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January 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Ducks on the (unfrozen) pond

The arctic blast we had a few days ago had a nice side-effect for birders, forcing many ducks to congregate in larger ponds that did not freeze over. One such pond is in the former quarry south of Fishersville, so I headed over there last Thursday after seeing reports of many different duck species there. Even though they were far away (about 200 yards), it was still nice seeing the boldly colored (and aptly named) Redheads. Also present were several American Wigeons and Ring-necked Ducks, plus a few American Coots and several dozen Canada Geese.

Montage 12 Jan 2017 - ducks

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Wigeons (M & F), Ring-necked Ducks (3 M, 1 F), Mallard (M), Redheads (M), Canada Goose, American Coot, and in center, American Kestrel (F).

Yesterday, Jacqueline and I stopped at the pond behind Hardees in Verona, and I was surprised to see several Hooded Mergansers there, along with a Great Blue Heron. On the way home, I spotted an American Kestrel along Bell's Lane, but the photos I took were obscured by tree branches. This afternoon, I photographed a White-breasted Nuthatch out back, and then a Red-tailed Hawk at the intersection of Route 11 and Bell's Lane. I was headed there in search of Northern Harriers or Short-eared Owls, but struck out once again.

Montage 16 Jan 2017 - ducks

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hooded Mergansers (3 F, 1 M). Enlarged photos of all four species in this montage can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

January 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Is Trump a serious president-elect?

Last February 29, I asked (rhetorically), "Is Trump a serious candidate?" He already had a strong lead in the primary races, but was not acting in the dignified manner that one would expect of a front-runner. One might have thought that winning the presidential election would provide him an opportunity to mature, but sadly, nothing has changed: He continues to spout bizarre, obnoxious "tweets" about people who cross him, and makes erratic, impromptu remarks on a wide variety of policy areas. Are people supposed to take his words seriously? Such tendencies raise troubling questions about his capacity to lead this country. Is he indeed a serious president-elect???

The latest dust-up started when Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said that Trump's election victory was not legitimate, and Trump flew into another fit of outrage. Over a dozen Democratic members of Congress (mostly African-American) have announced that they will not attend Trump's inauguration on Friday, to express their rejection of his democratic legitimacy. To me, it's a silly argument that does not merit a serious response. I tend to agree with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin (a conservative), who wrote that there are so many ways that Trump violates the presidential norms of behavior that harping on his supposed "illegitimacy" completely misses the point.

Fortunately, some Democrats spoke out against the extraordinary boycott led by Lewis, including Sen. Joe Manchin (WV). I watched him on CBS "Face The Nation" on Sunday morning, and was pleased that he criticized Lewis's statement as "uncalled for." (See The peaceful transfer of power is a delicate matter, and the lack of national unity at this difficult time puts our country in great peril. Ironically, such a reaction is exactly what the Russians were trying to achieve with their cybernetic ("hacking") of U.S. e-mail servers and disinformation; see below. Even though I dread what Trump may do once in office, he was legitimately elected, and those who say otherwise make our country weaker.

Is Trump a Russian stooge?

Protests about Trump's supposed "illegitimate" election are based largely on the Russian cybernetic attacks of last year, but very few informed people think that those things had a decisive effect on the presidential election. Given the fact that hardly any expert thought that Trump had much of a chance to win the election, the idea that the interference was aimed at tipping the outcome in Trump's favor just doesn't make sense. So what were the Russians' intentions? To me, it's obvious, that the Russians were mainly trying to sow doubt and suspicion about our democratic processes, and the way many Democrats (such as Lewis) have responded, the Russians have succeeded marvelously. A fairly balanced and thorough report (by the FBI and DHS) on "Russian Malicious Cyber Activity" dated December 29 can be seen at (Hat tip to Connie.)

But to hear some people talk, the Russian cybernetic attack signifies that Trump is a mere puppet or stooge of Vladimir Putin. The idea that a multi-billionaire might end up being manipulated in such a way seems extremely remote. (I doubt that there is much to the opposition research "dossier" on Trump's alleged sexual perversions, and would prefer not to worry about that. See Given Trump's authoritarian tendencies, there may well be an affinity between him and Putin, but as I keep reminding people, many of the provocative things Trump says are done mainly to annoy or distract his opponents, and I think the notion of a U.S.-Russian partnership are greatly exaggerated. (I will deal with the strategic and foreign policy aspects of that relationship in the near future.)

