March 21, 2014 [LINK / comment]
At long last: Spring training has begun!
What's that? You say that spring training actually began four weeks ago? Ah, you must mean winter training! My calendar clearly indicates that the vernal equinox took place just yesterday, and today was the first full day of spring. As proof of winter's persistence, I offer this photo of preparations for a baseball game that I took while visiting Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this week. It sure doesn't look like "spring" to me:
The University of Virginia grounds crew shoveling snow from the outfield before the game at Davenport Field on Wednesday afternoon.
The U.Va. Cavaliers beat Towson State in that game, 5-3, coming back after the visitors took a 3-0 lead in the first inning. See augustafreepress.com. Attendance was 2,567, but there were probably a lot of no-shows in the cold, drizzly conditions. With the win against Princeton today, the #3-ranked Cavaliers' record is now 17-3, or .850. It would be hard to keep that up for the rest of the season, but there are excellent chances for Virginia to make another trip to the College World Series in Omaha later this spring.
On a more serious note, I need to acknowledge and bewail having fallen way behind on my baseball update duties once again this year. (Well, Lent is the season for repentance.) And so much has happened! The Nationals have a new manager (Matt Williams), and a new starting pitcher (Doug Fister), among other potential stars. I'll refrain from commenting on the Nats, and about other baseball news such as the impending use of expanded instant replay, until later. Due to a "series of unfortunate events," I have simply failed to muster the energy to finish the diagram work I have been doing. Perhaps this wretched, brutal winter with multiple big snow storms had something to do with it. In any event, "spring" training has just about passed me by, and Opening Day is only ten days away!
Baseball in the land down under
Technically, Opening Day is just a few hours away, as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks are about to play in a official, non-exhibition baseball game at the Sydney Cricket Grounds, in Sydney, Australia. From the photos I have seen, the field is shaped like a circle that has been slightly flattened on one side. The grandstand has been expanded and upgraded over the years, and is now double- (or triple-) decked all the way around, except for the side where a staid old clubhouse still stands. Unless they put in temporary fences, there is going to be a huge amount of foul territory, which could result in lots of pop foul balls being caught for outs. It's a great thing that Major League Baseball is reaching out to the friendly nation of Australia, and I hope this helps to spread interest in baseball around the world. The game will be broadcast on MLB TV. See MLB.com.
"Visit" to Metropolitan Stadium
Thanks to the "polar vortex" deep freeze that shut down airports all across the midwest in early January, I had an unexpected opportunity to visit the site of Metropolitan Stadium, in beautiful downtown Bloomington, Minnesota. Chicago O'Hare Airport was shut down, and ironically the only way for me to get back east from South Dakota that day was via Minneapolis-St. Paul. I had a long layover, however, and I took the advice of some friendly information booth folks, and took the light rail over to nearby Mall of America, which was built on the site of the former Metropolitan Stadium. (Pretty awesome indeed, living up to its reputation.) Before long, I found the home plate marker, and took a picture:
Historic marker for the Metropolitan Stadium home plate, at the Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minnesota. Coincidentally, the boy on the right was wearing a Twins "TC" cap. Good for him!
Speaking of the Twins, their fans
ought to be pretty [would have been] psyched by the acquisition of free agent Robinson Cano. [OOPS: It was the Seattle Mariners who acquired him, not the Twins.] (That was a shock to me; I really thought the Yankees were going to keep him as the designated "franchise" player, succeeding Derek Jeter in that role.) As you probably guessed, I decided to revise the Metropolitan Stadium diagrams, and that work is 99% complete. There are a couple significant corrections, actually, so please stay tuned!
My visits to "departed" ballparks
That made me think about my previous visits to the sites of stadiums that were already gone. I believe this list is complete:
- Metropolitan Stadium (2014)
- Sportsman's Park (2011)
- Milwaukee County Stadium (2010)
- Crosley Field (2009)
- Griffith Stadium (2004)
- (K.C.) Municipal Stadium (2002)
- Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (2001)
- League Park (1998)
In addition, I have been to six ballparks that no longer exist: Memorial Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, Busch Stadium II, Tiger Stadium, and Mile High Stadium. (I only saw games in the the first two of those, however.) I was also in the vicinity of three stadiums that have since been demolished (Riverfront Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, and the Kingdome), and I have been near the sites of three stadiums that had already been demolished (fully or partially) by the time of my visit: Veterans Stadium, Braves Field, and Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
The remaining "departed" ballparks on my to-do list: Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, Shibe Park, Baker Bowl, Forbes Field, Exhibition Stadium, Jarry Park, Sun Life (Dolphin) Stadium. That excludes the temporary MLB ballparks such as Colts Stadium. I plan to look for any historical markers the next time I visit those places. Of the stadiums in this "legacy" montage of MLB ballparks, two are no longer in existence, one is in "purgatory," with perhaps just a few years left to go, and even the venerable ancient homes of the Cubs and Red Sox may not last more than ten or twenty more years...
