Shyamala Rao - Artist
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Welcome to my blog. This will be an ongoing blog in which I will discuss things I am working on, as well as my thoughts on wildlife conservation. Please come back to this page regularly, as I will update it from time to time.

I have added a feature that allows you to search Amazon for any books or other goods they sell. However, instead of me receiving a commission for the sale, that money will be automatically donated to the World Wildlife Fund. That makes it easy for you to get what you wanted, and at the same time help out a very worthy cause!

August 10, 2013

Miracles of Migration VIII The Black and White Warbler

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Miracles of Migration Series  VIII :


The Black and White Warbler                                    by                                   Shyamala Rao


The Black and White Warbler, with striking geometrical patterns is a little song bird with slender stripes of alternating black and white. This 5 inch long bird is usually seen close to a tree trunk creeping up or down the trunk, earnestly looking into each crevice seeking insects. The Black and white warbler is definitely easier for bird watchers to observe.  This is in sharp contrast to most of the other warblers which zip around like hyperactive kids, staying really high up in the canopy giving every birder a sore “warbler neck!”


The Black and white warbler is the only bird in its genus and is considered a New World Warbler. The adult bird is 5 inches in length and has black and white stripes in the head and back. There are 2 white wing bars. The belly is white with black streaks. The adult bird weighs about ½ to ¾ ounce. The birds creep up and down tree trunks and limbs looking for insects. They consume spiders, beetles and larval insects.

The Black and White Warblers are found all across the North and North Eastern part of the continent. Their habitat extends all the way south to eastern half of Texas and to the northern part of Florida. They arrive in these regions in April and May and choose woodland areas preferably somewhat wet areas to build their nests. Black and white Warblers build their nests on the ground in cup like nests made of leaves, grass and pine needles. The birds line the nest with soft fine grass and bits of fur. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs and incubates for 2 weeks. When the chicks are hatched both parents feed the chicks for 2 to 4 weeks until the chicks fledge.

The birds grow fast, eat insects in huge quantities. The juveniles grow strong and by September the Black and White Warblers are ready to begin the process of Migration. These birds are usually night fliers and during the day they stop, rest and eat build up strength. They start on the next leg of the long journey of Migration. Black and White Warblers spend the winter months in the lower coastal strip of the Gulf Coast but more often they go much further south. Their winter residing grounds extend from Mexico all the way down Central America into North Eastern part of South America.

The Black and White Warblers spend the winter in the wet woodlands of Central and South America. They build up good reserves of fat in their wintering grounds. This comes in handy in the spring when the long journey back to the breeding areas has to be undertaken. In the Hill Country area we are lucky to see the Black and White Warblers during migration and sometimes we see some of them settle down and use this area as a breeding area.


July 5, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series VII : The Baltimore Oriole

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:12 am

Miracles of Migration Series VII :

The Baltimore Oriole by Shyamala Rao

The Baltimore Oriole is a splendid black and orange bird and the first sighting is a moment when all time stops and the world simply fades away. My own very first look at this stunning beauty of a bird was right at my front door where I had a Hummingbird feeder set out. The bird landed close by and worked at figuring how to get at some of the delicious sweet nectar. I was fortunate to have my camera close at hand and got some quick shots of this beauty that was gracing my home. I look at the pictures frequently and I have to admit the gorgeous bird definitely makes me marvel at the miracle of evolution. what impetus led to such stunning good looks.


Even though the name implies an Oriole ornithologists state that these birds belong in the family of Blackbirds, the family is Icterids and the Latin name for the Baltimore Oriole is Icterus Galbula. These birds are found all over the North Eastern United States during the breeding season. Their breeding grounds extend from Wisconsin to Maine in the north and all the way to Alabama and Mississippi in the South. The birds are between 7 to 9 inches in length when fully grown. Baltimore Orioles weigh about one and a half ounces when adult. The male is somewhat larger than the female. The male has bright orange under parts, shoulders and rump, while the rest of the male’s body is a gleaming black. The female is brownish yellow in the back and yellowish orange in the belly.


Baltimore Orioles reach their breeding grounds in North Eastern United States around May of each year and the males first set about establishing territories. Their diet consists of insects and berries and fruit. They are especially fond of consuming the Caterpillar Moth. Baltimore Orioles adults and chicks seek nectar from backyard feeders.

