Birdbrain Blog

Meet the Author

Lakewood Library hosted a virtual “meet the author” event to discuss my books about Ohio birds and how birding is a form of mindfulness, the state of being conscious and aware. Watch on YouTube

Laura McDermott Lakewood Library event

August Update

As summer starts to wind down, migratory birds begin their journey south. Parents continue to raise their young and many of the calls you hear at this time of year are juveniles practicing their tunes. I also believe, although I’ve not seen research on it, many calls are families traveling together and communicating their location. I hope you enjoy the photos I’ve taken showing the journey and more importantly that you are enjoying the journey yourself.

Eastern Screech Owl

For sure one of my most exciting finds of August was this Eastern Screech Owl who winked at me. I heard a great commotion of chickadees and titmice and they were sounding the alarm that this owl was nearby. I have never before seen one in the wild so this was quite a thrill. It stayed long enough to get some photos but never came out from behind branches. It knows something I don’t.

Trumpeter Swan Family

Trumpeter Swans have had their challenges from a conservation standpoint so I always find it enjoyable to see their population thriving. This handsome family of 3 babies with their parents was enjoying breakfast at Battelle Darby park on the Teal Trail. They were not cooperating for a family photo with all of them together with heads above water so here’s an action shot. Just like our families, right?

Cooper’s Hawk Juvenile

“Mom, Dad, what’s for breakfast???” This youngster was making a ton of noise and being less than stealthy the morning I saw him or her. I always wonder if the parents come back and ‘shush’ the young for making so much noise. But I get it, I get hangry in the morning too.

Little Blue Heron Juveniles

We don’t often get Little Blue Herons in Ohio, except during migration season. And this year for whatever reason, we’ve had a bunch. This photo was taken at Scioto Audubon and I saw one at Battelle Darby also. They will become blue next spring / summer.

July Update

During July, most birds are busy raising fledglings, showing them the ropes on where to find food and proper manners. Birdsong starts to diminish as they no longer need to defend territory or attract mates. The singing we hear in many cases is a parent teaching its young and or a youngster practicing its new songs.

Common Yellowthroat

This beautiful warbler breeds in central Ohio and continued to sing in July. Most of the time, they sing from hidden locations but this guy held a beautiful pose while singing at Battelle Darby metropark.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Not to be confused with a Red-headed Woodpecker, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has a nearly but not fully red head. This lovely bird was working on finding insects in the tree and yet called softly as she / he worked.

Eastern Towhee

Another bird who usually sings from hidden locations, this one was up and visible early in the morning at Cedar Ridge trail at Battelle.

Willow Flycatcher

OK sure, I posted a Willow Flycatcher last month. But I couldn’t resist sharing this picture of this one in mid chirp.

June Update

Spring migration wound down in June and most birds were busy with nesting and raising teeny tiny fledglings. The weather was quite lovely for the most part, getting out for walks and birding.

Black-crowned Night Heron

I see this guy or gal on a somewhat consistent basis on the bike trail near my home if I’m out early like 6:30AM. I didn’t hear it calling though its beak was opening and closing; maybe it was talking to itself.

Tufted Titmouse

This bird was doing some morning stretches and grooming in between calls and I got this great shot where you can see the feathers.

Eastern Meadowlark

A beautiful, flutelike call is usually what tips me off to an Eastern Meadowlark being nearby. They often disappear into foliage but this one was briefly out for a video and photo shoot.

Willow Flycatcher

Another cool sounding bird who is tough to spot, more easily heard than seen.

May Update

No other time of the year is more exciting for birding in Ohio than now, early May. As I write this blog, unusual visitors are hopping about in the treetops of my backyard and neighborhood. Who woulda thought a Black-throated Green warbler would hang out in an urban setting? I hope you are enjoying the warming temperatures and beautiful days of May as much as I am.

Bald Eagle baby a.k.a. tiny dinosaur

Two eaglets arrived in our local nest in late May and people from all over have enjoyed watching them grow up.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

One of the many migrating species who, in my mind, is brave to migrate the distance he or she will go. Not sure why the term ‘yellow-bellied’ arose to imply someone who is not brave.

Blue-winged Teal

Ever think to yourself “why do they call that bird a (color + body part) that? I’m not seeing it. Well here you go, a Blue-winged Teal shows his lovely blue wing patch which I almost never see.

