Texas Travel Diary - p 6Prothonotary Warbler (58150 bytes)

20 April 2003
For me the star of Sabine Woods is the beautiful little Prothonotary Warbler.  Its name, by the way, is a misspelled and mispronounced rendition of protonotary, a papal official who wears bright yellow robes.  "What a name to saddle on the Golden Swamp-bird!" lamented early ornithologist A.C. Bent.   It does indeed nest in swamps and along waterways in the eastern U.S.  Here it's in the same habitat, gleaning insects from the small willows around Sabine Woods pond.  Vera and Bob Thornton, who describe how they photographed every breeding species of warbler in North America in Chasing Warblers, once counted almost 100 exhausted Prothonotaries around this pond following a heavy rainstorm that produced a fallout.  I was lucky to photograph this bird when I did - later a woman from the Texas Ornithological Society came by and scolded another photographer and me for using flash because it distracts the other birders.  

21 April 2003
Today, my last full day of birding on the trip, provided an unexpected surprise.  I wandered over to Louisiana to Holleyman-Sheely Sanctuary, another coastal migrant trap, then drove ten miles north to Sabine National Wildlife Refuge's marsh boardwalk.  Except for Purple Gallinule, bird # 160 on my trip list, nothing special was in the marsh.   However, the first 200 yards of the trail leading to the marsh were lined with mulberry trees, and was this a popular spot!  Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanagers,Summer Tanager (58912 bytes) Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Catbirds and Indigo Buntings, all ravenous after their long Gulf flight, were feasting on the ripening mulberries.  Alongside them, gleaning insects, were White-eyed Vireos as well as warblers such as American Redstarts, Tennessee and Yellow Warblers.  What was expected to be a quick half-hour check of the area became a 6-hour photo shoot as new waves of birds continued to arrive and feed.
    The tanagers are my favorites, but only the dull yellow females and the first-year males, who are a bizarre patchwork of olive-green and red, feed on low open branches.  The handsome red males usually stay higher - I wait for a long time before one finally appears in the camera viewfinder.


    Baltimore Oriole (58453 bytes)

As I'm waiting, I reflect on how some trees and vines, such as dogwood and wild grapes, produce fruit in autumn.  Their fruit ripens just in time to feed migrant songbirds heading south.  The mulberry, at least here along the southern coast, produces fruit early enough for spring migrants moving north.  One can almost sense how relieved are the orioles and tanagers to have survived their long and dangerous Gulf transit.  Now they can enjoy a quick energy fix before continuing on to their breeding homes.


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