Birds (and Animals) Around Carnegie Mellon University (and wherever I visited)
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I haven't updated this page for a while, but it doesn't mean I'm not bird-watching any more. For some reason, I didn't get a good shots this year.
I was able to take a crisp close-up shot of a Chipping Sparrow last week. This bird was so much pre-occupied in collecting nest-building materials, and I was able to walk very close.
It's Hummingbird month again! I am posting some good shots from the first week of the month.
From what I learned from the last year, I need to aim at a flower that is facing back to me when I keep the sun behind. However, the best Hummingbird-photo place was damaged by the last year's flood and some severe thunderstorms this year. I see less orange Jewelweed flowers, and therefore it is difficult to find a suitable flower.
I'll try my best to take more good pictures of Hummingbirds!
Spotted a Hummingbird in Schenley Park today. I'm going to upload photos when I am able to get nice ones!
Last time, I carried 320mm tele-photo lens with Pentax K100D. The crop factor was 1.5, which makes 480mm film-equivalent. This time I took my 200mm telephoto + 2x tele converter and Olympus E-30. With its 2x crop factor, it is equivalent to 800mm F7 lens. My primary target was Red Crested Cardinal, which I saw here and there while I was walking near Waikiki beach. However, this time I didn't see many. I wondered if the population of Red Crested Cardinal declined since I came last time.
Actually, many of them were inside Honolulu zoo, picking up pieces of bread that tourists drops. If I could have noticed earlier, I would have had more chances and could have taken even better pictures. Though, I was able to take some not-so-bad pictures.
I also took some pictures of Common Myna and Common Waxbill.
As always, I saw a lot of Zebra Doves. Zebra Doves are not afraid of humans, and I could easily come closer. Just like Robins in here. So, it was very easy to take a close-up picture.
As for the birds around Carnegie Mellon University, they are coming back. I see a lot of birds singing and flying around. I resumed walking to CMU, so I am expecting some chances of taking more good pictures.
I have uploaded bunch of pictures of Hummingbirds here.
All aviation pioneers, including Wright brothers, had one goal: flying freely through the sky like a bird. Souls of humans dreaming of the sky to conquer gave us wings ever to soar. This phrase is from the lyric of the U.S. Air Force song with slight modification, by the way. But, one aviation pioneers, Igor Sikorsky - a.k.a. the father of helicopters, may have been dreaming of flying like a Hummingbird. All other birds looks like the origin of airplanes. But, this particular bird, a Hummingbird, gives me an impression of the origin of helicopters. Of course, the way it flies only looks similar to the helicopters. It hovers and even flies backward. The mechanism of flying is totally different from rotor wings though. (Read more...)
What summer means must be different from person to person. But, for me, the summer means air shows and Hummingbirds. Now it is the season that you can see Hummingbirds in Shenley park. I was keeping eyes on orange Jewel Weeds, which Hummingbirds feeds on, and I saw a orange Jewel Weed flower for the first time this year on June 27. It's been almost a month since then, and the orange flowers are more numerous, although they are not in full broom. I was expecting to see Hummingbirds soon, and sure enough I finally confirmed a Hummingbird in Shenley park. Last year, it was almost mid August when I noticed they come to orange Jewel Weed often. And the birds were gone early September. I had only two weeks to take pictures of Hummingbirds. But, this time I have almost a month to look for Hummingbirds.
I was able to take some close-up pictures of a Hummingbird in flight. But, unfortunately the sun was behind the bird, and it appeared relatively dark. I'll try to get a better vantage point next time, or choose a different time of day. I have one month.
Hummingbirds have a long tongue, and they show a tongue often when they make a brief stop on a branch.
In one occasion, a bird perched on a nearby branch, and fell asleep. I thought it was rare to see a fully-grown wild bird asleep, but this guy decided to take a nap after drinking much nectar from Jewel Weeds. Or, this guy may have just arrived at Pittsburgh, and still had been in a jet lag. (Jet?)
To take pictures of Hummingbirds, I stay in a place near a bunch of Jewel Weed for easily more than 30 minutes or so. After standing still for a while, other wild birds apparently think I am not a human and come close to me. I was able to take a nice close-up picture of a Northern Flicker, which is very cautious and very difficult to close in.
This year, I found a nest in Flagstaff Hill. There was a twist on the day after the young Blue Jays finally left the perimeter of Flagstaff hill. I really thought one of them was eaten by a hawk. But, luckily, that was my mistake. As of June 9, 2011 I believe they are now training to be a good flier. (Click here to read the rest.)
I don't see any baby Blue Jays yet although the parent bird is patiently sitting on the nest. I thought that the nest had been two or three weeks old by the time I found it. But, it might have just been built then. I continue watching them.
Spring came late this year in Pittsburgh. We even had snow early April. But, finally it gets warmer and I am able to walk to work. Birds are also coming out and I see Robins, Cardinals, Chipping Sparrows, etc.
And, as usual, I found a nest of Blue Jays. The Blue Jay family that I found last year was struck by tragedy and they lost all baby birds. I hope this family succeed in hatching their eggs and growing their baby birds to the sky. I expect to see baby Blue Jays within a week or so.
And, today I was able to take several very nice pictures of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker in Shenley Park. This bird is very cautious and difficult to close in without being noticed. But, for some reason, this bird seemed to be concentrating on drilling the wood, and I could come close and stay close for a few minutes. Also the lighting condition was nearly perfect. I've been curious why this bird is called "Red-Bellied" although this bird has a red head and white belly.
