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December 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Birding in November

I managed to get out to do some birding a few times in November, trying to keep abreast of the newly-arrived winter migrants. On the first day of the month (a Wednesday), I drove out to the Swoope area in hopes of seeing either the Northern Harriers or Short-eared Owls that had been reported there. (I had seen seven Harriers during a field trip in early October.) I did indeed spot three different Northern Harriers in Swoope, but not until I returned home and looked at my photos did I realize that one of them was a male "Gray Ghost." It's the first such photo I have taken. Later in the day, I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco out back, the first one of the season for me.

Birds Montage 01 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Harrier (F / J), Northern Harrier (M), Northern Flicker (M), and Dark-eyed Junco. (November 1)

Ducks abound at Silver Lake

On November 10, I drove up to Dayton, hoping to see some of the ducks that had recently arrived at Silver Lake. Sure enough, I spotted a nice variety as soon as I parked there. It was a sunny day, and lighting conditions were very good for taking photos. Something strange happened while I was driving through Dayton: a strange-looking medium-large bird flew over my car by the poultry processing plant, but not until it landed in a nearby spruce tree was I able to identify it for sure: a Black-crowned Night Heron!

Birds Montage 10 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT: Redhead (M), Ring-necked Ducks (F, M), Ruddy Duck, Black-crowned Night Heron, Bufflehead (M), and in center, more Buffleheads (F). (November 10)

Field trip to Bell's Lane

On November 16 (a Thursday), I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane, with Dan Perkuchin, Peter Van Acker, Joe Thompson, and Ann Cline in attendance, later joined by Allen Larner and Stan Heatwole. It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and gradually warming temperatures. On the farm pond by the south end we saw several Ruddy Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and Pied-billed Grebes. From there we walked for about a mile, and had some nice views of Red-tailed Hawks along the way. We stopped at the high point of Bell's Lane (by Carolyn Ford's gate), and from there "we" (by which I mean Allen) saw Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlins, Green-winged Teals, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwalls, and Northern Shovelers on a distant pond. I spotted a Northern Harrier in the distance. Other highlights of the day included Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Flickers, Eastern Bluebirds, Robins, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. There were no Yellow-rumped Warblers, to my surprise. In the eBird report I submitted, there were 32 species total.

Birds Montage 16 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier (F/J), Hairy Woodpecker (M), Ring-necked Ducks (M, F), Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, and in center, Eastern Bluebird (M) and Northern Cardinal (F). (November 16)

Backyard birding

This past Saturday (November 25), I was trying to decide whether to venture out in search of birds, but as it turned out, I didn't have to. To my great surprise, some Eastern Bluebirds were hunting for food in the trees out back, and I was able to get a nice photo. Even better, I saw (and photographed) a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker not far away! I also got a nice photo of a particular White-throated Sparrow with an anomolous white wing feather that has been out back off and on recently. It is almost certainly the very same one that has visited us each winter going back two years!

Birds Montage 25 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird (M), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Carolina Chickadee, White-throated Sparrow, and Carolina Wren. (November 25)

Birding in and near Lexington

On Sunday, Jacqueline and I went on a day trip to Lexington, about 40 miles south of Staunton. Because of the heavy holiday traffic on I-81, we took Route 11 for almost the entire way in both directions. While approaching Steele's Tavern (east of Raphine), I spotted a hawk on a telephone wire, so I pulled over and was fortunate to get a very good photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk! We don't see that species very often, and that was a stroke of luck. We stopped briefly at McCormick's Mill, but there wasn't anything on the front pond, so we continued to Willow Lake, about a mile southwest. There we saw about a dozen Ruddy Ducks and perhaps six Ring-necked Ducks, plus the usual Canada Geese. Late in the afternoon, I photographed a Rock Pigeon in the parking lot of Devil's Backbone Brewery.

Birds Montage 26 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, Ruddy Duck, Rock Pigeon, Ring-necked Ducks (M), Northern Cardinal (F). (November 26)

NOTE: The photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

November 15, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Catching up: birding in October

Exactly one week after my October 14 field trip to Chimney Hollow (see October 19) was the pickup day for the Augusta Bird Club's annual seed sale, and I helped out a bit. While delivering bird seed bags to a house west of Spring Hill, I spotted a group of ten or so Wild Turkeys in a field next to the road, so I stopped to take some quick photos. Just in time for the Thanksgiving season! Back at the pickup location at the Augusta County government complex in Verona, there were some noisy Killdeers, and I was able to approach them closely enough for a nice photo. On my way home, I spotted a Great Blue Heron at the beaver pond on the north end of Bell's Lane, and further along got a nice closeup photo of a Palm Warbler.

