For the Birds: Odd call, brilliant color

A male scarlet tanager perches in a maple tree during spring migration 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

A male scarlet tanager perches in a maple tree during spring migration 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

I heard the uniquely odd call from the nearby woods.

“Chick burr. Chick burr.” The “chick” is higher and louder than the “burr.”

I rushed for my stepladder, set it up on my back deck and climbed onto the roof — camera in hand. It was something I did on a few occasions last year, which is how I learned that call so well. 

It is one call of a scarlet tanager. It has a longer, more melodic song, but this particular call is a quick and unmistakable “chick burr.” It is distinctive; I know of no other bird noise like it.

As I walked along the roof, I was eye level with the tops of the smaller trees and about the middle of the giant oaks that tower over my house. Yes, those same oaks that have literally covered my deck and clogged my gutters with their catkins and pollen this spring. Yes, those same oaks that form a multi-layer ground covering with their leaves in late fall.

But also those oaks that are so good at attracting birds with the plentiful worms and other insects among their leaves and branches. The larger dead branches also serve as homes for cavity-nesting birds. So, I will take the pollen and leaves in exchange for their bird friendliness. It’s a fair trade as far as I’m concerned.

The oaks seem to be a favorite of the scarlet tanagers that pass through in the spring and early summer. It is always a thrill when I hear that strange call because I know one of New England’s most brilliantly plumaged bird is nearby.

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Scarlet tanager makes spring appearance

A male scarlet tanager perches in a maple tree during spring migration 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

A male scarlet tanager perches in a maple tree during spring migration 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

It’s always nice when one of these guys lands in your yard. This is two years in a row I’ve played host to one of these flashy migrants. Now that’s a streak I hope continues.

The male scarlet tanager is arguably New England’s most brilliantly colored bird — in spring and summer, anyway. By the fall, he will molt into a much more dull plumage.

 

Latest For the Birds column: Up to the roof to get close to a Scarlet Tanager

Photo by Chris Bosak A Scarlet Tanager sings in a tree in Danbury, Conn., July 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Scarlet Tanager sings in a tree in Danbury, Conn., July 2016.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

Thankfully the trees are fully leafed out. My neighbors probably would have started to wonder about me. Of course, that process likely started long ago.

I found myself standing on my roof, camera in hand, keeping an eye on a male scarlet tanager that was singing his heart out among the oaks.

I had noticed the brilliant red-and-black bird a few days before. I was writing at my computer at home when I spied him through the window eating berries from those ubiquitous wild raspberry bushes, which are really invasive wineberries from Asia. The bird was impossible to miss with that beaming red plumage that puts cardinals to shame. (No offense to our beloved cardinals.) The tanager was gone by the time I opened the front door for a better look.

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A few more Scarlet Tanager photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A Scarlet Tanager perches in a tree in Danbury, Conn., July 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Scarlet Tanager perches in a tree in Danbury, Conn., July 2016.

You had to see this coming. More Scarlet Tanager photos! When you get a cooperative Scarlet Tanager (this was the first one I’ve ever come across) you have to do more than one post about it … Continue reading

Nothing like a Scarlet Tanager sighting when you least expect it

Photo by Chris Bosak A Scarlet Tanager sings in a tree in Danbury, Conn., July 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Scarlet Tanager sings in a tree in Danbury, Conn., July 2016.

Well, I didn’t expect this guy to show up in the yard in mid-July. Typically I see the spectacular Scarlet Tanager in mid to late May and not again until the fall migration, if I’m lucky, or even next spring. Perhaps this means that it nested nearby. I sure hope so. Or, it could be an early southward migrant, but not likely. At any rate, I was happy to entertain it over the last few days. Hopefully it sticks around.

This is the male Scarlet Tanager. Females are dull yellow. During the fall migration, the males will lose this spectacular plumage and look somewhat similar to females. This guy is just starting to turn … note the yellow spot on its head.

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