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September 24, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Augusta Springs

This morning I led a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club to Augusta Springs, joined by four other members: Ed and Nancy Lawler, as well as Larry and Jane Litke. (Larry and Jane are new members who had never been to Augusta Springs before.) The weather was beautiful, remaining cool or mild until 11:00 or so.

In contrast to just about every other visit I have made to that location, this time we began in a counterclockwise fashion, not reaching the boardwalk portion of the loop trail until after we had hiked along the upland loop extended trail. We were influenced by all the bird activity we noticed in that direction (right), but it turned out to be almost exclusively Robins, with a few Blue Jays. We did get nice looks at a Magnolia Warbler, a Scarlet Tanager, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak -- the latter two being females. As we continued into the upland trail, I was surprised that we didn't see or hear any Ovenbirds or Worm-eating Warblers, which abound in that area during breeding season. Other notable species that we saw included: Pileated Woodpeckers, Blackpoll Warbler, and Swainson's Thrushes. I thought I saw a Wood Thrush in the bushes, but never could get a good look at it. It is listed the the first eBird report below as "Catharus sp." ("+1 other taxa"). Finally, we heard but did not see Blue-headed Vireos and a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which must have been an early migrant. That species is only present in the lowlands of Augusta County during the winter months.

We returned to the parking lot just before noon, and then Ed, Nancy, and I took an excursion through the Swoope area on the way back to Staunton. At Smith's pond, Nancy spotted a Pied-billed Grebe, another early migrant returning from the north. While at the Boy Scout Camp a couple miles to the south, I saw a sparrow fly past us, more than likely a Song Sparrow, but never could get a good look at it. It is listed below as "sparrow sp." ("+1 other taxa") It was strange not to see any definite sparrows during the entire day. There was a major Boy Scout event taking place, with close to a hundred cars parked in a nearby field. All those Boy Scouts must have scared away the birds from the lake! Along Route 703, we saw several birds that turned out to be Blue Grosbeaks, which are known to breed in that general area, but are uncommon. At the same location, we saw a family of Cedar Waxwings. Ed saw a Purple Finch there, but I only had a glimpse of it.

Of the 23 species seen in the second part of our field trip, ten were not seen during the first part, which makes a total of 43 species combined. Ed kept track of the species on our checklist, upon which the eBirds reports shown below are based. We missed seeing a few "target" birds, but it was a very pleasant, enjoyable, and productive day of birding.

Birds Montage 24 Sep 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swainson's Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue Grosbeak (female), and Pied-billed Grebe. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Swainson's Thrush enlarged. Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

eBird report #1

Augusta Springs Wetlands Trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
Sep 24, 2016 8:45 AM - 11:45 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
33 species (+1 other taxa)

  1. Turkey Vulture -- 1
  2. Yellow-billed Cuckoo -- 1
  3. Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 1
  4. Downy Woodpecker -- 2
  5. Hairy Woodpecker -- 1
  6. Northern Flicker -- 2
  7. Pileated Woodpecker -- 2
  8. Eastern Phoebe -- 1
  9. Blue-headed Vireo -- 2
  10. Blue Jay -- 8
  11. American Crow -- 4
  12. Carolina Chickadee -- 5
  13. Tufted Titmouse -- 3
  14. Red-breasted Nuthatch -- 1
  15. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 4
  16. Carolina Wren -- 4
  17. Swainson's Thrush -- 2
  18. Catharus sp. -- 1
  19. American Robin -- 18
  20. Gray Catbird -- 4
  21. Northern Mockingbird -- 2
  22. European Starling -- 1
  23. Common Yellowthroat -- 1
  24. Magnolia Warbler -- 1
  25. Bay-breasted Warbler -- 1
  26. Blackpoll Warbler -- 1
  27. Pine Warbler -- 1
  28. Eastern Towhee -- 1
  29. Scarlet Tanager -- 2
  30. Northern Cardinal -- 2
  31. Rose-breasted Grosbeak -- 1
  32. Indigo Bunting -- 3
  33. House Finch -- 2
  34. American Goldfinch -- 4

View this checklist online at ebird.org

eBird report #2

Swoope Area, Augusta, Virginia, US
Sep 24, 2016 12:00 PM - 1:50 PM
Protocol: Traveling
9.0 mile(s)
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
23 species (+1 other taxa)

