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August 1, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Nationals fall short vs. Braves

The Washington Nationals had a golden opportunity to gain at least some ground on the Atlanta Braves in the race for the National League division title this week, but they just couldn't "get 'er done." In Monday's game, the Nats' #3 pitcher, Patrick Corbin, was up against Dallas Keuchel, the mega-star recently acquired as a free agent by the Braves. The Nats took an early 2-0 lead, but the Braves came back and tied it in the sixth inning. In the bottom of the inning, with the bases loaded and on a 2-0 count, Anthony Rendon calmly smashed the ball way up into the left field seats for his third career grand slam. He is simply amazing with his methodical approach at the plate, smacking balls every which way. That gave the Nats a 6-2 lead, and the only additional score was when Charlie Culberson hit a solo homer off Sean Doolittle in the ninth inning. Otherwise, the bullpen did their job efficiently and without angst, for a change.

On Tuesday the Nats were in a bind, since Max Scherzer went back on the Injured List, so Erick Fedde was given starting pitching duties. He did OK at first, and got out of a jam in the second inning (giving up just one run), but things fell to pieces in the third inning when the Braves scored four more. Since the manager Dave Martinez was determined to give his bullpen a rest, he kept Fedde in for another inning, and the Braves scored four more runs. Javy Guerra then came in as a reliever, remaining through the seventh inning, when the Braves scored two more runs. That made the score 11-1, but then the Nationals staged a comeback with seven runs in the last three innings, yielding a more respectable final score: 11-8.

That left the outcome of the series up to the series finale on Wednesday, and with Anibal Sanchez on the mound, the Nats seemed to stand a very good chance of prevailing. He got out of a jam in the second inning, only allowing one run, and when Juan Soto tied the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning, the Nats' prospects seemed bright. But the Braves kept chipping away, and had a 4-1 lead after six innings. [Perhaps the decisive play in the game was in the bottom of the sixth, when Trea Turner doubled to the left-center gap. Howie Kenrick, who had just walked, was waved home by the third base coach Bob Henley, and was tagged out by at least five feet. With nobody out, that seems like a dumb move by the coach. Turner never scored either. In the eighth inning Matt Adams (who had rested two days after getting hit in the foot by a pitch on Sunday) hit a solo homer to right field, which was a big psychological lift.] In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats loaded the bases with no outs, and Kurt Suzuki came through with a clutch single to make it a one-run game. Gerardo Parra then grounded into a double play, tying the game, and Brian Dozier struck out, sending it into extras. In the top of the tenth Nats' closer Sean Doolittle gave up a home run to Josh Donaldson, a crushing blow. The Nats got two runners on base with one out in the bottom of the tenth, but neither Adam Eaton nor Anthony Rendon could get them home, so the Braves won it, 5-4.

That put the Nationals 6 1/2 games behind the Braves, and only 1/2 game ahead of the Phillies in the NL East. [The Nats went 15-10 for the month of July (see the Washington Nationals page), losing five of the last seven games, so their win-loss record is now 57-51 (.528) as they head to Arizona and then San Francisco.]

Nats beef up bullpen

On the final day of the summer trading season, the Nationals acquired three pitchers: Hunter Strickland (Mariners, 8.10 ERA), Roenis Elias (Mariners, 4.40 ERA), and Daniel Hudson (Blue Jays, 3.00 ERA). Strickland's numbers aren't impressive, but he is remembered in Washington as the guy who "beaned" Bryce Harper in 2017, starting a big brawl between the Nats and the Giants. In October 2014, also with the Giants, he became the first MLB reliever in history to give up six home runs in a single postseason. It seems to me that those modest acquisitions will do little (!) to change the Nats' bullpen situation. Overall, there weren't many big transactions this week, the main exception being the Houston Astros getting ace pitcher Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A few more photos

Here are some more photos from the game on Sunday that might be of interest.

