Saturday, May 3, 2014

The bird that pops in early May

When I caught up to a birding group at North Park Nature Center packing in a 10-month old with a bright pink hat I wasn't met with a warm welcome but perhaps I was paranoid.  A few ladies finally quietly giggled with me that they had spotted a pink-crested cutie baby, lol.

She was pretty quiet for the first 20 minutes or so as I crept along behind the crowd of ten.  As soon as she started squawking I peeled off and headed back the way we came, toward the entrance. I knew what I was attempting was a stretch, it was worth a try.  Figured I'd try to spot a few more on my way out.  It was only May 2nd, very few leaves out on the trees so imagine my panic/elation when I saw this orange and yellow sun-spotlit first-ever what-the-hell bird is that against the drab brown and gray of the surrounding woods.  Trying to keep her quiet and still so I could get a proper focus was a challenge but to be honest I mostly remember my fumbling with my gear.  Do I get the shot and risk not getting it, do I sacrifice the shot and just get a better look with binocs?  How is that bird still sitting so low and close with us making all this movement/commotion? 

Upon doing a little research this is a first-spring Summer Tanager.  These birds migrate up from Central & South America but aren't all that common this far north.  They are bee and wasp specialists, usually catching them in flight as they sally from branches high in the forest canopy - another reason I'm lucky to have seen one up close.  Fun fact - they beat the insects against a branch before eating them.  And another fun fact - they are commonly nest-parasitized by brown cowbirds.  This involves the cowbird mom laying eggs in the tanager's nest then the unsuspecting tanager raising all the young only to have her own often kicked out by the bigger, stronger cowbirds.  Doesn't that make you love them even more?

I walked out feeling like hell yeah.  That was a good session.  I was thankful the pink-crested chatty baby hitched a ride or it probably wouldn't have happened.

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