Testimony before Senate committees by Ret. Gen. James Mattis (presumed Secretary of Defense) and Rex Tillerson (presumed Secretary of State) has conflicted with Trump on the extent of the Russian threat, yet another cause for concern. They have likewise expressed firm support for NATO, which Trump has questioned. Will he take advice from his cabinet?

Politics: a walk down memory lane

Having put a great deal of effort into warning fellow Republicans about various pathological tendencies within the party (e.g., simplistic populism, narrow exclusivism, excess focus on social/moral/cultural issues), it would be quite hypocritical of me to cast aside those warnings and voice support for Donald Trump. The Grand Old Party is now reaping the bitter fruit it has sowed over the past ten years or more. In light of my departure from Republican ranks, I thought it would be appropriate to review my immediate post-election blog reflections for the past four election cycles:

November 3, 2004: "Victory, Redemption, Reconciliaton" -- (This was when I was just starting to blog on a regular basis, pioneering a new form of political communication that was eventually picked up by many other conservative Republicans in this area.) Having devoted a great deal of time and energy to campaign work on behalf of the Republicans, I was a gung ho party loyalist and made much of George W. Bush's popular vote majority, as a mandate to pursue what then still seemed to be a conservative agenda. I kept under wraps my qualms about Bush's capacity to govern effectively largely. (Over the first half of the first year of Bush's second term, however, my doubts began to grow, as expressed in various blog posts.)

November 5, 2008: "Barack Obama's historic victory" -- I strained to explain the race by John McCain, whose choice of a vice presidential candidate (Sarah Palin) doomed what little chance he had after the economic meltdown in late September. Even though Obama won a bigger margin of the nationwide popular vote than Bush had four years earlier, I still characterized the win as "not decisive." Oops -- not very "fair and balanced"! But at least I was very candid about the election serving as a referendum on the Bush presidency, about which I had become sharply critical over the preceding two years. I stand by my mildly scornful take on the likelihood that Obama's worldwide popularity might translate into positive foreign policy achievements. In light of the subsequent rise of ISIS, one might question with my assertion that Iraq was "being steadily pacified," but I think Obama's precipitous military withdrawal from that country, as well as his diplomatic clumsiness, are primarily to blame for that.

November 7, 2012: "Decision 2012: Obama wins by a clear margin" -- I tried to keep my hopes up in the final weeks of the campaign, but the advantages of incumbency (plus the "fortuitous" hurricane that struck the New York City area) were too much for Mitt Romney -- a.k.a. "Mr. Nice Guy" -- to overcome. My ties to local party politics had greatly withered, and the campaign appearance by Romney (and Paul Ryan) at Fishersville, and an appearance by Ryan in September, were about the only organized events that I attended that year. is a "true conservative" candidate "The fact that Romney has failed to clearly distinguish his agenda from that of Dubya is a discouraging sign that most people in the GOP have not really absorbed the lessons of the 2001-2008 period."

November 9, 2016: "Believe it or not: Trump is elected president" -- That piece was especially difficult for me to write, as I had such negative feelings about both major party candidates. I called attention to what has since become known as "Trump Derangement Syndrome," the hysterical reaction by many leftists to the impending Trump presidency, previously considered almost unthinkable. One of the more controversial observations I made on Election Night was that Trump's surprise victory to a great extent was the visceral reaction by "Middle America" (white, rural, heartland-dwelling) against contemporary popular culture. Many leftists sadly remain convinced that voting for Trump signifies an endorsement of his odious attitudes toward women and certain foreign ethnic or religious groups.

January 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Trump's military-industrial complex

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

President Dwight Eisenhower, farewell address, Jan. 17, 1961

Based on his choices to head his incoming administration, President-elect Donald Trump seems either unaware of Eisenhower's warning, or has ignored it. Trump has chosen three former top military officers to serve in his administration, more than any other recent administration. Several other cabinet positions are going to millionaire business persons from Wall Street or otherwise with close connections to the corporate elite. In some cases, the nominees have little evident knowledge of, or experience with, the subject matter covered by their departments. It does not bode well for good government, and calls into question Trump's reformist talk of "draining the swamp" in Washington.

