May 15, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Wilson's Warbler in Staunton!
Just when I thought that migration season was just about over, I had a pleasant surprise out back four days ago. This was near the outset of the steady rain that we had from Thursday until early Saturday morning. (Rain often is beneficial to bird watchers, since it forces migrating birds to pause in their northerly journey.) I heard some kind of warbler singing in the trees, and soon spotted a first-year male American Redstart, probably getting warmed up for breeding next year. While tracking it down for a photo op, I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the tree tops and some other warbler that was bright yellow. Within a few minutes I had a great closeup view of a Wilson's Warbler, one of the less common birds of this category. Getting a photo of it proved to be exceedingly difficult, and not until Saturday afternoon did I get a reasonably clear shot. I had another glimpse of it on Sunday morning, and finally got a good photo after I returned from the hike which is described below. Triumph!
Wilson's Warbler, in Staunton, May 14.
I had a glimpse of a Wilson's Warbler in Waynesboro's Ridgeview Park one year ago, but before that the last time was when I was visiting Colorado in 2009. The last time I saw one here in Staunton was May 2008, on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. (That trail was once used regularly by the Lee High School long-distance runners, but has become overgrown and almost impassible over the past several years. I hardly ever go there any more.)
Yesterday, as the sun burst through the clouds at last, I attended services in the "Church of the Great Outdoors." At first I was inclined to visit Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg (where many warblers have been reported), but decided at the last minute to go to Falls Hollow Trail, where I had been scheduled to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip the day before. (It was rained out.) That trail is on the east slope of Elliott's Knob, and I had great success there about a year ago. This hike got off to an auspicious start when I saw a nearby Blue-gray Gnatcatcher apparently gathering caterpillar webs as a nesting material. I saw and photographed nearly all of the expected birds that are known to breed along that trail, but some species (notably, Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush) I only heard -- somewhere along the stream below. There were several muddy spots, but it wasn't too bad until I reached the upper part of the trail, which was a virtual stream. It was in that general vicinity that I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which are occasionally seen in the Shenandoah Valley during the winter, but only in certain high mountain areas during the summer. I never did see it, however. Getting an official breeding record of that species would be a big deal, so I intend to return there soon.
On the way back to Staunton, I passed through Swoope just in case the Bald Eagles have been raising eaglets at the nest without anyone noticing, but saw none of them. That's discouraging news. However, I did get a good look at a Northern Harrier swooping around in that area (near the post office), as well as some Eastern Meadowlarks, and a Red-headed Woodpecker in a tree about a mile to the northeast. You can read my "official" report with a complete listing of what I observed along Falls Hollow Trail at ebird.org.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-headed Woodpecker, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler.
The above photo montage, and several individual bird photos (including some shown therein), can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page. But the biggest highlight of the day for me wasn't even a bird, it was an adorable baby turtle -- about 1.5" diameter. (I'll have to check to see what species it is.) It was in the middle of the trail, so I gently relocated it to the side, in hopes that it wouldn't be stepped on.
One of the clearings along the Falls Hollow Trail, looking toward Elliott's Knob (west) in the background.
May 11, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Migration season nears an end
The month of May began with a fairly significant sighting by me: a group of Bobolinks singing their weird metallic songs along the high point of Bell's Lane. I couldn't get a good photo, however, and they weren't there when I returned two days later.
A key sign that spring bird migration season is almost over is when the Blackpoll Warblers show up, and indeed I saw one last week (May 4) at Cook's Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater. My visit there was prompted by an e-mail alert from Greg Moyer about a Common Loon at Silver Lake in nearby Dayton, which I just couldn't resist. I got some good photos, including one with the Loon struggling to swallow a large fish it had caught. On the way back, I had high hopes for Cook's Creek, where I had seen many neotropical migrants about a year ago, but it was much quieter this time.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackpoll Warbler, American Goldfinch*, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Loon, White-crowned Sparrow*, and in center, Bobolink*. (The three birds with asterisks were seen May 1, and the others were seen May 4.)
