[texbirds] Re: Flame-colored Tanagers in Boot Canyon (longish)

  • From: Sam Fason <scfason@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "texbirds@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <texbirds@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 2 Jun 2015 00:40:51 -0500

I forgot to include the link to the Miller Canyon, Arizona WETA X FCTA that
I alluded to. My bad.
On Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 12:37 AM, Sam Fason <scfason@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:


Last week (May 24th) I hiked into Boot Canyon and spent from about 10 AM
to 1 PM in the canyon, mainly studying the two tanagers that Chuck
described well in his post almost a month ago. Tanager #1, the mostly
orange bird singing near the picnic table, and Tanager #2, potentially a
first year male Flame-colored Tanager, singing near the Juniper Canyon
trail junction. I never saw much follow up on this, so I was eager to get
up there and study these tanagers. Here's what I think after seeing and

I would call Tanager #1 a hybrid Western X Hepatic Tanager, rather than a
Western X Flame-colored. After a quick google search I found this report of
a Western X Summer Tanager from Arizona.

To me, it looks very close to Tanager #1: All orange underneath, dark
brownish wings with orangish wingbars and edging, darker back with no hint
of streaking (that I saw). However, the Boot Canyon bird has grayish
auriculars and flanks, plus a lighter gray bill. Considering these are
marks of a Hepatic Tanager, this hybrid combination makes sense to me. I
don't really see this bird as having any Flame-colored parentage.

As for Tanager #2, I think this is a hybrid Flame-colored x Western rather
than a 1st spring male Flame-colored Tanager. This bird strikes me as very
intermediate between Flame-colored and Western. The bird's rump was pretty
bright yellow, with a muddy colored edge around the tail. The upper wing
bar is pretty clearly tinged yellow, the bird's back was streaked but the
streaks were poorly defined. I did not notice nor did my photos show any
white markings on the tertials. All this in combination with the orange
head and undertail coverts and yellow belly are enough to make me confident
enough to think this bird is a hybrid as well. To me this bird from Miller
Canyon, AZ, identified as a Western X Flame-colored looks very much like
the Tanager #2.

My photos of both birds can be found here:

As for songs, I don't think my ear is good enough to get any helpful to
the ID out of listen to the songs. They all sound really similar to me. I
did however get a decent audio recording of #2, the bird I'm calling a
Western X Flame-colored, so there's that.

This is just my impression of these bird, if you disagree and want to tear
my argument apart go for it.

Good birds elsewhere in the Chisos, I was able to see one of the
Short-tailed Hawks (dark morph at about 8 AM the morning of the 24th on the
Pinnacles Trail from Juniper Flats) as well as lots of Painted Redstarts
and Colimas in Boot Canyon, and I was able to see the Northern Pygmy-Owl in
Pine Canyon the day prior. Good stuff.

Sam Fason, Austin

On Wed, May 6, 2015 at 10:32 AM, Chuck Sexton <gcwarbler@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>


From reports I received recently while visiting Big Bend, there seems to
be some confusion about what tanagers are in Boot Canyon…and it certainly
isn’t a clear picture. I heard reports of “pure” male Flame-throated
black wings and white wingbars, to pure Western, suggestions of hybrids,
and reports of the usual Hepatics in that area. ALL of this may be true
but here’s what I detected and deduced in my hike to Boot Canyon on Sunday,
May 3.

First, let me emphasize that my experience with Flame-colored Tanager is
quite limited so my suggestions of plumages, etc., is almost completely

Other than a few Hepatics, I saw only two other Piranga tanagers in the
area around Boot Springs (a few hundred yards upstream and down). ***I saw
NEITHER a full adult Flame-colored NOR a full adult Western Tanager in this
area in about 2 hours of viewing and chasing tanagers back and forth on
this date.

Tanager 1: The male tanager which hung out closest over Boot Spring, the
picnic table, and the stables was predominantly orange. See Mark
Rosenstein’s photo here:
It had dark brownish-gray wings with smudgy orange edges on the median
coverts which formed an orange wingbar nearly as rich as the body color;
the greater coverts are narrowly edged with dull orange. The belly is
paler orange in bright light, tending towards yellowish orange. In Mark’s
photos, this bird seems to have a pale whitish auricular patch. I never
had satisfactory views of the dorsal side except in flight which showed it
to be dark-backed. The bill was all dark gray.

Tanager 2: A second male tanager was commonly singing from the Arizona
cypresses above Boot Spring from the Juniper Canyon trail junction and
further up. It interacted regularly with the downstream male. This bird
was predominantly yellowish below but with a distinct orange suffusion on
the belly, breast, throat, and face, more richly colored towards the front
of the bird. Unfortanately, in several viewing episodes, I never saw the
wings or the upperside of this bird clearly, although my glimpses suggested
it had dark wings with some color of wingbars. It had a dark gray bill.
See Mark’s image here:

The two male tanagers above sang indistinguishable raspy tanager songs
frequently—almost continually. The songs fell into the
Flame-colored/Western genre but I don’t know how to distinguish the two.
(In hind sight, I should have recorded segments with my iPhone.)

Analysis: Tanager 1 clearly has some Flame-colored heritage based on the
orange body plumage and dark back but the wing pattern (orange median
coverts and orange edgings on the greaters) apparently does not match any
plumage of any of the potential parental species. Nor do the whitish
auriculars—if real—conform to any parental type. In my views, I see
nothing that would link this bird to Western Tanager parentage, but I can’t
rule out an Hepatic parental influence (due to the orange suffusion on wing

From what I could see, Tanager 2 matches descriptions of 1st Spring male
Flame-colored Tanager *without* needing to invoke any hybrid influence
(see, for instance, NGS guide p. 490-491 and Howell and Webb Mexico guide
plate 58). The suffusion of orange on the otherwise yellow underparts
rules out this being a pure male Western Tanager of any age, even though
some observers were calling this bird a Western Tanager. This bird may
also have hybrid influence if someone can provide better photos, notes, or
descriptions, but I saw no reason to invoke hybrid influence just because
of the yellow-orange body plumage.

I’m finding it diifficult to find other photos of any of these tanagers
from THIS year. If someone can provide links to good photos of any of the
Boot Canyon Piranga’s from this year—please, other than on TexBirds
Facebook—I think all of us would benefit.

Chuck Sexton
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