The male Baltimore Orioles court available females by vigorous singing and bowing displays. Once the female succumbs to the charms of the male a mating relationship is set up. The female builds the nest by herself and it is quite characteristic, a long woven pouch. The female lays 3 to 6 eggs and incubates the eggs for 2 weeks. The chicks hatch and they are fed by both parents for a 2 to 4 week period. The chicks then fledge and begin foraging for food. The rest of the summer is spent in feeding, growing fast and building the necessary stamina and fat reserves for the Fall Migration.

And the cycle of migration resumes in the fall and these gorgeous birds are off to wintering grounds and will be back in the spring.


This female Baltimore Oriole came to my backyard and enjoyed the Orange halves I had put out for her and her partner. The females are very shy and harder to see out in the open whereas the males, particularly when hungry, come out in the open, much more incautiously. During migration many of the Baltimore Orioles get injured or consumed by predators. The process of annual migration is hard, covers long distances and is fraught with danger for these gorgeous songbirds.


In September and October the Baltimore Orioles begin the process of migration to the South and they head for their winter habitats in Central and South America. The distances covered are very extensive, for example from Baltimore, Maryland to Caracas, Venezuela is 2804 miles each way. The journey takes them several weeks and the birds stop en route to rest, feed and build up fat reserves before setting off on the next lap. In the course of their migration Baltimore Orioles often pass through Texas and may be seen at Hummingbird Feeders in backyards. This is how I was fortunate enough to get a look at the Beautiful Baltimore Orioles in my own yard in the Hill Country region.

June 1, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series VI : The White Eyed Vireo

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:35 am

The White Eyed Vireo is a small insect eating song bird heard all over the North American Continent east of the Rockies. The singing is most often the male calling for his mate. The song is so distinctive that once heard few birders ever forget the notes. Among experienced birders the belief is if you hear the White Eyed Vireo you are not likely to see him and if you see him he is likely to be very quiet and not a peep is heard from him. The location of the breeding areas is in woodlands and scrub and the undergrowth.


The White Eyed Vireo is a small bird the adult is about 5 inches long the bird has a gray face with the white eyes and yellow spectacles. The neck is white and the back is greenish yellow. The wings of the White Eyed Vireo have 2 white wing bars. The male and female White Eyed Vireos appear identical. The White Eyed Vireos build their nests in small trees usually at a forking of a branch. The nest is woven from moss and wasps nest fibers. The nesting pair builds the nest together. The female lays 3 to 4 eggs and either of the pair incubates the eggs. The eggs hatch in 2 weeks and both parents participate in feeding the chicks.


The chicks of the White Eyed Vireos grow fast with both parents feeding them diligently. By age 4 weeks the chicks begin flying out of the nest tentatively. They learn quickly and begin foraging for insects along the tree trunks and branches. In September the process of migration begins and the birds start flying southward towards Texas and the rest of the Gulf Coast. The journey is long and arduous for these tiny birds which weigh about a half ounce each. The Vireos are “Powered Fliers” which means they fly on their own energy and not on air currents. They are night fliers and during the day they stop to replenish. It takes a lot of energy for these tiny song birds to cover the distances and they have to stop to refuel.


There are some White Eyed Vireos that are resident in South Texas and along the Gulf Coast and in the Florida Keys. The rest of the white Eyed Vireos migrate to Central America and South America. The White Eyed Vireos are night fliers and stop during the day to forage and eat to build up their strength. The distances these tiny song birds travel in their migration is huge as compared to their size and strength. White Eyed Vireos travel 2000 miles when they go south for the winter months to the non breeding locations. They will live there, eat well, gain in weight and strength and return in April and May of the following year. They return and bring their exquisite six note song which then rings out from all the woodlands of the entire North American Continent.


May 5, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series IV : The Purple Martin

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:23 am

The Purple Martins are welcome spring visitors all over North America as they are prodigious insect consumers. The Purple Martins reduce the number of “biting critters” that we humans have to contend with, during the warm humid summer months. Purple Martins belong to the Swallow family and they are among the largest of the swallows and the adults are almost 8 inches long. The Purple Martins are found all across North America and can be seen along the west coast across the plains and along the Atlantic Seaboard.


The Purple Martins return to North America in late January and early February to Southern and central Texas. By the end of March the Purple Martins reach as far north as Illinois and by May they are in Southern Canada. The migrating birds fly low and when flying over water they can be seen just a few feet above the water surface. They return in large flocks and build their nests in natural cavities and also in artificial Martin houses. The nests are built in open spaces close to a supply of water. The Purple Martin male in breeding plumage is a splendid iridescent blue/purple with black wings and a forked tail. The female is gray with whitish under parts. Their diet is primarily insects and they eat flies, ants, dragon flies and mosquitoes. They also forage on berries but much less frequently and only when the insect population is low.


