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September 18, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Catch 22!! Indians set AL winning streak record

Thanks largely to Francisco Lindor, who hit a game-tying RBI double off the left field wall with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cleveland Indians extended their historic winning streak yet again last Thursday night. In the 10th inning, Jay Bruce hit a walk-off RBI double to the right field corner, thus sparking yet another burst of euphoria. Indians 3, Royals 2. Almost the same situation arose the following night, when Francisco Lindor was up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on first. But this time he struck out, and thus the Great Streak of 2017 came to an end. The previous AL winning streak record (20 games) was held by the Oakland A's, in 2002. And it's not like the Indians just squeaked by with some of those wins, they were totally dominant: From August 24 through September 14, they scored 142 runs (average 6.4 per game) while their opponents scored just 37 runs (average 1.7 per game). For more, see

There has been some discussion about whether the New York Giants' 26-game winning streak in 1916 should be counted, since there was an intervening tied game during that streak. I was originally inclined to say that the tie would invalidate the winning streak. If I understand correctly, however, that tied game was not officially counted, being replaced in effect by the game played the next day.

Indians win AL Central

On Sunday afternoon, the Indians beat the Royals 3-2, taking three out of four games in that series and clinching the American League Central Division title. Thanks to their big winning streak, they are now 1 1/2 games ahead of the Houston Astros in the race for best record in the AL. They had a rather lackluster first half of the year, but since the All-Star break they have been charging ahead, motivated to get back in the World Series and make up for that oh-so-close defeat versus the Cubs last year.

Astros win AL West

In Houston, meanwhile, the first home start for newly-acquired pitcher Justin Verlander was a momentous one, as the Astros clinched the AL West Division with a 7-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners. It's the Astros' first division title since 2001, when they were in the National League Central Division. In 2005, when they went to the World Series, they qualified as a wild card team. They were also a wild card in 2015, when they were beaten in the ALDS by the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals. To complement their slugging power, they have a solid and well-balanced pitching staff, led by Dallas Keuchel, now in his sixth year.

To refresh your memory, see the Postseason scores page.

Dodgers' losing streak ends at 11

Meanwhile, the L.A. Dodgers put an end to their 11-game losing streak on Tuesday by beating the Giants in San Francisco by a score of 5-3 -- but just barely! The Giants had the bases loaded with only one out in the bottom of the ninth, but closing pitcher Kenley Jansen (whose usual role was obviated by circumstances for most of the month) struck out Buster Posey and Nick Hundley to end the game. The Dodgers won again on Wednesday night, and then had a day off while traveling to Washington.

Dodgers take two from Nats

The Dodgers-Nationals series in Washington was being hyped for weeks in advance as a preview of the postseason, but it didn't really live up to the promise. In the first two games, the Nats had lower-rung starting pitchers, part of the new six-man rotation aimed at preserving those precious throwing arms for the games that really count in October. On Friday night, Edwin Jackson (who has been surprisingly effective in some games) gave up a solo home run in the first inning, and six more runs over the next two innings, and that was pretty much it. The Nats' bats were virtually silent, and the final score was 7-0. On Saturday afternoon, A.J. Cole took the mound and promptly gave up three early runs before he settled down. Anthony Rendon homered, and the Nats had a rally going in the ninth inning, but fell short. Dodgers 3, Nats 2.

Then on Sunday night, broadcast nationwide on ESPN, Stephen Strasburg was the starting pitcher, and tensions were high as the Nats badly needed to avert being swept at home. In the second inning, Michael A. Taylor misplayed a long fly ball to center field, and the Dodgers scored a run. Strasburg was nearly flawless for six full innings, but his streak of consecutive scoreless innings pitched ended at 34. What a pity. In the bottom of the sixth, Anthony Rendon drew a walk, Daniel Murphy smashed a single up the middle, and Ryan Zimmerman came up to the plate. In one of the most clutchest of clutch situations all year, he got hold of one and put that ball over the scoreboard in right center field. Three-run homer! In the seventh inning, Anthony Rendon drove in Jayson Werth on a double, and in the eighth, Ryan Zimmerman homered again (solo), and then Adam Lind hit a two run homer! It was Zimmerman's 32nd and 33rd homer of the year, tying his career-best year of 2009. What an inspiring comeback win that was! Nats 7, Dodgers 1.

Overall, it was an evenly matched series, with an aggregate score of 11-9 in favor of the visiting team. The Nats wasted an opportunity to close in on the Dodgers in the race for the best record in the National League. Once Bryce Harper* returns to the lineup in October, the balance will shift in the Nationals' favor. They have three rock-solid starting pitchers plus a vastly improved bullpen, while the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw (who lost tonight pitching against the Phillies!) and a few others who are question marks. That concluded the Nats' ten-game home stand with an even 5-5 record. It was the Nats' 90th win of the season, and with a record of 90-59 right now, their chances of reaching 100 wins for the season are less than 50-50, despite the fact that all their remaining opponents have records well below the .500 mark.

* Bryce took some batting practice swings on Sunday, and has been jogging around the outfield track, which is a very good sign. No need to rush him back into action. When he returns, it will have a positively electrifying impact!

Braves take two from Nats

When the Braves arrived in Washington last week, it seemed like a meager challenge for the Nats. Oops! On Tuesday, Gio Gonzalez made a couple bad pitches and paid dearly for it, giving up five runs over five innings. The Braves tacked on three more runs later on, and won 8-0. The next day Max Scherzer was pitching, so you had to figure that was an easy win. Wrong! Despite a growing pitch count, he insisted on staying on the mound into the seventh inning, and before you knew it, a tight 2-2 game had turned into an 8-2 blowout. (One of those runs was charged to Brandon Kintzler.) Ugh. After the game, Max tried to rationalize his stubbornness by saying he needed the experience of going deep into a game. Frankly, I don't buy it. Then on Thursday night, Tanner Roark got things back on track, pitching into the sixth inning before the Braves scored any runs. Clutch hits by eldster Jayson Werth and youngster Victor Robles proved decisive in the Nats' 5-3 win. And that's how the Nats averted a sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves.

Michael Taylor, deja vu

Michael A. Taylor's recent inside-the-park grand slam (see September 10) reminded me of similar occurrences in which he was involved two years ago. On September 8, 2015 he smashed a bases-loaded single up the middle, but the Mets' center fielder muffed it, and Michael made it all the way home. (The Nats lost the game, however.) Then at a game I attended on September 25, 2015, the Phillies' Aaron Altheer did the exact same thing to center fielder Michael Taylor that Michael Taylor had done to the Mets two weeks earlier: a four-run single / E-8!

To add to the chain of amazingly eery coincidences, it was Aaron Altheer who hit the grand slam against Clayton Kershaw tonight, helping the Phillies beat the visiting L.A. Dodgers!

Almost a no-hitter!

You can't get any closer than this: In Detroit yesterday, Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd went for 8 2/3 innings before the first White Sox player got a hit: Tim Anderson doubled to the gap in right-center field, spoiling the fun for the home crowd. Boyd's statistics are only fair: a 6-10 record this year with a 5.33 ERA. The last Tigers pitcher to throw a no-hitter was Justin Verlander (traded to the Astros on August 31), which was six years ago.

Football in southern California

Both of the recently-relocated pro football teams in Los Angeles lost yesterday, and both were playing at home. At Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the L.A. Rams (which moved there last year from St. Louis) lost to the Washington Redskins 27-20. In the industrial suburb of Compton (as in "Straight Outta"!), meanwhile, the L.A. Chargers (which just moved there from San Diego) lost to the Miami Dolphins, 19-17. In both games, there were many empty seats, but the Chargers at least filled a greater proportion of the 27,000 capacity of StubHub Center, which is the home of the L.A. Galaxy Major League Soccer team.

The departure of the other pro sports team suggests that QualComm (Jack Murphy) Stadium has entered "Limbo," according to my criteria. Or maybe not! Over 43,000 fans watched the San Diego State Aztecs (now ranked 22nd in the country) defeat Stanford, and according, their home is now called "San Diego Stadium." According to the usually-reliable, in contrast, it is supposed to be called "SDCCU (San Diego County Credit Union) Stadium." Go figure.

