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September 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Birding on the Blue Ridge

Yesterday I joined ten or so members of the Augusta Bird Club for a field trip along and near the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Rockfish Gap. The change in the weather coincided perfectly with the calendar, leaving no doubt that autumn is nigh. Allen Larner led the group and with his amazing powers of auditory perception, he heard several birds that no one else could. The "hottest spot" was one of the overlooks on the east side of the parkway, where we saw several warblers, flycatchers, and other species. After stops at a few other places, we ended up at the picnic area south of Humpback Rocks, and took a short walk to an overlook I had never seen before, with views toward the west. It was there that we saw a Bald eagle, two Ravens, and a Red-tailed hawk simultaneously -- quite a memorable moment! After the field trip was over, some of us joined Brenda Tekin and others at the Hawk Watch at Afton Inn. It was a very successful outing, and it was a pleasure to get back in touch with fellow birders as fall migration season gets underway. Here is a list of the birds I saw, excluding the abundant species:

  • Hummingbirds
  • Indigo buntings (prob.)
  • Hooded warblers
  • Chestnut-sided warblers
  • Blackburnian warblers
  • E. wood pewees
  • Magnolia warblers
  • Black-throated green warblers
  • "Empid" flycatcher
  • Redstarts
  • Red-eyed vireos
  • Scarlet tanagers (M, F)
  • Downy woodpeckers (F, M)
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers (F, M)
  • Yellow-bellied flycatcher
  • Phoebes
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Juncos
  • White-breasted nuthatches
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • Bald eagle !
  • Ravens
  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Black-billed cuckoo (prob.)
  • Tree swallow
  • Yellow warbler
  • Ospreys
  • Broad-winged hawk

Birding in Staunton

Just before noon today, I paid a quick visit to Montgomery Hall Park in hopes of spotting some fall migrants. I got great, closeup views of Yellow-billed cuckoos, including a young one begging for food from its parent. I only saw one warbler, and I couldn't even identify which species it was.

  • Yellow-billed cuckoos (A, J)
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers (M, F)
  • Downy woodpeckers (M, F)
  • White-breasted nuthatches
  • Red-eyed vireos
  • Scarlet tanager (F)
  • Great crested flycatchers
  • Pewees
  • ??? warbler

September 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Red Sox stumble, then recover

Every year the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry heats up, and the divisional race is usually decided by some key series between the two late in the season. Oddly, however, the Yankees' sweep of the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium last week didn't seem to matter, as the Red Sox resumed building on their lead right after the series was over. On Saturday, they trounced the Orioles 10-0, as 23-year old pitcher Clay Buchholz got a no-hitter in only his second start of his major league career. See MLB.com.

This weekend the Yanks lost two of three games to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who have climbed above .400. Right now, every single team in major league baseball has a win-loss record between .400 and .599. It's still a wide-open race in all six divisions, sports fans!

Nats pull out of tailspin

Jason Bergman's return to the Nationals' pitching rotation went very well today as the Marlins came to D.C.: He got nine strikeouts over seven innings, and for once there was enough run support to ensure a win. The Nats' victory over the Giants on Sunday came about in dramatic fashion: It was a 1-1 tie going into the bottom of the ninth, when Felipe Lopez doubled and Ryan Zimmerman singled to drive in the winning run. About time!

I noticed that the Nationals lost four consecutive games by a one-run margin last week. The last time that happened was in late July, 2005.

Fan support

Many thanks to Mark London for renewing his sponsorship of five (5) stadium pages: Three Rivers Stadium, Forbes Field, PNC Park, Metropolitan Stadium, and the Metrodome.

sponsor

September 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Fred Thompson enters the fray

"Conventionally wise" pundits think Fred Thompson waited too long before officially declaring his candidacy, but I for one wish he had waited even longer. If he is going to establish himself as a credible force to be reckoned with, and therefore worthy of primary voters' favor, he will have to defy the herd mentality exhibited by the other candidates of both parties. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Beginning a campaign this far in advance of the actual caucus and primary election dates is preposterous!

What makes Thompson attractive to me is that he alone among the (major) announced candidates appeals to the GOP conservative "base," and yet he has a distinguished aura -- presidential "timber," or gravitas. Enjoying the trust of the base, he has no need to pander to the right wing, and is therefore very unlikely to say anything dumb on the campaign trail. That combination of traits does not necessarily qualify him to serve as president, but it does make him an almost ideal candidate from a Republican partisan standpoint.

In Friday's Washington Post, E. J. Dionne Jr. challenged the idea that Thompson is a magical cure-all for what ails the beleaguered Republican Party, and his candidacy may even be a symptom of the problem itself.

And the problem is that conservatism as a philosophy no longer produces ready-made answers to the quandaries that face the country or the voters. Republicans do not need to debate who is conservative enough. They need to argue about what conservatism is.

I think conservatism remains a very effective means to addressing the tough issues this country faces, but Dionne is sadly correct that the Republicans need to hash out what that philosophy really means. The Hanger-Sayre state senate primary race showed that very clearly.

In any event, I've updated my rankings of GOP presidential candidates, adding lesser-known candidates Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul to the list. Fred is still #1 with me, but I will be scrutinizing everything he does and says very closely from now on to make sure that my confidence is not misplaced. At this point, I have lowered expectations as to what a Republican president could accomplish in the 2009-2013 term. Having spent so much energy on Iraq and on President Bush's ill-considered domestic policy agenda, the Republicans are not in a position to launch any bold new initiatives, such as -- dare I dream? -- abolishing the corporate income tax. Just say no to double taxation!

