Surprise of the Summer Tanager!

FD breaking the beaver dam that was near flooding the road leading to the cabin! Those darned beavers!!

One Saturday early in May, I opted to travel out to the wooded area north of town where FD and a friend are building a cabin.  It was a dream they had both had for many years and, after FD acquired an old, washed up, county road bridge for lumber, they went to work drawing up plans.  Once the old bridge was taken apart and the lumber relocated to the site, construction of the cabin began. That is when I became a weekend widow.

FD managed to photograph the cabin at the end of their workday each Sunday but, while he had lots of photos of the cabin and of his friend working at various tasks, there were no photos of FD or of the two of them working as a team.   This May weekend, I decided that I wanted to photograph the two of them working together, lifting the heavy beams that make up the cabin walls by use of a block-and-tackle system.  It sounded like an interesting process and I figured when I wasn’t getting photos of them, I could wander around and take in some of the plants and wildlife around the lake.  I had been out there just a month prior for morel mushroom hunting and wished I’d had my camera then.  The area is remote and undeveloped except for a winding vehicle trail to the lake and the cabin, and nature abounds.  It is a peaceful and serene area.

The rye grain is much taller than during mushroom season in April. It was chest-high on me… all I could think of was meeting a snake as I walked the path!

That morning, I rode out with FD in our old 1996 Ford truck that I call “Big Green”.  She’s a crew cab with a long bed, so the ride gets to be quite bumpy with such a long wheel base. We rocked and rolled down the sand road to the main gate.  The county no longer maintains the road so a person needs to come prepared to move a fallen limb or even use a chainsaw to cut back a fallen tree.  Torrential rains often cut deep ruts in the road, which makes me sometimes think our next truck needs to be a four-wheel drive!

At the entry gate, FD had to stop and “unclog” the cattle guard due to a dam the beavers had constructed the week before.  Recent rains filled up their beaver bog, and the dam allowed it to back up to the point of flooding the rock road ahead.  From the entry gate, large crushed rock paves the road the pumper drives to the gas well site at the top of a hill.  There, he inspects and maintains the well equipment, making repairs as needed.  Once FD cleared the beaver dam and water from the bog began flowing downstream to a neighboring pond, we proceeded along the path to the lake and up a meadow to the cabin.

Hundreds of Widow Skimmer Dragonflies perched vertically on the stems of dried weeds. I could walk right up to them most of the time.

At the site of the cabin, I got my camera and zoom lens ready.  Because a zoom lens is often necessary with scenes of nature, I brought it along in case I went walking about.  While the guys got things set up, I did just that, wandering around the immediate area capturing photographs of many of the dragonflies that seemed to pose on the prairie grass.  I could almost walk right up to them!  I soon became bored with the dragonflies, however, and began chasing butterflies around, but then got sidetracked by the position of the sun.  The morning light was providing all sorts of interesting photo opportunities.  The wild flowers were all fresh and newly opened and I was delighted that everywhere I looked, I saw something of beauty.

This Variegated Fritillary butterfly paused for a moment on a blackberry blossom. The morning sun illuminates through its wings.

Hearing the banging of hammers and whirring of equipment, I was quickly snapped back to the reason I was there.  I walked back to the cabin site and began my task of photographing the guys at work.  A few times between shots, I helped out by fetching a tool or a ladder, or switching off the generator.  I watched and learned, marveling at the work they were doing.  Like a finely oiled machine they worked together, seemingly knowing what was next and what was expected.  Though it was still early spring, the day was hot and windy.  Sweat poured off both of them, their shirts plastered to their chests, jeans sticking to their legs.  I wondered how they could walk the beams so high above the ground, kneel down as if doing a delicate balance beam routine, then stand back up and use a sledge-hammer to drive steel re-bar to secure one beam to the next.  When their first water break arrived, I was only too glad to take a rest myself.  The heat was beginning to get to me, and I couldn’t imagine how it must be for them.

A venomous Copperhead snake in hiding under a large beam!

After sitting a short spell, the guys began discussing where certain beams would be placed and a good bit of measuring ensued.  Finally, FD got on the tractor and began moving the heavy, twenty-foot beams.  Suddenly, our friend yelled an exclamation of, “SNAKE!!” and, sure enough, coiled tightly under the beam lay an Oklahoma Copperhead.  I had only seen them on our place, where they were more of a patterned, dark green color.  This one was tan and brown.  I had always heard they blended in well with their environment.  I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to get Mr. Copperhead in the coiled-up pose, but I did capture him escaping.  Unfortunately for him, our friend got the shovel out and be-headed the venomous reptile.

