May 16, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Ten Days In May:* Bird migration season peaks
The weather was very good for the first ten or so days of May, enabling us birders to fully enjoy the peak of migration season. It was raining from Saturday until Monday (May 11-13), and so before things get busy again, I'd better get recent bird events down for the record.
As mentioned in the travel blog post of today, on May 4 Jacqueline and I drove to the Richmond are, and while she was with her sister, I did some birding in the nearby Dutch Gap area along the James River. Whereas the previous time I was there (June 2016) I had a hard time getting good looks (or photos) of my main target bird, the Prothonotary Warbler**, this time I heard and then saw one within 50 feet of the parking lot! There were several more after that, and I got much better photos this time around. I also heard and then saw a White-eyed Vireo**, I heard and finally got my first clear looks at a Red-eyed Vireo** this year. Toward the end of my walk, I heard what I thought was an Indigo Bunting but then realized it lacked the buzzy tone of that bird. Then I remembered that Yellow-throated Warblers** have such a song, so I played it on my Audubon iPhone app, and within a minute or two, one came flying in my direction! Hallelujah!! It was the first time I had seen that species since I was in Florida three years ago, and the first time I have seen one in Virginia in almost ten years, I think. (My records are out of date, but I'm working on fixing that.) Besides the birds in this photo, I also saw a few Ospreys, including one in a nest across the river, as well as Double-crested Cormorants**, a young Bald Eagle, and over one hundred Black Vultures.
* = the first I have seen this year
** = the first I have seen or heard this year
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, White-eyed Vireo, and (in center) Indigo Bunting, at Dutch Gap on May 4.
Field trip to Blue Ridge Parkway
Three days later, on Monday May 6, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and was joined by ten other members of the club. Driving the lead car in a caravan of four vehicles (later five), I paused by the Swannanoah golf course to take a photo of a Chipping Sparrow, and was astounded that it turned out to be one of my best-ever shots of that species. Our first major "hot spot" was by the telecommunications tower a couple miles south of the Afton Inn. We heard and/or saw a wide variety of warblers, including my first Hooded** and Cerulean Warblers** of the year, and heard a Black-throated Green Warbler, a Red-headed Woodpecker, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the distance. There wasn't much going on at the Humpback Rocks visitor center, so we continued to a stretch of road at Mile Marker 8 with just enough grass to park safely. There we saw a Yellow-throated Vireo**, a couple Goldfinches, and a flock of small birds that turned out to be Pine Siskins. That was a big surprise! The final stop was at Hickory Springs overlook, near Mile Marker 12. There we saw more Hooded and Cerulean Warblers, as well as a Chestnut-sided Warbler** There were a couple "misses," but all in all, the trip was a great success!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-throated Vireo, Cape May Warbler, American Redstart, Black-and-White Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, and (in center) Cerulean Warbler, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, May 6.
The very next day, Ann Cline and I returned to the same area, in hopes of getting better photos. Smart move! Once again we saw Hooded as well as Cerulean Warblers at multiple locations. At one point I spotted an Osprey flying high overhead, and managed to snap a quick shot before it was gone. I saw one of the Red-headed Woodpeckers that we had heard the day before, but only briefly from a distance. Soon we met up with two other birders, Pete and Faye Cooper, and later on encountered Marshall Faintich, a renowned bird photographer who lives on the east side of the Blue Ridge. At one point Pete and I had great closeup looks at two male Cerulean Warblers that were fighting over territory, flitting about the shrubs right next to the road. It was a great photo op, and I got my best-ever photos of that species. (They tend to stay high in the tree tops, and only rarely do I see their pale blue backs.) We had better views of the Pine Siskins than the day before, and I had a brief look at a female Indigo Bunting; they tend to stay out of sight during breeding season.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-and-White Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, American Redstart (1st-year male), Hooded Warbler, Pine Siskin, Ospreay, and (in center) Indigo Bunting (F) and Red-headed Woodpecker, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, May 7.
Thursday morning Jacqueline and I went for a walk along Bell's Lane, and I was amazed to see a Yellow-throated Vireo in a nearby tree, not very high up. I glimpsed a Common Yellowthroat**, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and American Redstart in the wetland trees, but could only get mediocre photos of them. I returned in the afternoon, after the sun came out, but didn't see much other than an Eastern Kingbird until I reached the northern portion of Bell's Lane. There I had very good views of a Yellow Warbler and a Baltimore Oriole, both males.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Redstart (1st-year male), Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-throated Vireo, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Kingbird, and Yellow Warbler, on Bell's Lane, May 9.
Finally, on Friday May 10 I had to take care of some personal matters in Weyer's Cave, after which I decided to drive a bit farther north, up to Hillandale Park on the west side of Harrisonburg. I heard a variety of songbirds as soon as I left my car, and I soon saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Cerulean Warbler, an American Redstart, and best of all, a Bay-breasted Warbler**! [All were fairly high in the trees.] After that, however, bird activity quickly waned. There were many Common Grackles and Robins, a female Purple Finch, and an Eastern Towee, but not much else. So I headed to Cook's Cove Arboretum in Bridgewater, hoping to see the Eastern Screech Owl** that has been reported there. The first nest box I saw had a squirrel poking its head out, to my annoyance, but the second box was the owl!! I also heard a bird singing in the trees nearby, and soon had a pretty good photo of a Common Yellowthroat. Thus ended an especially rewarding first ten days of the merry, merry month of May!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Common Yellowthroat, Red-tailed Hawk, Bay-breasted Warbler, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Screech Owl, and American Redstart, at Hillandale Park and Cook's Cove Arboretum, May 10.
For additional photos, see the Wild Birds yearly page.
* This is the second time I referred to a movie in the headline of a birding blog post; on April 20 there was a sly reference to a song from the movie The Producers.
