Latin America, 2007
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Culture & Travel, 2007
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April 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Marlins mar Nats' home opener
It was perfect weather for Opening Day in Our Nation's Capital, but the scoreboard was not a pretty picture. The Marlins scored a run in the top of the first, and even though Ryan Zimmerman responded in the bottom of the inning with a triple, the rest of the Nationals could not match his performance, and they ended up getting stomped on, 9-2. The newest Nat, Dmitri Young, hit two doubles, raising hopes that this veteran can still provide offensive power. Can he play other infield positions besides first base? With Dontrelle Willis pitching, it was not surprising that the Nats scored so few runs, but the fact that Washington's premier ace John Patterson could not even last four innings before giving up six runs was not an auspicious sign at all. Announced attendance was 40,389, but it will be tough to draw as many as 30,000 fans per game for the rest of the season.
Bruce Orser came across some more photos of the new Yankee Stadium under construction at baseball-fever.com. They are really zipping along there.
April 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Will: skeptical of Thompson
In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, George Will cautions us that the recent surge of interest in Fred Thompson as the Reaganesque savior for the cause of mainstream conservatism may end in disappointment. Thompson was on the wrong side of campaign finance "reform" (i.e., subjecting campaign politics to Federal control) and other key issues. Darn... Well, it's still early enough in the process for Thompson to rethink his position on such major policy questions. Mitt Romney redefined himself as a pro-gun-rights "hunter," for example, but the transparency of this was obvious to all.
April 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Imus in the morning
I hardly ever listen to Don Imus, and it's hard for me to get excited about obnoxious words he and folks like him utter over the air waves. Like Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher, and others in that line of work, shocking people is their bread and butter, so, once in a while, they are bound to overstep the bounds of propriety. What should we do about it when they do? Engage in yet another drawn-out national ritual of collective guilt mongering over our racist culture, taking up half of the evening news on Tuesday? No! We simply get off our rear ends, walk over to the radio set, and either change the station or just click the dang thing off. The more pompous breast-beating we engage in, the more we undermine the individual responsibility to hold jerks accountable. The good news from this episode is that Imus does seem to have realized that he acted like a jerk, and deserves punishment. Losing advertisers or a brief suspension, sure. Firing him from MS-NBC? I don't think so. Of course, the big irony is that he had to apologize to an even bigger jerk who is on my list of unmentionable wackos.
April 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Congress infringes upon executive
For the past month or two, President Bush has spent much of his energy fiercely resisting the efforts by congressional Democrats to impose an artificial deadline on U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. As well he should! There are signs that more and more moderate Democrats are waking up, raising hopes that a compromise war funding bill without such deadlines can be passed. Some Democrat Congressional leaders agreed to meet with Bush in hopes of averting a total cutoff of funding, which no one seriously expects, but cannot be ruled out. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused, however, on the grounds that Bush was setting unfair preconditions. See Washington Post. I have heard some pundits suggest that the Democrats' pressure on Bush to withdraw troops might be a useful way to spur the Iraqis into picking up the slack, but I don't think that is the case any more, if it ever was. The position of the Democratic leadership on Iraq war policy is irresponsible and very dangerous for this country, and you don't have to be a 100% Bush loyalist to see that.
I happened to come across a very pertinent quotation on the idea of separation of powers, as highlighted by John Adams in the Massachusetts state constitution:
In the government of the commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them; to the end that it may be a government of laws, and not of men. (Article XXX)
Similarly, Nancy Pelosi's venture in shuttle diplomacy last week was an embarrassment to her party, to Congress, and to the United States of America. She misrepresented Israel's position at a delicate phase in Palestianian politics, and she let herself be taken in by Syria's double-dealing dictator Bashar Assad. When the Washington Post criticizes a leading Democrat for acting in a "foolish" way, you know there has been a major screw-up. Go home, Nancy. You're no no Henry K.
The eminently sensible Jeff Goldstein has a nice essay on "Secular Piety and the New Age Orthodoxy" at Protein Wisdom; link via via Instapundit. He ridicules those who react to news of global warming by ostentatiously showing that they are
eager to repudiate worldly goods and embrace a life of asceticism -- or what passes for asceticism in today's pampered world.
Indeed: self-flagellation without the back scars. For those with no faith in God, ironically, the craving for ritualistic redemption is often the strongest.
April 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
More spring migrants arrive
Today we had a veritable heat wave, with temperatures soaring into the upper 80s, and May isn't even here yet! I spent some rare free time this morning climbing to the top of Betsy Bell Hill and Mary Gray Hill, the first time I have done both hills in one day. It was breezy, which may explain the low number of warbler species. Today's highlights included four first-of-season birds:
- Yellow-rumped warblers (20+)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers (M, F)
- Downy woodpeckers (M, F)
- Great crested flycatcher (FOS)
- Towhees (M)
- Rose-breasted grosbeak (F) (FOS)
- Black vultures
- Sharp-shinned hawk
- Wood thrush (FOS)
- Black-throated green warbler (M)
- Hairy woodpecker (M)
- Pileated woodpecker (M)
- Scarlet tanager (F)
- House wren (FOS)
- Cedar wawxings
Here are some other first-of-season sightings from the past few days. At the Route 608 crossing over Christians Creek on April 27:
- Yellow warbler (M)
Along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, April 29:
- Black-throated green warbler
- Hooded warbler
- Scarlet tanager (M)
In the just-for-fun department, I saw a Killdeer walking along the railroad tracks next to the industrial park on the north edge of Staunton on Thursday afternoon. I don't mean along the cross ties, I mean along the steel rail itself: quite a balancing act!
No to plastic bags!
My sister Connie tells me there was a piece on Public Radio International today about a town in England that has outlawed plastic shopping bags. "Behind it is a young videographer who happened on an endangered turtle on a beach, choking on a bag." See YouTube.
April 16, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Day of horror at Virginia Tech
It will take some time before we know enough to absorb the full meaning of the hideous slaying of 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech today, finally ending with the suicide of the perpetrator. It is the worst case of mass murder in U.S. history, excepting acts of terrorism, of course. We get used to large death tolls in Iraq and other war-torn areas, but incidents such as this one bring into sharp focus the immense value that each and every human life has. Thirty-two people with promising, rewarding lives ahead of them have been taken from among us by one enraged young man, leaving an empty void in the lives of the hundreds and even thousands of people who knew the victims. God only knows all the great things in life these people could have accomplished, had they only lived. This is a time for prayer, and the public statements of President Bush, Governor Kaine, Senators Warner and Webb were appropriate reminders. As the precise facts of this case become known, we will be able to draw lessons about the increasing tendency for people to resort to violence, about gun control laws (cue Michael Moore), or about the difficulties that some foreign-born students have in adjusting to American social norms. Until we learn more, however, we should not prejudge the relevance of any of those potential aspects.
