August 6, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Summertime travel highlights
Summer is not over yet, but with the fall semester and school rapidly approaching, it might as well be. I had hoped to travel to South Dakota this summer, but scheduling conflicts (and my own indecisiveness) prevented that from taking place. As with my previous travel-related blog post (May 16), most of what follows are mere short-distance excursions, with the notable exception of Virginia Beach.
On June 2 (a Sunday), Jacqueline and I went on a casual drive to Goshen Pass for a picnic. We drove past Augusta Springs on Route 254 but didn't stop there. We did make a brief pause at the old bridge over the Maury River in the town of Goshen, and a bit later an unscheduled brief walk across a suspension foot bridge that I had never seen before. Apparently it's a favorite fun spot for local folks. Just a few miles after that we arrived at our destination, and I was surprised that relatively few people were there, given the beautiful weather. I was afraid that all the picnic tables might be taken already, but there were plenty available.
Maury River at Goshen Pass (June 2)
As noted in my July 9 birding blog post, I made several trips to the Hearthstone Lake (in northern Augusta County) area this summer, as part of a bird breeding survey. After one such outing on June 17 (solo) I stopped afterward in the nearby village of Stokesville, which was largely destroyed by a flood in 1949. For years I had been trying to capture a suitable photograph of the iconic bridge there, and at last I found the perfect vantage point to do so: along the river underneath it!
Stokesville bridge (June 17)
Exactly one week later (June 23), I was joined by three Augusta Bird Club members on another visit there, during which we saw the construction activity at the Hearthstone Dam. (It was a Saturday, so no workers were there.) I look forward to seeing the lake itself once the construction has been completed, hopefully this fall.
Hearthstone Dam construction (June 23)
Early on July 13 Jacqueline and I drove to Virginia Beach, as mentioned in my recent birding blog post (Aug. 2). After a five-plus hour drive, we arrived in the early afternoon, and had a picnic at First Landing State Park, where we made further plans. It turns out that there is excllent access to the beach there, so we only spent a short time driving through the high-rise seafront district of Virginia Beach, stopping to buy souvenirs and that's about it. Our previous visit to Virginia Beach was in November 2014, but I never wrote a blog post per se about it; you can see several photos at my Chronological (2014) photo gallery page.
The boardwalk between the visitors center and the beach at First Landing State Park. (July 13)
In the evening we had a great dinner at Croakers Neighborhood Grill (near Pleasure House Point Natural Area; see below), after which I watched the Nationals-Phillies game on TV at the Red Roof Inn. On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at Waffle House and then went to the Pleasure House Point Natural Area, which features sandy trails and lots of Loblolly Pine trees that surround a picturesque pond. (It was there that I saw a Blue Grosbeak and some Brown-headed Nuthatches.) We then headed to First Landing State Park, at which point Jacqueline went straight to the beach while I went birding along the inland swamp trail for a couple hours. I joined her about 11:00, and we stayed until about 12:30, soaking up the sun and taking a few more bird photos. It was just wonderful. Finally, we drove straight home to Staunton.
In the early morning light, a pond at Pleasure House Point Natural Area reflects trees like a mirror. (July 14)
Our Nation's Capital
As recounted in a recent baseball blog post (July 29), I went up to Washington D.C. to see a Nationals baseball game on July 28, along with Matthew Poteat and his son Julian. We parked on the south side of the new soccer stadium (Audi Field) that was completed just over a year ago. It is located about two blocks southwest of Nationals Park, and looks very impressive. It is certainly a big improvement over RFK Stadium, where D.C. United played until the end of the 2018 season.
The northwest corner of Audi Field in Washington, home of the D.C. United soccer team.
The above photos, along with many others, can be seen on my Chronological (2019) photo gallery page.
August 5, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nats' slump continues in Arizona
The Washington Nationals' series in Arizona ended up exactly opposite of what had been expected: They won on the day when an emergency replacement pitcher was starting, and they lost on the days when two of their (usually) top-line pitchers were starting. After Joe Ross's disastrous outing against the L.A. Dodgers on July 27 (six earned runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 9-3 loss), his chances against the Arizona Diamondbacks last Friday seemed bleak. But somehow he rose to the challenge and only allowed one hit (and no runs) over 5 1/3 innings. The newly-reinforced Nats bullpen did not allow any further runs or hits, while Matt Adams hit a clutch 2-run single and Juan Soto hit a solo homer. Thus, the Nats won the series opener, 3-0. The Washington Post thinks Ross has earned a spot as the fifth man in the pitching rotation. With Max Scherzer still on the Injured List, that is of vital importance.
