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April 1, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Opening Weekend 2019

There were a few surprises in the first regular season baseball games to be played in North America this year. The Baltimore Orioles took two of three games from the New York Yankees, to the surprise of many. They won again tonight, but remain in second place behind the Tampa Bay Rays. But thanks to their two-game head start in Japan, the Seattle Mariners (see diagram update below) have the best MLB record right now, 5-1.

In Our Nation's Capital, the Washington Nationals stumbled out of the starting gates against the visiting New York Mets. In typical fashion, Max Scherzer threw a brilliant game with a dozen strikouts and only two hits over 7 2/3 innings, but both of those hits resulted in runs scored. In the first inning, former Yankee and Mariner Robinson Cano homered in his very first at bat as a Met. Scherzer just refuses to back down from a challenge, and he paid for it once again. But facing Cy Young Award winner Jacob DeGrom, Scherzer's team failed to give him any run support, and he took the loss in a classic pitchers' duel. Mets 2, Nats 0. It was only the second time the Nats had been shut out on Opening Day, the first being in 2011 against the Braves. The only bright spot for the Nats was Trea Turner, who got two hits and stole three bases.

On Saturday, Stephen Strasburg had a shaky start, giving up three runs in the first inning, but then he got in command of the situation. He left after throwing eight strikeouts over six innings [virtually the same numbers as the Mets' pitcher Noah Syndergaard], and the Nats bailed him out by tying the game 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth. But then the Nats bullpen imploded, and dark memories of similar episodes in 2018 came to mind. In his first appearance since returning from Tommy John surgery, relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal gave up four runs without recording an out in the top of the eighth inning. In the ninth inning, Matt Grace and Wander Suero gave up three more runs, giving the Mets a seven-run lead. The Nats rallied with four runs in the ninth inning, as Ryan Zimmerman came within a few feet of hitting a grand slam to left field, but it was all for nought. Final score: 11-8. frown Worth noting is that Victor Robles hit the first home run of the year for the Nationals, in the third inning.

On Sunday, Patrick Corbin took the mound in his debut appearance as a National, and he pitched pretty well. (Whew!) He gave up just two runs over six innings and was in line for the win, thanks primarily to a three-run homer by Trea Turner in the third inning. But once again, the Nats' bullpen imploded in the eighth inning, as new Nats reliever Tony Sipp gave up two hits while only getting one out, and then Trevor Rosenthal immediately gave up an RBI single to Robinson Cano. Oh-oh. So then manager Dave Martinez sounds the alarm and brings in closing pitcher Sean Doolittle to put the fire out, but the move didn't work. Doolittle gave up three hits and two runs, blowing the save. He got through the top of the ninth with only one hit, and the game went into the bottom of the ninth tied 5-5. After Adam Eaton flied out, Trea Turner came up to bat and got to a full 3-2 count before swinging at a low pitch and just clearing the left field wall for a dramatic and desperately-needed walk-off home run. YES!!! smile I have already added that bit of information to the Washington Nationals page.

On a sad note, former National Daniel Murphy, who signed a contract as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies, broke his finger while making a diving catch. He'll be out of action for several weeks at least.

UVa makes it to NCAA Final Four!

In other sports news, the University of Virginia Cavaliers have advanced to the NCAA Men's Final Four championship for the first time since 1984. They beat the Purdue Boilermakers 80-75 in a very tight game that went into overtime thanks to a miraculous last-second shot by Mamadi Diakite. (I knew he was from west Africa but just learned that he was born in Conakry, Guinea.) The Cavaliers were ranked #2 in the nation for much of the season, much like last year, when they were eliminated in the first round, and three years ago, when they only made it as far as the "Elite Eight" round. The Final Four will be played in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium, which occupies the same ground where the Metrodome once stood, so in a sense it will be the third Final Four played at that location.

I thought it might be useful to gather information on all the Final Four events held in stadiums that were home to MLB teams, or in which MLB teams have played. Later on, I may add this table to the Other sports use page, which I created last June.