Birds Montage 21 Oct 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Palm Warbler, Killdeers, Wild Turkeys, Great Blue Heron. (October 21)

One week later, on October 28, I returned to Bell's Lane, and there must have been a dozen or more Yellow-rumped Warblers, along with numerous Bluebirds and a few Palm Warblers. Lighting conditions were mixed, so the photos weren't that great. At the beaver pond there was a Killdeer just 20 or so feet away from a beaver!

Birds Montage 28 Oct 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Palm Warbler, American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Killdeer. (October 28)

On October 30 (Monday), I went to Stuarts Draft in search of a Baird's Sandpiper that was reported at the Target pond, but it wasn't there. So, I went to the nearby Shenandoah Wetland Bank (a nature preserve closed to the public) and peered across the gate. There I saw several sparrows and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, as well as a Downy Woodpecker. Then I proceeded a couple miles to the southeast, to the Big Levels area in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. It was quieter than I had hoped, but all of a sudden I came upon a huge flock (300+) of Common Grackles, gathered around a gravel track in the middle of the woods. I was surprised to see that species at all, much less in such an unusual (for them) habitat. I think of Grackles as being birds of the open fields. Lighting conditions were perfect for seeing the iridescent hues in their otherwise-black feathers. Then I took a short hike up to the Coles Run Reservoir Dam, and saw a Hermit Thrush along the way, my first one of the season. There wasn't much else up at the dam, however.

Birds Montage 30 Oct 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (F), White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Common Grackle, Downy Woodpecker. (October 30)

NOTE: The photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

Bird list page updated

I updated the Wild Birds species list page (which shows one photo of each species that I have photographed) with a new montage to make it easier to jump to the various groups of birds, just by clicking on the "representative" bird in the composite image. (Note that some groups artificially lump together birds that happen to be found next to each other in the American Ornithological Union's standard classification, but which aren't necessarily closely related.) The old scrolling menu (slightly modified to conform to the new montage) appears just above that montage, which may be revised and updated at some time in the future.

Montage Bird groups


ROW ONE: Mallard, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Spotted Sandpiper

ROW TWO: Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Burrowing Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Pileated Woodpecker

ROW THREE: Willow Flycatcher, Blue Jay, Barn Swallow, Tufted Titmouse, Wood Thrush

ROW FOUR: Black-throated Green Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, American Goldfinch

November 14, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Heartbreaker: R.I.P. Tom Petty (1950 - 2017)

The sad and shocking news last month about Tom Petty's sudden and unexpected passing is one more in a string of deaths of old-time rock and rollers. Like most people, I had no idea he was ailing, and I came to appreciate his contributions to rock music much more after he passed from the scene. As the leader and creative force behind his group the Heartbreakers, Petty carried the rock tradition forward at a time (late 1970s through the 1980s) when hostile forces such as disco music or copy-cat big hair heavy metal bands threatened to sink it.

Petty died on October 1 after suffering a heart attack while at his home in Malibu. He had just done a concert at the Hollywood Bowl on September 25, and his 67th birthday was just three weeks away. Unbeknownst to most people, for several months he had been suffering from complications from a hairline fracture in his left hip, and was in considerable pain.

Petty grew up on the outskirts of Gainesville, Florida, and was playing in rock bands throughout his teen years. He met guitarist Mike Campbell, and they formed the group Mudcrutch, which released a single in 1974. A third member (keyboardist Benmont Tench) soon joined, and those three guys were the core of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers when it was formed two years later, and an album with that same title was released. In 1979, the album Damn the Torpedos was released, and the song "Refugee" became a huge hit. (That's when I first noticed Petty.)

During the early 1980s, Petty was on top of the world of rock, cranking out mega-hit after mega-hit. Among my favorites were "A Woman In Love," "I Won't Back Down," "Here Comes My Girl," and "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," a duet with Stevie Nicks which he and Mike Campbell co-wrote. (For some reason, "A Woman In Love" is not included on his greatest hits CD.) His jangly-sounding Rickenbacker guitar recalled the Byrds, while his snarling but direct voice was almost unique among rock musicians. He sang earnestly and plaintively of hard work and true love, in a way that few rock musicians do. His sincere and unpretentious approach to singing and song-crafting was more typical of country musicians. As Jim Sullivan at put it, "Petty drew from a reservoir of struggle, failure even, and ended up with declaratory celebrations."

As the Heartbreakers gradually became stale in the late 1980s, Petty reached out in a new direction. He got together with early rock crooner Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne (of the Electric Light Orchestra) to form the Traveling Wilburys. (A friend named Carlos gave me that album way back when, and I still have it.) In the 1990s, Petty's creativity and celebrity status both faded as he fell into heroin addiction. He finally kicked that habit with intensive medical treatment, including a blood transfusion.

I was always a fan of Tom Petty, but his passing has driven home just what an original and gifted musician he was. He was kind of scrawny, and didn't really look like a typical macho or brooding rock star. He was just an ordinary guy, but one who was filled with an extraordinarily strong sense of who he was. The November 2 Rolling Stone article by David Fricke drew attention to the mixture of light and dark themes embodied in his music. It was filled with warm words of praise for Petty from Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, and Bob Dylan, among other rock legends.

