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March 20, 2019 [LINK / comment]

"Opening Day" (Japanese-style) 2019!

The real Opening Day is still eight days away, but for fans of the Oakland A's and the Seattle Mariners, today was the day! Playing in Tokyo, Japan, the Mariners beat the A's by a score of 9-7 in a game that featured five home runs altogether. The second and final game of the series gets underway at 5:35 AM EDT, less than six hours hence...

This marks the fifth time that Major League Baseball has had official games in Japan, all of which were played in the Tokyo Dome as part of a special Opening Day event. Just as a reminder, there will be four MLB games in Monterrey, Mexico over the next two months, and two more in London, England at the end of June. See the Anomalous stadiums page.

Tokyo Dome minor update

Tokyo Dome

The Tokyo Dome diagrams have been revised slightly, most notably in the expanded rows of box seats between first (and third) base and the right (and left) field corners. That modification was a good idea, since the Tokyo Dome has an unusually large foul territory: 30,300 square feet before the seats were added. (I'll recompute the new value soon.) Besides that, a dark line indicating a vertical discontinuity has been added in the upper deck along the lateral walkway, and the right and left field corners are bent less sharply than before.

Trout and Angels make a HUGE deal

Assuming all the unconfirmed reports are true, the Los Angeles Angels and outfielder slugger Mike Trout have agreed to a contract extension, for ten additional years on top of the two years remaining on his existing contract, a total of twelve years. It adds about $360 million to the $66.5 million which he was already owed for 2019 and 2020, roughly $430 million altogether. It's the biggest player contract in sports history, and $100 million more than the Phillies recently committed to paying Bryce Harper; see the Washington Post. Harper had publically invited him to join the Phillies after Trout became a free agent, dreaming of a world-class offensive powerhouse in Philadelphia. Oops: cancel that!

In Our Nation's Capital, meanwhile, no word on whether Anthony Rendon will sign a contract extension with the Nationals. Now that Bryce Harper is gone, Rendon has suddenly become the linchpin of the Nats' entire offense.

Oakland stadium news

Mike Zurawski shared with me news about a slight change in the plans for the Oakland A's future home in the Howard Terminal area near downtown. In particular, the tapered terraced park descending from the left and right field corners toward center field will have a rounded shape, rather than a rectangular shape that was an apparent emulation of the Phildelphia Athletics' home at Shibe Park. See for a narrative and video of the changes, and a complete set of plans released by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

And in the world of football, the Oakland / Las Vegas Raiders managed to get a one-year lease extension at Oakland Coliseum, so we don't have to worry about the team becoming "homeless" for the 2019 season. See, also courtesy of Mike Zurawski.

Globe Life Park II: aerial view!

Clifford "Bucky" Nance recently posted on Facebook a video of an adventure he had flying in a World War II-era C-47 "Dakota" (which became the DC-3 in civilian life) over the Dallas-Forth Worth area. The pilot was kind enough to fly over the future home of the Texas Rangers, and Bucky was kind enough to share with me a high-resolution image, which will be of great use when I start drawing a diagram of that stadium later this year. It is supposed to be ready by April 2020, but some of us (including Bucky) wonder whether the new venue might be an unnecessary boondoggle. Be that as it may, thank you, Bucky!!!

Globe Life Park II UC aerial Mar 2019

Aerial view of construction at Globe Life Park II, courtesy of Clifford "Bucky" Nance.

March 18, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Life bird: Evening Grosbeak(s)!

After two previous attempts (December 29 and February 4) ended in frustration, on Saturday I returned to the Shank family residence in Union Springs [Rockingham County] in hopes of seeing the fabled Evening Grosbeaks for the first time. There were lots of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Goldfinches, etc., and even a Fox Sparrow, but none of the target birds. After two hours of vigil I was on the brink of despair. Just as I was about to leave, I heard an odd call in the trees and soon spotted the Evening Grosbeaks up above. YES!!! Eventually they came down to the feeder, where I got some pretty good photos. I was hoping to get a little closer, but just then someone came out of the front door and all the birds scattered. No matter, I still achieved my goal of seeing an Evening Grosbeak, and I was quite satisfied with that. "The third time's a charm!"

[Evening Grosbeaks breed in Canada and the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, all the way down into Mexico, in fact. Some of them migrate south into the northeastern U.S.A. during the winter, but seldom do they migrate as far south as the mid-Atlantic states. They used to be more common in the winter in Virginia, but have become extremely scarce in these latitudes since the 1990s. Last fall, ornithologists predicted that there would be a major southward "irruption" of Evening Grosbeaks (as well as Red-breasted Nuthatches) during the winter because of a reduced output of tree seeds in their usual range up north. There have been more reports of that species this past winter, but not as many as we were hoping. I'm lucky to have seen them at all.]

Montage 16 Mar 2019

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.

Of the five or six Evening Grosbeaks that I saw, all seemed to be females or immature males. Adult males have a bold orange, yellow, black, and white plumage, and it's too bad none of them were present. In any case, this was my first life bird since March 8, 2017, when I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite near Immokalee, Florida. That's according to my Life bird list, and I have updated that page accordingly. The Evening Grosbeak is my 504th life bird.

I'm very grateful to the Shank family for being such gracious hosts to all the visiting bird enthusiasts like me. Kevin Shank is the editor of Nature Friend magazine, a wonderful publication that the whole family can enjoy.

Birding in February: eagles!!

On February 6 I saw the Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane for the third time, but not since then. Other birders saw it occasionally later in the month. On February 9 I saw two adult Bald Eagles perched on fence posts in the same area, on the back side of the ponds. It raises the possibility that they are a mating pair with a nest nearby, but there haven't been any follow-up reports. On February 19 I saw the new Bald Eagle nest in Swoope for the first time; it is about a mile southwest of the old one, which was in a tree that had been toppled by high winds in November. Also that day, I saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the season.

On February 27 I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to McCormick's Mill, led by Jo King. It was a beautiful if somewhat chilly day, and I managed to get photos of most of the birds we saw, including an Eastern Phoebe (rare in winter months) and a Great Blue Heron. We saw two Golden-crowned Kinglets and a young Red-tailed Hawk, but they eluded my camera. Later most of us went over to Willow Lake, which was full of various ducks, as many as one hundred. Someone spotted a Bald Eagle flying overhead, but I couldn't get a good photo until it had flown some distance away. That was probably the highlight of the day.

