September 7, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding in August: an early end to summer
After the high heat that lasted for most of July, the temperatures in August were closer to normal, but this relative moderation was punctuated by several heavy rain storms. On the first of the month Jacqueline and I went hiking on the Wildcat Ridge trail in the Shenandoah National Park, about a mile and a half in each direction. There was a Black and White Warbler, but none others in that category made an appearance. We did see both male and female Scarlet Tanagers, as well as Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Eastern Towhees and Indigo Buntings were at some of the overlooks on the way back. Then followed another quick trip to Charlottesville...
Under clear blue skies on the morning of August 4, I headed out to Bell's Lane for the first time in weeks, and the effort paid off. I saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and heard (but didn't see) a Bald Eagle. Perched on wires near the corner toward the south side were an Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher, and a family of Eastern Bluebirds: dad and three youngsters! An Indigo Bunting came very close as well. Near the Ford farm entrance I saw a Northern Mockingbird doing its amusing wing display, plus a distant Red-tailed Hawk. On the north end were some Cedar Waxwings, an Orchard Oriole, and a pair of American Goldfinches. The female is pictured below.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Goldfinch (F), Willow Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting (M), N. Mockingbird, Orchard Oriole (M), and Cedar Waxwing. (Bell's Lane, August 4.)
On August 8 I went for a hike along the 3-mile loop trail that goes upstream from Braley Pond, but the birds were even scarcer than I had anticipated for this time of year. (Most warblers and other migratory songbirds are molting, and thus are less active.) There were a bunch of White-breasted Nuthatches at one point, but I didn't see any warblers or vireos at all. The highlight was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which was darting among the branches in the treetops. This hike was basically in preparation for a field trip to this location which I plan to lead later in September. My only previous hike around that entire trail (November 10, as recounted on June 30) was very productive.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, American Goldfinch (M), Scarlet Tanager (M), and Carolina Chickadee. (near Braley Pond, August 8.)
Little did I realize that day that the evening of August 8 would bring one of the worst floods to hit the city of Staunton in many years. It started to rain in the late afternoon, and it was like a monsoon for almost two hours straight! The next day I drove out to Bell's Lane where I could see how the torrential current flattened the reeds and tall grass along the stream. It was mostly the same birds as before, but I did get an amusing photo of an Orchard Oriole in which a passing Ruby-throated Hummingbird blocks the view.
On August 10 Jacqueline and I drove to Swoope, where we saw an American Kestrel, a Willow Flycatcher, a few Eastern Kingbirds, and a lone Wild Turkey, among other birds.
On August 12 I drove to various ponds today in hopes of finding shorebirds or wading birds, and found a Great Blue Heron (juvenile) by the Eagles Nest airport (between Fishersville and Waynesboro), plus an Eastern Kingbird. I discovered that the Invista pond in Waynesboro is now almost entirely obstructed by trees and shrubs, and is thus no longer really worth the effort, I'm afraid. It has been the regular "home" of Black-crowned Night Herons. On Bells' Lane I saw a young Northern Mockingbird and two Belted Kingfishers that were apparently fighting over territory. There was nothing at all at the FedEx pond in Verona, but I finally hit pay dirt at the Hardees' pond, where a lone Great Egret was feeding along the north side. Nice!
On August 16 Jacqueline and I went for a casual Sunday drive, stopping first at the pond behind Hardee's in Verona just in case the Great Egret was still there. I looked all along the shore but didn't see it until I happened to look down the slope in front of me, and there it was, only about 60-70 feet away. Wow! At Leonard's Pond we saw a family of Killdeers very close by: an adult and two youngsters. There was also a young Song Sparrow (I think) perched on a wire. Back home, we are now seeing hummingbirds on a regular basis, after a few weeks of occasional visits.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Killdeer (J), Great Egret, House Finch (F/J), and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Mill Place & Leonard's Pond, August 16.)
On August 18, Jacqueline and I went on a major day trip, driving south along I-81 to the town of Buchanan, and then ascending to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The skies were clear and temperatures were mild -- almost perfect! On the way up I stopped to rescue a Box Turtle that was sunning himself in the middle of the highway. I took it to the side in which it was pointed, which is supposed to minimize the chances that it might return and get crushed by a passing vehicle. Once at the top, we spent a couple hours strolling around the lake at the Peaks of Otter, and later picnicking. There weren't many birds as I had hoped, but Jacqueline spotted an Osprey perched in a tree by the lake, which was a nice surprise. Then we drove a few miles north and hiked down to the Fallingwater Cascades, which were very impressive. We totalled about 3.5 miles on foot that day. Later on, Jacqueline called my attention to a Bald Eagle flying past one of the overlooks, but it was too fast for my camera. The young male Indigo Bunting below was on the north side of the James River Foot bridge (which is actually named for a guy named Foot!), on our way home to Staunton.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Osprey, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting (JM), and Barn Swallow. (Peaks of Otter & Blue Ridge Pkwy., August 18.)
