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August 4, 2020 [LINK / comment]

Pandemic strikes Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals were forced to postpone their weekend series in Milwaukee after seven of their players and six staff members tested positive for the covid-19 virus. Among those affected are veteran catcher Yadier Molina and shorstop Paul DeJong. The Cardinals' games in Detroit this week have also been postponed, but they hope to resume play at home on Friday.

The disruptions to MLB schedule have been very stressful for the players, taxing the sport to the limit. The effects have been felt unevenly, which will inevitably raise questions about whether the curtailed 2020 season can really be considered fair or balanced. The Miami Marlins missed seven games over the past eight days, and after winning against Baltimore tonight, they now have a 3-1 record; that's only four games, whereas most teams have played 11 or 12 games already. The Philadelphia Phillies are the other team with just four games, and the Cardinals have played just five. The Nationals are one of three teams that have played eight games. To add to the weirdness, all the Nationals games thus far have been played at home, although two of them were technically "road" games; see below.

Nats win three in a row (?)

After taking the weekend off due to the coronavirus and getting an extra (unneeded) day of rest on Monday, the Nationals beat the New York Mets tonight, 5-3. Howie Kendrick and Josh Harrison (a veteran outfielder recently-signed to replace Juan Soto) both homered in the early innings, and Patrick Corbin had another solid outing to get the win, with eight strikeouts.

The Mets are without the services of Yoenis Cespedes, who decided (rather belatedly) to opt out of playing this year for health reasons. He was out of touch with his team for a few days and seems disgruntled. He missed almost two years due to injuries, and the Mets did not exactly get their money's worth from his four-year $110 million contract.

Tonight's win came after the Nationals bounced back from two lackluster defeats at the hands of the Blue Jays last week with two "road" victories against the same team played in Nationals Park. Huh??? As mentioned last week, the Blue Jays are not allowed to play games in Toronto this year, and because they were unable to get a replacement venue ready in time, they simply played the games in Washington instead. With no fans present, the psychological aspect of home field advantage is nullified. In the Wednesday game, neither team scored for the first nine innings, which triggered the new rule that each team starts with a runner on second in extra innings. I dislike such deviations from normal play, but it worked to the Nats' advantage, as they quickly had the bases loaded with nobody out. The next two batters failed to reach base, leaving it up to Adam Eaton. He smacked a high bouncing ball to the second baseman, who couldn't quite tag Andrew Stevenson who slid into second base as the first run of the game scored. Then Asdrubal Cabrera hit a bases-clearing triple, and that's how the Nats won, 4-0. Max Scherzer threw ten strikeouts over seven-plus innings but did not get credit for the win. The Nats also won on Thursday, as Michael A. Taylor had his second home run of the year. (It was also his second hit of the year; he has a .143 batting average.) Starlin Castro went 4 for 5 at the plate for the Nats, and the bullpen made up for the unavailability of Stephen Strasburg. Final score: Nats 6, Blue Jays 4.

The Nationals can be cheered by the hitting of new infielders Starlin Castro (batting .379) and Carter Kieboom (.417), and by the return of outfielder Juan Soto to the active roster. He claims that his covid-19 tests gave a false positive, and the fact that he suffered no symptoms and returned so quickly lend credence to the assertion. But it is well known that a large percentage of those infected are asymptomatic, which is one reason why the virus is so dangerous.

Soroka out for the year

The Atlanta Braves received some bad news yesterday: star pitcher Mike Soroka somehow got hurt the other night, and it turns out he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. That means he'll be out for the rest of the year. The Braves are dominating the NL East this season with an 8-4 record (technically they're in second place behind the 3-1 Marlins), and if this baseball season makes it through the end of September, the Braves will almost certainly be in the postseason.

Field of Dreams game nixed

The Chicago White Sox announced that they won't play their August 13 game at the Field of Dreams near Dyersville, Iowa as had been planned; they'll play there next year instead. It was originally supposed to be a game against the Yankees, but the covid-19 forced the schedule to be redrawn from scratch, with no games outside each team's "region." I'm not surprised by the decision, as there really wasn't a point to holding such a game without any fans. The game won't be at the actual diamond where the movie was filmed (and which remains a destination for tourists), but is a couple hundred yards to the northwest. Obviously, I'll have to redo the badly-outdated Field of Dreams page later this year or perhaps next year. Hat tip to Mark London.

Candlestick Park update!