May 16, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Springtime short-distance travels
Last year I didn't get around to summarizing my travels in this blog until August 9, and I'm trying to do better this year. So here are a few quick items about short-distance travels that I have taken (mostly with Jacqueline) during spring. The photos below are the choicest ones of those posted on the Chronological (2019) page. On January 6 I went to Highland County and Bath County with a few others from the Augusta Bird Club, with scenic highlights at Lake Moomaw and the historic bath house in Warm Springs. On March 10 Jacqueline and I went to the Highland County Maple Festival, briefly entering West Virginia northeast of Blue Grass. (We missed that festival the year before.) As usual, we bought a quart of maple syrup and a few other souvenir and craft items.
Maple Festival 2019 in McDowell, March 10.
On May 4 Jacqueline asked me to go with her to meet with her sister in Richmond, and I seized the opportunity to do some birding in the nearby Dutch Gap area along the James River. (See the separate blog post on birding.) Just like the last time I was there (June 2016), I saw many Zebra Swallowtails. I recently learned that the caterpillars of those butterflies feed on Paw Paw leaves, and indeed I saw many Paw Paw trees in the swampy area through which I hiked. The trail was very wet in places, and at one point it was flooded, so I had to give up and head back.
Boat landing at Dutch Gap, southeast of Richmond, May 4.
On our way home, we drove north along Route 1 through south Richmond, where evidence of poverty and strong racial feelings abounds. As we approached downtown Richmond, I asked Jacqueline to take photos of the city skyline as we crossed one of the James River bridges, and she did a good job. Then we drove past Virginia Commonwealth University, which gets bigger every time I see it, and I was struck my a sort of surrealistic mural showing four people with their eyeballs detached, apparently imagining the same dream. I should try to find out more about that mural. Next we entered historic Monument Avenue just a few blocks to the west of VCU. The afternoon lighting was not ideal as we headed west, or else I would have taken more photos.
Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, May 4.
Finally, on May 6 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and went back to the same area the very next day with some other birders. At one point I saw an azalea bush in full bloom, and it almost seemed to be begging me to take this lush, scenic picture, looking southeast toward the Big Levels area:
Azazleas in the Blue Ridge, May 7.
May 12, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nats get roughed up on the road
Until the middle of last month, it seemed that success was close at hand for the Washington Nationals. If they could just fix their bullpen... After losing the first game of the series (once again) against the San Francisco Giants, they then beat the visitors twice. In the April 17 game, they belted four home runs and had a comfortable 9-2 lead going into the ninth inning, whereupon the bullpen collapsed right on schedule; they held on to win, 9-6. The Nats then hit the road but lost the first two of three games against the Marlins in Miami. Heading west to Denver, they lost two of three games against the Colorado Rockies, marking the last time they had an even .500 record. Since April 23, when the Nats were only 1 1/2 games out of first place, things have gone from mediocre to just plain awful for the Nationals.
Back in Washington on April 26, the Nats lost two of three games against the San Diego Padres, the latter two being extra-innings affairs. Manager Dave Martinez used closer Sean Doolittle in the 9th inning, even though the game was tied 2-2 and hence not a save situation. In the
20th [OOPS: 10th] inning, the Padres scored six (6) runs, off of Wander Suero and Justin Miller. Arghhh... Howie Kendrick homered in the bottom of the 10th, but it didn't matter as the Nats lost in a most disheartening fashion, 8-3. But thanks mainly to the "youngsters," the Nats bounced back the next night: Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Carter Kieboom (just called up from the minors) all homered, and the score was tied 6-6 after nine innings. In the bottom of the 11th, Matt Adams led off with a towering walk-off homer and thus the Nats avoided being swept at home. Then the St. Louis Cardinals came to town and beat the Nats in three straight games. It wasn't a sweep, however, as it was a four-game series, and sure enough the Nats eked out a 2-1 win on Thursday evening (May 2) to conclude a rather bleak home stand on a positive note.
The next day the Nats headed up to Philadelphia, and once again lost the first game of the series, 4-2. Saturday's game started as a pitchers' duel between Patrick Corbin (Nats) and Jake Arrieta (Phillies), but it turned into a slug-fest in the latter innings. Brian Dozier, Kurt Suzuki, and Victor Robles all homered, taking advantage of the cozy dimentions in Citizens Bank Park. The Nats won that game, 10-8, but then they lost the finale on Sunday, 7-1. The very next day (May 6) the Nats played in Milwaukee, and once again lost the first game of the series, even though Max Scherzer threw ten strikeouts and only gave up one earned run (plus one unearned) over six innings. So much valiant effort going to waste... On the following day, Stephen Strasburg three 11 strikeouts but gave up four runs, which was four more than his own team scored. The bullpen allowed two more runs. In the finale of that series, on Wednesday afternoon, Jeremy Hellickson only lasted four innings and the Nats lost, 7-3. It was the first time this year that the Nats had been swept in a series.