John Warner leaves a void

When I heard that Senator John Warner was going to make his announcement about his plans for 2008 at the University of Virginia, I knew that he had decided that five terms is enough. What else could the symbolism of making a speech on the hallowed UVa lawn possibly have meant? Warner leaves an enormous void in the U.S. Senate, where true statesmen are becoming scarcer every year, it seems. Warner's Web site contains a transcript of his August 26 appearance on Meet the Press, when he hinted that he was not up to the immense physical demands of the job.

It is very sad that Senator Warner doesn't get as much credit from within his own party as he should. As a leader who puts the national interest first, he has occasionally voted against President Bush, and has become increasingly critical of Bush's Iraq policy over the past year. (I tend to agree with Warner about the need to keep U.S. overseas commitments in line with our resources and goals, but I think his recent call to reduce U.S. troop levels was unduly hasty.) Some on the right call him a "RINO," a label which resonates most strongly among the simple-minded, but Warner has a long, unblemished record as a mainstream, fiscally responsible conservative. Others criticized him very harshly for taking the lead in the May 2006 Senate compromise that avoided the "nuclear option" (which I was inclined to favor as a last resort), but in the year that followed, as I noted in June 2006, "two solid conservatives, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, have joined the Supreme Court, which is a pretty good outcome from a conservative point of view." Would anyone doubt me on that?

I probably mentioned this memorable moment before, but it's worth repeating. I first met Senator Warner at the Charlottesville airport while he was campaigning in the fall of 1996. It was little more than a year after I began to identify myself as a Republican, and I told him that it was conscientious, public-minded leaders like him that persuaded me to join the party. He told me the Republicans needed all the help they could get. On Election Day I was working the polls, and some friends were surprised to see me on the Republican side. I had been volunteering with the Concord Coalition, which is focused on balancing the Federal budget, and because of the reforms pushed through by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, I decided that the Republicans were the party of honest reform with a candid approach to tough policy dilemmas. Ah, those were the days...


September 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Web site chores

Why the six-day blogging hiatus? Aside from my teaching duties at Sweet Briar College, much of my time over the past week has been absorbed by taking care of various Web sites that I have designed and/or manage: the Red Cross local chapter, Emmanuel Episcopal Church ("Beta" test version), and my new Sweet Briar Web pages. Busy, busy, busy! I even bought a new computer book that includes a few chapters on a fairly new Web technology called Ajax. Web 2.0, here I come!


September 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]

"How about that!"

There have been some amazing feats in baseball lately: In Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon, each of the first three Milwaukee Brewers to bat hit home runs: Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, and Ryan Braun. "The Brewers became the first team in big league history to lead off the top of the first inning with three consecutive home runs, but two other teams -- the 1987 Padres and the 2003 Braves -- have done it in the bottom of the first inning." See MLB.com. Since neither the Cubs nor the Cardinals are showing much spunk lately, the Brewers have climbed back on top in the NL East [Central! -- thanks to Brian Hughes for the fact check].

Former Red Sock Willy Mo [Pena] proved his worth by hitting two home runs as the Nats beat the Marlins on Monday night. In tonight's game in Miami, the Nationals staged a five-run comeback in the fourth inning, thanks to a grand slam home run by Justin Maxwell, in only his third major league at-bat! In the end, however, it didn't matter, as the Marlins kept piling on runs and won by a score of 13-8. See MLB.com. The Nationals were the only team in baseball to win their first five games in September, which was quite a rebound from the disastrous seven-game skid at the end of August.

In Toronto, Jason Giambi also hit a grand slam, helping the Yankees to keep their six-game winning streak alive. See MLB.com. The Red Sox are not slouching, however, and the rest of this month promises to be very exciting.

The mail bag

Bruce Orser sent me a link to a photo gallery from the New Yankee Stadium that is being built in The Bronx: yankeetradition.com


September 12, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Multinational colors at SBC

The sun was brighter and the air was a lot clearer on Monday than when I first took photos at Sweet Briar College a couple weeks ago. So, I took advantage of the favorable atmospheric conditions by snapping a few photos, including a much better one of Gray Hall than I had previously taken. The dazzling photo below, showing the flags of many foreign countries, was taken in the skylit walkway in Prothro Hall between the cafeteria and the main dining rooms. It is aptly symbolic of Sweet Briar's superb international studies program, with regular overseas study programs in France, Spain, and other countries.

Sweet Briar Prothro flags

The flags in the top row are, left to right: South Korea, Russia, Belize, and Thailand.


September 13, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Fall bird migration update

In spite of a tight schedule, I've managed to take a few walks on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad every couple days or so, and so far the results have been about average. A great many American Redstarts are around right now, and Magnolia warblers are nearly as abundant. Otherwise, not many other warblers to report. The following list covers the past ten days, and the birds marked with asterisks have been seen each day I've been out. I saw the Black-throated blue warbler just this morning, and I also heard (I think) a White-eyed vireo.