More hurricane havoc

More baseball "fallout" from Hurricane Irma: The Miami Marlins played a "home" series against the Milwaukee Brewers in Miller Park, after it was determined that their own city was not yet ready for a big sporting event. The Marlins were playing as the "home team," batting last, very weird. Apparently Miami received more damage than St. Petersburg, the opposite of what I had expected. I had thought that the Tampa Bay Rays would have to relocate their series, since that urban area was almost directly in Irma's path of destruction. The dome at Tropicana Field looks rather flimsy to me, and I thought some repairs to it might be necessary. The Marlins are out of postseason contention, whereas the Brewers are in hot pursuit of the Cubs, so from their point of view, this uncompensated series relocation was a big gift.

NOTE: I recently realized that the playing field in Marlins Park is essentially on the same level as the ground outside. That should have been a no-brainer. Most of Miami is flat and very low elevation, and because of the risk of flooding, basements are virtually non-existent. That means I need to update the profile portions of the diagrams for that stadium soon...

In any event, I had to update the Anomalous stadiums page once again, adding a new line for Miller Park.

Finally, I updated the Baseball home (intro) and the My ballpark visits pages with an account of my 2017 activities, along with new jumbo-sized photos of Marlins Park and Wrigley Field.

September 12, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Birding in South Dakota & Wisconsin: August 2017

"Only" a few weeks late, I now present an account of my pursuit of birds while in South Dakota early last month, followed by a brief but productive stop at a nature area in Wisconsin on my way home. As a preface, I should note that I saw a few interesting birds while in Kansas City, most notably a Common Nighthawk overhead while my brother Dan and I were in front of Arthur Bryant's famous barbecue place on July 30, but the situation was just not conducive to photography. We also saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (and a Monarch butterfly!) at the Shawnee Indian Mission earlier that day. The photo montages seen below, along with individual bird photos, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

Aug. 1: northeast S.D.

As recounted previously, on the first day of August I took my brother Chris's Hyundai Sonata on a test drive to the northeast part of South Dakota. I figured it was almost a sure bet to get a good photo of the American White Pelicans which breed up in the north where lakes abound, and I was right. I saw a few as I was driving toward my main destination, the Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, but it was harder than I thought to get close to them. Anyway, while driving west along U.S. Route 12 I spotted a hawk perched on a fence pole, did a U-turn and slowly approached it to get a photo. I was pretty lucky, because that bird didn't fly away until after I had taken a few excellent shots from only about 50 feet away. It was a Red-tailed Hawk -- a young one, based on the lack of reddish color in its tail. After lunch in Waubay I drove to the wildlife refuge northeast of town, and I soon spotted a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret in a shallow lake, as well as a Great Blue Heron and a Double-crested Cormorant. I got some good photos of the egrets, as well as of some Purple Martins. I also saw some (probable) Forster's Terns flying around and tried to take photos, but they weren't much good.

Once inside the refuge proper, I spent a lot of time pursuing grassland birds such as Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, and Clay-colored Sparrows. (At the time, I thought the latter might be Lark Sparrows, but then I learned that the latter species ranges farther to the south.) I also spotted a Spotted Sandpiper by the shore. Next I drove across the causeway which leads to the island on which the refuge headquarters is located. There I heard and saw many Yellow Warblers and Chipping Sparrows. After chatting with the folks inside, I took a walk along one of the trails, and soon heard a scream up in the trees. It turned out to be a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, who was very cooperative as I took pictures! There were many Eastern Kingbirds, Barn Swallows, and Chipping Sparrows, but nothing really spectacular. I was hoping to see Western Grebes, which breed in that region, but no such luck.

Heading west, I saw a Black-crowned Night Heron in a mud flat adjacent to Route 12, and a Western Kingbird perched on a wire! (I didn't realize what it was until I looked at the image later on; they are hardly ever seen in southeastern South Dakota.) Following the suggestion of the refuge ranger I talked to, I stopped at a pond a few miles southwest of Webster. Indeed, it was full of shorebirds, such as Pectoral Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Solitary Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, and Killdeers. There were also some Blue-winged Teals. Nearby I saw a few Dickcissels, and an American White Pelican flew right over my head! It was getting late in the afternoon, and I was three hours away from Sioux Falls, so I had to leave. On the way, I came across more lakes where many hundreds of shorebirds had gathered, but there weren't any good photo opportunities. While entering Watertown, I happened to see a dozen or so Pelicans clustered together around a boulder fairly close to the road, and I got some of my best pictures yet!

Montage 01 Aug 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American White Pelican, Cooper's Hawk (J), Clay-colored Sparrow (J), Purple Martin (M), Dickcissel (F), Red-tailed Hawk (J), and in center, Least Sandpiper and Common Yellowthroat (M). Roll your mouse over the image to see the Pelican enlarged.

The next day (August 2) was mostly spent visiting with relatives in Madison, rather than birding. However, I did happen to photograph a Eurasian Collared Dove at the top of at building spire at Dakota State University. Other than that, it was just the usual ducks and gulls in some of the larger ponds.

Aug. 3: Atkins WPA

On Thursday, my last full day in South Dakota, I headed to Atkins Wildlife Protection Area, on the west edge of the town of Tea. It consists of marshes with tall cattails surrounding a small lake, but it is not well maintained, and the main trail becomes impassible half way through. My main target bird there was the Yellow-headed Blackbird, which I had seen only once before -- way back in 2004! It's a high priority for me every time I visit South Dakota, but unfortunately, I struck out once again. As a small consolation, I did get some photos of a Sedge Wren, but it took a lot of effort, since they usually stay deep in the tall grass / sedges. I also saw some Common Yellowthroats, and Red-winged Blackbirds, as well as a Western Meadowlark. To my eyes they are indistinguishable from Eastern Meadowlarks, but the songs are much different.

After that, I drove to Wall Lake, the southern-most of the large lakes that are scattered across northeastern South Dakota. The skies were getting dark, and while I walked across a footbridge I came upon a Green Heron in a low tree branch just 30 or so feet in front of me, and I got a quick photo before it flew away. There were several dozen or more Ring-billed Gulls and Franklin's Gulls around that lake, but not much else. It started to rain, so I left.

Montage 01 Aug 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: [ Sedge Wren, Ring-billed Gulls (A, J), American Goldfinch (M), Green Heron, Western Meadowlark, Common Yellowthroat (M) ]

Aug. 4: Wisconsin

I spent most of Friday driving straight across southern Minnesota, with only one significant stop -- in the town of Albert Lea. I crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin, and late in the afternoon I arrived at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, where a small colony of endangered Whooping Cranes has been breeding in recent decades. That would be a life bird for me, so I figured it was worth an hour or two. I stopped at an observation platform not far from the entrance, and spotted a young Bald Eagle, as well as probable Great Egrets. Upon arriving at the visitor center, I saw a steel silhouette of a pair of Cranes, making me all the more eager. Then I was thrilled to see a family of cranes across the lake, but I soon realized that they were just Sandhill Cranes, which are relatively common there. Still, it was the first time I had seen a small-sized juvenile of that species, along with its parents. In back of the visitor center there are several bird feeders, and I saw a wide variety of birds (including several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks) feeding there. I was amused to see a Blue Jay next to a sign that said "Blue Jay Way." I even saw a Red-headed Woodpecker, but couldn't get a recognizable photo. It was already dusk, so I had to leave.

Montage 04 Aug 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Rose-breasted Grosbeak (F), Bald Eagle (J), Sandhill Cranes (2 A, 1 J), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (M), White-breasted Nuthatch, and in center American Goldfinch (M). Roll your mouse over the image to see the Sandhill Cranes enlarged.

The next day while watching a baseball game in Chicago's Wrigley Field, I saw several Ring-billed Gulls on the roof in back of where I was sitting, so I took a photo. Those gulls congregate in large numbers around the outfield late in ballgames, anticipating feasting on the leftover snacks in the bleachers. Aside from brief visits to Indianapolis and Cincinnati, there wasn't much opportunity for me to do any birding for the rest of my trip back east, so that's that. Now all that is left to do as far as blogging about wild birds is to finish writing about my birding adventures in South Dakota two years ago! (Sigh...)