Montage 27 Feb 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbird (M), Bald Eagle, American Robin, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Redheads (M & F), and Greater Scaups (M & F); McCormick's Mill & Willow Lake, February 27.

Birding in early March

As spring began to arrive, migratory birds began arriving as well: on March 5, I saw several Common Grackles for the first time this year. (Occasionally you will see large flocks of them in farm fields during winter months, but for most intents and purposes they are a migratory species.) Earlier this month I made a couple visits to Mill Place. The Long-tailed Duck and Hooded Mergansers had already left the pond behind Hardee's, but a few Buffleheads remained, along with the usual Canada Geese. [On March 10 I took advantage of the sudden switch from winter to spring weather and saw a male Lesser Scaup at the Hardee's pond. I also had nice, sunlit views of several birds at Mill Place and Bell's Lane. Others reported seeing Tree Swallows on Bell's Lane on March 12, but I didn't. On March 14, I saw my first Chipping Sparrow of the year on the back patio.]

Montage 10 Mar 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-winged Blackbird (M), Northern Cardinal (M), Eastern Meadowlark, Lesser Scaup (M), Buffleheads (M & F), and in center, Mallard (M); at Mill Place & Bell's Lane, March 10.

[As usual, more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.]

March 15, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Olympic-sized Olympic Stadium update

Olympic Stadium

It took yet another sustained Herculean effort stretching over nearly two weeks, but I stuck with it and finally "got 'er done." Yes, the Olympic Stadium diagrams have been revised, on a massive scale befitting the massive size of the structure itself. The tragic, misbegotten former home of the Montreal Expos (who relocated and became the Washington Nationals in 2005) still stands as a monument to wishful thinking by public officials eager to establish a legacy. The public debt needed to finance construction of "the Big Owe" was not retired until after the Expos had departed. It still hosts occasional football and soccer games, as well as monster truck shows and assorted conventions, but for most intents and purposes, it is in a state of limbo.

Aside from minor corrections and detail enhancements, here are the more notable changes since the last diagram update in June 2012, nearly seven years ago:

Profile Olympic Stadium

The profile of Olympic Stadium, before and after today's diagram revision.

The photos I have seen suggest that the rear of the roof, which covers the concourses behind the grandstand, is not directly supported but is suspended by balancing tension in the structural members. I may have to check on that to make sure. Or maybe I'll just drive up to Montreal this summer! In any case, I replaced the old profile with the new one on the Stadium profiles page, which I'll update as soon as the three remaining diagrams are completed.

Note that, for the time being at least, I opted not to render the lights which are attached to the front of the permanent roof. Too much clutter. I may do that later, and I may do a "combined" diagram, showing the football gridiron and temporary seats superimposed on the baseball playing field. Finally, I may add a 1980s diagram, without the original wide Olympic track behind home plate and the bleachers in center field. (I estimate it was about 495 feet to those bleachers from home plate!)

Spring training notes

For what it's worth, the Washington Nationals have won four games in a row, with lopsided wins against the Twins yesterday and the Mets today. Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman both homered in today's game, while Victor Robles and Juan Soto are continuing the slugging peformance that they exhibited as rookies last year. (Soto played for 116 games last year, whereas Robles has only played in 34 games total over two years.) Hot infield prospect Carter Kieboom has hit three home runs already, and may be ready to replace Brian Dozier at second base next year. Anthony Rendon, whose contract expires at the end of this year, had a slow start this spring, but went four for four at the plate today. Michael A. Taylor, who is fighting for the center field position, got hurt while making a diving catch today, but it doesn't appear to be too serious. On the mound, starting pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Stephen Strasburg have been very impressive, while Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer are only fair to middling so far. Opening Day in Our Nation's Capital is now less than two weeks away!

There is much talk about which team will end up signing closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel to a contract. I was initially opposed to the Nats making him a big offer, partly because I think Sean Doolittle is more than satisfactory in that role already. But apparently "The Doctor" says he'd welcome Kimbrel joining the Nats bullpen, so maybe it would work out OK.

The new star slugger of the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper, has yet to get a hit in five at-bats this spring, but he has reached base a few times on walks.

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski informs me that the Oakland A's are trying to jazz up their aging Coliseum with a new "Fan Stomping Ground" located in the middle level of the outfield grandstand on the right field side. Apparently it's a family-friendly place to hang out and amuse each other when the action on the field slows down. See

And speaking of Oakland Coliseum, the NFL Raiders are still not 100% certain where they will be playing football next fall. One possibility was Oracle Field (formerly called AT&T Park, home of the Giants), but the "San Francisco" (Santa Clara) 49ers vetoed that idea. The Raiders are being sued by the city of Oakland because of their plans to relocate to Las Vegas, once the new stadium is ready in 2020 or 2021. Awk-ward!

Terry Wallace sent me a photo of Forbes Field with temporary bleachers for the 1925 World Series; he seems eager for those diagrams to be updated, and I can't blame him!

And finally, Angel Amezquita sent me some images of the Canadian Football League Baltimore Stallions playing in Memorial Stadium in the 1990s, suggesting that I include a CFL gridiron diagram on that page. Anything is possible! smile

I'm going to take a short break from all the exhausting diagram work, and will try to get to other recent e-mail messages in the next few days. Thanks for your patience, as always!

March 4, 2019 [LINK / comment]

West by Southwest: Desert scenery travelogue

CATCHING UP: It has been nearly five years since my grand summer vacation into the desert southwest, and here at last is a full trip report. It was an ambitious adventure that included (of course) baseball, birding, and family affairs. I posted separate blog accounts related to those two special topics in July 31, 2014 (baseball) and August 25, 2014 (birding), but this task somehow got relegated to the back burner during my extremely hectic year of 2015. Slowly but surely, I'm getting caught up with things. Over the course of six weeks from mid-June through July, I drove over 6,861 miles, which is more than a quarter of the Earth's circumference. I had long hoped to finish my goal of visiting the "lower 48" states of the U.S.A., and I did that at last by going to Arizona and New Mexico. (Louisiana may not count, since my only time there was during a brief stopover at the New Orleans airport in 1985, and I didn't even get off the airplane. Same thing with Panama in the 1990s and El Salvador in 2017.)