Trump's most significant cabinet choice last month was that of Gen. (ret.) James "Mad Dog" Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense. (Federal law requires Congress to pass a special authorization for any former military officer to serve in a civilian position if less than five years has passed since he or she left the service.) Mattis was reportedly angry that the Trump team chose someone (Vincent Viola, a businessman) to be Secretary of the Army without consulting with Mattis first. (See

As noted on November 30, the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be Attorney General is controversial due to his weak record on civil rights issues -- so much so that legal experts and academics from across the country have mounted a campaign to get the Senate to reject him. [Some of his past statements on immigration are disturbing to me. Also controversial is Betsy DeVos, an Ohio billionaire/philanthropist who has been active in the school choice movement. She was a major donor to the Trump campaign. Since I believe that reforming our education system is a high priority, I'm willing to wait and see how she does as Secretary of Education.]

The table below summarizes the cabinet positions and other key advisory positions which Trump has already selected. The column showing each person's career background makes it clear how strong the military and industrial emphasis is. Apart from those two categories, nearly everyone else is a high-ranking Republican politician.

Department (or position) Name Background
State Rex Tillerson Exxon-Mobil
Defense Gen. (ret.) James Mattis U.S. Marines
Treasury Steven Mnuchin Goldman Sachs
Justice (Atty. Gen.) Jeff Sessions U.S. Senate
Agriculture ???
Commerce Wilbur Ross Investor / banker
Labor Andy Puzder CKE Restaurants
Health & Human Serv. Rep. Tom Price U.S. House
Interior Rep. Ryan Zinke U.S. House
Energy Rick Perry ex-gov. of Texas
Veterans ???
Homeland Security Gen. (ret.) John Kelly U.S. Marines
Housing & Urban Dev. Dr. Ben Carson Ret. doctor
Education Betsy DeVos Businesswoman
Transportation Elaine Chao ex-Labor Sec.
Environ. Prot. Scott Pruitt Atty. Gen. of Okla.
Amb. to United Nations Nikki Haley Gov. of S. Carolina
Nat. Sec. Adv. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn U.S. Army
W.H. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Repub. Nat. Chairman
W.H. Chief Counselor & Strategist Steve Bannon Breitbart News
W.H. Counselor Kellyanne Conway Trump campaign

SOURCE: Washington Post, Google,

"Electoral College" picks Trump

Today, Vice President Joe Biden presided as the electoral votes were officially tabulated on the floor of the U.S. Senate, the final step in making Donald Trump the President-Elect. The 438 people who comprise the Electoral College do not actually gather in the same place, so that term is a bit misleading. Instead, the electors from every state gathered in their respective 50 state capitals (plus D.C.) on December 19, at which point the actual election took place. This year there were rumors of widespread defections of Trump electors, which would have resulted in the election being decided in the House of Representatives, with each state having an equal vote.

The "widespread panic" over the prospect of Trump becoming president sparked a movement to persuade the electors to "vote their conscience," regardless of the popular vote in their state. ( [Very little came of that effort, however, and as shown in the table below, more Democratic electors defected (5) than Republican ones did (2).] Somehow it was reasoned that the original intent of the Founding Fathers to entrust the selection of the president to an elite group of wise men should count more than the express legislation in the states, many of which impose harsh penalties for "faithless" electors. The most dramatic example of that phenomenon in modern times came in 1960, when Sen. Harry F. Byrd (D-VA) received 15 electoral votes, 14 of which should have gone to John F. Kennedy: eight from Mississippi, six from Alabama, and one from Oklahoma. ( As I pointed out on Facebook, it was ironic that some people cited a democratic ideal (the alleged individual rights of the electors to "vote their conscience") to justify a blatantly elitist manner of choosing the president.

Candidate Electoral

(or states with faithless electors)
Donald Trump 304 62,979,879
Hillary Clinton 227 65,844,954
Colin Powell 3 WA
Faith Spotted Eagle 1 WA
John Kasich 1 TX
Ron Paul 1 TX
Bernie Sanders 1 HI


So, what are we to make of the fact that Hillary Clinton won 2,865,075 votes more than Trump? Other than an indication that Trump has only a weak mandate to enact his agenda, not much. Those who cite the popular vote totals to suggest that Trump is not the duly-elected chief executive are deeply mistaken, and their attitudes have a corrosive effect on our democracy. (Of course, Trump's own comments during the campaign about the election being "rigged" have had the same corrosive effect.) Democracies thrive when all the major players agree in advance on the rules, and abide by the outcome afterward. Those who think it is obvious that the Electoral College is hopelessly archaic apparently don't understand the constitutional basis for national unity, giving the states a prominent role in how the Federal government is chosen. Likewise, those who complain that it's too hard to amend the Constitution to do away with the Electoral College just don't get it.