Sept. 12: Betsy Bell Hill

Today I went to Betsy Bell Hill here in Staunton for the first time since the early summer. I was hoping to see some of the neotropical migrants that are passing through, and my hopes were raised when I saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler soon after arriving. It left the area, however, and all during my hike to the top of the hill, there was very little bird activity. Thankfully, I encountered a cluster of small songbirds on the southwest side of the hill on the way down. In the following montage, only the Pileated Woodpecker is a year-round resident; the other birds will be on their way to parts farther south before long...

Montage 12 Sep 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Worm-eating Warbler (from below and a closeup of the head), Eastern Wood Pewee, Pileated Woodpecker (M), Red-eyed Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager (F/J).

September 11, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Blue Ridge Parkway field trip

On Saturday morning (September 9), I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the parallel Route 610, with 11 people participating altogether. We identified a total of 32 species, plus 2 others that were uncertain: a probable Cerulean Warbler, and either a Bay-breasted or a Blackpoll Warbler. At one of the Rockfish Valley overlooks near Afton, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Eastern Wood-Pewee were seen, and someone saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Most of the eight warbler species were seen at the communications tower on Route 610, which was very busy. Magnolia, Tennessee, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, and Black-throated Green Warblers were all prominent there. Linda Corwin spotted an unusual-looking bird at that location that turned out to be a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. There was also a yellow Scarlet Tanager: either a female or a juvenile male. In contrast, there wasn't much activity at either the Humpback Rocks visitor center or the nearby trail head, and likewise at the picnic grounds further south. Our final stop was at the Ravens Roost overlook, where we saw a possible young Red-tailed Hawk, a Blue-headed Vireo, a pair of Turkey Vultures, and a couple Dark-eyed Juncos. After that, we headed back north to join the big crowd gathered at the Rockfish Gap hawk watch open house. It was a productive, fun morning with great (although cool) weather.

View the checklist online at:

Montage 09 Sep 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler (F/J), Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler (F/J), Scarlet Tanager (F/J), Magnolia Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Blackburnian Warbler (M), and in center, a probable Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Sept. 8: Bell's Lane

On Friday I went for a walk on Bell's Lane for the first time since July. I was curious about whether any migrating warblers, etc. were present, but the only really notable birds were one of those hard-to-identify "Empid" flycatchers and a young male hummingbird. I finally got a good photo of a Gray Catbird exposing the orange feathers under his tail.

Montage 08 Sep 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Gray Catbird, Empidomax Flycatcher (prob.), Downy Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (JM).

NOTE: Both of the photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page. Hopefully I will finish writing about birds in South Dakota by tomorrow...

Nats' magic number: 0

September 10, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nationals clinch NL East Division, again!

The Washington Nationals held on to beat the visiting Philadelphia Phillies this afternoon, 3-2, thus taking three games out of four in that series. In all four games, the margin of victory was exactly one run, which seems like a surprisingly even matchup but probably reflected the fact that they Nats were making heavy use of players recently called up from the minor leagues. Today's big hero was Stephen Strasburg, who struck out ten batters and only allowed two hits (and no runs) over eight innings. It's the first time in Expos/Nationals franchise history that a pitcher has pitched at least six innings without giving up a run in four consecutive games. Michael A. Taylor hit a solo homer in the eighth inning, providing an insurance run that ended up being decisive when the Phillies scored twice in the top of the ninth.

That win brought the Nats' magic number down to one, pending the outcome of the Marlins-Braves game in Atlanta. The visitors had a 8-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, and it seemed almost certain that the Nats would have to wait until at least another day to celebrate. But the Braves staged a three-run rally to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, and two innings later a relative unknown named Lane Adams hit a two-run walkoff homer (only his second career home run) that snuffed out the Marlins' final scant hopes of winning the division. (It was all but a mathematical impossibility.) As a result, for the second year in a row, and for the fourth time in the last six years, the Nationals are champions of the National League East Division! As you can see in this chart, they were getting closer to their goal every day so far this month, either through their own wins and/or losses by the current second-place team, the Miami Marlins.

Washington Nationals magic number 2012-2017

NOTE: I only keep track of magic numbers on days when the Nationals played games, hence the gaps in the data lines above. There are no gaps in 2017, since the Nationals played every day from September 1 to 10.

[ The Nationals' lead over the Marlins is an astounding 20 games, with just 19 games left to play. According to ESPN, this is the earliest date on which a team has clinched a division title since 2008, when the Angels easily won the AL West. (Their regular season record was 100-62, but they lost to Boston in the ALDS.) ]

[ Several hundred fans stayed in Nationals Park to watch the Marlins-Braves game on the video board. Until the bottom of the ninth inning, it seemed like a waste of time, so hats off to the ones who stayed until the end! They were rewarded with hats, shirts, and other souvenirs tossed to them from Nats players who returned to the field after waiting for the Marlins-Braves game to end. Then they got back to the "serious" business of spraying champagne all around the locker room. gif ]

The Nats will have an off-day tomorrow, perfectly timed. It was not until September 24 last year (when I made such a chart) that the Nats clinched their division.

In the first game of the series with the Phillies, on Thursday, Tanner Roark gave up three runs over six innings, and the Nats were behind by two runs when he left the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Matt Wieters hit an RBI double to begin a magnificent comeback. Soon the bases were loaded, and on a 3-2 count, Trea Turner smashed a single up the middle that got two runs across the plate, retaking the lead, just barely. In the top of the seventh, the Phillies' Andres Blanco hit a ball to deep center field, and Michael A. Taylor sprinted and made a perfectly-timed leap to grab the ball about a foot above the wall. It was one of the best, and most pivotal, defensive plays by the Nationals all year. The Nats' standard late-inning relief crew (Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle) all did their job flawlessly, and the Nats won it, 4-3. Tanner Roark even got credit for the win!

Friday was a real slug-fest, as the Phillies scored three runs in the top of the first, embarrassing the Nats' ace Max Scherzer. But the Nats regained some momentum when Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI single in the bottom of the first. They scored another in the second, and in the third inning Michael A. Taylor hit an inside-the-park grand slam! The center fielder misjudged how hard the line drive had been hit (not ruled an error), and speedy Michael circled the bases. The Nats led 10-4 after six innings, and it seemed as though they had things well under control. But then Oliver Perez gave up three runs without getting an out in the seventh inning, and Shawn Kelley did the very same thing in the top of the ninth. His ERA has risen to 7.99, pretty much ruling him out of postseason roster consideration. Fortunately, Sean Doolittle came in and threw three strikeouts to end the game. The deciding run was scored in the eighth inning, when Michael A. Taylor hit an RBI triple. Nats 11, Phillies 10.

In Saturday's game, Howie Kendrick hit a solo homer in the first inning to give the Nats an early lead. Edwin Jackson had a rough outing, however, and only lasted 3 1/3 innings, giving up five runs. The Nats gradually narrowed the gap, thanks to a two-run homer and RBI single by Michael A. Taylor, but their attempted rally in the ninth inning fell short, and they lost, 5-4.

Michael Taylor: Wow!

The Nationals' young center fielder, Michael A. Taylor, has really been on a tear lately, with three home runs over the past week (including that inside-the-park grand slam on Friday), plus another game-saving catch at the center field wall on Thursday night. (He did the same thing in Milwaukee last week.) He was on the disabled list from early July until mid-August, and since he returned he has gradually regained his hitting prowess. True, he swings at bad pitches too often (as does Ryan Zimmerman), but he has proven himself to be an invaluable part of the Nats' lineup, and can be expected to play a decisive part in postseason games next month.

Indians' winning streak: 18!!!

The Cleveland Indians continue to surpass expectations, and are making history with 18 consecutive wins. The Tribe just swept the visiting Baltimore Orioles, who had been pretty hot lately, fighting for the second wild card spot. The Indians' pitchers have been outstanding this year, while Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall lead a powerful offensive lineup. Younger players such as Francisco Lindor (in his third year) and Giovanny Urshela (second year) have been a key part of the Indians' success. See

Dodgers' losing streak: 10!!!