  • Red-bellied woodpeckers *
  • Hummingbirds *
  • Downy woodpeckers *
  • White-breasted nuthatches *
  • Redstarts *
  • Magnolia warblers *
  • Flicker (M)
  • Brown thrasher
  • Chestnut-sided warblers (F/J)
  • Common yellowthroat (F)
  • Cedar waxwings
  • Red-eyed vireos
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Black-throated blue warbler (M)

Birding at Sweet Briar

Last week I took a quick stroll through the wetland nature area at Sweet Briar College, and was pleased to spot my very first Common yellowthroat (a male) of the year. Here are the birds of note I saw on campus that day:

  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Hummingbird
  • Common yellowthroat (M) FOY!
  • E. wood pewee

Hawk watch: NOT!

I spent a few hours at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch last week, but only counted one raptor that was clearly heading south in migration: a Sharp-shinned hawk. I did see several Common nighthawks both times, as well as a couple Red-tailed hawks that were hovering in the wind but not migrating.

Ivory-billed witness

In the past year or so, some experts have cast doubt on the reported sightings of the Ivory-billed woodpecker, which was thought to be extinct. On Monday evening, however, an environmental official with the U.S. Army Bob Anderson spoke to the Augusta Bird Club about what he witnessed in the swamps of the Choctawhatchee River in Florida. I believe!


September 14, 2007 [LINK / comment]

RFK Stadium: final countdown

Today's Washington Post reviewed the 2005-2007 twilight years of RFK Stadium, where the Nationals have begun their final home stand of the season. Over the past three years, a total of 382 home runs have been hit at RFK, and only one major league ballpark has seen fewer home runs: AT&T Park, with 369. (The most home runs over the past three years were hit at Great American Ballpark: 703.) Some Nationals players still grumble about the deep fences that turn would-be home runs into long outs, and Chad Cordero worries that the new stadium won't be as pitcher-friendly as RFK. A week from this Sunday, on September 23, the final baseball game will be played in that big old concrete doughnut.

Once again, Chad Cordero blew a save opportunity this evening, and the Nats are tied with the Braves in the 12th inning, 5-5. Their record now stands at 65-81, meaning they can still end up with a .500 record (which they did in 2005) if they win every one of their last 16 games.

Empty seats in Miami

Yesterday's Washington Post had a story about the Wednesday game in Miami, where the Marlins beat the Nationals 5-4 in 12 innings. Announced attendance was 10,000 or so, but less than 400 human beings were physically present. (The rest were "phantom fans".) In fact, it was so quiet that a fan was ejected from the game for heckling the umpire! Brian Hughes pointed me to a big, full-color version of the photo of a virtually-empty Dolphin Stadium that appeared with that story; see sportsline.com.

PETCO Park photos

Many thanks to Wayne Whitwam for making available two fine photos he took of PETCO Park on September 24, 2006. That was the day when Trevor Hoffman had his 479th career save, going ahead of Lee Smith to take the number one position on the all-time list. He currently has 519 lifetime saves, which 80 more than Mariano Rivera, who will have to work hard if he is to reach that pitching pinnacle.

Baseball blog glitch

(Try saying that fast three times: "Baseball blog glitch, ...") For some unknown reason, my Sept. 3 baseball blog post did not appear on my baseball blog page. (It did appear on my main blog page, however.) I'm especially annoyed by this because, on that blog post, I thanked Mark London for having renewed his subscription/sponsorship of five of my stadium pages. It's the first time such a glitch has occurred, and for the moment, I'm stumped.


September 16, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Peruvian blood is HIV-tainted

Peru's system of blood banks is virtually paralyzed, because several patients at a hospital in Callao (the port of Lima) were infected with the AIDS virus. The government will thoroughly screen all blood, but this will add to the cost in a country that can't afford it. See BBC. In the wake of last month's devastating earthquake near Pisco, Peru's health care system is under heavy stress right now. It adds to the political pressure faced by President Alan Garcia, whose second year in office is not going as smoothly as the first year did.

Hurricane slams Nicaragua

Hurricane Felix caused heavy damage in Nicaragua and (to a lesser extent) Honduras earlier this month, and over 100 people died. The United Nations asking member nations to come up with $44 million for its humanitarian relief efforts, and President Daniel Ortega is asking foreign countries for direct bilateral help. About 160,000 people are either homeless or in dire need of assistance. See BBC.


September 16, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Wild life at Augusta Springs

Having failed to uncover any significant migratory birds at Montgomery Hall Park yesterday, I was determined not to let this spectacularly beautiful weekend go to waste. So, I drove out to the Augusta Springs wetland area this morning, and after a slow start, hit "pay dirt" in terms of birds and other wild life. Altogether I saw seven warbler species, which is not bad, but it took a lot of effort -- and even some risk.

Not much was happening along the boardwalk trail, but in the bushes next to the spring I got close enough to some warblers to get some good video shots. (See below.) Then I headed toward the upland trail, and was soon stunned to see a Barred owl, only the second one I have ever seen in the wild. (Jacqueline and I saw one in Charlottesville about ten years ago.) Then the trail began a steep climb, and up ahead I saw some kind of animal on the trail ahead, and realized that it was a coyote, the first one I have ever seen on a mountain trail! (No Roadrunners, though. ) I tried to take some video, but the coyote was camera shy and walked away. After making loud noises and arming myself with a large stick just in case, I resumed walking, proceeding with great care. Fortunately, my risk-taking paid off, as I came upon a nice cluster of warblers and other migratory birds, including the first Gray-cheeked thrush I've seen this year, at the high point where two trails intersect. The return leg was relatively uneventful, but I did see a few mushrooms in the muddy soil. (Photo below.) Back at the boardwalk trail, I saw a few more warblers and then called it a day.