After a visit to the Augusta County recycling center on August 19, I headed over to Quillen's Pond in Lyndhurst, hoping to see some of the many shorebirds that had been spotted there. Unfortunately, all I saw was one Lesser Yellowlegs (first of year?), plus a Great Egret and Great Blue Heron. Next, I visited the pond near Target south of Waynesboro where I saw a Belted Kingfisher, and then went home.
On the morning of August 22, the day before school started, I went to the Mill Place trail in Verona, and before I even got there, I noticed a strange bird in a bare tree about 80 yards from the road. It turned out to be a Green Heron! At the pond I accidentally came within 15 or so feet of a semi-concealed Great Blue Heron, and carefully backed away so as not to spook it. A family of E. Bluebirds was very active, and the usual N. Mockingbirds. At Bell's Lane I saw some Amer. Goldfinches, a Brown Thrasher, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. In the afternoon, I saw a Cooper's Hawk land on a telephone pole along Rt. 254 west of town, and just managed to get a photo. Not bad for this time of year! (We endured another heavy downpour while at our destination, Skipping Rock Brewing.)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Green Heron, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Blue Heron, Brown Thrasher, Cooper's Hawk, and Eastern Bluebird (J). (Mill Place, Bell's Lane, & Rt. 254 west; August 22.)
The beginning of the fall semester meant fewer opportunities to go birding. But on Sunday, August 30 I took the time to serve as a guide for the Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church youth group in a nature hike at Augusta Springs. (Their music director, John Dull, is a friend and fellow musician who frequents the Queen City Brewing open mic nights.) Among the highlights (see caption below) was a Worm-eating Warbler and a probable Acadian Flycatcher, but it may have been a Yellow-bellied [Flycatcher] or one of the other members of the Empidomax family; it was hard to tell given the lack of light. I also saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler (prob.), some Red-eyed Vireos, a Red-tailed Hawk, and heard a Green Heron and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The weather was just spectacular!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Kingbird, Acadian Flycatcher (?), Worm-eating Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, American Redstarts, Eastern Phoebe, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Augusta Springs, August 30.)
As always, more bird photos for the past month, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page.
August 14, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Bouncing back from Covid-19?
Does Covid-19 somehow provide some kind of rejuvenating boost to teams and players that recover from the infection? It sure seems that way that way with the Miami Marlins, who swept the Baltimore Orioles in four games straight after the team was quarantined for eight days as a precaution. The Marlins faltered a bit after that, but after beating the Braves at home in Miami earlier this evening, they now have a 9-4 record and a two-game lead in the National League East Division.
I was expecting the St. Louis Cardinals to resume playing on Friday a week ago, but two more players tested positive, and they have now gone two straight weeks without playing any games at all. The Cards are slated to play against the White Sox in Chicago this weekend, and then play five games in three days against the Cubs a few miles north. That's just insane, even with double-header games being reduced to just seven innings. Having only played five games (2 wins, 3 losses), it is hard to see how they can possibly catch up in this abbreviated season. It's an awful shame. If there is a "bounce-back" effect from Covid-19, the Cardinals are going to really need it.
And as far as individual players, what Juan Soto has done in the games since he returned from the Covid-19 quarantine protocol on August 5 is simply amazing. Over the course of eight games he has hit 5 home runs and has a batting average of over .400, with 11 RBIs. (The Yankees' Aaron Judge leads the majors with 9 homers, but he has played in 17 games.) If the Nats are going to bounce back from a mediocre start to the season, they are going to need Soto to be playing at his very best. He keeps racking up historical records for achieving various marks before his 22nd birthday, rivaling Hall of Famers such as Mel Ott and Mickey Mantle. The Nats front office better sign him to a long-term contract before he becomes eligible to be a free agent.
Rash of injuries plague Nationals
None of the Nats have tested positive for Covid-19 lately, but a sudden series of injuries raises questions about their ability to compete for a postseason slot and thus defend their World Series title this October. Tonight we learned that one of the new team members, Starlin Castro, broke his wrist while diving to catch a ball in the afternoon completion of the rain-suspended August 9 game. He was putting up some great numbers during his first three weeks as a Nat, and he will be sorely missed. In addition, both the Nationals star pitchers have been afflicted: Stephen Strasburg with some kind of pinched nerve in his wrist, which forced him out of the game during the first inning in Baltimore tonight, and Max Scherzer is coping with overall soreness from pushing himself too hard -- as usual. Former closer Sean Doolittle has been placed on the injured list after giving up way too many home runs in clutch late-inning situations. He's mad at himself, but there may be a knee problem that explains his poor performance.