It all began on Wednesday June 18 when I hit the road westbound from Staunton on I-64, stopped to view the Greenbrier Resort before driving through West Virginia and then Kentucky. I reached Louisville in the late afternoon and St. Louis at dusk. (I took advantage of the fact that daylight is a maximum during the third week of June.) By the next morning, almost exactly 24 hours from the start, I was at my brother Dan's house on the outskirts of Kansas City! We had to be at our nephew Aaron's wedding in South Dakota on Friday, and I suddenly realized I didn't bring dress trousers. So, the first stop that day was the Sears store at a mall which has since been demolished. Dan and I made it up to Vermillion after about five hours of driving, and family activities commenced. The photos below are just scraping the surface of the amazing variety of sights that I experienced. There are many, many more photos on the Chronological (2014) photo gallery page.

Alan, Andrew Clem in car

Dad and me driving through Texas on June 24, 2014. Today (March 4) would have been Dad's 90th birthday, but he passed away three years ago.

Getting there is half the fun!

After all the weekend fun had ended, my father and I embarked on a long journey that fulfilled multiple objectives -- baseball, birds, and family matters. We began by driving from South Dakota south to Kansas City, and visited with Dan overnight. The real adventure began the next morning on Monday June 22, when we resumed our southbound course. The first stop was in Joplin, Missouri, where there is a historic Route 66 mural adorning a downtown building. I was impressed with the historical significance, but just couldn't persuade Dad to get out of the car and take a look. This became standard procedure for much of the trip; he was getting old (85 at that time) and was having more and more back trouble. I was curious about the damage caused by the devastating tornado that struck there a couple years ago, but in fact I saw no evidence of any damage. Our next stop was in Springdale, Arkansas, where some of the Clem ancestors had lived during the early 20th Century. Dad had often expressed curiousity about the town and its part in the Clem family story, so we headed into the fringes of the Ozark Mountains. Unfortunately, it started to rain heavily, and we didn't have a clear destination in mind, so we gave up after driving around the town for just a few minutes. From there we drove west into Oklahoma and then southwest across the Red River into Texas, where we soon found suitable accommodations.

Joplin Route 66 mural

Route 66 mural in downtown Joplin. (NOTE: There are no saguaro cacti in Texas; they are found exclusively in Arizona and northwestern Mexico.) (June 23)

The next morning we drove into Dallas and stopped at Dealey Plaza, where President Kennedy was assassinated. It's a familiar sight to most Americans, but actually being there is rather chilling. We encountered a few hucksters and conspiracy pushers along the sidewalk. After a while we drove west to Arlington, since I wanted to see Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers. We parked on the south side where at this very moment a new stadium is being built to replace the one that is only 25 years old. Once again, Dad declined to join me in a brief inspection, so I had to make my visit quick. Then we headed west through Fort Worth and then oil country, as the terrain gradually changes from grassland to desert. We made it to El Paso around midnight and arrived at his sister Connie's house in Las Cruces, New Mexico about an hour after that.

Dealey Plaza

Dealey Plaza, in Dallas, Texas. (June 24)

For the next five days, Dad stayed with his Connie and brother-in-law Bill for a few days while I continued even farther west into Arizona. It was an ingenius plan that combined multiple objectives between Dad and me, and fortunately, everything worked without a hitch. (Well, almost.)

Vacation 2014 map

By the Time I Get to Phoenix ...

Early on June 25 I departed Las Cruces heading west, with the goal of getting to Phoenix that evening to see a baseball game at Chase Field. To my surprise and annoyance, just west of Las Cruces I had to go through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, even though Interstate 10 was at least 30 miles from Mexico at that point! My first encounter with the Chihuahuan desert in southwestern New Mexico was quite dramatic. It's fairly flat, and you can often see for ten or twenty miles, with the blazing hot atmosphere producing mirage effects. I saw a few "dust devils," which are like mini-tornadoes that emerge out of clear sky. (Jacqueline and I had seen one of those at Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2003.)

Dust devil

Dust devil, in southwestern New Mexico. (June 25)

After passing through a broad valley, I encountered a mountain range that more or less coincided with the Arizona state line. The topography of Arizona is unique and hard to describe, with isolated mountain ranges that rise out of flat deserts and divide the state into distinct ecological zones. (That is what makes it such ideal habitat for diverse bird species, and is therefore a haven for bird watchers.) I was impressed with the high quality of the rest stops, one of which was the point from which I took this photo:

Dragoon Mountains rocks

Big rocks and the distant Dragoon Mountains in Arizona. (June 25)

I was already aware of the four major desert regions in the southwestern U.S.A. (Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mohave, and Great Basin), but didn't know much about what makes them distinct or what the dividing lines are. As I descended from the mountain range toward the city of Tucson, I entered the Sonoran desert and that is where I saw saguaro cacti for the first time. About 70 miles after passing the city, I stopped at a rest stop in Gila River Indian Reservation, and was soon bedazzled by all the bird species and saguaro cacti all around. I couldn't help myself lingering at that location, even though I had to get to the ball game in Phoenix. I was worried that I would arrive very late, but fortunately I only missed about an inning of the game. I didn't realize that Arizona does not go by daylight savings time, so in effect it is part of the Pacific Time Zone from March to October. I was in such a rush I didn't even think to take photos of downtown Phoenix during the brief time I was there. After the game at Chase Field, I spent the night in a motel south of Phoenix.

Chase Field exterior NE

Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, from the northeast side. (June 25)

From Phoenix to Tucson

Arizona 2014 map right

With more time on my hands the next day (June 26), I took full advantage of my second visit to the Gila River Indian Reservation rest stop on my way back south to Tucson. Further south I exited Interstate 10 at the town of Marana, where there are pecan orchards and an aircraft "graveyard" where they salvage parts. I had heard of such places in the southwest, but seeing with your own eyes dozens of big old jetliners in the middle of the desert is rather strange. (Marana Aerospace Solutions provides such services as "heavy maintenance, overhaul, commercial storage, component repairs, paint, interior, detailing, and end of life options.") Next, there were some particular places I wanted to see birds, using a guide book that my brother John lent to me. I was impressed by the irrigation canals, but I soon realized how the influence of agribusiness often results in environmental depletion: water diverted to keep pecan and almond trees growing harms the natural habitat in other places. Late in the afternoon I spent about an hour at Saguaro National Park, just east of Tucson, and then found a motel in town to spend the night.

Saguaro cacti

Cacti at the Saguaro National Park. (June 26)

Around Tucson

Tucson, Arizona is an attractive city in many ways, but some people might prefer the "California grass." (Get Back!) My first stop the next day (June 27) was the Sabino Canyon visitors center, a few miles northeast of the city. It features an amazing variety of cacti in a desert "garden" of sorts. After birding there a while, I continued north into the Santa Catalina mountains, which rise abruptly out of the flatlands. I ascended to an elevation of over 9,000 feet near the summit of Mount Lemmon, which was the culimination of that day's travel. Pine trees were everywhere, and it reminded me of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was delightfully cool at the top, almost chilly, and quite a contrast to the 100+ degree temperatures down below. It was late in the afternoon, and I had to hurry to get back out of the mountains before dark.