I would object to the frequent characterizations of such acts of evil as "tragic," however. Tragedy, properly defined, consists of a clash between the fervent efforts by human beings to realize their fondest desires, on one hand, versus the actual unintended consequences of their acts, on the other hand. Hence Romeo and Juliet and many other Shakespearian plays. As far as we know right now, this shooting rampage was an expression of pent-up frustration and hatred that finally boiled over because a particular human soul lacked a moral compass or self-restraint. It was, quite literally, diabolical.
Jacqueline and I have been meaning to pay a visit to friends and family in the Blacksburg area some time this spring, and it is just awful that this unspeakable atrocity will cast a pall over that placid, picturesque college town for months and years to come. Austin, Waco, Columbine, ...
April 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Hell week in Washington
No one has very high hopes for the Washington Nationals this year, but the first week of play on the home turf of RFK Stadium suggests that this season may be even uglier than we expected. Hopes that John Patterson could lead the starting rotation have not been borne out at all. The Nats' only win of the season thus far was a one-run decision in which the winning run scored (from third base) on Dmitri Young's fly ball to the left field corner, a bizarre play in which the left fielder let the ball drop in hopes it would land foul. It was a nice comeback, avoiding a sweep by the Marlins, but the good vibes didn't last: the Nats lost the next four games to the Diamondbacks, an embarrassing four-game sweep on home turf. The Nationals have been outscored by their opponents by a total of 53 runs to 18. Ouch!
So, let's look at the bright side:
- Veteran Ronnie Belliard is batting close to .400.
- The often-troubled Dmitri Young is batting close to .300, and is now the cleanup batter.
- Youngster Ryan Church is batting close to .300, and with two home runs, is tied for second place in the majors.
- The bullpen has been fairly solid, in contrast to the starting pitchers.
- The Nats scored at least one run in every game.*
* Until tonight's 8-0 shutout inflicted upon them by the Braves in Atlanta.
A-Rod in the clutch?
No one doubts that Alex Rodriguez is among the best sluggers in baseball and that he is bound for Cooperstown some day. Many would dispute his credentials as a clutch hitter, however. In last Saturday's game against the Orioles, he performed the ultimate in miraculous last-minute baseball heroics, hitting a grand slam with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, thus turning certain defeat into sweet victory. Having hit five home runs in his first six games, A-Rod is on track to hit 135 homers this season!
And to think I thought it was bizarre that we had snow here in Virginia in March! Well, we had another inch of snow on Saturday morning, but the folks in Cleveland and other northern cities really got hit hard by the white stuff. Seeing those snowplows trying to clear Jacobs Field was surreal.
... for not making baseball fans wait until mid-May before broadcasting the Game of the Week each Saturday.
... for stopping by to visit this site even though I've been tied up with other things lately. I'll take care of "the mail bag" tomorrow.
April 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Strains on troops increase
Well, this is hardly unexpected news: SecDef Bob Gates announced that soldiers currently in or going to Iraq and Afghanistan will have to serve a tour of 15 months, rather than 12 months, as in the past. Gates said, "This recognizes . . . that our forces are stretched. There's no question about that." See Washington Post. Before long, it will become hard to retain skilled NCOs and mid-rank officers, who are critical in maintaining discipline and conducting effective combat operations. How much longer can our armed forces sustain the building strain before some key component "snaps"? Meanwhile, President Bush seems blissfully unaware of the urgent need to provide more funding for our troops and wounded veterans, which probably means -- unfortunately -- higher taxes. That is what usually happens in war time, believe it or not. One way or another, American civilians need to do more to make life more bearable for military families, not just waving flags and putting up signs.
McCain visits VMI
Sen. John McCain paid a visit to Virginia Military Institute in Lexington today, with a major speech on war policy. He acknowledged that the United States had pursued a "flawed strategy" in Iraq, but insisted that we need to persist nonetheless, saying he has "cautious optimism" about the war prospects. He also expressed deep thanks for the VMI cadets who have already served in Iraq, and those who will be doing so in the future. See www.vmi.edu.
In the Washington Post, David Ignatius recently expressed hope that a semblance of national consensus on war policy might yet be possible by going back to Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. That would certainly be nice, but I think he is being overly optimistic.
April 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Blue-winged teals on Bells Lane
For the second time in three days, I saw several Blue-winged teals on a small pond next to Bells Lane yesterday, four of them to be exact. After checking my records, I realized that I had not seen any of that species since my very first sighting in northwestern Ohio in August 1998! In the upland area further along the road, I saw a Northern Harrier gliding at low altitude, the first of its kind I have seen around here in over a year. The list of highlights:
- Blue-winged teals (FOS)
- White-crowned sparrows
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Northern Shovelers
- Northern Harrier (FOS)
- Yellow-rumped warblers
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Tree swallows
Today it turned frigid and wet once again, and we even had snow flurries for a while. Two Downy woodpeckers, a Red-bellied woodpecker, and a Chipping sparrow were among the hungry guests out back.
April 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Sen. Hanger's campaign kick-off
State Senator Emmett Hanger launched his campaign at a press conference in Verona last week, receiving endorsements from nearly all of the elected officials from Augusta County. One of them was David Beyeler, a semi-retired farmer who represents the South River District on the Board of Supervisors: "The Senator represents this area well, and he has seniority." In his remarks, Sen. Hanger criticized anti-tax activists who are behind his opponent, Scott Sayre. He complained about the misleading radio advertisements attacking him and declared "that he wouldn't be bullied by 'anti-tax, anti-government extremists.'" Good for him! The article in the News Leader quoted some folks who tried to link Sen. Hanger to the big-spending ways of Gov. Tim Kaine and the Democrats, which is just plain ridiculous.
Even though he is friendly and well-liked by his constituents, Sen. Hanger is anything but a professional politician, which may explain his relaxed attitude toward the campaign. In fact, it was not until yesterday that I saw the first Hanger road signs posted. There were four of them along Route 11 between Harrisonburg and Fort Defiance, where he went to high school.
