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April 21, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Wilson's Snipes on Bell's Lane

Somehow, I haven't managed to post blog updates about birding recently, and in fact I haven't done as much actual birding as I would like, given that spring migration is in full swing. The big news locally is that two Wilson's Snipes have been seen repeatedly on Bell's Lane since early in the month. I first reported the sighting via Facebook and (a few days later) via the shenvalbirds e-mail list-serve.

Montage 15 Apr 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Purple Finch (M), Eastern Bluebird (M), Yellow-rumped Warbler (M), Wood Duck (M), Blue-headed Vireo, ChippingSparrow, Blue-winged Teal (M), and (in center) Wilson's Snipe. (April 15)

There has been some confusion over the species of one shorebird: What I originally thought was a Solitary Sandpiper was probably a Lesser Yellowlegs, but it may be that both species have been to that same beaver pond off and on.

As can bee seen on my Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page, since early this month I have seen several Eastern Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Field Sparrows, Gadwalls, Blue-winged Teals, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Eastern Phoebes. On April 17, I stopped at Lake Shenandoah east of Harrisonburg, where I had a nice view of a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, except that the lighting was poor.

Today I went to Betsy Bell Hill in hopes of seeing some warblers, but the only significant sighting was a male Scarlet Tanager, my first one of the year. Then I went to Bell's Lane once again, and saw two more first-of-year birds: a Gray Catbird and an Orchard Oriole. I also heard a Yellow Warbler, but didn't see it.

Montage 21 Apr 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole, Wood Duck (M), Red-winged Blackbird (M), Lesser Yellowlegs, House Finch (M), and (in center) Wilson's Snipe. (April 21, except for the Wood Duck: April 18)

Tomorrow is Earth Day, and I hope to lead a bird field trip -- weather permitting! On Tuesday this week I led a group of Augusta Bird Club members on an Earth Day-related cleanup mission along Bell's Lane, which our club has "adopted." It's the second time I've done that, the first being three years ago. This time there was a reporter from WHSV Channel 3 television station in Harrisonburg, and I appeared on TV explaining why Bell's Lane is such a special natural area to preserve for the sake of birds and other wildlife.



April 21, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Baseball is back: Opening Day(s) Week(s) 2017!

My, how time flies! Somehow, nearly three weeks of the 2017 baseball season have gone by already. It was "Opening Day" for six teams on Sunday April 2, and home teams used their advantage in each case. The Tampa Bay Rays surprised the visiting Yankees with a crowd-pleasing win, and the Arizona D-backs did likewise to the visiting Giants, and the St. Louis Cardinals did to the visiting Cubs. But since then the Yankees have gradually recovered, while the Cardinals languish in last place in the National League Central, and the Giants aren't doing much better. There are a number of surprises, such as how well the Colorado Rockies and Arizona D-backs are doing.

The World Champion Chicago Cubs (!!??) have been struggling for some reason, perhaps due to the loss of Dexter Fowler to the arch-rival Cardinals. But they have also managed some incredible late-game comebacks. Tonight in Cincinnati, for example, Anthony Rizzo hit a game-tying 3-run homer in the top of the ninth, and the Cubs went on to win in 11 innings.

Nats start on a good note

The Nationals started the season red hot, then stumbled a bit in the second week, but have since won their last five games to put them back into first place. Opening Day in Our Nation's Capital (April 3) rattled some fans' nerves, as the Miami Marlins took a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning. But Bryce Harper hit a solo homer in the sixth inning, and newly-acquired Adam Lind hit a two-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning to give the Nats the lead for good. After an insurance run, the final score was Nats 4, Marlins 2. And Stephen Strasburg got the win! The Nats won the second game of the series 6-4, thanks to a homer by Ryan Zimmerman, but lost the third game in spite of three homers -- all solo shots. Marlins 4, Nats 3 in ten innings.

Then on April 7 the Nats began a brief road trip to Philadelphia, perhaps a bit overconfident. Three home runs gave them a big lead, but the bullpen faltered and the Phillies almost tied the game in the ninth inning. Nats 7, Phillies 6. Undoubtedly, the low point of the season occurred on April 8 when Jeremy Guthrie started for the Nats, and proceeded to give up 10 runs without even finishing the first inning! Final score: 17-3, tied with June 19, 2007 (Detroit won 15-1) for the worst margin of defeat in Nats history. Guthrie is a former star pitcher for the Kansas City Royals who struggled with some physical problems last year, and his career is in grave jeopardy. That debacle really deflated Nats' spirits, and it carried over into the next day, when the Phillies were about to win 3-0 when none other than Ryan Zimmerman hit a game-tying home run in the top of the ninth inning. It seemed like one of those storybook comebacks, but in the end it didn't matter, as relief pitcher Koda Glover gave up the winning run to the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth.

But perhaps Zimmerman's heroic effort paid off psychologically, as the Nats roared back the next day (at home in Washington), beating the St. Louis Cardinals 14-6. Utility player Stephen Drew, filling in for the ailing Trea Turner, was the slugging hero that day, getting 4 RBIs. Three home runs the next day keyed the Nats to an 8-3 victory, but errors and suddenly-silent bats doomed their attempt at a series sweep the next day, as the Cards won 6-1.

After a day of rest, the Nats welcomed the Phillies to Washington on April 14, and the game went to the tenth inning, when Daniel Murphy (who had homered earlier) hit a double to left field, allowing Bryce Harper to score all the way from first base. Nats 3, Phils 2. One of the photos of Harper sliding into home head first was a classic. That guy is a maniac competitor! The Phillies came back to win it 4-2 on Saturday April 15, but the Nats won the rubber match game on Sunday, as Bryce Harper hit home runs in both the 3rd and 9th innings: yes, the first Nats walk-off homer of the year! Final score: 6-4.

Then the Nats headed south to Atlanta, where the Braves had already won their first six games in brand-new SunTrust Park, in addition to their exhibition game win over the Yankees. (I need to check on winning streaks for newly-inaugurated MLB ballparks.) The Nats won the Tuesday night game 3-1, thanks to clutch hits by Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, as well as near-flawless pitching by Max Scherzer, who threw seven shutout innings. Wednesday night was a blowout of historic proportions, making up for the lopsided defeat at the hands of the Cardinals the previous week. Bryce Harper hit a solo homer in the first inning, and then hit a grand slam in the second inning! But that's not all!! Ryan Zimmerman also hit a grand slam later on, only the second time in Nats history that they hit two grand slams in one game. (That happened in Milwaukee on July 27, 2009, when Josh Willingham hit two grand slams in the Nats' 14-6 victory over the Brewers.) On Thursday, the Nats completed the sweep thanks to another homer by Zimmerman (his fifth), some amazing defensive plays by Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, and Adam Eaton, and superb pitching by Stephen Strasburg. It was a tense, close match, and this time the Nats bullpen hung on. Final score: 3-2.

Tonight in New York, the Nats pulled off a similarly harrowing and dramatic win against the Mets. Bryce Harper homered in the first inning (again!), and Jose Lobaton surprised everybody with a solo homer that gave the Nats back the lead. But the Mets tied it 3-3 in the sixth inning, and the game went into extra innings. That's when Bryce Harper hit a one-out double, and before you knew it the bases were loaded and relief pitcher Jeurys Familia walked in a run as Trea Turner, in his first plate appearance since returning from the disabled list (hamstring) got an RBI without having to swing the bat. Shawn Kelley got three quick outs to get the save. Final score: 4-3.

Since the Marlins also lost tonight, the Nats (11-5) now have a three-game lead in the NL East. No other team has a five-game winning streak right now. How long can they keep this up?

Nats make modest acquisitions

The Nationals had two significant roster vacancies to fill during the 2016-2017 off-season, and the front office did their job well in both cases. In place of Ben Revere in center field, will be Adam Eaton, formerly of the Padres. In place of Wilson Ramos behind home plate will be the former star catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, Matt Wieters.

The Washington Nationals finally got former Orioles catcher Matt Wieters to sign on the dotted line. It's just a one-year contract, so his future depends on how well the Nats do this year -- as in how far they get in the postseason... Wieters replaces Derek Norris, who had been acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres. Norris is now playing with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The pitching rotation will remain virtually the same, although the fifth spot was a question mark as Joe Ross failed to make the 25-man roster after spring training. Ross was finally called up this week, and after giving up two runs in the first inning he pitched against the Braves in Atlanta earlier this week, he regained his composure and ended up getting credit for the win.