Along those lines, there is a movement to nullify the Electoral College by getting most of the states to pass legislation that would award all of their (respective) electors to whichever candidate won the nationwide popular vote. Technically, it may be constitutional, since there are provisions for such interstate compacts, but it would be grossly (and ironically) un-democratic, in the sense that the will of the voters of those states [would be ignored]. See

So, to repeat what I have suggested on Facebook, I would propose a consitutional amendment such that any candidate who wins an absolute majority (not just a plurality) the nationwide popular vote and a plurality of the vote in a majority of the states (i.e., 26 or more at present) is declared the president-elect. If those two conditions are not met, then the choice would revert to the traditional Electoral College system, except that the electoral votes would be automatically determined by the elections in each state, without the need for (potentially faithless) human electors. [States could apportion the electors in some fashion, if they so desire; at present, Maine and Nebraska choose electors from each congressional district, plus two statewide.]

The Blog Is Back!!?

(That title is a reference to a certain Elton John song.) It has been over four weeks since the last time I blogged about politics: December 3, to be exact. ("Congressional elections in Virginia: RIGGED!!?") Frankly, the mere thought of a Trump administration fills me with feelings of dread and depression. I understand that his style of outrageous remarks and gratuitous insults is all part of a strategy aimed at paralyzing his opponents, and judging by the way many Democrats (as well as Independents like me) have reacted, it's having the desired effect. It's the modern form of cyber-discourse known as "trolling," and Trump is an expert at it. But the cold, hard reality of a U.S. government led by Donald Trump is fast approaching, and it's time to face up to it.

(NOTE: I will deal with the controversy over the effect of Russian "hacking" on the elections tomorrow.)

January 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Greater White-fronted Geese!

Bird-wise, it was definitely a Happy New Year's Day for me! Thanks to an e-mail alert from Shannon Updike, and some assistance from Diane Lepkowski who arrived soon after I did, I was able to see and photograph the Greater White Fronted Geese yesterday. It was the best view I ever had! (I saw several of them on Bell's Lane last February 2, about 200 yards away.) Yesterday's birds were on a pond behind (Sentara) Rockingham Memorial Hospital, east of Harrisonburg, part of a flock of nearly 100 Canada Geese and a couple dozen Mallards. Also present were two Snow Geese, one Bufflehead (female), and an American Coot. I didn't see the Cackling Goose that was reported there, however.

Then on the way back to Staunton, I checked out Strickley Road for a third time (!), hoping to get a better view of the Snow Bunting than I had last week. The field seemed utterly empty, unfortunately, but after lengthy, careful scanning, I eventually noticed a few Horned Larks quietly foraging, and then a few more. That got my hopes up, and finally I spotted the the Snow Bunting. It was still too far away for a good photograph, so I may have to go back there once again!

Greater White-fronted Goose

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Snow Bunting, Snow Goose, American Coot, Greater White-fronted Goose, Great Blue Heron, Bufflehead (F), and in center, Horned Lark. (Roll mouse over the image to see a closeup of the Greater White-fronted Goose.)

The Red-tailed Hawk shown above was perched in a tree along Route 11 on the north edge of Staunton, as I was leaving town. One second later, it flew away! The Great Blue Heron was on Bell's Lane, where I stopped on the way home to look (in vain) for the Short-eared Owls just before dusk. [Enlarged versions of those photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.]

Strickley Road, Blue Ridge

Strickley Road, with the Blue Ridge in the background. (Madison Run Gap is on the right.) The brownish field to the right of the road is where the Snow Bunting and Horned Larks have been seen.

On a side note, I thought it was odd that I saw two "snow birds" (Snow Bunting and Snow Goose) yesterday, after having seen two "horned birds" (Horned Lark and Horned Grebe) on the same day last week.