  1. Pied-billed Grebe -- 1
  2. Turkey Vulture -- 3
  3. Red-tailed Hawk -- 2
  4. Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- 1
  5. Downy Woodpecker -- 1
  6. American Kestrel -- 1
  7. Eastern Phoebe -- 1
  8. American Crow -- 6
  9. Tree Swallow -- 60
  10. Carolina Chickadee -- 3
  11. Carolina Wren -- 2
  12. Eastern Bluebird -- 2
  13. American Robin -- 5
  14. Gray Catbird -- 2
  15. Brown Thrasher -- 1
  16. Northern Mockingbird -- 3
  17. European Starling -- 12
  18. Cedar Waxwing -- 4
  19. sparrow sp. -- 1
  20. Northern Cardinal -- 2
  21. Blue Grosbeak -- 3
  22. Indigo Bunting -- 4
  23. Purple Finch -- 1
  24. American Goldfinch -- 3

View this checklist online at ebird.org



Nats' magic number: 2

September 23, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nationals get back to winning

After a four-game losing streak in which they came up short against also-ran teams (the Braves and the Marlins), the Nationals bounced back on Wednesday night, thanks primarily to the pitching of Max Scherzer and clutch hitting of Ryan Zimmerman, who hit a three-run homer. An inning later, Trea Turner hit a solo home run that just stayed fair down the left field line -- his 12th homer of the year! Max was replaced during the seventh inning after giving up two home runs, but Blake Treinen got the third out, and there was no further damage after that. Final score: Nats 8, Marlins 3.

The night before was an epic pitchers' duel in which the Nats' Tanner Roark did superbly but not superbly enough. One swing by Giancarlo Stanton was all it took to give the Marlins the winning margin, as he blasted a solo homer way up into the upper deck in right-center field. Miami's starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was just too much for the Nationals hitters that night.

I previously anticipated that the Nats would clinch the division title while in Miami. Not quite, but they're getting close! The magic number is now just 2. With ten games left to play in the 2016 regular season, the Nationals (currently 89-63) should aim to finish 95-67 or better, to ensure that they stay ahead of the L.A. Dodgers for the second seed (NLDS home field advantage) in the postseason series. If the current leads hold up in tonight's Nats-Pirates and Phillies-Mets games, what F.P. Santangelo said about what "PNC" stands for in PNC Park may come about: the Place where the Nationals Clinch!

Mets get swept, rebound

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves showed surprising spunk by sweeping the Mets in a three-game series on the road. Thanks to the Braves, playing spoiler, the Nats' magic number shrank by three. But the Mets aren't giving up just yet. Last night at Citi Field, the Philadelphia Phillies were on the verge of beating the Mets twice, and both times the Mets foiled them. With the score 6-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Jose Reyes hit a two-run homer to send it into extra innings, and with the score 8-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Asdrubal Cabrera (a former Nat) hit a three-run walk-off homer to end it. Like Casey Stengel said, those Mets are amazin'! Otherwise, the Nats' magic number would have been 1. Oh well, it's just a matter of time.

Red Sox sweep Orioles

The Boston Red Sox inflicted pain and suffering upon the Baltimore Orioles, sweeping them in four game series just like they did to the Yankees over the weekend. The difference was that this time the series was away from home. That's eight in a row for Boston, whose magic number is now just five.

Rams return to Los Angeles

The newly-minted L.A. Rams won their first game in their "new" (yet also old) home on Sunday afternoon, giving the 91,046 fans in attendance much to cheer about. Oddly, the Rams failed to score a touchdown, as they beat the Seattle Seahawks, 9-3. Mike Zurawski sent a link to the game recap at espn.com, and recommended an article at forbes.com in which it is estimated that the Rams franchise may soon be worth 4 billion (with a b) dollars.

(L.A.)* Memorial Coliseum update

L.A. Memorial Coliseum

In recognition of the return of professional football to Los Angeles, I made some revisions to the Memorial Coliseum diagrams. It's an awkward case, because there needs to be a horizontal rendering optimized for football as well as a "diagonal" rendering optimized for baseball, with center field at the top. I paid particular attention to the placement of the entry portals as benchmarks, and realized that the left foul pole was not where it should be. Eventually, I figured out that the baseball diamond was angled almost two degrees off of where it should have been.

* I have heard from sports fans in the Los Angeles area who say that everyone there calls it "Los Angeles Coliseum," but in all the books and maps I have the primary designation is "Memorial Coliseum."

Coincidentally, Turner Classic Movies showed a movie featuring L.A. Memorial Coliseum late last week, The Split, starring NFL Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Ernest Borgnine, and Steve McQueen. It was shown during the wee hours of the morning, so I recorded it and then played back the stadium scenes frame by frame to get all the details in my diagram just right. It was from that movie that I realized that the Coliseum was reconfigured during the 1960s, with the gridiron being shifted toward the west. At about the same time, the old bench seats were replaced by individual seats in most of the stadium.