Santa Catalina Mountains, Tucson

Santa Catalina mountains, with Tucson, Arizona in the distance. (June 27)

South to Mexico, and back

The next day (June 28) I headed straight south from Tucscon toward Mexico. Oddly, the distance markers along that part of Interstate 19 are in kilometers rather than miles, evidently catering to Mexican tourists and/or truckers. (Under the terms of NAFTA, truckers from Mexico can only drive so far into the United States.) My first stop was at the Titan Missile Museum, located at a former Titan ICBM (intercontental ballistic missile) silo. I was utterly enthralled, and would highly recommend paying a visit. Until the Titans were decommissioned late in the 1980s, there used to be dozens of such missiles with huge multi-megaton nuclear warheads in that area. Quite a sobering reality to absorb. Then I resumed my southbound trek and entered the city of Nogales, where I was pleased to find an old community baseball park in good repair with two uniformed teams getting ready to play a game. About a half mile away, I could see the actual border wall, and some Mexican people huddled in the shade perhaps contemplating how to get across. From Nogales I headed east and stopped at a nature preserve near the town of Patagonia. (No relation to Argentina that I know of.) The town itself was pleasant, and some kind of festival was going on. But I had to keep going and find a motel in the town of Sierra Vista, adjacent to the Fort Huachuca Army base.

Mexican border, Nogales

The Mexican border at Nogales, Arizona. (June 28)

San Pedro River

I had several destinations on Sunday June 29, beginning with the San Pedro River natural area. It is an incredible refuge of lush, wet greenery in the middle of hot, barren emptiness, obviously a major birding hot spot. I spent almost five full hours in that desert paradise! From there I went east to Bisbee, Arizona, which features a huge open-pit copper mine that is apparently operating much less intensively than it used to. I gathered that the copper ore has been depleted. But it was interesting, and I spent some time at a mining visitor center and gift shop.

San Pedro River dry grass, trees

San Pedro River dry grass, trees. (June 29)

Next came the town of Douglas, which is right on the Mexican border. Under different circumstances, I would have loved to cross the border into Mexico, but I had to content myself with just getting close. I was driving my Dad's car (much more comfortable for two people than my old compact Hyundai Accent would have been), and I didn't want him to take undue risk on my account. I was like a kid looking in the window of a toy store, yearning for something he can't have. While in Douglas, I was amused to observe how the local economy works: there is a WalMart store two blocks from the border, and most of the customers come from Mexico to buy huge bundles of things they can't get in their own country. Many of them take the shopping carts away from the premises, in spite of big signs and some kind of wheel lock system that is supposed to prevent such misuse. At the border station itself two blocks away there are several dozen abandoned shopping carts, and I suppose every day the WalMart employees have to retrieve them, over and over again.

After observing the border for a while, I drove northeast toward the Chiricahua Mountains, my next destination. On the way, I stopped at a monument marking where Indian rebel Geronimo surrendered. Unfortunately, I didn't arrive there until very late in the afternoon, forcing me to scramble for lodging. My habit of improvising travel arrangements runs into snags. smile

Chiricahua Mountains

On my way to the Chiricahua Mountains on June 30, I stopped at a couple places along the road, and saw my first Roadrunner as well as a Gambel's Quail in that area! I passed several pecan orchards and According to "Arizona's 2013 pecan production was an estimated 22.5 million utilized pounds, up 13 percent from 2012 and 22 percent higher than 2011... Arizona is the nation's fourth-largest pecan producer, with about 7 percent of the market share in 2011, the most recent figures available."

Pecan orchard, Chiricahua Mountains

Pecan orchard, with the Chiricahua Mountains in the distance. A few miles ahead, I saw my first Roadrunner! (June 30)

Once you enter the Chiricahua Mountains, you find yourself in a network of canyons, and the main road takes you to a medium-elevation spot that provides good views as well as some interesting birds. I came across some kind of research station with barracks for students and researchers. The combination of trees with various kinds of yucca plants is very distinctive. It was my final destination in Arizona, and I was sad to leave it behind. But I to get back to Las Cruces to pick up my father at his sister's house. Late in the afternoon, I made it back to Las Cruces.

Chiricahua Mountains Cave Creek Canyon

Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains. (June 30)

Northeast by north

After saying goodbye to Aunt Connie and Uncle Bill the next day (July 1), Dad and I headed north toward Santa Fe. I had ambitious plans to cross New Mexico and reach Kansas in one day, but that turned out to be unrealistic. There was just too much to see along the way! We passed the town of Truth or Consequences without stopping, but spent two full hours at the Bosque de Apache National Wildlife Refuge. It's a huge wet oasis in the middle of hot, dry flatland. I had thought about stopping in Albuquerque, the biggest city in the state, but decided against it. We did stop in the historic city of Santa Fe, and I photographed the state capitol building. But there was no place to park in the charming downtown, so we just kept going. East of Santa Fe we inadvertently got diverted onto a side road looking for a gas station, consuming more valuable time. That part of the state is higher elevation, with moderate temperatures and lots of pine trees. We spent the night in the town of Las Vegas -- New Mexico, not Nevada!

Las Vegas NWR, mountains

Looking from the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge toward the town of Las Vegas, and the mountains beyond. That's Dear (now departed) Old Dad sitting on a park bench. (July 2)

In the morning (July 2) Dad and I visited the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, where I was lucky to see and photograph a Burrowing Owl! We finally exited New Mexico later that morning, and entered Oklahoma for a second time, the "panhandle" region to be precise. We were taking Route 56, which came within a mile of the northwest corner of Texas and within about five miles of the southeast corner of Colorado. It is sort of a geographical anomaly. The The terrain became more typical of southern plains, with arid grassland, with irrigated crop fields. Right across the Kansas state line we stopped for gas and food in the town of Elkhart, and then visited the nearby Cimarron National Grassland. To my surprise, there were several functioning oil wells within that protected area. I got a map from one of the park rangers, and thought I could navigate some rough roads to get to some good birding spots, but along the way we briefly got stuck in a patch of loose sand. Fortunately, I kept my head and we got out alright. No more back roads! Then we resumed our northeast course along secondary highways, stopping at a historic marker Dodge City (home of the fictitious Marshall Matt Dillon) and later at a vast wetland area called the Cheyenne Bottoms, where we saw a number of Avocets and other wading birds.

