August 27, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Common Gallinule at Willow Lake
Common Gallinules are misnamed for two reasons: First, they used to be called Common Moorhens, creating confusion among birders. Second, they are not common at all; see note at bottom.* So when I saw an e-mail alert about one of them at Willow Lake, south of Raphine in Rockbridge County, I just had to go see for myself. When I arrived at about 9:30 this morning, two other local birders, Tom Pendleton and Elaine Carwile, were already there, and they told me the bird had just retreated to the reeds, out of sight. So, I prepared myself for a long vigil, much like when I saw the Sora at Nazarene Wetlands last month.** In the mean time, I watched and photographed other birds around the lake, some of which are in the photo montage below. Eventually, after Elaine had to leave, Tom spotted the target bird, and we both started snapping photos like crazy. Hallelujah!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Meadownlark (juv.), Eastern Phoebe, Osprey, Green Heron (juv.)*, Common Gallinule, and Eastern Kingbird.
* Image reversed left to right for aesthetic reasons.
Common Gallinule, at Willow Lake today. Roll mouse over the image to see it swimming.
After Tom left, I waited a while longer, and saw the Common Gallinule fly above the lily pads briefly, and later it started swimming toward my side of the lake. I took a couple quick photos and carefully crouched and approached the shore behind some tall weeds in hopes of getting a better shot, but it must have seen me and fled. Oh well.
So then I went over to nearby McCormick's Farm, where I saw two juvenile Green Herons on the back pond, and was able to get very good photos of them. Not a bad day, bird-wise! So, of course, I updated the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. It shows a flash-assisted photo of a young male Ruby-throated Hummingbird that I took four days ago. We usually start getting hummingbirds in "our" back yard around mid-August, but hardly ever before that.
* The last (and first-ever, I believe) time I saw a Common Gallinule was at Indiana Dunes, in July 2015. I wrote on February 6, "All's that's left is a report on my birding adventures in South Dakota last summer." I'd better get that done pretty soon...
** Apparently no one picked up on the "literary" allusion in the blog post title "Soras breeding in the Valley!" It comes from a parody song in the Pogo comic strip by Walt Kelly, which was big in the 1950s and 1960s. (My Dad loved it.) Sung to the tune of "Deck the Halls," the second line goes "Nora's freezing on the trolley," instead of "Tis the season to be jolly." See Cecil's straightdope.com.
August 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Two more "open mic" gigs
I made another appearance with the Staunton Music Guild at Queen City Brewery on Wednesday night. It was a smallish crowd at first and gradually grew to 25 or so, almost as many people as last week. It was a casual, laid-back atmosphere. I played:
- "Wicked Game" -- Chris Isaac
- "Crazy Love" -- Poco
- "It'll Shine When It Shines" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Rhythm of Love" -- Plain White T's
For "Wicked Game," I use the harmonica to play the lead guitar parts. I can sing the low notes on that one pretty well, but it's a challenge for me to reach the high falsetto notes, since I have a limited vocal range. This time I pulled it off well enough. The next two songs went pretty well. On the last one ("Rhythm of Love"), I missed a few notes on the intro riff, to my annoyance. (Jacqueline noticed.) Since there were fewer performers, each of us got to do an extra song, and I hadn't prepared well enough for this one. Practice, practice, practice... I mentioned to the audience that Jacqueline and I had seen the Plain White T's do that song in a post-game concert at Nationals Park two years ago.
One week earlier (August 17) they had the biggest crowd that I had yet seen at Queen City's Open Mic night. Master of Ceremonies Fritz Horisk opened with a hilarious song by blues guitarist Keb Mo, "You Can Love Yourself." Jacqueline was once again present to show support. I played:
- "You Made It Right" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Interstate Love Song" -- Stone Temple Pilots
- "Never Goin' Back" -- Fleetwood Mac
I used the harmonica on the first two songs, and my rendition of "Interstate Love Song" with it truly rocks, if I may say so. I try to play at least one relatively recent song (in this case "only" 22 years old) at each appearance to offset my heavy concentration in 1970s-era acoustic/country rock. I took a risk playing "Never Goin' Back," which involves some tricky guitar picking techniques, but it turned out OK. I talked about the Fleetwood Mac concert that that Jacqueline and I had seen last year, paying tribute to Lindsey Buckingham's guitar virtuosity. The audience applauded enthusiastically for all three of my songs, as they did for the several performers after me. Top-notch entertainment, and I was proud to be part of it. It seemed to me that the audience was especially attentive to the music that night, which is not always the case.
August 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Historic night for Nationals in D.C.