As a precautionary move, the Nats pushed Max Scherzer toward the bottom of the pitching rotation, to give him more time to heal his finger which suffered a stress fracture last year. Instead, Stephen Strasburg is the Nats' premier pitcher for the time being. Scherzer has pitched fine so far, going either six or seven innings in all three games he started. Likewise, except for April 8 (see above) and April 10, Nats starters have lasted at least six innings in every game. That is a very solid performance

But the big failure was in the relief pitcher department. Mike Rizzo couldn't get any big-name closing pitchers to come to terms, leaving the Nats to make do with what they already had. As spring training came to a close, it was announced that Blake Treinen will serve as closing pitcher. After reviewing my previous blog posts on him (June 9, 2014 in particular), I remembered that Treinen went to South Dakota State! Treinen showed occasional signs of promise but flinched when it really counted, and was officially demoted this week. In his place, Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley will alternate in the role of closing pitcher. That's fine with me; I don't think such a big deal should be made over who is going to be the closer.

Koda Glover

Koda Glover, at the Nats-Red Sox spring training game I saw on March 7.

I have updated the Washington Nationals page to reflect the new roster.

Other transactions of note

The Cleveland Indians demonstrated their firm goal of making it to the World Series again by signing free agent Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year contract, with an option for a fourth year (2020). He had been with the Toronto Blue Jays since July 2009, when he was acquired in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. He has hit an average of 39 home runs over that past five years, during which time his batting average has been in the .270 range. He will give the Indians a good chance to win back-to-back AL pennants for the first time in franchise history. The Indians are presently in first place in the American League Central, but all five teams are within two games of them.

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! World Baseball Classic champions!

For the first time since the event began in 2006, Team U.S.A. won the World Baseball Classic championship. And it all took place in Dodger Stadium, the scene of some memorable baseball triumphs and tragedies from yesteryear. Washington Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark played a key role in winning the penultimate game. Another Nat star, Daniel Murphy, was on the U.S. WBC roster, but didn't get much playing time. I paid a brief visit to Marlins Park just a few days before one of the first rounds of WBC games was played there.

New labor deal

The small but very real possibility of a lockout was averted on last month, as the 30 franchise owners and Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. One key part of the deal is that the World Series will no longer be tied to the All-Star Game, as first reported by The Associated Press. Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will get home-field advantage

Stadium changes for 2017

I saw the Atlanta Cobb County Braves' brand-new Sun Trust Park in the televised exhibition game against the New York Yankees, and I was fairly impressed. Brick walls in the outfield!!?? (Padded, of course.) Thanks to a big comeback rally in the sixth inning, they actually beat the Yankees. I had a much better look at it during the Nationals' three-game series with the Braves. One downside from the players' perspective: the lights are affixed to the rim of the roof, as at Target Field, and the relatively low position seems to blind outfielders trying to catch fly balls. Anyway, with help from photos sent by Mike Zurawski, I should get the diagram completed by the end of the month.

In Houston, the Astros unveiled the renovations to Minute Maid Park, with a new center field bar area, perched atop a vine-covered wall. It occupies land on which the big slope known as "Tal's Hill" used to be. I thought that slope added lots of fun and excitement to the game (plus some nostalgia), and I think what they have done is a shame. Anyway, I made a preliminary update for the "standard" diagram, based on some artists' renderings at MLB.com, but I won't change the rest of the diagram variants (lower deck, etc.) until I see better photos or video images.

And finally, the Chicago Cubs have finished the next big step of their renovations to Wrigley Field, and now the bullpens have been moved to beneath the bleachers in left- and right-center fields. Three additional rows of seats have been added where the bullpens used to sit, further shrinking the already-tiny foul territory in the Friendly Confines. As with Minute Maid Park, I have already made an initial diagram update to reflect that change, but further tweaks are likely...

Finally, the St. Louis Cardinals have completed the big "Ballpark Village" project on the north side of Busch Stadium (III). See ballparkdigest.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Raiders will move to Vegas, baby!

Earlier this month the NFL announced that the Oakland Raiders will move to Las Vegas, presumably for the 2019 season, but maybe 2020 if stadium financing arrangements and construction take longer than expected. It's a shame that the franchise owners couldn't do more to help Oakland, after all the financial inducements that were made to pave the way for Los Angeles to get a new football stadium. Inevitably, the cloud of gambling will taint the Raiders for the foreseeable future. (To quote Claude Rains from Casablanca, "I am shocked ... shocked! ... that gambling is taking place!") smile Will the Oakland A's follow suit in moving to Las Vegas? If so, maybe Pete Rose can become a part owner of the franchise! If they do stay in Oakland Coliseum while trying to get a decent new home, I hope they demolish that monstrous "Mount Davis" that hangs over center field.

Comiskey Park photos!

One more thing: I received some great photos of old Comiskey Park in Chicago from Al Kara, who submitted some photos of a football game at Guaranteed Rate Field (a.k.a. "U.S. Cellular Field," a.k.a. "New Comiskey Park." Here's one of them:

Comiskey Park from 3rd base

Comiskey Park from 3rd base, Sept. 1990; courtesy of Al Kara.

Coincidentally, I was watching an Orioles-White Sox AL Championship Series game on MASN a month or two ago, and noticed the reduced dimension markers (e.g., 341 feet to the foul pole, rather than 347), so I started work on a 1983-1985 diagram variant. For the final five years (1986-1990), home plate was moved back to where it had been before 1983.

"Series won't be same without McCarver"

If you think this blog is failing to keep up with regular updates, some web programmer at MLB.com really must be asleep at the wheel. Up through the early months of this year, the very same headline was appearing (near the bottom) just about every day since mid-2015, when it was still true. The text read as follows: "Tim McCarver played in three World Series and has been an announcer for an incredible 23 more, leaving big shoes to fill as he revealed this will be his last season with FOX." Sheesh. Wake up, somebody!



April 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Photo tour of the "Sunshine State": Florida!

In the movie National Lampoon's Vacation, there is a humorous scene at the rim of the Grand Canyon where Chevy Chase impatiently pauses for a few seconds while his family tries to get a good view of the magnificent scenery. In a way, that describes my brief visit to south Florida, which began exactly one month ago today. "OK, great, now let's go!" Florida was the final leg of my big journey to South America, but unlike my visits to Peru and Colombia, I was not constrained by lack of transportation. I rented a car in order to take care of multiple tourist objectives, and I tried to see as much as possible.

As with my previous photo-travelogs to Peru (Feb. 20 - 28) and Colombia (Mar. 1 - 4), this one parallels the birding blog post I did on Florida, so I will try to avoid duplication. The first destination after arriving at Miami International Airport (early afternoon on Sunday, March 5) was Marlins Park, the almost-new (five years old) home of the Miami Marlins baseball team. I just wanted to get some well-lit photos, in case it wasn't as sunny the next day, when I planned to return for a tour. With its massive, hurricane-proof roof fully retracted, it was a pretty impressive sight:

Marlins Park exterior from the northwest

Marlins Park exterior from the northwest. (March 5; Photo spliced together from two separate images.)

Because of heavy traffic and road construction, driving from the stadium through the southern part of Miami took longer than expected, so I didn't arrive at my motel in Florida City until an hour and a half later. After checking in and resting a bit, I drove west about 15 miles, and made it to the Everglades National Park about 5:15, just after the main visitor center had closed. No matter, I got the information I needed and headed into the park for some late-afternoon sightseeing and birding. I was delighted to see so many birds -- and an alligator! -- at Royal Palm, about five miles away. It was the second time in my life that I had been to the Everglades, the first being in December 1985.

Everglades Ernest Coe Visitor Center

Entrance to Everglades National Park: Ernest Coe Visitor Center. Note the Saw Palmetto, seemingly ubiquitous in south Florida. (March 5)

I got up early on Monday morning, and made a point to visit nearly all of the points of interest along the main Everglades highway. My first stop was at a "skeleton forest" of Bald Cypress trees, which shed their needles during the dry months, and grow new needles when the rains resume. Then I stopped at Pahayokee Overlook, a large observation deck accessed via a boardwalk, located at the edge of the vast open area known as the "freshwater marl prairie." (The excellent map of the Everglades given to park visitors describes in great detail the nine different ecosystems, and where they extend.) Then came Mahogany Hammock, where I did a lengthier circuit walk along a boardwalk, marveling at the variety of plant life, especially bromeliads. (There were lots of those in Colombia as well.) At Paurotis Pond, a few miles further south, I saw densely-packed mangrove trees, which only thrive near the coast where the water is salty. Some of the Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills I saw there were building nests in those trees. Finally, I reached the small community of Flamingo, at the end of the road and the tip of the Florida peninsula. There I had a tasty lunch at a casual screened-patio restaurant at which Jimmy Buffet would have fit right in.