I have purchased Olympus E-30, 50-200 F3.5 tele-photo lens, and 2x Tele Converter last December. One of the main targets were Pileated Wood Pecker. I never imagined I had chance to take a close up of this bird, but it happened this spring. Another main target was Hummingbirds. I was thinking Hummingbirds were the bird of southern states, and didn't think I had a chance to see them in Pittsburgh. However, they are coming to Pittsburgh every year. Since I knew that, I have been trying to take nice pictures of Hummingbirds. The problem was the speed of my camera. I was using Pentax K100D, which was a good camera. But, it was an entry-level camera and its auto focus was slow and the continuous shutter was just 2.7 frames per sec. The speed of K100D was no match for the speed of a Hummingbird. E-30 is a middle-level camera and is way faster than K100D. I was hoping this camera should be fast enough to keep up with a Hummingbird.
This year, I was not able to spot one until early August. I saw one on August 9, and next time was August 16. In both occasions, I was not able to come close to the bird. On August 20, I saw one feeding on an orange flower. I was maybe just 6ft away from it. Finally, the chance had come! I slowly aimed at the bird not to surprise it, and shot some pictures. The result exceeded my expectation. The following four pictures were from that day.
In fact, the Hummingbird came back to the same flower over and over again. I was standing there for about an hour, and I saw one Hummingbird every five minutes or so. From that day, I came to the same place every day and spent about an hour waiting for the bird. Photography is about patience. If you want to take a good picture, you need to wait for your subject to come hours and hours.
Once I was hit by a heavy rain while I was in the Shenley park. I tried my best to cover my camera, and it survived. But, the next day, I got a rash on my neck probably from a poison ivy. I guess some rain drops landed on the poison ivy, and then hit me. So, it was ichy, but not as bad as I heard, maybe because the poisonous substance was diluted by the rain. But, I kept coming there until early September.
The frequency of the bird coming to the flower gradually was reduced. The peak was around August 20 when I saw one bird every five minutes. Later in the month, it became one bird per 30 minutes. It turned out, when I was seeing one bird per five minutes, not many of the orange flower, called Jewelweed, had a flower in Shenley park, and many Hummingbirds were coming to the same bunch of the Jewelweed. Then, other Jewelweed gradually was getting a flower, and Hummingbirds spread through Shenley park. That's apparently why the frequency of the bird coming to my spot was reduced. Jewelweeds then dropped their flowers and Hummingbirds flew back to the southern states. I stopped coming to my Hummingbird-watching spot early September.
But, I now know that Hummingbirds come to Jewelweed flower. I know what flower to pay attention. And, I also know that I should stay there longer when Hummingbirds are coming to the same bunch frequently. With the new strategy, I should be able to take even better pictures of Hummingbirds next year.
I have never imagined I was going to witness such a tragedy through my tele-photo lens while watching birds. On 06/17, one of the three baby Blue Jays apparently died due to unknown reason, which was not too unusual. It's a wild-bird thing. Weakest baby bird often cannot eat enough and dies. Then this morning, I came to CMU and saw the nest. A parent bird was cleaning the nest, but there was something unusual. The baby bird didn't show any tiny motion at all. I waited for some time and the other parent came back with food. The baby birds were supposed to raise their heads and beg for food. But, no noise. No head moving. They didn't leave the nest. At least one of them. I was able to see the bill of one of the baby birds from the bottom.
Two remaining baby birds apparently died. Flies were flying around the nest, being attracted by the smell of the rotting flesh of the baby Blue Jays. We had a severe thunderstorm passed over Pittsburgh the night before. The baby birds may have been soaked hard and died for hypothermia. But, I couldn't believe so. The parent birds were taking extremely good care of the babies and the nest. One of the parent birds must have come home and covered them before the storm struck. I couldn't believe they left the nest unattended while the rain was hitting hard. They were the last birds who could have been arrested for the criminal negligence. I rather imagined they had died for a disease or a parasite. One of the three baby birds died earlier although it originally looked healthy. It might have been from a disease later killed the other two. Or, the location of the nest was too close to the campus. CMU may use some sort of pesticide for the plants on campus. The parent birds may have accidentally given a pesticide-contaminated food to the babies.
What struck me was a parent bird, who apparently thought his or her babies were just sleeping. It was tapping on the back of the baby bird almost through the morning. It also was chasing off other birds that wondered into the proximity of the nest. In one time, I walked right below the nest and looked up hoping the baby bird to wake up. Suddenly a parent rushed back to the nest. He (or she) must have thought I came to the nest to steal the baby. I came to the nest several times, and a parent bird continued the attempt to wake the baby up until early afternoon. When I saw the nest at around 2pm, the parent birds apparently finally gave up and left the tree.
The two parent birds looked really loving each other. I saw two birds coming back to the nest together very often. In other cases in my experience, once the baby birds got a few days old, two parent birds often start working separately and carry food round the clock. But, these parent birds looked different. One of them stayed close to the nest, and the other flew a little farther away, but when one comes back, the other also came back to the nest. They looked really happy to have their baby birds. Well, it's a human perspective, of course, but it looked that way to me. I was wishing all of their babies to grow up and soar around CMU pecking on poor Red-Tailed Hawks. But, the love story ended with tragic deaths of all three baby birds. It was such a sad ending. Honestly, I was attached to them after watching them for a week. I got pretty much psychological damage from the deaths.
Do Blue Jays change the partner every year? I don't know. I suppose most likely they do. But, I hope this pair meets again next year and succeed in growing their babies to the sky next time.
I know it is a wild-bird thing. They are living in a harsh competitive environment. Hatching the eggs doesn't mean all of them grow up to take off. But, I never witnessed all three baby birds dying in front of me. I was worried about an accidental destruction of the nest, but never thought the babies were going to die this way. My condolence goes to the parent birds who tragically lost all of their babies. They move on. They take to the sky to the new days. They must fly strong.
Some tragically failed to grow their babies, but some succeeded. While I was walking to CMU, I saw a tiny little baby Cardinal. It must just have left the nest. I often am surprised to see how small the baby bird is when it leaves the nest. Parent birds take care of it for another a few weeks and fly together to teach how to fly. I hope this tiny little Cardinal grows up to enjoy flying freely around CMU. (And hope it doesn't fly into the way of my airplane.)