NCAA Men's Final Four championships held in baseball* stadiums

Venue City, state 1st year 2nd year 3rd year 4th year 5th year
Astrodome Houston, TX 1971
Louisiana Superdome * New Orleans, LA 1982 1987 1993 2003 2012
Kingdome Seattle, WA 1984 1989 1995
HHH Metrodome Minneapolis, MN 1992 2001
Alamodome * San Antonio, TX 1998 2004 2008
[ Tropicana Field St. Petersburg, FL 1999 ]

* Including stadiums used by MLB teams in exhibition games.

I may eventually do a diagram of the Alamodome, since it can be (and has been) reconfigured for baseball games. While researching that in my World Almanac and on the often-reliable Wikipedia, I discovered that the "University of Phoenix Stadium" (home of the NFL Arizona Cardinals) is now called "State Farm Stadium."

Kingdome

Kingdome minor tweak

To commemorate Virginia's last appearance in the Final Four, I decided to make a quick, minor diagram update to the venue where they played in 1984 -- the Kingdome, former home of the Seattle Mariners (and Seahawks, Supersonics, etc.). There is a new middle-deck diagram, since the second deck was entirely covered by the upper deck and therefore not otherwise visible. The only real change involved the position of the entry portals in the upper deck (moved back a couple feet), and showing details of the small stairs on either side of each upper-deck entry portal. In addition, there is now a dark line in back of the lateral walkway in the lower deck, since the grandstand pitch was relatively steep and there was a significant vertical discontinuity, along with a barrier. Those diagrams were last updated in January 2015. I need to find the original photo slide so I can make a better scanned image than the one which is posted on that page. (I passed by the Kingdome while I was in Seattle in 1987.)

R.I.P. Fred Malek

One of the leading contenders seeking to purchase the Washington Nationals franchise 13 years ago, Fred Malek, passed away last week. The Washington Post article about him highlighted his role in the Nixon administration's "hunt" for Jewish officials in the Federal bureaucracy, which was indeed a sorry affair. Malek seemed to be a loyal party man first and foremost, the very epitome of the much-maligned "Washington Establishment," but he was also a big fan of baseball who strove for many years to get the National Pastime back to the Nation's Capital. As far back as March 2002 I was regularly commenting in my blog on his strong efforts to purchase the Montreal Expos in order to bring baseball back to Washington. In contrast, until September 2005 I wasn't even aware of Ted Lerner and his family, who ended up winning the bidding war for the franchise the following May. Here's hoping that Malek is remembered for his involvement in getting baseball back to D.C.


April 8, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Nationals' bullpen: disaster area

Thus far, the Washington Nationals' bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster. Imagine a town devastated by a tsunami, a forest fire, and a hurricane all at once. For the first nine games of the 2019 season, they have an ERA above 10. In four of the Nats' five losses, the deciding runs were scored in the late innings of the game. Of course, most painful have been the unnecessary losses when the Nationals had been leading in the latter innings: March 30 (NYM 11, WSH 8) and April 6 (NYM 6, WSH 5). But even in two of their four wins, the bullpen likewise gave up multiple runs. For example, in yesterday's game against the Mets in New York, the Nats enjoyed a comfortable 12-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning, whereupon the Mets scored five runs. The home team almost pulled off a miracle in the ninth inning, scoring three more runs, but ending up losing, 12-9. Another near-disaster for the Nats: on April 3, the Phillies scored four runs in the eighth inning to tie the game, but the Nats won on a "walk-off walk" with the bases loaded, as rookie Jake Noll refrained from swinging to get his first major league RBI. As a "reward," he was sent down to the minors, making way for Howie Kendrick on the active roster.

