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September 2009


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"Eric S. Daigre" <[log in to unmask]>
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Eric S. Daigre
Wed, 9 Sep 2009 17:18:57 -0600
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Hello bird people,

Over the Labor Day weekend, my girlfriend and I dropped by Theodore Wirth
Park (Golden Valley, Hennepin County) to walk the dog and do a little
birding. Nice day, but not particularly birdy. So when we finally noticed a
single forager high in the canopy, we got the binoculars on it right quick. 

We called out what we were seeing as it appeared and disappeared behind the
leaves: size and shape like an Oriole...overall dull yellow...wings darker,
maybe gray or brownish, with some white bars. Maybe a female Baltimore or
Orchard Oriole? No. Probably not. Its tail was notched. Beak structure
seemed wrong, and its beak color looked orange-ish pink.

As amateur birders who aren't always as good at identifying juveniles and
females--especially when fall plumage comes into play--we assumed it was
probably a female Scarlet Tanager, and then we plodded on.

Well, when we got home a couple of hours later and consulted a few field
guides, I gasped in horror at the possibility that we may have been
ignorantly beholding a female Western Tanager. Sibley mentions the Western's
beak as more orange than the Scarlet. But wait. At the same time, a few
sources mention that female Scarlets can have fainter bars on their wings,
and I wasn't terribly conscious of how distinct the wing bars were--only
that I observed them. Didn't really get a good look at its nape either,
which Peterson says gives a more "saddle-backed" appearance to the Western.

Armed with this information, we went back to the park over the next couple
days hoping to relocate it. Of course, we didn't.

Neither of us has seen a Western Tanager (male or female) before; and I
understand that they are rare (though regular) in Minnesota. So we thought
we would appeal to those of you out there who have more experience with
tanager identification. When I see a new bird, I like to get it at a couple
of different angles, different light, etc. so that I can be sure. I was
really hoping to see it again to study its beak color, how narrow or wide
its wing bars were, and its nape. Is the orange-ish beak diagnostic? How
likely is a Western Tanager in the Minneapolis area? Am I overlooking other
possible birds that fit this description?

Feel free to backchannel me if you have any comments. We welcome your wisdom!

By the way, the area where we originally saw the bird in question was the
trail that runs along the NORTH side (and on the OUTSIDE) of the gated
Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Theodore Wirth Park. I apologize, because
this may be all academic at this point--I probably should have sent this out
as soon as it came up, in case other folks wanted to go look for it. The
more eyes the better, right? At the same time, as a novice, I am not always
confident in what I'm seeing (especially if it's a new bird for me), and
hesitate to send anyone out on a wild goose chase.

Eric Daigre
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