Everglades Flamingo coconut tree

Coconut tree at Flamingo, in the Everglades. (March 6)

On the way back from Flamingo, I stopped at both Paurotis Pond and Royal Palm for a second time. But that put me way behind schedule, so I decided to give up on the idea of taking a tour of Marlins Park, set for 2:00. It was probably for the best, as I was able to appreciate the natural wonders of the Everglades just a little more. Indeed, the group of 12 or so alligators I saw at Royal Palm was one of the biggest thrills of the trip. The Everglades are an amazing, unique ecological treasure, and we are fortunate that those in generations past had the wisdom and foresight to preserve it. But in spite of recent big initiatives to mitigate the environmental damage caused by overdevelopment in Florida, there remain serious threats to wildlife there. "More people, more scars upon the land..."

Andrew, alligators

Yours truly, along with some alligators at Royal Palm in the Everglades National Park. I was on an elevated boardwalk, out of harm's way. (March 6)

After leaving the Everglades, I drove through Miami again, taking some late-afternoon photos of Marlins Park, from the east side this time. The stadium occupies land where the famed Orange Bowl once stood, in the predominantly-Cuban "Little Havana" part of the city. So, I photographed some urban scenes in Miami. As night fell, I then drove north toward Pompano Beach, where I had a motel reservation; it's about half way to Palm Beach.

The plan for Tuesday was to visit the renowned bird sanctuary at Wakodahatchee, which is basically the regional water supply / waste disposal system, but it was closed. So I went to nearby Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge instead. This federally-protected natural sanctuary covers 221 square miles, most of which is closed to the public. The elevated gravel trails which are accessible to the public (mostly bird-watchers like me) are arranged in rectangular grids composed of marshy ponds inhabited by many birds, some turtles, and a few alligators. There weren't many interesting trees or plants to see, but I did see and photograph two new (to me) butterfly species that I will describe in a future blog post.

Loxahatchee NWR canals, alligator

Loxahatchee NWR canals; roll mouse over image to a closeup of the alligator and a Common Moorhen/Gallinule, which may have been just a bit too curious. (March 7)

I then made haste north-northeast toward West Palm Beach, where the Washington Nationals were hosting the Boston Red Sox in a spring training game at the Nats' brand-new "Ballpark of the Palm Beaches." (Actually, they share the facility with the Houston Astros.) The intervening distance was about 15 miles, passing through some upscale luxurious neighborhoods, and the unexpectedly-heavy traffic caused me to arrive a few minutes late to the game. It was a windy day, alternating between sun and clouds.

Ballpark of the Palm Beaches behind home plate

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches from my ideally-located seat behind home plate. (March 7)

After the game, I decided to drive to Palm Beach, about five miles away, and see President Trump's vacation resort known as Mar-a-Lago. Once again, I was astonished by the opulent lifestyle of the local residents. I noticed that most of the homes of wealthy people in Palm Beach are surrounded by tall hedges that often exceed 15 feet in height. Since President Trump has often boasted about how the wall he seeks to build along the border with Mexico will be "beautiful," that gave me an idea for an alternative kind of "wall" -- consisting of greenery! There was no place to stop near the mansion, but I was fortunate to find a small public beach on the causeway between Palm Beach (which occupies a thin strip of land) and the mainland. There I took a quick photo, just as a television news crew finished taping a report, presumably about the President.

Mar-a-Lago closeup

Closeup (cropped) view of President Trump's vacation resort known as Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach. (March 7)

From Palm Beach, I headed straight west as the sun sank toward the horizon. By the time I passed Lake Okeechobee it was already dark, and I never saw anything of the lake other than some levees along the road. That night I stayed in the town of Immokalee, located about 25 miles southeast of Fort Myers and the Gulf Coast. The town itself was an interesting mixture of cultures, with an economy apparently based on growing oranges and perhaps other citrus fruits. I saw a number of Spanish-speaking people, presumably farm workers. The rural mostly-white populace in the restaurant where I dined (barbecue!) seemed rather familiar to me, as a resident of a mostly-rural southern state.

I woke up before dawn on March 8, wanting to maximize my enjoyment of Florida in the brief time before my airline flight left from Orlando in the afternoon. It took about 15 minutes to drive to next destination: Corkscrew Swamp, and I passed many orange groves along the way. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is owned and operated by the Audubon Society. The land was purchased by the Society in 1954, as part of an emergency effort to thwart logging operations that would have destroyed the last remaining Bald Cypress forest in the United States. I was generally aware of the different habitat zones in the sanctuary, rather like the Everglades in terms of its ecological diversity, but I only gained a full appreciation for the role played by (for example) Bald Cypress trees after returning to Virginia and reading the background information booklet which I purchased at Corkscrew Swamp. It is a truly special place.

Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk pines

Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk passing the majestic pine trees. (March 8)

Corkscrew Swamp pond, birds

Corkscrew Swamp pond, with Great Egrets, White Ibises, Roseate Spoonbills, and perhaps other birds. (March 8)

I gave myself a firm deadline for leaving Corkscrew, to make sure I would get to the airport on time, but it was hard to leave such a beautiful place behind. I hope it's not too long before I can visit there again.

I was originally hoping to swing through St. Petersburg on my way to Orlando so as to see Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. But I realized that the distance from Corkscrew to Orlando was greater than I had estimated, and I just didn't have enough time to do that. So instead, I drove almost straight north, mostly along U.S. Route 27. I recall crossing the Caloosahatchee River at the town of LaBelle, but I didn't realize until later that the river (which goes from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Myers) constitutes a virtual barrier between distinct ecological regions in south Florida. For example, Florida Panthers hardly ever stray north of that river, but some were spotted recently. Later I passed by a highway sign for the oddly-named town of Frostproof. I remember in grade school learning about that town, so named because it was thought that temperatures never went below freezing there, making it safe for orange trees. (There was in fact a deep freeze there in January 2010; see time.com.) As I was driving through downtown Orlando on the way to the airport, I noticed the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic NBA team. Had I realized that it was soon to be the venue for the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, I might have stopped to take a photo.

It's hard to believe I accomplished all that in just three days (including two half days). The complete set of Florida photos can be seen (along with photos from Peru and Colombia) on the Chronological photo gallery (2017) page. They are mostly 600 x 400 pixels in size; ventually I will post double-sized versions (1200 x 800 pixels) of the best ones... I hope you enjoyed this photo tour!



March 31, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Birding in south Florida

The final leg of my trip was in south Florida, the third time I had visited there, but the first time since the 1980s. Soon after arriving in Miami on the afternoon of March 5, I noticed the first of many Boat-tailed Grackles and Eurasian Collared Doves along the telephone wires. No sooner had I checked into my motel in Florida City than I saw a big bird landing in a canal nearby. So, I ran across the street and quickly got photos of a Tricolored Heron!** Entering the Everglades National Park, about ten miles west, I stopped at the Coe Visitor Center, where many birds were flitting about: Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Phoebes, and best of all, a Yellow-throated Warbler, the first one I had seen in years! I took that as a good omen, and it turned out to be very accurate. Then I drove to Royal Palm, a marshy lagoon with a boardwalk located a few miles to the southwest. There I was amazed to see dozens of Anhingas**, including many juveniles, as well as White Ibises, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and many others. I was excited to see an alligator, but that was nothing compared to the next day...

** Double asterisks denote "life birds" -- those I saw for the very first time.

Mar. 6: The Everglades

I got going early the next morning, but other than more White Ibises, and various egrets and herons, there weren't many birds of note at first. Around Pahayokee Overlook, I saw a distant hawk (probably Red-shouldered), some Boat-tailed Grackles, White Ibises, Great Egrets, and Little Blue Herons. At Mahogany Hammock, I heard some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, White-eyed Vireos, and caught a glimpse of a Swallow-tailed Kite.** Things got busy as I arrived at Paurotis Pond, which is where the park ranger at the visitor center had told me Wood Storks** and Roseate Spoonbills can be seen. She was quite correct! (Until checking my records, I had forgotten that I had seen a Roseate Spoonbill in Stuarts Draft a few years ago, so that wasn't a life bird.) Both of those species were flying around the pond, often landing in tree tops where many of them were building nests. I spent a lot of time trying to get good photos of both, but they rarely approached to within 50 yards or so, and it was rather frustrating. After a while, I resumed heading south, and arrived at the community of Flamingo, at the very southern tip of Florida. There I saw about 200 American White Pelicans, various egrets, and some Ospreys, two of which were sitting on nests! I was told that Painted Buntings have been seen at an abandoned portion of the Flamingo campground, but I gave up looking after ten minutes or so. While in that area, however, I did get a nice view of a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Heading back north, I did see a few additional birds such as Green Herons, Black-necked Stilts, and Blue-winged Teals -- the latter two of which I had seen in Peru. Time was short, and I had a tough choice to make: either go back to the Royal Palm area, or hurry to take a tour of Marlins Park in Miami, scheduled for 2:00. I chose the first option, and it paid off. This time I did the entire boardwalk circuit, and saw many Anhingas once again, as well as a Palm Warbler, Double-crested Cormorants (very close, with their crests displayed!), a Black-crowned Night Heron, Tricolored Herons, a Great Egret with breeding plumes, and a total of about 18 alligators! Back at the Coe Visitor Center on the way out, I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, and a Great Crested Flycatcher. Just outside the park was an American Kestrel. At a farmer's market on the way back to Florida City, I was amused to see a sign that read: "Southernmost Purple Martin house in the Continental U.S.A."