So who's to blame? At the top of the list would be Trevor Rosenthal, the former star relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, has faced nine batters this year, and every single one of them has reached base. Until yesterday's game, where he walked one batter and hit the other with a pitch, every one of those batters ended up scoring. His ERA is currently infinity, and after he (presumably) gets his first out of the season, his ERA will drop to something like 186. Hard to believe. He is coming off from Tommy John surgery, so it's understandable that he needs a period of adjustment, but still...Other hapless Nats relievers include Joe Ross (81.00 ERA), Tony Sipp (15.43 ERA), Wander Suero (15.00 ERA), and Matt Grace (13.50 ERA). The other Nats relievers, Kyle Barraclough and Justin Miller, have ERAs in the "normal" range.

On the positive side, the Nationals won consecutive games for the first time this year, winning 9-8 on Wednesday and 4-0 on Thursday, bouncing back to .500. They took two out of three games in New York, but with tonight's loss their record is back down to 4-5.

These nine games don't mean all that much, but if the Nats don't end this month at least with a winning record, grumblings about the evident persistent lack of leadership will arise once again. Dave Martinez knows his job is on the line, and it's up to him to make the highly talented pitching staff perform according to expected standards.

Chase Field

Chase Field quick update

Mike Zurawski recently alerted me to some photos of the new artificial turf at Chase Field (see azcentral.com), showing that the thin dirt path between the mound and home plate is gone. But guess what? I noticed a slight discrepancy with my diagrams, as far as the position of the bend in the grandstand near first (and third) base! So I set about fixing that, and while I was at it made a couple other tiny changes to the Chase Field diagrams. One significant consequence is that foul territory has shrunk, but I haven't done a calculation of that just yet.

And just for the record, I made a couple very small corrections to the Kingdome diagrams after the update was announced on April Fool's Day. No foolin'! smile

Virginia championship?

In other sports, the University of Virginia Cavaliers are currently in the NCAA Men's Basketball championship game (at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis) against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, hailing from Lubbock, Texas. Go Cavaliers!!! smile


April 10, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Robles & Soto save the Nats' day

The Nationals' two young slugging pals from the Dominican Republic, Victor Robles and Juan Soto, combined to turn another disheartening loss yesterday into a dramatic and memorable triumph. Stephen Strasburg gave up a three-run home run to Bryce Harper in the third inning, and Strasburg left the game after four innings with his team behind, 6-1. With all the bad vibes from the repeated bullpen meltdowns, the Nationals were on the verge of a very disheartening trajectory. Then the Nats started to put a few runs on the board, including home runs by Yan Gomes in the seventh inning and Howie Kendrick in the eighth inning. But the Nats were still one run behind in the top of the ninth with two outs and two strikes on Victor Robles. Things looked bleak. But just then Robles swung at a low pitch and knocked that ball into the left field seats to tie the game! In the tenth inning, Juan Soto crushed a ball into the middle deck down the right field line for a three-run homer. Robles doubled in another run after that, and the Nats won the game, 10-6! Would it be too much to suggest that Robles and Soto may have saved the Nationals' year? So I added that bit of info to the Washington Nationals page.

Tonight, the Nats got on the board three times in the first inning, and they just kept pounding the ball inning after inning. Even without a home run, the scored 15 runs and were on the verge of their biggest shutout score ever, when shaky relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal took the mound in the bottom of the ninth. It was a perfect situation for the hurler with an ERA of infinity. Once again, Rosenthal had lousy command, and he walked the bases loaded but managed to get three outs while only giving up one run, so now his ERA is "just" 72.

And so, amazingly enough, the Nationals have now won consecutive series against the Mets and the Phillies, and are now just one game behind those two (and the Braves) in the NL East.

Nats' bullpen stabilizes

In both their wins in Philadelphia, the Nationals' bullpen managed to avoid any further catastrophes, putting multiple zeros on the board. In my recent lament about the bullpen, I left out the closing pitcher Sean Doolittle, whose ERA is zero even though three runs scored thanks to hits he allowed last week. But he helped big time last night, getting the last two outs of the ninth inning, and all three outs of the tenth.

Healing and injury

Soon after joining active roster, Howie Kendrick hit a home run, the first pinch-hit home run of his career. Michael A. Taylor is also back in the lineup, but has not yet had a hit.

