Pat Pulcini squints toward the sky. Her hand rests on her brow, blocking the sun’s reflection off the wings of screeching F-16 fighters leaving the Toledo Express Airport behind her. Unimpressed, Pulcini turns her sights away from the steel birds and back to her search. She’s looking for something quieter, something more tranquil, more exhilarating — a Sialia currucoides, the mountain bluebird.
Earlier this month Pulcini, technology director for the College of Pharmacy, was the first to publicly proclaim the sighting of a mountain bluebird in Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.
The bird, a small, brilliant sky blue thrush with a lighter-blue chest, white underbelly and a thin, pointed black bill, had never before been sighted and documented in northwest Ohio. From the western edge of Nebraska to the coast of California and up into Alaska, the bird resides in large numbers in the Western part of the country, but has only ever been seen one other time in Ohio (1989), and never before in this region.
But on this brisk, sunny, Thursday morning in April, less than two weeks after Pulcini initially discovered it, the mountain bluebird happily sits out in the open atop a flower just outside the entrance to Oak Openings.
“The planes don’t seem to bother him,” Pulcini said, looking at the bird through her tripod-mounted scope.
People don’t seem to bother it either. Half a dozen or so other bird watchers, or birders, crowd the shoulder of Route 295, take pictures and stalk the bluebird as he flutters from moth mullein to moth mullein. That’s just a fraction of the crowd Pulcini said flocks to this forking of Route 295 and Wilkins Road on the weekends, looking to catch a glimpse.
Marianne Duvendack, one of those fellow birders, said Pulcini took quite a risk when she posted her sighting on Rarebird.org, an Ohio birder message board.
“She’s got some chutzpa for putting this out there,” she said. “She put her life on the line, OK. You don’t just go around telling people you saw a mountain bluebird in Ohio.”
Pulcini said she is not very well-known among area birders and was a bit worried about a possible backlash from the birding community if her sighting was wrong. When she eventually worked up the courage to make the claim, the trepidation could be felt in the very first line of her post.
“Now I know that this is a real rarity for this area, but…” she wrote.
Pulcini went on to explain that when leaving Oak Openings with her husband, Curt, on April 5, she spotted the small, bright blue bird flying from a small tree to the top of a flower.
“It doesn’t belong here,” she said. “But, I just thought there wasn’t anything else it could possibly be.”
After the posting, it didn’t take long for others to notice, and Pulcini’s worst fears weren’t realized. Her sighting was real.
After a few pictures and confirmation from the birding elite, interest exploded. News of the finding made its way into The Blade, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune online.
“People are coming from all over to see this bird,” Pulcini said. “Even if they’ve seen it elsewhere in the country, they have to come to say they saw a mountain bluebird in Ohio.”
It’s a need she understands. After a bird feeder gift from in-laws got her and her husband into birding, Pulcini has been traveling to see birds. She’s migrated as far as Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica just for the chance to spot something exotic.
“I just enjoy watching them,” Pulcini said. “Equipment wise, it’s a cheap hobby, and I think it’s becoming more popular.”
The seven people standing on the side of a highway in northwest Ohio watching the every move of a small bluebird is testament to that.
“Some people think birders are kooks,” Pulcini said. “And I don’t know — I guess I probably am a little bit.”
At press time, the bird had not been sighted since April 17.