Eastern Towhee

One of my favorite spring sounds / calls is the beautiful whistle of the Eastern Towhee. They often hide well in forests and bushes so tough to see but in spring, they are vocal and more visible.

April Update

The past month has given us third and fourth winter, as we call it, here in Ohio. Relatively speaking, February weather was much warmer and nicer than March. The good news is spring has officially arrived all the same and a few hearty birds have started to arrive. Despite our dips into freezing temperatures, the trees are starting to bloom, the daffodils and hyacinth are up and the hellebores continue to shine through.

Birdwise, breeding season is in full swing for many species. By now, you may have heard the chorus starting up in the morning with Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds and House Finches singing their little hearts out. I am back to my “old job” doing technology work for the time being and therefore find any chance to get out birding all the more precious. Every trip out in the field (or even my neighborhood) gives me a welcome pause for my brain.

Song Sparrow has a song in its heart

Cooper’s Hawk checks out my backyard

Brown Thrashers have started calling from treetops

Eastern Meadowlark sings a jaunty tune

March Update

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect late winter to be good for birding and for the most part, you’re so right. When it’s very cold, birds are hiding out, hanging out waiting for spring. But because the light cycles have started to change, perhaps you’ve also noticed some of our hardier birds have started to sing. I’m frequently hearing Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees and even House Finches crooning a lovely tune in the mornings.

Many larger birds, including owls, ducks and eagles are in full breeding mode with the change of day length. Here in Ohio, we’ve had a pretty mild winter all in all which helped me get out and enjoy walks and taking videos of our local residents.

My featured photos this month are from an eagle couple, Annie and Apollo who have been together for a few years now. They moved their nest from last year a few hundred feet down the river and have, apparently, laid at least one egg in February. Please note, I have taken video for the most part of the lovely couple so the photos are not the highest quality. But one thing in life I’ve learned is to strive for progress over perfection. So please enjoy a sneak peek into Annie and Apollo’s life as, hopefully, parents.

“That looks delicious, can I have some?”

Annie knows it’s crucial to get roughage in her diet

Like most couples, Annie and Apollo sometimes bicker

Work on the house continues. Apollo (?) grabs a stick.

February Update

In breaking news, the Groundhog may or may not see its shadow on Groundhog Day. And that will mean we may or may not have six more weeks of winter. Did you know there are many groundhogs making predictions about this years’ weather patterns? Therefore, different “answers” to the question are possible. Of course, more than one of these answers can be right / true, depending on where you live. Hmmm, sounds like a lesson. The most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, hails from a small town in Pennsylvania. If you have seen the Groundhog Day movie, Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell cover the breaking news from there. Phil has been right just 39% of the time in the 135 years of this tradition. Since he will probably say 6 more weeks today, I like that stat.

Fun facts about groundhogs to amaze your friends and family include:

  • Groundhogs can run 9 miles an hour, can swim and climb trees
  • They have 22 teeth
  • Groundhogs whistle when alarmed or are courting
  • An average ground hog weighs 12-15 pounds and Punxsutawney Phil weighs 20. He probably gets a bit of extra snacks to maintain his plump, round stature which looks good for his big day.

Birding and Book News

Progress on the Belize next edition continues, with the help of my good friends. Renée has expanded her talents to include design work and is in the process of adding new photos and revising the cover to be consistent with other books. I’ve added some of the great content from the Seattle book to round out Belize with respect to the beginning birding and mindfulness topics. Jayne has painted a wonderful toucan picture that will transport you right to the jungle in an instant. Look for that release coming soon!

January birding typically offers fewer birds and bird photo opportunities, especially when it’s cloudy, which is waaaay often. But birds are hearty and still around, especially in the morning and when the sun comes out. January is also a great time to learn bird calls, since fewer of them are around and they can be heard calling singly more than some months. OK, yes, I’m reaching for good birding news but it is true, I heard some great calls when I bundled up and headed out for a brisk, though brief, birdwalk. Check them out and enjoy!

American Tree Sparrow

Fluffy Red-tailed Hawks

Downy Woodpecker (front) White-throated Sparrow (back)

Eastern Bluebird

January Update

Well, well, a new year is upon us. For many of us, that means reflections on the past year and new resolutions to tackle. I, like many others, find that I give up on resolutions quickly. The first of January and through the month typically brings out LOTS of new runners and exercisers and by Groundhog Day, the streets and gyms have quieted back down. As I understand it, that’s because resolutions scare our brains into fleeing. That is, we try to tackle something so large and complex, we trigger our ‘fight / flight’ mechanism and soon determine that hiding under the covers will be much safer. So, I go about my attempts to grow and improve on the philosophy that if I improve just a little bit each and every day, week and month, pretty soon I’ve improved a lot.