I was taken aback by the hostile reaction of some pro-Sayre bloggers to the endorsements received by Hanger. Those bloggers have been railing against Hanger for months, and now they complain about his "negative" campaign statements. For a person like me who has been involved with these things first hand for many months, such a reaction could not possibly be more ironic. As one example, "SWAC Girl" (the "s" is questionable, I think) claimed that Hanger had "slammed the grassroots volunteers who work for the Republican Party," when all he did was to point out -- quite rightly -- that several Republican committee chairs in this area have contrived to paint a false image of widespread opposition to Hanger from within the party rank and file. Hanger said nothing negative about "grassroots volunteers" at all. Perhaps it all comes down to how a "grassroots volunteer" is defined. She also listed the elected officials who endorsed Hanger, along with their salaries, and then listed the local Republican party officers who have endorsed Sayre. She made one glaring omission, however: Guess who?
If you ask me, Sen. Hanger should be proud to get the endorsements of those public officials. After all, they are all folks who are responsible for properly managing the taxpayers' money, and they know how hard it is to deliver vital public services while keeping the tax burden to a tolerable level. In contrast, many people from the private sector fail to appreciate how difficult it is to maintain fiscal responsibility. That is why those anti-tax pledges are so pernicious -- they convey the false impression that all you have to do to solve a problem in public affairs is just make a declaration. In reality, getting things done (or undone) in government involves a lot of a hard bargaining.
Spank That Donkey also called attention to the "grass-roots" nature of Sayre's campaign. Well, it may have "grass-roots" aspects in terms of the folks who are doing the heavy lifting and sign-hammering, but it is anything but "grass-roots" in terms of who is funding and organizing the campaign. As is well known, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform group has been recruiting right-wing candidates to run against moderate conservatives for the past several years. In 2004 that group put out an angry "Wanted" poster showing all the members of the Virginia General Assembly who voted for the tax hike, and Sen. Hanger's face was among those on it. (At least it didn't say "dead or alive.") Their choice to run against Hanger (not necessarily their first choice) was Scott Sayre, who has no experience in politics whatsover, as far as anyone knows.
Bloggers for Sayre?
At last count, there were fifteen blogs signed up on Bloggers for Sayre, but most of their identities are either anonymous or dubious. As far as I know, I'm the only blogger in the 24th District who supports Emmett Hanger, though I'm sure there must be at least one or two Hanger supporters who blog elsewhere in the Old Dominion. Whether that says more about Hanger, or more about the current state of the "conservative" blogosphere in Virginia, remains to be seen.
April 23, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Nationals start fighting back
The Washington Nationals finally got back on the right track last week, winning at least every other day until Saturday. The most gratifying wins were the extra-inning games against the Phillies last Wednesday (5-4 in 13) and against the Marlins on Friday (6-5 in 14). In the latter game, the Nats wasted a 5-0 lead, and Chad Cordero blew yet another save opportunity. The Nats' run scoring has improved markedly, but the biggest difference has been the quality of starting pitching. Oddly, however, John Patterson has not performed nearly as well as in the past couple years. In the final game at Florida on Sunday, the Marlins had a 10-0 lead at one point, but a ninth-inning grand slam by Ryan Zimmerman (his first home run of the year!) narrowed the deficit to semi-dignified six runs.
Red Sox sweep Yankees
What an embarrassment for the Bronx Pinstripers playing up in Fenway Park this weekend! Those scrappy Red Sox actually swept the Yankees, who have fallen to fourth place in the AL East. At least Alex Rodriguez is still on a roll, tying the major league record for the most number of home runs in April with 14. See MLB.com.How many more will he hit for the rest of the month -- and for the rest of the season?? We could be watching a historic year in the making, sports fans!
The mail bag: deleted???
Right at the end of a particularly hectic week for me, I experienced a rare e-mail glitch and for the moment at least cannot access many of the messages that were sent to me between January and earlier this month. So, if you were expecting a reply from me, you might want to re-send your original message. My apologies.
I received a message from Harry Swanson, author of Ruthless Baseball: Yankees Purified By Fire Stadium Construction. The main theme of the book is how Babe Ruth single-handed turned the once-struggling Yankees franchise into the titanic champions that we
all (OK, some) know and love. But it has even more than that: "The reader will also be exposed to the most detailed account of the building of Yankee Stadium ever written from heated memos and cost over runs, to the make and models of the trucks used to carry materials."
Mike Zurawski has been studying the outfield changes at Tropicana Field, and is impressed by the new video board in right field. See a photo at sptimes.com. It appears that several rows of seats in right field have been eliminated by the video board and adjacent displays. Mike also tells me that the Cincinnati Red have added a seating section on top of the batter's backdrop in center field of Great American Ballpark. See a photo at webshots.com.
April 1, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Teals and grebes at Book Fair
I drove up to the Green Valley Book Fair this afternoon, and for the first time that I can remember, books were not my main objective. There have been recent reports of wintering water birds in that area, so I figured I might as well kill two ... well, you know. My first stop was "Leonard's Pond," north of Weyer's Cave, and sure enough I immediately spotted the Green-winged teals; there were ten of them, in all. To my surprise, however, no shore birds or swallows were present. Then I headed along some back roads toward Mount Crawford and soon arrived at the famed rural mecca for book lovers. This was the first time I had paid attention to the pond just to the west of the Book Fair, and I did spot two low-profile birds swimming and diving, one slightly darker than the other, along with two Mallards. The pond was about 200 yards away, however, so I had to trudge across the field to get close enough to pick out the field marks with my compact binoculars. After consulting my field guides back home, I confirmed that they were indeed the Horned grebes that have been reported there. That makes two more first-of-(winter)-season birds for me!
April 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
The mail bag: Spring cleaning
During my recent brief blog semi-hiatus, a lot of news bits accumulated in my in-box. Thanks to Bruce Orser for brightening a gloomy, rainy day by sending a link to a video at youtube.com: YANKEE STADIUM BEHIND THE SCENES TOUR. It features a soundtrack of a variant of Terry Cashman's "Talkin' Baseball" song, with each refrain ending, "The Bambino, The Clipper, and The Mick."