On Saturday May 6, the Augusta Bird Club held its annual spring brunch Lofton Lake in southern Augusta County, graciously hosted by Kathy Belcher and Joe Thompson. Highlights included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, Green Heron, American Goldfinches, Kingbird, and a few others. Light drizzle probably curtailed the number of birds seen during the walk around the lake.
On Monday, May 8 I joined Penny Warren and two other birders on an Augusta Bird Club field trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I had not yet visited this spring. We heard a wide variety of neotropical migrants in the trees, and had a few good views at the various stopping points. The two big highlights of the day were both at the same location, at mile marker 7.5: Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Canada Warbler (the latter was the first of the year for me). We would not have seen the latter bird but for the fortuitous encounter with Marshall Faintich, a renowned bird photographer from the Crozet-Nelson County area.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Redstart, Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwings, Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Canada Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
The very next day, Penny hosted another ABC field trip, this time to Betsy Bell Hill on the east side of Staunton. Like the day before, we heard a lot more birds than we actually saw, but we did get some nice views. I spotted a Swainson's Thrush in a distant tree (FOY for me), but it was hard to see and not everyone managed to get a view. We all had a very good, extended look at one or two Chestnut-sided Warblers, another FOY for me.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Crested Flycatcher, Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and in center, Swainson's Thrush.
The above photo montages, and a few new individual bird photos shown therein, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.
Today I heard an unusual bird song out back, and soon spotted an American Redstart darting around the tree branches. I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Wilson's Warbler (FOY), but unfortunately could not get a photo of it. I'll try again tomorrow...
May 4, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Peak bird migration season (?)
The final days of April and early days of May are traditionally the busiest in terms of neotropical migrant birds passing through Virginia. Having more free time this spring than in past years, I was hoping to get out and look for migrating birds much more often, but I just haven't done as much as I had hoped. My main focus has been Bell's Lane, in particular the beaver pond at the north end, where Wilson's Snipes were seen since early April. The last time I saw it there was April 26, which was also the first day this year ("FOY") that I saw four bird species: Green Heron, Yellow Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Louisiana Waterthrush. (I saw two of the latter species along the Middle River a mile or so west of Verona, a location I went to specifically in search of them.) It was a sunny day, and I got good photos of all those species, as well as the two species of sandpipers that I had had a hard time distinguishing on earlier visits to the beaver pond.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Green Heron, Yellow Warbler (M), Grasshopper Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and in center Louisiana Waterthrush *. (On Bell's Lane, except ( * ) on Middle River W. of Verona, Apr. 26)
On Friday April 28 I joined four other bird club members on a field trip to Chimney Hollow that had been rescheduled because of rain showers on Monday. As usual for this time of year, there were many small wildflowers in bloom, but relatively few birds. We saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Worm-eating Warbler (FOY), and a Northern Parula (FOY), with glimpses of a few other birds. The weather was cool but slowly warmed later in the morning; we dodged a bullet in terms of more forecast wet weather that day.
After the other members returned to Staunton, I headed west on my own to Ramsey's Draft, which was quite busy with birds of all kinds. Goldfinches and Chipping Sparrows seemed to be everywhere. I spotted five kinds of warblers (American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, and Ovenbird), the first two of which were my first sightings this year. In addition, I saw a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers building a nest on a tree branch; I'll have to go back and check on that nest again soon. Finally, I saw a FOY Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female) at the Ramsey's Draft parking lot.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler (M), Northern Flicker, American Redstart (M), Yellow Warbler (M), Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-headed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, and (in center) Gray Catbird and Northern Parula. (Apr. 28)
BIG Spring Day
The very next day, April 29, was "Big Spring Day," when Augusta Bird Club members go out and systematically count all the birds they see or hear within certain bird-friendly locations. I was assigned to cover two places in Staunton, and got started in Montgomery Hall Park just after 8:30. I was encouraged to see my first Indigo Bunting of the year within a few minutes, a male singing from the top of a tree branch. A while later I heard the characteristic buzzing call of that species and then saw two males engaged in a low-altitude "dog fight." After driving up from the lower part of the park to "YuLee's Trail" (named for YuLee Larner, Staunton's "bird lady" for many years), I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the tree tops. Another FOY! To my surprise, a Double-crested Cormorant flew past in the distance, but the only photo I got was too blurry for a positive ID. I also saw a American Redstart, but it flew away before I could take a good photo, and all that you can see is the tail. I also had a nice view of a Pileated Woodpecker and the first Cedar Waxwings I had seen in several months. But the unquestioned highlight of that area was a Kentucky Warbler, which drew my attention by its harsh-toned song which I couldn't quite identify -- and then I saw its face!