After spending the night in a motel on the outskirts of Salina, Kansas, on the last day (July 3) Dad and I spent a couple hours touring the city where he lived as a boy. He was happy to show me the cathedral where he and Mom were married, as well as the country club on the east side of town where his father taught him golf. We drove through downtown and past the old train station and some huge grain elevators. (Every town of any size in Kansas has at least one such storage facility.) But the main attraction that day was St. John's Military School, where Dad attended elementary and high school. There is a building named for my grandfather, Remey Leland Clem, and a bronze bust is outside. Tragically, we recently learned that St. John's will be closing down for good at the end of this school year. After talking to some people there, we resumed driving, this time straight north. We stopped in the small town of Gresham, where my grandfather lived as a young boy. We spent some time paying respects to some Clem ancestors at a cemetery near the town, and then got back on the road. The final tourist item of note was in the city of Norfolk, Nebraska, which was home to comedy legend Johnny Carson. I took a photo of a "Johnny Carson Blvd." sign, and a couple hours later we were back home in South Dakota.

In sum, it was truly the adventure of a lifetime, and I count myself as so blessed for taking the opportunity to make a trip like that with my father before it was too late. Two years later, Dad was gone. As noted at the top, I have been meaning to finish this travelogue for a long time, and I figured that since today (March 4) would have been Dad's 90th birthday, it is an appropriate occasion. It was a great opportunity for us to share memories of years past along the way. Here are the states Dad and I traveled through, in chronological order, including Arizona, which he did not see.

To see many more photos, please go to the Chronological (2014) photo gallery.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Mar 05, 2019 14:28 PM
One point I forgot to mention is the enormous benefit to U.S. birders resulting from the 1853 Gadsden Purchase of land in what is now southern Arizona. Under the terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the U.S.-Mexican border in that area had been set at the Gila River. Most of the prime birding destinations in Arizona are on the south side of that river.

March 2, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Assessing Harper's legacy in D.C.

Bryce Harper was with the Washington Nationals for exactly half the team's (reborn) existence: 2012-2018. You might think that he has dominated the team's offensive output during those seven years, but by most measures at least, you'd be wrong. Only once during those seven years (2015, when he was NL MVP) did he lead the Nationals in batting average: .330. Daniel Murphy did so twice, and only spent two and a half years with the Nats. What about Harper's specialty, home runs? Yes, he led the team twice in homers during that time, but so did both Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman. What's more, Zimmerman had the most homers (including one tie) twice during the team's first seven years, 2005-2011. Harper's peak year in terms of home runs (2015) was 42, which was four less than Alfonso Soriano hit during his one year with the Nationals in 2006. Finally, Harper led the team twice in runs batted in from 2012 to 2018, but Adam LaRoche did so as well. Ryan Zimmerman has had the most RBIs for the Nats four times in his career. But what is really striking is that in none of the four years in which the Nationals won the NL East Division (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017) did Harper lead in any of the main offensive categories. It's almost as if when he was at his best, the team was not -- and vice versa. See the Washington Nationals page, from which the following data are extracted.

Washington Nationals: best annual batting records (2012-2018)
Year Batting average Home runs RBIs
2012 Ian Desmond .292 Adam LaRoche 33 Adam LaRoche 100
2013 Jayson Werth .318 Ryan Zimmerman 26 Jayson Werth 82
2014 Denard Span .302 Adam LaRoche 26 Adam LaRoche 92
2015 Bryce Harper .330 Bryce Harper 42 Bryce Harper 99
2016 Daniel Murphy .347 Daniel Murphy 25 Daniel Murphy 104
2017 Daniel Murphy .322 Ryan Zimmerman 36 Ryan Zimmerman 108
2018 Anthony Rendon .308 Bryce Harper 34 Bryce Harper 100

Years with red borders: Nationals won the NL East Division.

None of the above is meant to detract from Harper's immense contribution to the Nationals in terms of pursuing championships and as a commercial franchise, however. Baseball is more than just winning and more than just money, it is a form of popular entertainment for the masses, and Harper gave Washington-area fans a thrill like none of their team's other players had done before. Yes, Harper has a tendency to be cocky sometimes, but with the talent he possesses, it's probably fitting. After all, sports fans love prima donnas!

Lerners defer salaries

In today's Washington Post, Barry Svrluga had a rather harsh column about the Lerner family's habit of deferring salaries paid to many of the Nationals' top stars. I mentioned this two days ago, but I put the blame on the tight cash situation created by the unfavorable TV rights contract with the Baltimore Orioles. (That was a key condition for owner Peter Angelos to approve the relocation of the former Montreal Expos to Washington in 2005.) Svrluga suggests that it's just the Lerners' way of doing business, and it's not good. We still don't know for sure how much of the compensation offered to Bryce Harper last fall consisted of deferred salaries, but if it was as big as some rumors have indicated, that might have been a blunder of historic proportions.

Rockies keep Arenado

On Wednesday, two days before the news about Bryce Harper broke, the Colorado Rockies announced that their star Nelson Arenado had signed a new contract. He will be making $260 million over a period of eight years, a stupefying $32.5 million annually. It is the highest annual salary in history for an MLB position player. He can opt out of the contract after three years, but why in the heck would he? Having hit an average of 40 home runs and 126 RBIs over the last four seasons, he no doubt commands a high price on the market, but for a small-market team like the Rockies to be making that kind of commitment does raise eyebrows.

Off to the races!

The recent update to the Polo Grounds page included an auto racing diagram for the first time, corresponding to the 1958-1961 period following the New York Giants' departure and preceding the creation of the New York Mets. That reminded me that another MLB stadium once hosted auto racing events: Philadelphia's Baker Bowl, after the Phillies left in 1938. So I added a racetrack diagram to the Baker Bowl page just for fun.

Foro Sol update

Foro Sol

But wait, there's more! Auto racing also takes place in Mexico City's Foro Sol, a strange combination of a Grand Prix race track with a ballpark. So, I updated the Foro Sol diagrams for the first time since 2011; April 11 to be exact. The grandstand is now about 12 feet deeper than before all the way around, and details such as entry portals are included for the first time. There is also a new diagram showing details such as the press box underneath the roof. Diagrams for other "Miscellaneous" (non-MLB) stadiums will likewise will brought "up to standard" in the months to come...