Another piece of bad news for the Nationals, which I should have mentioned before: Their speedy and versatile shortstop Trea Turner suffered a broken finger while trying to bunt last week, and he will probably be on the "Injured List" (formerly called the "Disabled List") until June.

Early team performance

With an 6-5 record thus far, the Nationals have exactly matched their performance up to the same point last year. The following table (updated from the one I posted on April 21, 2016, when I also noted the passing of my father, Alan L. Clem), compares the Nationals' record during the first ten games for each season since they relocated to Washington from Montreal in 2005:

Year First ten games (W-L) Season total (%)
2005 6-4 .500
2006 2-8 .438
2007 2-8 .451
2008 3-7 .366
2009 1-9 .364
2010 5-5 .426
2011 5-5 .497
2012 7-3 .605
2013 7-3 .531
2014 7-3 .593
2015 4-6 .512
2016 9-1 .586
2017 6-4 .599
2018 5-5 .506
2019 5-5 ???

Sick's Stadium

Sick's Stadium update

Since I recently updated the Kingdome diagrams with some small corrections, I figured I ought to do likewise for the Sick's Stadium (a.k.a. "Sicks' Stadium") diagrams. That is the stadium where the ill-fated Seattle Pilots played in 1969, before going bankrupt and being relocated to Milwaukee as the "Brewers" in 1970. It was supposed to be a temporary stadium during construction of the Kingdome, but that didn't get started until several years later. (The last diagram update for Sick's Stadium was Jan. 22, 2015.) Most of the changes in the diagram per se involved the shape and size of the bleacher sections that were added in 1969. Also, the steps leading up from the concourse between the upper and lower portions of the bleachers are now rendered more accurately than before, and likewise for the steps from the concourse in the grandstand. In addition, the warning tracks in foul territory are thinner than before, and finally, the access ramps to the bleachers in right field are now more accurate, with "UP" labels for clarity.


April 14, 2019 [LINK / comment]

A history of rock music, Part I:     from A to G

It has been four months since my last blog post about music (December 7), so before we begin the main narrative about my current alphabetical "fixation" below, let's first get caught up with my public performances during the holiday season. All but one of those performances (January 15) were at the Wednesday night open mic event at Queen City Brewing, hosted by Fritz Horisk. On December 19 I played a random assortment of songs, two of which were ones I had recently learned, and just one with an explicit Christmas theme. (I need to learn more.) With a low turnout of musicians, we each got to do two extra songs, so I chose "Hummingbird" to call attention to the rare Rufous Hummingbird that had recently appeared in Stuarts Draft, and "Luckenbach, Texas," as a tribute to Ed Lawler, a good friend of mine in the Augusta Bird Club who was a Waylon Jennings fan. Ed passed away in November.

# : with harmonica
* : first time in public
(These notations apply throughout this post.)

On the day after New Year's Day, January 2, I played three songs by the Three Dog Night for the first time. I cleverly introduced the first song as if it were a Christmas carol. The other two songs were likewise "first-timers" for me, making five altogether. They all sounded just fine, and it helped me rebuild my confidence, since I had missed a few weeks late in 2018. It's funny how you can lose the knack for public performing so quickly.

[ NOTE: I originally written "So Far Away" rather than "I Feel the Earth Move," but I had already done that one in December. ]

On January 15, for the first time, I joined Kimball Swanson, Doug Boxley, and Gerry Choate at the Valley Mission, a local shelter for homeless people and folks who are temporarily down on their luck. Those guys have been entertaining the residents roughly once a month for at least a couple years, I believe, and I have to say it was about as rewarding as any other public performance I have done. The folks were extremely appreciative, and some of the kids came up and talked to us after we were done playing. I hope to go back there again later this month. I played along with the other guys and then led them in four of my favorite songs by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils:

Alphabetical progression begins

A is for America: On January 23, I began my weekly series going in alphabetical order more or less by accident. Early in January, Daryl Dragon, "The Captain" in the pop duo "Captain and Tennille" (along with the singer whom he later married, Toni Tennille) passed away. Everybody knows them for the song "Love Will Keep Us Together," but as a sort of tribute to Mr. Dragon, I played a song they did which had previously been recorded by the group America: "Muskrat Love." With an odd rhythm, that song is tougher to play than you might think. Then I played three other America songs, the latter two of which I had done before. They sounded much better this this time.

