LIFER Summer Tanager

A first encounter with a very special bird species

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Summer tanager (presumably young male or a female) looking for insects. Photo by Leon Pors

My first meeting with a Summer Tanager happened last Monday September 23rd 2019 on Curaçao. After a full morning bird watching with school kids in the scorching heat, we were too tired to do anything in the afternoon and decided to sit on the lounge set on our front porch. After a couple of minutes I saw a warbler-like bird moving around in the garden and saw a flash of red and black. A male ‘American redstart’ was flashing his fabulous colours and made sure I saw him before I had my camera in my hand, only to continue his insect eating endeavours just outside of camera reach. So my husband and I decided to keep watch, hoping the beauty would come back in reach of the camera’s. He did, as fast as redstarts can be, and we discovered he was not alone, as there was a female American redstart also hovering around. After a full half hour of hide and seek, we decided to sit back in the shade of the porch. (A day later we recorded 5 American redstarts in the garden, 2 adult males, a juvenile male and 2 females).

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The first pictures through the front porch shutters. Photo by Michelle Pors-da Costa Gomez.

I just put my camera down, when in a fraction of second a bird sat down on a twig just behind the shutters, looking straight at me. In the same fraction of that second I recognized this to be a species, even though slightly similar in colouring as our juvenile Yellow Orioles, I had not had the honour of encountering yet on Curaçao. A tanager. The correct identification as a Summer Tanager followed only later after closely investigating the one reasonable picture I could take through the shutters. A LIFER for us, and a very exciting record for Curaçao, as the last record of a Summer Tanager here, goes back as far as 1979.

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Looking for insects in the garden. Photo by Michelle Pors-da Costa Gomez.

Of course we went straight back into the garden to try to get a better picture of this bird from all possible angles. And we messaged our birding colleague Rob Wellens immediately, who stepped out of his house in minutes, to help out with the mission. And we succeeded. Photographing and filming the beautiful bird hunting for bees and wasps in the garden.

Summer Tanagers have only been recorded twice on Curaçao, in 1957 and in 1979. In between 1979 and now, Scarlet tanagers were the species seen on the island, but no Summer Tanager was recorded again.

Adult male Summer Tanagers are bright red, a colour they maintain throughout the winter months. Immature males will be yellowish green in colour with sometime splotches of red if they are moulting. Females have a yellowish-green colour. Summer Tanagers are insect eaters, often sitting in high trees to look for insects. (Source: www.allaboutbirds.org)

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The sunset gave the bird a more reddish glow, giving the impression of it being a young male. Photo by Leon Pors.

The 2019 Fall Migration is getting very exciting again, and we are on the look out for more fantastic additions to the growing bird list for Curaçao.

Summer Tanager (English)
Zomertangare (Dutch)
(Piranga ruber)


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