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!

February 28, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series III: The Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:43 am

The Rose Breasted Grosbeak is a gorgeous medium sized song bird and is found in the cooler parts of North America. In the late spring it nests and breeds in Southern Canada and North Eastern United States. To see a male rose Breasted Grosbeak in full breeding plumage in the spring is to be delighted and beguiled. I was utterly amazed when I first saw these gorgeous birds. The Rose Breasted Grosbeak belongs in the Cardinal family, the bird is about 7 to 8 and ½ inches in length and therefore readily visible. I was at High Island in the Smith Oaks Preserve in April 2012 and can remember my first sighting. My heart just stopped and I could scarcely breathe, the striking rose breast of the male struck an arrow into my heart. I fell in love, totally and absolutely and forever.


The male in spring has a black head, back, tail and wings. The black wings have white markings. The undersides are white with an unmistakable rose patch on the upper chest. The female is brown and has a dark back and dark wings, with brown streaks on the underside. The female Rose Breasted Grosbeak has a distinct white eyebrow and the heavy bill typical of grosbeaks and cardinals. Males in non breeding season look much more like the female and are completely different from the gorgeous hunk of the spring! The birds when fully grown weigh about 1 and ½ ounces.

In April and May, every year the Grosbeaks arrive in Southern Canada and the North Eastern United States after completing migration from their winter homes in Central and South America. They settle in the deciduous woods of Canada and the US and build their nests in the trees. The nests are made of twigs and the female builds the nest on her own and she incubates her eggs on her own. This makes great evolutionary sense since the male is too attractive and striking in his appearance every predator will be able to locate the nest most readily if he were to be part of this early stage of bringing forth the next generation. The parents jointly feed the chicks. The diet of rose breasted grosbeaks consists of insects, berries, fruit and seeds.


The chicks grow fast and fledge in 3 to 4 weeks. The family eats and plays together and the juveniles learn to catch insects on the fly and build up their strength and stamina. In September and definitely by October the birds gather in small groups, not large enough groups to be called flocks and begin their journey south. They travel down the North American continent east of the Rockies and make their way to Southern Mexico and all of Central America and down to Colombia and Peru. The distance from Toronto, Canada to Lima, Peru is 3849 miles one way. This is a journey these birds undertake in the fall to seek warmer climes and better food supply. They return and have to cover the entire distance on the way back every spring. It is an amazing feat and a miracle of nature, truly something to celebrate.


February 7, 2013

The Indigo Bunting: by Shyamala Rao

Filed under: Guest interview,Interview,Uncategorized — shyamala @ 9:25 am


A collection of fabulous pictures of the Indigo Bunting taken by Greg Page, nature photographer of Houston, Tx.

This exquisite song bird is seen in Texas in the spring when the birds begin to return from Central and South America, where they spend the winter. These pictures were taken by a nature lover and a brilliant photographer Greg Page. He goes out on frequent nature walks looking out for birds, animals, flowers and trees.Greg says,” I bought my first SLR camera in 2008. Before that I used a video camera, mainly to help me ID birds. I mainly just do photography for fun”. He uses a DSLR camera with zoom lenses and returns simply amazing pictures. He has been taking pictures since he was in his early teens and has been taking interesting and great pictures ever since. Greg Page has a large collection of pictures on display on his website and some of the prints are available for purchase. Greg states, “I have had a few photos published in magazines. My goals are just to see new birds and get better photos of the birds I have already seen. Maybe in the future I might write a book with my photos.” .

Greg Page makes it a point to go out regularly and look for new and different species.He says, “I have had a few good outings in 2013. Last week I went to a lake near Dallas and saw Red Crossbill’s. This was the first time I have seen that species.”

I am looking forward to seeing the collection of Greg Page’s Nature Photographs along with descriptions of where, when and how. It should be informative and a visual feast.