As the series against Colorado began this evening, Jayson Werth got things started off right with a solo homer in the first inning tonight, his second in two nights and his sixth of the month! But the Rockies came right back with a run in the top of the second, and likewise replied in kind after the Nats scored a run in the third inning. The Nats took the lead for good in the fourth inning, but it was on a bases loaded ground-into-double-play, hence no RBI for Jose Lobaton. Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer in the fifth, and the Nats tacked on four insurance runs in the seventh inning, two of which came on a Bryce Harper triple -- his first of the year! In the top of the ninth, Shawn Kelley gave up a three-run homer to Nick Hundley, and Mark Melancon had to finish the game, just in case. Final score: Nats 8, Rockies 5. It was the 100th career victory for Gio Gonzalez, who pitched for six innings. Daniel Murphy also had a historic milestone, getting the 500th RBI of his career. See MLB.com. It's worth noting that Trea Turner's hitting ability and fast base-running led to three errors committed by the Rockies. He is proving to be an invaluable asset to the Nationals as the 2016 season heads into the final stretch.
Before the game, former Washington Senator Frank Howard was honored by having his name added to the "Ring of Fame" that adorns the facing of the second deck in Nationals Park. About time! A statue of him swinging a bat already adorns the main plaza beyond left field in Nationals Park. It was fun watching him be interviewed by Phil Wood, who does radio commentary on FM 106.7 and sometimes TV commentary on MASN. Howard autographed a book for me at the SABR convention in Washington several years ago, and I can attest that he is a friendly guy who loves baseball and loves Washington.
The Nats expected to gain a game on the Marlins in the NL East tonight, but the relief pitchers for the Padres gave up five runs in the final three innings, and the home team in Miami won the game.
Nats acquire Rzepczynski
Hoping to strengthen their wobbly and worn-out bullpen, the Nationals traded minor league infielder Max Schrock (and cash) to the Oakland A's for left-handed pitcher Marc Rzepczynski. (Transactions after August 1 are subject to waiver clearing, of course.) Rzepczynski had a 3.00 ERA with Oakland this season, with 37 strikeouts in 36 innings. He excels at inducing ground-ball outs. See MLB.com. In tonight's game against the Rockies, Rzepczynski struck out the one batter he faced.
Nats' four-game series sweeps
The possibility that the Nationals might get swept by the Orioles last night had me so worried that I went through my records to see how many times the Nats have swept (or have been swept in) four-game series over the years. Here is what I came up with:
||Win / Loss
||Home / Away
|Sept. 7-10, 2006
|Apr. 5-8, 2007
|July 3-6, 2008
|Aug. 8-11, 2008
|July 16-19, 2009
|Oct. 1-4, 2009
|Sept. 12-15, 2011
|Sept. 20-22, 2011*
|Aug. 6-9, 2012
|Sept. 3-6, 2012
|Sept. 9-12, 2013
|Aug. 18-21, 2014
|Sept. 18-21, 2014
|Aug. 13-16, 2015
|Sept. 3-6, 2015
|Apr. 7-11, 2016
|May 5-8, 2016
* : Includes double-header.
|10 W, 7 L
||6 H, 11 A
Of the six home series sweeps, the Nats won four and lost two. Of the 11 away series sweeps, the Nats won six and lost five. The Nats have been involved in three series sweeps with both the Braves (winning each time) and the Cubs (winning just once).
August 25, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Orioles fail to sweep the Nationals
Credit Max Scherzer with (almost) single-handedly rescuing the Washington Nationals from what would have been a humiliating four-game sweep at the hands of their neighbors to the north in Baltimore. Most of the game tonight was a tense pitchers' duel, with a solo home run by Jayson Werth in the fourth inning being the only score. The Os' Ubaldo Jimenez gave up only four other hits over six full innings, and no walks -- quite a good performance for someone entering the game with a 5-10 record! But in the bottom of the eighth inning, Trea Turner started a rally with a single, and Bryce Harper hit a two-run double to make it a 4-0 game. Even though it wasn't a save situation, Mark Melancon pitched in the ninth inning. Dusty Baker wasn't taking any chances. It started on a jarring note, however, as Hyun Soo Kim hit a lead-off double to center field. But the next three Orioles batters failed to reach base, and the game ended on a note of immense relief for the anxiety-ridden Nats fans. Whew! [Scherzer struck out ten batters over eight innings, allowing only two hits and no walks -- simply amazing. So, now his record is 14-7.]