And almost as amazingly, the L.A. Dodgers were swept by the visiting Colorado Rockies this weekend, losing today by a score of 8-1. They have now lost ten games in a row, and since August 25, they have only won one out of sixteen games! That's just hard to fathom. Clayton Kershaw missed a few weeks due to injury, and when he pitched against the Rockies on Thursday, he only lasted 3 2/3 innings, giving up four runs. If the Dodgers can't count on him to win a game, their postseason prospects are shaky indeed. Their lead in the NL West has shrunk to just nine games, which is fairly secure, but they are only four games ahead of the Nationals in the race for the best win-loss record in the National League, and that is not secure at all.

Are you ready for some football?

While the Nationals were clinching their division title this afternoon, several miles to the east in Landover, Maryland, the Washington Redskins lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. I wasn't watching, of course, but it seems that Kirk Cousins kept getting sacked and coughing up the ball. It's another disheartening start of the Redskins's season, and you wonder if attendance will continue to slide given the squabbles between the front office and Kirk Cousins, etc.

Ever since they moved into FedEx Field (originally Jack Kent Cook Stadium), the Redskins seem to have been jinxed, and in response to declining fan interest, they have been hacking out more and more sections from the upper deck. I've been meaning to post the seating capacity numbers in "the Incredible Shrinking Stadium," and here is what I found:

From: To: Seating capacity
1997 1999 80,116
2000 2004 ?
2005 2009 91,704
2012 2014 85,000
2015 2016 79,000

SOURCE: Washington Post

Some sources (e.g., wikipedia) give the current capacity as 82,000, but that is based on a 2015 Redskins Media Guide which may not have been updated to reflect the reductions which took place that year. It's hard to say. According to ESPN, the capacity of FedEx Field is 85,000 and "the stadium is the largest in the NFL." Well, maybe I shouldn't feel so bad about some pages on my website that are out of date! gif

And finally, that was quite an upset when the Kansas City Chiefs stunned the host New England Patriots with a come-from-behind [42-27] victory on Thursday night! (That was the official first NFL game of the season.)

September 8, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Bird breeding season 2017

Here we are, experiencing prematurely-cool autumn temperatures in the month of September, and I haven't done a blog post about birds since May 15!? How awful! You might say I was so busy birding that I didn't have enough time to blog about birding. This "catch-up" blog post will cover late May and all of June, when I made several trips into the mountains, as well as July, when my birding activity declined markedly. (I will cover more recent birding ventures later on...) What follows below is in normal chronological order.

NOTE: The photo montages seen below, and dozens of "new" individual bird photos (including some shown therein), can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.

On May 15 I drove up toward Harrisonburg. On the way there I stopped at Cook's Creek natural area in Bridgewater, where I saw a Magnolia Warbler, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and a Common Grackle. Eventually I ended up at Hillandale Park (on the west edge of Harrisonburg), which seems to get an amazing variety of migrant birds passing through. I saw a few good ones that day, but unfortunately didn't get any good photos. Near the cabin in that park, someone pointed out a pair of Black Rat Snakes in tree. They were probably feasting on the eggs of woodpeckers or other cavity-nesting birds. frown

Montage 15 May

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chestnut-sided Warbler*, Yellow-breasted Chat, Orchard Oriole*, Indigo Bunting*, Eastern Towhee*, Orchard Oriole (JM), Magnolia Warbler*, and near the center, a Common Grackle. (May 16)

On May 16 I went to Coles Run Reservoir, which is on the west slope of the Blue Ridge a few miles south of Stuarts Draft. I walked across the dam, which was rebuilt a year or two ago, but didn't see any Ospreys as I had in the past there. After returning to the east side of the dam, I hiked along the reservoir for a few hundred yards, the first time I had done that. I had good views of a pair of Black & White Warblers as well as a Worm-eating Warbler, all at close range.

Montage 16 May

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Spotted Sandpiper, Indigo Buntings (M & F), Red-eyed Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler, Black & White Warblers (M & F), and near the center, a probable Swainson's Thrush. (May 16)

The next day, I went for a walk along Madison Run, east of the town of Grottoes, where I had a good view of a Wood Thrush and a Pine Warbler. If the lighting conditions had been better, I would have gotten some good photos. The day after that (May 18), I drove to Buffalo Gap in western Augusta County, and took the backroad known as Parkersburg Turnpike. (It's the old main highway to West Virginia.) I went up to Dry Branch Gap, the crest of Shenandoah Mountain, where I saw Ovenbirds, Acadian Flycatchers, Black & White Warblers, and Red-eyed Vireos. At the bottom of the mountain on the west side (near Deerfield) I saw a Phoebe in a small tree. I stopped at Chimney Hollow on Route 50 on the way back to Staunton, and I heard a Northern Parula or two, but didn't see much.

Montage 18 May

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black & White Warbler (M), Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Acadian Flycatcher, and Eastern Phoebe. (May 20, 2017)

On May 20 I went to Nazarene wetlands, in southwest Rockingham County, in hopes of seeing a Sora, which is a chunky marsh bird similar to Rails. No luck there, although I did get a fine photo of a Red-winged Blackbird. Then I headed toward Briery Branch Road and drove to the top of Reddish Knob in hopes of seeing various warblers or Red Crossbills. I didn't have nearly as much luck that day as I had had in the past, partly because the weather quickly turned chilly, cloudy, and windy after I reached the top of the mountain at Reddish Knob.


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Killdeer, Eastern Towhee*, Chestnut-sided Warbler*, Northern Shoveler*, Indigo Bunting*, Red-winged Blackbird*, American Goldfinch*, and in center, Dark-eyed Junco. (May 20, 2017)
* All of the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

Back to Pocosin Cabin

After a week or so of rainy weather, I went hiking on Pocosin Cabin trail in the Shenandoah National Park on May 29. (My previous visit there was last October.) Here I had much better luck, and I came close to getting superb photos of a Cerulean Warbler, but it was early in the morning with bright sun glare that my camera just couldn't handle. Other warblers included: Kentucky, Canada, Hooded, Chestnut-sided, and American Redstart. Perhaps the biggest surprise that day was seeing and hearing a Least Flycatcher. I had been to that location several times before, but do not recall that species there. It was a wonderful day!

Montage 29 May 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wood Thrush, Kentucky Warbler*, Least Flycatcher, Canada Warbler*, American Redstart*, Hooded Warbler*, Rose-breasted Grosbeak*, Cerulean Warbler*, Chestnut-sided Warbler*. (May 29, 2017)
* All of the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

But the biggest highlight of the day for me wasn't even a bird, it was a big ferocious bear -- about 200 pounds, I'd say. It came out of the bushes about 60 yards behind me, and walked along the trail for a few minutes, evidently getting a drink of water from a stream. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to return to the parking lot, and prepared to wait a long time. Fortunately, it returned to the bushes from which it had come after only about five minutes, and I was able to quickly pass where it had just been and get the heck out of Dodge!

Black Bear

Black Bear, a couple hundred yards east of Pocosin Cabin, on May 29. Roll your mouse over this image to see it walking away toward the stream.

Yellow-breasted Chat!

After getting an e-mail alert about a Yellow-breasted Chat at Hillandale Park (where I had been on May 15), I drove up on June 2. This time I had much better luck in getting a well-lit, fairly close-range photo. This bird was about 30 feet away from me, as I recall. Chats are exceedingly rare during breeding season in this area, from what I have observed. Ironically, it was while visiting Arizona three years earlier that I had some excellent closeup views of them!

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat. (June 2)

Family anecdote: When we were very young, my father, who passed away last year, mistakenly told us kids that a medium-small bird with a yellowish breast that we had seen was a Chat. NOT! Years later, my brother John (the expert birder in the family) realized that it was a Western Flycatcher, which ranges as far northeast as South Dakota.

Highland Co. field trip

On June 3, the Augusta Bird Club held its annual early summer field trip to Highland County. The Augusta Bird Club's annual late-spring field trip to Highland County (on Saturday, June 3) took place under ideal weather conditions, and was well-attended, as usual. We saw nearly all of the "target species" except for Bald Eagles, though we only had brief glimpses of a Golden-winged Warbler and a Mourning Warbler. A full report on the event is being prepared. Here are some of the highlights from the trip:

Montage 03 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bobolink*, Chestnut-sided Warbler*, Belted Kingfisher, Canada Warbler*, American Redstart*, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow Warbler, and (in center) Grasshopper Sparrow. (June 3, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

On June 7, I had a nice view of a male Baltimore Oriole on Bell's Lane, as well as a family of Wood Ducks on the beaver pond near the north end. (That pond began to form last year, and continued to grow through the early months of this year.)