The website at which to look for Mr. Page’s beautiful pictures is :



                   Bunting- Indigo_ EC 8-8-09_003                        Bunting- Indigo_ HI 5-3-10

                  Bunting- Indigo_ McFadden 4-21-12_004                         Bunting- Indigo_ Quintana 4-27-10

February 3, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series II: The Indigo Bunting

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:45 am

The Indigo Bunting male while in breeding plumage is a brilliant blue and is beacon of color and attracts his mate by his vividness, his predators and human eyes all are drawn to this exquisite beautiful bird that belongs in the Grosbeak family of Passerines. I first set eyes on this bird at the Smith Oaks Nature Preserve in High island Texas and was struck speechless. It is so striking and stunning in its color and plumage that it speaks for itself and all one has to do is let the beauty that enter into self and get impregnated in the memory forever. It was mid April and we were well into the northern migration of the song birds and the Mulberry trees in High Island were laden with fruit, ripe and luscious, that all the grosbeaks load up on to get strong enough t proceed further along the return journey to the Northern Hemisphere. Indigo Buntings arrive in their breeding range between April and May.

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The Indigo Bunting is a small song bird about 4 and ½ to 5 inches long and weighs about ½ ounce. The female is a brown bird about the size of a sparrow with faint streaks on the undersides and indistinct wing bars. The male is a vivid blue in the breeding season and when summer ends it fades into the same indistinct brown of the female for the winter months. The female builds the nest by herself without any help from her mate. She lays a clutch of 2 to 3 eggs and the female does all the incubation by herself. The parents feed the chicks jointly. The diet of Indigo Buntings consists of insects, seeds and berries in the summer during the breeding season. The Indigo Buntings are found all the way from Southern Canada to Northern Florida and spread west up to East Texas and occasionally can be seen in central Texas. They mate, build nests have their chicks and get them fledged by late summer. In September the Indigo Buntings start migrating south.


The winter locations for Indigo Buntings are Central Mexico, West Indies and Northern South America. Indigo Buntings migrate in the dark and are night migrators. They fly at night and stop during the day to feed and gain strength. The stopping off points are farm lands and open woodlands. To get some idea of the distances covered during by migration let us trace the path of an Indigo Bunting from Toronto, Canada. The bird starts from Southern Canada to the West Indies, a distance of 1734 miles and does this distance in 2 or 3 days and apparently uses the stars to orient self and determine direction in flying. Once in the winter range the Indigo Buntings settle down to eat grow and become strong. The Indigo Buntings live in their winter locations from September till April. They live on the seeds of grasses and whatever insects are available in the winter. They have to get strong enough to make the journey north in the spring. That is when they return home.


January 4, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series I :

Filed under: Uncategorized — shyamala @ 11:19 pm


The Golden Cheeked Warbler of the Hill Country of Texas      by    Shyamala Rao

The Golden Cheeked Warbler is a Texas Native. The Golden Cheeked Warbler resides in the Edwards Plateau region during spring and summer. Their numbers have declined precipitously with progressive decimation of their habitat by urban development into the Juniper/Oak Woodlands of Texas. These birds winter in Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras. This is an annual journey that the Golden Cheeked Warbler undertakes regularly and without fail.

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This Seasonal journey is undertaken annually by many species of birds is referred to as Migration. There are about 10,000 different species of birds and many are non migratory and these are the sedentary birds. About 1800 types of birds are believed to migrate annually and these are also referred to as the Distance Migrating birds. Migration on an annual basis is a mystery and a miracle, to witness and learn about it is to appreciate the complexity of life on earth for each living creature on the planet. How the birds know to undertake a journey to their winter homes, especially the birds that have never done it before is simply mind boggling.

Every March as the world is marking the Ides of March there is an influx of a small number of exquisite black, white and gold warblers to the Edwards Plateau area. The birds travel in small groups of 4 or 6 and settle into familiar locations. These Warblers have been identified as returning to the same nesting area annually. From mid March several groups of the warblers arrive and begin the process of mating and nest building in the woodlands. Biologists have noted that these Warblers gather strips of the bark of the Juniper trees and collect spider webs. They build their nests from these two materials. The nests are built in the Juniper trees and the Live Oaks. The mating pair builds it’s nest together.


The female Golden Cheeked Warbler lays 3 to 4 eggs and the eggs hatch in two weeks. Both parents feed the young nestlings. The chicks fledge by day 9 or 10. The parents continue to feed and nurture the young for another 2 or 3 weeks. The young warblers can then feed themselves by age 6 weeks but continue to live in the vicinity of the nest. There are several places in San Antonio where the Golden Cheeked Warbler can be seen, The Government Canyon Natural Area, Friedrich’s Park, Warbler Woods are some of the places where I have been lucky enough to see this exquisite little Yellow and Black lively song bird. To hear the sweet trilling of the male as he calls his mate, to hear the juveniles checking out the notes tentatively, is utter joy.