The Metrodome is no more
In Minneapolis, they wasted no time in demolition of the Metrodome, since they want to be finished with the Vikings' new football stadium in time for the 2016 season. (During my brief layover in Minneapolis, I had to choose between seeing the Metrodome for a second time or else going to the site of Metropolitan Stadium for the first time. Not expecting to be given access inside the Metrodome, I just didn't see the point in the first option.) The first major demolition milestone was when the Teflon-fabric roof was deflated in January. In case you haven't seen it already, there's a video at kfan.com. After that, most of the grandstand was gutted and removed by the end of February, and now they have begun with foundation work for the new stadium. Pretty darned fast!
More demolitions to come
As for the other two "doomed" ex-baseball stadiums, it's just a matter of time before they come down as well. Fortunately, however, neither Houston nor San Francisco is in as much of a hurry to get rid of (respectively) the Astrodome and Candlestick Park. That's great news for me, because now there's still a chance I can see them before they are gone forever.
Ironically, the main reason the Astrodome is still standing is that it costs too much to tear it down. (Too bad they didn't think about that in Detroit when the now-bankrupt city government was hellbent on tearing down Tiger Stadium!) The estimated cost of demolishing the Astrodome is $29 to $78 million. See www.inquisitr.com. Frankly, I can't see why they can't sell it to some sort of historic conservancy group and make something useful out of it.
And on the West Coast, finally, San Francisco officials plan to keep Candlestick Park for another year, "fully staffed with a team of 15 gardeners, custodians, stationary engineers and others -- at an annual budget of $5.9 million -- as they try to line up a series of closing events in the coming months." See www.sfgate.com. That is good news indeed!
New name for Rangers Ballpark
In North Texas, meanwhile, it was recently announced that "Rangers Ballpark in Arlington" is being renamed "Globe Life Park in Arlington" under a 10-year contract with said insurance company. That covers the remainder of the Rangers' lease for the stadium. See wfaa.com. Accordingly, I have updated the Stadium chronology, annual page and the Stadium names page.
From what I can tell, only nine MLB teams have not sold the naming rights to their stadiums:
- Angel Stadium of Anaheim
- Dodger Stadium
- Fenway Park
- Marlins Park
- Oriole Park at Camden Yards
- Kauffman Stadium
- Wrigley Field
- Yankee Stadium
- Nationals Park
March Madness: Wahoo!
OK, I admit that I've been more than a little bit taken up in the hoopla over the University of Virginia Cavalier's men's basketball team this year. I'm not much of a basketball fan, but anyone who is into sports has to appreciate the Cavs' phenomenal climb from unranked status at the beginning of this year to becoming the #1 seed in the NCAA East regional championship bracket. The Cavs not only won the regular season in a triumphant victory over the formerly #1 nationally ranked Syracuse Orangemen, but breezed through the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament held in Greensboro, North Carolina. Last Sunday they outplayed the Duke Blue Devils in the ACC championship game, holding a narrow lead for most of the game, and then pulling away at the end, winning by a score of 72-63. Wa-hoo-wa!
In the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament tonight, the Cavaliers had a scare in the first half, falling ten points behind 16th-seed Coastal Carolina. (!?) But then U.Va. came back in the second half and built a 13-point lead late in the game, finally winning by a score of 70-59. Whew!
