I just may have sighted a very unusual species for Minnesota! We were eating dinner, and I noticed a yellow bird sitting in a spruce tree about 50 feet away. Goldfinch, I thought, and continued eating. I looked up again about 5 minutes later, and the bird was still there. I noticed then that its face looked a bit red. Blushing goldfinch? Finally my curiosity got the better of me and I got up to get the binoculars. As soon as I got a close look, I knew this was no ordinary goldfinch, if it was even a goldfinch. No black on the forehead, instead the whole face was a scarlet red. The bird just did not look goldfinch-like either. For some reason, perhaps my early years of perusing and memorizing bird books, I thought, "tanager?" I flipped to the tanagers in Sibley's, and there it was--Western tanager!
I ran for The Hermit's 12x zoom camera, but when I got back the bird was gone. I paced around for a few minutes, then it came back! I hurriedly snapped a few photos, knowing they would be blurry because it was already after 7:00 and we didn't have any direct sunlight in the woods. But, anything would be better than nothing.
So, bird experts: Do these blurry photos say "Western tanager"? I'm thinking goldfinches don't have the black extending over the back, this bird is not as canary yellow as a goldfinch, and the male goldfinches around here are maybe 80-90% molted. There's also that yellow wingbar somewhat visible in the first photo, although I got a better look at it, that would distinguish this from a goldfinch.
This is so cool! According to the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union, there have only been two other confirmed sightings of Western tanagers in this county. Sightings are rare all across Minnesota, although there are more sightings in spring than in any other season. This also reminds me how incredibly serendipitous birding really is. Of course, it helps if you're paying attention.