The Rams' odyssey from city to city, and stadium to stadium, must be one for the record books:

As a consolation to St. Louis Rams fans, here is a photographic tribute to the home of their team for over 20 years:

Edward Jones Dome pan

Edward Jones Dome, August 2015. Click on it to see it full size, or else go to the Football stadiums photo gallery page.



September 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

More fall migrants arrive

Whenever I hear about a sighting of a bird that I have never seen before, I tend to react in a Pavlovian fashion. So today I drove up to Rockingham County in search of some American Golden Plovers that were reported at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, located a few miles northwest of Bridgewater. I arrived there just as the auction was about to get underway, and was obliged to explain my presence, since I obviously wasn't in the market for pumpkins or other fresh vegetables. The local people were very friendly to me, and showed keen interest in the bird I was looking for. I did spot some Killdeers and Eurasian Collared Doves, as well as Mallards and Canada Geese in a nearby pond, but not the target species. So after an hour or so, I departed. About a half mile from the auction site, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree.

My next destination was Hillandale Park, on the west side of Harrisonburg, where many migrating warblers have been reported lately. (My first visit there was back in May.) After walking along the trails for a while, I saw White-eyed Vireo in some thickets only about 25 feet away. The only warblers I saw, however, were American Redstarts and Ovenbirds. As I returned to the parking area, two birders arrived, and I quickly recognized them as Marshall Faintich and Walt Childs. They knew the better locations for birds, and it didn't take long before we were seeing lots of warblers and other neotropical migrants. I saw (or at least glimpsed) a total of eight (8) warbler species. Here are the [more notable] species I saw at Hillandale Park today, in rough chronological order:

Birds Montage 20 Sep 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-tailed Hawk, Least Sandpiper, American Redstart (female), Cape May Warbler, and in center, Ovenbird. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Northern Parula enlarged.

Enlarged images of some birds in that montage, and a few others, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

There were many Robins in the woods at Hillandale Park, including some juveniles, and I saw a Thrush whose species I could not identify. [I glimpsed the brown streaks on the pale breast.] Based on the eye ring and overall dull brown color, I figure it is probably a Swainson's Thrush:

Thrush

Possible Swainson's Thrush, at Hillandale Park.

After the three of us had had enough, we said goodbye, and I returned to the auction site, hoping for better luck the next time. Not! I did enjoy a tasty cheeseburger with locally-grown lettuce and tomatoes, however.

On the way back, I stopped at Leonard's Pond, but all that was there was a couple Killdeers and a dozen or so Canada Geese. Then I decided to check out Target Pond in Stuarts Draft, where a Sanderling was seen yesterday. Once again, I struck out as far as the target species, but I did get some nice views of three Least Sandpipers.



Nats' magic number: 5

September 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nats hit a speed bump in Atlanta

Well, you can't win 'em all, even if you do have the second-best record in the National League right now. The Washington Nationals' vulnerabilities were on full display in Atlanta this weekend, as they lost the final two games they will ever play in Turner Field. The Atlanta Braves showed commendable spunk, meanwhile. On Saturday afternoon, Gio Gonzalez slipped back into his funk of mediocrity, giving up six earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings on the mound. Remarkably, Nats rookie Trea Turner hit two more one home runs on Saturday, after hitting one on Friday, for a total of 11 this year! Just think if he had played the whole season... It was a shame that his team mates couldn't follow his offensive lead. Final score: Braves 7, Nats 3.

Just that morning, the Washington Post had an upbeat article by Barry Svrluga about how much Gio Gonzalez has (or had) improved lately, and how much the Nationals will depend on him in the postseason now that Stephen Strasburg is injured again. "Never mind!" This puts manager Dusty Baker in an awkward spot: He has two first-rate starting pitchers (Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark) and a bunch of question marks. It will be hard to prevail over the Dodgers (their likely NLDS opponent) unless one of the younger guys steps up to the ... pitching rubber.

In the Sunday game, Joe Ross took the mound for the first time in over two months, and did OK, giving up one run over three innings. Reynaldo Lopez took his place, and the Braves scored two more runs when Dansbury Swanson hit a double over Bryce Harper's head in right field. That was a killer. MASN commentator Ray Knight questioned why Bryce was playing so close in during that series, as the same thing happened more than once. In the sixth inning, Trea Turner hit a two-out triple, and then Jayson Werth hit an RBI double as the drizzle turned to heavy rain. The grounds crews quickly rolled out the tarp, and after a delay of over an hour, Bryce Harper hit a bloop RBI single, making it a 3-2 game. Then Clint Robinson was hit by a pitch, giving Wilson Ramos an excellent opportunity to tie the game or better. But he struck out. In the bottom of the sixth, Mark Rzepczynski gave up three hits and walk as the Braves tacked on three more runs. With a four-run lead, there wasn't much point to waiting for the weather to improve after the second rain delay in the bottom of the seventh, and the umpires declared the game over. Braves 6, Nats 2.

