mich., to see Kirtland’s warblers.
Roberts has seen some amazing things while birding. And she agrees with many outdoor types who say, you have to be there to see such wild things, which means spending a good amount of time in the outdoors in fields, woods, marshes and along water.
This past weekend at Bresler Reservoir, she found a Pomarine Jaeger, a bird that should not be seen in Allen County, since it is a seabird that currently should be in the tropical oceans. In the summer it breeds in the Arctic tundra. It definitely is not a bird usually found inland.
Roberts, who has access to a private wetland in Allen County, saw the first Sandhill Crane nest in Northwest Ohio and took photos of the parents and their colt. Unfortunately, one of the adults was killed by a vehicle, but the other reared the colt and they migrated. She’s hoping the adult finds a new mate and they return next year.
She has already “seen most of the ducks that will come through in 2021. In the spring, I’ll pick up a few such as the teal (blue and green wing). Shore birds are difficult in this this county, but there are a few.”
In addition to sighting birds, she takes some excellent photos, too.
She has had two published on the cover of the Ohio Cardinal, a publication of the Ohio Ornithological Society. One was of a Prairie Falcon, an extremely rare find in this area and the other was of a Blue Grosbeak.
“I was driving down the road in Allen County and literally heard it from my window. I slammed on my brakes, jumped out of the car and took its picture in a tree,” Roberts said of the grosbeak picture.
She has noticed more people out birding and attributes that to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a way people can get out of the house and do something.
“When I would go to the reservoirs, no one would be there with binoculars. Now, you will even see some with a scope,” Roberts said.
As for her future?
“I was going to take it easy this year, but it’s hard to stop. There are a lot of different habitats, a new metro park that opened, and I’m finding so many new places to go birding,” Roberts said.
Al Smith is a freelance outdoor writer. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @alsmithFL