Trek into the mountains

On June 9, I embarked on an all-day journey, heading west toward the highlands. At Augusta Springs, where I saw a family of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, an Ovenbird, and a Goldfinch or two. From there I stopped in the town of Craigsville for a snack, and then drove up to Ramsey Gap, where the views were great, but the birds a little scarce. I did get some nice photos of a Pine Warbler, at least.

Montage 09 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler*, Ovenbird, E. Phoebe, American Goldfinch*, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers: A, J. (June 9)

Shenandoah Nat. Park

On June 11, Jacqueline and I drove through Shenandoah National Park, and saw the usual variety of warblers, at the peak of breeding season. I hiked for a bit along Wildcat Ridge Trail, where there were abundant, lush Mountain Laurel blooms. We saw quite a few birds at the Loft Mountain Wayside, but I had a hard time getting good photos. We both went for a walk along a side trail at about mile marker 72, where we saw a bunch of mushrooms, a snail, some Ovenbirds, and some Hooded Warblers. At the Bacon Hollow overlook just to the north, we saw a male and female Indigo Bunting at fairly close range.

Montage 11 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-and-white Warbler*, Osprey, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler*, Indigo Bunting*, Pine Warbler*, Chipping Sparrow, and near the center, Scarlet Tanager*. (June 11, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

Golden-winged Warbler!

The very next day (June 12), I drove back to Highland County, where the bird club had spotted a Golden-winged Warbler nine days earlier. I was determined to get a good photo of that bird, whatever the cost!!! Along Wimer Mountain Road on the way there, I had a nice view of a Green Heron. Once I arrived at the house where Margaret O'Bryan used to live, it took well over two hours of patient waiting along the trail uphill from. Finally, I got a good look at it, and at least a decent photo. While there, I also saw several Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towees, and American Redstarts. I got a nasty sunburn on my neck, but it was worth it! After getting my first-ever photos of a Yellow-throated Warbler (in Florida, March 5) and a Wilson Warbler (out back, May 13), this was the third milestone warbler photo of the year for me!

Montage 12 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Golden-winged Warbler*, Chestnut-sided Warbler*, Red-headed Woodpecker, House Wren, Eastern Phoebe (plus babies in nest), and Green Heron. (June 12, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

Bell's Lane

On June 16, I headed over to Bell's Lane and soon spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo by the sharp corner near the stream crossing. I believe it was the first of that species I had seen this year. There were a variety of other interesting birds as well, but I had to leave abruptly as a rain storm approached.

Montage 16 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatcher, Wood Duck (juv.), Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbird (juv.), Cedar Waxwing. (June 16, 2017)

Shen. Nat. Park (II)

On June 18, Jacqueline and I went on another day trip to the Shenandoah National Park, but this time we had some serious exercise planned. We hike to the top of Hawksbill Mountain, which is very popular with casual visitors, so we encountered a lot of people around the summit. I was thrilled to get some great closeup photos of a Canada Warbler, as well as a Veery and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. At one of the overlooks, I got my best-ever photo of a Chestnut-sided Warbler!

Montage 18 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Canada Warbler*, Brown Thrasher, Chestnut-sided Warbler*, Eastern Towhee*, Blue-headed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Veery and (in center) Dark-eyed Junco and Indigo Bunting*. (June 12, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

Bell's Lane (II)

On June 27, I went to Bell's Lane and got good photos of both the Baltimore Oriole and an Orchard Oriole, very close to each other. I even located a Baltimore Oriole nest, which I reported to other bird club members. (I'm not sure if we observed any fledglings there, however.) There were other nice birds as well, most notably a family of E. Kingbirds.

Montage 27 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Baltimore Oriole*, Cedar Waxwing, Orchard Oriole, House Finch*, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Kingbird, and (right of center) Red-winged Blackbird. (June 27, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

McCormick's Mill field trip

On June 28, I went on a field trip to McCormick's Mill led by Jo King. The highlights were finding a Baltimore Oriole nest next to the front pond, and getting great looks at an Eastern Wood Pewee. I also heard and then spotted a Grasshopper Sparrow on a fence some distance away. Later some of us went to nearby Willow Lake, where we saw a couple Ospreys flying overhead.

Montage 28 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee*, Osprey, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Wood Pewee, Eastern Kingbird, Great Blue Heron, Canada Geese, and (right of center) Cedar Waxwing. (June 28, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

Shen. Nat. Park (III)

On June 30, I used my annual pass to the Shenandoah National Park on the very last day of its validity! (This was on the way back from Dulles Airport, where I had left Jacqueline, who was en route to Peru.) For the first time in years, I entered via the northern portal at Front Royal, and stopped at the Matthews Arm visitor center. I had a nice closeup views of a Chestnut-sided Warbler and a Dark-eyed Junco, and distant views of other birds.

Montage 30 Jun 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chestnut-sided Warbler*, Indigo Bunting*, Scarlet Tanager*, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Towhee*, and Dark-eyed Junco (June 30, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

Bell's Lane (III)

Finally, during the month of July, when the temperatures routinely soar into the nineties and birds are much less conspicuous, I just didn't spend much time birding. I just made occasional visits to Bell's Lane, of which July 7 and July 21 stand out:

Montage 07 Jul 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallows, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch*, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, and in the center, Great Blue Heron and Willow Flycatcher. (July 7, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

Montage 21 Jul 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting*, American Goldfinch*, Field Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Tree Swallow, and Green Heron. (July 21, 2017)
* The the sexually dimorphic species here are males.

The above photo montage, and several individual bird photos (including some shown therein), can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page. Tomorrow I will summarize my birding ventures in South Dakota and Wisconsin during the early days of August...

September 8, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Ozark Mountain Daredevils in concert!

(Another woefully-late blog post...) As part of my big trip to the Midwest five weeks ago, my brother Dan and I went to the first annual Mid-America Music Festival for the sole purpose seeing one of my favorite groups: the Ozark Mountain Daredevils! As recounted in my travelog blog post (August 31), my brother Dan and I drove up from Kansas City to the small town of Trenton, Missouri on Saturday July 29. It is located in the north-central part of the state, and is rather isolated. The countryside is much like South Dakota, but greener and hillier. We took a quick look at downtown, and then drove about a mile east to the Black Silo winery, where we were directed to park in an open field along with a hundred or more other vehicles.

Mid America Music Festival sign

This sign was in front of the Black Silo Winery, where the festival was held, just east of Trenton, Missouri.

The festival had already begun the day before, but I was not familiar with the other performers, and with not much time to spare, I preferred to see the sights in Kansas City. Soon after we arrived, a group called Whiskey Jim and the Outlaw Benders was playing. They were pretty good, a mixture of electrified country and blues. Dan and I strolled around the vineyard, chose some good barbecue from some several food vendors, visited the gift shop, and walked up to where they were giving some hot air balloon rides. It was just tethered up-and-down deal, and Jacqueline and I had already done a "real" balloon ride in 2008, so we passed on that amusement.

Mid America Music Festival sign

The crowd wasn't very big, maybe a thousand total, but that's to be expected since it was the very first year this festival has been held.

As the sun sank toward the horizon, another group started playing, I forget which one. About that time, a guy with long gray hair in a pony tail walked from the stage area past where we were sitting toward the main winery building, and he looked familiar to me. I showed the photo I took to the people who were selling Ozark Mountain Daredevils at one of the tent-covered tables, and they confirmed to me that it was indeed Michael "Supe" Granda, the bass player! I ended up buying the group's latest "Alive and Wild" CD, and Dan bought two of their "classic" CDs and a T-shirt.

Finally, at about 9:30, the main event got underway, and I was thrilled that they started with one of my favorites, "Standing On the Rock." It's an acoustic, bluegrass-sounding song with a fun harmonica part. Unfortunately, we learned that the group's harmonica player, Steve Cash, was able to be there due to ill health. In his place, one of the extra guitar players (Nick Sibley) handled that task, and he did just fine. Just two of the original six members were there: John Dillon (guitar, fiddle) and Michael Granda (bass, guitar). For the most part, the musicians all played very well, with great enthusiasm, and I loved it. There were problems with the microphones, causing some exasperation a couple times, but it was fixed eventually.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils 2017

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils (L to R): Ruell Chappell, Nick Sibley, Kelly Brown, John Dillon, Michael Granda, Ron Gremp, Dave Painter, Bill Jones. Absent that evening: Steve Cash, the harmonica player. Click on the image to see a closeup of Dillon, Granda, and Gremp. For more photos, see the Chronological (2017) photo gallery page.