This evening in Miami, the Nats' troubles continued. The young A.J. Cole once again had an acceptable outing as the Nats' starting pitcher, giving up two runs over four innings. Giancarlo Stanton was back in the lineup after a month on the DL with a groin pull. He made his presence felt, bashing a 448-foot home run into the bar area in the upper-level plaza beyond left field. It was simply amazing. The Nats took the lead in the fifth inning on a three-run homer by Danny Espinosa, but the Marlins came back with two more runs in the seventh, and won it, 4-3.

I was surprised to learn that Trea Turner is (almost) the same age as Bryce Harper: 23. Actually, Bryce was born eight months earlier: October 16, 1992.

Mets sweep the Twins

The Twins came close to beating the New York Mets in Citi Field on Saturday night, but the Mets kept evening the score. They got a run in the bottom of the eighth to make it 1-1, and it went into extra innings. A solo home run by Curtis Granderson in the bottom of the tenth tied the game 2-2, and another one in the twelfth inning won it in walk-off fashion. Two homers in one game!? Who does he think he is, Trea Turner?? smile. The Twins played a good, tough game again on Sunday, but the Mets did what they needed to do, winning 3-2 again, their third consecutive win.

But in Citi Field again tonight, the Mets fell flat against the suddenly-upbeat Atlanta Braves, who won their third game in a row, 7-3. That reduced the Nationals' magic number to just five.

Citi Field ext night pan

Citi Field, after the Nats-Mets game on September 4 -- one of many photos soon to be added to that page. Click on the image to see it full size.

Red Sox sweep the Yankees

After yet another improbable come-from-behind win by the Red Sox on Sunday night, the New York Yankees are hanging on for their dear lives in the AL wild card race. You could almost see it coming as Hanley Ramirez hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning, making it a 4-3 game all of a sudden. The Red Sox scored one each in the next two innings, and completed the four-game sweep of the Yankees by a score of 5-4.



September 18, 2016 [LINK / comment]

East by Northeast: Big city scenic travelogue

Being frugal-minded, I try to "kill two birds with one stone" (figuratively speaking!) whenever the opportunity arises. So, as the American Political Science Association annual meeting approached last month, I decided to drive up to Philadelphia rather than take AMTRAK, as I have done in the past when those meetings are held in the East. That gave me more flexibility to go sight-seeing and see baseball games, something I had only done once so far this summer. After Philadelphia, I paid quick visits to New York City, then Providence, and finally Boston. It was an ambitious itinerary that ended up being affected by the weather: Hurricane Hermine. The following travelogue includes some of the best photos (and montages of photos) that I took on my trip; the complete set of photos can be seen on the Chronological (2016) photo gallery page.

Boston, Providence, Manhattan, Philadelphia

TOP LEFT: Boston; TOP RIGHT: Providence; MIDDLE: Manhattan; BOTTOM: Philadelphia

Aug. 31: Baltimore, Philadelphia

The first part of my trip followed the familiar I-81 / I-66 route toward Washington, D.C., which I bypassed on the I-495 Beltway through Montgomery County, Maryland. Soon I was on the I-95 "main drag," and took the Harbor Tunnel bypass through Baltimore, only catching brief glimpses of that city's skyline. Then I passed Ripken Field, where the Aberdeen Ironbirds -- one of the minor league affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles -- play. Then I crossed the very wide Susquehanna River, and entered Delaware for the first time since 2008. (Eight years!?) It took less than an hour to get through Wilmington and cross into Pennsylvania, and before I knew it, I was passing the airport in the southern fringes of Philadelphia. I arrived at Citizens Bank Park at about 6:00, in plenty of time to see the Washington Nationals play the Phillies. (See my September 7 blog post about my baseball adventures.) After the game, I checked into the Days Inn motel in Springfield, located about five miles southwest of the Philadelphia city limits, and about nine miles from downtown. It was comfortable and well-furnished, what you would expect for a medium-priced motel. (A downtown hotel would have been much too expensive for my budget.)