Am I ever going to do diagrams showing stadiums in a configuration for "monster truck" rallies or moto-cross races? Not bloody likely! Eventually, however, I may need to indicate which stadiums featured such events. There's more than you might think...

February 28, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Mourning in D.C.: Bryce Harper picks Philadelphia frown

The worst-case scenario for fans of the Washington Nationals finally materialized late this afternoon: their superstar hero (and probable future Hall-of-Famer) Bryce Harper accepted a fat and juicy contract offer from the Philadelphia Phillies. He will be getting a total of $330 million over a period of 13 years, or $25.4 million a year. Significantly, the terms include a full no-trade clause and no opt-outs, so unless there is a mutual change of heart, Bryce will be playing in the City of Brotherly Love through the year 2031. (That's just too far in the future to even contemplate.) It is the biggest contract in MLB history, just barely surpassing the (then-) Florida Marlins' $325 million, 13-year contract with Giancarlo Stanton in November 2014. See for more details.

One wonders, "Why would Bryce accept an annual salary that was $4.6 million less than what the Lerners offered him five months ago?" The reported terms back then were $300 million over ten years, which I thought was quite fair and competitive. Part of the answer has to do with the weaker-than-expected market for free agents (no collusion!), which has left several big stars such as Dallas Keuchel still looking for a job this year. Until the news today, it appeared that Harper's agent Scott Boras had served him poorly, and it seemed possible that he might have to settle for a shorter-term contract with the Dodgers or the Giants. But the terms he got from the Phillies were more than satisfactory. But the big difference between this contract and what the Nationals offered is that the latter's terms including a big chunk of "deferred salary," meaning that the team would in effect issue IOUs that would be redeemed for several years beyond the end of the contract. That might have been a deal-breaker for Bryce.

Just as a side note, the deferred salary is a rather cheap gimmick that the Nationals' front office has used more than once, and it reflects in part the financial constraint imposed by the unfair terms of the TV revenue rights deal with the Baltimore Orioles. MLB officials have worked to resolve that issue in recent months, so hopefully the Nats will be in a better money position before long.

Another factor favoring the Phillies may be the stadium, or more specifically, the size of the outfield. Citizens Bank Park has about 105,000 square feet of fair territory, about four percent less than the 109,100 square feet in Nationals Park. Indeed, the Phillies enjoy the most home-run friendly ballpark in the major leagues right now. Bryce has hit 184 homers during his seven years with the Nats (peaking at 42 during his MVP year, 2015), and if you figure that his career is only one-third over, he could end up with another 368 homers, for a total of 552. But if you add the ballpark factor over a period of 13 years, he could conceivably raise that home run total by 100 or more, which would put him in sixth place in the all-time list, just behind Willie Mays (660).

Citizens Bank Park, Nationals Park outfields

The outfield portions of Citizens Bank Park, with Nationals Park superimposed. Balls hit into the areas colored pink would be home runs in the former but not the latter, and the converse would be true in the (much smaller) areas colored violet.

It wouldn't have been so bad if he had signed with the L.A. Dodgers or San Francisco Giants, but now we're going to have face him 19 times a year. Ugh. The Nats had an 11-8 record against the Phillies last year, but things will be a lot different this year. Indeed, with their other acquisitions and with the Atlanta Braves determined to repeat as division champions, the NL East will be fiercely contested this year. Bryce will make his first appearance with the Phillies in Washington on April 2. (If it were the day before, we could perhaps pretend that it was all just a gag.) How will D.C. fans greet him? I hope they show more class than fans in certain other cities. It's going to be hard as hell getting used to seeing Bryce in a Phillies uniform. I suppose the sooner we get this over with the better...

Bryce Harper fake Phillies hat

WARNING: FAKE PHOTO! A melancholy-looking Bryce Harper on September 21, during the one of the last home games he played as a National, with Ryan Howard's cap (from my visit to Philadelphia in 2016) artificially superimposed.

The first time I mentioned Bryce Harper was in June 2010, when the Nationals used their #1 pick to draft him. (I had almost forgotten that he was a catcher in his college days.) Two months later he signed a five-year contract totaling $9.9 million, a record for a rookie position player. After a year in the minors, he made a big splash in his debut with the Nationals in late April 2012, and in November he was chosen as National League Rookie of the Year. Three years later (November 2015) he was chosen as the National League Most Valuable Player. He has had his ups and downs in the years since then, but he was undoubtedly a crucial factor in the Nationals winning four divisional titles during his years in D.C. And so I say:

Thanks for seven GREAT years with the Nats, Bryce!
You'll be remembered well!

February 25, 2019 [LINK / comment]

At last: Spring training has begun!

Ignore that snow on the ground outside, baseball fans, because spring training is here! Pitchers and catchers reported for Spring training two Wednesdays ago, and the full squads reported last Monday. For most teams, the first practice games were held on Saturday, another sign that baseball is right around the corner. Opening Day for 28 teams will be Thursday March 28, about as early as baseball can start. For the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's, the first game will take place at the Tokyo Dome in Japan on March 20; see the newly-updated Anomalous stadiums page.

The preseason game scores mean absolutely nothing, of course, but it is nonetheless worth pointing out that the Washington Nationals won their first two games: they beat the Houston on Saturday 7-6, on a walk-off double by Adrian Sanchez, and they beat the Cardinals 12-2 on Sunday. Today they lost to the Braves 9-4, but as mentioned above, practice games don't count.

Machado signs with Padres

The main drama throughout this off-season has centered upon two free agent slugging superstars: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who spent six and a half years with the Baltimore Orioles and was then traded to the L.A. Dodgers last July. It has been a strange, slow-moving spectacle full of whispers, like a kabuki theater. Well, last week the San Diego Padres announced that Machado had signed a $300 million, 10-year contract with them, the biggest free agent deal in Major League history. This followed many weeks of speculation about the Phillies and other teams. See Whether he proves to be worth that much money is anyone's guess. Machado has been a very consistent hitter over the past four years, with between 33 and 37 home runs and a batting average between .249 and .294 each year. He seems to have personality issues, however, and one wonders if he will be content playing on a team that is not as likely to make it to the postseason.

