A Tanager Afternoon

This afternoon, warm and breezy, with a drowsy blue sky and only a few small, high white clouds, the calls of both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers laced through the green leaves of the woods on the edge of our back yard – the electric CHIK-brrrr of Scarlet Tanagers and the quiet, percusive pik-a-tuk calls of Summer Tanagers. Among the most evocative sounds of summer, Tanager calls are subtle, seldom noticed, not music, but the real gossip of the woods, the conversation between members of a pair as they move through the trees.

A Mourning Dove cooed. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird came often to the feeder hanging from the back deck – and once this afternoon, a female came to the feeder, too. For some reason, we have rarely seen a female so far, even though a male comes frequently.

In the distance, Chickadees and Titmice chattered. Closer, a pair of Cardinals peeped, and Chimney Swifts chittered overhead. A Carolina Wren sang, and another answered. A Red-bellied Woodpecker rattled. A Great Crested Flycatcher called Breet! Out in the front yard, Chickadee parents continue to feed young in the hanging ceramic nest in the pecan tree. The forecast for this afternoon was 90 degrees, and it felt close to that. It looked and felt like a summer day.

Then a Summer Tanager pair flew into an oak on the edge of the yard – one of the first times I’ve seen them this season. They sat on separate branches, both in full view, the male rose-red, the female dull yellow-orange and olive, both with stout, long bills. They sat for a few minutes, each just looking around, then flew back into the woods, and began to call pik-a-tuk, or pi-tuk, pi-tuk, back and forth again.

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