Welcome to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, & Rhode Island signs

For the next three days, my attention was focused exclusively on the American Political Science Association annual meeting, held at the Philadelphia Convention Center downtown. I had carefully chosen the motel based on its proximity to the commuter rail station. I was under the impression that suburban stations had pay parking available, but at the Morton station which I used, they told me there was a long waiting list to get parking. Fortunately, one of the passengers in the station waiting room told me what the local folks do: use a parking lot at a public park about three blocks away, for free. S-weet! The Southeast Pennsylvania Public Transit Authority (SEPTA) operates commuter trains, subway lines, trolleys, and buses, and works fairly efficiently from what I observed.

SEPTA Morton station

The SEPTA Morton station, near Springfield, Pennsylvania.

Sept. 4: Philadelphia, New York

Early on Sunday morning, I packed up and left the Days Inn and drove toward downtown Philadelphia. My original plan was to attend one of the final APSA panels that morning, but I encountered a traffic detour that diverted me onto some back streets. Well, that was interesting. [I saw a few University of Pennsylvania buildings, including some that are part of the hospital system.]Eventually I found a parking place right next to my first target: the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the famous scene in the movie Rocky was filmed. [The building was very impressive, as was the view of the Schuylkill River, which passes by the museum.]

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Joan of Ark statue

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Joan of Ark equestrian statue.

There was a big musical festival going on called "Made in America," sponsored by Budweiser beer, so the entire east side of that museum, and several acres of land on the east side, were closed off. (That's why I couldn't cross the bridge [across the Schuylkill River] into downtown, messing up my plans.) I could have gotten in by paying the admission price, but just didn't have enough time to make it worthwhile. So, I ended up walking a total of at least two miles as I searched for a way to get back to my car without retracing my steps. In the end, the extra effort paid off, as I saw several features I might have missed otherwise, including the Rodin Museum, where the French sculptor's classic "The Thinker" is on display. (It is one of 20-some replicas around the world; see rodinmuseum.org.) Right in front of that sculpture, I saw a family of Common Yellowthroats, mentioned in my September 9 blog post about birds.

After completing my "marathon" circuit walk around the museum and festival area, I drove to the east side of downtown Philadelphia, near the Delaware River. Parking was scarce, even on a Sunday morning, but I found a place that charged $4 per half hour. I quickly walked over to Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and then to the building where the Liberty Bell is housed. (Unfortunately, I didn't have time for the nearby Independence Visitor Center or the National Constitution Center.) I was taken aback by two things: several members of the Falun Gong (a.k.a. Falun Dafa) religious sect who were protesting persecution in China, and a display about the history of U.S. slavery outside the entrance to the Liberty Bell building. I suppose it is meant to call attention to the fact that not all Americans shared in the new-found freedoms of 1776, but to me it seemed out of place -- an unnecessary sour note. I timed my hasty visit almost perfectly, but couldn't quite get out of the parking garage before the 30 minutes had elapsed, and had to pay $8 total. frown

Independence Hall

Independence Hall, in the historic district on the east side of Philadelphia.

Next I drove toward the north side of Philadelphia, in search of the sites of two former baseball stadiums, and quite unexpectedly ended up attending a church service, at the invitation of one of the local people. (He wondered what I was doing taking pictures of his church, which stands on land formerly occupied by Shibe Park / Connie Mack Stadium.) Deliverance Evangelistic Church was quite an experience, and I was happy to be so warmly welcomed. There were at least a thousand people in the congregation, with about 30 people in the choir, along with an organ, electric bass guitar, and drums. Quite a joyful noise! But with no set liturgical sequence, I couldn't tell whether the service was about to end or not, so after about two hours I discreetly got up and left. I noticed that other people were doing likewise, which made me feel better. I then drove toward the east through some very blighted neighborhoods, stopped briefly at a park along the Delaware River, and then got on I-95 northbound.

After a half hour or so I crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey, not far from where General George Washington did the same thing prior to the Battle of Trenton on December 25, 1776. I decided not to take the New Jersey Turnpike, but stayed on Route 1 for the next 30 or so miles, and it worked out pretty well. Crossing the toll bridge into Staten Island was a bit of a shock, as it cost me $15, but fortunately the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn was free. This was the first time I had visited New York without going into Manhattan. (My previous visits were in 1987, 1989, 1994, 2004, and 2008.) [I had my first glimpse of the new Freedom Tower, which was built on the site of the former World Trade Center Twin Towers.] For a list of all the skyscrapers in New York, including the newest ones, see amny.com, an affiliate of Newsday. It was quite a struggle driving through the extremely congested streets of Brooklyn as I searched for the site of Ebbets Field, and likewise as I drove from there into Queens, trying to find Citi Field, where the Nationals were playing the New York Mets. I had to pay a toll one more time while in New York, crossing the Whitestone Bridge into The Bronx [from Queens after the game was over].

