Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hepatic Tanager at Commons Ford

I have been following all week the eBird alerts for Travis County showing sightings of a female Hepatic Tanager at Commons Ford Ranch Park in south Austin. This is a very rare species in this part of Texas; it is normally a summer resident of the mountains along the New Mexico / Arizona border and reaching down into the Big Bend region of Texas. It is a year-round resident of southern Mexico and South America.

Today, we made the drive down from Georgetown and got there at about 13:00.  We made a tour of the area around the barn where it had been seen but neither saw nor heard the Tanager. In fact, we saw very few birds at all. The exception was a half-dozen Eastern Phoebes noisily hunting and squabbling over choice perches. Oh, and my feet found a fire ant mound for me.

This Phoebe landed nearby after catching a bug right over our heads.

We met several groups of birders hoping to add the Tanager to their lists. One couple had driven down from Fort Worth just to find it. We were encouraged that the bird had been sighted earlier that morning. It finally reappeared at 14:15 and was spotted by other birders after hearing its call in a live-oak tree over the picnic bench behind the barn.

Along with everyone else, I spent the next three-quarters of an hour following its slow methodical hunt for insects from branch to branch, and taking as many pictures as I could. I ended up working without a flash and on a monopod requiring high ISO and making it difficult to recover fine detail.

Below was my best image which shows the major field marks distinguishing it from the other female tanagers: Yellow-orange throat, forehead, and underside; the all-important gray cheeks; plus dark bill and eye-line, and light eye-arcs.

Continuing with my "Birds with Bugs" series, here is a shot of the same bird having caught what appears to be a late instar of the green stink bug on the left and some sort of borer on the right.

Many thanks to those who found this bird originally and helped us see it this afternoon.

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