January 28 2015, Boquete, Panama. My field guide, The Birds of Panama by George Angehr & Robert Dean describes the Blue-gray Tanager as one of the most familiar and ubiquitous birds in Panama; I have certainly seen many of them in these early days. I suppose you could get tired of them in time; but then it would seem to be hard not to always be smitten by the subtle treatment of the blue palette on this bird.
There are thirty-seven tanagers listed in the guide’s index. At risk of tediousness, it’s worth noting that while the majority of listed tanagers are “true” tanagers (in the Thraupidae family) a handful, well actually ten, are tanagers in name only, they’re members of the Cardinulidae family, which plunks them in with grosbeaks, buntings and, as you might have gathered from the tongue-twister name, cardinals; I was relieved to note that the Blue-gray is one of the Thraupid tanagers, a true blue.
I sleep rather fitfully so it has become easy to head out at first light to explore some of the hidden corners of this rather picturesque mountain town. Following a quiet road this morning, I ended up at the gates of the cemetery; intact I might add. Cemeteries can be very productive birding spots, they are by definition deadly quiet, and as often as not bordered by woodland or at least some kind of uncultivated area. Many bird species prefer edge habitat over interior forest or even open spaces, edges offer quick cover, access to nearby food and strategic viewpoints, ideal for territorial songbirds. Anyway, I walked around this sometimes-manicured sometimes-not collection of headstones, vaults and tumbledown crosses, but for all of my forgoing introduction it was really not very productive. I did spot a little Red-legged Honeycreeper high up in the nearby forest canopy; it was a male in spectacular breeding plumage: generally all over dark blue but with an iridescent sky-blue cap. It was much too far away to attempt a photograph but I recommend checking Google Images to see what I mean about spectacular.
Leaving the cemetery, I gazed for a long time at the glorious orange flowers on a number of Malinche trees (I think that’s their name). There I found birds aplenty, mostly Tennessee Warblers and Blue-gray Tanagers, feeding I assume on the nectar. Orange and blue are a complimentary colours so it’s no surprise that the tanagers look good among the blooms.
Lest they should someday become ho-hum birds, I’ll take this chance to spotlight today’s Blue-gray Tanagers as my Bird of the Day. Here’s a couple of photos.