This small, red moth flitted to various wildflowers. I never did discover the name of this beautiful specimen.

While the guys continued measuring and discussing the next phase of the project, I wandered off again, looking for wildflowers, insects, and anything else that caught my eyes.  I heard a strange bird call that I did not recognize.  I looked and looked, hoping to catch a glimpse of what seemed an elusive bird.  Again and again I would hear it’s call but could never see it.  I even went to fetch my binoculars, but still could not locate the bird in the thick foliage. This was beginning to irritate me.

Across the lake, a family of Canadian Geese take a leisurely paddle in the water.

Though I could not find the strange-sounding bird, I did see some beautiful moths and butterflies.  Hundreds flitted in and around the blackberry thickets.  Bees also buzzed around and dragonflies floated by doing all sorts of pivots and aerial maneuvers.  I wished I had a way to the other side of the lake to get some better photos of the Canadian Geese and their young taking a family swim.  The lake offered a beauty of its own, with herons and cranes fishing in the distance.

I looked around, admiring the lake’s charms as vultures and Mississippi Kites soared above, when suddenly, I heard it again, the strange call of that unknown bird.  I decided I should look a bit harder for this elusive fellow, even venturing into the edge of the woods.  Where WAS that bird?  It sounded close, but I could not locate it.  When I got my jeans snagged up in cat briar, I decided I best move out of the wooded tangle to continue my search from a safer vantage.  Our earlier encounter with Mr. Copperhead should have been warning enough that walking around in the woods wasn’t the brightest idea.  I would have to use my binoculars to find that bird from the outer edge of the woods.  I’d been hearing it all day.  Surely, at some point I would find the source of the shrill song!

A sea of Spittlebug froth clung to prairie weeds, blowing in the Oklahoma wind.

At this point in the day, the light had become harsh and the humidity was sweltering.  The wind had come up and I noticed my zoom lens was not working as smoothly when adjusting it in and out.  I was in a huff by the time I got back to the truck to change lenses.  I should have known better than to take our most expensive lens out in the country, in a sandy area no less, and subject it to the harsh Oklahoma elements.  I also noticed debris in the body of the camera.  I would pay the price of having to do some delicate cleaning when I got home. Cameras require careful cleaning, and sometimes it must be done professionally (translation – “expensively”).

When I returned to the cabin site, I found the guys had stopped for another water break and realized that I, too, was ready for some hydration.  I walked the distance from the truck to the water cooler complaining to FD about my blunder with the zoom lens.  I was highly irritated with myself for bringing it along.  I showed him the dirt specks I was seeing in my viewfinder – evidence of debris in the body of the camera.  Caught up in the moment with my panties in a twist over the condition of the camera and lens, I suddenly became aware that I was hearing that songbird again!  I looked up immediately, and THERE IT WAS!!!  It was just above us and, from head to tail feathers, was the brightest shade of true red I had ever seen!  Proudly, it sang and sang.

Aghast, I realized I had changed back to my regular lens but now needed my zoom lens!  I walked carefully, but steadily back to the truck, changed lenses, and crept back like an Egyptian, ever so careful but not so fast as to draw attention and scare the bird off.  The three of us stared at the striking red bird.  Not one of us had ever seen anything like it before.  I managed only a few shots of it before it flew away to the west, disappearing into the darkness of the thick foliage.

This handsome Summer Tanager sang his song lustily while he waited for me to fetch my zoom lens!

I spent the rest of the afternoon helping the guys with construction… being a gopher of sorts.  I enjoyed the hard work, and I gained great respect for the thought and the work behind the woodland cabin.  Somehow, I forgot about being a weekend cabin widow and decided I was quite proud of my husband and his friend for working so hard on a dream, and doing it so inexpensively through the discovering and dismantling of the old bridge for material.  I was thankful too, for the opportunity to photograph nature in a different setting than the woodland on our property.  Although dismayed at the ill-functioning camera, I was elated that I managed some beautiful shots of nature and wildlife, and of such a stunning bird.  I had also accomplished my goal of capturing the guys working diligently on their cabin. I could not wait to get back home and download my photos of the day.  I had taken more than three hundred in all.  And of course, I needed to research that bird!

What a strikingly handsome male Tanager. And to think the female is a duller, brownish-yellow/olive color and sings a more garbled version of the male’s song.