Candlestick Park

After a busy month taking care of Globe Life Field and a few odds and ends in July, I finally got back to my planned sequence of diagram revisions, with an update of Candlestick Park, former home of the San Francisco Giants. The last major revision of those diagrams was in early 2012. (I did a minor update of those diagrams in December of that year.) How big was this revision? How big was Candlestick Park?? Well, many of the changes involved small details, so some people might not notice. I added "ribs" to the roof, as I have done previously for such stadiums as Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Angel Stadium. Those structural elements help to calibrate various details, enabling me to render them more precisely. I also added the support columns in the lower deck diagram, and the rebuilt press boxes and mezzanine seating levels. I noticed that in photos taken in the latter years (1980s) those sections protrude about three feet in front of the front edge of the upper deck. Kansas City's Municipal Stadium had a similar feature. Other new details include the bullpen mounds and plates, exit ramp slope directions (in the lower-deck diagram), and variations in the profiles to account for the fact that in much of Candlestick Park, the lower deck was built directly on top of excavated dirt, with no rooms beneath it. If you look closely and click on the diagram to compare the new version to the old version, you'll probably notice a number of other small changes. Enjoy!


August 6, 2020 [LINK / comment]

The 75th anniversary of Hiroshima

75 years ago today, on August 6, 1945, a United States B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, in the western part of the main Japanese island of Honshu. It instantly killed about 80,000 Japanese people, out of a total population of 280,000, and left many thousands more horribly burned. Estimates of the susequent death toll from radiation sickness vary widely, but it is quite possible that an even greater number died in the years that followed. Three days later, the same thing happened to the city of Nagasaki, on the west coast of the island of Kyushu, killing at least 35,000 people. The first bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy" because of its slim shape, used two big chunks of uranium-235 that were rammed together to create a critical mass necessary for chain-reaction fission to take place. The second bomb, nicknamed "Fat Man," used several smaller chunks of plutonium-239 that were imploded with a sophisticated timing device. No one involved with those missions knew for sure that the bombers would reach their targets, that the bombs would work properly after being dropped, or how much death and destruction they would cause.

Today's Washington Post had several articles related to the bombing of Hiroshima, including a dramatic narrative of the flight of the B-29, nicknamed "Enola Gay" after the mother of the pilot, Col. Paul Tibbetts. Most of his crew members (12 altogether) did not know the nature of their secret mission until he disclosed it to them as the aircraft was approaching Japan. How would they have reacted if they had been told before the plane took off? This was a new era of warfare, almost beyond comprehension in scope, and the guilt over what some people would consider mass murder might have been too much for some of the men to bear. The article linked above mentions that about 97,000 people had died after U.S. bombers rained incendiary hell over the capital city of Tokyo the previous March, and many thousands died in other cities as well. If the United States sought revenge for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, this was going way overboard.

This is an appropriate time to reexamine the decision to develop the atomic bomb, and once the technology was proven in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, to actually use it against Japan. As World War II was unfolding, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to urge President Roosevelt to explore the military uses of nuclear energy, and this is what led to the Manhattan Project. As a German Jewish refugee, Einstein was well aware that Hitler was determined to exploit technology to the utmost, and the later V-1 and V-2 missile programs showed just how adept the Germans were at doing so. Fear of a possible German atomic bomb is what spurred the Americans into their all-out effort to develop the bomb. (One lesson of this is that, if Germany had managed to resist the Allies for a few more months, we might have dropped the first atomic bomb on Berlin or some other German city.) Secret military research bases were built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Hanford, Washington, and Los Almamos, New Mexico. Robert Oppenheimer led the scientific research effort, and General Leslie Groves headed the military organization overseeing everything. It was dangerous work, and some of the workers died from radiation poisoning or other things.

But once Germany was defeated in May 1945, was there a compelling reason to use the nuclear bomb against Japan? Over 100,000 American servicemen had already died fighting Japan by August, and the prolonged, bloody conquest of the Japanese island of Okinawa was a taste of what was sure to come if we had to invade Japan itself. The plan was to invade Kyushu in November 1945, and the main island of Honshu (where Tokyo is located) in March 1946. Over a million American soldiers and Marines would be needed to subjugate the enemy, and a death toll of up to 100,000 or even more was entirely possible. Given their pattern of fanatic resistance, it is likely that over a million Japanese would have died while defending their homeland. So while one can make the conventional utilitarian calculation that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably saved many lives by forcing the Japanese to surrender, that is merely guesswork. No one really knows whether Emperor Hirohito would have demanded that his generals end the war.

Personally, I think the decision to use the atomic bomb was justified, but I wish that they had staged a "demonstration" blast a few miles offshore from Tokyo as a warning shot. That would have made the American threat (announced in propaganda leaflets dropped by U.S. bomber aircraft) that Japan's cities would soon be completely destroyed unless it surrendered a lot more convincing. Perhaps the decision not to do so can be explained the fact that only two such bombs were available at the time, and it would take months to build additional ones.