I should note that Daniel Hudson assumed the primary responsibility for finishing games since the overworked Sean Doolittle started having problems last year, and that has not changed. Doolittle's ERA last year was 4.05, and Hudson's was 3.00 with the Nationals; he played the early part of 2019 with the Blue Jays, where he had a 1.44 ERA. My Washington Nationals page has been duly corrected.
The Nationals won the first two games in that four-game series with the Mets, but lost the second two games. The Monday game was an utter rout, with two home runs by Asdrubal Cabrera, and one each by Juan Soto and Trea Turner; final score 16-4. On Tuesday night against the Mets, Max Scherzer barely got through the first inning, but even with a high pitch count he managed to last six innings, without giving up any more runs. It was his ferocious will to win that got the Nationals a much-needed 2-1 victory. On Wednesday, Anibal Sanchez once again had a lousy outing, not even making it through the third inning, as the Nats lost, 11-6. On Thursday afternoon, Austin Voth was doing OK for the first four innings, but his replacement, Seth Romero, soon gave up a grand slam that almost put the game out of reach. The key play of that game was when Asdrubal Cabrera smashed a ball to left center field that surely would have scored two runs if the Mets' Jeff McNeill had not sprinted to catch it. He ran into the wall, and had to be taken out of the game, but it was probably worth it. Mets 8, Nats 2.
In tonight's game against the Orioles, the Nationals bounced back, and then some! Almost all their batters got hits, including Luis Garcia, who replaced Starlin Castro at second base. In his very first game in the major leagues, he got two hits including a two-run double. The Nationals have a virtually insurmountable 13-3 lead in the ninth inning, which guarantees them a slight percentage edge over the Phillies in the NL East race. (It's a virtual tie for fourth place.) The Nats have a long way to go, and not much time to get there...
New stadium page: Sahlen Field!
I was hoping to finish the Sahlen Field diagram(s) in time for the "Toronto" Blue Jays' first home game this year, but there were too many uncertain details, and I had to watch video replays of the game on Wednesday afternoon (when they beat the Marlins 5-4) to be sure. Anyway, I have created a new page with a diagram for their temporary home: Sahlen Field. (Under normal circumstances, it is the home of the Buffalo Bisons.) There are separate diagrams showing the lower and upper decks, and two photos, including the one below. The Blue Jays' predicament of having to find an alternative "home away from home" for much if not all of this season constitutes an extreme example of the emergency situation various teams have faced over the years, which are detailed on the Anomalous stadiums page, newly updated. (NOTE: I plan not to include on that page stadiums where the home team was playing as the visitor, such as Nationals Park where the Nats played as visitors against the "host" Blue Jays on July 29 and 30. If it's nothing more than a simple home vs. away "role reversal," it's really not worth it.)
This spliced-together panorama shows what was then called "Coca Cola Field" when I saw it in July 2015.
NOTE: Although this panorama is a big improvement over the glare-blemished photo I posted on July 24, it's also a bit "fake." In order to get the outfield fences as well as the grandstand, I had to stand in different positions: the left segment was taken from a different angle than the middle and right segments. If you look closely, you will see that the Canadian flag pole and the big pole supporting the left-center field lights are duplicated. The full-size image can be seen on the Sahlen Field page.
Candlestick Park, ribbed roofs, etc.
In my haste, I forgot to mention some other new and improved features on my Candlestick Park diagrams, updated on August 4 last week. There is an access ramp leading to the second (rear) lateral walkway at the end of the grandstand near the right field foul pole. (It was obscured by the extended upper deck from 1972 on.) Also, there is a new 1961 football diagram, recognizing that the Oakland Raiders played there in late 1960 and throughout the 1961 AFL season. Hat tip to Larry Freitas for sending me a photo showing how the gridiron was aligned. Also, the profiles of right field now show the correct positioning of the three segments of the collapsible grandstand; the rear segment (colored orange to show its relative height) folded down in back of the middle segment (which was used for baseball games), and the front segment slid out from under the other two. Some people may regard those as trivial, but I'm a stickler for detail, and I know many other folks are too.