Next I went over to Betsy Bell Hill, and was delighted to hear a nearby Wood Thrush as soon as I got out of my car. I had high hopes for getting a good photo, but to my surprise never even saw it. They can be elusive. I walked toward adjacent Mary Gray Hill where were a number of warblers singing high up in the trees (especially Redstarts), but it was hard to get photos. Back on Betsy Bell Hill itself, there wasn't much going on until I drove to the very top, where the observation deck is located. There I saw a few more birds, including a Worm-eating Warbler, my ninth warbler species of the day. Not bad!
Here are the two "official reports" I submitted for the day:
Montgomery Hall Park, Staunton, Virginia, US
Apr 29, 2017 8:40 AM - 11:20 AM
Comments: Big Spring Day count for Augusta Bird Club
Canada Goose 1
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Black Vulture 5
Turkey Vulture 2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 2
Mourning Dove 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 2
Blue-headed Vireo 2
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Blue Jay 7
American Crow 3
Fish Crow 1
Carolina Chickadee 7
Tufted Titmouse 9
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
House Wren 1
Carolina Wren 10
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Eastern Bluebird 2
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 5
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 12
Cedar Waxwing 5
Black-and-white Warbler 2
Kentucky Warbler 1 Seldom seen here; photographed.
American Redstart 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 3
Eastern Towhee 11
Scarlet Tanager 1
Northern Cardinal 20
Indigo Bunting 3 Two males were fighting.
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
American Goldfinch 5
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36415477
Betsy Bell Hill, Staunton, Virginia, US
Apr 29, 2017 11:45 AM - 1:30 PM
Comments: Big Spring Day count for Augusta Bird Club
Turkey Vulture 6
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Blue Jay 5
American Crow 1
Tufted Titmouse 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
Carolina Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Wood Thrush 2
American Robin 1
European Starling 4
Worm-eating Warbler 1
Black-and-white Warbler 1
American Redstart 4
Northern Parula 1
Blackburnian Warbler 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 4
Black-throated Green Warbler 3
Eastern Towhee 2
Scarlet Tanager 2
Northern Cardinal 3
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36417911
This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, Scarlet Tanager (F), Pileated Woodpecker (F), Indigo Bunting (M), Blackburnian Warbler (M), Black-and-White Warbler (M), Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Kentucky Warbler (M), and the tail of an American Redstart (M). (Apr. 29)
Since I was making a formal count, I figured I should post a second photo montage of that day, for the record. These photos aren't that impressive, so I didn't bother to post the montage on Facebook, as I usually do.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler (M), Eastern Phoebe, Downy Woodpecker, Worm-eating Warbler, and in center, Black-throated Blue Warbler (M). (Apr. 29)
The above photo montages, and a few new individual bird photos shown therein, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.
Finally, I heard and then saw a few Bobolinks at the high part of Bell's Lane on May 1, but skies were cloudy and I couldn't get a good photo. The sun was out when I returned yesterday, but they weren't there. A couple Solitary Sandpipers remain at the beaver pond, but that was about it.
Construction & destruction
While at the top of Betsy Bell Hill on Big Spring Day, I had a good view of the Construction site at the entrance to the Frontier Culture Museum on the east side of Staunton. We have been aware of such plans for a long time, but I am dismayed by the extent of tree removal that has taken place. Construction vehicles were busily excavating land right up to the parking lot where the Bluebird Trail sign is located. In terms of habitat for birds, it's a veritable disaster. In the photo below, you can also see the construction site on the other side of Richmond Road, where a new motel / commercial complex is being built on the site where Western State Hosptial formerly stood.