Montage 06 Mar 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Roseate Spoonbill, Tricolored Heron, Yellow-throated Warbler, Wood Stork, American White Pelicans, Great Egret, Palm Warbler, White Ibis, and in center, Anhinga. (March 6)

Mar. 7: Loxahatchee NWR

The next morning found me at a motel in Pompano Beach, midway between Miami and Palm Beach. The plan was to visit the renowned bird sanctuary at Wakodahatchee, recommended to me by my brother John. Passing by many wealthy neighborhoods, I approached with eager anticipation, and then was utterly crestfallen when I saw the sign "Closed Mar. 6 - 17" in front of the gate. No explanation, no nothing. Fortunately, I had a good backup plan: the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, only about five miles away. I bought a duck stamp ($25) to cover the $10 entry fee, and it was worth it. Soon after parking at the trail head, I saw a Wood Stork very close by, and made up for the lack of good closeup photos of that species at the Everglades. I had great views of Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Purple Gallinules, Common Moorhens (a.k.a. Gallinules), and many Glossy Ibises. I was hoping to see a Limpkin which other birders there had observed, but no such luck. (I did see two alligators, however.) Then I went to see a Washington Nationals spring training baseball game in West Palm Beach, about 15 miles away. (Multi-tasking!)

Montage 07 Mar 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Little Blue Heron, Purple Gallinule, Tricolored Heron, and in center, Glossy Ibis and Common Moorhen. (March 7)

Mar. 8: Corkscrew Swamp

On my final day in Florida, I woke up before the crack of dawn, not wanting to waste a single precious minute. Outside the motel in the town of Immokalee (located about 75 west-southwest of Palm Beach), I noticed an odd bird perched on a wire. Out of curiousity, I took a look with my binoculars and was stunned to realize that it was a Loggerhead Shrike! Then I drove south and then west to Corkscrew Swamp, which owned and operated by the Audubon Society. (As an Audubon member, I received a four-dollar discount on admission: $10 rather than $14.) Corkscrew consists of several distinct ecological habitats, similar to the Everglades.

As soon as I arrived at Corkscrew (about 7:15 -- I was one of the first), I saw a Northern Parula and some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers next to the visitor center. I also heard several White-throated Vireos, and eventually saw one at very close range. I also saw a Common Yellowthroat, which is a species of warbler, but is not the same species as a Yellow-throated Warbler. (Got that?) Walking along the boardwalk, the transitions from open grassland to dense forest, etc. are very abrupt. Soon after reaching the swamps, I had wonderful closeup views of Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Little Blue Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and more. The bright morning sunlight beaming through the trees created a sharp visual contrast with the dark, muddy waters. There were also Pileated Woodpecker, Anhingas, Purple Gallinule, and Great Blue Herons. Also, at least one more alligator. Back in the woods, I saw Northern Parulas and Palm Warblers. Then I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk screaming, and got some good photos of it.

But the best part of the day was back at the visitor center, where I was told that Painted Buntings habitually feed. I waited about 15 minutes, and was almost out of time (I had a plane to catch in Orlando), when a dark bluish bird showed up. Alas, it was "just" an Indigo Bunting. But a few more minutes of waiting paid off, as a gorgeous male Painted Bunting showed up and had himself a big meal just 15 feet from where I was standing. Wonderful photo op! It was my second-ever Painted Bunting; the first was in Verona in the winter of 2007-2008 -- one of those weird cases when a bird gets lost and winds up hundreds of miles where it is supposed to be.

But that's not all! As soon as I left Corkscrew Swamp, I saw a small group (about five) of Sandhill Cranes along the road, and quickly took some photos. (I'm pretty sure I had seen a couple Wild Turkeys in that same area earlier in the morning.) While driving north near the town of Immokalee about a half hour later, I spotted an odd large bird in a tree top, and soon realized that it was a Crested Caracara -- the first one I had seen since 2005 (Costa Rica)! Soon thereafter I saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a wire -- even more amazing birds! (I had seen Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in Joplin, Missouri, and western Texas while traveling with my father in June 2014, but they are relatively uncommon in Florida, so I was lucky.) And to top it off, I had my third view of a Swallow-tailed Kite flying overhead, and this time, I managed to get a photo of it. Yes! All those exotic birds in such a short time span left me somewhat bedazzled. It was a great way to end a wonderful trip.

Montage 08 Mar 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swallow-tailed Kite, Loggerhead Shrike, Crested Caracara, Painted Bunting, White-eyed Vireo, Roseate Spoonbill, and in center, Purple Gallinule. (March 8)

A complete set of photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page. (More photos may be added there later.)

Life birds in Florida

In contrast to my visits to South America (Peru and Colombia), my visit to Florida was a big success in terms of birds. There weren't that many life birds (just four), but I had great photo opportunities and saw many bird species that I hadn't seen for many years or even decades. Hopefully I will get to Wakodahatchee, Ding Darling NWR, and perhaps other special birding places next time I visit Florida. Here is my provisional list of birds that I saw for the first time while in Florida.

  1. Tricolored Heron
  2. Wood Stork
  3. Anhinga
  4. Swallow-tailed Kite

It just so happens that those four new bird species put me over the "500" mark, at long last. Including the 22 new species seen in Peru, and the 13 new species seen in Colombia, my lifetime list now stands at 503! My Life bird list page has been updated accordingly.



March 29, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Photo tour of my first trip to Colombia

Jacqueline went to Colombia last year to visit her two brothers who live there, and I was so impressed by the photos she took that I decided to follow suit. My original plan was to spend two days at the Rio Claro Nature Reserve, which is about two and a half hours east of Medellin, and then spend two days in Medellin, where her brothers live. The problem was trying to get reliable transportation directly from the airport to Rio Claro while also getting my money changed, and I just couldn't solve the dilemma. It's nearly an hour's drive from the airport to the city, where the bus terminal is located, and I would have had to waste another hour each way, without being sure about changing my dollars into Colombian pesos. (For some reason, currency exchanges are hard to find in Colombia.) So, I ended up spending all four days in and around Medellin. Fortunately, as it turned out, there was plenty to see in that metropolitan area, and I made the most of my time there.

My brother-in-law Ernesto ("Toño") picked me up at the Medellin airport mid-afternoon on March 1, which happened to be Ash Wednesday. It was difficult in a moving vehicle, but I managed to take a few photos on the way down into the city -- wa-a-a-ay down! I had studied up on the geography of the region, and I had a rough idea of the route we were taking, but I wasn't mentally prepared for the drastic changes in altitude in that mountainous country. The views were incredible, and the lush, green landscape was quite a contrast to the deserts of coastal Peru! With an elevation of over 4,000 feet, Medellin -- known as the "City of Eternal Spring" -- can be compared in many ways to Denver, Colorado. With a population of nearly 4 million people, Medellin is the second-largest city in Colombia. (The capital Bogota is the biggest city, of course.) But contrary to the outdated impression held by many Americans, Medellin is no longer plagued by violence, as the drug lords and guerrilla movements have largely been subdued. It is, instead, a rapidly modernizing city full of hope for the future.

Mountain near Medellin

Mountain on the east side of Medellin, showing the road from the airport. (March 1)

After spending the rest of that first afternoon relaxing and conversing, I got started with some serious tourism the next morning. Both brothers-in-law (Toño and Oscar) live within a mile or so of downtown, so I did a lot of walking over the next three days, exploring the local sights. Toño and I had breakfast downtown at a mega-store called Éxito (meaning "success"), in a cafeteria with many choices. We then went on a ride on Medellin's superb Metro rail, which began operations in 1996 and is a proud showcase in mass transit for the rest of the continent. We got off at a station roughly two miles north of downtown, and transfered to the Metrocable system, which is like a giant "ski-lift." The first Metrocable line began operations in 2004, and other lines have been built since then. It was designed to reach poor neighborhoods located in steep areas where buses and trains are impractical. Each gondola seats four passengers, and they move along at about 10-15 MPH. (See metrodemedellin.gov.co.) One nice thing that American tourists might notice: Most of the signs in the Metro system are in both Spanish and English!