After viewing the photos, I discovered our scarlet beauty is actually a handsome, male Summer Tanager.   And no wonder it took most of the day to locate this handsome devil!  Summer Tanagers spend most of their time high up in the top canopy of trees in rather dense forested areas.  Their primary diet is wasps and bees which they catch in midair.  They flit from tree to tree and branch to branch as they catch and kill their prey.  They are constantly on the move.  I considered myself very fortunate that this particular bird allowed me time enough to change lenses so I could take his photo!

The guys put in a hard days work!

At the end of that first day I realized I had so much fun that I decided to go back out with FD and his friend on Sunday for another day of work and play.  It was a more overcast day, and much more pleasant for us all, in spite of my having to deal with the ill-moving zoom lens once more.

A week later, as I was walking through our woods with Daisy deer, I again became irritated with the difficulty of the sliding function of the zoom lens.  I know, it’s hard to imagine me irritated, but I mentioned out loud to the Universe… to God, that it would sure be nice if my zoom lens was not messed up.  Can you believe about ten minutes later, the zoom lens began sliding smoothly back and forth?  As I looked down in disbelief, I noticed then, in small print on the zoom ring,  a couple of words and instructional arrows pointing in opposite directions, “SMOOTH <—-> TIGHT”.  WHAT?? All of this time I thought I had messed up the slide adjustment on the zoom by exposing it to the sand and wind, when all I had really done was unknowingly twist the zoom ring to “Tight”.  In the six or seven years I have had the zoom lens, never once did I realize the function of that ring!  Maybe, like the Summer Tanager, I’ve been too busy flitting from shot to shot and task to task to take time to “read the destructions” as FD would tell me.  I say, “Pshhh!” – Ooh!  Wait!  Where’s my camera? And out the door I dash…

Who has time to read the silly old instructions anyway?

A lone turkey feather tumbles in the wind and alights on prairie grass.

© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

37 thoughts on “Surprise of the Summer Tanager!

  1. It’s time for bed and I wanted to see your post about the Tanager… I was totally taken in by ALL of your lovely photographs! I’ll be back tomorrow to read what prompted all this loveliness! ~ Lynda


    1. Lynda, you would have loved this place! I’ve been there many times to fish and mushroom hunt, but never to just walk around leisurely to photograph nature. Now I wish I had been able to locate the female Summer Tanager, but with her cloaked in olive greens and yellow/brown, I probably never would have spotted her! I had never seen spittlebug froth and it was everywhere I walked. There are many other flower photos I didn’t take time to post but perhaps will in a later post. It was just a breathtaking couple of days. I’ll go out again soon to pick blackberries and see how things have changed! The fellas are really making progress. The roof is about to go on!


  2. Magnificent shot of the red bird! It is stunning! I like the reddish feather of the bird 🙂 Hmm, i was wondering, are there a lot of mosquitoes around you when you are exploring the place?


    1. At that time there were no mosquitoes, and the guys have not complained about them. Mosquitoes tend to be worst in marshy areas or after a series of rains, which we have not had much of this spring. Mostly, the Buffalo Gnat (Black Fly), was the bothersome pest I seemed to encounter out in the woods. With mosquitoes we see them mostly early morning and in the evening hours. Poor Daisy deer is covered in mosquitoes, buffalo gnats and irritated by bot flies. I have a friend who spends much time out with the deer herds in Kansas and she wears protective clothing to keep her from tick bites and other various insects while in the woods and open pasture.


  3. That photograph of the wildflower and pinkish moth you never discovered the name of is absolutely breathtaking!


    1. Thank you so much! I researched quite a bit to discover what species of moth it is but I saw nothing comparible. I may submit it to and see if they can tell me what it is. If so, I will be sure to update the blog post! The moth was difficult to photograph as it flitted from flower to flower, mostly the red Indian Blanket (or Gallardia) that covered the meadow. It was a quick flier as well, so I really had to scamper around to get to it!


  4. Your photos are amazing, Big Sister! I can’t tell you which one was my favorite… the dragonfly, butterfly, the red moth on the flower; they were all beautiful! The cabin is coming along nicely, those two guys sure do put in some hard, long hours; in the heat, no less. And your zoom lens fiasco was funny, especially when it’s FD you call the “Grasshopper”, hmm… I think you’ve got a bit of that in you too, LOL! Wonderful post, I enjoyed it very much.