I took notes of all the songs they played, and while I was very happy that they did just about all of my favorites, there were two with which I was not familiar. In the set list below, I included phrases from the refrain in parentheses, as a possible identifier. Not surprisingly, they finished the regular part of the show with "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," and for an encore they covered a classic tune "Route 66" that was geographically appropriate. (That highway passed through southern Missouri where they have lived their lives.) The final songs, "It'll Shine When It Shines," was the title track of the second album, and in many ways is the most spiritual and most definitive song that they do. It was a perfect ending to a great show. It was a very special and memorable experience for me.

  1. Standing On the Rock
  2. Chicken Train
  3. Country Girl
  4. Fly Away Home
  5. UNKNOWN (Fine, Fine, Fine???)
  6. Noah
  7. Homemade Wine
  8. UNKNOWN (Gone, Long Gone???)
  9. Jackie Blue
  10. Ooh, Boys, It's Hot
  11. It Probably Always Will
  12. You Made It Right
  13. Walkin' Down the Road
  14. Gonna Buy Me a Car
  15. If You Wanna Get to Heaven
  16. Route 66
  17. It'll Shine When It Shines
Ozark Mountain Daredevils T-shirt, CDs

My official Ozark Mountain Daredevils T-shirt. The reverse side has a list of over 60 of their songs, about a dozen of which I don't even know! Also shown are the two CDs I just bought: "Men From Earth," their fourth studio album (1977), and "13," which was released in 1998.

Who are the Ozark Mountain Daredevils?

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils were founded in the early 1970s by a group of college guys in Springfield, Missouri. Their first big hit came out in early 1974: "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," which was still very popular when I saw them in concert in Slagle Hall at the University of South Dakota in the fall of 1974, when I was a freshman. Their second hit single was "Jackie Blue," which is a nice, mellow pop-rock song, but is not typical of the group's strong country flavor. There were originally six members, but keyboardist Buddy Brayfield quit in order to pursue a medical degree in 1977 or so. (He is now an M.D., possibly retired.) After another year or two, guitarist Randle Chowning quit, and apparently there are still some hard feelings, unfortunately.

I learned from the show in Missouri (and from looking at the notes in the CDs that I have) that Ruell Chappell is the lead singer for songs (such as "Jackie Blue") that were formerly sung by drummer Larry Lee, who left the group in the 1980s, and later returned on a part-time basis for a while. Chappell, who used to have long hair but is now 100% bald/shaven, was the replacement keyboard player after Buddy Brayfield left the group. Like John Dillon, he is good-natured with a perpetual grin. Bass player "Supe" Granda (known for wearing a Superman costume back in the good old days) is lot like bassist Mick Fleetwood with Fleetwood Mac: very talented and just a little eccentric, in a nice way. Until recently I didn't know that Steve Cash (the harmonica player) is the one who sings in a very low voice; "E.E. Lawson" and "Black Sky" are two great examples of his work.

By the early 1980s, the group had gone through some turmoil, and their album released at that time (also titled "Ozark Mountain Daredevils," the same as their original album!) showed the four core members with very sober faces. Were they burned out from touring? They faded away over the next few years, with occasional regroupings that never lasted too long. Then in the late 1990s there was another surge of interest and energy, which is when they produced their final (?) studio CD, "13." (That's the number of songs on it.) From that point on, they were basically semi-retired, and they have been doing a few shows a year at various places in and around Missouri, but that's about it. After realizing that my hopes that they might do a national tour one of these years were unrealistic, I decided to see them while I still had a chance. After all, as we have learned over the past couple years, the number of classic-era rock stars who have passed away keeps climbing...

In an effort to summarize the complicated changes that have taken place over the years, I came up with this table, which is greatly simplified and possibly prone to error:

1973-1976 1977-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
guitar John Dillon (+ fiddle)
harmonica Steve Cash
bass Michael "Supe" Granda
drums Larry Lee (+ guitar) Ron Gremp
guitar Randle Chowning Rune Walle (+) Bill Brown Dave Painter
keyboards Buddy Brayfield Kelly Brown
Ruell Chappell (keyboards, percussion)
Jerry Mills (mandolin) Bill Jones (saxophone)
Steve Canaday Nick Sibley (guitar, harmonica)

The Daredevils' albums

Here are all the studio-recorded albums released by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils over the years. In addition, there are two "live" albums ("It's Alive," 1979) and "Alive & Wild" (2011), as well as many different greatest hits albums.

In the near future, I plan to update the Music page with the above information, but with greater detail.

Music mural in K.C.

It's fitting to note that, while in Kansas City, my brother Dan took me to a famous venue for blues, rock, and country music ("Knuckleheads"), and that across the street there is a large mural on the side of the building with the likenesses of many great musicians from years past. I can identify most of the faces, but not all of them.

KC rock, blues mural

Mural honoring music legends of the past, northeast of downtown Kansas City.

Nats' magic number: 6

September 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Marlins again

Much like they did in Houston two weeks ago, the Washington Nationals left a swath of devastation in Miami, beating the Marlins in all three games. (Was it a coincidence that a major hurricane menaced those two cities almost as soon as the Nats left town? See below.) Tonight Gio Gonzalez pitched five scoreless innings, escaping from a couple of tight jams such as having loaded the bases with nobody out. Whew! Ryan Zimmerman hit his 31st home run of the year, and Michael A. Taylor hit his 14th. In a ballpark as big as Marlins Park, that takes some doing. As usual (since late July), the bullpen did their job, and the Marlins' only run was in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: 8-1. The Nats ended up with a 13-6 record against the Marlins this year.

Last night was a tense, hard-fought matchup. Third-string catcher Pedro Severino hit an RBI single in the second inning, and Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer in the eighth inning, and that proved to be the decisive run: Nats 2, Marlins 1. But the real key to victory was Stephen Strasburg, who overcame a persistent leg cramp to get his twelfth win of the year. In the process, he set a Nationals record in pitching 26 consecutive scoreless innings. I wrote on Facebook:

With those six scoreless innings tonight, Stephen Strasburg's ERA drops to 2.78. Of the top five pitchers in MLB right now (ERA-wise), THREE are Nationals!!! That's how you win in October.

In the Monday night game, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy both homered and got three hits, accounting for all seven RBIs between them. As for the Marlins, their superhuman slugger Giancarlo Stanton got his 53rd homer of the year, and has at least an even shot at breaking Roger Maris's legitimate home run record of 61. A.J. Cole went 5 2/3 innings and notched his second win of the year. (He's now 2-4.) Final score: 7-2.

As a result of that series, Nats' magic number is now only 6, as shown at the top right of this blog post. [Their 18-game lead in the NL East is their biggest such lead ever, eclipsing (!) their previous mark of 17 games set at the end of the 2014 season.] So, the Nationals are all but guaranteed a National League East Division title for the second year in a row, and their fourth in the past six years. There will be a big celebration at home in Nationals Park some time over the next week or so...

Not another hurricane!?

As with Hurricane Harvey in Houston late last month, Hurricane Irma poses a dire threat to the entire state of Florida, and perhaps to the east coast. It's close to Puerto Rico right now, and will probably cause damage to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba before it reaches the U.S. The Marlins are leaving town right away, but their destination (Atlanta) may be affected by the storm by Sunday, the final day of their four-game series against the Braves. The Nationals begin a long home stand tomorrow with a four-game series against the Phillies. Some Nats games could get rained out, messing up the schedule as the 2017 regular season nears a conclusion...

Superstitious fans should take note that the Nationals' final three road series will be in Philadelphia, New York (Queens), and Atlanta during the latter part of this month. Folks in those cities, watch out!