Since one of the features of the Candlestick Park diagrams that I did mention was the "ribbed" roofs, I thought I would list the other stadiums with such an architectural design. I first brought that issue up on January 10, 2016, and followed up on April 28, 2016 and May 3, 2016. I am fairly confident that these are all such past and present MLB stadiums:
- Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium
- Angel (Anaheim) Stadium
- Progressive Field (Cleveland)
- Olympic Stadium (Montreal)
- Veterans Stadium (Philadelphia)
- Exhibition Stadium -- left field (Toronto)
- Hiram Bithorn Stadium (Puerto Rico)
- Candlestick Park
- Riverfront Stadium
August 11, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Recent (non-bird) nature photos
When I summarized my bird outings in July in yesterday's blog post, I mentioned a few other nature observations, so I thought I should share some of those other photos. Rather than simply listing them one by one, I thought it would be more fun to present them in an interactive fashion. I was especially pleased with the Pipevine Swallowtail photo (at the top left below), but I have had a few other good recent photos which you can see on my Butterflies photo gallery page, newly updated. (For the time being, that page still includes moths.) The Black Bear is the third such animal I have seen this year, and each time I managed to get a pretty good photo -- scrupulously observing social distancing rules, of course! It reminds me that I should present some kind of lifetime chronology of bear sightings.
Click on the links below to see those photos (and others) in a larger size. Roll over to restore the montage.
Pipevine Swallowtail, on North Mtn., July 19. Black Bear, on Rose River trail (SNP), July 20.
Jack In The Pulpit, Red-spotted Eft , Mushrooms, on
at Hightop Mountain (SNP), June 8. at Hearthstone Lake, May 17. Braley Pond trail, August 8.
Skink, at Sawmill Ridge overlook (SNP), June 1.
Mourning Cloak, at Hightop Mtn. (SNP), June 8. || Box Turtle, on Rt. 614 in Highland Co., June 27.
Eastern Fence Lizard, at Coles Run Res., July 1. || Mushrooms, on Wildcat Ridge trail (SNP), Aug. 1.
(NOTE: "SNP" = Shenandoah National Park.)
I have updated my Mushrooms photo gallery page with the two montages shown above, plus another less-dazzling montage I did of fungi that I saw on the Falls Hollow trail on June 20. I have been remiss in trying to identify the many mushrooms I have photographed in recent years, so hopefully I'll get to that task in the next few months. Finally, I intend to update and beef up my Nature photo galleries in general, including the separate pages for Mammals and Reptiles, perhaps separating amphibians from the latter page, and maybe adding a new page for trees as well. The Flowers page is the most outdated of all.
Note that all of the above nature photos are the same size, 600 x 450 pixels, with the Jack In The Pulpit being the only vertically-oriented photo. In contrast, the standard size of my bird photos is 480 x 360 pixels. The smaller size reflects the (mostly) smaller size of the photographic subjects and the fact that it is difficult to get high-quality images of fast-moving birds except under ideal lighting conditions. If I get a better camera in the coming months, I may start presenting bird photos in the larger size.
August 10, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding in July: hot, hot, HOT!
Bird breeding season is quickly winding down, and it seems that only birds still engaged in raising young are the goldfinches (late breeders) and bluebirds (sometimes two broods a year). That means that there aren't many males singing to attract mates or establish territorial rights, and the relative quiet makes it harder to locate birds. After a very busy late May and June (see my July 12 blog post, when I covered birding from April through June), I settled down into a more normal pace in July.
On July 2, three other Augusta Bird Club members (Peter Van Acker, Penny Warren, and Ann Cline) joined me for an informal field trip to an "undetermined location." In other words, we decided where to go on the spot, and the consensus was the trail along the crest of Shenandoah Mountain, on the western edge of Augusta County. With the covid-19 social distancing rules still in place, we each drove in separate cars. The forecast was for hot weather, so high altitude and an early start were essential in order to enjoy the outing. As soon as we arrived there were birds all around. We hiked for about 1/3 mile north of the Confederate Breastworks and back, and then for about 1 1/2 miles south, to the Georgia Camp trail crossing (and back). There weren't any spectacular findings, but we had a few good bird views and very pleasant temperatures. We heard several Scarlet Tanagers, but I don't think we actually saw a single one. There were multiple families of Eastern Towhees, Indigo Buntings, and American Redstarts. We had a few looks at a Black-throated Green Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo or two, and heard just a few warbler species aside from the very common Ovenbirds. Broad-winged Hawks and one Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead. After we were done hiking, we stopped briefly at Ramseys' Draft (a much lower elevation), where I saw some more Redstarts, a Chipping Sparrows, and a Red-tailed Hawk, and then I went alone to the nearby Georgia Camp trailhead, where there were some Northern Parulas, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and an Acadian Flycatcher. I logged about five miles according to my iPhone.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, American Redstart (F/J), Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Towhee (M), Blue-headed Vireo, and Broad-winged Hawk. (Shenandoah Mtn. trail, July 2)
On the morning of the Fourth of July, most of the regular birds in the Bell's Lane area were very vocal. The big highlight was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but Aside from the other birds in the montage for that day (Indigo Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-tailed Hawk, American Goldfinch, Brown Thrasher, and Field Sparrow), I also had distant views of an Eastern Kingbird and an Orchard Oriole. Unfortunately, I still couldn't find any Yellow Warblers or Grasshopper Sparrows, two species that are known to have bred in that area almost every year. That's not a good sign.