On Tuesday rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez was overwhelmed by the Orioles' slugging power, in sharp contrast to the game he pitched in Atlanta last Friday. This time he only lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up six runs, of which four were earned. At least he showed a good measure of composure under high stress. The only bright spot for the Nationals was that rookie Trea Turner went 4 for 4 at the plate. Final score: Orioles 8, Nats 1.
On Wednesday, as the series switched back to Washington, the usually reliable Tanner Roark had control problems from the get-go, hitting a couple batters and giving up four runs in the first inning. He gradually settled down, but with a pitch count of over 110, he couldn't stay in past the fifth inning -- tired bullpen or not. The Nats narrowed the gap to 5-3, and had perfect scoring opportunities in both the sixth and seventh innings, but their bats turned cold at just the wrong moment. In the eighth inning, Blake Treinen took the mound for the Nats, and a disaster quickly unfolded. Before you knew it, the Orioles tacked on five more runs, making it a seemingly hopeless 10-3 game. No Nats reached base in the bottom of that inning, and the outlook couldn't have been bleaker. But somehow they got their mojo back and started getting hits in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases for Daniel Murphy. BOOM! His very first career grand slam made it a 10-7 game, with just one out. Then Bryce Harper singled, and Anthony Rendon doubled to make it a 10-8 game. Wilson Ramos reached base on a weird infield fielder's choice play, and Rendon made it to third. Then up to the plate came Ryan Zimmerman, "Mr. Walkoff" himself, and those Nats fans who had not already left the ballpark were filled with breathless expectation of a comeback win of truly historic proportions. But Ryan swung at the first pitch, a hard ground ball to the second baseman, and the game suddenly ended on a double play. That was a big letdown, but the big comeback effort meant a lot for team morale, and probably gave them a boost in today's game. Also noteworthy is that Trea Turner got hits in his first four at bats, making 8 consecutive at bats with a hit, tying a franchise record. He struck out the last time up, in the ninth inning.
By salvaging one game out of that series, the Nationals kept a big lead in the division over the Miami Marlins, who lost to the visiting Kansas City Royals tonight. The lead grew from 7 to 8 games. If the Orioles had completed the sweep, there would have been a three-way tie for the AL East lead; instead they are one game behind the Red Sox and Blue Jays. On the west coast, meanwhile, the Dodgers built a three game lead over the Giants, but the Giants have a 4-0 lead over the Dodgers in the ninth inning right now.
On Friday, the Nationals welcome the Colorado Rockies to town for a normal three-game series. Then they head up to Philadelphia next week. (Me too!)
Ballpark news & olds
The Chicago White Sox announced today a deal that will result in the name of their stadium being changed from "U.S. Cellular Field" to "Guaranteed Rate Field" as of November 1. (Why not January 1?) The naming-rights agreement will last 13 years. See chicagotribune.com. Never having heard of that company, I am on the skeptical side. Frankly, I was surprised that the "U.S. Cellular Field" name lasted as long as it did. Presumably the World Series will not be played there this year...
Mike Zurawski informs me that L.A. Memorial Coliseum -- the once-again (though temporary) home of the Los Angeles Rams -- will undergo a $270-million renovation, to be financed by the University of Southern California, a private institution. They will build a multi-level tower of luxury boxes, and the seating capacity at USC Trojan games will be reduced from 93,600 to 77,500. latimes.com.
On Facebook recently, I came across a news story about a push in the 1960s by Boston leaders to build a 53,000-seat multi-sport stadium near South Station, replacing Fenway Park. At the time of the AFL-NFL merger, the NFL was requiring that all franchises have stadiums with at least 50,000 seats, and the Boston Patriots' home in Fenway Park just could not cut it. A replacement for the old Boston Garden was also part of the master plan, which fortunately did not come to pass. Can you imagine the Red Sox playing in a boring cookie-cutter stadium? The failure of that initiative is what led to the [town] of Foxborough [a.k.a. "Foxboro"] jumping in with a stadium offer of their own, and upon moving in 1971, the Boston Patriots became the New England Patriots. See boston.com.
August 23, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Birding along the Chesapeake Bay
As noted in a separate travel-oriented blog post, one of the reasons for the day trip which Jacqueline and I took to the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday was to look for birds that frequent marshy areas along the coast. In particular, I was hoping to be there for the release of a Bald Eagle that had been rehabilitated by the Wildlife Center of Virginia, located south of Waynesboro. The release took place as scheduled at Belle Isle State Park in Lancaster County (see wildlifecenter.org), but between traffic delays (near Richmond) and various "touristy" diversions, we just couldn't get there on time. I was sad to miss the opportunity to witness that, but we had a nice consolation prize. While approaching one Dameron Marsh, one of the natural havens along the Chesapeake Bay, we encountered a Bald Eagle in a tree right in front of us! I was spellbound, and quite happy to get such a nice, well-lit photo.
