A Summer Tanager at Kenneth Hahn SRA

Small-group outdoor social activities are slowly becoming a part of our lives these days. The other afternoon, we were hanging out at “the bowl” in Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area with family friends. The bowl (officially called Janice’s Green Valley, which is too much for me) used to be a reservoir behind Baldwin Hills Dam. The dam breached in December 1963 and flooded the neighborhood below, killing five people. Now, it’s a grassy play area with a bunch of oak and eucalyptus trees. A frisbee golf course is set-up in the bowl amidst hundreds of pocket gopher holes. The bowl can be a good spot for birds, like the Ferruginous Hawk that showed up there back in 2013.

As I was waiting for a frisbee golf game to get organized, I noticed a bird flush from a tree about 20 yards away. The bird flew directly away from me, and it looked to have been all red. Given its size, I immediately thought Summer Tanager. The bird landed in the middle of a tall eucalyptus tree. Since a Summer Tanager would be a nice summer find in my 5MR, I decided to walk over and see if I could get a better look. It didn’t take long. As I walked up to the target tree, I found a male Summer Tanager – all red, with a pale yellowish large bill – sitting perfectly still. I took a couple of pictures with my phone that are crap, but good enough to support the ID. 

Summer Tanagers are not super rare in Los Angeles. But if we were naming the bird, we’d call it a Winter Tanager. It is much more regularly seen in these parts from October to March. I had seen a Summer Tanager in my 5MR before (a pair, actually, that used to return each winter to West LA Community College, plus a female that wintered at Village Green for a couple of years). But this was only the 4th summer Summer Tanager ever reported in eBird in my 5MR, and my first summer sighting. Between this bird and the red Red Phalarope on Ballona Creek a few weeks ago, the names of my rarer sightings have been unusually accurate recently.

Birding Credibility

I wasn’t carrying a camera when I saw the Summer Tanager. Thanks to clear views and camera-phones, I was able to document the sighting, however poorly. But what if I hadn’t? Have I built up enough credibility with fellow L.A. birders and eBird reviewers that a photo-less sighting would have been considered legit? More importantly, how do you build up your birding credibility? Quick answer – ID cautiously (the birds you see are likely to be expected birds, not rare ones), observe carefully and describe what you saw, and document your sightings with photos. Finding rare birds on your own helps, too. More thoughts on credibility in an upcoming post.