On Thursday July 9, Jacqueline and I did a day trip to the Richmond, Virginia area, mostly touring various battlefields to the east and south. I figured I would squeeze in some birding here and there, and it paid off with some nice surprises. We started off at the Gaines Mill battlefield, seeing some Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Phoebes, and Eastern Bluebirds. Near Malvern Hill I heard and finally lured into view a male Common Yellowthroat that had established a breeding are in a moist weedy clearing next to a bicycle trail. (We saw a lot of bikers.) Then at the historic Shirley Plantation, I was amazed to see a Blue Grosbeak, and was lucky to get a quick photo of itat over 50 yards distance. While driving across a bridge on the James River, we saw a family of Ospreys, with the young ones in a nest. There was no place to stop and take a picture, however. But the biggest highlight of the day came after lunch in mid-afternoon when I heard and then saw a Summer Tanager in the treetops at Petersburg National Battlefield. It sounded like a Scarlet Tanager, which are common in the Shenandoah Valley, but its song was more melodic. I'm pretty sure the last time I saw one in Virginia was in 1999 or so, in the Charlottesville area.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Summer Tanager (M), Eastern Bluebird (M), Common Yellowthroat (M), Blue Grosbeak (M), Eastern Phoebe, and Brown-headed Cowbird (M). (East & south of Richmond, VA, July 9)
On July 12, for the first time, I explored the North River Gorge Trail, where Penny Warren led a field trip a couple years ago. It's beautiful, scenic, and shady, featuring a large wooden suspension bridge over the river. I saw quite a few other hikers and bikers along the way, so it is obviously a popular destination. It's located east of Todd Lake and south of Hearthstone Lake, where I have birded several times this year and last year. I must have heard eight or ten Acadian Flycatchers along the way, but didn't actually see any until I was heading back. Overall, there were fewer warblers than I had hoped. The Hooded Warbler in the photo montage finally made a rather late appearance at the very farthest point, about two miles from the beginning. (About five miles total hiking for the day.) Other highlights: a Louisiana Waterthrush, several Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue-headed Vireos. Since the trees obscured the sky I didn't notice it was getting overcast, and then it started to rain! So, I had to trot back to my care for the final 1/3 mile to avoid getting soaked. A quick stop at Bell's Lane on the way home yielded a Green Heron, just as it started to rain -- for the second time that day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler (M), Worm-eating Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Green Heron, and Red-eyed Vireo. (North River Gorge Trail, July 12)
July 19 started off nicely, as I saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird out back for the first time this year. (I have seen them a few times elsewhere.) It was going to be another very hot day, so I headed for the high hills to escape the high heat, braving the rugged Hite Hollow Road west of Augusta Springs. (I would definitely NOT recommend that road except for a Jeep or SUV.) I hiked along the same trail that Penny Warren, Ann Cline, Allen Larner, and I did seven years ago; see my June 30, 2013 blog post. This time, however, I only walked about a mile because I heard some loud rustling in the bushes and decided that was far enough. (Bear?) Along the way I saw most of the usual birds, and heard some Yellow-throated Vireos, as well as Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers. As a sign that breeding season was coming to an end, I didn't hear any singing by Scarlet Tanagers, and I saw just one. There were lots of butterflies, and I got my best-ever photo of a Pipevine Swallowtail. I returned via Deerfield, figuring (correctly) that the road wasn't as bad on that side. A brief stop at Chimney Hollow yielded a loud family of Tutfted Titmice, an Ovenbird, and an Acadian Flycatcher (heard only).