The pair of Blue Jays that built a nest in Flagstaff Hill apparently broke up. Maybe a storm destroyed their nest. When I came back from Chino, I walked to Flagstaff Hill to check if they had baby birds, but the nest was empty, and the tree trunk was unusually wet.
But, when I walked out of my office for lunch, I heard a familiar voice of a baby Blue Jay. I thought a Blue Jay that had just left the nest was with its parent birds and looked up. Actually, I found a nest. I confirmed two baby Blue Jays then. Later I confirmed three baby Blue Jays. Probably, they were 10 days to two weeks before leaving the nest. I have seen many wild birds leaving the nest before their horizontal stabilizer grows.
But, the nest is so low that I am worried if a delivery truck may hit the branch and destroy the nest. I imagine that the female bird insisted on high branch when they were deciding their real estate, but the male bird insisted on low branch because he didn't want to lift construction materials and food high. Nonetheless, the nest has survived numerous severe storms in the past a few weeks. It must be stable. Unless the nest is destroyed by an accident, it should last until the three baby birds take off.
By the way, below pictures are baby Wren. I took these in Shenley Park.
It's getting hot and humid in Pittsburgh. I hope I can see Hummingbirds soon in here.
Birds are coming out and starting a family. So far, I am keeping track of two nests of Robins and one nest of Blue Jays, and one nest of Mourning Doves. I found numerous nests of Robins, but I saw a parent bird actually sitting on only two of them.
I also was able to take a picture of a Belted Kingfisher, although it is not a close-up photo. It is very cautious and flies away when I try to sneak in. I suspect a Belted Kingfisher is very sensitive to the sound.
Also, Chipmunks are coming out. Squirrels are prowling around, but I see them through the year. And, Red Tailed Hawks are also soaring to eat them.
I first saw the Blue Jay sitting on the nest on April 21. It is about time for its egg to hatch. I'm keeping eye on it.
Spring has come finally! Still we have many cloudy days, and my commercial-pilot training has been delayed and delayed. Nonetheless, it's getting warmer, and we occasionally have a nice sunny day. I resumed walking to CMU with my digital SLR when the weather is good. This year, I upgraded my digital SLR to Olympus E-30. Since I had been using Pentax digital SLRs, I had to purchase lenses all together. I ended up with paying more money than total of all three of my Pentax digital SLRs.
E-30 is not an entry digital SLR. It's for semi-professional camera. Its continuous shutter is much faster than my previous K100D. And, its auto-focus is fast and very precise. Only complaint is its image stabilizer (aka shake reduction). It works ok if I shoot at a static target. However, when I shoot at a moving target like a flying hawk, a medievac helicopter, or an airliner, the image comes out very blurry, as if image stabilizer was worsening the shaking. I never got a shaky image of a medievac helicopter with my K100D. 1/250 sec shutter was good enough. But, if I shoot a flying helicopter with E-30 at 1/320 sec shutter, the image is very shaky. I cannot even read the tail number. I may have to turn off image stabilizer when I shoot at a flying target and use a faster shutter speed. It may work out because its auto-focus is very precise and I may be able to use lower F stop that is converted to a faster shutter speed.
Now the birds are coming back, and it is the best season to take pictures of birds until trees grow leaves that provides a hiding shelter for birds. I was able to take some nice shots of a Pileated Woodpecker. When I saw this bird for the first time, I was surprised of its size. It's as big as a crow. But, it was staying high up on a tree, and I couldn't take a close-up shot of the bird then. But, this time, I had a opportunity to take a close-up. Also, I got a nice picture of a Common Grackle, which is not a rare bird, but for some reason, my previous camera, both K100D and *ist DL, were not able to auto-focus on it. E-30 had no difficulty in auto-focusing it.
During the summer, I was primarily going after hummingbirds. We can see hummingbirds in Pittsburgh only a few months per year. They come when it is hot, and they go back to south when it is chilly. I was able to take somewhat crisp pictures of a hovering hummingbird 1 2. I continued looking for hummingbirds through the summer, and in late August and early September, I saw a Hummingbird two to three times a day. In fact, I was almost able to take even more close-up look of a hovering hummingbird, but my camera was not able to keep up with a hummingbird.
My Pentax K100D has given a lot of pictures that I never even imagined possible when I was using my film camera. K100D is good for taking something static, or it is very good for aerial photography. It was a state of the art when it was introduced, but it is slow. Pentax digital SLRs have a lot of advantages compared to its competitors, but its major weakness has been its slow speed. I've been trying to compensate for it by practice and training (+some engineering). But, I missed too many good shots like a flying hawk, hovering hummingbird, a bird that I am not yet able to identify, etc.
Nonetheless, I was able to take nice shots when it perched on a branch. I upload best three of these.
Now hummingbirds are gone until next summer. But, tree leaves are also gone, and I can find birds easily. I am mainly going after Blue Jays and Red Tailed Hawks.
Since I take pictures of birds and fly an airplane, I often notice an unusual weather pattern. For example, the predominant wind in Pittsburgh is almost westerly. But, we have north and south wind more often than past three years. Thanks to the nice cross wind, I have been gaining a lot of cross-wind landing experience. Blue Jays built their nest in late April and the juvenile birds left the nest and started flight training late May or early June. This year, I didn't see many parent Blue Jays leading their kids until July. Hummingbirds seem to have waited to come to Pittsburgh area longer than usual. It was reported that it was record cool July in Pittsburgh. Something looks unusual this year.
I took the following two pictures in July. I finally saw some Blue Jay families.
Below is a baby Robin nearby the putter practice range of Shenley Golf Course.
I see the bird shown in the picture often in Shenley park, but I was not identify it by the book. So, it is currently unidentified.