The views from the Metrocable were unbelievable, marred only by the overcast skies. It was also hard getting good photos through the glare of the windows. We must have climbed the better part of a mile in altitude before we reached a relatively level, rolling area. I didn't even know what the destination was until we arrived at the station, and boy, was I delighted to see the signs for Parque Arvi (Arvi Park)! It is a natural paradise in a cool cloud-forest environment, with many gardens, shops, a visitors center, etc. I was astonished that they don't even charge for admission! Toño and I went hiking for nearly a mile downhill, and then returning back uphill again along the same trail. (More details about that visit were in my blog post on Saturday.)

Medellin over city, trees from the Metrocable

View of Medellin from the Metrocable, en route to Parque Arvi. You can see all four stations on the "K" Line: Santo Domingo (two sections, just below the trees), Popular, Andalusia, and Acevedo, where one can transfer to the Metro train. Acevedo Station is situated next to the Medellin River, about 1500 feet below, and is long with a green roof, while the three upper stations are roughly square, mostly white structures. (March 2)

The next day Toño and I went downtown, and I saw the famous rotund metal sculptures of Fernando Botero for the first time. Then we took the Metro train to the Medellin Botanical Gardens, about two miles north of downtown. Once again, I was amazed by how much effort and expense had been put into maintaining a natural area. The Colombian people should be saluted for being so conscious of wildlife conservation. It was overcast for most of the day, and after it started to rain and I put on my windbraker, Toño laughed at me. Apparently, people in Medellin are so accustomed to occasional brief showers that they don't even bother to cover themselves or use an umbrella when it rains! The seasons in Colombia vary according to rainfall, not temperature. When I was there, the typical weather alternated between sun and rain.

Flower montage 2017

Montage of flowers at the Medellin Botanical Gardens. (March 3)

After leaving the Botanical Gardens, we returned downtown and visited San Antonio Plaza, the site of a horrific terrorist bombing that took place 22 years ago. Toño told me he was with his family not far away when that bomb went off, and described the panic and confusion that followed. Colombians are greatly relieved that the history of violence seems to be behind them once and for all.

Bird sculptures by Fernando Botero

Bird sculptures by Fernando Botero, in San Antonio Plaza, Medellin. The one on the left was destroyed by a terrorist bomb that killed 23 people on June 10, 1995. A plaque below gives the names and ages of the victims, several of whom were children. Botero then crafted a replacement to symbolize resistance to political violence, on the right. (March 3)

Oscar enjoys taking long walks at night through the streets of Medellin, and frankly I wasn't entirely comfortable with that. I know the city is not nearly as violence-prone as in the past, but I would have preferred exploring new neighborhoods in the light of day. On Friday night, I asked if we could stop at a night club where live music was being played, and after looking at several places, we finally found just what I was looking for: a solo guitarist playing folk-pop tunes. It was very enjoyable. Oscar told me that he met Colombian guitarist Carlos Vives a few years ago, and I was very impressed! (I play his song "La Gota Fria.")

On my final full day in Medellin, March 4, Oscar and I walked downtown, and then took a taxi to summit of Cerro Nutibara, a hilltop park about a mile to the south. The sun was out all day, which was great for taking photos, but for the first time it actually felt hot in Medellin. We walked around the "Pueblito Paisa" antique village, which reminds me of the Frontier Culture Museum here in Staunton.

Pueblito Paisa, at Cerro Nutibara.

Pueblito Paisa, at the top of Cerro Nutibara. (March 4)

While atop Cerro Nutibara, Oscar and I spent a lot of time surveying the surrounding citiscape. We had an almost 360-degree view of the urbanized valley. He enjoyed being able to see his apartment building (about a mile and a half to the northeast) through my binoculars. Nowadays most middle-class people in Medellin live in high-rise buildings, of which there must be over a hundred across the city. I was dumbfounded not just by the modern urban infrastructure, but also by the density of the population. The city planners must know what they are doing.

Medellin centro as seen from Cerro Nutibara

Medellin centro (downtown) as seen from Cerro Nutibara. (March 4)

Finally, we walked down the big hill (pausing to photograph the many birds, of course), and then walked a few blocks to the Industriales Metro station on the other side of the Medellin River. Oscar wanted to introduce me to some relatives who live on the north side of the city. While in that neighborhood, I photographed the Biblioteca Española (Spanish Library), a big cultural project that had to be closed last year after it was discovered that the foundations of the two buildings are too weak. Temporary straps (like "girdles") keep the buildings stable, but whether they can be repaired is yet unknown. It's a big scandal.

Medellin 30th Street, Bancolombia building

Looking east along 30th Street in Medellin; the Bancolombia building sits on the other side of the Medellin River. (March 4)

To see the complete set of 60+ photos I took in Colombia, including some panoramic shots, please visit the Chronological Photos (2017) page.

The weather changed again the next morning (Sunday, March 5) as I prepared to leave; It was dreary and rainy during most of our ride up to the Medellin airport. I was surprised to see quite a few bicyclists pedaling their way up the steep mountain highway, in spite of the wet conditions. Even in my heyday as a bicyclist, I was never that fanatic! It's a good indication of how popular bicycling as a serious sport has become in Colombia. My Avianca flight took me to Miami, and south Florida will be the subject of my next and final "chapter" in this "travel-blog" trilogy.

As a reference during my travels, I used the 13th and latest edition (Oct. 2016) of Lonely Planet's South America on a Shoestring book. It's very good and comprehensive, but it's much more "mainstream" of a tourist guide than the 2nd edition (May 1983) which I used for my earlier travels to that continent. (Lonely Planet used to cater to budget-conscious backpackers.) My one complaint is that it lacked a map of the Medellin metropolitan area, so I often had my bearings mixed up. I should have looked for a city map to buy while I was there.

Colombia is the eighth country in Latin America that I have visited, out of 20 altogether. That does not include my visit to Belize (1989), which is not Latin, or the brief airport layovers I had in Panama (1997?) and El Salvador (2017). I would hope to visit Cuba and Ecuador in the next couple years, and perhaps Venezuela once the situation there stabilizes. I had a wonderful time during the four days I spent in Colombia, and there's no question about whether I will go back. In fact, the sooner the better!



March 25, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Birding in Colombia

Three weeks ago, I spent a few days visiting Colombia for the very first time, and of course, looking for birds was one of my top priorities. My original plan was to spend two days at the Rio Claro Nature Reserve and two days in Medellin, but for various reasons (to be explained in a later blog post focusing on general tourism), I ended up spending all four days in and around Medellin. As it turned out, there were plenty of places to go birding there, so it worked out pretty well.

Mar. 2: Parque Arví

On my first full day in Medellin, we took a ride on the awesome Metrocable system (not the U.S. cable TV provider) to Parque Arví, about two miles east of the city. I had no idea where we were headed, and was utterly delighted upon arriving at the destination in the cool, misty highlands. The steep mountains in Colombia create abrupt transitions in habitat over short distances, and also create distinct climactic zones such that the birds you find in one part of the country are often quite different from those you find elsewhere.

Soon after debarking from the gondola, I spotted two dark birds charging their own reflection in a big window. I later determined that they were Great Thrushes**; one adult male and one probable juvenile male. There were also Rufous-collared Sparrows singing and flying around the gardens. That was a species I had seen in Peru in 2004 and Costa Rica in 2005, and I was surprised not to see any in Peru this year. My hopes were raised when I spotted a bright green bird flying near the balcony of the visitors center, and I fortunately got a good photo of it: a female Black-capped Tanager.** Excellent! My main "target bird" that day was the Andean Motmot, known locally as the "Barranquero Andino." Like many birds dwelling in the tropical rain forest, it has bright colors: blue, yellow, and green, with the added attraction of extended tail feathers.

Then my brother-in-law Toño and I headed off along a nature trail with no particular destination in mind. (The maps provided to park visitors were hard to read and frankly of not much use.) We soon heard various birds singing and calling from the bushes, but didn't see much other than a Swainson's Thrush -- one of the many species of neotropical migrants that spend their summers in North America. But after that, there was hardly anything to be seen as we walked downhill along wooded stairs and boardwalks, alternating with a dirt trail. Eventually I spotted a small dark bird that I later determined from my photographs to be a White-sided Flower-piercer.** It has an odd-shaped curved bill (barely discernible in the photo) that is adapted to getting food from flowers. I also spotted an Acorn Woodpecker, a species which I had seen in Arizona three years earlier, but sadly I failed to get good looks at any other birds. Even though the locale appeared to be very promising, and we saw many fascinating butterflies, flowers, and bromeliads, I was disappointed by the relative absence the birds. I'm sure a birding guide would have helped me to see more birds, but they are of limited availability at the park.

