Scarlet Tanager adds gorgeous color

T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG - Today's featured creature is a very colorful male Scarlet Tanager. Its brilliant red head and body is offset by black wings and tail. Some say it is the most blindingly gorgeous bird of eastern forests. Their preferred habitats are mature deciduous forests or a mix of deciduous and coniferous stands primarily in the eastern United States and Canada. Winter range is northern and western portions of South America.

A SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea) delights the eye whenever you may see one, which for this author is not very often. So when the right place, right time, right camera and right light offered the opportunity to make images of this bird, I was full steam ahead with my camera and long lens. I feel fortunate to have made several good images and that is why I’m sharing this one with you.

Finding scarlet tanagers in the thick forest tree tops is not easy. Oaks, maples, basswood, hickory and other trees have a full spread of new leaves. Getting a glimpse of a tanager may be very brief. Hearing its call may let you know it is there. The call is likened to a chick-burr sound. Dedicated birders use all the tools of their passionate hobby to find this bird.

Foods include insects and lots of varieties of berries and maybe tender buds of vegetation. The food list is long and includes ants, sawflies, moths, butterflies, beetles, flies, cicadas, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, treehoppers, plant lice, scale insects, termites, grasshoppers, locusts, dragonflies, dobsonflies, snails, earthworms and spiders. And they try to find all of these high in the tree tops.

With regard to nest sites, scarlet tanagers prefer to build the nest high in a tree on a branch that is mostly horizontal with a good view of the ground. The nest is a flimsy accumulation of pine needles, grasses, small twigs, plant stalks or small tree bark strips. Loose ends may be woven into the shape of the female’s body. Eggs can be from three to five greenish-blue to light blue with speckles of chestnut or red. Only one brood is raised per year. Incubation takes 12 to 14 days. After 10 to 15 days in the nest, the young are out and learning what it takes to survive. Young tanagers will be fed by the parents for about two weeks after leaving the nest.

Cowbirds will attempt to usurp a tanager nest by laying their own egg in place of a tanager egg they remove. If so, tanagers raise the cowbird as if it was their own. But if the tanager pair is actively on their nest, they will defend their territory from an invasion attempt by cowbirds and successfully keep them away.

The month of JUNE has arrived. Time goes quickly and we are already near the half-way point for 2019. Summer season will arrive in three weeks. Hopefully June will be less rainy than May. But only Mother Nature knows what will be the outcome as written in her weather history book on June 30. Coffee shop discussion groups will inevitably ask why all the rain? For part of the answer, and from my perspective of trying to read about long-term earth natural history, a good explanation is available.

That explanation has very much to do with our sun during its present low phase of sun spot activity. During such times, solar wind projected from the sun that strikes earth is relatively weak. Cosmic rays from outer space thus gain an advantage and a better foothold with more cloud cover being formed. In short, more clouds equals more chances for rain or snow to all regions of earth. It is part of the proof that water vapor in earth’s atmosphere is a huge factor for what ultimately affects day-to-day, on-the-ground weather patterns. Water vapor is a natural byproduct of the interaction and chemistry of solar inputs.

When sunspot activity peaks, generally on an 11-year cycle, the opposite can happen. Solar winds are stronger, there is less cosmic ray influence to interact with earth’s atmosphere and less cloud formation is the result. For those that remember, the year 1977 was very dry and hot. So was the year 1988. But if one goes half way between those years, rain events were more common. Peak rains and excessive rains caused huge mid-year floods in 1983 and again in 1993 and 2008. Each of these dates have a strong correlation with sun spot activity or a lack thereof. For what it is worth, sun spots do matter.

Another note from history is this. In June 1833, the Iowa Territory was opened for settlement. Pioneers came to seek opportunity on new land. Iowa became a state in 1846. Iowa’s landscape of 85 percent tall grass prairie, 13 percent forests and 2 percent water features of rivers, wetlands and natural lakes was going to change. It did. Thankfully forward looking scientists of the day realized that within all the changes, some lands needed to be dedicated into a preserves system so that not every prairie, wetland or forest would disappear. Iowa has many remnant parcels of natural lands for their biological and historical merit. That is good. This summer, do plan on visiting one or several of Iowa’s state preserve areas. You can find a complete list of these sites by researching Iowa State Preserves. Enjoy.

This month, nature enthusiasts can expect young wild turkeys to appear along with pheasant broods. Turtles of many species are laying eggs. Catfish and large-mouthed bass will be spawning. And for every species of song bird, June and July will be peak nesting times as they bring off new generations of offspring. NEw deer fawns will be become visible as they trail behind the mother doe deer. All wildlife young are best care for by the adult parents. Humans, if you are smart, will leave the young alone.

FREE FISHING DAYS this year are next weekend June 7, 8 and 9. No license is required. Day limits and other regulations still apply. If you need an excuse to go fishing for the first time and were reluctant to buy a fishing license, these dates are your opportunity. Many may like their time outdoors with family and friends and will purchase a fishing license. The best time to go fishing is anytime, rain or shine. Just do it.

PROGRAM NOTES: There may be still time today for clay bird shooters to drive to the Izaak Walton League grounds southeast of Marshalltown. Starting Sunday morning and until 2 p.m., shooters can register for a 100 bird walk-through shooting course. You do not need to be a registered shooter to partake in this field setting fun competition. And as for the other program note, a wildlife slide presentation will take you on a visual safari to AFRICA. The date is June 10 with lunch time at 11:30 a.m. Bring your own lunch or eat early and then attend. Call before June 5 at 752-5490 to say you are coming.

“The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are. The second greatest is being happy with what you find.”



Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.


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