On a related note, Bruce also came across a review of a superb new book by Bill Jenkinson, Babe Ruth the Home Run King, at the Two-edged Sword, which I find very interesting for its non-baseball material. I took a look at that book at Books a Million, and was deeply impressed by its thorough research and the great collection of aerial stadium photos from the 1920s and 1930s.
Prospects for the Twins' future ballpark brightened in late March, as officials from Hennepin County pursue condemnation of the land whose owners are holding out for a higher price. See KARE TV-11.
Mike Zurawski sends even more juicy news items: The Florida Marlins may not know if the state government will provide enough money to get a new stadium built until the very end of the legislative session on May 4. State political leaders seem inclined to approve the relatively small contribution of $60 million out of the total stadium cost of $490, but other pro sports teams in Florida might demand a piece of the proverbial "action." In any case, the site of the new stadium (Orange Bowl or downtown?) is yet "to be determined." See palmbeachpost.com.
The Tribune Company recently changed hands, and the new owner Sam Zell has put the Chicago Cubs up for sale, saying he might sell Wrigley Field in a separate deal. Jerry Colangelo (former owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks) is already licking his lips at the prospect, and in a radio interview he hinted that Wrigley Field might not be preserved indefinitely. Can't they learn a lesson from the Red Sox? See Chicago Sun Times. It may be time to launch another baseball fan activist movement...
There is a new bleacher section with 200 seats on the roof deck in right field of Fenway Park, and it has been named "Conigliaro's Corner" in honor of Tony Conigliaro. (I always thought that was a cool name.) See southcoasttoday.com.
Also, the Devil Rays are making more improvements to Tropicana Field, mostly aimed at fan convenience and pleasure. See ballparkdigest.com.
Speaking of which, Matthias Koster, one of the bloggers at mopupduty.com, was in Tropicana Field recently and reports that they have lowered the height of a portion of the left field wall to 5 feet. "The reasoning behind this is to allow [Carl] Crawford to make some spectacular catches."
April 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Ecuador legislators reinstated
The political war in Ecuador has shifted back in favor of the opposition, to the consternation of President Rafael Correa. The constitutional court has ruled that 57 members of congress should be reinstated, holding that their removal by a lower court last month was unconstitutional. (Wasn't that obvious?) The referendum on Correa's proposed constitutional assembly passed by a large margin, and he thought he would be running the political scene, like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Correa's argument that the 57 legislators were "incompetent" shows what little respect he has for opposing points of view; he his pushing the country in a very dangerous direction, and anything is possible. The political establishment (and the country's legal institutions) are not dead yet. See BBC.
Abortion legalized in Mexico City
Lawmakers in Mexico City have voted to legalize abortion, after a very emotional debate. See BBC. A week ago, the Washington Post had an in-depth story about the proposed law that would make abortion freely available. Since Mexico has a more secular tradition than most other Latin American countries, this wasn't a huge surprise, but it sparked a sharp controversy, nonetheless. As used to be the case in the United States, many poor women resort to amateur hack "doctors" to get cheap abortions, and often the procedures are botched.
Costa Rica getaway
I recently learned that there is a new Web page for Bolita Ecolodge, run by Ron and Val Engel, a nice couple Jacqueline and I met in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica, back in 2005. Their little resort for nature lovers is situated at the edge of Corcovado National Park, where we saw Scarlet macaws, Spider monkeys, Anteaters, and other exotic creatures.
April 1, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Opening Night 2007
The Mets beat the Cardinals 6-1 in St. Louis this evening, showing that the New York team full of young talent (plus old talent Tom Glavine) is just hitting its stride as regular contenders for the postseason. The Cardinals are getting old, meanwhile, and with the extra slugging and pitching acquired by the Cubs during the offseason, I think the NL Central Division title is up for grabs, with a slight edge toward the Cubbies. For what it's worth, here are my picks to win the divisional titles and wild card spots this year:
|Division / slot
Tomorrow is Opening Day, with 26 of the 30 major league teams slated to play, but aside from the Indians at ChiSox, not many of the matchups seem particularly exciting.
More important than politics: Baseball
I was pleased that one of the political bloggers in my state (Virginia) gets it: Bearing Drift reminds us that Our National Pastime is more important than politics! Over the last couple months, quite frankly, I've had enough political headaches to last a life time... That blogger also saw the recent exhibition game between the Orioles and Nationals in Norfolk and posted some photos of Harbor Park, which is aptly named. The ships visible beyond the right field fence remind one of AT&T Park in San Francisco. The home of the Norfolk Tides is a fine, double-decked venue, and it was considered as one of the alternative new homes for the former Montreal Expos, but it would have been difficult to expand it to major league size, given the cramped neighborhood it's in.
April 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Two life birds in one day!!??
I spent another afternoon at the Wildlife Center of Virginia today, along with fellow Augusta Bird Club member Elaine Carwile, helping in the rehabilitation of two Red-tailed hawks. The first one flew like a champion, and aside from a few missing tail feathers, is almost ready to return to the wild. The second one, which was only admitted a few weeks ago, was very nervous and reluctant to fly very much. Unlike last week, this flight practice session was inside a specially-built cage that is about 50 feet long and 15 feet high.
Afterwards, Elaine persuaded me to join her in a quick trip to a local pond where interesting species are often spotted. Before long we spotted a Greater yellowlegs and seven or so Common snipes. Finally, we headed to a secret location (!) where a Great horned owl nest has been reported, and sure enough we soon saw an adult sitting next to a fluffy white nestling owl. It was a wonderful, close-up view of a life bird!
And, if that wasn't enough birding excitement for one day, while relaxing in my sofa late this afternoon, I also noticed a small, slightly different-looking sparrow skulking in the weeds next to our back patio. The head looked a lot like a Song sparrow, while the heavy dark streaks and ruddy color in the wings reminded me of a Swamp sparrow. The breast was pale with thin streaks, not like a Song sparrow. I am virtually certain that it is yet another life bird for me, making two in one day. All you birding experts out there please take a close look before you click on the blank space in the last line of today's list below to see what I think it is.
- Greater yellowlegs -- 1
- Common snipes -- 7
- Killdeers -- 6
- Ruddy ducks -- 2
- Canada geese -- 4
- Mallards -- 2
- Turkey vultures (very close, feeding)
- Black vultures (very close, feeding)
- Great horned owls (A, J)
- Henslow's sparrow???