Nationals Park Red Porch, condos

Beyond the "Red Porch" and west parking garage at Nationals Park are new condominium buildings. The one on the left features small trees and a swimming pool [on the roof], while the one on the right is apparently in the final stages of preparation.

Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw

I later noticed in this photo of Walker Buehler walking toward the dugout after being replaced in the sixth, that none other than Clayton Kershaw was there.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw, in the dugout.

I noticed in some of the photos a tribute to recently-deceased Dodger Don Newcombe (see February 25) on the team's uniforms: the nickname "Newk" and the number 36 on their right sleeves.

With more and more accidents involving stray foul balls striking spectators in the lower decks of other stadiums, Nationals Park was one of the first ones to extend the protective netting most of the way down to the left and right field corners. It affects visibility only a little, and is on balance a positive development.

Nationals Park extended net 1st base line

The recently-extended net down the first base line at Nationals Park.

From the position I was in, I couldn't get a good photo of Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo, the TV announcers for Nationals games, but I had better luck with the radio announcers:

Charlie Slowes, Dave Jageler

Charlie Slowes (left) and Dave Jageler (right), radio announcers for the Nationals.


August 2, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Hot, hot, hot: Birding in July

I wasn't quite as busy birding in July as I was in June, which is typical given the prevailing heat this time of year, but there were some memorable moments nonethless. (July last year was a very good month, birding-wise, an aberration.) On July 2 I went first to Bell's Lane, but only caught brief glimpses of my main target bird, the Orchard Oriole. There were plenty of juvenile Tree Swallows there, and young Canada Geese over at Mill Place in Verona. In the morning on Independence Day, Bell's Lane was alive with the sound of bird music; I had an excellent view of a Brown Thrasher and saw at least two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers close by, as well as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a male Indigo Bunting with mixed blue and gray feathers, presumably a first year bird. I also saw an oriole nest hanging directly above the road, but there was no sign of occupancy.

On Saturday, July 6 I went for a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the first time I had been their since the Augusta Bird Club picnic on June 1. I stopped at some of the usual hot spots and saw or heard most of the regulars such as a Blue-headed Vireo and Hooded Warblers, but no Cerulean Warblers or Chestnut-sided Warblers. The only real surprise was seeing a Rock Pigeon perched on a rock outcrop at the Ravens Roost overlook. It was banded, which I thought was odd. The next day on Bell's Lane I had my best view of a Green Heron all year; it was at the beaver "pond" (which is now just a stream again) west of the road. On Route 11 near the intersection with N. Augusta Street I had a great view of Turkey Vulture. Just before I left I had a nice view of a Field Sparrow. There were no Yellow Warblers, however, and I had only a brief view of some (probable) Orchard Orioles.

Green Heron

Green Heron on Bell's Lane -- July 7, 2019.

Hearthstone Lake again?

On July 12 I made yet another trip (my sixth!) to the Hearthstone Lake area as part of the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. Once again, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was perched on top of the very same dead branch. I parked at the gate where Tillman Road is closed due to dam reconstruction. Wanting to cover as much of the Reddish Knob SE "priority block" as possible, I hiked (solo) to the top of Narrowback Mountain, a north-south ridge that rises about 500 feet, east of the lake. It was unfamiliar territory, and I enjoyed the "adventure." I had made a map based on the official VABBA map, adding details about the trails based on the excellent map at the kiosk at the northern edge of the George Washington National Forest. I wasn't careful enough, however, so I got confused about my exact location as I reached the top. Fortunately, that was where cell phone service returned, and I was was able to pinpoint where I was. The return trail wasn't where I expected it, so I ended up going about two miles more than I had planned, roughly 6-7 miles total. Along the way, I saw several families with young ones learning to get around and forage; pictured here are a juvenile Ovenbird and a juvenile Eastern Phoebe. At the top of the ridge I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler and heard a couple others; they were absent from the lowlands. I also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo up there. On my way out, I had a brief excellent look at a female Blackburnian Warbler, but couldn't get a photo.