The final leg of the Nats' brutal road trip took them to Los Angeles, and miracle of miracles, they actually won the first game of the series! It was only the second time in 13 series thus far this year that they have done so. Patrick Corbin threw another brilliant game for the Nats, striking out eight batters over seven innings in a 6-0 victory. A three-run homer by Howie Kendrick pretty much sealed the deal in that game. But the next day, the extraordinarily ineffective veteran starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez was relieved during the fifth inning after giving up three runs. Final score: Dodgers 5, Nats 0. On Saturday, the fiercely competitive Max Scherzer went seven full innings while only giving up two runs, but was in line for the loss after being replaced in the lineup in the top of the eighth. That's when the Nats batters woke up all of a sudden. The bases were loaded whn Juan Soto came up to bat, and he worked a long count before finally smacking an RBI single for the Nats first run. Anthony Rendon then came up to bat, and hopes were high for the Nats' #1 slugger, who recently returned from the Injured List. But "Tony Two Bags" is apparently not back to 100% just yet, because he swung at some bad pitches and struck out. That left it all up to newly-acquired Gerardo Parra, and guess what? He launched a homer several rows deep into the Dodger Stadium pavilion in right center field, the first grand slam for the Nats this year! (See the Washington Nationals page.) That gave Max Scherzer the win -- only his second win of the season. In the final game of the four-game series, the Dodgers' Hyan-Jin Ryu outdueled Stephen Strasburg, and actually had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning. Once again, Gerardo Parra was a "hero" of sorts, hitting a double for the Nats' only hit of the game [in the top of the eighth inning]. (The Nationals have never lost in a no-hitter, and the last time that happened in franchise history was in 1999, when the Yankees no-hit the Expos.) [With the tying run at the plate, Dave Martinez made another managerial goof when he let Michael A. Taylor bat rather than put in Howie Kendrick, Victor Robles, or Yan Gomes as a pinch hitter; they all have much higher batting averages. In the bottom of that] inning, Corey Seager put the icing on the cake for the home team, hitting a grand slam against Kyle Barraclough. (He has been one of the Nationals' more dependable relief pitchers this year, so that was a turn for the worse.) Final score: 6-0. [Thus the Nats ended a very rough road trip, winning just three of ten games.]
And so, at the one-quarter mark of the 2019 season, the Washington Nationals are now 16-24, which is 7 1/2 games behind the Phillies. Injuries are partly to blame, of course, but the Nationals did just fine in spite of injuries in years when they ended up winning the division. Something fundamental is really wrong with this team. The Nats payroll is among the highest in the majors right now (fourth, I believe), but they just aren't performing the way they are supposed to. Complaints about the lack of leadership are growing, and I don't see how Dave Martinez can finish this season if things don't get better soon. Why are the team's owners so patient with him? Don't they want to admit they were wrong to hire an untested guy as manager rather than the proven (and more costly) Bud Black? The Nationals have a long road ahead as they try to climb out of fourth place in the NL East, and perhaps somehow make a run for the postseason. There's no reason why a team with so much talent can't do so.
Some early-season surprises
After six full weeks of baseball, there have been a number of early season surprises. Did anyone really expect the Minnesota Twins or Tampa Bay Rays to be leading their respective divisions? Not that I'm aware. The New York Yankees have been plagued by injuries, but nevertheless have climbed to within a half game of the Rays, and they will probably take first place in the days to come. The Seattle Mariners were one of the hottest teams for the first few weeks, but they have seen cooled off as the Houston Astros have resumed their place atop the AL West. The Boston Red Sox recently climbed above .500 for the first time this season -- a rather humbling performance for the 2018 World Series champions.
In the National League, the East Division was a tight, four-way race for most of April, but the Philadelphia Phillies have now built a 3-game lead. Bryce Harper actually got booed by the home fans after striking out a few days ago; he currently is tied for fourth in the majors with 51 strikeouts. He is batting just .229 with 7 home runs. In the Central Division, the Milwaukee Brewers were very strong in April, but have since fallen behind the Chicago Cubs. Much like the Red Sox, the Cubs were playing terribly in the early weeks but have bounced back nicely. Out west, the L.A. Dodgers are ahead by four games, as the San Diego Padres, who led the division for much of April, have cooled off considerably. Manny Machado added spark to the lineup, but his actual performance has fallen short of expectation: .252 average and 8 home runs.
"Red Socks" in the White House
Championship sports teams customarily are greeted by the President at the White House, e.g. the Washington Capitals hockey team, but with the Trump administration, such traditions are sometimes dispensed with. Most of the Boston Red Sox recently made the pilgrimmage to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but manager Alex Cora and a several other players boycotted the event. Someone in the White House mistakenly wrote "Red Socks" in an official communique, which kind of makes you wonder... See bostonglobe.com.
Stadium capacity changes, 2019
For the first time in at least a few decades, and perhaps ever, there were (apprently) NO changes at all in the seating capacity of any major league baseball stadium this year. In contrast, last year (see October 3) there were seven cases of capacity changing by at least 1,000. I go by the official attendance figures shown in the box scores as published by the Washington Post, where capacity is shown in parentheses. MLB franchises seem less forthcoming aboutproviding capacity data on the various MLB web pages, compared to years past.
Busch Stadium II update
Since I have been paying greater attention in recent months to the details in the roofs of various stadiums of the "cookie-cutter" era (see April 16, when I updated the Riverfront Stadium diagrams), I made an update to the Busch Stadium II diagrams. Whereas before (2014) I attempted to convey the unique arched-support roofs of that stadium in a rather crude way, the diagrams now render more faithfully the actual appearance. While I was at it, I made a few other corrections and enhancements. The front edge of the upper deck is recessed by a couple feet, while the lateral walkway and entry portals in the rear part of the lower deck have been moved forward several feet, and are thus now (partly) "exposed" in all the diagrams. Those entry portals are much bigger than the were before, and the small sets of stairs from the lateral walkways to the aisles between the sections are now shown for the first time. Finally, the profile has been refined as well.
May 6, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Dowell's Draft
(It's a busy time of year for birders, and I'm struggling to get caught up with blog accounts of my recent nature excursions, so this post will only cover my activities through the end of April.)
