Monday, April 25, 2011

Flame of Spring

I've always enjoyed the observation and cataloging of songbirds. Seldom does the guest list change as the avian parade unfolds, but each is new for the year, and warmly welcomed annually.   We have an incredible array of species that come to visit only for a short time.  It is mainly neo-tropical migrators that briefly decorate our arboreal crowns with their colored feathers brightened to mate-attraction condition!  

For me, the most fun is the challenge of homing in on the song rather than simply spotting the bird.  Indeed, yesterday, as I was returning from a short hike across the meadow, I heard a couple of songs that I knew I knew....hmmmmmm?  I kept wondering what it could be!  Familiar but not a year-round sort of sound.  New...or at least newly arrived. 

Ah!  It came to me that one was the Yellow-breasted Chat, with its cheery raspy hello.

But there was another softer sound that had me reaching for the source.

"Chip-brrrrrr!  Chip-brrrrrrrr"  Keeping an eye on the top of the Ash tree behind the house before going through the beautiful new screen doors that MM had just made and installed, I grabbed my binoculars and came out onto the porch, sneaking, hiding......

"Chip-brrrrrrrr!  Chip-brrrrrr...!"  I was in luck.  Whatever it was, was still there.  I peered out from below the  overhang and sighted a silhouette of a bird a bit smaller than a robin in the top of the Ash tree.  

"Chip-brrrrrr"  Then,  from a bit farther away came an answering, softer, "Chip-brrrrrr!"  Aaaah!  I knew what it was!  How exciting to track the sound! Through the binoculars, now focused on the canopy high overhead, zeroing in on the source, I was rewarded beyond measure:  The Scarlet Tanagers --often called Flame of Spring--have arrived, he with his neon red body and jet black wings, and she with her more subdued, but no less striking, olive-yellow.   Simply breathtaking. 

We are so fortunate to have these beautiful creatures with us for th early summer.  They nest in our yard annually.  As for telling them apart from the cardinals....well....once you've seen a Scarlet Tanager, you'll never be confused again!  I tried to follow Barabara's (Folkways Notebook) wonderful instructions for embedding a video from You Tube, but haven't quite got the hang of it yet.  So here is the link:Scarlet Tanager and Listenable Song  and just in case .... here's the full URL:


You will hear the characteristic "chip-burrrrrr" toward the end of the video.  It's quite distinguishing.  Nothing sounds even similar except when the male sounds like a robin with another call.  They are so illusive, though, that it's difficult to spot them at any time except when they first arrive.

I was surprised to learn that the male is only in its neon red dress for the duration of the mating season, whereupon it molts and turns into the same olive yellow as his mate.  The in-between colors has him mottled between a fading red and olive-yellow, which to me would be a perfect camoflouge amidst the dappled sunlight of summer.

Do take a moment to check out the website and experience the thrill this bird evokes!  Indeed, it's unmistakable plummage says, Flame of Spring.  And, joy of joys, we out here JOTOLR will have them as our guests for the next couple of months, high over head, but right in our own back yard!


  1. Elora, thank you for the wonderful post on the scarlet tanager and the video link. I would love to see a tanager. We are enjoying some passing solitary sandpipers and a snipe (I think) plus this afternoon I saw an orchard oriole. Unfortunately, the tree swallows have taken over our bluebird houses. And I am enjoying the killdeer nest (in the driveway.)

  2. Elora -- Oh, Oh. Did I confuse you on the videos? I would be willing to try again if need be. Or are you still tinkering? Love the tanager photos. Will play the video. I am fortunate where I live when it comes to beautiful birds -- one example is the Baltimore Oriole pair that nest in the large maple near my front porch every summer. They are elusive and one only catches a glimpse of them if they are lucky. -- barbara

  3. Barbara, The directions were absolutely perfect. The video/audio clip I wanted to embed, had nothing on the left side that allowed me to add it. So, I simply figured that the person who provided it, didn't want the viewer to be able to embed it. No big deal. Just was going to use it as an experiment on "embedding." Thanks so much! And, I, too, love those Baltimore Orioles! A pair arrived yesterday and probably will stay for the summer. They build very unusual nests very high in the canopy.

    Anonymous, Lucky you to have a snipe! Late in the evening about a week ago, a snipe (otherwise known as an American Woodcock) flushed directly in front of me. Startling! They are such an odd bird and I love them!