Monday, April 28, 2008

MAJOR bird excitement here!

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.


jan m said...

We're not experts, but my husband and I agree, that it does appear to be a western tanager. The coloring and markings are right. That is a very exciting find!

Anonymous said...

Deb, how close are you to Duluth? If not too far, call Mike Hendrickson or Kim Eckert or any other good birder around there. If too far from Duluth, ask one of those guys who might be closer to your area. Seriously, call one of them right away tomorrow morning. I hope the bird stays around for a few days. There will be lots of people who would love to see this bird!!

Sue said...

Looks like a tanager to me, too. That's so cool! Aren't they pretty?

Deb said...

Jan M- Thanks for double checking; it's always nice to get a second (and third) opinion!

Cindy- In all my excitement last night, I didn't think to call one of them. I know Mike H, and he's probably less than 50 miles away in West Duluth, so I emailed him this morning with updated photos. Thanks for the reminder.

Sue- I got a closer look this morning, and he is lovely.

Anonymous said...

So THAT'S where my western tanager went. I've been wondering. Please tell him that we'll be glad to see him next year. He knows the address.

Deb said...

Thingfish- I'll pass the message along. I was wondering how this bird got so far off the usual course.