Nats hit speed bump in Milwaukee

After cruising fairly steadily for the past month, the Washington Nationals lost a series to the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend. (Their previous series loss was to the Marlins in Miami, July 31 - August 2.) On August 31 (Thursday), Gio Gonzalez had his first shaky outing in a long time, giving up five earned runs over six innings. He kept his composure but just didn't have it that day. Brewers 6, Nats 3. The next day Tanner Roark pitched one of his best games all year, striking out ten and only giving up one run over seven innings, but that was the only score of the game. On Saturday, Michael A. Taylor not only provided the critical offensive firepower with a home run, but he stole a would-be game-tying RBI double to deep center field, making a great catch against the wall. The Nats had a chance to even the series on Sunday, but "reserve" starting pitcher Edwin Jackson was overcome by the Brewers sluggers. The Nats would have been shut out if it weren't for a two-run homer by Ryan Zimmerman in the top of the ninth; instead they lost by a score of 7-2.

I should mention during the Nationals' series in Houston, I noticed a few details in Minute Maid Park that will serve to help making a more accurate diagram rendering.

Dodgers' pennant drive stalls

Until late last month, one might ask "Can anybody beat the Dodgers?" Now a more pertinent question might be, "Can the Dodgers beat anybody?" I'm sure it's just a temporary blip, but it does raise questions about whether the L.A. Dodgers' path to their first National League pennant [since 1988] is as smooth as we previously thought. They have only won one of their past ten games, which makes them (along with the Miami Marlins) the worst team in the majors over that period! I didn't see that coming. Starting with August 26, they lost almost all their games to (respectively) the Milwaukee Brewers (home), the Arizona Diamondbacks (away), the San Diego Padres (away), and the Diamondbacks again (home). Last night (Tuesday) the D-backs won 3-1 in ten innings, and tonight they are ahead 2-1 in the seventh inning, going for the sweep.

Indeed, the Diamondbacks are charging hard, closing to "only" within 11 1/2 games of the Dodgers. Their chances at the NL West title are slim at best, but they'll (presumably) at least have home field advantage in the NL wild card game. The Colorado Rockies were scuffling for a while, and their lead in the wild card race has slipped to just three games.

And speaking of hot teams, the Cleveland Indians have won an incredible fourteen (14) games in a row, and are now only 2 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros in the race to have the best record in the American League.

I haven't paid much attention to the Baltimore Orioles this year, as they are struggling just to stay above .500, but their rain-delayed game last night had to be very gratifying for the home town fans. The visiting New York Yankees had a 6-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, whereupon their closing pitcher Dillon Betances got two outs and then gave up a walk, which allowed slugger Manny Machado to get an at-bat. Guess what? Walk-off home run!!! It was well after midnight, but the relatively few fans who stuck it out to the bitter end were rewarded handsomely for their loyalty. That was a key outcome because...

The Boston Red Sox hosted another marathon, beating the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 in 19 innings!!! Baseball really gets crazy this time of year. The Red Sox now enjoy a four-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East.

Whazzup with me?

As usual, I am hopelessly behind in communicating with folks, but as I get caught up with things over the next few days, I do intend to reply to the e-mail messages that have been sent, and to acknowledge donations in support of this website. Thanks for your patience.

August 31, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Trains, plains, and a new automobile!

(Here goes yet another woefully-late blog post...) Just over a month ago, I embarked on a long-distance trip to the Midwest to see my brothers, and do some incidental sightseeing, birding, music appreciation, and baseballing. It was the first time I had been out there since I flew home for what turned out to be my father's funeral in April 2016. I already wrote a blog post about the baseball aspects of my trip, and will do so shortly for birding and musical events as well. This post will focus on the sightseeing.

After a few false starts trying to coordinate potential activities with my brothers, I finally made concrete plans in early July, geared toward seeing the Ozark Mountain Daredevils play on July 29 at the Mid-america Music Festival in Trenton, Missouri. That's only about an hour and a half from Kansas City, where my brother Dan lives, and he agreed it would be a fun thing to do. So, I bought a one-way AMTRAK ticket from Staunton to Kansas City, and got ready to go. My brother Chris offered to sell me his car, so I took the risk that it would be acceptable and thus serve as my mode of transportation for the return trip to Virginia.

All aboard AMTRAK!

On the afternoon of July 26, Jacqueline I arrived at the station here in Staunton -- almost an hour early due to my own error! The "Cardinal" train (#51) left right on time, and I settled in for the long ride, reading books and newspapers, and occasionally checking my iPhone for news, etc. The train passes through familiar territory in western Augusta County where I often go birding, and makes stops at Clifton Forge and then White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any good scenic photos of the mountains or the small mountain towns. I had an adequate meal (hot sandwich plus a beer), and prepared to sleep. I learned from the last time I had travelled on AMTRAK (December 2015 - January 2016) that sleeping is extremely difficult, even with a reclining chair. So, I bought myself a travel pillow that cushions bumps and keeps your head supported so that you can relax. It worked pretty well, but I still only got about four hours of sleep that night.

The next morning our train arrived in Chicago, where rail freight traffic is so heavy that it causes delays in passenger trains. I had about a four-hour layover before my connecting train departed, so I had a big breakfast at McDonald's and then walked outside. I took a few photos of downtown, and circled the block where the Willis Tower is located. The clouds were low that day, and you couldn't even see the top of the building!

Andrew, Chicago River, boat

Yours truly at the Chicago River, right next to Union Station.

Just before 3:00 PM we boarded the "Southwest Chief" train (#3), and soon were on our way. The skies cleared as we headed west, past corn fields, soybean fields, giant wind turbines, and small towns. There were a couple delays as we approached the Mississippi River, and we finally crossed the bridge and stopped in Fort Madison, Iowa. I had been through Burlington, Iowa on AMTRAK a couple times (en route to Omaha), but I had never been to the far southeast corner of the state. The rail line from Chicago to Kansas City passes through some very out-of-the-way parts of northern Missouri, but it quickly grew dark and I didn't see much of it. The train rolled into Kansas City at about 10:40, about a half hour late, which isn't too bad for a long trip. My brother Dan drove me home, and we had fun with his guitars.

Kansas City, Missouri

The next day (Friday) Dan took me on a wide-ranging tour of Kansas City, parking at Union Station (where I had arrived the night before), and then taking a streetcar (free!!!) all the way to the north part of downtown. From there we walked to a park on the Missouri River. Dan has devoted a huge amount of effort to studying the history of that city, and explained to me that the riverside park was once the main port area where riverboats steamed up and down "The Big Muddy." Later on, we visited the district of Westport, which is kind of like Georgetown as far as being old and funky, with a vibrant night life. Dan explained to me the historical signs referring to the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails, which all started in Kansas City! While in Westport, we noticed the police arresting a black person, and we were later yelled at by a group of black youths in a car. Clearly there are racial tensions.

On Saturday, we had two big objectives: visit the National World War I Museum, and then drive up to Trenton, Missouri to see the Ozark Mountain Daredevils in concert. It was yet another beautiful day with blue skies perfect for taking pictures. The World War I Museum is at the base of a huge stone pillar, the top of which provides an ideal vantage point for scanning the urban area and photographing it. The museum itself is quite impressive, filled with original uniforms, army equipment, artillery pieces, machine guns, and tanks. The weak spot is the lack of maps, and one of the maps I did see conveyed rather misleading information. After that, we drove over to the site of the old Municipal Stadium, where the Kansas City Athletics (MLB), Royals (MLB), and Chiefs (NFL) used to play. (There were also minor league and negro league teams that once played there.) I had visited the historical marker there once before, and I noticed that it is in need of maintenance. Then we drove northeast through the city, and arrive in Trenton late in the afternoon. (That music festival will be discussed in a separate blog post.)

Kansas City downtown skyline

Kansas City downtown skyline, as seen from the top of the World War I Museum Tower.

