Search for the Western Tanager

Drew WeberBird Sightings, Chase, Listing, Rarities1 Comment

Sunday afternoon a post showed up on the PA Birds listserv stating that a Western Tanager had been found at John Heinz NWR. Not much detail at first but as people descended on the refuge to look for it they posted that it was a female and that it was being seen near the observation deck.
Luckily for me, Monday is my day off and so I decided to try my luck at finding the tanager as well as see what else was at the refuge. Both Little Blue and Tri-colored Heron had been reported in the last week.

I arrived a little after dawn and began walking down the path towards the observation tower. I was a little surprised at how quiet it was, none of the trilling songs of Palm, Pine and Yellow-rumped Warblers I had just heard at Middle Creek WMA. The sound of chattering Tree Swallows and the loud buzzy calls of Red-winged Blackbirds were about the only songs breaking the silence. Blue-winged Teal dabbled lazily in the water as several Great Egrets foraged in the distance.


Blue-winged Teal- female and male

I continued on, scanning the trees by the path for any movement. Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Song Sparrows were common as well as several Rusty Blackbirds. By this time I had past the observation tower and was quite a bit beyond where the Western Tanager had been reported. Here the sounds of Palm Warblers finally found me and I spotted several, happily wagging their tails.

On the walk back towards the observation tower I met up with some other birders. We stopped for a moment as 9 Glossy Ibis took flight and settled down, hidden again by vegetation. Nine Glossy Ibis are a pretty big flock for Pennsylvania. An American Coot swam around on the near side of the island and paused its feeding to look at us.


American Coot

Moving on, I began walking ahead of the other birders, slowly scann ing the trees. A bird popped up; sitting on the other side of the tree and partially obscured by vegetation. I got my binoculars on the bird and saw it was yellow and as it turned its head I could see it was the female Western Tanager I was searching for.

Excitedly I turned and beckoned the birders to come. Big mistake! I turned back to look at the tanager again and could not find it. It had flown off. That brief look was all I managed all day, despite several more hours of searching for it. But I was lucky enough to see it at all, number 272 for my Pennsylvania list.