On Saturday April 20, two other members of the Augusta Bird Club (Dan Perkuchin and Linda Corwin) joined me on a field trip to Dowell's Draft, in the western part of Augusta County. This is a trail and Forest Service fire road that provides excellent habitat for songbirds, but happens to lie in the path of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Fortunately for us, construction activity in this sector has been suspended for several months. Temperatures were mild, and the skies were clear. The only drawback with the weather was the occasional strong breeze. As we approached the trailhead in my car, we heard multiple Louisiana Waterthrushes. Soon after we began hiking, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker flying about 50 yards ahead of us, and then heard a nearby Ovenbird**, the first of the year for me. After several minutes of looking, we finally spotted it. We also heard the first of several Blue-headed Vireos* that day, but not until the latter part of our trip did we finally see (and photograph) it. While crossing the clear-cut swath, we heard a Northern Parula** singing in the distance, and then we heard a Prairie Warbler** fairly close. Those were the two main target birds, which I identified as breeders in that very same area for VABBA-2 last year. Within a couple minutes we had excellent views of the Parula (possibly two), and a so-so view of the Prairie Warbler. Further along the trail, we heard and finally saw a Louisiana Waterthrush*, but it proved to be very skilled at eluding our camera lenses. We also saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in that area, and heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the distance. On the way back we saw more Northern Parulas and a Black-throated Green Warbler**.
* = the first I have seen this year
** = the first I have seen or heard this year
Altogether, 27 bird species were observed at Dowell's Draft. (Thanks to Dan Perkuchin for tabulating our observations on ebird.org.) Next we stopped for a short while at nearby Braley's Pond, but the hoped-for Eastern Phoebes that nest there every year were not seen. We did, however, see another Louisiana Waterthrush, as well as a Muskrat foraging near the stream. All in all, it was a wonderful day of birding! Here are the highlights of our day:
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Prairie Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Ovenbird, at Dowell's Draft on April 20.
On Bell's Lane on April 22, I saw several good birds, such as White-crowned Sparrows, Purple Finches, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Three days later I saw my first Great Crested Flycatcher of the year, as well as Purple Finches, an Eastern Kingbird, and a Brown Thrasher there.
I didn't intend to go birding on Friday, April 26, but the unusual sight of a Swainson's Thrush and Indigo Bunting (both first of the year) in the bushes out back got me motivated to head out to Bell's Lane. Penny Warren had marked on the ABC kiosk chalkboard that she had seen a Solitary Sandpiper there, and sure enough I spotted it in the mud puddle where the cows often gather. On the extended portion of Bell's Lane (north of the bypass), I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler and and Black-and-white Warbler (FOY), as well as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Big Spring Day 2019
On Saturday, April 27, I participated in the Augusta Bird Club's Big Spring Day, covering four areas in the rugged woodlands of western Augusta County that were assigned to me, with a separate eBird checklist for each one:
It was fairly quiet around Braley Pond early on, but I did get an excellent closeup look at a Worm-eating Warbler, my first of the year. I continued along the trail upstream from the pond and eventually came across a couple places that were buzzing with warblers, just like last year. I saw Black-and-White Warblers, Ovenbirds, Northern Parulas, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and at least eight Ruby-crowned Kinglets, some with their heads "ablaze" with red. At one of the clearings, I briefly had a great view of a Broad-winged Hawk flying away, but couldn't get a photo. As I was departing that area, I spotted (!) two Spotted Sandpipers at the base of the dam.
Along the Dowell's Draft trail nearby, I met a man who was looking for Ruffed Grouse; he told me where the males typically "drum" during mating season, but unfortunately I was unable to detect their presence. I saw most of the same warbler species as before, and heard a Prairie Warbler, singing in the meadow to the west of the trail head. (I did not see or hear a Prairie Warbler in the clearcut area where it had been during our field trip the week before, however.) Around an abandoned shed in that meadow, I saw two Eastern Phoebes, the only flycatchers I observed all day.
Next I went to Ramsey's Draft and heard a Northern Parula, a species which breeds there on a regular basis. Climbing the Road Hollow trail (which heads toward the crest of Shenandoah Mountain and the Confederate Breastworks) for about 3/4 mile, I heard and saw some Black-throated Green Warblers and eventually Blackburnian Warblers (FOY) as well. I was counting on Scarlet Tanagers and Red-eyed Vireos along that trail, but neither species was seen or heard. I did get a great view of a Blue-headed Vireo, however, after having heard them in numerous locations earlier in the day. Back at the picnic area as I was about to leave, I saw several Chipping Sparrows and American Goldfinches, and heard American Redstarts (FOY) singing in the trees.
Finally, I paid a visit to Chimney Hollow trail and almost immediately spotted a Louisiana Waterthrush in a nearby tree. That area was mostly quiet, however, and while I did hear and eventually see yet another Northern Parula, there were no Acadian Flycatchers as I had hoped. Other big "misses" for what was otherwise a very successful day: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.
** = the first I have seen or heard this year
This photographic montage shows the highlights of my Big Spring Day:
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Parula, Blue-headed Vireo, Spotted Sandpiper, and in center, Louisiana Waterthrush. (At Braley Pond, Dowell's Draft, Ramsey's Draft, and Chimney Hollow, April 27.)
Enlarged images of most of those birds can be seen at: Wild Birds yearly page.
Altogether I observed a total of 181 birds, including birds I saw along Route 250 and back in Staunton, accounting for 41 species.
Ending April with a bang
On April 30 I spent a nice morning at Betsy Bell Hill in Staunton, where I heard and/or saw four species for the first time this year: Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, and Cape May Warbler. There were lots of warblers in the tree tops, but with the poor lighting conditions, it was very hard to identify them. Yellow-rumped Warblers were most prevalent, as usual this time of year. To my surprise, I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch, but didn't see it.