Among the other birding "highlights" that day, one was rather frustrating: I saw numerous Greater Black-backed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants perched along the Robert O. Norris Bridge, which crosses the Rappahannock River. It would have been an excellent photo op, but there was no place to park on the bridge. At the first of the two nature preserves we visited, Hughlet Point, I heard a distinct chipping call in the trees, like an Indigo Bunting. Then I saw something moving and got a clear view of a male Blue Grosbeak, the first one I've seen this year. From the observation deck, I saw several Ospreys, gulls, and what I thought were small sandpipers. My field guide says there are no sandpipers that breed along the mid-Atlantic coast, however, so I'm guessing they were either Wilson's Plovers or Piping Plovers. I'll have to check to see which one is more likely. At Dameron Marsh I saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird just a few feet away, as well as a probable Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Unfortunately, I didn't see any of the specialized coastal herons (Tricolored Herons or Little Blue Herons) I had hoped for, so I'll have to devote more time and preparation to find those birds the next time I'm in that region.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Osprey, Laughing Gull, Bald Eagle, American Goldfinch, Double-crested Cormorants and possible Royal Terns, and in the center, Great Blue Herons and a Killdeer. Roll your mouse over the image to see an enlarged view of the Bald Eagle.
More photos can be found on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. Here is a list of the more signficant birds I saw that day, in approximate chronological order:
- Great Blue Herons
- Double-crested Cormorants
- Herring and/or Ring-billed Gulls
- Greater Black-backed Gulls
- Laughing Gulls
- Blue Grosbeak
- Wilson's Plovers ?
- Royal Terns ?
- Bald Eagle
- Yellow-billed Cuckoo
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird
- American Goldfinch
August 23, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Day trip to eastern Virginia / Chesapeake Bay
On Saturday, Jacqueline and I went for a day trip to the eastern part of Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay, one of those destinations we had planning for a long time. It was a combination of interest in the history of the Old Dominion, wanting to see some different scenery, enjoying fresh seafood, and (in my case) watching birds in the wetlands along the Chesapeake Bay; see the separate wild birds blog post. We accomplished most of our objectives.
We began the morning by heading east on I-64 past Charlottesville, and taking the I-295 bypass around the north side of Richmond. But on the east side of the city, where I-295 rejoins I-64, we encountered a traffic delay of 15-20 minutes, which was quite annoying. So, at the first opportunity, we got off the congested I-64 and took the back roads through New Kent County. We stopped in the town of New Kent to see the historic court house and other features. A local gentleman greeted us, and explained the history of the "ordinary" across the street, a kind of tavern in which there is a set price for all meals. msummerfieldimages.com
New Kent monument to fallen soldiers from the Civil War, and the historic "ordinary" across the street. "Lest we forget: Pamunkey Rifles, Barhamsville Grays, New Kent Cavalry."
We continued east, passing the two Indian communities in that part of the state: Pamunkey and Mattaponi. Soon we were passing over a high bridge into the town of West Point, and then crossing another high bridge. I learned that that town is a small port for commercial transport vessels, and a terminal point for a railroad line. After a few miles I decided to turn right, toward the southeast, and we arrived in the town of Gloucester about 15 minutes later. That was a very good decision, as the town was full of charming shops, restaurants, and historical sites. I was busy with my camera. Of particular note is Court Circle, around which the main street traverses, with several ancient brick buildings and a Civil War monument in the middle. After a very satisfying lunch at Olivia's Restaurant, we headed northeast, crossing the Rappahannock River along the very high and wide (two miles) Robert O. Norris bridge, named for a legislator who eventually became President pro tempore of the state Senate. (wikipedia.org)
The Robert O. Norris Bridge, over the Rappahannock River.
I did not realize it at the time, but there are apparently serious concerns over the structural integrity of that bridge, which was built in 1957; see nbc12.com. Anyway, that took us from Lancaster County into Middlesex County, into the part of the state known as the "Northern Neck," between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. We stopped for ice cream in the town of Kilmarnock, and I briefly explored a nature trail along a lily-covered pond on the north side of town.
After a few more miles, we left the main highway (Route 200) and ventured east toward the Chesapeake Bay shoreline, arriving at Hughlet Point Natural Area after a while. I went exploring while Jacqueline rested, and she had a good reason for not joining me: Biting flies were everywhere! A boardwalk trail led through a dense wooded area, which opened up as the soil turned to sand. I could hear the waves, and rushed over to the beach, the first time I have been to the sea [or in this case, an appendage thereof] in nearly two years. That was nice. Then I trotted southward along a trail parallel to the beach, arriving at one of the observation platforms after five minutes or so. I was swatting away flies the whole miserable time along the trail. I was using insect repellant, but obviously not enough.