Harper mulls his options

Meanwhile, Bryce Harper continues to keep us all in nerve-wracking suspense as he weighs his options. Much as I despise recirculating rumors, it seems appropriate to mention that he met with Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend, and it seemed all but certain that he would sign with them. (The Phillies were scrambling after Machado signed with the Padres.) But today it was reported that the Dodgers are pursuing Harper once again, with meetings in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Mark Lerner (son of the Nationals' principal owner Ted Lerner) said that his family had not even spoken with Harper in months. Eegads. The upshot is that the Nationals are no longer the team is he most likely to sign with.

On Saturday, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote a rather harsh piece saying that Harper is on the verge of signing the "least satisfying nine-figure deal ever." He thinks that Harper probably wishes he had accepted the $300 million for 10 years offered to him by the Nats' owners at the end of the 2018 regular season. The fact that the market for free agent players has fizzled means that he will be lucky to get terms even slightly better than that deal, and it probably won't be on friendly terms. His agent Scott Boras certainly deserves some of the blame for that, but suspicions linger that the MLB owners tacitly cooperated to keep salaries down. "There was no collusion!" (Why does that sound familiar?)

Personally, I think Bryce has every right to bargain for the best terms he can get, but there's more to it than just money. If Harper is man enough to set aside his pride and sign a new contract with the Nationals, he will in all likelihood go down in history as one of the greatest players to ever spend the bulk of his career with one team, and he will retire as a happy, beloved, satisfied man. We'll see. This whole free agency thing is no picnic.

Could the Nationals get by without Harper this year? Absolutely, yes. But it sure would be easier to win a division title and go deep into the postseason with him on board.

A week or two ago, I also updated the Washington Nationals page with head-to-head win-loss records to include 2018. It shows the provisional starting pitcher rotation, which ought to rank at or near the top of all 30 MLB teams:

* New players

Scherzer bemoans baseball trends

Nats' ace pitcher Max Scherzer has been vocal about various problems he has observed in the sport. Last week he complained about the decline in competition among baseball teams, brought on by sky-high salaries that leave some smaller-market teams completely out of the loop. Something indeed needs to be done about that. Then over the weekend he argued against the proposed use of a pitch clock to speed up the pace of play; they are emperimenting with that in spring training games. To Max, it just ruins the fabric of the game. He pointed out that too many foul balls are a bigger reason why games drag on longer than they used to. See the Washington Post.

Another Polo Grounds update?!

Polo Grounds

(Stop me if you've heard this one before.) So, a few weeks ago I realized I needed to make a few small tweaks to the Polo Grounds diagrams, and before you knew it, yadda yadda yadda... Once again, I found myself deeply enmeshed in a new set of puzzles and mysteries that were finally solved, yielding big (for me at least) revelations. I guess that is to be expected when so much time (12 years) elapsed between the previous diagram update in 2007. There were a lot of needed improvements to catch up on!

For the record, here are the significant changes since the January 9 update:

Note that even though the center field distance marker changed from 483 to 475 when the Polo Grounds were fixed up for the arrival of the Mets in 1962, home plate did not move forward by eight feet as stated by Lowry in Green Cathedrals (2006). I checked several photographs very carefully, and it's clear that the foul line intersected the dugout at the same point during the Mets' stay there as it had previously. The longer distance (483) was probably to the wall at ground level, and the shorter distance (475) was to the front of the building 15 or so feet above the ground.

* This seems to be a significant discovery on my part. I have begun calculations to pinpoint the origin of the mistaken distances. Discrepancies of 5-7 feet are tolerable, but once you get to ten feet or more, it's a real problem. I have likewise indicated misleading distance markers for Tiger Stadium, Dolphin (Hard Rock) Stadium, and perhaps a couple others.

R.I.P. Don Newcombe

Brooklyn Dodgers' pitcher Don Newcombe passed away at the age of 92 last week. He was one of the first African-Americans to join the major leagues, following in the footsteps of Jackie Robinson. He debuted in 1949, and was named NL Rookie of the Year after winning 17 games. He remained with the Dodgers (aside from military service during the Korean War) until their move to Los Angeles (1958), soon after which he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. He ended his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1960. Problems with alcohol and controlling his temper seemed to affect his performance. At the Polo Grounds (see above!) on October 3, 1951 he was the starting pitcher in the deciding game of the three-game playoff between the New York Giants and the Dodgers. He left the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with a 4-2 lead and one out. In from the bullpen came Ralph Branca, and then Bobby Thomson came up to bat for the Giants. The rest, as any baseball fan knows, is history...

In case you didn't know, the refrain in Terry Cashman's nostalgic song "Talkin' Baseball" referred to Newcombe:

The Scooter*, the Barber**, and the Newk***

* (the Yankees' Phil Rizzuto) ** (the Giants' Sal Maglie) *** (the Dodgers' Don Newcombe)

February 7, 2019 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. Frank Robinson

Not long after reports circulated that Frank Robinson was suffering from a life-threatening condition, the 83-year old Hall of Famer passed away. He had bone cancer. Robinson was admired and liked by almost everyone he played with or against, and his character was shaped by the struggle against racism, which was still very strong in the early part of his career.

Over the course of his career as a player, Robinson hit 586 home runs, with 1,812 RBIs, and a .294 batting average. He played his first ten years with the Cincinnati Reds and then (after the 1965 season) was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, in what is widely regarded as one of the dumbest player transactions in MLB history. The next six years in Baltimore turned out to be some of the most productive of his career, including two World Series victories. [He was the only major league player to be named Most Valuable Player in both leagues: in 1961 with the Reds (the year they won the NL pennant) and in 1966 with the Orioles (their first AL pennant, as they swept the Dodgers in the World Series), as he won the Triple Crown award. In 1976] he ended his playing career with the Cleveland Indians, becoming the first African-American manager in MLB history in 1975. [He was a player-manager there for two years.] He later managed the San Francisco Giants, the Baltimore Orioles, and after a lapse during most of the 1990s, the Montreal Expos.

Robinson became manager of the Expos after Jeffrey Loria sold the struggling franchise to Major League Baseball in 2002. That transaction was a sign that the Expos were slated for relocation to Washington, D.C. and Robinson indeed became the "born-again" Washington Nationals' first manager three years later, in 2005. He remained as head of the team for two seasons, and was (rightly) a bit miffed that the Nationals' new owners, the Lerners, declined to offer him some kind of advisory position in the front office. I had the great fortune to see him up close before the next-to-last game of his career as a manager:

Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson, being interviewed before the Nats-Mets game at RFK Stadium, September 30, 2006.

