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.
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.
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 the Metro [rail] 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!)
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 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.
- Great Thrush
- Black-capped Tanager
- White-sided Flower-piercer
- Orange-chinned Parakeets
- Brown-throated Parakeet
- Bare-faced Ibis
- Red-crowned Woodpecker
- Black-billed Thrush
- Grayish Saltator
- Rusty-margined Flycatcher
- Palm Tanager
- Eared Dove
- Colombia Chachalaca ?
- White-collared Swift ?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
February 28: Palacio del Gobierno (Where the President resides.)
February 28: Lima Cathedral, Plaza de Armas
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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**!
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.
- White-cheeked Pintail
- Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
- Gray-hooded Gull
- Stilt Sandpiper
- Inca Tern
- Long-tailed Mockingbird
- Elegant Tern
- Shiny Cowbirds
- Saffron Finch
- Great Grebe
- Least Bittern
- Plumbeous Rail
- Grassland Yellow Finch
- Striated Heron
- Puna Ibis
- Wren-like Rush Bird
- Many-colored Rush Tyrant
- Harris's Hawk
- Scrub Blackbird
- Andean Duck
- Yellow-hooded Blackbird
- Guanay Cormorant
- 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.
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 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 in the bottom of the first inning; he soon scored. (March 7, 2017)
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches from the third base side. (March 7, 2017)
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.
February 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Trump's first month: worse than expected
I'm one of those who is just too stunned to make a serious attempt at understanding what's going on with this new administration. I would like to think that my fears about President Trump's harsh and aggressive style of leadership were misplaced, but thus far he is governing the same way he campaigned. It validates my frequent warnings in the past about the dangers of the Republican Party flirting with populist politics, but it's probably too late to turn back the clock now.
First week: Seven days of mayhem *
President Trump's inaugural address four Fridays ago left little doubt that he was dead serious about fulfilling his myriad campaign promises. Aside from minor directives, he took the weekend off and then got to business on Monday. By the end of that week, the Democrats were in an uproar.
When Acting Attorney General was fired for having defied the President's executive order, the parallel with the October 1973 "Saturday night massacre" was obvious. But was the parallel a close one?
Trump wasted no time in fulfilling one of his campaign promises, of building a bigger wall with Mexico. To me, that is tragic and will probably have terrible consequences for our relations with that country and with the rest of Latin America for years to come.
Panoramic view of the U.S. - Mexican border fence in Douglas, Arizona. Click on the image to see it full size.
Weeks 2 - 4: more mayhem
Things only got worse after that, as Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after it was learned that he was discussing the economic sanctions imposed by then-President Obama in late December. I disagreed with that policy move, but Flynn's actions were inexcusable and downright subversive.
Trump's continued nice words about Vladimir Putin and disparagement of our European allies in NATO are further cause for alarm. He sent Vice President Mike Pence to the security summit in Munich, where he tried to reassure everyone of America's commitment to collective security. I would blame them for feeling uneasy, however.
And finally, Trump's most recent tirade against the press, calling them an "enemy" of the American people, is deeply disturbing. Sen. John McCain was right to call Trump out on that, noting that such words are often the first step in the establishment of a dictatorship.
What a crazy world we live in. I'll be spending the next couple weeks in Latin America, and it will be interesting to get those folks' perspective on what has been happening here in the U.S.A.
* Yes, that is a not-too-subtle reference to a movie from the early 1960s...
February 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Just a (music) blog before I go...
As I prepare to head for the Southern Hemisphere (see the February 15 section below), I thought it would be appropriate to invoke a nice Crosby, Stills, and Nash song that I have not yet learned: "Just a Song Before I Go." Here's a quick summary of the songs I have played at Open Mic Night (held at Queen City Brewing and formerly hosted by the now-disbanded Staunton Music Guild) since the beginning of this year:
- "The Sound of Silence" -- Simon & Garfunkle
- "Desperado" -- Eagles
- "Colorado Song **" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Pink Houses" -- John Cougar Mellencamp
- "Time In a Bottle" -- Jim Croce
- "Only Want To Be With You" -- Hootie & the Blowfish
- "We Can Work It Out" -- Beatles
- "Country Girl **" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Sister Golden Hair" -- America
On the eve of the presidential inauguration, my set list was inspired in part by the troubling times our nation is currently in. The audience was small but we still had a rockin' good time.
- "The Boxer" -- Simon & Garfunkle
- "Love Is Blue" -- Paul Mauriot Orchestra
- "The Last Time" -- Rolling Stones
- "We'll Meet Again" -- Vera Miles
- "Day Tripper" -- Beatles
- "Already Gone" -- Eagles
Once again, my selection of songs was motivated by contemporary world events.