Arthur Ashe Stadium

Arthur Ashe Stadium, at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open tennis tournament was just getting underway. It is located about a quarter mile from Citi Field, from whence this photo was taken. Note the brand-new retractable roof which was built this year.

Sept. 5: Providence, Boston

Originally, I had planned to see the New York Yankees play a home game on Monday afternoon, but Hurricane Hermine was approaching, and I feared that I would miss a rare opportunity to get daylight photos in Fenway Park. So I changed plans and headed directly toward Boston. I stopped briefly at the historic port town of Mystic, Connecticut, made famous by the movie Mystic Pizza. Then I entered Rhode Island, and my first impression of the smallest state was not a good one, I'm sorry to say. The rest stop building was closed for repairs, and the porta-potties outside were disgusting beyond description. Budget cuts? But my first-ever visit to the city of Providence was more pleasant, and I stopped to take photos of the State House and other buildings of note.

Rhode Island state house

The Rhode Island state house (capitol building), on the north side of downtown Providence.

[After Providence,] I passed through the suburb of Pawtucket, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, a minor league affiliate of the Boston MLB franchise. Then I entered Massachusetts and took the first exit to Foxboro, where Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots, is located. By fortunate coincidence, right next door I came across a combined wetland nature area / cranberry bog which is owned by the Ocean Spray company.

I finally arrived in Boston just after 1:00, and despite my best efforts to plan an efficient route, I managed to take at least two wrong turns that wasted at least a half an hour. I found Boston University's Nickerson Field, which is what is left of the former Braves Field, but being pressed for time, I stayed only about ten minutes there. I arrived at Fenway Park just in time for the 2:00 guided tour, joining a group of about 25 visitors. I was enthralled to enter these ancient hallowed grounds, and snapped photos furiously throughout the hour-long tour. [Afterwards,] I wanted to drive past Boston Common and get some photos of downtown landmarks such as Old North Church, but the traffic was too heavy for me to bother with. [Also, the skies were becoming overcast.]

Boston Symphony Hall

Boston Symphony Hall.

Just as I was leaving Boston, the winds picked up and rain started to fall. I timed my visit perfectly! That evening in Connecticut, the remnants of the tropical storm Hermine really blasted the area, but the rain wasn't as heavy as I had feared. I spent the night in a suburb east of New Haven, and my usually-keen sense of direction failed me, as I took a couple wrong turns on dark country roads.

Sept. 6: New Jersey

After deciding to go to Boston rather than see a Yankees game on Monday, my backup plan was to take a tour of Yankee Stadium. I was utterly exhausted from three straight days of intensive driving through heavily-congested big cities, however, so I decided not to. Instead, I took the I-287 bypass around the north side of New City, crossing the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee Bridge, where I saw a big replacement bridge being constructed. [The very hilly terrain of that part of New Jersey surprised me, but it flattened out as I drove south.] I then stopped at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. Jacqueline and I were looking for it when we visited New York City in 2004, but never could find it. This time, I followed road signs to the destination, with very little trouble.

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge sign

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

After leaving the Great Swamp, I drove through a couple quaint suburban towns in New Jersey (making me think of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils' song "Arroyo"), and then headed straight west on I-78, passing the old steel towns of Bethlehem and Allentown, Pennsylvania. (I kept thinking of Billy Joel's song "Allentown.") I had thought about stopping, but didn't see any obvious scenic spot, so I kept going west until I reached the state capital, Harrisburg. From there it was only about an hour back to Maryland, then briefly crossing the eastern "arm" of West Virginia, and finally passing Winchester, Virginia into the Shenandoah Valley. I got home as the sun was about to set, and slept very soundly that night. It was quite a trip, and I was quite tired! As mentioned in the first paragraph, those who are curious can view many more photos, including some large panoramic views of city skylines and sports stadiums, on the Chronological (2016) photo gallery page.

NOTE: I made a few corrections and additions (marked with [brackets]) subsequent to the original post.



Nats' magic number: 7

September 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nats edge the Mets, and vice versa

After the series in Washington this week, the New York Mets are no longer a contender for the NL East Division, and are focused entirely on the wild card race against the Cardinals and the Giants. On Tuesday night the Nats scored first in the bottom of the second, and the score was 1-1 until the fifth inning, as rookie pitcher A.J. Cole had another solid outing. But the Mets took a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning, and he was done. It looked bleak in the bottom of the ninth, but the Nats staged a heroic rally to tie the game, 3-3. With runners on first and second with nobody out, and Ryan Zimmerman up to bat, it seemed all but certain. But alas, Ryan struck out and Danny Espinosa grounded into a double play, sending the game into extras. Mark Melancon pitched for the Nats in the top of the tenth, whereupon T. Rivera hit a solo homer, and that decided the ball game. Final score: Mets 4, Nats 3.