Next we headed north to the Dameron Marsh Natural Area, about ten miles to the north. It was a little trickier to get to, with a gravel road as the only access. The observation platform there was closer to the parking area than at Hughlet Point, so that saved some time, but the biting flies were just as bad. With lush marsh grasses everywhere around, this was a somewhat more photogenic spot than Hughlet Point. In the distance, I could see the port town of Reedville. But it was getting late in the afternoon, so I had to leave in a hurry.
Dameron Marsh Natural Area, an Osprey, and the Chesapeake Bay beyond.
We headed north again, and stopped for gas in the town of Wicomico Church, where I took some photos. The church itself (as opposed to the surrounding town) is an Episcopal Church, which is typical in that very Anglo-Saxon, very established part of the Old Dominion. After crossing the Wicomico River, we came upon U.S. Route 360, which terminates just a few miles east of that corner in the town of Reedville. That is where the ferry boat to the island community of Tangier docks. (Maybe we'll go there next time.) Instead, we turned left, toward the west.
We were looking for steamed crabs to take home with us, and finally spotted a van with "Mr. Crab" in big letters. BINGO! The vendor (an African-American) was very nice, giving us a special price since all the big-sized crabs had been sold, and added a few extras to the dozen that we paid for. We had a great meal the next day! When I lived in Northern Virginia back in the 1980s, we used to eat at Ernie's Crab House in Arlington, and it has been years since I have eaten whole steamed crabs like that. Yum!!! Anyway, we passed through the town of Heathsville and then Callao, where I took a bunch of photos of various stores. Why? Because Callao is the name of the port district of Lima, Peru, where Jacqueline grew up.
From there we passed through the town of Warsaw (!), after which the highway turned toward the southwest, re-crossing the Rappahannock River into the town of Tappahannock. There is a nature preserve on the north side of the river, which might be worth visiting again some time. Eventually we reached the I-295 bypass outside of Richmond, and from there retraced our path back to Staunton. Quite exhausted, we had a good night's sleep. After looking at the state map the next day, I determined that we visited nine (9) counties for the very first time:
- King and Queen
- King William
It was in Northumberland County that we saw most of the birds that day. Other photos from our trip can be seen on the new Chronological photo gallery (2016) page, which will eventually encompass all years back to 2003. (It is part of a general website reorganization project of mine.) That page also includes several more photos that I took at Swannanoa Palace one week earlier.
August 22, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Strasburg on 15-day disabled list
It was pretty clear from Stephen Strasburg's recent poor performances that he has had some kind of physical ailment, and indeed today we learned that he has a sore elbow and will be on the disabled list for 15 days. Strasburg says it's not serious, and this is probably just a precautionary move to make sure that he is in top condition to make a big playoff run six weeks from now. See MLB.com. So why didn't he ask to be taken out of the rotation sooner?
After amassing a 15-1 record on August 1, with a 14-1 stomping of the Diamondbacks, Strasburg lost his former dominance and was the victim of multi-run attacks. In Washington on August 6 he lasted only 4 2/3 innings in a 7-1 loss to the Giants, on August 12 he went 5 1/3 innings in an 8-5 loss to the Braves, and in Denver on August 17, he only lasted 1 2/3 innings, giving up 9 runs. (Final score 12-10.) So now his record is 15-4, and his chances of winning the Cy Young award are going down the tubes. After the spectacular first three and a half months he had this year, it's a real shame.
To replace Strasburg, A.J. Cole was called up from the minors and performed extremely well on the mound in Baltimore this evening. He struck out three of the first four batters he faced, and showed very good command during seven full innings, but two home runs were all it took for the Orioles to win tonight, 4-3. Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa hit solo homers, but the Nats went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Wilson Ramos, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman all share the blame for those missed opportunities.
I checked my Nationals Media Guide and learned that Cole was the starting pitcher in the memorable April 28, 2015 game in Atlanta when the Nats overcame a 9-1 deficit after two innings to beat the Braves, 13-12. It's not something that a pitcher wants to be remembered for. That game was a lot like the Nats-Rockies game last week, in fact! Cole pitched as a reliever twice in May last year, and got one save, evidently showing improvement.