December 31, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Another BIG year of bird photography

As the otherwise mostly awful year of 2016 comes to a close, I thought it would be fitting to present the highlights of the year in birding, more specifically, bird photography. So I reviewed my wild bird blog posts for the year, and tried to pick out the very best photos from each one. It was such a good year for me, bird-wise, that even after weeding out the not-so-great photos, I was still left with 21 photos, plus montages. I was so busy teaching at Sweet Briar College last year that I didn't have time to post a summary of my autumn 2015 birding until February 6 of this year. I have had much more free time since May, and I made the most of it.

Today, the final day of 2016, I went back to Strickley Road northeast of New Hope, in hopes of getting a better photo of the Snow Bunting, which I first saw five days ago. It wasn't there, unfortunately, but thanks to two birders from Rockingham County (Greg Moyers and Diane Lepkowski), I saw another very special bird instead: a Merlin! It is displayed as the very last entry below.

February 20, 2016: Life bird: Virginia Rail!

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail, on Bell's Lane, February 20. NOTE: This photo appeared in the June/July annual photography issue of Virginia Wildlife magazine.

March 26, 2016: Field trip to Chimney Hollow


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male), Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Creeper (rotated to fit), and Red-breasted Nuthatch, in Chimney Hollow, March 26.

April 30, 2016: Migration season reaches peak

Virginia Rail

Cape May Warbler (male), at Cook's Creek Arboretum, in Bridgewater, April 30.

May 7, 2016: More migrants visit Bell's Lane

Virginia Rail

White-eyed Vireo, on Bell's Lane, May 2.

May 21, 2016: ABC field trip to Reddish Knob


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruffed Grouse, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Red Crossbill, and in center, American Redstart. (Roll mouse over to see the juvenile Ruffed Grouse.)

June 7, 2016: ABC field trip to Highland County

Mourning Warbler

Mourning Warbler, on Sapling Ridge, Highland County, June 4, 2016.

June 9, 2016: FOD Prothonotary Warblers!

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler, at the Dutch Gap conservation area near Richmond, June 8.

July 1, 2016: Birding in Huntley "Meadows"


CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Osprey, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Egret, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron. .

July 3, 2016: Kentucky Warblers, and more!

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler, Hightop Mountain trail head, Shenandoah National Park, July 2.

July 8, 2016: Soras breeding in the Valley!


Sora, Nazarene Church Road wetlands, Rockingham County, July 8. (Roll mouse over to see one of the juveniles.)

August 10, 2016: White Ibis in Bridgewater

White Ibis, on the North River in Bridgewater, August 10.

August 19, 2016: Mississippi Kite in Staunton

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite (juvenile), in the north part of Staunton, August 19.

August 27, 2016: Common Gallinule at Willow Lake

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule, at Willow Lake, August 27.

September 14, 2016: Field trip to McCormick's Farm.


Philadelphia Vireo, McCormick's Farm, September 14.

NOTE: A question was raised about the species identification, since Philadelphia Vireos are similar to Warbling Vireos, which are known to breed in that location. Fortunately, this photo confirms all of the distinguishing field marks from

September 27, 2016: Lucky! 13 warblers on Betsy Bell Hill


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler (M), Hooded Warbler (M), Tennessee Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (F), Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Black-throated Blue Warblers (F & M), and in center, Nashville Warbler.

September 29, 2016: American Golden Plovers!

American Golden Plovers

American Golden Plovers, at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Rockingham County, September 29.

October 5, 2016 Shenandoah National Park birding (II)


American Pipit, at Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park, October 4.

October 30, 2016: Sandhill Cranes still lingering

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane, north of Fishersville, October 26.

November 4, 2016: New month arrives, & new birds too

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, with an aphid in its beak, in Staunton, November 4.

December 26, 2016 Life bird: Snow Bunting!

Montage Dec 31

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Pipit, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Horned Grebe.* (Roll mouse over to see a closeup of the Horned Lark and Snow Bunting.)
* All birds were northeast or southeast of New Hope, except for the one marked with an asterisk, which was in Waynesboro.

December 31, 2016 Another BIG year of bird photography

Montage Dec 31

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel, Merlin, Belted Kingfisher (F)*, Eastern Bluebird (M), Great Blue Heron*, American Coot*, and in center, Hooded Merganser (M)*. (Roll mouse over to see a closeup of the Merlin.)
* The raptors and Bluebird were northeast of New Hope; birds marked with asterisks were in Waynesboro.

December 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Holiday spirit: Amped & ready to go

It was another big month for me music-wise, but ironically there were only three "open mic" nights at Queen City Brewing. (The scheduled December 7 event was cancelled due to a furnace breakdown.) The really big event for me, however, was on December 12.