B is for Beatles: As I prepared for the open mic event on January 30, I started thinking seriously for the first time about going through the entire 26-letter alphabet week by week. There wasn't much doubt that I was going to do the Beatles, although Bob Dylan was a plausible alternative. All four songs were "first-timers" for me, or at least I think so. I may have done "Strawberry Fields Forever" previously, but if so, I didn't make note of it. All four songs came across very well, and host Fritz Horisk (who is a big Beatles fan) was impressed. His opinion carries a lot of weight with me.

C is for Chicago While introducing my songs on February 6, I put more emphasis on the alphabetical progression. It was hard not to do songs by Chicago, since I had just learned most of them during the late summer and fall, and I always enjoy doing songs that are still "fresh" in my mind. My friend from the bird club, Peter Van Acker was there, and I think I did pretty well for the most part. "Beginnings" is quite challenging, and I probably came up a little short on that one.

D is for Doobie Brothers: On March 6, I went with the Doobie Brothers; David Bowie was the only other real choice, and his material is probably too offbeat even for me. The guitar sounded good on all four songs, but I missed a few notes on the harmonica while playing the lead part on "China Grove." The fact that it was Ash Wednesday made the second song all the more appropriate. I had done "Long Train Runnin'" a few times before, and I have it down. The final song was not bad, but didn't elicit as much audience response as I had hoped.

E is for Eagles: There was no doubt about it on March 13: the Eagles are probably my favorite group of all time, and I play over three dozen of their songs. Now a "normal" musician would play some of the Eagles' best-known hit tunes such as "Take It Easy" -- but not me! I felt compelled to probe into the lesser-known "deep cuts" such as "Nightingale" and "Take the Devil," which were from the first Eagles album. (I only learned them recently, in fact.) Then came "Witchy Woman" (the only hit song I played that night) to show off my harmonica playing, and finally the mellow "Love Will Keep Us Alive." That got warm applause.

Also that night, another guy played Tom Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane," which I also do, so I accomanied him on the harmonica (while remaining seated in the back) at the appropriate points in the song. That got knowing smiles.

F is for Fleetwood Mac: March 20 marked the first time I had been to the Queen City Brewing open mic night for three consecutive weeks for several months. I chose Fleetwood Mac, and again, there really wasn't much in the way of alternatives. It's perhaps odd that I haven't played as many Fleetwood Mac songs in public previously, because they used to be (and probably still are) one of my top four or five groups. Three of the songs I played for the first time in public, and two of them ("Gold Dust Woman" and "Go Your Own Way") I played with a capo, which I had only done recently with those particular songs. I barely even needed to [use the] lyric sheets, since all the songs are so familiar to me. They all came across very well, and I got a big round of applause at the end.

G is for Grateful Dead: This past week (April 10) was the letter "G," which opened several possibilities: On multiple occasions I have played songs by the Gin Blossoms, the Goo Goo Dolls, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Guess Who. But instead, I broke new ground by covering the Grateful Dead. When I played at Shenandoah Brewing last year, somebody suggested that I play some of their songs, which at the time seemed rather far-fetched for me. For one thing, I'm not exactly a "dead-head" in terms of lifestyle, and trying to adopt the necessary attitude or persona to do those songs seemed to be quite a stretch. But, as I told the audience, if there is one consistent trait with me in doing music, it is my utter disregard for convention and expectation. So why the hell not? Earlier this year I started learning Grateful Dead songs, and to my amazement, got pretty good at some of them. I started off with their classic, "Truckin'," and I nailed it without any hitch except for a garbled lyric or two. (I never realized it before, but one consistent characteristic of Dead songs is that they are chock full of words sung a a rapid clip.) Apparently Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics to almost all of their songs, and Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir (and perhaps other late-comers) contributed varying amounts of music to each of them. The next two songs went pretty well, but on the final one ("Touch Of Grey") I had to start over switching from a Bb to a C harmonica. (That really adds to the sound of the song, which features a bit more melody than most Grateful Dead songs.) I also messed up a chord at one point and had to start the second verse over again, to my annoyance, but otherwise it sounded great, and once again I got great response from the audience.

