By Bruce Beehler
18 April 2015, Blog #10 of my North with the Spring journey:
Caddo Lake is a dammed section of Big Bayou Creek, which flows into the Red River and is part of the Mississippi drainage basin. I visited because I was entranced by the thought of kayaking through the cypress forests – festooned with hanging gray tangles of Spanish moss – that fringe the lake. And the backwater passages through these drowned forests are otherworldly.
The Caddo Lake area is rich with protected lands and waters, and it is a wonderful place for an ornithologist to spend time. The uplands are either piney woods or hardwood forests, and the bottoms are cypress. Each habitat supports its own suite of breeding neotropical migrant songbirds.
A Forest Teeming with Birds
One afternoon I hiked through a lovely patch of old-growth oak forest with Vanessa Nease, a research biologist for the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area. Ames Spring Basin is her favorite patch of hardwood glen forest in the area. Protected in several deep ravines leading down to the lake, it featured towering oaks, ashes, sweet gum, and hickory. The understory included wildflowers, ferns, and canebrake.
Forest reserves like these support breeding populations of a wide range of neotropical migrant songbirds. We saw Northern Parula, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, and Summer Tanager in our afternoon hike. Setting aside this tract of old growth forest makes a huge difference for our migrants, and we should strive to save every last stand of old growth. These are places where the more sensitive species can nest without being located by the Brown-headed Cowbirds—wily and persistent nest parasites that lay their eggs in the nests of warblers and vireos and thrushes.
The next day I paddled my kayak through Carter’s Shute of the Caddo Lake WMA, which follows a marked trail through the stands of cypress. I got there before sunrise as mist was spreading across the still and black waters. I eased my kayak into the water and entered a wonderland.
As the sun rose, birds started singing—first Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren, and then Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula, and Yellow-throated Warbler. Great Egrets foraged all around me. An Anhinga soared overhead. A Red-shouldered Hawk cried out in the distance. Then a Pileated Woodpecker drummed on a distant hollow trunk.
I explored a side channel on the way back and there was a Barred Owl perched low on the cypress stub in the water. I quietly drifted closer as it mutely watched me in my kayak. I snapped pictures until I was too close for my long lens. Magic!
I saw not another soul on my two-hour circuit. It was utterly peaceful. This is the true and lasting value of wilderness. We can never let down our guard on behalf of these special places. They are invaluable resources that make living worthwhile, and help us recharge our souls.
Bruce Beehler is an ornithologist, conservationist, and naturalist. He is currently a Research Associate in the Division of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and is focused on research and writing about nature and natural history. Bruce has published ten books and authored dozens of technical and popular articles about nature. In 2007, Beehler was featured in a “60 Minutes” piece highlighting an expedition he led to the Foja Mountains in the interior of New Guinea in which scores of new species were discovered.