Braves Field minor update

Braves Field

Prompted by some tips from Angel Amezquita about the precise timing of the reconfigurations of the home field of the Boston Braves after they moved to Milwaukee in 1953, I made a few minor corrections and enhancments to the Braves Field diagrams. (It's now called Nickerson Field, and I was there in September 2016.) There is one new diagram, for soccer, and the two football diagrams are now labeled according to the first years in which the given configuration was in effect: 1955 and 1972. The main change was that the huge roof is not quite as big as it was before, and that the peak of the roof where the structural beams were located is now about 10-12 feet farther from the field than before. Otherwise, the only changes are trivial in nature.

Games outside the U.S.A.

I already knew that the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners are slated to play the first two official games of the 2019 season at the Tokyo Dome in Japan (on March 20-21), but I just learned that there will be four other games outside our borders this season, all of them at the Estadio Monterrey in Mexico. On April 13-14, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds will play there, and on May 4-5, the Houston Astros and L.A. Angels will play there. I will update the text on those pages shortly. Finally, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will play in London Stadium (England, not Ontario!) on June 29-30. I'll have to make a diagram of that one, I guess. I don't mind occasional foreign series, but more than one per year is a bit problematic to me.

But wait, there'll be yet another MLB game at a "neutral" venue this year, in the United States: the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals will play at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska on June 13. That will come immediately after (or before) the College World Series, which is held there every year.

For the 28 teams other than Oakland and Seattle, Opening Day will be on March 28 -- exactly seven weeks from today!

Rangers choose fake turf

The Texas Rangers confirmed widespread rumors and announced that their new stadium ("Globe Life Park II") will have artificial turf, because of the difficulty of providing grass in retractable-roof stadiums with sufficient sunlight. It probably makes sense in economic terms, but it represents a big step backward for the sport, in terms of aesthetics and player safety. The last new MLB to open with artificial turf was Tropicana Field, 21 years ago. See (hat tip to Mike Zurawski) and (hat tip to Bruce Orser). The renderings I have seen of the new stadium (scheduled to open in 2020) give me a mixed impression: There are at least four main decks with numerous, arbitrary quirks here and there, looking rather messy, and the dual-slanted roof (also featured in the new NFL stadiums in Minneapolis and Indianapolis) makes it look like a great big house.

February 4, 2019 [LINK / comment]

F-f-freezing field trip to Mill Place

On January 26 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the new Mill Place trail in Verona, and with temperatures in the mid-20s, I didn't expect much of a turnout. (I had previously led a field trip there on December 8.) But to my surprise, seven other birders showed up, once again defying the frigid conditions! Immediately we could see that the thick brushy area where a retention pond used to be had been excavated and was largely barren. That was a tragedy, because sparrows of all kinds had been using those bushes for both shelter and food. Highlights included Red-shouldered Hawk, a Northern Harrier in the distance, an American Kestrel, and Savannah Sparrow which at the time I thought was a Song Sparrow. A close look at the photo after I got home left no doubt about the species. Pausing at the big pond behind Hardee's (mostly unfrozen) on the way out, some of us saw several Hooded Mergansers, some Buffleheads, two Great Blue Herons, as well as the usual Canada Geese and Mallards.

Since then, one of our club members, Ann Cline, has contacted the Augusta County Parks and Recreation Department to find out what is going on with that excavation. Hopefully the brushy area will be restored by the summer. The Mill Place trail is a real natural treasure, in the midst of an industrial park. The county government deserves credit for making the area accessible to the public.

Montage 26 Jan 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel (F), Buffleheads, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-shouldered Hawk, Savannah Sparrow, Great Blue Herons, and Hooded Mergansers (F & M).

Other birds in January

A few times in January there was a Brown Creeper in our back yard, but I haven't seen it for a week or two. There was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker earlier in the winter, but it hasn't come by lately either. Contrary to the forecasts of a big "irruption" of northerly species this season, we haven't had any Pine Siskins this winter, and just one (probable) female Purple Finch. Another winter bird that seems curiously absent is the Yellow-rumped Warbler; there are extremely scarce for the second winter in a row. On January 11 I saw a Cooper's Hawk out back, and managed to get this photo before it flew away:

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk, in Staunton, on January 11.

We had another big snow storm on January 13, but the roads were mostly cleared by the afternoon so Jacqueline and I took a drive. On the north side of downtown Staunton, we noticed Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures roosting in tall pine trees, and from the photos I took, there must have been at least 200 of them. On January 24 I saw the Loggerhead Shrike near the ponds on Bell's Lane once again, but it was farther away than the first time I saw it on December 27. I have seen Short-eared Owls in that area a couple times in recent weeks, but other than a blurry post-dusk photo on January 11 have not "captured" any of them in photos.

Long-tailed Duck!

After a meeting of the Augusta Bird Club board yesterday (February 3), I paid a visit to the pond behind Hardee's, where Allen Larner had reported seeing a Long-tailed Duck. After a few minutes, I spotted the little guy (male), intermittently diving into the icy water. It was only the third time I had ever seen one, the first being February 15, 2014. The sky was cloudy, however, so my photos were only so-so.

Today was warm and sunny, however, so I went back in the latter part of the morning. Thankfully, there it was not far from the shore, and I was able to get some very good photos. There were also three Killdeers in the grass, as well as the rest of the usual ducks and geese on the water.

But my main objective of the day was to see the Evening Grosbeaks at Kevin Shank's residence in the Union Springs area in Rockingham County. With such ideal weather, I just had to take advantage. My first visit there was on December 29; see January 9 blog post. Arriving shortly before noon, I talked with Mr. Shank about where the Grosbeaks had been seen, and I prepared for a long vigil, scouting the trees around his house. But two-plus hours of patience did not pay off, and I finally left -- but not before seeing and photographing two species I had not yet seen (for sure) this winter: Pine Siskins and Purple Finches! So that was a nice consolation prize.

On my way back to Staunton I stopped at Silver Lake just north of Dayton, and had some nice, well-lit views of some interesting duck species, as seen below. (The Kingfisher was perched above a stream closer to town; it's the best photo I have taken of a female of that species.)

Montage 04 Feb 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Long-tailed Duck (M), Canvasback (M), Redhead (M), Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Greater Scaup (M), Belted Kingfisher (F), and in center, Purple Finch (M). (February 4) Roll mouse over the image to see the Long-tailed Duck enlarged.

Even more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.


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What's this about?

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.

"It's not just a blog, it's an adventure!"

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My blog practices

My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:

  1. Wild birds (LAST)
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  7. Canaries ("Home birds")
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* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007

The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.

The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.



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