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By the end of July and definitely by early August, the Golden Cheeked Warblers depart for the winter locales. The entire family departs for Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras. Once in their winter location the family parts ways and will then be completely independent of one another. To get an idea of the distances involved, from San Antonio, Texas to Chiapas, Mexico is 1197 miles, to Honduras is 1278 miles and to Nicaragua is 2009 miles. This is just one way. The distances are long and require a lot of energy and stamina. A lot of good luck with weather, gales and storms are tough on these tiny birds. The path is treacherous, food supply is uncertain, rodents, snakes, other reptiles, predatory birds all attempt to consume these little confections. Only the strong and lucky ones survive. The Golden Cheeked Warblers live in their winter locations they eat, grow and get strong by March the following year. They are primarily insect eating birds and consume mosquitoes, aphids and all sorts of icky little bugs. It will be time to undertake the entire journey home again and to face all the dangers and privations just to get home and set up house one more time.

In March the Golden Cheeked Warbler after making the entire journey once more is back home to the Hill Country of Texas. This is the only bird on the Planet that only mates, builds nests and raises its young in Texas. It has no other location where it will breed. This is the story of the Golden Cheeked warbler of the Hill Country of Texas and it gives me such joy each time I think of the courage the determination and the persistence of these adorable song birds.

December 31, 2012

Year End Post, Dec 28, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:30 pm

2012 is closing out and a New Year dawns, and at present 2013 full of hope promise and possibility. I want to review 2012 first and set out the goals for 2013.

2012 was the year to celebrate the birds that come to my backyard. I called the series Backyard Beauties and watched the song birds enjoy the feeders, seek out the treats and deal with the challenges when they occur. On any day in the spring and summer there are easily ten to fifteen species of birds flitting around the yard. Streams of color, streams of sound, streams of sheer love of life and determination to survive have filled the space in the outdoors and have filled the spaces in my heart every day of 2012. Even on the days I have been out of town my thoughts would stray homeward and I could “see” a brilliant red Northern Cardinal come to the feeder for a Safflower seed and a graceful grey white and peach Black Capped Titmouse pick up one single Black Oil Sunflower seed and fly to safety and then eat the seed delicately and then come for another one. It is a continuous flow of activity of sharing, of competing, of coexisting and somehow surviving.

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A Carolina Chickadee A Northern Cardinal

The activities the celebration is all of life every single aspect of it in vivid display. Living growing up finding a mate, setting up house, raising a family and moving on when the time comes, all this is there to be seen and celebrated. It has been a surprise something new and different every day. I chose to write about 12 of these backyard visitors and it was such fun reading about them photographing them and putting them on the blog ( admittedly with the help of my Web Master Lou) and seeing them posted for anyone who cares to read and rejoice. Perchance even learn a little. I know in the process I learned a lot. Maybe some of my blog site visitors did too.

In the process of reading and studying the song birds of the backyard I found I was dealing with descriptions of migrations and it seems many species spend winter in the Southern Hemisphere and then come back up north for summer. They undergo extensive journeys sometimes tens of thousands of miles each year and year after year. It was awesome as I read about it and it was terrifying. Such small delicate feather light creatures that should be loved, cherished, protected and kept close and safe going off on long migratory treks with neither compass nor equipment, neither food nor luggage. It is frightening to contemplate and all the obstructions en route those posed by Mother Nature, those posed by human activity, those posed by International borders and boundaries.

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A Golden Cheeked Warbler A Painted Bunting

The science of Migration of Birds is now developing into a high tech mediated science which helps track bird migration and the passages, the problems and the challenges they encounter every inch of their thousand mile journeys. I had no idea that even in the Roman Empire there were naturalists who tried to tie a silk strand with a message onto a Swallow’s foot. Studying the behavior of birds is an ancient science and has been a source of wonder and joy to each new generation. I am excited to be opening this chapter for my study in 2013. I will be sharing each new item of knowledge and gem of information with all of you, my blog readers. It will be like opening a window into one of nature’s annual miracles which seems to occur regularly, inexplicably, insistently driven by some primordial need within the birds themselves. It will be like witnessing a miracle, this I can promise you. The series for 2013 is Miracle of Migration.Happy New Year, dear friends, let us have a safe joyous 2013 with peace, love and happiness.

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