You might say that Santa Claus came early this year for me. In preparation for performing at the Augusta Bird Club 50th anniversary dinner (see below), I made a long-deferred purchase of a public address amplifier system. Ironically, I had bought a microphone and stand in the late 1980s when I was getting semi-serious about music, but never had an amp. Not satisfied with the choices available locally, I went up to Hometown Music in Harrisonburg [see website], and bought a Fender Passport Conference P.A. system. ("Conference" is the low end of that product line; there are two more expensive models.) It has two speakers that conveniently fit with the central amplifier unit, and looks like a suitcase. It's heavy but definitely portable. With 175 watts of output power, it seems ideal for my purposes, enabling me to play in a small venue either solo or with another musician.

Fender Passport amplifier, speakers

Fender Passport Conference amplifier and speakers.

ABC 50th year dinner

On December 12, 2016 I provided musical entertainment at the Augusta Bird Club's 50th anniversary dinner, at which about 50 people attended, including the mayor of Staunton, Carolyn Dull. I played five songs (or parts thereof), four of which are marked with asterisks in the open mic list for December 14, when I played them again (in full). On the first song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," I changed "West Virginia" to "Augusta County," and "Shenandoah River" to "Shenandoah Valley." (I introduced that song by saying it was by a guy named Henry Deutschendorf, asking if anyone knew what his common name was. I was very impressed that Mayor Carolyn Dull was the first to give the correct answer: John Denver!) The next four songs were all abbreviated, comprising what I called a "Bird Song Medley," in which each song title was changed to that of a bird species, along with a few altered lyrics where appropriate. It was an attempt at "insider" humor on my part, and most people seemed to get the joke.

ABC 50th anniversary dinner - Andrew Clem, Stark & Jean Smith, Emily & Tom Britt

Yours truly, performing at the Augusta Bird Club's 50th anniversary dinner on December 12. (Photo taken by Jacqueline.) Click on the smiley face below to see the four birds (Kentucky Warbler, American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, and Mississippi Kite) about which I sang.

smile / bird song medley montage

Open mic events

I played four of those five songs on [the Staunton Music Guild's] open mic night two days later, the exception being "Mississippi Queen" by the group Mountain. (It's hard rock, not well suited for acoustic guitar.) Not many people were there that evening, so I figured I could take a bit more risk than usual, and played The Beatles' "And I Love Her." It involves some quick chord changes, and I pulled it off pretty well. Then on the next song, I totally blew the intro bass lines of "One of These Nights," and even had to start over, but the rest of the song went OK. The final two songs were tributes to rock musicians who died this year: Glenn Frey in January and both Keith Emerson (March) and Greg Lake (December 7). I was very pleased by how ELP's "From the Beginning" sounded.

On December 21, there was a pretty good turnout (about 15-20 people) but only two musicians besides Fritz Horisk (the open mic host): Diane Bryer and me. As a result, each of us got to do several extra songs, eight altogether. Since Fritz had been playing Christmas songs since the week before, I figured I ought to get into the spirit of the season, so I learned the Eagles' Yuletide classic song "Please Come Home For Christmas." Despite being a new song for me, it went pretty well. I thought I did very well on "Sweet Caroline," but didn't seem to get much audience reaction. As in the week before, some of the songs were tributes to rock musicians who passed away this year. I used the harmonica in place of the lead guitar on "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and that went very well. David Bowie's "Space Oddity" also sounded good.

Tonight, December 28, the crowd was rather thin, no more than ten or so. Besides me (and the host, Fritz), there were two other musicians, one of whom (Perry) has played there quite a few times and has a repertoire that is somewhat similar to mine. I started with a country music classic ("I Walk the Line"), but unfortunately muffed some of the lyrics. The guitar part sounded good at least; that song is a rare example of having several "modulations," when the key changes in the middle of the song. I used the harmonica on the next two songs, including one by Jim Croce, who died when I was in high school. As I told the folks, I clearly remember what a shock that was. Most people there seemed to agree that the biggest shock of their lifetimes (in terms of rock musicians dying suddenly) was when John Lennon was murdered. I really nailed "Certain Kind of Fool," which has a neat-sounding intro and a soaring lead guitar part, and did pretty well on the difficult song "Spirit" (which I mistakenly called "Journey") as well.