A Great Blue Heron often visits the pond at Shenley Park and eats fish.
I finally took two close-up pictures of a Hummingbird. I am hoping to see this bird more often through this summer.
At least three baby Robins were confirmed in the traffic-light nest. Parent birds were weaving through the pedestrian crossing the road to carry food to their babies. Below it the photo taken on Friday May 1st.
I didn't carry my camera on Monday May 4th, but I checked the nest when I walked to Kiva Han to get some coffee. The baby Robins were getting feather, and showing signature brown-red color of Robin on their belly. However, on the next day, May 5th, the nest was empty. How come they leave the nest this early? When I was watching Blue Jays two years ago, I was surprised that the baby Blue Jays left their nest even before they grew horizontal stabilizer. But, is it the case for Robins, too? Were they attacked by a predator? If so, I should see feathers scattered around the nest, but there's no sign of such attack. Were they run over by a car while crossing the road? I didn't see any flattened Robin, either.
If they successfully departed the nest, they should be hiding in the bush across the road. I searched the area, and I found a baby Robin sitting on a tree branch. The size of the Robin matched the ones I saw in the traffic-light nest. I believed this baby Robin was one of the babies departed from the traffic light. It looked just like a fruit on a tree branch. They should soon start flight training after their parents.
Actually, I have been watching two more Robins' nest this season. One of them is in Shenley park. I saw a parent bird sitting on the nest on May 22th, and confirmed a baby on June 1st. As of June 4th, they were still in the nest.
The other one was under the eaves of an apartment building owned by a friend. He has started a hot-dog stand in front of his apartment building. So, I went there to buy some hot dogs, and found the nest. I saw at least four baby Robins on Jun 1st.
On June 4th, baby Robins in the Shenley-Park nest was gaining feather. I saw a baby Robin raised its hip and a parent bird pecked the baby's hip. I saw the same behavior when I was watching baby Blue Jays. I believe it is helping egestion, but I'm not so sure.
As of June 4th, baby Robins beside the hot-dog stand departed the nest leaving two babies. There are plenty of places to hide around this apartment building, and I was not able to find the ones departed.
On June 5th, the bigger one of the two remaining babies also has gone. Probably, the last one will depart by the time I visit the hot-dog stand next time.
Sometimes birds build a nest in an totally unexpected place, like airplane-engine air intake. So, a pilot is taught to check the engine air intakes before take off. This time, I found a robin ended up with building a nest in a traffic light. This traffic light is across the street from Kiva Han coffee shop at Craig St.+ Forbes Ave. Within minutes walk from Carnegie Mellon. I go to Kiva Han almost every day, and found the nest in this traffic light early this month. I came back with my camera, but the parent bird was gone when I came back.
I kept eye on that nest since then. I saw the parent bird sitting on the nest last Thursday.
And, today it was again sitting, and I saw the bird to rotate the eggs. I suspect there are already a few eggs laid there.
I will keep eye on them. But, I am worried that their babies get ADHD due to constantly flickering red lights. Also, the location is too clost to CMU. I hope drunk undergrads do not attack the nest....
This week, I was able to take nice pictures of a female Cardinal and a male Dark Eyed Junco. I changed my route to commute between my apartment and my office, and now I walk through Shenley park instead of Shenley golf course. I have a feeling that there are a lot more Cardinals than last year.
However, I haven't seen any Blue Jays building a nest in Flag Staff Hill. I may not have a chance to see a baby Blue Jays this year.
I also took nice pictures of Tufted Titmouse.
03/12/2009 Birds are smarter than they look.
Finally, the spring has come, although it was below freezing in Pittsburgh in the morning today. I started walking to CMU with my 170-500mm telephoto + K100D digital SLR. Birds are coming out, and I probably will soon be able to post some nice pictures here. I was hoping to get Canon EOS 50D + Sigma 150-500mm, but I recently purchased a new car, which cost about $2,000 more than initially expected, so, I just forget about it (still keeping hope though) and use K100D as my primary bird-shooting camera for a while.
In fact, 500mm telephoto is not so long for a bird photography, but it is the limit that I can carry every day. I don't want to carry big heavy telescope from home to CMU. So, taking photo with this lens needs serious tactics to get close to the bird. HOWEVER, the birds are smart, smarter than they look. How smart are they? Whenever I don't carry my camera, the birds come close to me, and whenever I have my camera, they stay far away. They are making fun of me.
But, I've got an evidence that they are even smarter than I was thinking. I had a chance to come very close to a Cardinal happily singing. There were some plants I could use for cover. I slowly and silently sneaked in to the shooting position, and aimed at the bird, pushed the shutter button! And, nothing happened. The battery was dead! I charged it about three months ago. It's Sanyo ENELOOP. It's supposed to be good for eight to ten months, but probably due to the cold temperature, it didn't perform as it is supposed to.
Jesus! I never thought Cardinal was able to sense my battery charge from remote distance. I tried to warm my battery to revive it, but my Cardinal flew away. It made fun of me again.... Next time! Next time, I'll shoot you with my camera!
This year, I see a couple of Red-Tailed Hawk building a nest on the roof of College of Fine Arts building of CMU. I will keep eye on them. I don't know they continue to do so when they hear the noise of Carnival, but I'll see.
I haven't updated this page for a while. But, that doesn't mean I am not bird-watching any longer. In summer, I didn't have good chance to take a close-up photos of wild birds because they hide well in tree leaves. When it became fall, sadly, my car was vandalized twice in just three months. I am no longer drive half way and walk the other half to my office. I am taking a bus for work, and I was not walking through the golf course. But, as soon as it is warm, I am planning to walk all the way to office. It's about 40 minutes walk. It will be good for my health. So, I'll try again to get nice pictures of birds around CMU soon.
By the way, I have added a link to Pennsylvania Travel and Vacation Information - Tourism in Pennsylvania in Wild Bird Links.