Nationals almost sweep the Braves
In the two weekend games, the Nationals built comfortable leads over the Braves, but in both cases the home team made spirited comebacks. The Nats bullpen was already fatigued after the short outings by Scherzer, Gonzalez, and Strasburg last week, and not having a travel day between the series in Denver and Atlanta only made things worse. On a bright note, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run in his first at bat since returning from the disabled list, and got two more hits after that. Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner also homered, and the extra runs came in handy as the Braves closed the gap in the late innings. Final score: 11-9.
It was a similar story on Sunday, as Gio Gonzalez had another fitfull, off-and-on day pitching. The Nats scored four runs in the third inning, and it would have been [even] more if Braves' center fielder Jace Peterson [had not] made an amazing, suicidal catch of a would-be extra-base RBI by Chris Heisey, smashing into the wall and holding on to the ball for the third out. He was dazed and crouched over for more than a minute, and I thought sure he would come out of the game, but he shook it off and kept playing. That highlight-reel catch briefly changed the game's momentum, as the Braves came back with three runs in the bottom of the third. In the sixth inning, Chris Heisey hit a two run homer, but again the Braves responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning. In the bottom of the eighth, with the score 6-4, Matt Kemp hit a leadoff homer, and the Braves quickly loaded the bases with nobody out. Yusmeiro Petit committed a fielding error, in addition to giving up another hit and a walk. [There were five errors by the Nats in that game, the most of any of their games this year.] Blake Treinen then came in to pitch and induced a double play but the Braves scored the tying run, meaning that he was charged with a blown save. So it went into extra innings, and with two outs in the bottom of the tenth, none other than Jace Peterson hit a walk-off home run to end it. Braves 7, Nats 6. It was frustrating not to complete the four-game sweep, but you can't win 'em all...
Zimmerman is clean!
Seriously, was there ever any doubt? An investigation by MLB officials found that neither Ryan Zimmerman nor Ryan Howard (of the Phillies) have used performance-enhancing drugs. Those reports by Al Jazeera (see Jan. 11) were without any foundation whatsoever. It was a nice coincidence that the news came out just as Ryan returned to the Nats' lineup after a couple weeks on the DL. See the Washington Post.
Another Harper moon shot
In discussing the series in Denver last week, I should have mentioned that Bryce Harper hit another tape-measure home run. (Bruce Orser wanted to make sure I knew about that!) It was during that Wednesday afternoon game where they Nats were struggling to come back from an early 9-2 deficit. According to hittrackeronline.com, it would have gone 481 feet, and that's about what I would say. The ball landed a few feet to the right of the left-most entry portal in the second deck of Coors Field, just to the right of the evergreen tree "park" beyond center field. The ball flew about 450 feet in the air, and landed about 38 feet above the ground. The high-elevation no doubt added at least 20 feet to the distance the ball would have flown under normal conditions. It went about  feet farther than the blast Harper hit to the upper-deck in right field in Nationals Park last month.
August 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nationals bounce back in Atlanta
After the brutal setback in the Mile High City (see below), the Nationals had to catch a flight to Atlanta and play on Thursday without a day of rest. (Who made that schedule?) Once again, rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez pitched like a true champion, getting his second career win as the Nats prevailed easily, 8-2. It was actually close for most of the game, 3-2 until the eighth inning, when the Braves bullpen melted down, giving up runs in every conceivable way. The Braves actually outhit the Nats in that game, the opposite of what happened in Denver the day before. Jayson Werth got two hits, extending his streak of consecutive games reaching base safely to 46, tying the franchise record set by Rusty Staub. That was a huge accomplishment for which Werth should be proud; see MLB.com.
Last night (Friday), the Nats took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Matt Kemp (recently acquired in a trade with San Diego) dropped a long fly ball to the left field corner, and both base runners scored. Tanner Roark had another solid outing, giving up 3 runs in 7 innings, but then the bullpen buckled, and the Nats were lucky to escape with a 7-6 win. (Deja vu; see below.)* The Braves scored 3 runs in the eighth inning in part due to uncharacteristically sloppy errors by shortstop Danny Espinosa and third baseman Anthony Rendon. The two heros of the game were Ben Revere, who robbed Freddy Freeman of a home run with a spectacular leaping catch in the middle innings, and Clint Robinson, who hit a clutch RBI single with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. That run decided the game. On a melancholy note, Jayson Werth failed to reach base for the first time in 46 games.
So, the Nationals are now 9.5 games ahead of the Marlins in the NL East, a lead almost as big as that of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central (12 games). The NL West has become a virtual tie between the L.A. Dodgers and S.F. Giants over the last few days, as has the AL East, where Toronto Blue Jays have taken a half-game lead over the Boston Red Sox; the Baltimore Orioles are close behind. The Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians continue to hold wide leads in the AL West and AL Central, respectively.