This coming week (or else the next week) will be the letter "H," which opens just three possibilities (among groups or artists that I actually play): Heart, Harry Chapin, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Then comes the letter "I," for which the possibilities are very scant indeed.

R.I.P Bill Harlow

I was saddened and rather stunned to learn last month that a local musician passed away: Bill Harlow, one of the two main organizers (along with Bob Brydges) of the open mic events at Barrenridge Vineyards every Thursday night. I played there several times last year, but have been putting it off for the past several months, partly because it's harder for me to get to. Bill played guitar and bass guitar, often in a duo with Bob Brydges, and sometimes with larger groups. Bill was a great musician with a real passion for his craft, and he was always very friendly to me, often inviting me to join the musical fun at Barrenridge. I'm sorry that I didn't do so more often, and I will try to do so in the future.


April 16, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Nats rally one day, falter the next

The Washington Nationals are still getting their footing as the 2019 season gets underway, and while they definitely show the potential for championship-level performance, they have also shown a regrettable tendency (like last year) to choke and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the weekend home series against Pittsburgh, they easily could have won all three games, but such was not to be. On Wednesday, their new starting pitcher Patrick Corbin did his best to prove he was worth the $140 million the owners committed to him when he was signed last December. In one of the best outings by a Nats pitcher this year, he struck out eleven batters over seven innings, while only giving up one run. Then in the eighth inning, once again the bullpen threw away a lead. Tony Sipp and Kyle Barraclough gave up two runs, but in the bottom of the inning Anthony Rendon homered for a second time to tie the game, 3-3. The game went to the tenth inning, whereupon Matt Grace and Justin Miller combined to give up three runs (one unearned), and the Pirates won it, 6-3.

The Saturday afternoon game was a pretty good pitchers' duel between the Nats' Anibal Sanchez and the Pirates' Chris Archer, whom I remember seeing pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays in Toronto in 2015. Both pitchers went seven innings, but the visitors were ahead 2-1 going into the eighth inning. That's when Adam Eaton and Howie Kendrick all of a sudden hit back-to-back home runs to give the Nats a 3-2 lead. Sean Doolittle got through the ninth inning allowing just one hit and one walk, thus earning his first save of the year.

On Sunday, Max Scherzer gave up two runs in the first inning, but got back in control and went eight full innings with only one more run by the opponent. The game was tied going into the ninth inning, but relief pitcher Wander Suero gave up an RBI ground rule double to Jason Martin. Behind 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the Nats loaded the bases with only one out, but Howie Kendrick was called out on strikes, and Anthony Rendon flew out to end the game. What an awful letdown.

After resting on Monday, the Nats welcomed the San Francisco Giants to town tonight. The Nats scored a run in the second inning, and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg was doing just fine until the fifth inning, when the Pirates hit two home runs to take a 3-1 lead. They tacked on three more against the relief pitchers before Matt Adams hit a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the seventh, after which Anthony Rendon hit an RBI single. But that didn't matter, as the Giants ended up with a 7-3 victory. It was the first time since the opening series of the season that the Nationals lost two games in a row. They now have a 7-8 record, and are 2 1/2 games behind the Phillies, who retook first place from the Mets tonight. (Ten runs in the first inning??!!)