Montage 12 Jul 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-throated Green Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Eatern Phoebe (J), Chipping Sparrow, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird (J), and in center, Scarlet Tanager -- July 12, 2019.

Virginia Beach

The very next day (July 13), Jacqueline and I drove down to Virginia Beach, where we spent a pleasant, relaxing weekend by the seashore. Of course, I managed to squeeze in a little birding time. On Saturday afternoon we had a picnic lunch at First Landing State Park, and stopped at the trail center by the cypress grove, where we saw Great Crested Flycatchers and various woodpeckers. Then we drove through downtown Virginia Beach, where I got my very first photo of a Laughing Gull in breeding plumage, with the black head.

Montage 14 Jul 2019

Laughing Gull, downtown Virginia Beach, July 13, 2019.

Early on Sunday we spent about 45 minutes at Pleasure House Natural Area, which has a network of sandy trails that follow the edge of a lagoon that looked beautiful in the morning light. I saw a Pine Warbler and an offspring that was about to devour a caterpillar. I also heard a strange song that reminded me of a Mourning Warbler, and after tracking the bird down, discovered to my surprise that it was a Blue Grosbeak! On our way out, I heard some squeaks like a rubber toy would make, and in some pine trees, soon spotted four Brown-headed Nuthatches!! Their range is restricted to the Atlantic coast, and I had not seen one since our last visit to that area in November 2014. At First Landing State Park, there were several Osprey nests, a family of Great Crested Flycatchers, a family of Great Blue Herons, a young Red-headed Woodpecker, and just before I turned back to leave, I was amazed to see a Yellow-crowned Night Heron -- my 505th life bird!!! At the beach, we saw 100+ Brown Pelicans perched on wood poles, as well as several Great Black-backed Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, etc. We left early in the afternoon to get home before dark. In sum, it was a wonderful weekend.

Montage 14 Jul 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warblers (J & A), Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Osprey, Brown Pelican, Great Black-backed Gull, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and in center, Great Crested Flycatcher. At Pleasure House Natural Area and First Landing State Park -- July 14, 2019.
Roll mouse over for a better view of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Hearthstone Lake # 7

On July 20 Dan Perkuchin, Ann Cline, and Penny Warren joined me for one last (?) VABBA-related visit to the Hearthstone Lake area. There was one trail that had not been covered at all, so that was our first priority. We also needed to get additional documentation on breeding activity for certain species where breeding was not confirmed. It was very busy at most of the stops early on, gradually slowing down as the heat rose. At various points along Tillman Road, we saw families (adults and juveniles) of Blue-headed Vireos, Indigo Buntings, Pine Warblers, Hooded Warblers, and Ovenbirds north of Hearthstone Lake today. The subsequent visit to the Reddish Knob area was a bit disappointing, with few birds other than Juncos, and no warblers up there at all.

Two days later I took advantage of the mild temperatures by visiting Bell's Lane in the morning, and had some nice surprises. I just missed getting a shot of a Green Heron flying past, but then a Great Egret flew over! They don't breed in this region, but many such water-dwelling birds scatter to inland states after breeding season ends in mid-summer. A few minutes later I had a great look at a Ruby-throated Hummingbird shining in the sun. They love honeysuckles! Late in the afternoon, I heard a Great Crested Flycatcher out back, and managed to get a photo of it as well.

Montage 22 Jul 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Egret, Gray Catbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown Thrasher, American Goldfinch, and in center, Eastern Meadowlark -- July 22, 2019.

Etc., etc., etc.

July 25 was a beautiful day, sunny but not too hot, and I was determined to enjoy it fully. I had to do some things in Weyers Cave, so I stopped at Bell's Lane once again on the way up, where I had had nice views of American Goldfinches and a Cedar Waxwing. Later at Leonard's Pond (a few miles north of Weyers Cave) I saw two Red-tailed Hawks up above, as well as some Killdeers, a Solitary Sandpiper, an Eastern Kingbird, and to my great surprise, a Blue Grosbeak! The only photo of it I could get I could was rather poor, however.