April 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Bush, Lula meet at Camp David
Less than a month after his trip to Latin America, President Bush welcomed his counterpart from Brazil, Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva, to Camp David over the weekend. The main item on the agenda was trade policy, and Bush pledged to work together with Brazil toward renewal of the Doha Round trade talks, which broke down last July. Bush also expressed appreciation for Brazil's leading role in peacekeeping operations in Haiti. In response, da Silva highlighted the issue of global warming and the need to promote biofuels without causing harm to Brazil's precious Amazonian ecodiversity. See whitehouse.gov. Now the big question mark is whether Bush can put enough pressure on Congress to curtail the myriad of agricultural subsidies and other protectionist devices that make a mockery of free markets.
More generally, the blossoming friendship between Bush and da Silva constitutes one of the biggest and least recognized foreign policy accomplishments of this administration. Part of this is based on similar personalities: Both men are casual and chummy, almost disdainful of social protocol. Either would be comfortable holding a beer standing around a barbecue grill. (I hope Bush took the opportunity to feast on some of Brazil's delectable feixoada while he was visiting there last month.) But beyond back-slapping cameraderie is the long-standing convergence of strategic interests between the United States and Brazil, dating back to World War II. During the Cold War, Brazil was for the most part a large bastion of stability in an otherwise turbulent region, and it was treated favorably and respectfully by Washington. Under the Clinton administration, in contrast, the United States began a tilt toward Argentina, which has long been a rival of Brazil. It also has a poor record relative to Brazil in terms of stability, democracy, and economic progress. Brazilians felt slighted by Clinton, which probably contributed to their desire to build up Mercosur / Mercosul as a potential rival to NAFTA. But the threat of Hugo Chavez in recent years has convinced Americans and Brazilians alike that the two countries could benefit greatly by working together toward stability and economic development in the region. Kudos to Bush for recognizing this and taking action.
April 20, 2007 [LINK / comment]
A gorgeous (but mournful) day
These flowers are on a Crepe Myrtle tree which is next to the post office on North Augusta Street. In the distance is the tip of a very tall fir tree. It reminds us that life goes on, and that life is beautiful.
The weather today was absolutely beautiful, in stark contrast to the solemn occasion of remembering the 32 students and faculty members from Virginia Tech who were murdered last Monday. The one good thing about this awful episode was that it brought out a lot of good feelings, and it heightened our awareness of the inestimable value of life. Virginia Tech is a wonderful institution, and even if there is some hesitation in the short term, I'm willing to bet that the surge of media attention to that institution will end up improving its image around the nation and around the world. At noon on Tuesday I attended a brief moment of silence ceremony at Mary Baldwin College, and for the past couple days I've been wearing a maroon and orange ribbon -- quite out of the ordinary for a Virginia Cavalier!
"We are all Hokies now."
As for the gunman, the less said about him the better. He craved posthumous glory, with much the same narcissistic motivations as a jihad martyr, and I was disgusted that the executives at NBC were foolish enough to oblige his twisted dreams. Their poor judgment will probably inspire copycat murders in years to come, and it certainly caused far more agony to the families and friends of the victims than it was worth in terms of understanding the killer.
In the killer's native country of South Korea, many people expressed sympathy or paid respects at memorial shrines. Perhaps another side effect of the massacre will be to moderate anti-American sentiments there.
April 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Senator Hanger comes to Staunton
With less than two months to go in the primary campaign, State Senator Emmett Hanger was finally given an opportunity to address the members of the Staunton Republican Committee on Tuesday night. His opponent in the June 12 primary election, Scott Sayre, had already appeared at our meeting in February, following a controversial public statement of support for him by the committee chair, Anne Taetszch. Several committee members felt very strongly that the incumbent should be given an equal opportunity to present his case at one of our meetings, as a matter of basic fairness. Because of disagreement on this point, however, it became necessary to resort to a provision in the committee bylaws under which the committee members themselves can issue a meeting call. As the newly elected secretary of the committee, I took a lead role in this initiative, in close consultation with other committee members who have more experience and knowledge of party rules and protocol than I have. Because neither the chair nor the vice-chair showed up at this meeting, I led the proceedings in my capacity as secretary.
Sen. Hanger answers a question from Ray Ergenbright; Carol Ergenbright and yours truly are on the right.
After "reintroducing" himself to party members, Sen. Hanger spent the better part of an hour explaining the intricacies of various aspects of state tax policy. He displayed a strong grasp of a wide variety of complex fiscal issues. He lamented his inability to accomplish more in the area of tax reform, such as raising personal exemptions and standard deductions in the state income tax for the sake of lower-income people. He did cite progress, nonetheless, in reducing the disparities in tax burden among the various geographical regions of the Commonwealth (helping our area), in ensuring consistent tax treatment of the telecommunications sector (Internet, TV, and telephone), and in repealing the estate tax. He also called for reforming real estate taxes, shifting them to a "cost-plus" basis that does not automatically escalate in parallel with the often-volatile market prices. Sen. Hanger then moved on to other issues, stressing the need for more accountability in the state's public education system, criticizing the "No Child Left Behind" initiative of the Bush administration. Finally, he hailed the accomplishments yielded by the 1999 Land Conservation Act, criticizing Governor Tim Kaine for taking credit for the annual benefits that have accrued from this piece of legislation.
The members of the committee then asked Sen. Hanger a series of questions. Ray Ergenbright asked about the anti-tax pledge signed by Scott Sayre, pointing out that the Virginia Republican Creed stresses "fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints," but says nothing about cutting taxes. Sen. Hanger declined to comment on his opponent's positions, but made it clear that he wants the government to be able to pay for its proper obligations. He made a critical reference in this regard to how the ongoing war in Iraq is being funded: "We are borrowing money from the Chinese to pay for bullets..."
Stacey Morris wanted to know what additional steps can be taken to stop sexual predators, and Sen. Hanger pointed to his past advocacy of castration and even capital punishment for the most heinous offenders. He said it is costing the state at least $100 million a year to keep those convicted of sex crimes incarcerated or monitored after they are paroled. This illustrated the dilemma of trying to tackle pressing social problems without imposing an excessive tax burden on the citizens.
Wally Almquist then asked about the accusation that Sen. Hanger voted for "the largest tax increase in state history" in the 2004 legislative session. Hanger dismissed that as just a "30-second sound bite," noting that students and other users of services provided by the state would have borne a huge additional cost burden otherwise. He emphasized that the real "largest tax increase in state history" takes place every year at the local level when property taxes are leveed.