- "Refugee" -- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
- "Come Together" -- The Beatles
- "Never Goin' Back Again" -- Fleetwood Mac
- "It Couldn't Be Better" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Standing On the Rock" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "California Dreamin'" -- Mamas & the Papas
Yours truly, playing "Come Together" at Queen City Brewing. (Screen grab from the video taken by Jacqueline.)
- "Rocky Mountain High" -- John Denver
- "Carry On" -- Crosby, Stills, & Nash
- "The Chain" -- Fleetwood Mac
- "The Ballad of Adlai" -- Andrew Clem
- "Paperback Writer" -- Beatles
- "Sandman" -- America
- "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" * -- Linda Ronstadt
- "New Kid In Town" -- Eagles
- "Peaceful Easy Feeling" * -- Eagles
The themes were Valentine's Day and my impending visit to South America, which is the subject of the wacky song "Southern Cross." For some reason, I kind of messed up on "Eight Miles High," but otherwise the songs went pretty well. You never know.
- "Love Will Keep Us Alive" -- Eagles
- "Camelot" -- Lerner & Lowe / R. Burton
- "Guinnevere" -- Crosby, Stills, & Nash
- "Southern Cross" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Eight Miles High" -- The Byrds
- "Turn the Page" -- Bob Seger
The Music page has been updated accordingly. Whew!
February 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Spring training has begun!
Well, here it's been three months since my last baseball blog post, and spring training is already upon us. Where the heck does the time go? Obviously, my priorities will have to change very quickly. As one example of that, I will attend a Washington Nationals spring training game for the first time ever, this coming March 7. It's against the Red Sox, in the Nationals' brand-new ballpark home in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Not far from Mar-A-Lago, by the way!) So here's just a few quick notes about things I have been meaning to comment upon:
Bagwell, Raines, Pudge to enter Hall of Fame
A few weeks ago, the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees were announced: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. They will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame next July. See MLB.com
I saw Pudge play with the Nats three times, but never got a good photo.
"Pudge" Rodriguez (#7) in the Nationals dugout, Aug 13, 2010
"Pudge" Rodriguez (#7) and the rest of the Nationals celebrate their win on July 4, 2011.
Nationals make modest acquisitions
The Washington Nationals hope for a better new year, but thus far they have failed to land a first-class closing pitcher. The biggest acquisition was center fielder Adam Eaton, in a trade with the White Sox. That means rookie phenom Trea Turner will return to his "natural" position at shortstop, where he will hopefully thrive. Also, former San Diego Padres catcher Derek Norris will replace Wilson Ramos behind the plate. We'll see how that goes.
One cause for worry is that Max Scherzer has not fully recovered from a broken ring finger in his throwing hand. We didn't even know about this until several weeks after the 2016 season. Hopefully he will be ready to pitch by the end of April.
If Bryce Harper returns to form, Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner hit as well as they did last year, and if Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth play like their old selves, the Nats should be in good position to repeat as NL East Division champs this year. But that's a lot of if's.
One of the big "misses" by Nats GM Mike Rizzo was Aroldis Chapman. After a brief, tumultuous stint with the world champion Chicago Cubs (!), Aroldis Chapman is going back to the New York Yankees.
News about ballparks, etc.
Thanks to Jonathan Karberg for bringing to my attention the National Hockey League's annual Winter Classic, which was played at Busch Stadium (III) on January 2, as the St. Louis Blues defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1. To mark that special event, I made a new hockey version diagram of that stadium.
As of November 1, U.S. Cellular Field was renamed "Guaranteed Rate Field," under a naming rights agreement that the White Sox announced last August. On November 9 Football Many thanks to Al Kara for sending a batch of photos of that game; some will be posted on that page soon. Northern Illinois Huskies battled the Toledo Rockets dnainfo.com
Newly-renamed "Guaranteed Rate Park" during the November 9 football game. Note how the bench-style bleachers in left-center field differ from the other seats. Photo courtesy of Al Kara.
Among the many things I neglected to get done last year was paying respect to a long-time fan of this web site who is no longer with us: Frank Joseph Trimborn, 71 passed away in Houston, Texas on June 7, 2016. See the obituary at unityfuneralhome.com. Rest in peace, Frank.
Another blog hiatus
My apologies for the length of time since my last blog post. I will resume blogging and updating diagrams after I return from Latin America and Florida in about three weeks.
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