Finally, on Saturday, July 27 I went hiking along the Dowell's Draft trail (in western Augusta County) for the first time since April 20. Soon after I started I was pleased to see a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but otherwise there wasn't much bird activity along the western part of the trail. After the clear-cut area where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction work has been suspended, I saw a family of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, including a young one begging for food. But the big surprise of the day was a Red-breasted Nuthatch that I heard. I played its call on my iPhone, and it responded by coming very close! I got some very good photos of it, marred only by the imperfect lighting conditions. Later on, I heard another one at nearby Braley Pond. I was disappointed not to see any Prairie Warblers or Northern Parulas, both of which I had seen in April and in July last year. Finally, at Chimney Hollow trail (also in the same area) I heard some Acadian Flycatchers and saw one, and saw a Scarlet Tanager as well. The main photographic attraction on that trail was an amazing variety of mushrooms. Not a bad day!

Montage 27 Jul 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (J), and in center, Red-eyed Vireo -- July 27, 2019.
Roll mouse over for a better view of the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

As always, many more photos are on the Wild Birds yearly page.


August 5, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Nats' slump continues in Arizona

The Washington Nationals' series in Arizona ended up exactly opposite of what had been expected: They won on the day when an emergency replacement pitcher was starting, and they lost on the days when two of their (usually) top-line pitchers were starting. After Joe Ross's disastrous outing against the L.A. Dodgers on July 27 (six earned runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 9-3 loss), his chances against the Arizona Diamondbacks last Friday seemed bleak. But somehow he rose to the challenge and only allowed one hit (and no runs) over 5 1/3 innings. The newly-reinforced Nats bullpen did not allow any further runs or hits, while Matt Adams hit a clutch 2-run single and Juan Soto hit a solo homer. Thus, the Nats won the series opener, 3-0. The Washington Post thinks Ross has earned a spot as the fifth man in the pitching rotation. With Max Scherzer still on the Injured List, that is of vital importance.

On Saturday, in contrast, Stephen Strasburg was pathetically ineffective, not at all the same guy who I saw pitch in Washington on July 28. The Nats scored twice in the first inning, but the Diamondbacks quickly tied it, and then they took a 3-2 lead in the second inning. The D-Backs kept piling on runs, and Strasburg was replaced before he could finish the fifth inning. in a desperation move, manager Dave Martinez had second baseman Gerardo Parra pitch in the eighth inning to save the precious, fragile arms in the bullpen. Parra gave up five runs without getting an out, after which Brian Dozier took the mound and soon gave up a home to Eduardo Escobar, his second of the night. Eventually Dozier got three outs. It was quite an embarrassment, and Anthony Rendon's three-run homer in the top of the ninth barely even mattered. Final score: D-Backs 18, Nats 7.

On Sunday, Patrick Corbin was pitching for the Nats, and somehow he could not get the job done. The Nats took a 2-0 lead in the second inning thanks to a two-run homer by Gerardo "Baby Shark" Parra, but the D-Backs came right back with three runs in the bottom of the inning. The Nats struggled to catch up and finally tied it 5-5 in the top of the sixth, and had the bases loaded with the pitcher up to bat. Much like in the game I saw a week earlier, when Stephen Strasburg hit a bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, I was amazed that Dave Martinez let Corbin bat rather than put in a pinch hitter. This time, it didn't work, as Corbin grounded into a force out to end the inning. Not only that (unlike Strasburg), he couldn't finish pitching the next half inning! It was a huge wasted opportunity that probably changed the outcome of the game, since Wander Suero (who relieved Corbin) gave up a two-run single. The score remained 7-5 until the end of the game.

Thus, as the Nats begin a three-game series against the Giants in San Francisco, they are are tied with the Phillies for second place in the NL East, seven games behind the Braves. For the first time since May 23 (when they hit "rock bottom"), the Nats have only won three of the past ten games. For the first time since May 8, moreover, they have lost three series in a row. Time will soon be a bitter enemy of the Nats, as each game becomes more and more essential to win.