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (M), Eastern Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (M), Black-and-White Warbler (F), Blue-headed Vireo (J), Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting (M), and Eastern Towhee (M). (North Mountain Trail, July 19)
On July 20, with temperatures soaring into the upper 90s, Jacqueline and I tried to escape the heat by hiking in the Shenandoah National Park. I only had loose plans, however, and we suffered as a result. We parked at the Big Meadows visitor center (recently reopened to the public), and hiked about 1/3 mile to the Dark Hollow Falls trail head. I correctly surmised that the parking area there would be full, so the extra hiking to get there made sense. (The last time we had gone to Dark Hollow Falls was in June 2005, but I did stop briefly at the trail head in June 2013.) It was a longer hike to the main falls that I thought, and we were a little alarmed by the crowded conditions. Many people were wearing masks, in fact. In order to minimize personal contact and to avoid the steep, difficult climb, we took the long way back, hiking along a side trail that eventually connected with the Appalachian Trail. I soon regretted our decision not to bring water bottles, since I originally planned on just a short hike to the falls and back, followed by a longer hike elsewhere. Even in the mountains it was extremely hot, and by the time we were done hiking the five mile circuit, we were dangerously dehydrated. There really wern't very many birds until near the end of our trek, but we did see a Black Bear -- the third one this year! Avian highlights included a Louisiana Waterthrush, several American Redstarts, several Dark-eyed Juncos (juvenile here). Towhees seemed to be everywhere, and there were also dozens of Barn Swallows around the Big Meadows maintenance sheds. At one of the overlooks on our way home, I saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler up close.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (M), Dark-eyed Junco (J), Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), American Redstart (M), and Louisiana Waterthrush. (Shenandoah National Park, July 20)
Later that month, I went to Leonard's Pond on July 25, hoping to see some shorebirds, but the only one present was a Solitary Sandpiper. Eastern Kingbirds were visible at several place north and west of Verona. On July 29 I drove up to Route 610 (parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway) in hopes of seeing the Kentucky Warbler that Marshall Faintich had reported there on the day before. Marshall was at the designated location, but not the Kentucky Warbler. I did have some nice consolation prizes, however: good views of an American Redstart and a Cerulean Warbler! (It was my first decent photo of the latter species this year.) I also saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flying overhead and we heard multiple Wood Thrushes singing nearby. A few E. Towhees rounded out a very brief bird outing. Finally, on July 30 Jacqueline and I stopped in the Shenandoah National Park on our way to Charlottesville. I was given a short period to look for birds, so all I saw was a frazzled-looking male Hooded Warbler, who was obviously starting to molt. It's another sign that the seasons are about to change...
NOTE: Much of the above text is based on Facebook posts that I made in July, with a few corrections, deletions, and additions. More bird photos for this year, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page. I'll do a separate blog post (with scenic photos) about travels in July in the near future...
August 6, 2020 [LINK / comment]
The 75th anniversary of Hiroshima
75 years ago today, on August 6, 1945, a United States B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, in the western part of the main Japanese island of Honshu. It instantly killed about 80,000 Japanese people, out of a total population of 280,000, and left many thousands more horribly burned. Estimates of the susequent death toll from radiation sickness vary widely, but it is quite possible that an even greater number died in the years that followed. Three days later, the same thing happened to the city of Nagasaki, on the west coast of the island of Kyushu, killing at least 35,000 people. The first bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy" because of its slim shape, used two big chunks of uranium-235 that were rammed together to create a critical mass necessary for chain-reaction fission to take place. The second bomb, nicknamed "Fat Man," used several smaller chunks of plutonium-239 that were imploded with a sophisticated timing device. No one involved with those missions knew for sure that the bombers would reach their targets, that the bombs would work properly after being dropped, or how much death and destruction they would cause.
Today's Washington Post had several articles related to the bombing of Hiroshima, including a dramatic narrative of the flight of the B-29, nicknamed "Enola Gay" after the mother of the pilot, Col. Paul Tibbetts. Most of his crew members (12 altogether) did not know the nature of their secret mission until he disclosed it to them as the aircraft was approaching Japan. How would they have reacted if they had been told before the plane took off? This was a new era of warfare, almost beyond comprehension in scope, and the guilt over what some people would consider mass murder might have been too much for some of the men to bear. The article linked above mentions that about 97,000 people had died after U.S. bombers rained incendiary hell over the capital city of Tokyo the previous March, and many thousands died in other cities as well. If the United States sought revenge for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, this was going way overboard.