But the real fun started on Bell's Lane, where I was dumbfounded to see a Black-billed Cuckoo as soon as I got out of my car! Fortunately for me, it stayed put while I greedily took some photos -- my first ever of that species. It had been years since the last time I saw one of those. This was where the marshy stream parallels the road toward the southwest. In the distance I saw a Baltimore Oriole (FOY), and in the dense thickets I saw a Northern Parula, a Yellow Warbler (FOY), and a Cape May Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager (M), Black-billed Cuckoo, Cape May Warbler, Pileated Woodpecker (M), Northern Parula (M), and Swainson's Thrush. (At Betsy Bell Hill and Bell's Lane, April 27.)
For additional photos, see the Wild Birds yearly page.
April 20, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Springtime for birders!
My overall impression is that most migratory birds have been arriving a little behind schedule this spring, but others may have had different observations. On March 23 to Bell's Lane I was pleased to see the Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane for the first time since February 6 (see March 18), on the very same line of fence posts, in fact. Three days later I went back in hopes of seeing again (twice, in fact), but no luck. I did, however, see a Vesper Sparrow, another pleasant surprise. I had seen them there twice last fall, likewise a rather unusual sighting. Tree Swallows were flying around, the first time I had seen them this year.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Vesper Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird (F), on Bell's Lane, March 26.
Augusta Springs field trip
On Saturday March 30 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Augusta Springs, in the western part of Augusta County. To my surprise, the turnout was quite large, with at least a dozen people in attendance. Soon after we began, I heard a strange whistling song that reminded me of a Killdeer, but I had no idea what it was. Then I spotted the singing bird at the top of a small tree, and was astonished to realize that it was a Rusty Blackbird! I had seen a flock of those along the Middle River on last November, when it had the "rusty" non-breeding plumage, and this was the first time I had a clear view of one in breeding plumage. Then I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush singing, so we reversed course along the boardwalk trail, going counter-clockwise in pursuit of it, but without success. We did, however, have a nice view of some Yellow-rumped Warblers. (I hardly saw any of those during the past winter.) Other highlights of the morning included Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wood Ducks, Pine Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch (heard only), and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. On the way back to Staunton somd of us stopped at the Falls Hollow trail head, east of Elliott Knob. We didn't see any birds there, so we continued to Swoope, where we saw the new Bald Eagle nest, about a mile southwest of the one in the tree that was blown down in a storm last November. All in all, it was a wonderful day of birding!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Rusty Blackbird (M), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (M), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler (M), Brown Creeper, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Bald Eagles, and Wood Duck (M), on March 30. Except for the Bald Eagles (in Swoope), all others were seen at Augusta Springs.
Birding in April
I didn't get out much during the first week of this month, but I did get a nice closeup view of a male Pine Warbler in the Big Levels area on April 6. Five days later (on April 11) I went to Bell's Lane, where I had nice views of several birds, including Goldfinches in breeding plumage. Then I went to Mill Place in Verona and saw two Savannah Sparrows close by.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Purple Finch (M), Red-bellied Woodpecker (M), Evening Grosbeak, Fox Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Pine Siskin; at Union Springs, Rockingham County, March 16. Roll your mouse over the image to see a larger image of the Evening Grosbeak.
On Saturday April 13 (Earth Day!) I went to Montgomery Hall Park, but didn't see much other than an Eastern Towhee until just before I was going to leave then I spotted a flycatcher of some kind in nearby tree tops, and soon determined that it was an Eastern Kingbird, my first one of the year. Later that day on Bell's Lane, I had two other first-of-year birds: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Brown Thrasher.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (M), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Downy Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, and Eastern Kingbird, April 13.
Finally I took advantage of the nice weather on April 17 by visiting Bell's Lane again, but didn't see any of the hoped-for warblers. I did have nice views of several other birds, however, including several recently-arrived migrants:
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Field Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Carolina Wren, American Goldfinch (M), and Ruby-crowned Kinglet; on April 17.
As usual, more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. In about five minutes, I'm going to lead a field trip to Dowell's Draft, in western Augusta County!
April 16, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nats rally one day, falter the next
The Washington Nationals are still getting their footing as the 2019 season gets underway, and while they definitely show the potential for championship-level performance, they have also shown a regrettable tendency (like last year) to choke and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the weekend home series against Pittsburgh, they easily could have won all three games, but such was not to be. On Wednesday, their new starting pitcher Patrick Corbin did his best to prove he was worth the $140 million the owners committed to him when he was signed last December. In one of the best outings by a Nats pitcher this year, he struck out eleven batters over seven innings, while only giving up one run. Then in the eighth inning, once again the bullpen threw away a lead. Tony Sipp and Kyle Barraclough gave up two runs, but in the bottom of the inning Anthony Rendon homered for a second time to tie the game, 3-3. The game went to the tenth inning, whereupon Matt Grace and Justin Miller combined to give up three runs (one unearned), and the Pirates won it, 6-3.
The Saturday afternoon game was a pretty good pitchers' duel between the Nats' Anibal Sanchez and the Pirates' Chris Archer, whom I remember seeing pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays in Toronto in 2015. Both pitchers went seven innings, but the visitors were ahead 2-1 going into the eighth inning. That's when Adam Eaton and Howie Kendrick all of a sudden hit back-to-back home runs to give the Nats a 3-2 lead. Sean Doolittle got through the ninth inning allowing just one hit and one walk, thus earning his first save of the year.
On Sunday, Max Scherzer gave up two runs in the first inning, but got back in control and went eight full innings with only one more run by the opponent. The game was tied going into the ninth inning, but relief pitcher Wander Suero gave up an RBI ground rule double to Jason Martin. Behind 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the Nats loaded the bases with only one out, but Howie Kendrick was called out on strikes, and Anthony Rendon flew out to end the game. What an awful letdown.