At the end of the question-and-answer session, Erma Fretwell and others expressed a strong willingness to help with Sen. Hanger's campaign. I think it is safe to say that Sen. Hanger received a much friendlier reception in Staunton than the opposing candidate did in February.
This event was covered by David Royer, a reporter for the Staunton News Leader. Unfortunately, the article in yesterday's paper focused on what had until now been a behind-the-scenes phenomenon: "a faction of the Staunton Republican Committee bypassed its chairwoman to stage a question-and-answer session with Hanger, highlighting the party rift." In my blog posts and personal conversations, I have made a point of treating the tensions within the party in a very discreet fashion, in contrast to some other bloggers who are fond of spreading rumors. I have not pretended that such divisions don't exist, and I have occasionally alluded to these problems in the context of the broader tensions within the Republican Party, which are well known to the public. I am fairly certain that the "rifts" would not have been exposed if the pro-Sayre minority faction had attended the meeting on Tuesday. I also reported on this event (in a less opinionated fashion) at the Staunton GOP Web site.
I should state that I have no problem with those in the Republican ranks who are working to elect the political novice Scott Sayre, just as I have no problem with those who sincerely object to the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. Honest disagreement is perfectly normal in the world of politics, and loyal dissent is a cherished right in any democracy. It strikes me as quite ironic, however, that many of those who favor the challenging candidate Sayre are the first to accuse others -- often in very harsh terms -- of stirring up dissension within the Party of Lincoln. I think this biblical quotation aptly gets to the root of our problem:
Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife;
quarrels and insults are ended. [Proverbs 22: 10]
Taking the pledge?
Earlier this month, the (Waynesboro) News Virginian reported that the opposing candidate, Scott Sayre, had signed the Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge. (That is the organization created by Grover Norquist, for you folks in Rio Linda.) At the February meeting of Staunton Republicans, I asked Mr. Sayre if he would pledge not to accept any campaign contributions from businesses that employ illegal immigrants, to back up his strong stand on that issue. He declined to do so, however, stating that it was not his policy to make such pledges. Well, if that is the case, why did he sign the anti-tax pledge??
April 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Tree sparrow, Brown thrasher
Having some free time at last, I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad for the first time in a while this morning, and was amazed by the number of Ruby-crowned kinglets that were around. At least two of them were males with their "ruby" crowns in full display for mating season. I also saw two birds for the first time this season:
- American tree sparrow (FOS)
- Brown thrasher (FOS)
- Ruby-crowned kinglets (M, F)
- Blue-headed vireos
- Cedar waxwings
- Mallards (M, F)
- Goldfinches (bright yellow now!)
Loon, etc. on Bell's Lane
Thanks to an e-mail alert from John Spahr, I got to see a Common Loon in full breeding plumage on Bell's Lane late this afternoon. But wait, there's more!
- Common loon (FOS)
- Hooded (?) merganser (F)
- Ruddy ducks (M, F)
- Lesser scaups
- Horned grebe (prob.)
- Tree swallows
- Barn swallows
- Sharp-shinned hawks (2)
April 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]
First spring warblers arrive
It was cloudy but warm this morning, and my venture to the path behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad paid off very handsomely, as I spotted five migratory birds for the first time this spring, including three new warblers. Near the end of my walk, I briefly saw a medium-large raptor with a distinct white rump, so I assume it was a juvenile Harrier. We expect to see hummingbirds any day now, so I put up the nectar feeder for them on our back porch.
- Blackburnian warbler (M) (FOS)
- Worm-eating warbler (FOS)
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers
- Northern parula (FOS)
- Yellow-rumped warblers (M)
- Blue-headed vireo
- Ruby-crowned kinglets (M, )
- Towhee (M)
- Baltimore oriole (M) (FOS)
- Indigo bunting (M) (FOS)
- Black and white warbler (F)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers (M,F)
- Downy woodpeckers (M,F)
- Field sparrow
- Chimney swifts
- Northern Harrier (prob. juv.)
Hawk handling 101
I helped out with the raptor rehabiliation project at the Wildlife Center of Virginia this afternoon, and got to handle a hawk for the first time. It was a Red-tailed hawk that is recovering from a broken leg, and she or he did a very good job of flying, and behaved very well after some initial nervousness. There is a very specific technique for grabbing them safely, for attaching the "creancing" line to their legs, and for releasing them for each practice flight. Fortunately, I managed the task without any major goofs the first time, but getting it just right on a routine basis will take some practice. Another member of the Augusta Bird Club was helping as well: Jim Reed.
I had to run an errand in Harrisonburg on Friday, and I figured I might as well take a detour on the way home to check out the Madison Run trail at the edge of the Shenandoah National Park. Ron Moyers and others have spotted quite a few birds there in the past. It was pretty quite when I was there, but at least I spotted two first-of-season birds:
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers (FOS)
- Downy woodpecker (M)
- Black and white warbler (FOS)
Jacqueline and I had a nice picnic at the Augusta Springs wetland area on Sunday, but our appetite was spoiled somewhat by witnessing a Black rat snake attacking a Mallard nest and devouring one of the ducklings. The mother tried valiantly to fight off the intruder, in vain, and then led the other eight tiny ducklings away, on what may have been their very first swim in the pond. We also saw:
- Yellow-rumped warblers (5+ M)
- Palm warbler (FOS)
- Ruby-crowned kinglets
- Swamp sparrows
- Field sparrow
- Downy woodpecker (M)
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers
- Red-shouldered hawk
- Red-tailed hawk
- N. Rough-winged swallows
Finally, I have recently seen Brown thrashers at two places inside the Staunton city limits: near Mary Baldwin College and on Bell's Lane.
