by Robert Becker
Artists have long used the color blue to create a mood in song and celebrate beauty in paintings. Their inspiration derives from nature, and it is this blue in nature’s profusion of birds that provides similar inspiration for us. Get ready to enjoy the show, as they will soon arrive on the island in the spring migration.
“The Blue Danube,” Johann Strauss’s famous waltz, celebrates the “Danube so blue, so bright and blue,” that “merries the heart.” Okay, we don’t have that famous river, but our Gulf of Mexico shimmers a deep blue when the sun and wind are just right. It also channels to our coast thousands of migrating songbirds. One is the crowd-pleasing Blue Grosbeak. Its vibrant, rich blue is highlighted by chocolate brown wingbars, and its song merries the heart with a cascade of musical notes. Look for them atop small trees and shrubs in April and May at Corps Woods and Dos Vacas Muertos nature preserves in Galveston.
Pablo Picasso’s famous Blue Period paintings conveyed his pain on the loss of people he loved. One of his favorite tones resembles lapis lazuli, a semiprecious deep blue gem stone. The Lazuli Bunting is named after this color. It has a bright, sweet-sounding twittering song. The head and wings are blue, the breast is a rich rusty color, and the belly is pure white. This beauty occasionally passes through here in spring and fall to and from its breeding grounds in the North and West. This bird is occasionally spotted at Lafitte’s Cove and at High Island.
A different shade was referenced by Duke Ellington in his 1930 swing classic “Mood Indigo.” It goes: “You ain’t never been blue, till you’ve had that mood indigo.” We’ve got our Indigo Bunting, a small, inquisitive songbird whose distinctive plumage falls somewhere between blue and purple on the spectrum. With all due regard to the Duke, I don’t think anyone seeing an Indigo Bunting would feel blue. These merry songbirds lift our spirits. They are now trickling into the Texas coast and we will see them in weedy and shrubby fields everywhere in April and May.
John Coltrane recorded his hard bop album “Blue Train” in 1958. Coltrane’s jumpy saxophone lines remind me of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, a songbird that flits and bops quickly through the trees like the notes spilling from Coltrane’s horn. This warbler has a black face and midnight blue head and back and favors shady, dark forest understory. It has a soft, pleasant four-note song. This handsome warbler makes a guest appearance here and there at High Island, Lafitte’s Cove and Sabine Woods in the spring and fall migration. It takes persistence and vigilance to see one, but it is well worth the effort. They are superstars, and every reported sighting is sure to set off a birders’ stampede.
I never get tired of seeing all of these blue songbirds. But my favorite of them all is the Cerulean Warbler. It’s usually described as deep sky-blue, but I like to think of it think of it as Electric Blue, a mood expressed in the David Bowie song “Sound and Vision.” Bowie wrote the song at a low point personally and professionally, but when I hear that song I don’t feel sad. I envision the color of a Cerulean Warbler, and it makes me smile. Look for them in April in the upper canopy in the woods at Lafitte’s Cove and at Smith Oaks at High Island. They will make you smile too.
Robert Becker is a retired journalist and avid birder who lives in Galveston.