  • Hummingbirds
  • Goldfinches
  • Phoebes
  • Redstarts (F/J, M)
  • Flicker
  • Pewees
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • Black-throated green warblers
  • Magnolia warblers
  • Tennessee warblers
  • Yellow-billed cuckoo
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers (F, M)
  • Red-eyed vireos
  • Barred owl (FOY)
  • Black and white warbler
  • Pine warblers
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • Gray-cheeked thrushes (FOY)
  • Hairy woodpecker (M)
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • House finches
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Hooded warbler (F/J)
Black-throated Green Warbler

ABOVE: Black-throated green warbler: side view ~ front view ~ ~ Magnolia warbler
(Roll over to choose.) All three of these images are of female or juvenile birds.

Augusta Springs

ABOVE: Augusta Springs: once a summer resort, and now a nature preserve.

Clubfooted Clitocybe

ABOVE: Clubfooted Clitocybe mushroom.


September 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Victory is sweet, in D.C. & N.Y.

Can you say "spoiler"? Contrary to most people's expectations, the Nationals came out on top in their first two games against the Mets in the next-to-last series to be played at RFK Stadium. In both games, the Mets grabbed a four-run lead early on, but the Nats fought back hard, winning 12-4 on Monday and 9-8 on Tuesday. Kudos for last night's big win go to Ronnie Belliard, Austin Kearns, and D'Angelo Jimenez, each of whom hit home runs. And so, the "Kings of Queens" are looking a little less majestic than they were earlier this season.

Meanwhile in the Bronx, home turf of champions for most of the last nine decades, the Yankees crushed the Orioles 12-0, and are now closing in fast on the slumping Red Sox. Mike Mussina is finally pitching like his old self again. With a week and a half to go in the 2007 regular season, anything could happen in the AL East -- and probably will! The Indians and Angels have their respective divisional titles pretty much locked up, but all three National League divisions are still extremely tight. Go Cubbies!

RFK or bust!

Time is very tight lately, but one way or the other, I will be in Washington this weekend to see the Nationals play -- either in their very last game at RFK Stadium on Sunday afternoon, or in their next-to-last game there on Saturday night. It all depends on my lovely wife's schedule. Believe it or not, she has yet to see a ball game in D.C.! The four-game series against the Phillies may well determine who wins the NL East division title. If the Mets aren't careful, they might not even get a wild card berth!


September 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Dems opt for partisanship

For a while, it seemed that General Petraeus's recent testimony on Capitol Hill* might actually persuade enough Democrats to give the "surge" strategy in Iraq a chance. Sen. Joseph Biden was among those who suggested that Democrats take credit for bringing about the partial withdrawal of troops which President Bush announced. Sen. Jim Webb, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and others voiced their inclination to work toward bipartisan compromise, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly put an end to that. She "insisted that Democrats coordinate their message and dictated what that message would be: The general's plan meant 10 more years of war, or even 'endless war.'" Read it and weep at the Washington Post. So much for the national interest!

Meanwhile, the obnoxious stunts pulled by some anti-war protesters at Congressional hearings last week raise the possibility that Hill staffers may have abetted their activities by arranging to have them be admitted to the hearing room. The hysterical conduct of many protesters in the streets of Washington over the weekend is a sad reflection of the jaded, knee-jerk way many Democrats think about the war. Sincere dissent is one thing, but renouncing your own country's role in promoting world freedom, which is what our armed forces are doing, little by little, is something else entirely.

* I will have much more to say about Petraeus and Iraq war strategy very soon.

Is Alan Greenspan a "RINO"?

Well, the former Fed Chairman expressed deep disappointment with President Bush and voiced support for the old-fashioned virtue of budgetary prudence, so by the prevailing standards of today, he must be a "Republican In Name Only." His new book, The Age of Turbulence, as reported by the Washington Post, will provide plenty of grist for the ongoing debate within the Republican Party about the meaning of conservatism. On the other hand, Greenspan strongly endorsed Bush's decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, which ought to earn him points among Bush loyalists, except that it was on narrow economic terms. Well, at least he's being honest!

We should remember that Greenspan was originally nominated to lead the Federal Reserve by President Ronald Reagan himself. Greenspan was given much of the credit for taming inflation and healing the country's financial system in the 1980s, but his predecessor Paul Volcker (nominated by Jimmy Carter) deserves just as much credit for that.

Will Warner succeed Warner?

Now that Mark Warner is officially in the race to replace the retiring John Warner, the Democrats can breathe a sigh of relief. Who else among them could have waged a credible campaign? With solid credentials on economic policy matters, and many friends in the business community, Warner the Younger will be very hard to beat.

On the Republican side, Rep. Tom Davis (11th District) is said to be considering a run for Warner's Senate seat, but helping his wife Jeannemarie Devolites Davis win reelection to the State Senate is taking a priority for the moment. See Washington Post. Davis has much more experience on Capitol Hill than the other likely contender, former Governor Jim Gilmore, and he doesn't carry any of the baggage of being tied to the anti-tax and social conservatives constituencies that make up the GOP "base." Davis would therefore have greater latitude to elaborate his own campaign platform, which will be especially important if Virginia Republicans decide to choose their senatorial candidate in an open primary next year, as opposed to in a convention.