April 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Senate votes to retreat from Iraq
By a vote of 51 to 46, the U.S. Senate has joined the House of Representatives in officially endorsing a unilateral retreat from Iraq. The appropriations bill "would require troop withdrawals to begin as early as July 1 and no later than Oct. 1." Of course, everyone knows that President Bush will veto the funding measure, setting the stage for a showdown in which U.S. servicemen and women will become political pawns. Nevertheless, the Democratic leaders felt that they had to make their point. Our own Senator John Warner, who became increasingly critical of Bush's war policy last October. voted against the Democratic bill because it was "too heavy-handed." Interestingly, however, he cited the Iraqi parliament's decision to take a two-month recess this summer as a reason to hope for a "more cooperative spirit on Capitol Hill." He reasons that such a recess would signify a lack of resolve on the part of Iraqis, which would undermine support for Bush's war policy in Congress. Hence the calls for "benchmarks" to measure how much progress is being made in the war, which would trigger the release of U.S. funds if the proper conditions are met. See the Washington Post. In my mind, such benchmarks a waste of time for a long-term conflict such as this one. They also show a paternalistic attitude by the U.S. government: "We tell you folks what to do."
Of course, any legislative provisions that attempt to force specific changes in military deployments would be an unwarranted intrusion into Executive Branch prerogatives. If the Congress really wants to exert pressure on President Bush to withdraw from Iraq, they should simply deduct the anticipated cost of the next fiscal years' combat operations from the appropriations bill, and add the cost of transporting the troops back to their home bases in the United States or Germany, and let the President worry about what to do. So why don't they pursue such a straightforward course of action? Because they know that the public would quickly realize that it really would indeed signify an admission of defeat, and not many people are willing to go that far with their anti-war sentiments.
I vaguely recall some people arguing that the Democrats' opposition to funding the war is putting greater pressure on the Iraqis to come together and take responsibility for their own security, as an example of "two-stage game theory" in action. I don't think that political dynamic is applicable in this situation any more, however.
Reid retreats from defeatism
I try to minimize partisanship when it comes to war, but I can't help but note that it says a lot that the Democrats can't even execute a retreat properly. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid committed a huge gaffe last week, saying that the war in Iraq is "already lost" -- but then he backtracked, just to be on the safe side. Profiles in Courage? Not! Military blogger Austin Bay ridiculed Reid for his contemptible, mealy-mouthed words. And WaPo columnist David Broder called Reid "The Democrats' Alberto Gonzales," for being "a continuing embarrassment [to his party] thanks to his amateurish performance." Ouch! Broder is not a conservative by any means, so his assessment carries special weight in this case. Of course, if Reid and other top Democratic leaders were speaking out of sincere conviction, rather than pure political expediency, they wouldn't have to equivocate on such a vital, clear-cut issue.
April 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Great horned owl nest
Jacqueline and I took a nice Easter Sunday drive through Augusta County today, and stopped at the park where the Great horned owl nest is located. I brought our video camera, but the gusty winds made it hard to keep steady enough for a good picture. The adult is clearly visible on the left, and the young one is behind the twigs on the right side. Hopefully the young owl (or owls) will not fledge until I get a good shot!
We also saw several Blue-winged teals on Bells Lane (the first time in over a year), Bluebirds in a few places, and a Kestrel hovering in the wind northwest of Fishersville.
Sparrow verdict is in
Several more folks have weighed in on the "mystery sparrow" via the shenvalbirds e-mail list, including one person from Iowa (Diana Pesek) and one from South Dakota (my brother John). "After further review," there is no longer much doubt that it was just a young Swamp sparrow -- an unusual bird to see in a back yard, but not rare. I've had a couple more chances to see it over the weekend, and it doesn't appear much smaller than the other sparrows after all. I do appreciate all the careful observations from fellow bird watchers, even though it turned out to be a less "newsworthy" sighting than I originally thought. Several people commented on what an enjoyable and productive dialogue this sighting sparked, which was nice.
Interestingly, I also saw Chipping sparrows and a Field sparrow out back today; the latter is quite uncommon inside city limits. The White-throated sparrows are getting their bright breeding plumage, as are the Goldfinches.
April 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Correa threatens to quit
Ecuador's brash new leader Rafael Correa has threatened to leave his post as president if voters in Ecuador reject his proposed constitutional assembly in the referendum to be held on Sunday. See CNN.com. There is much yet to learn about Correa, but this much is clear: He is nothing if not vain. This situation reminds me of Brazil's President Quadros, who resigned in 1961, expecting the people would beg him to return, thus giving him a mandate to issue decrees over the objections of Congress. The ploy didn't work, and his weak successor failed to cope with the simmering socio-economic tensions, culminating in the military coup of 1964.
Coincidentally, or not, Correa warned of an ecological emergency on the Galapagos Island, saying that he might suspend the issuance of tourist visas. That is not the main problem, however, as BBC makes clear:
Last month, several rangers of the ecological reserve in the islands clashed with members of the Ecuadorean Armed Forces over what the rangers say was illegal fishing in protected waters.
In less-developed countries, to be perfectly blunt, feeding poor people takes precedence over preserving endangered species of wildlife.
April 1, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Palm Sunday in Staunton
To mark Palm Sunday today, four of the churches in downtown Staunton held a joint procession through the streets. Priests/clergymen from Emmanuel Episcopal, Trinity Episcopal, St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic, and First Presbyterian Church led the prayers, and an offbeat ensemble consisting of a guitar, a banjo, a violin, an accordion, and a drum played "As the Saints Go Marching In" and other rousing hymns. This tradition, which commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into the City of Jerusalem, began about 15 years ago in Staunton, I am told. Former Episcopal Bishop the Right Rev. A. Heath Light was there as well. I would say there were at least 300 people altogether, and this lively celebration of ecumenical spirit really gave meaning to the term "faith-based community."
Happy April Fool's Day!
I thought I had eluded being had by April Fool's pranksters until I checked my e-mail this evening. I received a message purportedly from Sen. Jim Webb, addressed to "Andrew," as if I had signed up to receive it. I was furious: Who was trying to make others think I was a closet Democrat?? The more of the message I read, however, the more transparently phony it became. So I checked the source code of the message, and saw that the "Unsubscribe" link was actually a link to the Museum of Hoaxes, which has no reference to Jim Webb in its archives, so this particular April Fool's scam remains a mystery. For a couple minutes, though, they got me!
Actually, a chronometrical anomaly tripped me up today as well: My iMac's internal clock system thought that today was the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, as this Sunday had been in the past. Thanks to Congress, however, Daylight Savings Time began a few weeks early this year, so computer clocks around the country will have to be manually adjusted four times every year from now on -- unless you want to pay for an operating system upgrade, that is. I'm sure this will end up being a lot more trouble than it is worth in terms of alleged energy savings. Was it all a plot by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?