There is another uncomfortable moral angle to all this: did the use of the atomic bomb amount to "terrorism"? Quite possibly, but it was hardly the first time the Allies had done this. Britain had launched brutal mass night bombing attacks against Cologne and Hamburg in 1943, deliberately killing many thousands of German civilians in a misguided attempt to demoralize them. It didn't work. The fire-bombing of Dresden in February 1945 and of Tokyo one month later were likewise cruel exercises of raw military power that yielded little if any strategic benefit. From that point of view, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just a small step up the ladder of escalation.

The shadow of potential global extermination from an all-out nuclear war hung over mankind from the 1950s until the end of the 1980s -- four decades of apocalyptic fear. I remember "duck and cover" air raid drills in elementary schools, which was actually rather absurd given that a small midwestern town was an unlikely target, but for someone in Brooklyn, New York or Seattle, Washington, it was not beyond the realm of possibilities. It was because of the radical incompatibility of the main Cold War adversaries that all-out nuclear was even conceivable. Pacifists claimed that "no one" would win a nuclear war, while strategic thinkers such as Herman Kahn pondered the various scenarios of escalation, trying assess the utility of various nuclear force levels in deterring aggression by the Soviets. It is important to point out that the United States did not rule out the first use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, despite its otherwise clear moral standing as a free democracy. Because of the superiority in conventional forces possessed by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies in Europe, West Germany and our other NATO allies were in jeopardy of being conquered in a matter of weeks. Nuclear weapons were the "ace in the hole" that might have been the only way to prevent a Soviet victory in World War III.

Titan missile in silo

This disarmed Titan missile was (and probably still is) on display in its launching silo, south of Tucson, Arizona, on June 28, 2014. (For a decription of my trip see my March 4, 2019 blog post; more photographs of the Titan Missile Museum can be seen in my Chronological (2014) photo gallery.)

To get a better perspective on the military context behind the decision to drop the bomb, see my World War Two page, with newly-updated interactive maps.


August 10, 2020 [LINK / comment]

Birding in July: hot, hot, HOT!

Bird breeding season is quickly winding down, and it seems that only birds still engaged in raising young are the goldfinches (late breeders) and bluebirds (sometimes two broods a year). That means that there aren't many males singing to attract mates or establish territorial rights, and the relative quiet makes it harder to locate birds. After a very busy late May and June (see my July 12 blog post, when I covered birding from April through June), I settled down into a more normal pace in July.

On July 2, three other Augusta Bird Club members (Peter Van Acker, Penny Warren, and Ann Cline) joined me for an informal field trip to an "undetermined location." In other words, we decided where to go on the spot, and the consensus was the trail along the crest of Shenandoah Mountain, on the western edge of Augusta County. With the covid-19 social distancing rules still in place, we each drove in separate cars. The forecast was for hot weather, so high altitude and an early start were essential in order to enjoy the outing. As soon as we arrived there were birds all around. We hiked for about 1/3 mile north of the Confederate Breastworks and back, and then for about 1 1/2 miles south, to the Georgia Camp trail crossing (and back). There weren't any spectacular findings, but we had a few good bird views and very pleasant temperatures. We heard several Scarlet Tanagers, but I don't think we actually saw a single one. There were multiple families of Eastern Towhees, Indigo Buntings, and American Redstarts. We had a few looks at a Black-throated Green Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo or two, and heard just a few warbler species aside from the very common Ovenbirds. Broad-winged Hawks and one Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead. After we were done hiking, we stopped briefly at Ramseys' Draft (a much lower elevation), where I saw some more Redstarts, a Chipping Sparrows, and a Red-tailed Hawk, and then I went alone to the nearby Georgia Camp trailhead, where there were some Northern Parulas, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and an Acadian Flycatcher. I logged about five miles according to my iPhone.

Montage 2 Jul 2020

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, American Redstart (F/J), Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Towhee (M), Blue-headed Vireo, and Broad-winged Hawk. (Shenandoah Mtn. trail, July 2)

On the morning of the Fourth of July, most of the regular birds in the Bell's Lane area were very vocal. The big highlight was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but Aside from the other birds in the montage for that day (Indigo Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-tailed Hawk, American Goldfinch, Brown Thrasher, and Field Sparrow), I also had distant views of an Eastern Kingbird and an Orchard Oriole. Unfortunately, I still couldn't find any Yellow Warblers or Grasshopper Sparrows, two species that are known to have bred in that area almost every year. That's not a good sign.

