Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Years ago, when my sons were very young, but old enough to accompany me, I did volunteer field research tracking scarlet tanagers for The Cornell School of Ornithology. They equipped me with an audio cassette of various scarlet tanager calls (male, female, mating, territorial), and also sound-a-like calls from other birds so that I could differentiate between them, and various forms to fill out and a USGS map of my area. We were located in the Beaver Falls Quadrangle at that time, in an old growth-ish wooded area that a creek wound through, with some farmland nearby. From what I'd read, this should be prime scarlet tanager territory, and it was. One morning the boys and I set out on the path through the woods that followed the creek. After a few hundred yards I stopped and played the female mating call on a hand held cassette player. Almost immediately there was a return call from high in the trees. The scarlet tanager is small, but the male is so brilliant in color that he's easy to pick out. I was lucky enough to also get a picture of him for the file of info I was collecting. I kept playing the female call to see if I could get him to come closer to our position, when suddenly there was a female scarlet tanager giving the territorial call. Huzzah! I didn't get a picture of her, and in fact I could only pick her out fleetingly amongst the branches and leaves as she blends very well into the background.
Of all the volunteer field research I've done, the summer the boys and I tracked scarlet tanagers was by far our most rewarding and successful.
My oldest son became very adept at spotting specific birds.