** Double asterisks denote "life birds" -- those I saw for the very first time.

Montage 02 Mar 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Thrush (juv.), Rufous-collared Sparrow, Acorn Woodpecker, Black-capped Tanager (female), Great Thrush (male), Ruddy Ground Dove, and White-sided Flower-piercer (male).

Mar. 3: Botanical Gardens

The next day was much better for seeing birds. We started off strolling through the Parque Botero downtown, where I had good views of various parrots in the palm trees and on the ground. Then we took the Metro train to the lush and beautiful Medellin Botanical Gardens, about two miles north of downtown, adjacent to the modern campus of Antioquia University. Soon after arriving, we saw the first of many Blue-gray Tanagers. Approaching the big pond in the middle of the park, I saw the first of several Great Kiskadees, a species which I had last seen in Costa Rica. They are gorgeous with a bright yellow breast and bold face markings, and they aren't very afraid of humans. I was also astonished to see a Bare-faced Ibis** at very close range. (At the time I thought it was the same species as the Puna Ibises which I had seen at a distance in Peru, but it turned out to be a new species for me!) I also saw a Woodpecker, but just couldn't get a good photo of it before it vanished. That was very frustrating, but I'm pretty sure it was a Red-crowned Woodpecker, which I saw the next morning. There were other life birds in the Botanical Gardens: Black-billed Thrush** and Grayish Saltator.** Not bad at all!

Near the end of our visit, I spotted a male Vermilion Flycatcher boldly proclaiming his territorial rights, and soon located the nest where his mate was apparently incubating eggs. Great photo op! At the Metro station I saw a Palm Tanager**, which resembles the Blue-gray Tanager but is duller -- yet another life bird! I also saw some more (probable) Orange-chinned Parakeets and a probable Northern Waterthrush. Toño agreed to take the Metro train north to the part of the river where I had seen many egrets and ibises, and I finally got some good photos of Cattle Egrets. Only after going through my photos yesterday did I discover an additional life bird: a Rusty-margined Flycatcher**, which resembles a Great Kiskadee but with a smaller beak and smaller overall size.

Montage 03 Mar 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orange-chinned Parakeets, Great Kiskadee, Brown-throated Parakeet, Saffron Finch (juv.), Black Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher (male), Bare-faced Ibis, and Blue-gray Tanager.

Mar. 4: Cerro Nutibara

On my final full day in Medellin, I saw a Red-crowned Woodpecker** and a Bananaquit as we were walking along the downtown streets. My other brother-in-law Oscar and I took [a taxi] to Cerro Nutibara, a hilltop park about a mile south of downtown. After visiting the "Pueblito Paisa" tourist attraction (to be described in a separate blog post), we descended the big hill and saw many, many birds on the way down. Among them were two neotropical migrants that we sometimes see here in Virginia during the summer: a Yellow Warbler and a Summer Tanager. But no life birds that day.

On the way to paying a family visit back on the north side of Medellin, I had a closeup view of an Eared Dove,** which I had previously seen in downtown Medellin. As we approached the house, I got a nice closeup photo of a Shiny Cowbird, but some of the local residents did not appreciate my taking photographs of their neighborhood, and I had to explain what I was doing, showing them all the bird and scenic photos that I had taken. (Whew!)

Montage 04 Mar 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-crowned Woodpecker, Ruddy Ground Dove, Saffron Finch, Bare-faced Ibis, Summer Tanager, Tropical Kingbird, and in center, Great Kiskadee and Vermilion Flycatcher (male).

Another parallel with my trip to Peru was that I saw a life bird on my last day there, during my ride to the airport. In fact, there were at least two: a pair of (probable) Colombian Chachalacas** and a (probable) White-collared Swift.** But visibility was poor (steady light rain), and there was no practical way to stop the car to get a photo, so I didn't even bother to mention it. A complete set of photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

Life birds in Colombia

To be honest, my trip to Colombia was only a partial success, bird-wise: only [13] 14 life birds altogether. Hopefully I will get to Rio Claro and other special birding places next time. Anyway, here is my provisional list of birds that I saw for the first time during my trip to Colombia. My guide for identifying bird species in Colombia was Guía Fotográfica de las Aves del Valle de Aburra, by Ulises Muñoz, Juan Ochoa, Wilmer Quiceno, and Victor Quiroz (Medellin, Colombia: Ed. Pulsatrex Birding Productions, 2014). (The Aburra Valley more or less coincides with the province of Antioquia, of which Medellin is the center.) It is an top-notch reference book, but was perfectly suited to my interests, since I was only visiting that part of Colombia. Like the field guide I used in Peru, it has fine photographs and provides much technical information, including superb maps of the urban area and surrounding region.

  1. Great Thrush
  2. Black-capped Tanager
  3. White-sided Flower-piercer
  4. Orange-chinned Parakeets
  5. Brown-throated Parakeet
  6. Bare-faced Ibis
  7. Red-crowned Woodpecker
  8. Black-billed Thrush
  9. Grayish Saltator
  10. Rusty-margined Flycatcher
  11. Palm Tanager
  12. Eared Dove *
  13. Colombia Chachalaca ?
  14. White-collared Swift ?

[ * CORRECTION: Previously seen in Peru, 2004. ]



March 21, 2017 [LINK / comment]

An avalanche of photos from Peru

I really got carried away with posting over 150 bird photos and nearly 100 scenic photos of Peru over the past few days. (And that's not all: There will be even more photos from Colombia and Florida over the next couple days or so.) The word "avalanche" above alludes to the ongoing natural disaster in which heavy flooding over the past few weeks has caused many landslides and road closures. Indeed, those floods prevented me from traveling east of Lima into the mountain region, as I had hoped to do. (See the next-to-last photo below.) The complete set of photos (including seven panoramic views) can be seen on the Chronological photo galleries (2017) page. As an introduction, I present below some of the highlights.

In my report of birding ventures in Peru yesterday, I described my day-to-day activities, so I won't go into any more detail than necessary in this blog post. On my first day in Ventanilla (a suburb located about 15 miles north of Lima), my brother-in-law Roberto took to the beach in Ventanilla, and on the way, we stopped at the Humedales (Wetlands) de Ventanilla, a wonderful nature preserve.

Ventanilla Humedales sign

February 20: Ventanilla Humedales sign.

The next day, Roberto and I hiked to the top of the steep ridge that borders Ventanilla on the south, providing spectacular views of Ventanilla. In this photo, the Jacobs' house is just barely off the left edge toward the bottom.

Ventanilla soccer stadium from ridge

February 21: Ventanilla soccer stadium from top of ridge.

Two days later, we took a drive across Lima to Roberto's house in the district of Surco, on the southeast side of the city. We stopped at beaches in the upscale districts of Miraflores and Chorrillos, enjoying beautiful scenery.

Chorrillos boats, clubs

February 23: Boats, private clubs in Chorrillos.

After another two days, I took a solo bus ride through Lima, passing through the heart of Miraflores, where many embassies (and American fast-food establishments) are located. It's quite a contrast to the shanty towns that continue to spread around the metropolitan area, a reminder of the sharp class divisions that make governing Peru (and similar countries) so challenging.

Miraflores park, playground

February 25: Miraflores park, playground.

After spending a day of socializing (it was my sister-in-law Nelly's birthday!), Roberto and I returned to the Pantanos de Villa nature preserve, located south of Chorrillos. It was a very successful visit, bird-wise.

Pantanos de Villa pond, platform

February 27: Pantanos de Villa pond, platform.

On my final day in Lima, February 28, I took care of all the normal tourist destinations, in particular the Plaza de Armas in downtown Lima. On the north side is the Palacio del Gobierno, where the President resides, on the east side is the Lima Cathedral, and on the west side is the Lima Municipal Government building. It is a stunningly beautiful place, and I took advantage of the bright sun and clear blue skies. For the first time, I went to the Palacio Legislativo, and was fortunate to be given a guided tour by a knowledgeable staff person there. I learned a lot about Peruvian history and legislative practices.

Palacio del Gobierno

February 28: Palacio del Gobierno (Where the President resides.)

Lima Cathedral, Plaza de Armas

February 28: Lima Cathedral, Plaza de Armas

Palacio del Gobierno

February 28: Palacio Legislativo (Where the Congress convenes.)

While in downtown Lima, Roberto and I walked to the other side of the Rio Rimac, which was a raging torrent. I was amazed to see that the water level in the emergency overflow channel is actually higher than the level of the adjacent highway!

Rio Rimac, highway

February 28: Rio Rimac (flood stage; water above adjacent highway)

At the end of that busy day, we passed by one of the local secondary schools in Ventanilla, and I was delighted to see that its exterior is decorated with images of the nearby wetlands. It was very reassuring to learn that people in Peru are conscious of the precious heritage of nature with which they are blessed, and of the need to conserve it.