March 28, 2014 [LINK / comment]
What a month! Bird "fallout" from winter storms
For most people, March 2014 has been one of the worst weather months in years, but for bird lovers, it was one of the best -- thanks in no small part to the weather! Repeated bouts of the "polar vortex" forced a number of birds further south than their habitual wintering grounds, and every snowstorm seemed to yield a big birding dividend. In fact, I spent so much time looking for birds, photographing birds, digitally editing the images of birds, and uploading them to the Internet, that I hardly had any time left over to blog about birds -- or about much of anything else, for that matter! This colorful montage will serve as a starting point for my recapitulation of this amazing month, from beginning to end:
Montage of various ducks and grebes, all photographed this month. Clockwise from upper left: Hooded Merganser (M), Northern Shovelers (M & F), Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup (both M), Red-necked Grebes, and American Wigeon (M).
The first big snow storm came on March 3, and as the white stuff piled up, I was surprised to see Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Grackles in our back yard, along with the other usual birds. The next day I headed out to Bell's Lane with my camera, and photographed Savannah Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows. A few days later I was alerted to a Fox Sparrow in the back yard of Penny Warren, president of the Augusta Bird Club, but my repeated visits there did not bear fruit. I had better luck when I went to Lake Shenandoah on March 9, getting some decent photos of Red-necked Grebes. (See above.) I had to scramble along some treacherous muddy slopes to get close enough, but it was worth it! There were plenty of Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaups as well, but none of the Red-breasted Mergansers which I had seen there in February.
The next big event was a sighting of three Sandhill Cranes in some fields west of Harrisonburg. I went up there on March 11, I drove for miles and miles in vain. But the next time, on March 13 (lucky number?), I managed to spot the heads of those Sandhill Cranes peeking up from behind some reeds next to a pond. It was hard to believe, but when they jumped up and flew a short distance to a nearby corn field, there was no doubt about their identity. Yes! The only time I had seen that species before was at a rest stop in Indiana in 1998, and that was just a brief glimpse. The photo below may not look that impressive, but it was taken from a distance of about 350 yards, and for me it will do just fine.
Sandhill Cranes, west of Harrisonburg, March 13.
Other bird sightings
The very next day I ventured over to Waynesboro (shopping for some musical items), and afterwards made a quick stop at the South River Greenway, near the Invista manufacturing complex. While walking along the trail, all of a sudden I spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron standing on a concrete spillway on the other side of the river. So, I quickly snapped a few photos, and they turned out pretty clear:
Black-crowned Night Heron, in Waynesboro, on March 14.
After that, I went for a short walk in the woods at Coyner Springs Park, south of Waynesboro, and saw many more Robins and Juncos, as well as a loud Flicker up above. The highlight, however, was a Yellow-rumped Warbler which responded to the iPod-played song by approaching close enough for an excellent photo in the bright afternoon sun.
Bonanza on Bell's Lane
The next blast of winter (on March 16-17) shut down virtually all the schools and stores, but proved to be a blessing in disguise for us bird watchers. Jacqueline and I spent most of the day in Highland County, enjoying the annual Maple Festival there, and I got some good photos of Hooded Mergansers. (See above.) We also saw plenty of Meadowlarks and Robins, but no Eagles, which I had been hoping for. The snow began falling, so we headed back home and upon returning, I learned via e-mail that a flock of Tundra Swans had been sighted by Allen Larner on Bell's Lane, so I made a quick visit there and was barely able to make out the huge white birds on the big upland pond, about 300 yards away.
The next day, after shoveling snow (AGAIN!), I drove out there again, and saw hundreds of Robins along the road. I caught a glimpse of a reddish-hued bird, and within a few minutes spotted some Fox Sparrows in the stream and along the road. Finally! I met up with Penny Warren as I approached the upland portion of Bell's Lane, and she told me about a strange bird she saw that turned out to be an American Pipit. The little guy was very cooperative as I approached for a photo op. Excellent! Also of note: many Meadowlarks, White-crowned Sparrows, a Killdeer, and a Northern Harrier. It was truly an amazing day, marred only by the overcast skies! I returned the next day, and got better photos of the Tundra Swans, but the other birds were gone.
Fox Sparrow, on Bell's Lane, March 17.
American Pipit, on Bell's Lane, March 17.
Tundra Swans, on Bell's Lane, March 18.
On Wednesday, March 19, I had to go over to Charlottesville, and on the way back I stopped in Crozet, where a Red-shouldered Hawk was perching on a wire very close by. It was cloudy and drizzly, however, so the photo was only average quality. Further west, in the community of Greenwood, I stopped at Emmanuel Episcopal Church (same name as our church!), and saw a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but my attempts to photograph them were totally frustrated.