In his song "Into the Great Wide Open," there is a line about his "A & R man," so I Googled that phrase out of curiousity. According to, it means "Artists and Repertoire," the person in charge of recruiting talent and promoting their work.

More open mic nights

Since my last music blog post (September 27), I participated at three more open mic events at Queen City Brewing in Staunton. On October 6, I paid tribute to Tom Petty by playing five of his songs, most of which I had just learned in the few days since his sudden death. I had played "Refugee" there before, and I had learned "A Woman In Love" many years ago. My harmonica added a lot to both songs, and I got some warm applause.

  1. Refugee -- Tom Petty
  2. I Won't Back Down -- Tom Petty
  3. Into the Great Wide Open -- Tom Petty
  4. Mary Jane's Last Dance -- Tom Petty
  5. Till I Hear It From You -- Gin Blossoms
  6. Witchy Woman -- Eagles
  7. Harvest Moon -- Neil Young
  8. A Woman In Love -- Tom Petty
  9. More Than a Feeling -- Boston
  10. Standing On the Rock -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Last week (October 18), the weather was unseasonably warm, but the music was inside nevertheless. I continued playing Tom Petty songs:

  1. Here Comes My Girl -- Tom Petty
  2. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around -- Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty
  3. Follow You Down -- Gin Blossoms
  4. The Long Run -- Eagles
  5. My Favorite Mistake -- Sheryl Crow
  6. Just What I Needed -- The Cars
  7. If You Wanna Get to Heaven -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils

After repeated invitations to play at the Thursday night open mic event at Barrenridge Vineyards (hosted by Bill Harlow), I finally made it there the following night. (It was my third time playing there, the last being September 21.) It was the first time I had played inside there; the outside air was still very pleasant. I played:

  1. Here Comes My Girl -- Tom Petty
  2. Into the Great Wide Open -- Tom Petty
  3. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around -- Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty *
  4. Talkin' Baseball -- Terry Cashman
  5. Hotel California -- Eagles **
  6. We Can Work It Out -- Beatles

* For "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," I was accompanied by Lisa Humphries Newhall, who did the female vocal parts. It sounded a lot better than when I do it solo. ** On "Hotel California" I had an equipment malfunction (the harmonica holder slipped), which threw me completely off track during the final part of the song with the lead guitars. I played "We Can Work It Out" in the key of E rather than the original D, which is better for my limited vocal range. (When I played it before, I could barely reach some of the low notes.)

Andrew at Barrenridge 19 Oct 2017

Yours truly, playing at Barrenridge Vineyards on October 19. [Photo by Bill Harlow.]

Back at Queen City Brewing on October 25, there was a much bigger lineup of musicians than usual, with Danny Parker, Kimball Swanson, Dianne Byrer, me, Melissa Hudson, John Dull, Pasquale (Patrick) Dimeo, and percussionist Craig Austin. The crowd was good-sized as well. With a nearly-full slate, we each only got to do a single "encore" song. I played:

  1. I Should Have Known Better -- Beatles
  2. You Won't See Me -- Beatles
  3. I Won't Back Down -- Tom Petty
  4. Us and Them -- Pink Floyd

I mentioned that "You Won't See Me" was in part a tribute to Fritz Horisk, who plays that one exceptionally well. Afterwards, he showed me how he does a particular part of that song. The latter two songs I had played in recent months, and they sounded pretty good.

After skipping a week (due to World Series Game 7!), I returned to Queen City Brewing last Wednesday night (November 8), but this time it was just Fritz, Craig Austin (percussion), me, and a new guy. The empty lines in the sign-up sheet meant that we each got to do nine songs! The weather was cold and rainy, reducing the crowd size as well. I started off by playing a song about the recent election day, just as I had done a year before. The songs after that were relatively "normal":

  1. Elected -- Alice Cooper
  2. Fly Away Home -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
  3. It's How You Think -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
  4. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around -- Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty *
  5. Noah -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
  6. You Know Like I Know -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
  7. Centerfield -- John Fogerty
  8. Leatherwood -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
  9. Better Left Unsaid -- Andrew Clem

* For "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," I was accompanied once again by Lisa Humphries Newhall. (We also did that one at Barrenridge on October 19.) Not used to performing in a duet, I had trouble singing in the right key.

I'm pretty sure I set a record for the most number of songs I played on one occasion by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils: five!

Next show: this Friday!

I'll be playing yet another show at Bedlam Brewing this coming Friday evening, and in preparation for that, I have been practicing some old songs I haven't done in a while. Songs by Tom Petty (of course) and Pink Floyd will be featured, along with other songs I've done there before as well as a few new ones.


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What's this about?

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

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

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

My blog practices

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

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  7. Canaries ("Home birds")
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* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007

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

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



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