Victor Andres Belaunde school

February 28: Victor Andres Belaunde school, in Ventanilla.



March 20, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Birding in Peru

For the first time in a dozen years (!), I traveled to Latin America last month, and one of my main objectives was to look for (and hopefully photograph) tropical and neotropical birds. I was originally going to write a single blog post about my birding adventures in all three parts of Latin America that I visited -- Peru, Colombia, and Florida -- but I saw so much in Peru alone that just describing that is more than enough. Almost all of my birding activity took place in four locations: the suburb of Ventanilla (north of Lima), the Ventanilla Wetlands, the residential district of Surco in southeastern Lima, and the Pantanos de Villa, on the south edge of the Lima metropolitan area. I'll get to summarizing the birds I saw in Colombia and Florida over the next couple days...

Feb. 20: Ventanilla (I)

Not arriving at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima until after midnight, I got a slow start the next morning. I was staying in the Jacobs' family home where Jacqueline grew up in the burgeoning suburb of Ventanilla, which is located about 10 miles north of Lima. (Jacqueline returned from Peru on the same day that I went there, and we saw each other briefly at Dulles Airport while I was in line getting my boarding pass.) A quick stroll outside gave me good looks at West Peruvian Doves, Croaking Ground Doves (which make a bizarre-sounding call), a Blue-black Grassquit, and an Amazilia Hummingbird. Those are among the most common "yard birds" in most of the Lima metropolitan area, and I saw all of them on my previous visit to Peru in 2004.

Late in the morning, my brother-in-law Roberto took me on a ride to the beach in Ventanilla, a.k.a. the "Costa Azul." It's a popular local resort destination, only about three miles from the Jacobs' house. On the way, we stopped at the Humedales (Wetlands) de Ventanilla, which for me was really the primary destination. (I will post photos of the locations I visited in Peru tomorrow.) I had been to those wetlands with Jacqueline in 2004, and I was delighted that not only has the precious natural habitat been preserved in the face of intensive residential and commercial development, but the facilities has been substantially upgraded. Comprising at least ten city blocks in area, it consists of a large lagoon bordered by marshes and scrub land.

My first glimpse of the lagoon left me astonished and gleeful: There were several hundred birds on the water, mostly Franklin's Gulls but also many Black Skimmers, White-cheeked Pintails**, Black-necked Stilts, and various sandpipers such as Greater Yellowlegs. There were also a few Cinnamon Teals, Common Moorhens (now called Common Gallinules), Gray-hooded Gulls**, and a Great Egret. Roberto and I walked part-ways around the lagoon in a clockwise direction, but we didn't see anything in the marshes on the north side other than a possible Drab Seedeater.

Next we drove to the beach itself, another mile and a half from the wetlands. It was the first time since 2005 (Costa Rica) that I had been to the Pacific Ocean! Almost immediately, I saw one of my main target species, the American Oystercatcher. There were several Semipalmated Plovers as well. Flocks of gulls (mostly Franklin's) patrolled up and down the shoreline in search of food, accompanied by Neotropical Cormorants and Peruvian Boobies. Finally, we stopped at a lagoon just inland from the beach and saw over a thousand Franklin's Gulls, many more Black Skimmers, as well as several Stilt Sandpipers** and a group of odd birds swimming in a circular motion; I soon deduced that they were Wilson's Phalaropes. Not bad for the first day!

** Double asterisks will denote "life birds" (those I saw for the very first time) in this blog post, and in the blog posts about Colombia and Florida to follow.

Montage 20 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cinnamon Teal, American Oystercatcher, Franklin's Gull, (Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Common Moorhen), West Peruvian Dove, Neotropical Cormorant, Peruvian Booby, (White-cheeked Pintails, Gray-hooded Gull, Black Skimmer).
(Parentheses around multi-species images.) At the Ventanilla Wetlands and beach.

Feb. 21: Ventanilla (II)

Early the next morning, Roberto took me on a vigorous hike to the top of the steep ridge that borders Ventanilla on the south. I had climbed that ridge twice before, but my tender feet weren't ready for the severe pressure, and I was left with blisters that plagued me for the next two weeks. But the views of Ventanilla were spectacular, especially after the sun rose high enough to lighten the neighborhoods below. It was getting pretty warm by 8:00, which is when we returned. After resting a while, I walked around the neighborhood in Ventanilla and came across some more "yard birds." (In reality, few people in Peru have actual yards beyond a small garden.) I was delighted to see several Vermilion Flycatchers, Hooded Siskins (including young birds being fed), Blue-gray Tanagers, and others.

Montage 21 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Siskin (M), Amazilia Hummingbird, Blue-black Grassquit (M), Croaking Ground Dove, Blue-gray Tanager, and both male and female Vermilion Flycatchers. In parks and neighborhoods of Ventanilla.

Feb. 23: Villa Marshes (I)

I took it easy the next day, and stayed inside for the most part. (My original plan had been to drive south to the city of Pisco, about three hours away, and then go to the Paracas Nature Reserve in search of Humboldt's Penguins, various seabirds, seals, and other wildlife. There was a snafu with the car rental arrangements, however, and that venture had to be cancelled. It was a big disappointment, but I made up for it pretty well.) On Thursday, Feb. 23, I went with Roberto on a long drive across Lima to his house in the district of Surco, on the southeast side of the city. It had rained during the night, which was quite a surprise since it hardly ever rains in Lima, and he had to sweep up water from the top floor. En route, we stopped at some of the beaches in the Miraflores and Chorrillos, where I saw several Peruvian Pelicans. At a historic restaurant called Salto del Fraile further south, I saw several Inca Terns** swooping over the waves. At Roberto's home I saw a brown bird out the back window, and later figured out it was a Long-tailed Mockingbird.** At a neighborhood park across the street I saw a Southern Beardless Tyrannulet**, Saffron Finches**, Blue-gray Tanagers, and Vermilion Flycatchers, most of which were a dark morph that occurs in Peru. (NOTE: I had seen a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet in Arizona in June 2014.)

I was unaware of Roberto's plans, but was all too happy when he asked if I wanted to go to the Villa Marshes ("Pantanos de Villa"), about four miles to the south. That was one of the best birding locations when Jacqueline and I visited Peru in 2004, and just like with the Ventanilla Wetlands, I was impressed with the improvements to the nature preserve. After paying for entry (about $4 for foreigners), we walked to one of the observation towers. Black Vultures were everewhere, along with various white egrets, etc. In my first up-close peek at the marshy shore, I saw Least Bittern** and Least Sandpiper, as well as a medium-large dark bird with a long beak. In the distance I saw a large pink bird that was probably a Roseate Spoonbill or else a Flamingo; two weeks later I saw many Roseate Spoonbills in Florida. Cinnamon Teals, Spotted Sandpipers, Andean Duck, Pied-billed Grebes, Great Grebes**, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Andean Coots. It was much more varied, bird-wise than the 2004 visit.

After returning to the entry station, I realized that there was another trail through the marshes, so we walked on that. I was soon overwhelmed by the up-close views of many wonderful species, including a Plumbeous Rail** that was only 25 or so feet away! I also saw several Many-colored Rush Tyrants,** but my camera battery died and I could only get a couple mediocre shots of them. (If I had known where we were going, I would have brought the backup battery.) Finally, we drove out to the lagoon near the beach, where I was amazed to see hundreds more gulls, terns, and more. I was extremely frustrated not to have my second battery with me, and therefore not able to take photos, so I resolved to return to the location on a future date.

Montage 23 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Peruvian Pelican, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Band-tailed Gull, Black-crowned Night Heron, Gray-hooded Gull, Great Egret, and in center, Long-tailed Mockingbird. Along beaches of southern Lima, in the district of Surco, and in the Pantanos de Villa.

Feb. 25: Ventanilla (III)

Two days later, while Roberto drove back to Surco, I embarked on a solo venture to the Ventanilla Wetlands. I was hoping to see Many-colored Rush Tyrants (which were supposed to be present), or at least get better photos of other birds I had seen there before. I succeeded in the second objective, but not the first. After devoting more than an hour, I departed and headed west on foot, in the direction of the coast. Most of the land from the Ventanilla Wetlands to the coast is marshy, but development continually encroaches upon unprotected land. It didn't take long before I saw two life birds: a Harris's Hawk** and a Scrub Blackbird.** Those sightings encouraged me to continue walking, almost all the way to the beach, even though it was another blazing hot day and I was getting dehydrated. At the lagoon near the beach I saw several Wilson's Phalaropes, Black-necked Stilts, and various sandpipers, as well as a Great Egret. I heard some kind of bird in the bushes out in the marshy scrub land, but never did see it. I did see (and photograph) some nice white-and-orange butterflies out there, however.