On Wednesday afternoon, Tanner Roark took the mound, and quickly got himself into hot water: bases loaded and only one out! But he kept his cool, and escaped any damage by getting a strikeout and a [long foul] out. After that, the Mets failed to get any hits off him for the next few innings, as the score remained tie, 0-0. Then in the bottom of the seventh, Wilson Ramos crushed a solo home run way up into the Red Porch seats at Nationals Park, and that ended up being the only score of the game. Mark Melancon got three consecutive outs in the ninth inning to get the save.

That put the Nationals back to a ten-game lead over the Mets in the NL East, reducing their magic number to just seven. The Nats will probably clinch the division title in Miami next week, on the road just like two years ago. (That was in Atlanta.) The weekend series that is about to get underway in Atlanta will be the Nationals' final visit to Turner Field, which will be replaced next year by SunTrust Park. (Construction is nearing completion.)

Stunning walk-off homer in Boston

In the [first] game of the Yankees-Red Sox series in Boston last night, David Ortiz hit a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth, the 537th homer of his career, thereby going ahead of Mickey Mantle. But the Yankees still had a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, and seemed assured of closing the gap in the ultra-tight four-team race for the American League East. But then one of those miraculous comebacks transpired, as the Yanks' vaunted closing pitcher Dellin Betances gave up two walks, and then with two outs, David Ortiz and Mookie Betts hit consecutive RBI singles to make a 5-4 game. It was almost like October 2004 all over again. And then Hanley Ramirez came to the plate, and belted a home run into the center field stands, to win it 7-5, sending Bostonians into ecastic jubilation. For all the details, see MLB.com.

Fenway Park - Thank You Big Papi sign

Closeup of the Green Monster at Fenway Park, with the "Thank You Big Papi" sign on the other side of Lansdowne Street. (September 5, 2016)

Stunning walk-off homer in Chicago

This afternoon in Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs came back from a 4-2 deficit with a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. Losing two in a row to the Brewers would have been an embarrassment. In the tenth inning, the Cubs' Miguel Montero hit a dramatic walk-off home run to give the Cubbies their 94th win of the year. They had already clinched the NL Central Division title the night before after the St. Louis Cardinals lost.

Braves Field tweak

Much like with Baker Bowl and Shibe Park a few days ago, I realized that the directional compasses on the Braves Field diagrams were off by about ten degrees, because the street grid in that part of Boston is slightly "tilted," so I tweaked those diagrams ever-so-slightly. The only other thing that changed were the office building, which now shows the roof creases, and the football gridirons, which are rendered with solid lines rather than dotted lines. I also added another photo I took earlier this month, a closeup of Nickerson Field.

New stadium in K.C.?

That's what my brother Dan is hoping for: a retro-design ballpark in historic downtown Kansas City, which has been enjoying a renaissance over the past decade or so. Read his letter to the editor in the Kansas City Star. You heard it here first!



September 14, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to McCormick's Farm

This morning I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip led by Jo King to McCormick's Farm (located on the southern edge of Augusta County), and it was very successful. Not long after we started, Diane Holsinger recognized two Philadelphia Vireos that were mixed in with a Warbling Vireo or two, and I struggled to get in position for a photo, in vain. After an hour or so, after we had returned to the parking lot, I finally got a nice photo of one. Along the way, we had nice views of birds around the big pond, a brief glimpse of a Common Yellowthroat, a Red-tailed Hawk, some Eastern Wood Pewees, and what we thought was a Bay-breasted Warbler, but turned out to be a Chestnut-sided Warbler. We also saw a Kingfisher, a Great Blue Heron, and a young Green Heron, probably one of the ones I saw there in late August. I was happy to get some good photos of a Solitary Sandpiper, but was hoping to see more warblers. Call me greedy. After the others left, I stayed around for another 15-20 minutes in hopes of getting a better photo of a Philadelphia Vireo, but no such luck. I did, however, see a young Bald Eagle circling over a field to the north. Then I drove to nearby Willow Lake, and saw another Green Heron and another Great Blue Heron.