End-of-year wrap-up

With the year 2016 all but over, I decided to calculate how many songs I have done at the open mic events this year. The result: 83! That doesn't count the songs I did at the Augusta Bird Club dinner, since I played them again a few days later at the open mic night. It is worth pointing out that I have not played any song at those open mic events more than once. (That's probably why it's getting hard for me to memorize all the lyrics to those songs: my repertoire is getting too big!) Next year I will start playing songs that I have done previously. My total was boosted considerably by the three evenings in December when fewer performers showed up, giving those of us who did show up more time to play. I did 23 songs in December alone! The Music page has been updated accordingly. Whew!

December 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Life bird: Snow Bunting!

Thanks to e-mail alerts from Baxter Beamer and Gabriel Mapel, two young birders in our area, I was able to see a Snow Bunting today: my 463rd life bird! This species breeds in far northern Canada and only rarely ventures this far south during the winter months. In spite of the gloomy skies, early this afternoon I drove up to the designated location, a couple miles northeast of New Hope. While en route, I saw an American Kestrel but failed to get a photo. Soon after arriving (at the intersection of Strickley Road and Custard Lane), I heard some odd peeps up above. Eventually I saw a large flock of Horned Larks that kept moving around the pasture in sudden "bursts" whenever the cows approached. There must have been at least 50 of the latter, and some of them flew right overhead, quite close by. I did not see the Lapland Longspur that was also reported there, however.

A couple miles south of there, I spotted at least 20 American Pipits in an adjacent field. While on that road (Route 865) on the way to Waynesboro, I also saw an immature Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a Red-shouldered Hawk which was oddly perched on the ground before it flew up into a tree. Once in Waynesboro I headed to the Invista Pond, where I spotted a Horned Grebe; it was the very same place where I had seen one in March 2015, in a transitional molt to breeding plumage. There were also three American Coots and a Belted Kingfisher. Quite a big day after Christmas!

Montage 26 Dec 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Pipit, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Horned Grebe. Roll your mouse over the image to see a the front side of the Snow Bunting. Other larger-sized photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

My Life bird list page has been duly updated. I only saw two new species this year.

December 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Christmas Bird Count 2016

On Saturday, December 12, I spent several hours helping with the Augusta Bird Club's Christmas Bird Count. (There is a separate Christmas Bird Count for the Waynesboro area, usually in early January.) In recent years I have been far too busy with grading exams, etc. to spend more than a couple hours on this effort. This year I was joined by two relatively new members of the club, Joe Thompson and Kathy Belcher, and we covered five areas in Staunton:

There was light freezing rain as the sun rose, so we postponed our rendevous time until after 10:00. I began [solo] along Bell's Lane around 9:00, after taking a detour of over a mile because of ice-induced traffic accidents. I saw three cars that had skidded off the road! Within a few minutes of my arrival, I had a nice closeup view of a Red-tailed Hawk, which stayed put as I slowly approached in my car, enabling me to get some good photos. Most of the usual birds were there, with Cardinals being especially prominent. The only really noteworthy bird there was an American Kestrel. Along the entrance road to the Frontier Culture Museum, we saw a nice mixture of birds plus a flock of Mallards on the pond there. None of the hoped-for Yellow-rumped Warblers, however. (We didn't see any all day, in fact.) Next we went to Betsy Bell Hill, and saw a few of the expected woodland birds. I was somewhat surprised to see Bluebirds and Juncos in the woods. Our next stop was Montgomery Hall Park, where we saw many Cardinals, White-throated Sparrows, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and several other species. I finally heard a single Golden-crowned Kinglet, but never did see it; [the virtual absence of that species] was a bit of a surprise. After a lunch break we went to Thornrose Cemetery, but hardly saw anything there. At nearby Gypsy Hill Park we saw the expected large numbers of Canada Geese and Mallards, plus assorted semi-domesticated waterfowl. At the small pond there I spotted one of the biggest finds of the day: a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! Eventually it came close enough for me to get a good photo.