April 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Spring scenery in Virginia
This photo of Massanutten Mountain is ten days old, but I figured it is still worth posting. Actually, "Mountain" is a misnomer, as Massanutten is actually a prominent ridge that extends for 40 miles, from just west of Front Royal, Virginia, and then comes to an abrupt stop at this point, about ten miles east of Harrisonburg. Behind the peak of the mountain (where some signal towers are barely visible) is a two-mile-wide crater-like depression; that is where the posh Massanutten Resort is located. Roll the mouse over this image to see the fire road that runs along Madison Run, on the west edge of Shenandoah National Park, where I took a short hike later that day.
April 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Alan Garcia comes to America
I never thought I'd see the day when Peru's President Alan Garcia would pay a visit to Washington in the role of a prestigious, responsible, pro-American statesman. From 1985 to 1990, he was the most outspokenly anti-American leader in all of Latin America, except for Fidel Castro, pursuing a statist-socialist economic agenda and forming ties with rogue regimes such as North Korea. Now he is pro-trade and anti-terror, obviously having grown wiser with age. To my surprise, the visit was not covered by the BBC or CNN Web sites, or the Washington Post. Garcia expressed condolences for those who were murdered at Virginia Tech, one of whom was a Peruvian student. For a full transcript, see whitehouse.gov.
Garcia's main objective was to promote the free trade agreement between the United States and Peru, which he said is of fundamental importance for the people in his country. He also congratulated Bush for the "very intelligent" action which he took to prevent North Korea from pursuing its nuclear weapons ambitions. But this quote best summarized Garcia's change in heart and mind over the past twenty years:
The United States, ever since its founding fathers, has had an ideal, a mission to the world. In the '40s, it sacrificed the lives of many young people to achieve the freedom of the world. Nowadays, we need to focus on democracy and free trade. And I am sure that both Republicans and Democrats would understand that this is key to the mission the United States has for the world.
This gesture of outreach by Garcia comes at a critical moment for the Bush administration, which has been losing friends and allies throughout the world over the past year or two.
Domestic unrest back in Peru
While Garcia was out of the country, a federation of Peruvian miners announced they are preparing to stage an indefinite strike against the at Southern Copper Corporation, pressing their demands "that President Alan Garcia fulfill campaign pledges to eliminate outsourcing among mining companies and to improve pension benefits." Miners in other parts of the country have not decided whether they will join this strike. See Washington Post. The demands for a hike in benefits are not surprising, given the sharp increase in prices for copper and other metals over the past couple years. The same thing happened in Chile last year.
Also, the coca growers in Peru are organizing to defeat the government's anti-narcotics programs, which includes coca eradication. They set up roadblocks in the interior mountainous regions of Peru, refusing to bargain with the government. Many believe they are being manipulated by the Shining Path terrorist movement, which was largely dismantled in the early 1990s. The coca growers' slogan is "Coca or death." See BBC. Yikes.
April 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Constitutional crisis in Ecuador
The constitutional court in Ecuador has approved the dismissal of 57 members of congress ordered by a judge on the grounds that they were obstructing the new constitutional assembly. New president Rafael Correa is showing no signs of compromise as he pushes his country toward a dangerous, high-stakes showdown. See CNN.com. This is a preposterous situation, showing that institutions in Ecuador are not widely respected.
Argentina (re)-claims Falklands
Argentina has once again reasserted its historical claim to the Falklands / Malvinas Islands. This statement does not carry any weight, however, and seems to be merely a ritualistic gesture on the 25th anniversary of the war that forever cemented Margaret Thatcher's name as the "Iron Lady." Vice President Daniel Scioli said that Argentina hopes to regain sovereignty over the islands through peaceful means. See CNN.com.
April 14, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Towhee on the porch
A couple days ago a male Eastern towhee was foraging on our back porch, and I was fortunate to get a photo of him before he flew away. The lighting wasn't very good, but you can at least see the reddish tint in his eyes.
While helping out with church cleanup this morning in downtown Staunton, I heard and then saw a flock of Cedar waxwings. A little later I noticed a flock of small dark birds swirling about overhead. At first I thought they were [swallows] but soon realized that they were Chimney swifts, the first I have seen this year. They are quite consistent from year to year in terms of their migratory schedule, and my records indicate that they arrive in the Charlottesville area (east of the Blue Ridge) about a week earlier than they do here in the Shenandoah Valley.
It looks like any birding activity this weekend will be "rained out." Peak migration season is just around the corner...
April 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Mystery of the skulking sparrow
(That sounds like the title of a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew book!) There's nothing like a good debate on identifying a vagrant bird of dubious ancestry to get the spring season going. I was pleased that my report of the mystery sparrow on my back patio elicited so many responses from fellow bird enthusiasts: eight people weighed in altogether. Here are the votes so far:
- Lincoln's sparrow (4)
- Swamp sparrow (4)
- White-throated sparrow (2)
- Song sparrow (1)
I counted multiple votes for those who suggested more than one possibility or who changed their minds after reading others' observations. Jay Keller was quite certain that is a Swamp sparrow, swaying others' impressions. I should have put more emphasis on the small apparent size: about that of a Chipping sparrow, I would say. That plus the skulking, shy behavior and the plumage made me think it was a Henslow's sparrow, but that was before I realized how rare it is in this area. (Didn't anybody click on the blank white space to see what I thought?) Also, I could not discern any olive coloring in the head, which is a field mark for the Henslow's sparrow, and the auricular patterns are not quite right, either; see the photo of one my brother John took. It just didn't look big enough to be a Swamp or White-throated sparrow; and I've never heard of Song or Lincoln sparrows with ruddy coloring. Of course, this was the exact same spot where the famous Western tanager appeared three years ago, so perhaps it is some kind of cosmic convergence zone for rare birds.
CLICK ON THIS PHOTO to see a (mediocre) 45-second video clip that may help to resolve the question. (Mouse rollover for comparison to previous photo.) I took the video yesterday, at the same time as I took the still photos, in which the brightness and contrast are adjusted to minimize the glare distortion. (Doing so for digital video would take an hour or more.) To me, the buffy whiskers and small size make the early favorite -- Lincoln's sparrow, originally picked by YuLee, Crista, Charles Z., and Allen -- more likely. Whatever it was, it stayed in our backyard through this afternoon, and I'll post a notice early in the morning if I still see it. If anyone comes to visit, note that there is a new condo building across the street from Lee High School training field.