By: Christy Esmahan, Travis Audubon Board Member
I saw my first ever Summer Tanager in the spring of 2017. I was in a Birdathon group at Pedernales Falls State Park, and our leader, Barry Lyon, heard the bird’s song and “chased” it, that is, searched until he found it, singing high up in a tree close to the river in its spectacularly bright plumage. Earlier that morning he had materialized a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher from the boughs of an Ashe Juniper by pishing. I’ll admit that when I first saw him doing it, I thought he was trying to pull the wool over my eyes, but no, he was fooling the little bird who popped right out to see what the commotion was. I was so amazed and pleased to be around people who knew birds.
Later that summer I met with a new birding friend, Jane Tillman, who, upon learning that I had never seen two of endangered and iconic species of Central Texas, the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo, took me and another friend on a walk to see them. Again, I remember feeling awed as she cocked her head to a particularly nondescript chipping note and exclaimed, “That’s one! Let’s see if he’ll come out for us.” Not two minutes later, there was the warbler, singing his buzzy song from the top of a tree!
All this is to say, if you’re new to birding, (and even if you’re not) it’s fun to bird with a group. Travis Audubon is now creating our fall line-up of birding trips, all free and open to the public (though some require one to register in advance and may have limited spaces). We explore a ton of local parks as well as “birdy” areas that even life-long Austinites may not know. And if you become really interested and want to return the favor, join a committee and volunteer on some trips yourself.
Earlier this summer, I did just that, leading my first tour to local park. It was already hot and the cicadas were chanting loudly, but the birds were spectacular. Recently-fledged Eastern Phoebes perched low and bobbed their tails, fluttering to be fed when a parent returned. Ladder-backed, Downy and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers knocked on the high branches above, Lesser Goldfinches entuned their sighing songs, young Northern Cardinals tittered incessantly, and Northern Mockingbirds professed to be dozens of birds they were not.
As we neared the end of the walk, a clear melody rang out from a tree across the street. I scanned and quickly found the bright red bird I now knew well, pointing it out to the group. Unconcerned by our binoculared gaping, it belted out its song for several minutes, posing in the morning light for us to get great views of its stunning plumage. After it finally flew away, one of the people in the group turned to me with a bright smile and said, “My first ever Summer Tanager.”