    1. Baby Sister, you always say the nicest things! Well, I guess I am picking up some “Grasshopper” tendencies, and I think I LIKE it! To think I used to be so rigid and “Miss Rules” about everything. Goodness… aren’t we glad we all change and evolve? The cabin is coming along nicely. They will be finishing up some more blocking this weekend and next weekend they’ll try to do the roof in one fell swoop! I may go out to photograph them, pick blackberries and see what wildlife I can find. Unfortunately, the grass burs and other thorny grasses are tall and not so pleasant to walk through. Temps are to be in the triple digits by then. Not very appealing!


    1. The cabin sits on eighty acres of mostly woodland and of course looks out to that beautiful lake. We fish out there sometimes and the guys do hunting in the fall, winter and spring. It’ll be fairly rustic, no running water or electricity. They have always tent-camped in the past and I think they want accommodations that are a bit more comfortable. They’re getting older and tent camping can be rough!! I will probably go with FD sometimes mostly to fish and photograph. It really is a beautiful and untouched area.


  5. Great photos and interesting story of the days events as well. Enjoyed it as always. Pulling those beams up into place looks like dangerous work. Makes you appreciate how everything was done by hand not so long ago. I can relate to your frustration with your camera. I haven’t posted a blog in over a month simply because I had to get a new computer and I’ve had issues with transferring photos from camera to computer. Plus it’s taken me some time to get everything back the way a like it. I didn’t realize I was so set in my ways. 🙂 Good luck on the cabin build and stay safe.


    1. I am feeling for you! FD hooked up a new “old” computer for me (his old work computer that he purchased from his employer), and in the setup, could not get the backup external drive to power up. All of our photos are on there, so until we can find a way to transfer the data, I’m without my blog photos. I take them, and then later formulate a blog post from them. So, I will be out of the loop for a while too.

      The cabin is really coming together. Next weekend the roof goes on. After that, they hand-make the custom window frames. The floor will go in last. Not sure at what point they’ll tackle the chinking. Interior work (mostly from repurposed material) will happen as they can manage. I think they will take a break after the flooring goes in.

      I have missed your blog posts. Set in your ways??? For me, it’s OCD I’m afraid!! Glad you are getting everything set up just as you like and hope to read about your adventures soon! Besides, I’m missing Paco!


      1. I think “set in your ways” is just a nice way of saying I’m OCD as well. 🙂 Paco is not having fun trying to adjust to this heat but he still begs to go hiking. I can’t wait for the cooler temps again. Good luck on the external drive. I know I was disappointed a while back when I realized I lost about 6 months worth of photos. You guys be careful and try to stay cool.


  6. Thanks Rachel! Yes, the cabin is exciting. It’s still hard to believe they used an old 20′ x40′ river bridge for the main construction. They also reused the spikes from the bridge to pin the walls. It’s just amazing how well they planned the whole structure using scrap wood. It’s in a beautiful setting and looks just as rustic sitting there, as the undeveloped land is that surrounds it. I can see myself with my camera, enjoying a lot of photograpy opportunities all year long!


  7. The cabin is starting to look beautifulll! Those beams are HUGE, that must have been a big river.. Your life sounds so G.D romantic! I think you have given me something to strive towards (first I need to learn how to be handy…)


    1. I hope that FD will blog about the cabin. He learned carpentry at a young age, he drew up the design, and they planned how to utilize each beam, board and spike so that they wouldn’t have to spend much on additional material. Every weekend those two come home dirty, sweaty and worn out, but with big smiles on their faces! They are so proud… and they should be!

      This is a romantic life… what a huge compliment! It wasn’t always that way for me, but I am sure glad I’m living these awesome days of mystery and surprise! It’s pretty darned cool!

      Hang with “handy” people. They can show you the ropes… of course you have to start out as a gopher. That’s how I grew up!! We were Dad’s gophers. He taught us to be practical and how to manage on very little!


  8. Great photo of that butterfly, perhaps one of the best I’ve seen. The cabin…….holy shit! Talk about stout! How them boys know how to do that? And…….God fixed your zoom lens?


    1. Thanks Mike! I love photographing butterflies but they sure can be difficult to capture. The cabin is, without a doubt, a very solid structure. I’m not sure how they managed some of those upper beams. The block and tackle system really helped but they still used a lot of brut strength to manage. FD was a carpenter when he was younger (lucky me, I have a fix-it man!!). I’m really amazed at how they’ve utilized every bit of wood, so as to not have a lot of expense with additional material. I think the roof will go on next weekend. I may go out to photograph that… and pick wild blackberries.

