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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Trek for a Summer Tanager

On May 20th, I had seen that Mark Kjolhaug had posted the previous two days about having a Summer Tanager visit his feeders and that he was willing to have birders visit to the see the bird! It is always so nice when people open up their private property to host birders hoping to see rare birds. The catch with this one was that it was ~19 miles away from my house - making it close to a 40 mile bike ride if I took the shortest route.

But of course I wasn't going to take the shortest route. Each spring, Paul Worwa emails the Minnesota email listserv that his local, resident Red-Shouldered Hawks have returned to his neighborhood in Chanhassen. He has had a pair of Red-shoulders nesting in the neighborhood for 14 consecutive years. Red-Shouldered Hawks are a species that I don't often see in my normal birding spots, so I had been watching for a time when I could make it out to Paul's neighborhood to get them for my year list. Chanhassen is out in the same direction as Shorewood, so I thought I could combine trips and get more than one good bird out of this long bike ride.

I headed out for Chanhassen, figured I would try for the hawks first, and then if I didn't see them I could maybe try again after going to see the tanager. My ride out there was complicated by the fact that a significant portion of the main bike path between my house and Chanhassen is closed for a couple of years due to the construction of the Southwest Light Rail line, so I had to take an alternate route that was much less pleasant. I did still get out to Paul's leafy neighborhood without too much trouble. While I was still a ways south of the nature preserve that he indicated as the best spot for the Red-shoulders, I heard strange noises coming from some tall trees. Unfortunately, I couldn't ID the noises, and never could identify who was making them, but they seemed like raptor calls. I listened to a variety of calls from a variety of forest raptors on my Sibley app, but nothing matched. They might have been the Red-shoulders I was seeking, but also could have been from Cooper's Hawks or another species. I continued on to the small nature preserve that Paul directed me to. I parked my bike and walked into the middle of the small preserve between two ponds. There were no raptors present, but a bird sitting up high in a dead tree caught my eye. It was a Olive-sided Flycatcher, a species that loves sitting on snags and then sallying forth to catch flying insects!

After watching the flycatcher for a while and waiting for a possible hawk to show up or call, I was getting ready to go head for the Tanager. As I got close to my bike, I notice that the trees near it were active with small birds - there was a Swainson's Thrush, a few American Goldfinches, a Nashville Warbler, 2 American Redstarts, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Nothing new for my year, but it was fun to watch them nevertheless. And they did keep me there long enough to see a Red-Shouldered Hawk fly over! Target acquired!

Another fun thing about the sojourn into Paul's neighborhood is that this area is in Carver County - so that added another county to the list of those I've visited by bike this year (I'd already birded Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, and Washington counties in Minnesota, and Pierce County in Wisconsin).

Then I knew it was time to get to the tanager spot before it got any later. It was a few miles up the road (much of which was on a gravel bike path). Just as I was getting to Mark's neighborhood, a car stopped and Liz Harper poked her head out! We chatted for a short time, but once she said that she had left Mark's feeders a few minutes prior and the Summer Tanager was still there, I knew I had to get over there before I missed my chance.

When I got there, Mark was outside and I introduced myself and talked a bit about my biking big half year. He started telling me about the habits of the Summer Tanager, and I said "Isn't that it up there in the tree right now?". It was, and I got Summer Tanager for my list. This is a hard bird to get in Minnesota, although not ultra-rare. I hadn't seen one in the state prior to this, so it was a good add for multiple lists (most importantly my green list, but it is always nice to double dip)!

Summer Tanager
A relatively dark and backlit photo of a Summer Tanager

The tanager was fairly shy, and stayed up high in tree, giving diagnostic but not excellent views. Mark went inside to start on his dinner, and said I was welcome to stay outside and wait for the tanager to come lower. I retreated to his front step - a little farther from the feeder and where the birds might be more used to human activity. After a long time, with many stops in intermediate branches, the Summer Tanager finally came down to the feeders and took a drink of nectar and I was able to get a better look and better photos!

Summer Tanager on a feeder
a better photo of the Summer Tanager

Then it was time to make the long trek home! I took a different route home that avoided the closed section of bike path I mentioned earlier. All in all, it turned out to be a long day, with over 45 miles and many of those miles on paths out in the suburbs were on unpaved paths. It is amazing how much more energy it can take to bike on a gravel path than it does on a smooth paved one. But the paths are very nice and safe and go through many beautiful areas. It is worth the extra effort to be separated from car traffic and have a better view.

route from home to Chanhassen then Shorewood and then home

Miles biked on this trip: 45.6

Miles biked year to date: 861.5

Species count: 184

My bike birding eBird profile: (Please note that you need a free eBird account to see profiles in eBird)

Fundraising links for the two organizations I am supporting with this green big half year. These causes are really important and they could really use your dollars to do a lot of good! I've raised almost $600 so far between the two organizations, but I would really like to get a lot more. Please donate if you can! If you prefer to help with a nature-related cause, donate to the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, as they are doing a wonderful job of protecting the Bog as well as helping people interact with the species that live there. If you'd like to help with a cause more focused on human health, please donate to the National MS Society so that we can find a cure!

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog:

National MS Society:

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