I took the following shots more than two months ago, but I witnessed two Northern Flickers Kick-Boxing. A Northern Flickers is usually very cautious, and unless I hide very well behind something, it flies away as soon as I aim my camera at it. However, during the kick-boxing match, they apparently concentrate on the match. Northern Flickers are often seen wrestling probably for the territorial dispute.
By the way, the following picture was a rare shot of a Robin family. Juvenile birds often follow their parents for a few weeks after leaving their nest. However, they do not come together especially on an open field. It is not common to see a parent bird and two kids side by side on the ground.
For the first time, I succeeded in taking a close-up photo of a Gold Finch. Gold Finch is very cautious, and usually flies away before I close in and press the shutter. This morning, while I was walking to my office from where I parked the car I saw a Gold Finch landed on a nearby branch. I extended my tele-photo to 500mm position and aimed at the bird. I expected it to fly away as usual, but it stayed there for a moment, and I was able to take some nice shots.
The Blue Jay couple survived the noise of CMU Carnival, and (presumably) female bird was sitting on the nest for several days. However, unfortunately, the two birds apparently broke up. Last year's female Blue Jay was sitting on the nest virtually all the time. But, this year's female bird often left the nest and taking a break on the nearby branch. Male bird also was not coming back to the nest as often as the last year's male bird. So, probably, the female bird was complaining about male bird's late return. The male bird was frustrated by finding the female bird leaving the nest when he came back home with food. I saw the female bird sitting on the nest for the last time on April 30th, but never saw her sitting on the nest again. Two birds came back once on May 6th, but they didn't stay long. Apparently, they failed to hatch their eggs.
Well, actually, the Blue Jay couple was not the only thing different from the last year. First, I see far less Chipmunks in the Flag Staff Hill. Last year, if I look around, I saw three to four Chipmunks everywhere. However, I see few of them this year. Also, I see far less Cardinals than last year, too.
My guess is, probably there are less food in the Flag Staff Hill. I saw Blue Jays picking up acorns on the ground in the Flag Staff Hill often last year, but this year, most of the acorns are already eaten, and there are only empty shells. If so, I can understand why Chipmunks do not come to the Flag Staff Hill. Chipmunks do not come to the Flag Staff Hill because they don't find much food there. The male Blue Jay had to fly far away to get some food for his wife. The female bird often had to leave the nest when she became hungry, and the egg was cooled and could not hatch. The eggs did not hatch after brooding for certain amount of time, and the pair broke up. To my disappointment, I could not see them growing their chicks. I hope another pair will build a nest and grow their chicks in the Flag Staff Hill next year.
Since I saw the male Blue Jay on Tuesday, I didn't see him for two days. Female Blue Jay apparently was nervous about her husband's late return. So, she often left the nest and flew around and was calling her husband. I suspected if her husband disappeared leaving his wife and eggs. But, I finally saw the husband Blue Jay on Friday. Then both two birds flew away and didn't come back for a while. I hope the eggs were not left alone too long to get cold.
By the way, I was thinking that Robins gave up the nest after Blue Jays got tree-dominance over Flag Staff Hill, but one Robin came back to the nest. I presume it was brooding an egg because it was sitting on one of the nests.
Pittsburgh was unseasonably cold this morning. The female bird of the Blue Jay family was holding their eggs tight. Male bird was carrying food to his wife.
The temperature became warmer in the afternoon. When I saw them again on the way back home, the female bird may have got bored and was flying near the nest. After flying maybe 10 minutes or so, she came back to the nest. Below is a Robin sitting on the grass. I could come very close to this guy, maybe less than 3ft. But, it didn't fly away.
The battle of Flag Staff Hill apparently is on hold. Robins and Blue Jays seems to have reached the ceasefire agreement. A Blue Jay couple came back to Flag Staff Hill, and one of them was brooding on the nest, and the other was patrolling around the nest.
The Robins also have started re-building their nest attacked during the Battle of Flag Staff Hill.
I witnessed an isolated dogfight between a Blue Jay on patrol and two Robins. But, overall, the area was quiet. Hopefully, I can see both Blue Jays and Robins growing their next generations.
A pair of Blue Jays started building a nest in Flag Staff Hill again!
I found the pair on Monday. They were carrying tree branches to build a nest to grow their babies. However, a pair of Robins also started building a nest on a tree right next to the Blue Jays' tree.
When a Blue Jay landed on the ground to pick up some pieces of tree branches, Robins might have thought the Blue Jay was invading their territory and dive bombed to the Blue Jay. So, the battle of Flag Staff Hill over tree-dominance began. The Robins changed their nest a few times, but they apparently were keeping tree-dominance over the Blue Jays.
On Thursday, the Blue Jays finally retreated. They did not come back to Flag Staff Hill. (I was waiting for roughly 30 minutes, but I didn't see them.)
However, today the Blue Jays started fighting back. They air-raided directly to the Robin's nest to re-take tree-dominance. (Apparently, Blue Jays often raid other birds' nest and take it.) I think anti-air and anti-ground capabilities of Blue Jay are superior than Robin. I expect the Blue Jay couple to re-take tree-dominance in Flag Staff Hill. I'll post updates here as the battle continues.
I haven't updated this page for a while, but I haven't got bored of bird watching. In summer, tree leaves blocked the view, and I didn't have chance to take a good shot. I was expecting I was going to have chances when the tress drop leaves. Last several years, birds were hanging around even after leaves were gone. However, in this season, most of the birds were gone with the leaves.
But, I had an opportunity to see some birds eating peanuts and corns that someone apparently left for the birds. I closed in by hiding behind other trees, and took some shots. Those birds didn't fly away. I may have hidden myself well, or birds may have been too busy eating precious food.
Below pictures are the three pictures of a Blue Jay. I hope one of them build a nest in Flag Staff Hill this year like last year.