The female lays 3 to 4 eggs and incubates them for 2 to 3 weeks. When the chicks hatch both parents feed the babies until they fledge in 4 weeks and can fly and catch insects on their own. Colonies of Purple martins raise their young in urban areas and the little chicks can be seen emerging from the nests and venturing forth into the open spaces to test their wings and to find insects.

At the end of summer the Purple Martins get ready to depart. They depart in early September and the last of the Purple Martins to leave the shores of North America may be in October. Their migration is in large flocks and once again they make the long journey south to Central America and primarily the Amazonian Basin in Ecuador and Brazil. The distance from Vancouver Canada to Amazonian Ecuador is 3749 miles. This is just one way. In the spring the Purple Martins have to make the return journey to North America. They are very susceptible to unseasonably cold spells and if the insect population dips many Purple Martins can suffer starvation. The population of Purple Martins has diminished markedly in the 20th century. The migration stresses take their toll. In addition the explosion in the population of European Starlings which compete for nesting areas and food with the Purple Martins has contributed to their decline.


In the last days of winter in South Central Texas the Purple Martins begin to reappear and bring a smile to everyone who notices. They are truly a harbinger of spring in our area viz. the Hill Country of Texas.

April 7, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series IV: The Scarlet Tanager

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:35 am

The Scarlet Tanager is a brilliant stunning punch of color during spring in Texas. Many different migrating birds begin to come to the Texas Gulf Coast in the spring and the Scarlet Tanager is one of those, most commonly seen in East Texas. According to the “Birds of Texas” by Arnold and Kennedy these birds are uncommon to common in Texas as Spring Migrants. Which , of course means when one is a relative novice the chances of sighting are slim. I was very fortunate to see the Male Scarlet Tanager at Smith Oaks Nature Preserve in April 2012 during migration. He was heart stoppingly beautiful, absolutely stunning in his brilliant bright red plumage contrasting with the black wings and tail. Time stood still as I watched this gorgeous confection of a bird seek out the ripe mulberries that were plentiful in the trees at Smith Oaks. The female Scarlet Tanager was also around and very beautiful with an olive back, greenish yellow underparts and brown wings and tail. These were a handsome couple even among the all the beautiful and gorgeous song bird population of North America.



Even though the name suggests otherwise the Scarlet Tanager is now classified with the Cardinal family. The birds when full grown are about 7 inches in length and weigh about an ounce and a quarter. The Scarlet Tanagers migrate back to the Northern hemisphere between April and May. Flocks of Scarlet tanagers have been followed and studied and they are found to fly at night at a height of 2000 feet above the water as they fly from the Yucatan to the Gulf Coast of the US. As the sun rises the birds appear to seek higher altitude and fly at heights of between 3000 and 5000 feet for about 30 to 60 miles before coming down to rest and to feed. They move towards the North East and settle into the woods of the North Eastern US and all of Southern Canada. They build their nests and settle deep into the woods. They are hard to see as they stay close to the top of the canopy. Their diet consists of insects mostly and they forage on fruit and seeds as well. They are brilliant at catching insects on the wing.


Once the Scarlet tanagers choose a site they build nests and lay between 2 and 4 eggs. They prefer to be deep in the interior of the woods since their nests are popular with Cowbirds. The Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of the Scarlet tanagers and the chicks of the cowbirds are aggressive feeders and crowd out and starve out the tanager chicks. This is a serious problem and causes the numbers of Scarlet Tanagers to plunge steeply and they are indeed declining in numbers. Scarlet Tanagers are not on the endangered list as yet. The chicks are fed insects by both parents and fledge at 5 to 6 weeks. They learn to catch insects and develop their flying skills rapidly.

In September and October the Scarlet Tanagers begin flying south as part of their fall migration pattern. They fly to Mexico and all of Central and into South America for the winter months. They can be seen from central Mexico down Central America all the way south to Peru. The distance from Southern Canada to Peru is 3800 miles one way. A round trip of 7400 miles every year in their annual migration and it is long and hazardous journey but one in which they participate with regularity, year after year. We in Texas are fortunate to be in the migratory path and get to see these gorgeous birds every spring and again in the fall.


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