So Much Depends on a Mulberry Tree

We hiked High Island yesterday.  Even though it’s May and the spring migration of neotropical birds is almost over, we still saw many species we don’t normally see in Southeast Texas!

As soon as we got out of the car in the parking lot of Boy Scout Woods, I saw a male scarlet tanager in full breeding plumage.  The high-intensity, rich red of this tanager’s body contrasts sharply with its deep black wings and tail.  We saw many more males like him during our hike.  Each of them was on a huge mulberry tree, its beak glistening with mulberry juice.  We also saw countless gray catbirds, two adult male Baltimore orioles, and two adult male bay-breasted warblers–all on mulberry trees.

These tiny birds travel thousands of miles–often through stormy weather and over the Gulf of Mexico where they cannot rest–during spring and fall migrations.  They arrive at the forests of High Island looking for food (fruit or insects) and fresh water.

The scattered mulberry trees on the island (it’s a salt dome, actually) are so important that they remind me of this poem by William Carlos Williams:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Mulberry picked during our hike.
Mulberry picked during our hike.

It was a pleasant, balmy summer day outside the forests and cool and dank inside them.  Birds love nice weather.

We saw a Tennessee warbler at a water drip, Swainson’s hawks soaring, chimney swifts crisscrossing overhead, eastern kingbirds at the very tops of trees, roseate spoonbills at the Smith Oaks island rookery battling it out with egrets for nesting space while an algae-covered alligator slowly patrolled the waters and purple gallinules pecked around for food, male and female cardinals everywhere (with the males calling beautifully), and a baby armadillo digging in the quiet shade of a mulberry tree near a house.

Egret at Smith Island Rookery

Roseate Spoonbill at Smith Oaks Rookery

Finally, we encountered something that always pleasantly surprises me in this remote but critically important part of Southeast Texas:  foreigners!  Three men and three women, all from China, wearing camo outfits, with camo-patterned zoom lenses on their cameras and purple nitrile gloves on their hands, energetically photographed the nesting birds at Smith Oaks.  I didn’t encounter any Australian, British, or Japanese birders on the trails this time around.

Unfortunately, few Texans even know about High Island, much less visit or support the place!

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