On Sunday we visited the Shawnee Indian Mission historical site, located just west of the Missouri-Kansas state line. Dan explained how various church groups gained a foothold in the area during the mid-19th Century by bringing European civilization to the indigenous people. Then we went to the Turkey Creek Diversion Tunnel, a flood control project built in 1919, cutting right through a big hill near the Kansas River, which empties into the Missouri River at the state line. Then we drove through the West Bottoms area, filled with old warehouses that lay abandoned for many years but which are now being restored. Kemper Arena (home of the NBA Kansas City Kings from 1972 to 1985) is in that area, but it is aging and doesn't get much use anymore, since a new arena (the Sprint Center) was built a few years ago. Then we went to Terrace Park, on the northwest edge of downtown, perched on a bluff that provides a great view toward the west. We saw several homeless people while there, another sign of social problems in Kansas City. There are several historical monuments and prominent churches nearby, as well as a quaint old bar called Quaffs. (I kept the plastic cup as a souvenir.) Next we went to world-famous Arthur Bryant's barbecue place, and savored heaping platters of ribs. Finally, we toured the historic 18th & Vine (African-American) neighborhood, a sprawling outside patio bar called Knuckleheads (which features live rock and blues music), as well as the Little Italy on the northeast side of downtown. There are many signs of public investment in improving living conditions, but it seems to be an uphill battle.

South Dakota

On Monday (July 31) Dan and I drove north, and paid a visit to our parents' grave site in Vermillion, South Dakota, where we placed a Chicago Cubs World Series champion flag that I had bought while in Chicago. We only stayed a few minutes there (our home town growing up), and then drove the rest of the way north to Sioux Falls, where Chris lives. Soon we were joined by John, making it the first time since Dad's funeral that the four Clem brothers had been together.

On the first day of August, I took Chris's Hyundai Sonata on a lengthy "test drive" to the northeast part of the state. Back when I was planning this trip in the spring, I had hoped to do at least an overnight trip across the state into the Black Hills, but without a person familiar with the territory, that just wasn't practical. So I drove up I-29 and had lunch in the town of Waubay, and then drove toward the nearby Waubay National Wildlife Refuge to do some birding. (I'll discuss that in a separate blog post.) Later on, I drove south via Webster and Watertown, returning to Sioux Falls at dusk. The car worked fine!

On Wednesday Chris and I went to Madison, about an hour west of Sioux Falls, where his son Justin is getting established as a medical doctor. I hadn't been to that town since the 1970s (if at all), and exploring the local college and seeing all the lakeside residences was fascinating. On Thursday, I did another solo trip in the Sonata, but my birding activities were cut short by a rain shower. Chris took me on a drive through some interesting parts of Sioux Falls that I had not seen before, and we stopped at the scenic falls themselves just as dusk fell.

Dakota State University Beadle Hall

Dakota State University Beadle Hall. (Aug. 2).

The return trip

On August 4, I loaded my stuff into my "brand-new" car (!), said good-bye, and left Sioux Falls heading east on I-90. The skies had turned mostly clear again, and the only notable event as I drove through southern Minnesota was when a crop-dusting airplane swooped up within 100 feet or so of the highway right ahead of me! I stopped in the town of Albert Lea, where the rock group Kansas was scheduled to perform a show that night at the Freeborn County Fair. It was quite a coincidence that another of my favorite groups from the 1970s was playing during my trip, but I decided that staying to see them would have added almost an entire extra day to my trip, and I was eager to get back home. So, I kept going and crossed into Wisconsin during the afternoon. Just after 5:00 I arrived at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, and did some birding there. (Separate blog post pending...) I thought I could get a motel room in the town of Mauston, but struck out there, so I had to keep going southeast on I-90. Around 9:00 I arrived in Madison, the capital of Wisconsin -- the first time I had ever been there. I navigated the busy Friday night downtown traffic, found a place to park, and took some photos of the state capitol building. I remembered the bitter political struggle over the state budget that took place a couple years ago, when opponents of Governor Scott Walker occupied the capitol for several hours. Finally, I found a nice place to spend the night in the city of Beloit, just north of the Illinois state line.

Welcome state signs - 2017

Welcome state signs: SD, WI, OH, KY, IN (Aug. 1 - 6).

The next day, I hit the road early so as to get good parking in Chicago for the Cubs-Nationals game, which started at 1:20. (That was discussed in my baseball blog post of August 16.) The traffic was pretty heavy approaching the city on the I-90 toll expressway ($$$), and likewise after the game as I drove south past downtown, but it wasn't as bad as I had feared. I went straight south on I-90 rather than take the I-94 toll expressway southeast toward Gary, Indiana, probably saving at least six bucks. Eventually I got onto I-65 south and spent the night in Lafayette, Indiana.

On Sunday, August 6, I resumed my southward course and stopped in Indianapolis for a couple hours, taking photos of the Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL Colts), the minor league baseball stadium (Victory Field), and the downtown area. For some reason, getting through Indiana always takes longer than I expect. I took I-74 southeast to Cincinnati, stopping to take photos of Great American Ballpark (where the Reds were playing the Cardinals), among other things of interest. I had considering attending that game, but the scarcity of time dictated otherwise. I had to get back on the road! From Covington, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati), I took the "AA Highway" (which I believe stands from Alexandria-Ashland, the two cities that it connects) toward the east, eventually getting onto I-64 not far from the West Virginia border. It was just steady driving from then on as the sun went down. I got home some time after 10:00, all safe and sound -- and exhausted from all that driving!

I updated the Chronological (2017) photo gallery page with dozens of new photos from my trip, and I'll probably add a few more in the days to come.

August 31, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Strasburg rocks, Nats sweep Marlins!

For the first time since mid-July, the Nats swept a series, winning all three games against the Miami Marlins this week. The star of the show was Stephen Strasburg, who went a complete nine innings for the second shutout of his career. He even provided all the offensive power the Nats needed, getting the first score by hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning. (Two batters later, Wilmer Difo did likewise.) Strasburg got into a jam a couple times, but he kept his composure like the veteran he is, and escaped unscathed. Anthony Rendon later batted in a run, and the Nats added another run in the eighth inning on a passed ball. Final score: Nats 4, Marlins 0.

Strasburg thus brought his ERA down from 3.10 to 2.90, joining Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez in the elite sub-3.00 ERA club. Clayton Kershaw leads the National League in that category, but the next three pitchers are all Washington Nationals pitchers!

Wrigley Field foul pole anomaly

If you look closely at the photo of Wrigley Field that I posted two days ago, you will notice that the left field foul pole seems slightly out of line from the left field wall. That bothered me, and after doing some checking of other photos, I discovered that that pole is indeed positioned about five feet closer to home plate than the wall is. I assume that means the distance marker (355) is correct at that precise spot, and that the foul pole is therefore about 350 feet from home. The left field corner in Wrigley Field is slightly curved!

Wrigley Field LF corner

Wilson Contreras nabbed what would have been a double hit by Daniel Murphy in the August 5 game. Roll your mouse over the image to compare it to a virtually identical perspective when I was at a game there in July 2012.

So, I brought this discovery to the attention of Bruce Orser, and he found some excellent closeup photos on that show that curved brick wall much more clearly. (Thanks, Bruce!) It is not yet certain whether the left field foul pole was that way ever since the modern bleachers were built in 1938, or if it was moved at some point after that. In any case, I have made a few minor tweaks to the main Wrigley Field diagram, but will leave the other variants untouched for the next day or two, while I pursue this question further.

NOTE: I made two corrections to the August 20 blog post, eleven days after the fact: In the paragraph about stadium capacity changes, I meant to say that official data are usually accurate to within 500 seats (not 5,000) the and in the paragraph about the Nationals' series in San Diego, I changed "Marlins" to "Padres."


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What's this about?

This blog features commentary and musings on a diverse but well-defined set of topics, from a critical-minded conservative point of view, featuring a veritable library of original graphics and statistical information. It is distinguished in many ways from the rest of the "blogosphere." My blog entries cover a rigidly defined set of topics, with varying degrees of intensity according to how much is going on in each area, and how much time I have. Being somewhat of a "do-it-yourselfer," I chose a "home-made" approach rather than conforming to the common blogging systems such as Blogger or WordPress. The blog entries and archives are arranged in a sort of "proprietary" scheme that I have gradually developed over time. Finally, being an old-fashioned, soft-spoken kind of guy, I avoid attention-grabbing sensationalism and strident rhetoric, and strive instead to maintain a reasonable, dignified, respectful tone.

"It's not just a blog, it's an adventure!"

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NOTE: Additional blogs are listed on the respective category pages: Baseball, Politics, etc.

My blog practices

My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:

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

* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007

The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.

The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.



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