August 6, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Summertime travel highlights

Summer is not over yet, but with the fall semester and school rapidly approaching, it might as well be. I had hoped to travel to South Dakota this summer, but scheduling conflicts (and my own indecisiveness) prevented that from taking place. As with my previous travel-related blog post (May 16), most of what follows are mere short-distance excursions, with the notable exception of Virginia Beach.

On June 2 (a Sunday), Jacqueline and I went on a casual drive to Goshen Pass for a picnic. We drove past Augusta Springs on Route 254 but didn't stop there. We did make a brief pause at the old bridge over the Maury River in the town of Goshen, and a bit later an unscheduled brief walk across a suspension foot bridge that I had never seen before. Apparently it's a favorite fun spot for local folks. Just a few miles after that we arrived at our destination, and I was surprised that relatively few people were there, given the beautiful weather. I was afraid that all the picnic tables might be taken already, but there were plenty available.

Maury River Goshen Pass

Maury River at Goshen Pass (June 2)

As noted in my July 9 birding blog post, I made several trips to the Hearthstone Lake (in northern Augusta County) area this summer, as part of a bird breeding survey. After one such outing on June 17 (solo) I stopped afterward in the nearby village of Stokesville, which was largely destroyed by a flood in 1949. For years I had been trying to capture a suitable photograph of the iconic bridge there, and at last I found the perfect vantage point to do so: along the river underneath it!

Stokesville bridge

Stokesville bridge (June 17)

Exactly one week later (June 23), I was joined by three Augusta Bird Club members on another visit there, during which we saw the construction activity at the Hearthstone Dam. (It was a Saturday, so no workers were there.) I look forward to seeing the lake itself once the construction has been completed, hopefully this fall.

Hearthstone Dam construction

Hearthstone Dam construction (June 23)

Virginia Beach

Early on July 13 Jacqueline and I drove to Virginia Beach, as mentioned in my recent birding blog post (Aug. 2). After a five-plus hour drive, we arrived in the early afternoon, and had a picnic at First Landing State Park, where we made further plans. It turns out that there is excllent access to the beach there, so we only spent a short time driving through the high-rise seafront district of Virginia Beach, stopping to buy souvenirs and that's about it. Our previous visit to Virginia Beach was in November 2014, but I never wrote a blog post per se about it; you can see several photos at my Chronological (2014) photo gallery page.

First Landing S.P. boardwalk, trees

The boardwalk between the visitors center and the beach at First Landing State Park. (July 13)

In the evening we had a great dinner at Croakers Neighborhood Grill (near Pleasure House Point Natural Area; see below), after which I watched the Nationals-Phillies game on TV at the Red Roof Inn. On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at Waffle House and then went to the Pleasure House Point Natural Area, which features sandy trails and lots of Loblolly Pine trees that surround a picturesque pond. (It was there that I saw a Blue Grosbeak and some Brown-headed Nuthatches.) We then headed to First Landing State Park, at which point Jacqueline went straight to the beach while I went birding along the inland swamp trail for a couple hours. I joined her about 11:00, and we stayed until about 12:30, soaking up the sun and taking a few more bird photos. It was just wonderful. Finally, we drove straight home to Staunton.

Pleasure House Point Natural Area pond reflecting trees

In the early morning light, a pond at Pleasure House Point Natural Area reflects trees like a mirror. (July 14)

Our Nation's Capital

As recounted in a recent baseball blog post (July 29), I went up to Washington D.C. to see a Nationals baseball game on July 28, along with Matthew Poteat and his son Julian. We parked on the south side of the new soccer stadium (Audi Field) that was completed just over a year ago. It is located about two blocks southwest of Nationals Park, and looks very impressive. It is certainly a big improvement over RFK Stadium, where D.C. United played until the end of the 2018 season.

Audi Field NW

The northwest corner of Audi Field in Washington, home of the D.C. United soccer team.

The above photos, along with many others, can be seen on my Chronological (2019) photo gallery page.


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