      Instead of cussing about my predicament with the zoom lens I think I was saying a few hopeful words that it would work without me having to take it in for repair. I can’t believe I didn’t see the “Smooth Tight” indication on the zoom ring. What a ding dong I am sometimes!


    1. I am glad you enjoyed the post! I had an even better day today with the camera in the woods behind our home. I daresay I got nothing else done today… and that’s just fine with me!


  9. I am SO envious of you seeing that wonderful tanager–and all the other wonderful parts of the woodlands and meadows where the cabin is being built. How I wish my hubbie and I could find some great lumber like this for our own dream cabin! Bless you for all this generous sharing.


    1. Thank you Granbee! I was at the cabin photographing for the guys again yesterday. That elusive summer tanager could be heard but not seen. Every time I ventured into the woods to get a better look-see, I felt ticks falling like rain. I never did find my bright red friend, but it was content to hear it’s happy song!


  10. What a gorgeous Husker Red that bird is. And BTW, wouldn’t you expect the male bird to sing better and be more colorful – just kidding!

    I’m astonished at the size of the beams the boys are putting in place. And doing it with block and tackle. There’s some real men, there.

    Can’t wait to see the pictures of the cabin completed.

    Oh, almost forgot, I mentioned you in my latest post:


    1. I knew you would appreciate Mr. Tanager’s Husker Red feathers! Truth be told, that bird is a bit of a tease. It hides deep in the woods where I’m not too likely to venture, so I’ll have to be happy with the photos I have of this one!

      I was at the cabin yesterday and construction is moving along nicely. I’ll be sure to post again about it soon!

      Thanks for mentioning my blog… what a cool friend you are!!


  11. Wow, this was a wonderful post! What a lot of nice photos you got to go along with it. I am glad your lens is okay. Twice, I have accidentally hit some little button and thought my lens was broken. What a great shot of the tanager! I have only seen two in my life. Did you ever hear they like oak trees? I did, so I have been hiking down to the nearest oak in the woods since. No luck yet!

    BTW, that little moth is perfectly suited to the fire wheel, isn’t it?


  12. Thanks Sandy! I was out at the cabin yesterday and HEARD the Tanager, but never did see the elusive bird. It sang in the area all day but didn’t present itself. I had my zoom ready the whole time. There are many oak trees in the area so it wouldn’t surprise me if they did frequent them. I do hope I get to see another Tanager. It was such a striking bird!

    I have STILL not discovered what type of moth that is. I think it is somet type of borer moth but not sure. I had never seen anything like it, and almost overlooked it since it blended in with the wild gallardia so well.


    1. Thank you so much! I was out to the cabin yesterday and spent most of the day with my zoom lens hopeful to catch site of another Summer Tanager. I could hear the song but never did locate the bird! I do hope I am fortunate to see them again! Blessings to you too, my friend!


  13. The first time I saw the scarlet tanager, I was so surprised that I had not noticed it until I was right under it….it is such a startling red color…. As my eyes grew accustomed to the edge of the woods I noticed that in the branch above the male the female sat watching us carefully. It’s certainly a once in a lifetime experience.


    1. Now I wish I had thought to look for the female! She may have been nearby and I never gave that a thought! Of course at that point I wouldn’t have known what to look for. I felt so fortunate that this male waited long enough for me to run to the truck to change camera lenses in order to get excellent photos. He was certainly a sight to behold!


      1. This reminds me of the time we went to Pimaquid Light in Me. There are a long stretch of rocks down to the ocean from the lighthouse. It’s a difficult climb for me (physical situation) and when I got down to the ocean after the first photo, I found I had run out of film. So up I climbed back to the car to get some more film…only to find that I had forgotten the keys to the car… so down I went again to get the keys from John,…and up I went again to get the film … and then back down again for a few photos. By the time I got back to take the photos I was so exhausted I couldn’t consentrate and I’m just lucky I did manage to get a few that I had shot shooting blind! 🙂


    1. Thank you so much! You know, I did a lot of research on that moth and never did see anything like it. The best I could tell, it could have been some type of nut tree borer. There are many walnut trees in the area so that could very well be. I am so lucky that Mr. Tanager waited on me to put the zoom lens on my camera. Otherwise, all I had was a tiny red speck in a lot of greenery!!


Comments are closed.