This is an appropriate time to reexamine the decision to develop the atomic bomb, and once the technology was proven in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, to actually use it against Japan. As World War II was unfolding, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to urge President Roosevelt to explore the military uses of nuclear energy, and this is what led to the Manhattan Project. As a German Jewish refugee, Einstein was well aware that Hitler was determined to exploit technology to the utmost, and the later V-1 and V-2 missile programs showed just how adept the Germans were at doing so. Fear of a possible German atomic bomb is what spurred the Americans into their all-out effort to develop the bomb. (One lesson of this is that, if Germany had managed to resist the Allies for a few more months, we might have dropped the first atomic bomb on Berlin or some other German city.) Secret military research bases were built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Hanford, Washington, and Los Almamos, New Mexico. Robert Oppenheimer led the scientific research effort, and General Leslie Groves headed the military organization overseeing everything. It was dangerous work, and some of the workers died from radiation poisoning or other things.
But once Germany was defeated in May 1945, was there a compelling reason to use the nuclear bomb against Japan? Over 100,000 American servicemen had already died fighting Japan by August, and the prolonged, bloody conquest of the Japanese island of Okinawa was a taste of what was sure to come if we had to invade Japan itself. The plan was to invade Kyushu in November 1945, and the main island of Honshu (where Tokyo is located) in March 1946. Over a million American soldiers and Marines would be needed to subjugate the enemy, and a death toll of up to 100,000 or even more was entirely possible. Given their pattern of fanatic resistance, it is likely that over a million Japanese would have died while defending their homeland. So while one can make the conventional utilitarian calculation that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably saved many lives by forcing the Japanese to surrender, that is merely guesswork. No one really knows whether Emperor Hirohito would have demanded that his generals end the war.
Personally, I think the decision to use the atomic bomb was justified, but I wish that they had staged a "demonstration" blast a few miles offshore from Tokyo as a warning shot. That would have made the American threat (announced in propaganda leaflets dropped by U.S. bomber aircraft) that Japan's cities would soon be completely destroyed unless it surrendered a lot more convincing. Perhaps the decision not to do so can be explained the fact that only two such bombs were available at the time, and it would take months to build additional ones.
There is another uncomfortable moral angle to all this: did the use of the atomic bomb amount to "terrorism"? Quite possibly, but it was hardly the first time the Allies had done this. Britain had launched brutal mass night bombing attacks against Cologne and Hamburg in 1943, deliberately killing many thousands of German civilians in a misguided attempt to demoralize them. It didn't work. The fire-bombing of Dresden in February 1945 and of Tokyo one month later were likewise cruel exercises of raw military power that yielded little if any strategic benefit. From that point of view, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just a small step up the ladder of escalation.
The shadow of potential global extermination from an all-out nuclear war hung over mankind from the 1950s until the end of the 1980s -- four decades of apocalyptic fear. I remember "duck and cover" air raid drills in elementary schools, which was actually rather absurd given that a small midwestern town was an unlikely target, but for someone in Brooklyn, New York or Seattle, Washington, it was not beyond the realm of possibilities. It was because of the radical incompatibility of the main Cold War adversaries that all-out nuclear was even conceivable. Pacifists claimed that "no one" would win a nuclear war, while strategic thinkers such as Herman Kahn pondered the various scenarios of escalation, trying assess the utility of various nuclear force levels in deterring aggression by the Soviets. It is important to point out that the United States did not rule out the first use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, despite its otherwise clear moral standing as a free democracy. Because of the superiority in conventional forces possessed by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies in Europe, West Germany and our other NATO allies were in jeopardy of being conquered in a matter of weeks. Nuclear weapons were the "ace in the hole" that might have been the only way to prevent a Soviet victory in World War III.
This disarmed Titan missile was (and probably still is) on display in its launching silo, south of Tucson, Arizona, on June 28, 2014. (For a decription of my trip see my March 4, 2019 blog post; more photographs of the Titan Missile Museum can be seen in my Chronological (2014) photo gallery.)
To get a better perspective on the military context behind the decision to drop the bomb, see my World War Two page, with newly-updated interactive maps.
August 4, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Pandemic strikes Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals were forced to postpone their weekend series in Milwaukee after seven of their players and six staff members tested positive for the covid-19 virus. Among those affected are veteran catcher Yadier Molina and shorstop Paul DeJong. The Cardinals' games in Detroit this week have also been postponed, but they hope to resume play at home on Friday.
The disruptions to MLB schedule have been very stressful for the players, taxing the sport to the limit. The effects have been felt unevenly, which will inevitably raise questions about whether the curtailed 2020 season can really be considered fair or balanced. The Miami Marlins missed seven games over the past eight days, and after winning against Baltimore tonight, they now have a 3-1 record; that's only four games, whereas most teams have played 11 or 12 games already. The Philadelphia Phillies are the other team with just four games, and the Cardinals have played just five. The Nationals are one of three teams that have played eight games. To add to the weirdness, all the Nationals games thus far have been played at home, although two of them were technically "road" games; see below.