September 20, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Object from space hits Peru

A mysterious fireball plummeted from the heavens on Tuesday and crashed near Puno in southern Peru. Dozens of Peruvians who took a look at the crater were sickened by noxious fumes. A Peruvian scientist "ruled out any possibility that the fallen object might be a satellite" (see BBC), but there are other possibilities. This event will no doubt spur wild rumors about "OVNIs" (Objetos Voladores No-Identificados), a.k.a. UFOs. .

Ruling on Fujimori?

Meanwhile, Chilean courts are expected to rule on Friday as to whether former President of Peru Alberto Fujimori will be extradited to Peru. See La Republica.


September 23, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Au revoir, RFK Stadium

History will record the fact that the Washington Nationals came from behind to win the last baseball game ever played in Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, which "retired" today, 45 years after the umpire first bellowed "Play ball!" In only 13 of those years was real major league baseball actually played there, however. After losing three straight games to the Phillies, the Nats came out on top, 5-3, thus averting a four-game sweep. (See MLB.com.) This will at least be of some consolation as the Nationals / ex-Expos bid adieu to the grungy old stadium they have called home since moving to Washington from Montreal three years ago. Paid attendance today was 40,519, the first time the 40K threshold had been surpassed since Opening Day this year.

History will certainly overlook the fact that Jacqueline and I were among those who attended the next-to-last game yesterday. While the final results of the game we saw were melancholy (the Phillies beat the Nats 4-1 in ten innings), for the first nine innings we enjoyed a dramatic neck-and-neck contest in pleasant weather conditions. Tim Redding had an excellent performance, giving up only one run to the Phillies before he was relieved in the sixth inning. He even hit a double, but it didn't lead to any runs scored. The Phillies' Ryan Howard struck out in his first four at-bats last night, and we were hoping he would repeat the feat in the top of the tenth inning, but instead he hit a two-run single that ended up winning the game. In today's game Howard struck out again, tying the season record at 195, and with another week to go, he is in position to become the all-time leader in that category.

We had good seats in Section 433, near the front of the upper deck on the third base side. It was the first time I had seen a ball game from that side of the stadium, but at night it really doesn't matter which side you sit on. Some guy sitting to our left was asked by the usher to show his tickets after some late arriving fans claimed their rightful seats, and the jerk made a big scene about it. What an awful example for the kids who were with him!

Before the game, I made a few measurements and inspections to nail down a few uncertainties, and will probably revise the RFK Stadium diagrams one last time before long. At the request of Bruce Orser, who does a lot of research on home runs, I pinpointed the location of three of the white-painted seats where former Washington Senator Frank Howard's longest upper-deck blasts landed. One thing that struck me as I was strolling through the main concourse behind home plate was how close the street traffic is to the back row of seats in the lower deck.

Jacqueline didn't have any special impression of RFK Stadium in her first visit there, though she did notice the occasional whiff of sewage odor that Nationals' General Manager Jim Bowden has often complained about. She did have a good time, though, and I was delighted that she finally found the time to join me at RFK. We have seen ball games together before in Atlanta, Denver, New York, and Baltimore.

After the game, I made a point to snoop in the elite mezzanine level for the first time. Then I looked back at the field one last time, said goodbye and left.

RFK Stadium farewell montage

This montage is a preview of some photos that will be posted in the near future. The commemorative logo painted on the field (top right) says "1962-2007," referring to the baseball era, but RFK Stadium was finished in time for the 1961 football season. In the bottom left, the team confers on the mound after starting pitcher Tim Redding was relieved in the sixth inning.

Season winds down

Bostonians are beginning to perspire heavily as the despised Yankees close in on the Red Sox. This is exactly how Septembers are supposed to end! The Indians clinched the AL Central Division today, and the Angels are on the verge of doing so in the AL West. In the National League, the Mets, Cubs, and Diamondbacks have built [on] their slim leads over the Phillies, Brewers, and Padres, [while] the Rockies are making a strong push for the wild card spot. Now, there's a pleasant surprise!

As for the team in Washington, not much besides pride is at stake in the Nationals' final six games, which will be on the road. Obviously, they want to maintain their fourth-place position, which shouldn't be hard since they are three games ahead of the Marlins in the NL East. In terms of symbolism, I would say that finishing the season with fewer than 90 losses is a reasonable goal to shoot for. Since they are presently 69-87 for the season (.442), that means they must win four of their final six games.


September 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Before the big baseball game in Washington on Saturday, Jacqueline and I spent a few hours exploring the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens for the first time. It was a destination I had been planning to visit "one of these days" (famous last words), but never got around to it until a feature article in Friday's Washington Post Weekend section. That was enough to prompt us to finally do it. It is not easy to find, however, and the ongoing construction along the Anacostia freeway made it even harder to get there. But any doubts we had were quickly dashed as we saw the exquisite water lily flowers, pictured below.

The lily pond gardens were created in the late 19th Century as a private initiative, and began to draw regular visitors early in the 20th Century. After the Army Corps of Engineers was about to drain the wetlands in the 1930s, the Department of Interior was given control of the gardens, which are presently maintained by the National Park Service. We were pleased to see several volunteers doing cleanup work, and at low tide one can see some garbage in the mud in some places. Much remains to be done along the banks of the Anacostia River, which was an industrial sewer for several decades.