Construction site as seen from Betsy Bell Hill. (Apr. 29) Roll your mouse over the image to compare it to a photo of the same view (zoomed out) that I took last September.
May 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Stevie Nicks in concert!
Time for me to get caught up with blogging about music! Several weeks ago (on March 25), Jacqueline and I went to a Stevie Nicks concert at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. The Pretenders were supposed to be the opening show, but Chrissie Hynde was sick and had to cancel several performances. Frankly, she and her group were a higher priority for me, since we had just seen Stevie Nicks as part of a Fleetwood Mac concert at the very same venue (John Paul Jones Arena) two years earlier, in March 2015; my blog post about it was on July 18, 2015.
Unlike some rock musicians, Stevie Nicks has not lost her voice or skill as she has aged. I was very impressed not just by the quality of the music as well as by her earnest engagement with the audience. She is not some bigger-than-life goddess, she is a talented and creative artist who wants to share her passion about life. Most of the songs she did were preceded by a brief explanation of the circumstances by which she wrote them. In particular, I learned that "Gypsy" was about Stevie's early life in the trendy counter-culture scene in San Francisco. Then she met Lindsey Buckingham and before you knew it, those two had joined Fleetwood Mac! Overall, it was a wonderful performance, very uplifting and satisfying.
I tried to find the names of her musicians on her website, but couldn't find them there. As usual, I made a point to write down the song titles as she song them, but I had to consult the Internet to fill a couple gaps in the set list
- Gold and Braid **
- If Anyone Falls
- Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (#TP)
- Belle Fleur **
- Gypsy (#FM)
- Wild Heart
- Enchanted **
- New Orleans
- Star Shine **
- Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream) **
- Stand Back
- Crying In the Night
- If You Were My Love
- Gold Dust Woman (#FM)
- Edge of Seventeen
- Rhiannon (#FM)
- Landslide (#FM)
The last two songs were the encore.
** Song titles from setlist.fm.
#FM: Song originally appeared on a Fleetwood Mac album. All songs were written by Stevie Nicks except:
#TP: Written by Tom Petty and Michael Campbell
The song "New Orleans" was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" was written about the movie Twilight (2008). I was a little disappointed that Stevie didn't sing "Leather and Lace," which was originally recorded with Don Henley of Eagles fame. The same goes for "Sara," which was on the Fleetwood Mac album Tusk. But she did sing two of my very favorite Fleetwood Mac songs: "Rhiannon" and "Landslide," inspiring me to play those at an open mic event a couple weeks later. (See below.) Otherwise, she did just about every big hit song from her "Bella Donna" (1981) and "The Wild Heart" (1983) albums, as well as the Fleetwood Mac hits for which she is best known.
Before the concert started, I bought the Pretenders' new CD Alone, but I have only listened to it once so far.
This wide-angle view of the concert was the only photo I took in which Stevie Nicks (on the video monitor to the right) was recognizable. My iPhone camera is fine in normal conditions, but can't handle sharp contrasts between dark and light.
A closer-in view of Stevie Nicks in concert.
The most recent concert Jacqueline and I had been to before this one was Lynyrd Skynyrd, at the Rockingham County Fair on August 19, 2015; blog post January 29, 2016.
Guitar under repair
I bought my Conn acoustic guitar way back in 1975 or so, from a friend of a friend at the University of South Dakota named Carey Hofer. While I was inspecting it (and wondering if I really wanted to spend that much money!), he taught me to play the intro part of "Stairway to Heaven." It has served me well for these past four decades, and while I have considered replacing it with something better, the rich sound of an all-wood guitar is better than most mid-range guitars these days, since most of them have a body that is part plastic.