In book news, I have not released a new book, yet, however have started work on a second edition of Belize. I am planning a birding tour of Belize in late fall and this book will be a companion to the tour. Once again, you may say “Laura, you have no knowledge of or experience in running a tour”. And to you I say, yes, my friend, that is true. But I didn’t know how to…buy a house, build a technology solution, or write a book…until I jumped in and did it. So I’m breaking it down, learning the ropes and taking it small. The first tour will be a pilot with people I know who will give me honest feedback and not strangle me if it’s not perfect. Then the second tour will be better etc.

And in birding news, December did not bring a TON of new birds…ok almost none…but it gives me the chance to go through the memories of the year and find some favorites. Some of the birds I will share here are literally from my back yard and some are from my camera roll from the year gone by (sniff). So on a day when, in Ohio, we have gray skies, spitty mist and thirty something degrees, I will jump in my time machine and go back to better weather days.


Merlin says Eastern-wood Peewee or Willow Flycatcher. These are tricky to id…feedback welcome, this is from central Ohio in May

A Palm Warbler sporting its lovely chestnut colored cap in spring

An Osprey with a particularly intense expression and cool lighting on its tail feathers

Green Heron on a summer morning, oh how I miss you!

December Update

On the heels of the release of Mindful Birding: A Beginner’s Guide, you may be asking yourself “why, Laura, would I need a book about birds of Seattle if I live in (INSERT CITY and STATE HERE)?” This month’s blog features some of the cool stuff in the new book that may just pique your interest. And besides, birding this time of year is chilly business so I have way fewer new photos to share…just bein’ real.

Mindful Bird book cover

Birding Learning Curve

Have you considered getting started with birdwatching but got overwhelmed by the sheer volume of birds? The United States is home to in the neighborhood of 1000 birds in our, um, neighborhoods so who could blame you? In the new book, I explain how birding, like pretty much anything new, will have a learning curve that starts out slow but eventually takes off. And I offer an approach to get past our mind’s tendency to put on the brakes when we get overwhelmed.

birding learning curve graphic
Birdbrain Learning Curve © Laura McDermott

Keys to Identification

As I wrote this book, I went back to the basics to think through how I learned to identify birds way back when. Similar to explaining to someone how to back out of the driveway when we’ve gotten to the point of doing that from “muscle memory,” that task was harder than I realized. But in the interest of sharing my knowledge, write it down I did. I then included a chapter on visual ID, a chapter on audio ID, and each featured bird includes a table of quick identifiers. Here’s an example along with one of my favorite up close and personal experiences with the MYSTERY BIRD.

Sandhill Crane photo
Mystery Bird! Sandhill Crane
ColorOverall gray with red around eyes
Shape & sizeTall, heavy body with long neck; 47 inches
Distinguishing characteristicsGather in large flocks, dance
Audio characteristicsLoud, bugling call
Typical locationAround marshy areas, bogs

And finally, recent bird sightings

Red-bellied Woodpecker wonders why it is not called a Red-headed Woodpecker
Wild Turkey celebrates Thanksgiving

November Update

Mindful Bird book cover
Hot off the press!

Mindful Birding: A Beginner’s Guide, my new book, features the amazing work of a team of friends, family, neighbors and fellow birding enthusiasts from Seattle and Ohio. The focus is on teaching my friend and college roommate, Renée, how to get started with birding and mindfulness. And get started she did with gusto. She took nearly all of the photos featured in the book, improved her health through regular walking and is now a card carrying, birding nerd like me. This month’s blog features Renée’s photography in the hopes of inspiring you to also join the club.


“Birding goes hand in hand with mindfulness, and this book is a great resource to get you started doing both! Laura’s enthusiasm, humor, and birding knowledge make this an enjoyable and insightful read.” –Seymore Gulls, Portland, OR birdwatcher/guide, author of Neighborhood Birding 101

Birds of Seattle

photo of Anna's Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird
photo of Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
photo of Rhinoceros Auklet
Rhinoceros Auklet