Saturday was a busy day. Arthur’s family had just left us the day before, following an excellent and busy two-week visit. We had been to theme parks, nature preserves, restaurants, beaches, historical sites, shopping malls, and more. So Saturday was a day for a bit of relaxing, but also laundry, straightening up, and getting settled back into our offices, which had been turned into guest rooms.
The day also included a bit of yard birding, as you do. When chickamice are cheeping, the impulse to rise and check the feeders is automatic. Cheeps called us to the window at about 4:30PM. While I was watching Tufted Titmice, Arthur found a yellow bird that he didn’t immediately recognize. He tried to point it out to me, which shouldn’t have been too hard, considering the modest size of our yard, but I couldn’t find his bird. He speculated what it might be while I remained clueless, searching for movement about 10 feet too high from where I should have been looking.
Finally I spotted a tanager-like bird in our orange tree. I’m not overly familiar with tanagers, but my first thought was that it was a female Summer or Scarlet Tanager. I noted it was a yellowish bird with dark wings and strong whitish wing bars. During this initial viewing I didn’t notice (or remember) the color of the beak, but I must have registered the general shape, because that’s what would scream “tanager” versus “oriole” or something else to me. I observed the bird for a minute or so before I lost it. I reached for Sibley while Arthur kept watch on the yard.
So Sibley clearly lets me know immediately that both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers don’t show strong wing bars. But Western Tanagers, far out of their normal range here in Florida, do. Holy crap! This was getting exciting. I went for my camera and hoped the bird would be spotted again. Arthur to the rescue. He found the tanager again and I managed to take some photos. Now I noticed the pinkish beak. Western Tanager! Lifer! In OUR YARD! Boo-yah!
Boy, am I glad I got photos! Obviously the bird is well out of range, but I had no idea how often they visit Florida. When I posted to the Florida listserv, birders replied to me privately that our Western Tanager might be a first for Volusia County. Whoa. I later learned from Michael Brothers that there are just two previous records: January 1957 in Ormond Beach and February-March 1968 in New Smyrna. I was also urged to report the sighting to the Florida Ornithological Society, so it might be officially recorded (like the 1957 and 1968 birds), a process which I have started.
We saw the Western Tanager late in the day on Saturday. After dark, we went on a food run, picking up oranges and grape jelly. Apparently Western Tanagers will feed on the same types of food as orioles; I saw the tanager eat at least two large insects Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning we placed the jelly, two orange halves, and an oriole feeder with sugar water at one of our feeding stations, along with a camera.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the camera hasn’t recorded a single visitor to the feeders. We did have a second, extremely fleeting sighting of the Western Tanager on Tuesday afternoon. Arthur spotted it (natch) and got me on it, but it flew off after less than a minute. I know there are several local birders that would love to see the bird. I would love for it to stick around! We’re keeping our eyes peeled!