On Thursday July 9, Jacqueline and I did a day trip to the Richmond, Virginia area, mostly touring various battlefields to the east and south. I figured I would squeeze in some birding here and there, and it paid off with some nice surprises. We started off at the Gaines Mill battlefield, seeing some Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Phoebes, and Eastern Bluebirds. Near Malvern Hill I heard and finally lured into view a male Common Yellowthroat that had established a breeding are in a moist weedy clearing next to a bicycle trail. (We saw a lot of bikers.) Then at the historic Shirley Plantation, I was amazed to see a Blue Grosbeak, and was lucky to get a quick photo of itat over 50 yards distance. While driving across a bridge on the James River, we saw a family of Ospreys, with the young ones in a nest. There was no place to stop and take a picture, however. But the biggest highlight of the day came after lunch in mid-afternoon when I heard and then saw a Summer Tanager in the treetops at Petersburg National Battlefield. It sounded like a Scarlet Tanager, which are common in the Shenandoah Valley, but its song was more melodic. I'm pretty sure the last time I saw one in Virginia was in 1999 or so, in the Charlottesville area.

Montage 9 Jul 2020

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Summer Tanager (M), Eastern Bluebird (M), Common Yellowthroat (M), Blue Grosbeak (M), Eastern Phoebe, and Brown-headed Cowbird (M). (East & south of Richmond, VA, July 9)

On July 12, for the first time, I explored the North River Gorge Trail, where Penny Warren led a field trip a couple years ago. It's beautiful, scenic, and shady, featuring a large wooden suspension bridge over the river. I saw quite a few other hikers and bikers along the way, so it is obviously a popular destination. It's located east of Todd Lake and south of Hearthstone Lake, where I have birded several times this year and last year. I must have heard eight or ten Acadian Flycatchers along the way, but didn't actually see any until I was heading back. Overall, there were fewer warblers than I had hoped. The Hooded Warbler in the photo montage finally made a rather late appearance at the very farthest point, about two miles from the beginning. (About five miles total hiking for the day.) Other highlights: a Louisiana Waterthrush, several Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue-headed Vireos. Since the trees obscured the sky I didn't notice it was getting overcast, and then it started to rain! So, I had to trot back to my care for the final 1/3 mile to avoid getting soaked. A quick stop at Bell's Lane on the way home yielded a Green Heron, just as it started to rain -- for the second time that day!

Montage 12 Jul 2020

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler (M), Worm-eating Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Green Heron, and Red-eyed Vireo. (North River Gorge Trail, July 12)

July 19 started off nicely, as I saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird out back for the first time this year. (I have seen them a few times elsewhere.) It was going to be another very hot day, so I headed for the high hills to escape the high heat, braving the rugged Hite Hollow Road west of Augusta Springs. (I would definitely NOT recommend that road except for a Jeep or SUV.) I hiked along the same trail that Penny Warren, Ann Cline, Allen Larner, and I did seven years ago; see my June 30, 2013 blog post. This time, however, I only walked about a mile because I heard some loud rustling in the bushes and decided that was far enough. (Bear?) Along the way I saw most of the usual birds, and heard some Yellow-throated Vireos, as well as Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers. As a sign that breeding season was coming to an end, I didn't hear any singing by Scarlet Tanagers, and I saw just one. There were lots of butterflies, and I got my best-ever photo of a Pipevine Swallowtail. I returned via Deerfield, figuring (correctly) that the road wasn't as bad on that side. A brief stop at Chimney Hollow yielded a loud family of Tutfted Titmice, an Ovenbird, and an Acadian Flycatcher (heard only).

Montage 19 Jul 2020

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (M), Eastern Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (M), Black-and-White Warbler (F), Blue-headed Vireo (J), Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting (M), and Eastern Towhee (M). (North Mountain Trail, July 19)

On July 20, with temperatures soaring into the upper 90s, Jacqueline and I tried to escape the heat by hiking in the Shenandoah National Park. I only had loose plans, however, and we suffered as a result. We parked at the Big Meadows visitor center (recently reopened to the public), and hiked about 1/3 mile to the Dark Hollow Falls trail head. I correctly surmised that the parking area there would be full, so the extra hiking to get there made sense. (The last time we had gone to Dark Hollow Falls was in June 2005, but I did stop briefly at the trail head in June 2013.) It was a longer hike to the main falls that I thought, and we were a little alarmed by the crowded conditions. Many people were wearing masks, in fact. In order to minimize personal contact and to avoid the steep, difficult climb, we took the long way back, hiking along a side trail that eventually connected with the Appalachian Trail. I soon regretted our decision not to bring water bottles, since I originally planned on just a short hike to the falls and back, followed by a longer hike elsewhere. Even in the mountains it was extremely hot, and by the time we were done hiking the five mile circuit, we were dangerously dehydrated. There really wern't very many birds until near the end of our trek, but we did see a Black Bear -- the third one this year! Avian highlights included a Louisiana Waterthrush, several American Redstarts, several Dark-eyed Juncos (juvenile here). Towhees seemed to be everywhere, and there were also dozens of Barn Swallows around the Big Meadows maintenance sheds. At one of the overlooks on our way home, I saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler up close.