Kenilworth lily montage

This is just a sampling of the huge variety of water lilies that are cultivated at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. After I figure out which species each one is, I will post separate photos of them.

Jacqueline rescued two wild creatures during our brief visit: a small fish that had jumped out of the pond and was flopping around on a giant lily pad, and a baby Snapping turtle that was in the middle of a trail, in danger of being stomped upon. While walking on the boardwalk and hiking along the banks of the Anacostia River, we saw a variety of birds, to be listed in a separate post. It was a wonderful place to spend a few hours with Mother Nature -- within the boundaries of Our Nation's Capital!

Golden garden spider

This Golden garden spider was right outside the visitor center at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.


September 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Morning on the Blue Ridge

Songbird migration season will be over in just a few weeks, so I try to squeeze in time to see what is coming through. On my way to Sweet Briar this morning, I took a short detour and stopped for a few minutes along the the Blue Ridge Parkway. It didn't take long before several warblers and other migrating birds popped into view:

  • Magnolia warblers
  • Black-throated green warblers
  • Eastern wood pewee
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Northern parula
  • Flicker
  • Indigo buntings

I also saw a few Cedar waxwings near the Rockfish River.

Kenilworth Gardens

While at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens early on Saturday afternoon, we spent some time looking for birds. Jacqueline saw a Common yellowthroat, but it eluded me. I saw a group of medium-sized shorebirds that made a lot of noise when they flew, revealing white tail feathers. I'm pretty sure they were Black-bellied plovers, which would be a life bird for me!

  • Great egrets -- 7+
  • Great blue herons -- 5+
  • Common loon (FOS)
  • Kingfisher
  • Black-bellied plovers -- 10+ (LIFE BIRD!?)
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • Killdeers
  • Red-winged blackbirds -- 50+
  • Mallards -- 20+
  • Canada geese -- 10+

Just prior to the Washington Nationals baseball game at RFK Stadium, as dusk was approaching, I gazed out toward the east from the upper concourse level and spotted a large white bird wading in the Anacostia River about a quarter mile away. It had to be a Great egret.

S.A.R.S.

For most of this month, it seemed like I saw the same birds behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad every time I went there, but a several new ones (first of season) appeared this past week.

  • Redstarts
  • Magnolia warblers
  • Tennessee warblers
  • Black-throated green warblers
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak (F; FOS)
  • Blackburnian warbler (F)
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • Downy woodpeckers
  • Indigo buntings
  • Philadelphia vireo (FOS)
  • Warbling vireo (FOS)
  • Hummingbirds
  • Killdeers
  • Cedar waxwings

September 25, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Alberto Fujimori returns to Peru

For the first time since he attended an overseas summit meeting in November 2000, Peru's former Fujimori has been returned to his native country on Friday. This was after a Chilean judge issued a final ruling that approved the extradition request by the government of Peru, which has charged him with human rights abuses and corruption. According to the BBC, the airplane carrying Fujimori landed at a military airbase (presumably Las Palmas, on the southeast edge of Lima), so as to avoid a scene in which hundreds of Fujimori's supporters were gathered to cheer him at the city's Jorge Chavez International Airport. That show of support would have been embarrassing for Alan Garcia's government.

Fujimori arrived in Chile in November 2005, hoping to gain entry into Peru and run as a candidate for the 2006 elections, but his aims were thwarted as Chilean authorities jailed him, at Peru's behest. Ironically, Alan Garcia was a fugitive from justice for a few months after the "auto-coup" of April 1992, when then-President Fujimori declared that the nation's Congress and courts were dissolved, assuming full emergency powers for several months. Now the tables are turned, and the question becomes, will the Peruvian court system judge the upcoming trial of Fujimori in a fair, impartial way, or will its procedural decisions and the final verdict be influenced by political pressure and the desire for revenge?

Fujimori clearly needs to answer for the heavy-handed way he governed Peru, and this is his big chance to make up for the disgraceful way he left office in 2000. If he shows sufficient grace and courage in this extremely difficult situation, there is a possibility that most Peruvians will forgive him for the excesses he committed. During the 1990s he was very popular in Peru, and it is hard to imagine how Peru might have achieved economic and political progress after the chaos of the late 1980s without an iron-fisted leader like Fujimori to reestablish order. Because success went to his head, however, he blew a historic opportunity to leave office in 2000 as one of the most successful presidents in Peruvian history. Instead, he ran for an improper third term, forcing the courts to validate his flagrant circumvention of the 1993 Constitution (which was his own doing), thereby alienating nearly everyone in Peru other than his hard-core supporters. Will Fujimori blow this precious second chance to (partially) redeem himself?

Panama beisbol

While in New York to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly opening, Panama president Martin Torrijos visited with Major League Baseball officials on Monday. He is trying to get MLB support to promote baseball in his country, which might include a baseball academy, Spring Training exhibition games, and being allowed to participate in the next World Baseball Classic. See MLB.com. Well, they certainly deserve it more than the Netherlands or South Africa, if you ask me. Panama's best-known baseball player was Rod Carew of the Minnesota Twins; see my Latin American Leagues page.