Nats endure Rocky Mountain low
As MASN's F.P. Santangelo wisely said a few days ago, it's not the team's cumulative win-loss record that defines how good they are, but rather their record for the last few weeks. It happens that the Colorado Rockies are one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star break, and they showed it during the three-game series in Denver against the Nationals. On Monday, August 15, Max Scherzer had another off day, and left the mound after just four innings. But home runs by Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos proved to be the deciding factor in the Nats' 5-4 victory.
The start of the Tuesday game was delayed by two hours because of rain, which was unusual, because central Colorado has been very dry this summer. The resurgent Anthony Rendon went 3 for 4, but his team mates didn't do as well at the plate. Starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez lasted only three innings, but it was the Nats' bullpen that let the team down, as the Rockies ended up winning, 6-2.
On Wednesday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg had the very worst outing of his entire career, giving up seven runs in the first inning, and two more in the second, which he didn't even finish. To their credit, the Nationals fought back bravely against all odds, but the Rockies scored three runs off Oliver Perez in the fifth inning, which ended up deciding the outcome. The Nats scored runs in seven of the nine innings, which might be some kind of team record, but no more than two in any one inning. Final score: Rockies 12, Nationals 10. Amazingly, the Nats got more hits (13) than the Rockies did (11).
I hate to say it, but Oliver Perez is not getting the job done as a relief pitcher.
Nationals outslug Braves in D.C.
In the final three games of their home stand in D.C., the Nationals put together some fine, consistent hitting, sparked by Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Daniel Murphy. But in the opening game of the series, Friday, August 12, Stephen Strasburg once again showed he couldn't take the intense heat and humidity of a day game in Washington. You'd think someone who grew up so close to Mexico (San Diego) would be used to it, but the air is drier out west. Strasburg gave up 6 runs over 5 1/3 innings, and the Nats lost, 8-5.
The next day, rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez was under heavy pressure to make up for that lapse, and he delivered like a true champion. *He gave up only one run in 7 innings, but then the bullpen buckled, and the Nats were lucky to escape with a 7-6 win. In the Sunday finale, the outcome was never in doubt, as Tanner Roark pitched seven strong innings, and the Nats won, 9-1.
Nats release Papelbon
I was surprised that Jonathan Papelbon (a.k.a. the "D.C. Strangler") managed to play a constructive role in the Nationals' bullpen for as long as he did this year. Forgive and forget, I suppose. But as the summer wore on, his effectiveness steadily declined, with so many blown saves that confidence in the bullpen as a whole was on the verge of collapse. After Mike Rizzo made the deal to acquire Mark Melancon in late July, there was no role left for Papelbon to play, and last week he requested and was granted an unconditional release by the team. In his place, Reynaldo Lopez was called up from the minors. (MLB.com) Where might he end up: with the Boston Red Sox again? Many things are possible.
Injury sidelines Stanton
The Miami Marlins' star slugger Giancarlo Stanton suffered a serious injury to his groin while sliding into second base last week. As a result, he will be out for at least a few weeks, possibly for the rest of the season. That means that Ichiro Suzuki will get lots more playing time in right field. There were rumors that the Marlins might acquire the services of recently retired Alex Rodriguez as an emergency replacement, but nothing came of it. See MLB.com. It probably takes some of the pressure off the Washington Nationals, but it will also take away the thrill of watching a possible future Hall of Famer for thousands of fans in Miami and elsewhere. I hope he gets well soon.
Rams return to L.A.
Football season is just a few weeks away, and they have already begun broadcasting preseason games on TV, which I think is stupid. The Los Angeles Rams played their first game at L.A. Memorial Coliseum since returning to Los Angeles, and Mike Zurawski sent me a batch of links regarding the upgrading of that venerable old facility. (The Rams pulled off a crowd-pleasing come-from-behind win over the Cowboys, for whatever that's worth.) A total of 89,140 were in attendance, setting an NFL preseason record. (See NFL.com.) The Rams constructed 20 temporary luxury boxes blocking the peristyle arches, the architectural feature that best defines the Coliseum. I think that was a dumb move. An image from those new luxury seating areas can be seen on the ABC TV affiliate in L.A. You can also see a huge gallery of photos from the game at dailynews.com.
So, I got to work revising the diagrams, and of course it has taken longer than expected. Stay tuned!