Montage 20 Jul 2020

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (M), Dark-eyed Junco (J), Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), American Redstart (M), and Louisiana Waterthrush. (Shenandoah National Park, July 20)

Later that month, I went to Leonard's Pond on July 25, hoping to see some shorebirds, but the only one present was a Solitary Sandpiper. Eastern Kingbirds were visible at several place north and west of Verona. On July 29 I drove up to Route 610 (parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway) in hopes of seeing the Kentucky Warbler that Marshall Faintich had reported there on the day before. Marshall was at the designated location, but not the Kentucky Warbler. I did have some nice consolation prizes, however: good views of an American Redstart and a Cerulean Warbler! (It was my first decent photo of the latter species this year.) I also saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flying overhead and we heard multiple Wood Thrushes singing nearby. A few E. Towhees rounded out a very brief bird outing. Finally, on July 30 Jacqueline and I stopped in the Shenandoah National Park on our way to Charlottesville. I was given a short period to look for birds, so all I saw was a frazzled-looking male Hooded Warbler, who was obviously starting to molt. It's another sign that the seasons are about to change...

NOTE: Much of the above text is based on Facebook posts that I made in July, with a few corrections, deletions, and additions. More bird photos for this year, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page. I'll do a separate blog post (with scenic photos) about travels in July in the near future...


August 11, 2020 [LINK / comment]

Recent (non-bird) nature photos

When I summarized my bird outings in July in yesterday's blog post, I mentioned a few other nature observations, so I thought I should share some of those other photos. Rather than simply listing them one by one, I thought it would be more fun to present them in an interactive fashion. I was especially pleased with the Pipevine Swallowtail photo (at the top left below), but I have had a few other good recent photos which you can see on my Butterflies photo gallery page, newly updated. (For the time being, that page still includes moths.) The Black Bear is the third such animal I have seen this year, and each time I managed to get a pretty good photo -- scrupulously observing social distancing rules, of course! smile It reminds me that I should present some kind of lifetime chronology of bear sightings.

Nature montage 2020

Click on the links below to see those photos (and others) in a larger size. Roll over to restore the montage.

camera icon Pipevine Swallowtail, on North Mtn., July 19.       camera icon Black Bear, on Rose River trail (SNP), July 20.

camera icon Jack In The Pulpit, camera icon Red-spotted Eft , camera icon Mushrooms, on
at Hightop Mountain (SNP), June 8. at Hearthstone Lake, May 17. Braley Pond trail, August 8.

camera icon Skink, at Sawmill Ridge overlook (SNP), June 1.

camera icon Mourning Cloak, at Hightop Mtn. (SNP), June 8.     ||     camera icon Box Turtle, on Rt. 614 in Highland Co., June 27.

camera icon Eastern Fence Lizard, at Coles Run Res., July 1.   ||   camera icon Mushrooms, on Wildcat Ridge trail (SNP), Aug. 1.

(NOTE: "SNP" = Shenandoah National Park.)

I have updated my Mushrooms photo gallery page with the two montages shown above, plus another less-dazzling montage I did of fungi that I saw on the Falls Hollow trail on June 20. I have been remiss in trying to identify the many mushrooms I have photographed in recent years, so hopefully I'll get to that task in the next few months. Finally, I intend to update and beef up my Nature photo galleries in general, including the separate pages for Mammals and Reptiles, perhaps separating amphibians from the latter page, and maybe adding a new page for trees as well. The Flowers page is the most outdated of all.

Note that all of the above nature photos are the same size, 600 x 450 pixels, with the Jack In The Pulpit being the only vertically-oriented photo. In contrast, the standard size of my bird photos is 480 x 360 pixels. The smaller size reflects the (mostly) smaller size of the photographic subjects and the fact that it is difficult to get high-quality images of fast-moving birds except under ideal lighting conditions. If I get a better camera in the coming months, I may start presenting bird photos in the larger size.


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