That concluded our regular count activities, but I still had to get back to Bell's Lane again, hoping to spot either a Northern Harrier or a Short-eared Owl at dusk. I arrived at about 4:30, just before sunset, and saw a large flock of Canada Geese that had not been there in the morning. The ponds were still frozen, however, so no waterfowl were present there. After 15 or so minutes I spotted the Northern Harrier that has been active there for the past month or so. That was a big relief! I met a guy from Farmville named Julian who was looking for the Short-eared Owls, so I led him to the place, where Allen Larner and Gabriel Mapel were standing vigil. I was about ready to give up, but just then Julian spotted the owls. I tried my best to get photos, but because of the dim light, they were all blurry. Including those two late-afternoon raptors, I counted 36 species altogether. It was not a terribly impressive number, but overall the results were satisfactory.

Montage 17 Dec 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel (M), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (M), Red-tailed Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker (M), Northern Cardinal (M), American Robin, Northern Harrier (F/J), Mallard (M). (December 17) Other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

Augusta Bird Club Christmas Bird Count
Staunton, Virginia, US
Andrew Clem
(Based on six separate reports I submitted to eBird (the last of which was for Gypsy Hill Park), and then combined into a single spreadsheet.)

The upside of the unstable weather conditions was that we had a nice view of a rainbow in the morning:

DeJarnette Center, rainbow

Rainbow over the DeJarnette Center, from the entrance road to the Frontier Culture Museum, on the east side of Staunton. That was one of the six locations in Staunton we covered for the CBC that day. Click on the image to see it larger-sized. (December 17)

Other bird sightings

Other than the Short-eared Owls, there haven't been any spectacular bird sightings in this area this month. I was a bit disappointed that three birds that I had seen along Bell's Lane in the previous week were not there for the Christmas Bird Count on Saturday: Great Blue Heron (Dec. 5), Eastern Phoebe (Dec. 5), and Hooded Merganser (Dec. 8). Phoebes are rarely seen in this area during winter months.

Montage 9 Dec 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier (F/J), Red-tailed Hawk, American Robin, Red-bellied Woodpecker (M), Hooded Merganser (M), Hairy Woodpecker (M), Eastern Phoebe. (December 5, 8, and 9)

[NOTE: I had scheduled a field trip to Lake Moomaw for Saturday, December 10, but had to cancel it because of freezing temperatures. We hope to try again on January 7. Also, on Monday, December 12 the Augusta Bird Club had a very successful dinner to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its founding in 1966. I will post several photos from that event on the club's website soon, and will have a separate blog post about my musical performance that evening. smile]

December 4, 2016 [LINK / comment]

American Wigeon in Waynesboro

Thanks to a tip from fellow Augusta Bird Club member Stan Heatwole, on Thursday I located an American Wigeon on the pond behind the Target shopping center on the south edge of Waynesboro. It was the first one I've seen this season, and even though it was in the shade I was able to get a decent photograph of it. I took a better photo of that species in the same place a year or two earlier. There were about 20 Canada Geese there as well, plus a few Mallards, and a male House Finch in a spruce tree very close to my car.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon, in Waynesboro, December 1.

Around 2:30 this afternoon, I made a quick visit to Bell's Lane, even though it was very chilly and the skies were overcast. I noticed on the chalkboard at the kiosk that a Fox Sparrow had been sighted there, which was exciting news. (I later learned it was seen by Penny Warren.) I looked in vain for it, but nevertheless had some success in photographing a Brown Creeper and several White-crowned Sparrows. I also saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the distance. No sign of the Northern Harrier, unfortunately, but I later saw an e-mail from Allen Larner indicating that not only was the Harrier present later in the afternoon, but two Short-eared Owls as well!

After I returned home I went out back to fill the bird feeder, and heard a Northern Flicker call from a tree top. I was delighted when it flew down to feed on berries in the vines, and managed to get some nice closeup photos. That photo and a few others taken this month can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.


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This blog features commentary and musings on a diverse but well-defined set of topics, from a critical-minded conservative point of view, featuring a veritable library of original graphics and statistical information. It is distinguished in many ways from the rest of the "blogosphere." My blog entries cover a rigidly defined set of topics, with varying degrees of intensity according to how much is going on in each area, and how much time I have. Being somewhat of a "do-it-yourselfer," I chose a "home-made" approach rather than conforming to the common blogging systems such as Blogger or WordPress. The blog entries and archives are arranged in a sort of "proprietary" scheme that I have gradually developed over time. Finally, being an old-fashioned, soft-spoken kind of guy, I avoid attention-grabbing sensationalism and strident rhetoric, and strive instead to maintain a reasonable, dignified, respectful tone.

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