Tanagers among recent migrants passing through region

8:57 am | September 22, 2013

I had a good walk at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 15. I ran into a large flock of mixed migrants along one of the walking trails leading from the back parking lot at the disc golf area. For most of the walk, I didn’t see anything other than Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Blue Jays.

Then, I ran into a flock of 50 to 60 American Robins. At least half of the individuals in this flock consisted of young birds. In addition to the robins, the flock contained a Brown Thrasher and a thrush of an undetermined species. When the robins got excited, it drew other birds close, including several warblers.

I got Bird No. 183 for the year when I saw a Blue-winged Warbler in a tangle of grape vines. Other warblers included Magnolia, Tennessee, American Redstart and what I think was a Brewster’s Warbler. Got too brief of a glimpse to be sure of the last one. The flock also contained Red-eyed Vireos, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens and a Downy Woodpecker and Pileated Woodpecker. A few warblers probably slipped by unnoticed. It was definitely the biggest flock I have found so far this fall.

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I birded at Austin Springs the next morning. I saw several good birds, although none to add to the year list. I got a great look of a Yellow-throated Warbler that seemed to follow me. Of course, I didn’t have a camera with me to try to get a photo of this cooperative bird. I also saw shorebirds — three Solitary Sandpipers, one Spotted Sandpiper and several Killdeer — as well as three Green Herons, a Great Blue Heron and an Osprey. I also saw some distant swallows, probably Tree Swallows.

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On Tuesday evening, Sept. 17, I made my first-ever visit to Willow Springs Park in Johnson City. I’d never tried birding this park and wanted to give it a try. When I first arrived, I found it is very popular with man’s best friend. A large dog run provides a place for city dogs to run, scamper and play. I bypassed the dog run and took some wooded trails that eventually connected back to the paved trails near a small pond inside the park. That’s where my birding luck began to change.

 

Photo by Jean PotterThe male Summer Tanager is the only all-red bird found in the United States.

Photo by Jean Potter
The male Summer Tanager is the only all-red bird found in the United States.

I saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and that uncorked a flurry of sightings, including several American Robins, a Brown Thrasher, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Gray Catbirds and a male Northern Cardinal gathering caterpillars to feed to a hungry immature cardinal. A brief appearance by a female Summer Tanager allowed me to add this bird to my year list as Bird No. 184. I also found a second warbler — Magnolia — in the same tree with the cardinals.

I wasn’t very familiar with the park, but I think that if I get better acquainted with the good spots to find birds that Willow Springs Park could become a worthwhile regular destination. The park also featured a large, unmowed field set aside as a butterfly habitat.

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The Summer Tanager I saw at Willow Springs Park was a female. Over the years, I have seen very few male Summer Tanagers. My best sighting of a male Summer Tanager took place during a spring visit to Fripp Island, S.C., many years ago. Most of the Summer Tanagers I have observed in Northeast Tennessee have been females. They are less common locally than their relative, the Scarlet Tanager. Worldwide, there have traditionally been about 240 species of tanagers. Experts have changed some of the ways they classify tanagers, so that figure is no longer set in stone. Tanagers are a New World family of birds. Other tanagers occur in the western United States, including the Western Tanager and Hepatic Tanager. Some of the world’s other tanagers are known by descriptive names, including Flame-colored Tanager, Green-headed Tanager, Golden-chevroned Tanager, Azure-shouldered Tanager, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager and Diademed Tanager.

The Summer Tanager holds the distinction of being the only all-red bird in North America. Birds like Northern Cardinals and Scarlet Tanagers also have some black in their plumage. Females are greenish-yellow and similar to female Scarlet Tanagers, but they have darker wings and larger bills.

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There’s always a point during fall migration when, despite all the excitement of finding new birds, I realize the reason for all the frantic activity is that all these birds are on their way south to spend the winter. For the next six months, most of the warblers and other colorful birds — tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds — will be absent from Northeast Tennessee. The winter months bring their own cast of feathered friends, so there are compensations. So, just keep in mind that fall migration is a fleeting time. Enjoy the birds visiting your yard or favorite park now before they’re gone until next spring.

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A great way to see some of the birds making their way through the region is to attend one of the Saturday bird walks held every October at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton. This year’s walks will be held Oct. 5, Oct. 12, Oct. 19 and Oct. 26. I help conduct these walks with other members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society. Walks begin at 8 a.m. at the parking lot at the park’s visitors center every Saturday in October. Bring binoculars to increase your viewing enjoyment.

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Make a comment, ask a question or share an observation by calling me at 297-9077 or by sending an email to bstevens@starhq.com or ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I am also on Facebook.

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