After resting on Monday, the Nats welcomed the San Francisco Giants to town tonight. The Nats scored a run in the second inning, and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg was doing just fine until the fifth inning, when the Pirates hit two home runs to take a 3-1 lead. They tacked on three more against the relief pitchers before Matt Adams hit a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the seventh, after which Anthony Rendon hit an RBI single. But that didn't matter, as the Giants ended up with a 7-3 victory. It was the first time since the opening series of the season that the Nationals lost two games in a row. They now have a 7-8 record, and are 2 1/2 games behind the Phillies, who retook first place from the Mets tonight. (Ten runs in the first inning??!!)
Opening day in Korea
You gotta hand it to those Koreans, they really know how to use ultra-modern technology to heighten the excitement at a sporting event. An animated flying dragon swooping around a baseball stadium??!! See the video yourself at MLB.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.
Riverfront Stadium update
(Stop me if you've heard this one before.) I recently realized that one critical detail was missing from my Riverfront Stadium diagrams, which I had revised last October: the "ribs" that divide the sections of the roof from each other. That was a fairly easy task, but then I noticed a few anomalies that had to be fixed, so I ended up making a few more revisions to the Riverfront Stadium diagrams than I had planned. The bullpens are now shown in detail; the only real correction per se was that the lateral walkway in the upper deck was moved back a couple feet. The upper-deck diagram now shows where the twelve access tunnels were, underneath the seats. The entry portals were not visible from above (assuming you could see through the roof), as normal entry portals are.
I also added two other stadiums with similarly distinctive roofs to my "Coming Attractions" list: Busch Stadium II and Candlestick Park, as well as Three Rivers Stadium.
April 14, 2019 [LINK / comment]
A history of rock music, Part I: from A to G
It has been four months since my last blog post about music (December 7), so before we begin the main narrative about my current alphabetical "fixation" below, let's first get caught up with my public performances during the holiday season. All but one of those performances (January 15) were at the Wednesday night open mic event at Queen City Brewing, hosted by Fritz Horisk. On December 19 I played a random assortment of songs, two of which were ones I had recently learned, and just one with an explicit Christmas theme. (I need to learn more.) With a low turnout of musicians, we each got to do two extra songs, so I chose "Hummingbird" to call attention to the rare Rufous Hummingbird that had recently appeared in Stuarts Draft, and "Luckenbach, Texas," as a tribute to Ed Lawler, a good friend of mine in the Augusta Bird Club who was a Waylon Jennings fan. Ed passed away in November.
- Eight Days a Week -- Beatles
- * So Far Away -- Carole King
- Please Come Home For Christmas ( # ) -- Eagles
- * A Long December -- Counting Crows
- Hummingbird -- Seals & Croft
- Luckenbach, Texas -- Waylon Jennings
# : with harmonica
* : first time in public
(These notations apply throughout this post.)
On the day after New Year's Day, January 2, I played three songs by the Three Dog Night for the first time. I cleverly introduced the first song as if it were a Christmas carol. The other two songs were likewise "first-timers" for me, making five altogether. They all sounded just fine, and it helped me rebuild my confidence, since I had missed a few weeks late in 2018. It's funny how you can lose the knack for public performing so quickly.
- * Joy To the World -- Three Dog Night
- * Shambala -- Three Dog Night
- * One -- Three Dog Night
- * [ I Feel the Earth Move ] -- Carole King
- * Clocks -- Coldplay
[ NOTE: I originally written "So Far Away" rather than "I Feel the Earth Move," but I had already done that one in December. ]
On January 15, for the first time, I joined Kimball Swanson, Doug Boxley, and Gerry Choate at the Valley Mission, a local shelter for homeless people and folks who are temporarily down on their luck. Those guys have been entertaining the residents roughly once a month for at least a couple years, I believe, and I have to say it was about as rewarding as any other public performance I have done. The folks were extremely appreciative, and some of the kids came up and talked to us after we were done playing. I hope to go back there again later this month. I played along with the other guys and then led them in four of my favorite songs by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils:
- If You Want To Get To Heaven ( # )
- It'll Shine When It Shines
- You Made It Right
- Beauty In the River ( # )
Alphabetical progression begins
A is for America: On January 23, I began my weekly series going in alphabetical order more or less by accident. Early in January, Daryl Dragon, "The Captain" in the pop duo "Captain and Tennille" (along with the singer whom he later married, Toni Tennille) passed away. Everybody knows them for the song "Love Will Keep Us Together," but as a sort of tribute to Mr. Dragon, I played a song they did which had previously been recorded by the group America: "Muskrat Love." With an odd rhythm, that song is tougher to play than you might think. Then I played three other America songs, the latter two of which I had done before. They sounded much better this this time.
- * Muskrat Love
- * Tin Man
- Lonely People ( # )
- Sister Golden Hair ( # )
B is for Beatles: As I prepared for the open mic event on January 30, I started thinking seriously for the first time about going through the entire 26-letter alphabet week by week. There wasn't much doubt that I was going to do the Beatles, although Bob Dylan was a plausible alternative. All four songs were "first-timers" for me, or at least I think so. I may have done "Strawberry Fields Forever" previously, but if so, I didn't make note of it. All four songs came across very well, and host Fritz Horisk (who is a big Beatles fan) was impressed. His opinion carries a lot of weight with me.
- * Strawberry Fields Forever
- * Across the Universe
- * Get Back
- * Let It Be
C is for Chicago While introducing my songs on February 6, I put more emphasis on the alphabetical progression. It was hard not to do songs by Chicago, since I had just learned most of them during the late summer and fall, and I always enjoy doing songs that are still "fresh" in my mind. My friend from the bird club, Peter Van Acker was there, and I think I did pretty well for the most part. "Beginnings" is quite challenging, and I probably came up a little short on that one.