Snow Goose chase
A few days later, after most of the snow had melted, I responded to a report of a Snow Goose and a Ross's Goose near Harrisonburg, and drove up there on the spur of the moment. I stopped briefly at Lake Shenandoah and got a nice closeup of an American Coot, but the Red-necked Grebes were too far away for a good photo. Then I drove over to nearby Rockingham Memorial Hospital, and located the pond in back, where another birder was already present. Sure enough, there was the gleaming white Snow Goose, which graciously stayed put as I cautiously approached to within 100 feet for a photo.
Snow Goose, behind Rockingham Memorial Hospital, March 22.
[One day later I headed north again, in search of some Eurasian Collared-Doves that had been seen in the town of Mount Solon. (I had seen two of that species in Sangerville, just a few miles away, in 2007.) I parked at the small post office in Mount Solon, and after a few minutes heard the distinctive "ca-coo-coo" call. Soon I spotted a pair in a nearby tree, taking several photos, and then saw a third one about 100 yards to the west. I speculate that Eurasian Collared-Doves are establishing a colony in this part of Augusta County. They entered North America about 10-20 years ago, probably via the Caribbean, but they are primarily found further to the south and west of Virginia.]
And speaking of snow, we had yet another round of frozen precipitation on March 25. During a heavy snow squall, I took a photo of a Mockingbird that looks very uncomfortable, almost as if it were cringing.
Since January, there have been multiple reports of a Clay-colored Sparrow near the Day's Inn on Bell's Lane, but each time I went looking for it, my search ended in frustration. Apparently the bird is more active during the early morning, and I kept arriving there in the afternoon. But on Wednesday March 26, I finally got lucky. After looking in vain for a rare Eurasian Green-winged Teal Fishersville area, I drove along Bell's Lane on the way home. Just in case, I decided on the spur of the moment to turn left up the hill toward the Day's Inn, where the rare bird had been reported. After looking all around for a while, I saw a group of sparrows in the grass by the road, and noticed one that looked paler. Could it be? I grabbed the binoculars and quickly confirmed that it was indeed a Clay-colored Sparrow. Fortunately, I was able to take a few photos from my car before it flew away. I then tried to approach it on foot a couple times, but couldn't quite get the shot I wanted. But this image is more than enough:
Clay-colored Sparrow, near the Day's Inn on Bell's Lane, March 26.
The only previous time I had seen a Clay-colored Sparrow was at the ruins of Teotihuacan, north of Mexico City, in 2003. That's an indication of how far north of its normal wintering grounds this particular bird was. Ver-r-ry interesting...
Visit to Piney River
On the way back from CVCC yesterday (March 27), I stopped at Piney River, one of my favorite birding hot spots in Nelson County. Even with snow still on the ground, I anticipated that some of the early spring migrants might have arrived, and soon after I played its song on my iPod (with the Audubon Birding app), a Pine Warbler flew over in response. First of the year! Appropriately, it was flittering about high up in pine trees, but the angle of the sun made it very hard to get a good photo. I had much better luck with photographing a Hermit Thrush that was foraging along the asphalt path. Then I stopped at Rockfish Elementary School in Nelson County, where some Wilson's Snipes had been reported, but none were present that day. I did see a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk in a nearby tree, however, so I snapped several photos of it.
After recrossing the Blue Ridge into Augusta County, I paid a brief visit to Quillen's Pond south of Stuarts Draft, and was surprised to see a Double-crested Cormorant about 150 yards away. After a while, it apparently got nervous by my presence and made a "running start" along the water to get airborne, after which it climbed in a circular pattern and then resumed its northbound migration. Very impressive! There were also a couple dozen Ring-necked Ducks on the other side of the pond.
New bird photo gallery
Even though I haven't had any blog posts about birds this month, I have been regularly posting photos of birds on Facebook and on my Web site. In addition to the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery, which includes all decent-quality bird photos I have taken over the past several years, I have created a new bird photo gallery: Wild Birds species list, with the best photo I have taken for 183 species. Right now, it includes only birds found in Augusta County (with one exception), but in due course I intend to add to it birds photographed in western states or Latin America. I still need to fill in the missing information on when and where each photo was taken. Enjoy!