What happened was that one of the wooden braces inside the body suddenly broke while I was playing a song, without any warning. [This was on March 21, a Tuesday.] There was no bumping involved, it was apparently just the result of cumulative built-up stress. The process of getting it repaired took longer than my patience could tolerate, and I ended up taking it to a guy named Danny Dolinger who has a guitar repair shop in Bridgewater. After a few days, I had it back as good as new, thank goodness! Danny is not just a highly skilled and conscientious craftsman, he is also a local musician who performs with other guys on occasion. He looked familiar, and said he remembers me playing the Moody Blues song "Tuesday [Afternoon]" at an open mic event several months ago.
My newly-repaired Conn acoustic guitar, in front of our CD/DVD rack.
More open mic events
My first open mic performance at Queen City Brewing after returning from South America and Florida (March 15) focused on the theme of returning home after a long absence. "Back In the U.S.S.R." was especially appropriate since I had flown into Miami. (Contrary to the first line of that song, there is no airport in Miami Beach itself.) I enjoy playing the harmonica on "Take the Long Way Home," a prime example of bending notes.
- Fly Away Home (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
- Back Home Again (John Denver)
- Back In the U.S.S.R. (Beatles)
- Take the Long Way Home (Supertramp)
Since my guitar was in the shop on March 22, I brought my charango, even though it has a warped neck that makes it impossible to play certain notes. I did my best, but it frankly sounded horrible, so I just gave up halfway through "El Condor Pasa," which was a real bummer. (That's an adaptation of a South American folk song.) Later on, Open Mic Host Fritz Horisk graciously lent me his guitar so I could play a nice Eagles song.
- El Condor Pasa (Simon & Garfunkle)
- Saturday Night (Eagles)
I skipped the next week open mic event because my guitar was still in the repair shop. Not until April 5 was it available [to me again], and I made the most of it, playing two songs I had done before and then "Landslide," in recognition of the Stevie Nicks concert Jacqueline and I had seen recently. I used the harmonica for the lead guitar part, and people really liked how it sounded. My final song was also based on a concert we had once seen (October 2005), by the Rolling Stones: [on "Sweet Virginia" I played the harmonica in the "proper" way.]
- Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out (Eric Clapton cover)
- Gypsy Forest (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
- Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
- Sweet Virginia (Rolling Stones)
On April 12 I started with "Talkin' Baseball," which I had done once before, but I should have done it much better the second time. My rendition of "Bennie and the Jets" wowed the crowd, as I used the harmonica for the lead part, except in this case it was for lead piano. That was the first Elton John song that I had ever played in public, and it was inspired by another guy's performance of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" at the open mic event the week before. I became obsessed with learning "Bennie and the Jets" in the days that followed, and later learned more Elton John songs. My rendition of "All My Loving" uses the arpeggio (finger picking) technique rather than the fast strumming on the original song.
- Talkin' Baseball (Terry Cashman)
- Chicken Train (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
- Bennie and the Jets (Elton John)
- All My Loving (Beatles)
- Beauty In the River (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
- Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac)
On April 19 I started with a challenging Beatles song using the arpeggio technique, but couldn't sustain the rhythm very well, so I'll probably strum that one next time. I thought "Your Song" sounded beautiful, but didn't get as much applause as I was hoping for. I played the other Elton John songs pretty well, but had a hard time with the vocals, having to shift octaves more than once. My voice range obviously pales in comparison to Reggie Dwight's. (That's Elton John's real name!)
- Here Comes the Sun (Beatles)
- Rocket Man (Elton John)
- Your Song (Elton John)
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
Finally, on April 26 I marked the arrival of baseball season once again, but to my chagrin just couldn't deliver on the complex lead guitar part of "Centerfield," in spite of much practice. It's a song I have been working on for a few months, and I'll just have to practice it a lot more before I do it in public again. At least I did better on the other hit song from John Fogerty's Centerfield (1984) album ("The Old Man Man Down the Road"), and on the biggest hit song from his days with Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Proud Mary"). The latter was one of the first rock songs I learned to play on the guitar back in the early 1970s. I plan to do even more CCR songs I have learned recently at a future open mic event -- perhaps tomorrow!