August 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Mississippi Kite in Staunton
Sometimes I drive for 30 miles or more in search of some rare bird that somebody spotted, and sometimes (such as when I saw a Western Tanager in March 2004), a rare bird pays a visit right here in our back yard. While I was reading the newspaper this morning, Jacqueline was watering our plants outside and asked me for the binoculars. She said she saw some strange-looking big bird in the tree tops, so I figured I ought to take a look. Indeed, it was not a hawk but a different kind of raptor. The whitish head and mascara-like dark-shadowed eyes left little doubt that it was a Mississippi Kite! It flew away briefly, but fortunately then returned to a tree top branch, enabling me to get a better look. The morning light was perfect for a photo:
Mississippi Kite (juvenile), in the north part of Staunton, August 19.
The mottled rufous feathers in the breast indicate that it was not an adult. I thought perhaps it might be a second-year ("subadult") bird, but others who have seen the photo say that it is a juvenile. The last time I saw a Mississippi Kite was two years ago, on July 3, 2014 in Salina, Kansas. I was with my Dad at St. John's Military School, of which he was an alumnus. Actually, there were two such birds: a male circling above, and a female brooding in her nest up in a big tree. I also saw one near Dodge City the day before. [Mississippi Kites are most prevalent in the south-central plains, and their breeding range extends east from Texas across the lower Mississippi Delta through Georgia and South Carolina, with scattered populations elsewhere. After breeding season ends, the juveniles tend to disperse into interior regions, much like Great Egrets and White Ibises.]
Other bird news
Yesterday, Jacqueline and I drove up to Bridgewater, but I couldn't find the White Ibis which I had seen last week, and which was reported to be lingering in that area for a few more days. I did see an immature Bald Eagle fly directly overhead, however. At Leonard's Pond there were a dozen or so Killdeers plus a solitary Solitary Sandpiper.
On August 14, Jacqueline and I went hiking in the Shenandoah National Park, along the Appalachian Trail from Blackrock Gap to Blackrock, which is a pile of boulders with some great views toward the north and west. There weren't many birds that (very hot) day, but we did see a couple Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Cedar Waxwing, Red-eyed Vireo, and a couple Eastern Towhee. (See the montage on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. I'll make a separate blog post with photos of mushrooms and scenery.) Around Blackrock, our destination, there were quite a few Barn Swallows swooping around.
August 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Mountain hiking on a hot day
Rather than suffer in the scorching heat afflicting the Valley lowlands, Jacqueline and I drove up to Shenandoah National Park last Sunday and went hiking in the mountains. The temperatures were probably 5-10 degrees lower, but it was still very warm in the sun. Fortunately, the Appalachian Trail was well shaded for most of the way. If I had paid closer attention to the topographical map, I would have realized that we had to climb about 700 feet from the parking area at Blackrock Gap to Blackrock itself. Well, we needed the exercise. One of the trail signs was misleading, causing us to waste a few minutes. After resting and snacking, we headed back along an old track which parallels the AT for a ways. (I made a separate blog post about the birds we saw that day.)
The trail at Blackrock, with a view of the Shenandoah Valley.
Even more mushrooms!
Last week (August 8) I added a montage of mushroom photos that I had originally taken on July 1, 2015. There's probably many more in my collection that I haven't identified yet... Anyway, Jacqueline and I saw quite a few mushrooms along the Appalachian Trail during our Sunday hike, of which the most impressive was a small, frilly purple mushroom which I identified as Ramaria Fennica. So, for the third time this month, I have updated the Mushrooms photo gallery page.
Mushroom montage, North Mountain, July 1, 2015. Roll your mouse over the image to see an enlarged view of the Ramaria Fennica. Other species yet to be identified...
Visit to Swannanoa
After hiking in the Shenandoah National Park, Jacqueline and I visited Swannanoa Palace for the first time. It is located about a half mile south of Rockfish Gap, where the hawk watch is now getting underway. The Dulaney family, which owns the historic property (as well as the Afton Inn, at Rockfish Gap), holds occasional visiting days, and August 14 was the last opportunity until early September. It was every bit as impressive inside as I had imagined, and the marble and woodwork were simply exquisite. I plan to post several more photos from the interior and exterior in the next few days...
The front side (east) of Swannanoa Palace.
Swannanoa Palace was built in 1912 or so by Major James Dooley, who had served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. But he and his wife Sally May passed away during the 1920s, and the property was bought and the adjoining land was made into Swannanoa Country Club. In 1944, A.T. Dulaney led a group which purchased Swannanoa, and in 1948 the palace was leased to Walter and Lao Russell, the founders of the University of Science and Philosophy, a kind of New Age movement before its time. See philosophy.org. Their lease expired in 1997, and since then the palace has been in a state of limbo, in desperate need of repair and renovation.
Complete blog entries for the current month:
(with links to archives of previous months)