Philadelphia Vireos are similar to Warbling Vireos, but are slightly smaller, with distinctive yellow throat and breast. I'm pretty sure the last time I saw one was three years ago, on Bell's Lane. And by amazing coincidence, I spent four days in Philadelphia two weeks ago! (NOTE: As with many bird species, this one's geographic-based name has nothing to do with its actual range; Baltimore Orioles, Kentucky Warblers, etc. are most prevalent outside the respective city or state.)

Birds Montage 14 Sep 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Wood Pewee, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-tailed Hawk, Green Heron (juv.), Solitary Sandpiper, Bald Eagle (juv.), and in center Chestnut-sided Warbler. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Philadelphia Vireo enlarged.

Enlarged images of some birds in that montage, and a few others, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.



Nats' magic number: 9

September 13, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nationals wallop the Mets

The Washington Nationals came out slugging against the New York Mets last night, taking advantage of walks with a series of clutch RBIs. Recently-acquired Mat Latos was the Nats' emergency starter, and he did just fine, giving up just one run over 4 1/3 innings. (He evidently suffered a cramp of some sort.) Not only that, he hit a home run to start the bottom of the third inning, the fourth of his career. That sparked a rally that culminated in a three-run homer by Anthony Rendon. The Nats scored twice more after that, and thanks to a solid bullpen, they won it, 8-1. Daniel Murphy again tormented his former team mates, getting three hits in five at-bats. Rookie Reynaldo Lopez, in his first relief appearance, pitched the final three innings and got the win. The Nats' lead in the NL East thereby climbed to 10 games, and their magic number thereby fell to just 9. The next two games could signify the effective end of the 2016 race in their division...

Shibe Park "photos" & tweak

I added three photos I took two Sundays ago to the Shibe Park page, each showing the historical sign marking that long-gone ballpark's former location. The latter two photos primarily show Deliverance Evangelistic Church, which now occupies the site. (With a seating capacity of about 5,000, it may merit a diagram of its own some day! smile) I also tweaked the directional compasses on each of the diagrams, and did likewise for the Baker Bowl diagrams. Nothing else changed in any of those diagrams, so these are not counted as actual revisions. (I revised the diagrams on both those pages earlier this year, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 20, respectively.) As I first noted on June 9, 2012, the main street grid in Philadelphia is tilted about ten degrees east of due north.

Shibe Park AND Baker Bowl

In addition, I updated the Stadium proximity page, adding a new thumbnail diagram showing the relative positions of Shibe Park and Baker Bowl, as you can see above. Based on city maps and aerial photos I have seen, I estimate that they were about 2,300 feet apart.

Are you ready for some football?

Well, apparently the Washington Redskins aren't: They lost to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on the first of two Monday Night Football games last night, 38-16. Good thing I was watching the Mets-Nationals game! The newly-relocated Los Angeles Rams fared even worse in the second MNF game, losing to the host San Francisco 49ers, 28-0. Anyway, I have added three photos to the Football stadium photos page: Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Philadelphia Eagles since 2003), Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots since 2002), and Franklin Field (home of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers since 1895). That the very same year that Baker Bowl was built! Franklin Field was rebuilt with a second deck in 1922, and has been upgraded over the years, much like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. Too bad more universities don't follow that example. (See pennathletics.com.)

Franklin Field 2016

Franklin Field, as seen from a commuter train; photo retouched to remove window glare. (Sept. 2, 2016)



September 12, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Fall bird migration is underway!

Allen Larner led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway on Saturday, but there was surprisingly little bird activity until the very last planned stop: the Humpback Rocks picnic grounds. There we saw several Scarlet Tanagers, various warblers, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and others shown in the montage below. Most of the birds were high up in the trees, and we all started to suffer from "warbler neck" straining to see them.

Birds Montage 10 Sep 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cape May Warbler, Broad-winged Hawk, Scarlet Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, White-breasted Nuthatch, (prob.) Cape May Warbler, (prob.) Black-throated Green Warbler, (prob.) Bay-breasted Warbler, and in center (prob.) Cape May Warbler.

After the field trip, we stopped at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch open house, where several dozen people were gathered. It was there that I photographed the Broad-winged Hawk seen above, as well as the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird and the (probable) Cape May Warbler in the center. I thought it might be a Magnolia Warbler, given the solid gray shading of the head, but the dark line through the eyes indicates otherwise.

Hawk Watch open house 2016

Scenes from the 2016 Hawk Watch open house. Additional photos of the event can be seen at augustabirdclub.org.




 

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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)
  2. War
  3. Science & Technology *
  4. Politics
  5. Latin America
  6. Culture & Travel *
  7. Canaries ("Home birds")
  8. Baseball (FIRST)

* 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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