September 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Spoiling all the fun

The Yankees, Mets, and Cubs are each within a hair's breadth of clinching a postseason berth, but thanks to upset victories last night by the Devil Rays, Nationals, and Marlins, their fate still hangs in the balance.

For the second night in a row, the Nats racked up a double-digit run total, 13-4 and 10-9. It was the first time the have managed to do that in almost exactly two years. (They got 11 runs against the Marlins on September 27 and 28, 2005.) What could explain that burst of home runs by the Nationals at Shea Stadium over the past two nights, in spite of the fact that there is nothing further to be gained at this point from winning games? I guess some people can perform better when the pressure is off. In last night's game, the Nats had a seven-run lead going in to the bottom of the night, and the Mets got six runs off Jesus Colome and Chad Cordero, after which Jon Rauch came in to save the game -- just barely! Blowing such a big lead would have been an utter disgrace for the Nationals, but just imagine the frustration felt by the Mets' fans...

The mail bag

I've had a few queries from fans in the past few days that require checking my ballpark sources. Once again, my various commitments have intruded upon the time available to update my baseball pages and respond to queries from the public in a timely fashion. Thanks for your understanding.


September 28, 2007 [LINK / comment]

"Compassion" mongers & SCHIP

Late yesterday afternoon, I happened to overhear Oprah Winfrey talking about health care on her TV show. (My wife had the day off and was watching.) Oprah's guests were obviously stacked in favor of the Democrats' proposed extension of State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Here we go again. The guilt mongering by the proponents of the bill on that show was so shameless that it just about made me sick to my stomach. (Call a doctor! ) One guy called on everyone to pledge not to refer to such measures as "socializing medicine." Why should we, if that's what it really is? SCHIP is a fairly transparent effort to "get the foot in the door" on a new entitlement program, making it next to impossible to turn back later on. (I wrote on August 4 that it amounts to "Tip-toeing toward socialism.") Ted Kennedy has been dreaming about this moment for nearly four decades, hoping to retire with a landmark liberal accomplishment under his belt.

The editorial in yesterday's News Leader summed up the measure very well: "Enacted in 1997, SCHIP provides health coverage for uninsured children living in families with income too high to make them eligible for Medicaid but below affluent levels." Translation: It's a welfare program for the middle class being sold as "compassion" for the "needy." To the editors' credit, they aptly noted the irony that President Bush has eagerly pushed federalization of the education system, contrary to traditional conservative principles. "No Child Left Behind?" (Without a note from the doctor?) Indeed, SCHIP is one more example of what a huge strategic mistake it was for George W. Bush to identify himself and his agenda with "compassionate conservatism." That malapropism completely misses the point of what it means to be a conservative -- namely, in part, to differentiate collective responsibility from individual virtue. That's something that modern liberals will never get.

Speaking of which, in Tuesday's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne made it clear that this showdown "is the first skirmish in the new battle for universal health coverage." He thinks there are enough moderate (weak-kneed?) Republicans to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, and he may be right. The Democrats clearly think they have public opinion on their side, based on last year's election results, and they are not shy about pushing forward where Bill (and Hillary) Clinton stumbled.

If you listen to the arguments in favor of SCHIP or other proposed health care entitlements, the recurring theme is high costs. Why doesn't it occur to anyone (other than conservatives) that the rising cost of health care is largely a consequence of subsidized health insurance benefits? When someone else is paying for something, there's not much reason to look for a better bargain or postpone it altogether. The SCHIP extension would only compound that onerous inflationary trend. It is a prime example of bad policy being promoted with appeals to emotion. President Bush will certainly veto it, as he told Nancy Pelosi earlier today (see Washington Post), and it's a shame it will have to come to that. What a pity that there aren't more Republicans in Congress who are courageous enough to put the public interest ahead of their own political fortunes, to prevent such bogus measures from being passed.


September 28, 2007 [LINK / comment]

A few more fall warblers

Last night's rain brought markedly cooler temperatures, creating ideal conditions for spotting migratory songbirds. Indeed, I saw two kinds of warblers before I even reached the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. I was surprised not to see any hummingbirds, which have not shown up at our feeder for the past few days. I did come across several interesting birds, nevertheless, and it was a great morning to get outside. It won't be long before the first winter birds arrive...

  • Blackpoll warbler (F/J)
  • Redstarts
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • Downy woodpeckers
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Flickers (M, F)
  • Magnolia warblers (F/J)
  • Black-throated green warblers (M, F/J)
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak (F)
  • "Empid" flycatcher
Redstart eating

This female Redstart had to pause while feasting on a tasty insect, giving me time to snap a photo. It was right in our back yard!


September 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Nationals control NL East race

Who would have thought that the lowly Washington Nationals would end the 2007 season in a position to determine which team wins the National League Eastern Division? For the past two weeks, they have played every one of their games against the Phillies or the Mets, and have come out ahead more often than not. In today's game Matt Chico faced down Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and the rest of the Phillies, pitching six innings of shutout baseball -- broadcast in living color on FOX! What a pleasant way to spend Saturday afternoon. It certainly helps make up for the loss at the game in RFK Stadium that my wife and I saw one week ago. Whoever wins tomorrow, the Nats will have at least stayed below the 90-loss mark, which is a very real symbolic achievement.