I have uploaded some recent photos. This year, I see a lot more bunnies and chipmunks than a regular year. I saw once a Red-Tailed Hawk eating a bunny. (The red-tailed hawk in the below photo was eating a pigeon though.) I feel there are more Red-Tailed Hawks than a regular year, maybe because they have more food (bunnies and chipmunks). By the way, the Cardinal in the below photo was distracted by a Red-Tailed Hawk nearby and did not notice (or was simply neglecting) me. I could walk close to it and take a good photo.
I saw a family of Blue Jays including three young birds yesterday afternoon in Flag Staff Hill. I don't think Blue Jays travel too long distance, so I believe they are the ones born in the nest that I was watching. Each of the three young birds was in a separate tree next to each other, and squawking a baby-like voice and calling their parents. They had a long horizontal stabilizer (I mean, tail) and were able to fly freely.
But, one of the young birds were still asking for food by flattering its wings. It still had an appearance of a chick. An adult Blue Jay has a crest on the head, but this young bird did not have a clearly distinctive crest. Also the bill of an adult bird is dark black, but this young bird had a yellowish black bill.
On the other hand, another young bird was fed by its parent, but it looked more like an adult bird. It had a distinctive crest, and darker bill. It did not swing its wings when a parent bird came close to it. It is apparent that the rate of growth is not same for different chicks even though those birds came out of an egg almost the same time.
The parent bird occasionally landed on the ground, picked some food, and then jumped up to a child for feeding. The parent bird had a nice long horizontal stabilizer, and looked more confident than the young birds. But, I felt it got thinner, maybe due to the hard work of growing kids.
If you compare faces of the parent bird and the young bird, you will notice that the adult bird does not have a black strip above the eyes, which the young bird has. From the photo I uploaded on June 5th, you can see that occipital area of the chick is all black, to which the black strip above the eyes is connected. I guess this black feathers over the occipital area and above the eyes are replaced with the blue feather as the bird grows.
When I took a photo of a young bird last week, it already had a face of an adult bird. I wondered if it was one of the three chicks that I was watching. It still could be the third chick that I could not have clear visual contact yesterday. If that's the case, the third chick must have been growing a lot faster than the other two.
Two weeks have passed since the three Blue Jay chicks left the nest in Flag Staff Hill. I took the below photo a week after the chicks left the nest (June 12) in Flag Staff Hill. It was a young bird, and parent birds were feeding it. So, clearly it left the nest not long time ago.
I wondered if a chick could grow this much in just a week. It seemed impossible to me. However, the chicks could not open their eyes just two weeks before leaving the nest. This bird could be one of the three chicks I was watching. I could look closely only one of the three chicks after they left the nest. Actually, considering that the rest two chicks did not waste time hopping on the grass and climbed high up the trees, the rest two were growing a little faster than the one I saw on the ground. If they were, the young bird in the picture may be one of the two birds growing a little faster. I saw a chick asking food to its parents in the afternoon of the same day. From the location, it was clearly one of the three chicks left the Flag Staff Hill nest. But, they were too far away to see if their horizontal stabilizers (I'm talking about the tail in the pilots' terminology) were long like the bird in the left picture.
Five days ago, on June 15th, I saw a family of Blue Jay in a woods across the road from the Flag Staff Hill. The chicks should be able to fly across the road. Probably, the parent birds started cross-country flight training with their kids. The head of one of the child birds was not light blue like an adult bird; it was rather like a grayish blue. The head of the Blue Jay in the above picture is light blue almost like an adult bird. So, the bird in the picture could be from a different family, but I can no longer tell.
After that, I heard Blue Jay parents and children were calling each other in the same woods. But, they were hiding in the tree leaves. I do not know whether all three chicks are still alive and healthy, but at least some of them apparently are alive, and working on their flight training. Watching Blue Jay chicks' growth was a fun experience. I with the parent birds decide to build a nest at the same location next year, too.
By the way, I saw a Cardinal building a nest near the woods where I saw the Blue Jay family several times. But it was a wrong choice of branch. The branch was low and sticking out to the road. It was high enough to miss cars, but a large truck would hit it. I was a bit worried about the fate of Cardinal. But, when I came back from the office, Cardinals apparently abandoned the nest. Good decision.
Actually, I had some nice pictures of other birds while I was watching the Blue Jay family in the Flag Staff Hill. I'll organize and upload them soon.
Two chicks are confirmed alive! In the morning, I saw a chick hopping in the Flag Staff Hill. It didn't look searching for food, but rather was exploring the new world. Parent birds were flying near the chick, and occasionally feeding it. Two robins were pecking the chick. So, I chased them away. At lunchtime, the chick was perched on a low branch. It looked sleepy, and it fell asleep while I was looking at it through my camera. At that moment, other two chicks were still missing.
Around 6pm, I came to the Flag Staff Hill again, and heard voices of chicks calling their parents. I looked up, and could see two chicks perched on different branches! I heard the third voice, but tree leaves prevented me from visually confirm it. The two chicks not yet had grown their horizontal stabilizer. Nonetheless, they could climb up to 20 to 25 feet tree branches. I was impressed.
Honestly, I thought it was a too early departure. I suspected lack of experience of the parent birds, and pushed the chicks to leave the nest too early. I guess, the parent birds deserve my apology for my suspicion. The fact was, the chicks were pretty much ready for the departure. From the defense point of view, it is better to let them stay a little apart. Since they are staying apart, it is unlikely that all of them were eaten by a single predator attack.. A hawk may attempt to get a chick, but as soon as it enters the territory of the parent birds, it will be intercepted by the parent birds. The hawk is not a dogfighter, and not as maneuverable as a Blue Jay. So, the hawk is likely to be forced to retreat from their territory.