- * Feelin' Stronger Every Day ( # )
- * Saturday In the Park ( # )
- If You Leave Me Now
- * Beginnings ( # )
- Wishing You Were Here ( # )
D is for Doobie Brothers: On March 6, I went with the Doobie Brothers; David Bowie was the only other real choice, and his material is probably too offbeat even for me. The guitar sounded good on all four songs, but I missed a few notes on the harmonica while playing the lead part on "China Grove." The fact that it was Ash Wednesday made the second song all the more appropriate. I had done "Long Train Runnin'" a few times before, and I have it down. The final song was not bad, but didn't elicit as much audience response as I had hoped.
- China Grove ( # )
- * Jesus Is Just Alright With Me
- Long Train Runnin' ( # )
- * Rockin' Down the Highway
E is for Eagles: There was no doubt about it on March 13: the Eagles are probably my favorite group of all time, and I play over three dozen of their songs. Now a "normal" musician would play some of the Eagles' best-known hit tunes such as "Take It Easy" -- but not me! I felt compelled to probe into the lesser-known "deep cuts" such as "Nightingale" and "Take the Devil," which were from the first Eagles album. (I only learned them recently, in fact.) Then came "Witchy Woman" (the only hit song I played that night) to show off my harmonica playing, and finally the mellow "Love Will Keep Us Alive." That got warm applause.
- * Nightingale
- * Take the Devil
- Witchy Woman ( # )
- Love Will Keep Us Alive ( # )
Also that night, another guy played Tom Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane," which I also do, so I accomanied him on the harmonica (while remaining seated in the back) at the appropriate points in the song. That got knowing smiles.
F is for Fleetwood Mac: March 20 marked the first time I had been to the Queen City Brewing open mic night for three consecutive weeks for several months. I chose Fleetwood Mac, and again, there really wasn't much in the way of alternatives. It's perhaps odd that I haven't played as many Fleetwood Mac songs in public previously, because they used to be (and probably still are) one of my top four or five groups. Three of the songs I played for the first time in public, and two of them ("Gold Dust Woman" and "Go Your Own Way") I played with a capo, which I had only done recently with those particular songs. I barely even needed to [use the] lyric sheets, since all the songs are so familiar to me. They all came across very well, and I got a big round of applause at the end.
- * Don't Stop (Thinkin' About Tomorrow)
- * Gold Dust Woman
- Landslide ( # )
- * Go Your Own Way ( # )
G is for Grateful Dead: This past week (April 10) was the letter "G," which opened several possibilities: On multiple occasions I have played songs by the Gin Blossoms, the Goo Goo Dolls, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Guess Who. But instead, I broke new ground by covering the Grateful Dead. When I played at Shenandoah Brewing last year, somebody suggested that I play some of their songs, which at the time seemed rather far-fetched for me. For one thing, I'm not exactly a "dead-head" in terms of lifestyle, and trying to adopt the necessary attitude or persona to do those songs seemed to be quite a stretch. But, as I told the audience, if there is one consistent trait with me in doing music, it is my utter disregard for convention and expectation. So why the hell not? Earlier this year I started learning Grateful Dead songs, and to my amazement, got pretty good at some of them. I started off with their classic, "Truckin'," and I nailed it without any hitch except for a garbled lyric or two. (I never realized it before, but one consistent characteristic of Dead songs is that they are chock full of words sung a a rapid clip.) Apparently Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics to almost all of their songs, and Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir (and perhaps other late-comers) contributed varying amounts of music to each of them. The next two songs went pretty well, but on the final one ("Touch Of Grey") I had to start over switching from a Bb to a C harmonica. (That really adds to the sound of the song, which features a bit more melody than most Grateful Dead songs.) I also messed up a chord at one point and had to start the second verse over again, to my annoyance, but otherwise it sounded great, and once again I got great response from the audience.
- * Truckin'
- * U.S. Blues
- * Alabama Getaway ( # )
- * Touch Of Grey ( # )
This coming week (or else the next week) will be the letter "H," which opens just three possibilities (among groups or artists that I actually play): Heart, Harry Chapin, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Then comes the letter "I," for which the possibilities are very scant indeed.
R.I.P Bill Harlow
I was saddened and rather stunned to learn last month that a local musician passed away: Bill Harlow, one of the two main organizers (along with Bob Brydges) of the open mic events at Barrenridge Vineyards every Thursday night. I played there several times last year, but have been putting it off for the past several months, partly because it's harder for me to get to. Bill played guitar and bass guitar, often in a duo with Bob Brydges, and sometimes with larger groups. Bill was a great musician with a real passion for his craft, and he was always very friendly to me, often inviting me to join the musical fun at Barrenridge. I'm sorry that I didn't do so more often, and I will try to do so in the future.
April 10, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Robles & Soto save the Nats' day
The Nationals' two young slugging pals from the Dominican Republic, Victor Robles and Juan Soto, combined to turn another disheartening loss yesterday into a dramatic and memorable triumph. Stephen Strasburg gave up a three-run home run to Bryce Harper in the third inning, and Strasburg left the game after four innings with his team behind, 6-1. With all the bad vibes from the repeated bullpen meltdowns, the Nationals were on the verge of a very disheartening trajectory. Then the Nats started to put a few runs on the board, including home runs by Yan Gomes in the seventh inning and Howie Kendrick in the eighth inning. But the Nats were still one run behind in the top of the ninth with two outs and two strikes on Victor Robles. Things looked bleak. But just then Robles swung at a low pitch and knocked that ball into the left field seats to tie the game! In the tenth inning, Juan Soto crushed a ball into the middle deck down the right field line for a three-run homer. Robles doubled in another run after that, and the Nats won the game, 10-6! Would it be too much to suggest that Robles and Soto may have saved the Nationals' year? So I added that bit of info to the Washington Nationals page.
