Rufous-headed tanager, Ecolodge Itororó.

One of the things I was really looking forward to in Brazil was the wide variety of tanagers. In the Eastern U.S. we have scarlet tanagers and summer tanagers, and that’s pretty much it. The Western states get western tanagers. But there actually are more than 240 species of tanagers, many of them amazingly colorful, and more than half of them live in South America.

We saw a few tanagers at REGUA lodge—palm tanagers, sayaca tanagers (or “sciatica tanagers,” as Elizabeth liked to call them), black-goggled tanagers, and burnished-buff tanagers, among others. Then we drove to Itororó ecolodge for the next four nights, and the first afternoon there brought a bonanza of tanagers and other birds. We arrived at Itororó at lunchtime, met the other workshop participants and the two leaders—Glenn Bartley and Andy Foster, ate lunch as a group, quickly put our bags in our rooms, and immediately set up our tripods to take photos at the lodge’s fruit feeders.

In North America, people attract birds to their backyards by putting out feeders with sunflower seeds, thistle seed, maybe some nuts, sometimes suet or peanut butter, and so on. In the tropics, birds are more attracted to fruit, so a lodge will typically put out a tray of bananas, papaya, and whatever other fruit is available. The birds at the Itororó fruit feeders that first afternoon were among the most memorable of the trip for me, with the one at the top of this page—the rufous-headed tanager—perhaps the most beautiful. We also photographed golden-chevroned tanagers …

… and azure-shouldered tanagers ….

… and a gilt-edged tanager …

… and others that I either can’t remember or don’t have good pictures of.

I learned that the blue dacnis, one of my favorite birds, is considered a tanager. The blue dacnis is a dimorphic species, that is, the female looks very different from the male—and both are very striking. The male is a brilliant blue, and the female has greens and blues:

A tanager that I had hoped to photograph, but wasn’t quick enough, was the brassy-breasted tanager. We had one come fairly close to the area where we were standing and land briefly on some sort of fern or palm (foliage is not my long suit) just a few feet from us. I was a step slow and couldn’t get my camera on it before it flew off, but Steve got a good image, which I’m sharing here with his permission:

Steve and another trip participant, Alan, both impressed me throughout with how many times they’d nail the shot that I would miss. That was a theme for me on this trip: How to be more alert and be ready when an opportunity to photograph a given bird suddenly presented itself. Glenn had some advice on that, which I’ll share in a future post.

By the way, something that surprised me was how variable in size the tanagers were; a scarlet tanager (my main frame of reference) is about six and a half inches long, while some of the ones in Brazil were easily an inch or so smaller. Glenn says that if they were re-classifying birds today, some of these guys probably wouldn’t be put in the tanager family.

Glenn and Andy are both incredibly knowledgable about the birds in Brazil, and could see or hear all kinds of species off in the distance, then try to coax them in to the feeders. Besides tanagers, we saw a scaled woodcreeper, an olivaceous woodcreeper, bananaquits, rufous-collared sparrows, a Planalto tyrannulet, a pale-necked thrush, and several dusky-legged guans. We also saw this handsome bird with another one of those great bird names: the buff-fronted foliage gleaner:

Probably my most hoped-for tanager, based on looking at photos ahead of the trip, was the red-necked tanager. The name is great, of course, but more importantly, it’s just a riot of color, as you can see from the calendar photo at right. (Why, yes, I have a bird-a-day calendar. Doesn’t everyone?) Glenn and Andy said that our best chance for red-necked tanagers would be on our last day at Itororó, when we’d take a drive to the Cedae Trail—and even then, we’d have to get lucky. I’ll save you the suspense: We did not get lucky. So apparently I’m going to need to go back to Brazil someday.

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