Anyways, now I confirmed the successful departure of the chicks. I continue watching them till they grow nice horizontal stabilizer and be able to fly freely. (But, it is getting more and more difficult to find them though)
It happened so quickly. Just about 10 days ago, the chicks even didn't have feather, and had to stay underneath their mother bird. But, today, they left the nest. When I came to check the status of the chicks in the evening, the nest was empty. I initially thought that a predator attacked the nest. If so, I should see some scattered feather near the nest. However, under the nest was clean. I also searched on the tree, but I couldn't see the chicks. As I continued the search, I found one of the chicks on the ground! Yes, they took off the nest!
Its horizontal stabilizer was not yet grown, and its maximum altitude was probably ten inches or so. I was worried about predator attack. But, actually I was seeing young House Sparrows and Robins walking on the ground even though they couldn't fly well. Probably, it's the nature.
Actually I noticed a change of the behavior of a parent bird this morning. When I checked the nest, the parent bird came close to the nest, but was taking some distance from the nest. Probably, the parent bird was encouraging their kids to leave the nest and take off to the world.
For those young House Sparrows and Robins, parent birds were flying close to the young birds and occasionally feeding them. So, I'm hoping I can see Blue Jay parents flying close and taking care of their kids for next several days.
I tried to take a photo of the young Blue Jay, but the photo on the right was the best I could take even with shake reduction feature. The shutter speed was about 1/3 seconds, and shake reduction was not enough. I could have used a flash, but I didn't scare the young bird and didn't use a flash.
Blue Jay chicks look healthy. I took the photo on the left. Two
of the three chicks are visible, and the chicks in the middle was pecking
the parent bird. Maybe it was asking more food. The parent bird
was probably taking care of the third chick behind the two chicks.
As I expected, one of the four Blue-Jay chicks did not survive. I can only see three chicks now. Nonetheless, surviving three chicks are growing.
We had a severe thunderstorm yesterday in Pittsburgh. The chicks were pretty large already, and I wondered if a parent bird could cover them from the rain. I checked the status of the nest on the way back home (in the thunderstorm) and saw a parent bird sitting and covering the chicks.
As you can see from the picture, the chicks' feather are growing fast. Signature blue and white pattern of the wing is becoming visible. The parent birds are no longer guarding the chicks all the time. So, the chicks are staying home alone. They look bored and sometimes look around and flap their wings. At this stage, I suppose they should be able to grow to adult birds unless they are attacked by a predator, or accidentally drop from the nest.
By the way, I started using Pentax K100D digital SLR camera for bird watching. I was using *ist DL before. When I switched from film SLR camera to digital SLR camera, I purchased Pentax *ist DS2 as a primary camera and *ist DL as a secondary (backup) camera. I primarily use *ist DS2 for air shows, but I also wanted to make use of the secondary camera as well. So I started carrying *ist DL all the time and taking photos of birds. It turned out that taking photos of birds is as much fun as air-show photo taking. In fact, taking photos of birds is more challenging than airplanes. Air-show pilots are well trained professional pilots, and they fly a nice stable path, and I can expect where to aim next. However, the behavior of birds is unexpected, and wild birds likes to stay under the shade of tree leaves, and I cannot gain the shutter speed. So, I was attracted by the shake reduction feature of K100D, which compensates the slower shutter speed. I'm planning to use *ist DL for aerial photo shooting with a standard-focal-length lens.
05/27/2007 Blue Jays' Chicks eyes open!
I tried to use 1.5x tele-converter with my 170-500mm telephoto lens. However, it was very windy, and my camera was shaken by the wind. I used a tree to support my camera, but I couldn't stop my camera shaking. Maybe 500mm F6.4 is the longest lens that I can practically use without tripod.
I came to the Flag Staff Hill at around noon. One of the Blue-Jay parents (presumably female) was sitting on the nest and guarding their chicks. Later the bird left the nest, and I witnessed two Blue Jays chasing a Red-Tailed Hawk retreating to the campus direction. I could not confirm if it was done by the parent birds of this nest, or male bird of this next plus a help from another Blue Jay family.
Later the female bird came back to the nest with some food. Based on the photo that I took that time, I confirmed that eyes of a chick is now open! The color of the chick is also getting greyer, implying that they are growing feather.
I could only see two chicks today. Considering the competitive
nature of the wild birds, I don't think it is likely that all four chicks
take off from the nest as an adult. Hopefully, three of them, most
likely only two of them, will grow to an adult. I'll continue watching
05/24/2007 Blue Jay's eggs hatched!
I came back from a trip to Japan. I went to the Flag Staff Hill today to check the status of the Blue Jay nest that I found before leaving Pittsburgh, and I saw some Blue Jay chicks in the nest! The photo on the left was taken around 9am. At that time, the nest was shaded by the tree leaves, and the sun was behind the nest. So, the photo became dark, but you can clearly see the parent birds feeding their kids.
I remembered the location of the nest. So, I walked to a vantage point that I can see the nest while hiding behind a tree. Then, two Blue Jays came back to the nest, and the chicks suddenly raised their heads and started begging for food.
I didn't see any feather over the chicks, but apparently they are already
strong enough to survive (at least for a short time) without being warmed by
a parent bird.
The next two photos are taken at around 6pm. The photo on the left shows four chicks. I could see only three in the morning, but at least four chicks are confirmed. After feeding, the parent bird sat on the nest and covered the chicks from the evening mist.
While one of the parent birds was feeding the chicks, the other parent
(probably male) bird was fighting to protect his family. A
Red-Tailed Hawk wandered into the
close vicinity of the nest. Two Blue Jays scrambled to the hawk, and
chased him away. A Blue Jay is more nimble than a Red-Tailed Hawk.
So, they flew around the hawk and pecked it until it retreated. The
hawk was apparently just a juvenile bird, so it apparently came to a wrong
place at a wrong time.