Tonight, the Nats got on the board three times in the first inning, and they just kept pounding the ball inning after inning. Even without a home run, the scored 15 runs and were on the verge of their biggest shutout score ever, when shaky relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal took the mound in the bottom of the ninth. It was a perfect situation for the hurler with an ERA of infinity. Once again, Rosenthal had lousy command, and he walked the bases loaded but managed to get three outs while only giving up one run, so now his ERA is "just" 72.
And so, amazingly enough, the Nationals have now won consecutive series against the Mets and the Phillies, and are now just one game behind those two (and the Braves) in the NL East.
Nats' bullpen stabilizes
In both their wins in Philadelphia, the Nationals' bullpen managed to avoid any further catastrophes, putting multiple zeros on the board. In my recent lament about the bullpen, I left out the closing pitcher Sean Doolittle, whose ERA is zero even though three runs scored thanks to hits he allowed last week. But he helped big time last night, getting the last two outs of the ninth inning, and all three outs of the tenth.
Healing and injury
Soon after joining active roster, Howie Kendrick hit a home run, the first pinch-hit home run of his career. Michael A. Taylor is also back in the lineup, but has not yet had a hit.
Another piece of bad news for the Nationals, which I should have mentioned before: Their speedy and versatile shortstop Trea Turner suffered a broken finger while trying to bunt last week, and he will probably be on the "Injured List" (formerly called the "Disabled List") until June.
Early team performance
With an 6-5 record thus far, the Nationals have exactly matched their performance up to the same point last year. The following table (updated from the one I posted on April 21, 2016, when I also noted the passing of my father, Alan L. Clem), compares the Nationals' record during the first ten games for each season since they relocated to Washington from Montreal in 2005:
||First ten games (W-L)
||Season total (%)
Sick's Stadium update
Since I recently updated the Kingdome diagrams with some small corrections, I figured I ought to do likewise for the Sick's Stadium (a.k.a. "Sicks' Stadium") diagrams. That is the stadium where the ill-fated Seattle Pilots played in 1969, before going bankrupt and being relocated to Milwaukee as the "Brewers" in 1970. It was supposed to be a temporary stadium during construction of the Kingdome, but that didn't get started until several years later. (The last diagram update for Sick's Stadium was Jan. 22, 2015.) Most of the changes in the diagram per se involved the shape and size of the bleacher sections that were added in 1969. Also, the steps leading up from the concourse between the upper and lower portions of the bleachers are now rendered more accurately than before, and likewise for the steps from the concourse in the grandstand. In addition, the warning tracks in foul territory are thinner than before, and finally, the access ramps to the bleachers in right field are now more accurate, with "UP" labels for clarity.
April 8, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nationals' bullpen: disaster area
Thus far, the Washington Nationals' bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster. Imagine a town devastated by a tsunami, a forest fire, and a hurricane all at once. For the first nine games of the 2019 season, they have an ERA above 10. In four of the Nats' five losses, the deciding runs were scored in the late innings of the game. Of course, most painful have been the unnecessary losses when the Nationals had been leading in the latter innings: March 30 (NYM 11, WSH 8) and April 6 (NYM 6, WSH 5). But even in two of their four wins, the bullpen likewise gave up multiple runs. For example, in yesterday's game against the Mets in New York, the Nats enjoyed a comfortable 12-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning, whereupon the Mets scored five runs. The home team almost pulled off a miracle in the ninth inning, scoring three more runs, but ending up losing, 12-9. Another near-disaster for the Nats: on April 3, the Phillies scored four runs in the eighth inning to tie the game, but the Nats won on a "walk-off walk" with the bases loaded, as rookie Jake Noll refrained from swinging to get his first major league RBI. As a "reward," he was sent down to the minors, making way for Howie Kendrick on the active roster.
So who's to blame? At the top of the list would be Trevor Rosenthal, the former star relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, has faced nine batters this year, and every single one of them has reached base. Until yesterday's game, where he walked one batter and hit the other with a pitch, every one of those batters ended up scoring. His ERA is currently infinity, and after he (presumably) gets his first out of the season, his ERA will drop to something like 186. Hard to believe. He is coming off from Tommy John surgery, so it's understandable that he needs a period of adjustment, but still...Other hapless Nats relievers include Joe Ross (81.00 ERA), Tony Sipp (15.43 ERA), Wander Suero (15.00 ERA), and Matt Grace (13.50 ERA). The other Nats relievers, Kyle Barraclough and Justin Miller, have ERAs in the "normal" range.
On the positive side, the Nationals won consecutive games for the first time this year, winning 9-8 on Wednesday and 4-0 on Thursday, bouncing back to .500. They took two out of three games in New York, but with tonight's loss their record is back down to 4-5.
These nine games don't mean all that much, but if the Nats don't end this month at least with a winning record, grumblings about the evident persistent lack of leadership will arise once again. Dave Martinez knows his job is on the line, and it's up to him to make the highly talented pitching staff perform according to expected standards.
Chase Field quick update
Mike Zurawski recently alerted me to some photos of the new artificial turf at Chase Field (see azcentral.com), showing that the thin dirt path between the mound and home plate is gone. But guess what? I noticed a slight discrepancy with my diagrams, as far as the position of the bend in the grandstand near first (and third) base! So I set about fixing that, and while I was at it made a couple other tiny changes to the Chase Field diagrams. One significant consequence is that foul territory has shrunk, but I haven't done a calculation of that just yet.
And just for the record, I made a couple very small corrections to the Kingdome diagrams after the update was announced on April Fool's Day. No foolin'!
In other sports, the University of Virginia Cavaliers are currently in the NCAA Men's Basketball championship game (at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis) against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, hailing from Lubbock, Texas. Go Cavaliers!!!
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