Congratulations to the Indians, Angels, Diamondbacks, the Yankees, the Cubs, and the Red Sox for making it to the postseason. The latter two are both in the playoffs for the first time since 2003, and who knows what bizarre happenings that may portend? This time, however, both teams are divisional champions, not wild card winners. I'm just glad that we didn't end up with a five- or six-team tie, because I just don't have enough time or spare mental energy to understand the arcane tie-breaking procedures, quite frankly. For those who like to wonder "what if?," it was explained at MLB.com.

(Bitter-)sweet memories of RFK

It's hard to believe that baseball's days at RFK Stadium really are over once and for all -- barring some construction site calamity, that is. I'm fairly sure I'm "not the only one with Mixed Emotions" about the retirement of RFK. (Cue Rolling Stones.) Aside from the swooping roof profile and the large upper deck overhang, there really wasn't much to distinguish it from the other cookie-cutter "concrete doughnuts" of that bygone era. Everyone assumes that it will be demolished after D.C. United gets a new stadium built for them, but maybe it should be preserved as a monument of sorts to the one-size-fits-all solutions that were put forward by government experts in the 1960s. But however cramped, dank, and bland it was, one thing is for sure: It served a vital role in getting baseball back to D.C., where it belongs!

Let us not forget that the home team prevailed in all three final games played by professional sports teams at RFK Stadium: the Senators against the Yankees in 1971, the Redskins against the Cowboys in 1996, and the Nationals against the Phillies in 2007. True, the Senators had to forfeit the September 1971 game because of the riot by angry fans, but they still ended up with more runs scored.

Well, there won't be another chance to shoot a photo of us together at RFK Stadium, so this one will have to do. At long last, Jacqueline realized what great fun she had been missing for the past three years since baseball returned to Washington in 2005, and now she is eager to see a game at the new stadium next year.

Roll your mouse over this image to see a view from the upper deck just behind the left field foul pole. Click on it to see the white-painted seat where the longest of Frank Howard's upper-deck home runs landed: Section 542, Row 3, Seat 3, in center field. (Note the original wooden seats, and the peeling paint.) More photos from last Saturday's penultimate baseball game at RFK Stadium are on their way...

Andrew, Jacqueline at RFKStadium

Stadium impressions

Thanks to Scott A. (Milwaukee County Stadium) Kevin Barnacle (U.S. Cellular Field), Bruce B. and Eric Rippe (League Park), Dave Zanko (Shea Stadium and Olympic Stadium), and especially to the very eloquent Mario V. (Cleveland Stadium) for adding their impressions of some of (North) America's favorite ballparks over the past month. If you'd like to share your own memories (or even add comments to my blog entries), just REGISTER for this Web site.

COMMENT by: James Sutton, of St. Louis, MO on Oct 02, 2007 14:17 PM
You mentioned that "Congratulations to the Indians, Angels, Diamondbacks, the Yankees, the Cubs, and the Red Sox for making it to the postseason. The latter two are both in the playoffs for the first time since 2003." The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 against the Cardinals and I believe they made it to the playoffs in 2005 and lost in the first round to the White Sox.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Oct 03, 2007 15:17 PM
You would think I would have a better command of English. What I meant to say was that BOTH teams (not merely one or the other) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. All fans of the Yankees and the Cardinals certainly remember 2004! I suppose my emphasis on those two particular teams considered jointly is related to the fact that their respective home fields are the oldest and most treasured ballparks.


September 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Phillies win division title

Like the Boston Red Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies have a lot of solid sluggers, decent pitchers, a feisty attitude, and -- in most years, at least -- more than their share of bad luck. In the long run, however, fortune tends to even out, and this year the Phillies finally got their due, winning the NL East for the first time since 1993. (I hope they appreciate the supporting role in their postseason quest played by the Washington Nationals.) I can hardly imagine how the Mets must feel at this point, because many people had them pegged to go all the way this year. Back in June, the two most dominant teams in the majors were the Mets and the Tigers, and they seemed poised to make it all the way to the World Series. But it ain't over till it's over, and this year the prverbial "fat lady" did not sing until the very last day of the season, and in the case of the NL Wild Card spot, she still hasn't sung. Thanks to losses by the D-backs and the Padres, tomorrow the Colorado Rockies will try to make it to the postseason for the second time in franchise history, as they host the Padres in a tie-breaker playoff game at Coors Field. What an amazing final two weeks played by that team from the Mile High City! Let's hope this success leads to higher attendance at games in Denver next year.

UPDATE: It will take a long time for the Mets to live down their dismaying September meltdown -- blowing a seven-game lead in the NL East with only 17 games left to play. To put that in context, MLB.com provides an excellent history lesson on late-season collapses by former first-place teams.

Even Steven

Not many people noticed, but the Devil Rays won their final game of the season, keeping them above the .400 threshold. That makes it official: Every single team in the majors this year ended with a win-loss record between .400 and .600, showing that the big leagues are more competitive than is commonly thought -- and without the quasi-socialist revenue-sharing system adopted by the NFL. Let this be a lesson to all the cynics out there: It's not all about the money!

Postseason scores

As usual, from October through December, the postseason game scoreboard will be posted at the bottom of the baseball blog page, and will be updated every day. I just hope the World Series is over and done with by Halloween! It's ridiculous the way the baseball season gets stretched out more and more every year.

RFK Stadium photos

I've updated the RFK Stadium page with some of the new photos I took recently, plus an older one I had neglected to include. Check out the huge panorama of the night game we saw there on September 22.


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