Montage 25 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Andean Coot, Common Moorhen, Harris's Hawk, Black Skimmer, Wilson's Phalarope, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, and in center, Scrub Blackbird. In and near the Ventanilla Wetlands.

Feb. 27: Villa Marshes (II)

On the next day, Feb. 26, I was back in Surco, and saw a goodly number of nice "yard birds" in neighborhood parks. For the most part, however, they were the same ones I had seen there three days earliers, so I didn't bother to make a photo montage for that day. However, there was one "new" bird that was a high priority for me: the Bananaquit! I had seen a few in Peru in 2004, and several of them in Costa Rica in 2005, and was beginning to worry whether I would see any at all during this trip. "No problemo!"

On Monday, Feb. 27, I persuaded Roberto to take me back to Villa Marshes, and I am lucky that he was so willing to accommodate me. (I should mention that flood damage to the Central Highway east of Lima forced me to abandon another of my planned side trips, to the Zarate Forest near the town of Chosica. Many exotic tropical songbirds and hummingbirds reside in that area.) Soon after arriving, I got some good photos of a Great Grebe, Pied-billed Grebes, and a juvenile Harris's Hawk. There were several Snowy Egrets at various places, but it was hard to get good photos of them. I spent a lot of time tracking down some small birds in the marshes, and I finally got some good photos of them: Grassland Yellow Finches.** I also had great views of Striated Herons** and brief glimpses of Many-colored Rush Tyrants.

Then we drove toward the beach, and at the same lagoon we had visited four days earlier, I saw Ruddy Turnstones, Elegant Terns,** Killdeers, Peruvian Pelicans, Franklin's Gulls, Spotted Sandpipers, Puna Ibises,** and Little Blue Herons. At the beach itself, there were some American Oystercatchers and hundreds more Franklin's Gulls, plus hundreds of Neotropical Cormorants and other seabirds flying parallel to the coast. Just as we were about to go, I spotted some songbirds flying into some nearby bushes, and before long had photographed Yellow-hooded Blackbirds** (related to but apparently distinct from Yellow-headed Blackbirds) -- another life bird! We stopped at the marsh trail one last time on the way out, and I was astounded to spot a Least Bittern barely ten feet away from me, and got some fantastic photos of it. After all the frustrations, I was fortunate at last. Soon thereafter, I also got some decent photos of Many-colored Rush Tyrants -- another small triumph! As we were leaving the Pantanos de Villa, I had a brief view of a Cormorant with a whitish front, and I am almost certain that it was a Guanay Cormorant**!

Montage 27 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Least Bittern (less than ten feet away!), Great Egret, Striated Heron, Harris's Hawk, Ruddy Turnstones. In the Pantanos de Villa.

My last full day in Lima, Feb. 28, was spent doing normal "tourist" things (such as shopping) in downtown Lima, but I did get a decent photo of a Blue-and-white Swallow on a wire. (It was the first time during that trip that I had seen a member of that species perch!) Then as I was heading to the airport on the morning of March 1, I spotted an odd-looking medium-size black bird with a big beak. I asked Roberto to pull over so that I could get a better look, and I'm glad I did: It was a Groove-billed Ani**, my 23rd and final life bird in Peru for this trip! A complete set of photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page. In the near future, I will probably create a new bird photo gallery page just for this trip. Also, I took video clips of some of the birds, such as the amusing Wilson's Phalaropes, and may post some of them on YouTube in the near future.

Life birds in Peru

Overall, my trip to Peru was a fairly successful in terms of birds. It is striking how many birds I saw in Peru that I also saw in Arizona three years ago; obviously the desert climate is similar. How many more species would I have seen if my plans to visit Paracas or Zarate had panned out? Maybe I'll get to those places next time. Anyway, here is my provisional list of birds that I saw for the first time during my trip to Peru. It does not include species (such as Peruvian Pelicans) that I failed to list from my 2004 trip, or species that I had misidentified previously. My guide for identifying bird species in Peru was 100 Aves de Lima y Alrededores, by Alejandro Tabini and Juan Pedro Paz-Solda (Lima: Wust Ediciones, 2007). It is an excellent reference book, with fine photographs and much technical information.

  1. White-cheeked Pintail
  2. Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
  3. Gray-hooded Gull
  4. Stilt Sandpiper
  5. Inca Tern
  6. Long-tailed Mockingbird
  7. Elegant Tern
  8. Shiny Cowbirds
  9. Saffron Finch
  10. Great Grebe
  11. Least Bittern
  12. Plumbeous Rail
  13. Grassland Yellow Finch
  14. Striated Heron
  15. Puna Ibis
  16. Wren-like Rush Bird
  17. Many-colored Rush Tyrant
  18. Harris's Hawk
  19. Scrub Blackbird
  20. Andean Duck
  21. Yellow-hooded Blackbird
  22. Guanay Cormorant
  23. Groove-billed Ani

My Life bird list page has been updated accordingly, and will be further updated (and corrected, if necessary) in the days and weeks to come.

Virginia raptors

FOOTNOTE: On my way up to Dulles Airport on February 19, I counted 17 Red-tailed Hawks, 5 American Kestrels, 2 Bald Eagles, and 2 Red-shouldered Hawks. They were along I-81 and I-66.



March 13, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Baseball in South Florida

On my way back from South America last week, I spent a few days in the "Sunshine State" of Florida, where I saw a baseball game. My late father often complained about the two baseball teams in Florida, which he believed was just not right. As good baseball traditionalists know, Florida is for spring training!! (Likewise for Arizona, I suppose.) But like it or not, with the Marlins' shiny new retractable roof stadium, major league baseball is here to stay in Miami for at least as long as the lease continues, and probably for good. (St. Petersburg / Tampa Bay is another question.)

Visits to Marlins Park

Soon after arriving in Miami on March 5, I drove past Marlins Park. The skies were mostly clear, and I wanted to make sure I got some good exterior photos in case it was cloudy the next day, when I planned to take a tour there. I'm glad I did! As so often happens whenever I get too ambitious in planning long-distance travels, minor contingencies upset my carefully-laid plans, and I was unable to get to the stadium for the scheduled 2:00 tour on Monday, March 6. So, I contented myself with taking exterior shots from the east side, which is on the left field side. That structure is certainly imposing in size, and the palm trees, gardens, and various works of art give the Marlins' home a lot of class.

Marlins Park exterior west

Marlins Park exterior from the west, closest to the first base side. (March 5, 2017)

That photo, as well as a panoramic shot taken at dusk from the east side, are now displayed on the Marlins Park page. I'll probably add a couple more photos later on.

Spring training game!

The following day, March 7, I saw my first-ever spring training game, at the brand-new spring training home of the Washington Nationals: "The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches." The Nats were facing the Boston Red Sox, once again expected to make it to the postseason. I was surprised by how heavy the traffic was on the way to the ballpark, and didn't make it inside until the first two batters in the top of the first inning had been put out. Almost as soon as I walked through the turnstiles, Mookie Betts smashed a home run way up onto the grass slope beyond left field. It wasn't a good sign for the Nats' young starting pitcher Joe Ross, who is being counted on to pull an extra load since Max Scherzer's finger has not yet fully healed. Then the very next batter, Hanley Ramirez, did the same thing, making the score 2-0. The Nats bounced back with a run in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a single by Bryce Harper and a double by Anthony Rendon, and they tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the second inning. But the Red Sox staged a three-run rally in the fourth inning, thanks to a clutch double by Pablo Sandoval. (I was told by some Red Sox fans that the stocky former Giants slugger has lost some weight, and is expected to do better than he did last year.) The Nats had bases loaded with nobody out in the seventh inning, but could only manage one run on a walk. D'oh! Final score: Red Sox 5, Nats 3. Attendance was 6,701 -- a virtually sell-out, apparently. I'm glad I bought my ticket in advance!

Bryce Harper singles Mar 7, 2017

Bryce Harper singles in the bottom of the first inning; he soon scored. (March 7, 2017)

Ballpark of the Palm Beaches from 3rd base

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches from the third base side. (March 7, 2017)

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

So, of course I had to make a quickie diagram of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches*, and a rudimentary page with some of the photos I took there. The grandstand appears to be positioned exactly like Nationals Park, with the same angles and curves. The outfield dimensions are likewise very similar, but with right field (335 feet) and left field (336 feet) switched, and with a more symmetrical and slightly deeper (406 feet) center field. The design being so similar to Nationals Park makes one think that the Nationals were intended as the primary resident, with the Houston Astros being junior partners in the project.

* So just how many Palm Beaches are there? FOUR: Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach, and Royal Palm Beach.




 

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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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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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