Opening day in Korea

You gotta hand it to those Koreans, they really know how to use ultra-modern technology to heighten the excitement at a sporting event. An animated flying dragon swooping around a baseball stadium??!! See the video yourself at MLB.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Riverfront Stadium

Riverfront Stadium update

(Stop me if you've heard this one before.) I recently realized that one critical detail was missing from my Riverfront Stadium diagrams, which I had revised last October: the "ribs" that divide the sections of the roof from each other. That was a fairly easy task, but then I noticed a few anomalies that had to be fixed, so I ended up making a few more revisions to the Riverfront Stadium diagrams than I had planned. The bullpens are now shown in detail; the only real correction per se was that the lateral walkway in the upper deck was moved back a couple feet. The upper-deck diagram now shows where the twelve access tunnels were, underneath the seats. The entry portals were not visible from above (assuming you could see through the roof), as normal entry portals are.

I also added two other stadiums with similarly distinctive roofs to my "Coming Attractions" list: Busch Stadium II and Candlestick Park, as well as Three Rivers Stadium.


April 20, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Springtime for birders!

My overall impression is that most migratory birds have been arriving a little behind schedule this spring, but others may have had different observations. On March 23 to Bell's Lane I was pleased to see the Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane for the first time since February 6 (see March 18), on the very same line of fence posts, in fact. Three days later I went back in hopes of seeing again (twice, in fact), but no luck. I did, however, see a Vesper Sparrow, another pleasant surprise. I had seen them there twice last fall, likewise a rather unusual sighting. Tree Swallows were flying around, the first time I had seen them this year.

Montage 26 Mar 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Vesper Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird (F), on Bell's Lane, March 26.

Augusta Springs field trip

On Saturday March 30 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Augusta Springs, in the western part of Augusta County. To my surprise, the turnout was quite large, with at least a dozen people in attendance. Soon after we began, I heard a strange whistling song that reminded me of a Killdeer, but I had no idea what it was. Then I spotted the singing bird at the top of a small tree, and was astonished to realize that it was a Rusty Blackbird! I had seen a flock of those along the Middle River on last November, when it had the "rusty" non-breeding plumage, and this was the first time I had a clear view of one in breeding plumage. Then I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush singing, so we reversed course along the boardwalk trail, going counter-clockwise in pursuit of it, but without success. We did, however, have a nice view of some Yellow-rumped Warblers. (I hardly saw any of those during the past winter.) Other highlights of the morning included Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wood Ducks, Pine Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch (heard only), and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. On the way back to Staunton somd of us stopped at the Falls Hollow trail head, east of Elliott Knob. We didn't see any birds there, so we continued to Swoope, where we saw the new Bald Eagle nest, about a mile southwest of the one in the tree that was blown down in a storm last November. All in all, it was a wonderful day of birding!

Montage 30 Mar 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Rusty Blackbird (M), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (M), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler (M), Brown Creeper, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Bald Eagles, and Wood Duck (M), on March 30. Except for the Bald Eagles (in Swoope), all others were seen at Augusta Springs.

Birding in April

I didn't get out much during the first week of this month, but I did get a nice closeup view of a male Pine Warbler in the Big Levels area on April 6. Five days later (on April 11) I went to Bell's Lane, where I had nice views of several birds, including Goldfinches in breeding plumage. Then I went to Mill Place in Verona and saw two Savannah Sparrows close by.

Montage 11 Apr 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.

On Saturday April 13 (Earth Day!) I went to Montgomery Hall Park, but didn't see much other than an Eastern Towhee until just before I was going to leave then I spotted a flycatcher of some kind in nearby tree tops, and soon determined that it was an Eastern Kingbird, my first one of the year. Later that day on Bell's Lane, I had two other first-of-year birds: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Brown Thrasher.

Montage 13 Apr 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (M), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Downy Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, and Eastern Kingbird, April 13.

Finally I took advantage of the nice weather on April 17 by visiting Bell's Lane again, but didn't see any of the hoped-for warblers. I did have nice views of several other birds, however, including several recently-arrived migrants:

Montage 17 Apr 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Field Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Carolina Wren, American Goldfinch (M), and Ruby-crowned Kinglet; on April 17.

As usual, more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. In about five minutes, I'm going to lead a field trip to Dowell's Draft, in western Augusta County! smile


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That year's
blog highlights


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