- Centerfield (John Fogerty)
- The Old Man Man Down the Road (John Fogerty)
- Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
The above songs have been added to my Music page.
Finally, for the record, at the April 10 monthly meeting of the Augusta Bird Club, I was asked to play my "bird song medley" that I did at the club's 50th anniversary dinner last December, so I did, but substituting "Tern, Tern, Tern" (Turn, Turn, Turn")" -- The Byrds for John Denver's "Back Home Again." This time I had the proper cable adapter to show the accompanying photo slide show that I had intended to show at the dinner. As for the music, however, I wasn't as well prepared as the first time.
April 30, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Nationals finish big first month with a BANG!
After a very successful road trip and a big victory at home in Nationals Park this afternoon, the Washington Nationals now have a 17-8 record, the best in the major leagues right now. The team's slugging stars are firing on all cylinders, while the starting rotation of pitchers remains very solid and reliable. Their one glaring weakness, as we all knew before the season started, is with the relief pitchers.
On Friday, the Nats returned to Washington after a ten-game road trip, full of optimism (if not energy) while the visiting New York Mets were on a six-game losing streak. That game marked a turn in the two teams' recent fortunes. Max Scherzer gave up five runs over six innings, and even though the Nats made a valiant comeback attempt (with two home runs by Ryan Zimmerman), the bullpen let them down again, and the Mets won, 7-5.
On Saturday, Stephen Strasburg (who had taken a couple days of paternity leave earlier in the week) went seven innings and gave up just three runs, but the same scenario as before played out, and the Nats lost, 5-3. Ryan Zimmerman hit his 11th home run of the season, tying the MLB leader in that department.
But the Sunday game was truly one for the record books. After the Mets scored a run in the top of the first, fears of an embarrassing sweep arose among Nats fans. But the team quickly lifted their spirits with a five-run rally. Starting pitcher Joe Ross just didn't have it, giving up a run (or two) in all four innings he pitched. He was replaced by Matt Albers, a veteran who was acquired by the Nats fairly recently. He is one of the few bright spots in the bullpen lately. Thanks to phenomenal slugging by several players, especially Anthony Rendon, the Nats ended up with a 23-5 victory over the Mets, six runs more than the team's previous high mark of 17, in Baltimore on May 20, 2011. (The Montreal Expos, the Nats' franchise predecessors, once scored 21 runs, in 1996.)
Rendon's historic day
Until today, Anthony Rendon was having a pretty lousy month, far below the expectations people had of him. All of a sudden, his batting stats are about where they should be, thanks to one of the most prodigious slugging performances any player has ever had in a single day. He drove in two runs with a single in the first inning, hit a solo homer in the third inning, hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning, hit a bases-loaded double in the fifth inning, hit a single in the seventh inning, and hit another solo homer in the eighth inning. Believe it or not!!! Rendon thus became the first major league player ever to hit three home runs and ten runs batted in with six hits in six at-bats. MLB.com. Rendon surpassed the previous team records of hits and RBIs in a game. For the latter record, Josh Willingham had eight RBIs on July 27, 2009, which is when he hit two grand slams. Of note is the fact that his three-run double came very close to being a grand slam, hitting the right-center field scoreboard about three feet from the top.
The Nats' offensive explosion was perhaps exaggerated by the fact that the Mets simply gave up and decided not to put their bullpen under any more pressure. The last two innings were pitched on an emergency basis by reserve catcher Kevin Plawecki.
Zimmerman's hot month
Perhaps the unseasonably warm weather in April had something to do with Ryan Zimmerman's hot bat. There is little doubt that he will be named NL Player of the Month, since he leads the league in batting average (.420), RBIs (29), and is tied for the lead in home runs with 11. In Saturday's game with the Mets, Zimmerman crushed a home run way over the visitors' bullpen in left-center field, traveling an estimated 470 feet. After years of frustration with various health issues, he is finally living up to his potential as a slugger. The MASN announcers noted how relaxed at the plate he seems to be, exuding confidence.