One of the two Blue Jay nests in the Flag Staff
Hill survived the storm! I saw a parent bird brooding there. I'm
now in Japan, and will come back to Pittsburgh on May 22nd. I hope I
can come back in time, and can see parent birds carrying food to their kids.
I have added some good shots from the recent bird watching. I found two pairs of Blue Jays nested in Flag Staff Hill, right next to Carnegie Mellon. They were busy carrying tree branches to their nest for construction, and frequently landed on the ground. I had good opportunities to take photos of them. However, the nests apparently were destroyed by the thunderstorm a few days ago. I have not seen them carrying branches after the storm.
Also Red Tail Hawks started coming close to the Carnegie Mellon campus. I'm still trying to take a good shot of a hawk in flight, but so far I had no luck.
Northern Flicker occasionally fly to Flag Staff Hill, and sometimes come to within range of my 500mm. Today, I saw a pair of Northern Flicker (this time I could confirm one of them was female) on the ground searching food. According to Birds of Pennsylvania, Northern Flicker is a rare wood pecker that prefers to eat on the ground, rather than finding food by drilling a tree.
Another new comers are Chipping Sparrows. Now I often see them over Shenley Golf Course. I expect I will see a lot more of them soon.
I have been in Chicago. I only stayed two nights and did not have much time to look around (and the first two days were spoiled by unseasonable cold weather), but I carried my digital SLR + telephoto to take some photos of birds there. I have added photos of Canada Goose, Ring-Billed Gull, and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.
The photo of two Northern Flickers is so far my best shot of this year. First I found one of them singing, and the second one flew close to it. Then they both swung their neck, as if they were dancing. So, I thought they were a male bird and a female bird. However, it turned out they both were male birds. A female bird was not supposed to have a black speckle on the cheek.
Pittsburgh has been cold again since Wednesday, but in general the temperature is becoming warmer. I see a lot more birds now than in winter. However, more people started walking a dog. More than twice, a dog scared birds away when I was about to press the shutter. In one incident, I succeeded in walk close to a Blue Jay when a dog scared them away. I cannot complain because a park is a public property. A dog gives me an additional difficulty in taking pictures of birds, but I am in a target-rich environment, so in total the difficulty seems to be the same.
Last weekend, I found a pair of Cardinal building a nest. Funny thing was that the female bird was building a nest while the male bird was doing nothing. The male bird was staying close to the nest, but didn't look he was on the watch. Rather he seemed to take his wife for dating. In fact, she flew with him several times about 50ft away from the nest, but she soon flew back and resumed the construction. I guess the nest was more important for her than dating.
03/31/2007 Clear Shot of Blue Jay
I finally took some clear shots of one of my arch rivals, Blue Jay. Two Blue Jays were picking up a acorn and perched on a low branch. Blue Jays are usually very cautious, and I rarely can come close to this proximity.
The color scheme of Blue Jay reminds me of T-2 Blue Impulse (the airplane once used by the Japanese Air Force's Aerobatic Team.)
I also added a picture of a Chipmunk.
A picture of a Song Sparrow have been added. For some reason, this bird didn't fly away. The sun was behind the bird, so the color may become better if I do some picture processing, but I uploaded the photo as is. I resized the picture, but didn't touch the color, brightness, and contrast.
I'm working for the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. A problem of working for Carnegie Mellon is its high price of parking fee. I don't want to pay for that. So, I drive to a street where I can park for free, and walk about 15 minutes through Shenley Golf Course to my office. By the way, the outside temperature sometimes goes down to below 10F in winter in Pittsburgh. It is very cold even though I wear layers of clothes. Shenley Golf Course is a part of Shenley Park, and I see a lot of wild birds. It is a good place for casual bird watching. I take advantage of 15 minutes walk to my office and carry my digital SLR with 170-500mm lens to take photos of birds.
Taking photos of birds with a tele-photo lens is just like hunting. It is peaceful because no bird dies from being shot by a camera. In fact, most of the wild birds are really cautious, and I need to sneak to a shooting position without being noticed by the target bird. Ideally, I want to sneak from behind some obstacle that blocks the view of the target bird. It's like a sniping. But, I cannot predict how close I can sneak in. So, I move one step and shoot, then another step and shoot, and continue it until the bird flies away. If I'm lucky, I can come very close to the target bird, and I can take a really nice picture. Below Cardinal is one example. I could come close to the bird by hiding behind trees.
Actually, I have some arch rivals. Well, I'm just defining them as arch rivals, and they (birds) may not be thinking I am their rival at all. One of them is a Cardinal. I was impressed by its bright red color when I saw it for the first time. There's no Cardinal in Japan, and I hadn't seen it until I came to Pittsburgh. So, it's one of my primary targets, but Cardinals are very cautious, and it is very difficult to sneak in to close proximity.
Another one is a Blue Jay. I like its bright blue wings. The color reminds me of the Japanese Air Force's aerobatic team, Blue Impulse. I've been trying to take a nice clear bright photo of a Blue Jay, but so far the below photo is the only one good shot I was able to take. (I have some humorous shot, like a Blue Jay trying to swallow a whole acorn, though.)
Red Tailed Hawk is my another rival. It's a big bird, and it doesn't care about humans. They may be just thinking that humans are too big for their lunch. So, it is easy to come close to the bird if I find it perched on a street light, and I can take a close-up photo. But, what I'm aiming now is its gliding. This big bird often glides for several seconds after taking off from a street light, then start flattering its wing and climbs. (Maybe they glide until the airspeed reaches V1.) I've tried several times to take photo of its gliding, but so far no luck. More than once I captured a gliding red tailed hawk in the finder, but my camera failed to focus.
So, I'm trying to take a good photos of those rivals, and other birds and animals. I'll upload good photos here.
You can see other good shots from the Photo Gallery Sorted by Specie. Please see that page, too.
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