Tanager, Grosbeaks, Towhees, and MORE!

Memorial Day birding at the Sudbury Reservoir was a great success! My husband, my son and I walked along the northeast section of the reservoir on the Bay Circuit Path. Almost immediately we heard and saw a gorgeous Red Breasted Grosbeak in the trees.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

You can't see the rose colored breast in these pictures, but you can't miss the flashes of red in the field. The word "Grosbeak" refers to the large, powerful beaks which are another very distinctive feature of these birds.

RoseBreasted Grosbeak

Then we saw a Scarlet Tanager! I consider this to be my first ever sighting of this bird, even though my mother tells me I saw them at our backyard feeders as a child. I almost missed seeing him on Monday, too!

scarlet tanager

My husband (who isn't an avid birder, by any means) was the first to spot him in the trees. When he called out that he saw a bright red bird, both my son and I assumed he meant a cardinal, and we almost didn't bother to look.


Thank goodness the Scarlet Tanager stayed put long enough for my son to recognize him, and long enough for me to see him myself! My son often sees these birds at the Broadmoor Audubon Sanctuary in Natick. He says they don't seem shy about people, and will often stick around long enough for you to get a good look at them.

scarlet tanager II

We saw many, many Towhees that morning, but getting a good photo of a bird that rarely sits still is a challenge. The first Towhee we saw was a female. The females have the same markings as the males, but are brown where the males are black. This female was jumping backwards in a pile of last year's leaves, which is how they look for bugs. The males we saw were singing as they perched on various treetops, like this one. It is a poor photo, but a good representation of typical Towhee behavior.


A silhouette of a singing Towhee.

towhee sillouette

I decided this was a family of cormorants based on their coloring. The juvenile Cormorants are lighter in color than the adults, and look brown instead of black.

cormorant family copy

The younger bird in this photo is striking a typical Cormorant pose. Cormorants often stand like this, with wings outstretched in the sun.

cormorant family 2

While watching the Cormorants I saw a truly terrible sight: a desperately frightened squirrel swimming across the reservoir! I didn't even know squirrels could swim - and I don't think this squirrel knew it, either. He looked terrified! You'll be happy to know that he made it safely onto the shore, and he seemed none the worse for his experience.

scared squirrel swimming copy

Chickadees are hardly exotic, but I like this image of a chickadee in the wild. We are used to seeing them at backyard feeders, but this one preferred to catch his own dinner!


We saw numerous Baltimore Orioles on the forest path as we headed back to the car. By then the sun was directly overhead, though, so none of the Oriole pictures did them justice. The last image from our expedition is still unidentified. It is not an Eastern Kingbird, but I'm fairly sure it is a member of the flycatcher family. It's upper beak is black and the lower beak is yellow-orange, and it had a distinctly yellow tint on it's belly. I'm guessing it could be a Great Crested Flycatcher, or an Eastern Phoebe, or an Eastern Peewee . . . or something else. I really have no clue. I do know one thing, though - we had a great birding day at the Sudbury Reservoir!



  1. Wow- great pictures Sue! Especially the Scarlet Tanager- those are really beautiful. I still have never seen one actually! Hopefully soon.

  2. It really was a thrill! I've been waiting a very long time, myself!

  3. The photo of the scarlet tanger is amazing. I was able to photograph one in Wisconsin, but I've never seen one in Massachusetts. Nice find for the non-birder.

  4. John,
    You shouls see hump7's tanager shots - they are perfection!


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