Harper's runs record
Until a few days ago, Bryce Harper was having almost as hot a first month of the season as Ryan Zimmerman's ended in record-breaking fashion. (Likewise for Daniel Murphy, whose batting average has fallen from .400+ to the merely excellent .330 range.) After Harper scored four runs today, his total number of runs scored in April climbed to 32, overtaking the MLB record set by Larry Walker in 1997. See MLB.com.
Eaton badly injures knee
In Saturday's game, Adam Eaton was batting in the bottom of the ninth inning and hit an infield single to the shortstop. In his furious zeal to beat the throw, his leg jammed awkwardly into first base and he immediately crumpled over in severe pain. You could tell it was a serious injury. MRI tests revealed he has a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which will take at least six months to heal. Chances that he will return this year are almost zero, which is a dirty rotten shame. Eaton was aquired from the Chicago White Sox in a trade for young Nats pitchers, and he had been doing very well. He is an inspirational, well-liked figure in the clubhouse, and his team mates expressed their grief that he will be out for several months. See MLB.com
Nats triumph in tough road trip
It's hard to remember now, but the Nationals were struggling to stay in first place when they went to Atlanta on April 18 to begin their long road trip. After sweeping the Braves, who had won their first six games at brand-new SunTrust Park (see below), the Nats proceeded to do likewise to the Mets in Citi Field, with three straight wins. Daniel Murphy's grand slam proved decisive in the Nats' 6-3 victory on April 23 (Sunday); it was the Nats' third grand slam this year. Then the Nats flew west to Denver, where they hit a bump in the road with an 8-4 loss. But they quickly recovered the next day and proceeded to wallop the Rockies by scores of 15-12, 11-4 and 16-5. The offensive output was simply unbelievable. But a win's a win, and after Thursday, the Nats were sitting pretty having won nine out of their last ten games.
Weak spot: the bullpen
Everyone knew that the Nats' biggest vulnerability was their bullpen. The April 25 game in Denver illustrated the problem most clearly, when they Nats nearly threw away what had been a 10-run lead over the Rockies. Koda Glover gave up two runs in the seventh iining, and Joe Blanton gave up four runs in the eighth inning. The game shouldn't have been close at all.
And to top it off, Koda Glover, has been put on the disabled list with an impinged hip. Overall, he has been one of the Nats' better relief pitchers, and may end up as the regular closer later this season. Confidence in Blake Treinen has almost disappeared, although he did get three quick outs in the ninth inning of today's 23-5 massacre. (Not exactly a save situation.)
I updated the Washington Nationals page with all the latest factoids about the team.
NEW: SunTrust Park diagram!
In observance of the official opening of the new "home of the Braves," I posted a preliminary diagram for SunTrust Park a few days ago. (Previously all I had on that page was a partial image derived from Marlins Park, which seemed like an appropriate starting-point template, since it has a similarly slender amount of foul territory.) Of course there will eventually be lower-deck and upper-deck (no roof) diagram variants as well. Besides watching the Nats-Braves games on TV, I also relied upon photos and rendering at ajc.com (Atlanta Journal-Constitution); thanks to Mike Zurawski for the link.
Even though I remain deeply skeptical about the need for a brand-new stadium, I must admit that SunTrust Park has many attractive features. I like the fact that it has a large second deck and a relatively modest-sized lower deck. It features a large roof that provides shade for most of the upper deck (depending how you define it), and the stadium lights are built into the front edge of the roof, just like at Target Field in Minneapolis. That probably explains why the roof is at least 20 feet higher than the grandstand itself. The brick wall in right field is a very nice touch, as are the high-rise buildings beyond center field. It almost makes you feel like you're in downtown Atlanta, rather than the far-off suburbs of Cobb County. With any luck, I'll get down to see a game there in the next few weeks, after which I'll have all the information I need to do a fully accurate diagram.
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.
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.
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, 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!") 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, 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. (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.
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.
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..."
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; 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.
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.
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 passing the majestic pine trees. (March 8)
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!
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