WETAN769a.jpg (24226 bytes)Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), West Dryden, Tompkins Co., NY, 22 September 2002.


All pictures are Kevin and Jay McGowan.  They were taken with an Olympus D-40 digital camera through a Swarovski HD-80 spotting scope.

Sunday, 22 Sep 2002, we saw a probable Western Tanager female at West Dryden, outside of Freeville, Tompkins Co., NY. It was flycatching from some dead stubs in a marshy spot SW of the corner of Sheldon and Bone-Plain Roads, a mile south of route 34B, approximately 4 miles NW of the village of Freeville.

We watched the bird for about 5 minutes and then lost it and could not find it again. We were censusing crows at the time, so had to leave. We returned just after 1:00 PM, joined by several other birders, but failed to find the tanager again.

The day was overcast with a lifting  fog.  The bird was about 60 meters from us.  The photographs unfortunately suffer from the dim lighting and foggy conditions.  I have brightened some and increased contrast, but aside from cropping and resizing, they have not otherwise been altered from the originals.


The head and upper chest were lemon yellow. The yellow ended on the upper breast, and the lower chest and belly were dirty whitish.

The dark wings had two broad wingbars. The upper wingbar was especially broad, and appeared to be slightly yellow. The tertials showed distinct white tips and whitish edging along the outer edges.

The overall shape looked somehow wrong for a Scarlet Tanager, appearing larger- and more round-headed, with a shorter neck and more broad-shouldered appearance. I'm not sure how much weight to put on that, but at the time it just looked "wrong" for a Scarlet.

The thick bill was noticeably pale (Jay says pink). It was not noticeably different in shape from a Scarlet Tanager's, being thick at the base with a down-curved culmen and a more or less straight lower edge.

The eye and legs were dark.

We are uncertain of the color of the upper back. I did not notice it, and Jay thought it looked dull grayish yellow-green. I can't be sure, but in the photographs it looks dull grayish.

The first two photographs show the yellow hood ending on the upper chest.  The demarcation between the yellow upper chest and whitish lower chest and belly was quite apparent in real life.

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For comparison purposes, I include some Scarlet Tanager pictures (we have no others of Western Tanager).

SCTANfem170.jpg (18015 bytes) This female was photographed at Montezuma NWR, NY on 20 May 2001.


  SCANfem359.jpg (18126 bytes) This Scarlet Tanager was photographed in Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, NY, 28 August 2002.

The following immature Scarlet Tanager was photographed on Beam Hill, south of Dryden, Tompkins Co., NY, 17 September 2002.  Note the pale edges and tips to the wing feathers.  The pale tips of the greater coverts gives a faint wingbar.  The white tips to the tertials are pretty distinct, but they do not seem to reach as far around the feathers as the tips on the West Dryden bird, and are not quite as distinct.  The flanks on this bird are dirty white, but the yellow extends down the chest to the belly (unlike the distinct break on the upper chest of the West Dryden bird).

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The following female Scarlet Tanager was photographed on Beam Hill 29 August 2001 by Jay through his binoculars.  It had a bright wingbar, and was one of two birds marked that way in a small flock of birds, including several other Scarlet Tanagers.  Note that the wingbar is broad, but appears white.

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Revised: September 22, 2002.