Nats win three in a row (?)
After taking the weekend off due to the coronavirus and getting an extra (unneeded) day of rest on Monday, the Nationals beat the New York Mets tonight, 5-3. Howie Kendrick and Josh Harrison (a veteran outfielder recently-signed to replace Juan Soto) both homered in the early innings, and Patrick Corbin had another solid outing to get the win, with eight strikeouts.
The Mets are without the services of Yoenis Cespedes, who decided (rather belatedly) to opt out of playing this year for health reasons. He was out of touch with his team for a few days and seems disgruntled. He missed almost two years due to injuries, and the Mets did not exactly get their money's worth from his four-year $110 million contract.
Tonight's win came after the Nationals bounced back from two lackluster defeats at the hands of the Blue Jays last week with two "road" victories against the same team played in Nationals Park. Huh??? As mentioned last week, the Blue Jays are not allowed to play games in Toronto this year, and because they were unable to get a replacement venue ready in time, they simply played the games in Washington instead. With no fans present, the psychological aspect of home field advantage is nullified. In the Wednesday game, neither team scored for the first nine innings, which triggered the new rule that each team starts with a runner on second in extra innings. I dislike such deviations from normal play, but it worked to the Nats' advantage, as they quickly had the bases loaded with nobody out. The next two batters failed to reach base, leaving it up to Adam Eaton. He smacked a high bouncing ball to the second baseman, who couldn't quite tag Andrew Stevenson who slid into second base as the first run of the game scored. Then Asdrubal Cabrera hit a bases-clearing triple, and that's how the Nats won, 4-0. Max Scherzer threw ten strikeouts over seven-plus innings but did not get credit for the win. The Nats also won on Thursday, as Michael A. Taylor had his second home run of the year. (It was also his second hit of the year; he has a .143 batting average.) Starlin Castro went 4 for 5 at the plate for the Nats, and the bullpen made up for the unavailability of Stephen Strasburg. Final score: Nats 6, Blue Jays 4.
The Nationals can be cheered by the hitting of new infielders Starlin Castro (batting .379) and Carter Kieboom (.417), and by the return of outfielder Juan Soto to the active roster. He claims that his covid-19 tests gave a false positive, and the fact that he suffered no symptoms and returned so quickly lend credence to the assertion. But it is well known that a large percentage of those infected are asymptomatic, which is one reason why the virus is so dangerous.
Soroka out for the year
The Atlanta Braves received some bad news yesterday: star pitcher Mike Soroka somehow got hurt the other night, and it turns out he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. That means he'll be out for the rest of the year. The Braves are dominating the NL East this season with an 8-4 record (technically they're in second place behind the 3-1 Marlins), and if this baseball season makes it through the end of September, the Braves will almost certainly be in the postseason.
Field of Dreams game nixed
The Chicago White Sox announced that they won't play their August 13 game at the Field of Dreams near Dyersville, Iowa as had been planned; they'll play there next year instead. It was originally supposed to be a game against the Yankees, but the covid-19 forced the schedule to be redrawn from scratch, with no games outside each team's "region." I'm not surprised by the decision, as there really wasn't a point to holding such a game without any fans. The game won't be at the actual diamond where the movie was filmed (and which remains a destination for tourists), but is a couple hundred yards to the northwest. Obviously, I'll have to redo the badly-outdated Field of Dreams page later this year or perhaps next year. Hat tip to Mark London.
Candlestick Park update!
After a busy month taking care of Globe Life Field and a few odds and ends in July, I finally got back to my planned sequence of diagram revisions, with an update of Candlestick Park, former home of the San Francisco Giants. The last major revision of those diagrams was in early 2012. (I did a minor update of those diagrams in December of that year.) How big was this revision? How big was Candlestick Park?? Well, many of the changes involved small details, so some people might not notice. I added "ribs" to the roof, as I have done previously for such stadiums as Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Angel Stadium. Those structural elements help to calibrate various details, enabling me to render them more precisely. I also added the support columns in the lower deck diagram, and the rebuilt press boxes and mezzanine seating levels. I noticed that in photos taken in the latter years (1980s) those sections protrude about three feet in front of the front edge of the upper deck. Kansas City's Municipal Stadium had a similar feature. Other new details include the bullpen mounds and plates, exit ramp slope directions (in the lower-deck diagram), and variations in the profiles to account for the fact that in much of Candlestick Park, the lower deck was built directly on top of excavated dirt, with no rooms beneath it. If you look closely and click on the diagram to compare the new version to the old version, you'll probably notice a number of other small changes. Enjoy!
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