On Saturday, in contrast, Stephen Strasburg was pathetically ineffective, not at all the same guy who I saw pitch in Washington on July 28. The Nats scored twice in the first inning, but the Diamondbacks quickly tied it, and then they took a 3-2 lead in the second inning. The D-Backs kept piling on runs, and Strasburg was replaced before he could finish the fifth inning. in a desperation move, manager Dave Martinez had second baseman Gerardo Parra pitch in the eighth inning to save the precious, fragile arms in the bullpen. Parra gave up five runs without getting an out, after which Brian Dozier took the mound and soon gave up a home to Eduardo Escobar, his second of the night. Eventually Dozier got three outs. It was quite an embarrassment, and Anthony Rendon's three-run homer in the top of the ninth barely even mattered. Final score: D-Backs 18, Nats 7.
On Sunday, Patrick Corbin was pitching for the Nats, and somehow he could not get the job done. The Nats took a 2-0 lead in the second inning thanks to a two-run homer by Gerardo "Baby Shark" Parra, but the D-Backs came right back with three runs in the bottom of the inning. The Nats struggled to catch up and finally tied it 5-5 in the top of the sixth, and had the bases loaded with the pitcher up to bat. Much like in the game I saw a week earlier, when Stephen Strasburg hit a bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, I was amazed that Dave Martinez let Corbin bat rather than put in a pinch hitter. This time, it didn't work, as Corbin grounded into a force out to end the inning. Not only that (unlike Strasburg), he couldn't finish pitching the next half inning! It was a huge wasted opportunity that probably changed the outcome of the game, since Wander Suero (who relieved Corbin) gave up a two-run single. The score remained 7-5 until the end of the game.
Thus, as the Nats begin a three-game series against the Giants in San Francisco, they are are tied with the Phillies for second place in the NL East, seven games behind the Braves. For the first time since May 23 (when they hit "rock bottom"), the Nats have only won three of the past ten games. For the first time since May 8, moreover, they have lost three series in a row. Time will soon be a bitter enemy of the Nats, as each game becomes more and more essential to win.
August 2, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Hot, hot, hot: Birding in July
I wasn't quite as busy birding in July as I was in June, which is typical given the prevailing heat this time of year, but there were some memorable moments nonethless. (July last year was a very good month, birding-wise, an aberration.) On July 2 I went first to Bell's Lane, but only caught brief glimpses of my main target bird, the Orchard Oriole. There were plenty of juvenile Tree Swallows there, and young Canada Geese over at Mill Place in Verona. In the morning on Independence Day, Bell's Lane was alive with the sound of bird music; I had an excellent view of a Brown Thrasher and saw at least two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers close by, as well as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a male Indigo Bunting with mixed blue and gray feathers, presumably a first year bird. I also saw an oriole nest hanging directly above the road, but there was no sign of occupancy.
On Saturday, July 6 I went for a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the first time I had been their since the Augusta Bird Club picnic on June 1. I stopped at some of the usual hot spots and saw or heard most of the regulars such as a Blue-headed Vireo and Hooded Warblers, but no Cerulean Warblers or Chestnut-sided Warblers. The only real surprise was seeing a Rock Pigeon perched on a rock outcrop at the Ravens Roost overlook. It was banded, which I thought was odd. The next day on Bell's Lane I had my best view of a Green Heron all year; it was at the beaver "pond" (which is now just a stream again) west of the road. On Route 11 near the intersection with N. Augusta Street I had a great view of Turkey Vulture. Just before I left I had a nice view of a Field Sparrow. There were no Yellow Warblers, however, and I had only a brief view of some (probable) Orchard Orioles.
Green Heron on Bell's Lane -- July 7, 2019.
Hearthstone Lake again?
On July 12 I made yet another trip (my sixth!) to the Hearthstone Lake area as part of the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. Once again, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was perched on top of the very same dead branch. I parked at the gate where Tillman Road is closed due to dam reconstruction. Wanting to cover as much of the Reddish Knob SE "priority block" as possible, I hiked (solo) to the top of Narrowback Mountain, a north-south ridge that rises about 500 feet, east of the lake. It was unfamiliar territory, and I enjoyed the "adventure." I had made a map based on the official VABBA map, adding details about the trails based on the excellent map at the kiosk at the northern edge of the George Washington National Forest. I wasn't careful enough, however, so I got confused about my exact location as I reached the top. Fortunately, that was where cell phone service returned, and I was was able to pinpoint where I was. The return trail wasn't where I expected it, so I ended up going about two miles more than I had planned, roughly 6-7 miles total. Along the way, I saw several families with young ones learning to get around and forage; pictured here are a juvenile Ovenbird and a juvenile Eastern Phoebe. At the top of the ridge I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler and heard a couple others; they were absent from the lowlands. I also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo up there. On my way out, I had a brief excellent look at a female Blackburnian Warbler, but couldn't get a photo.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-throated Green Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Eatern Phoebe (J), Chipping Sparrow, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird (J), and in center, Scarlet Tanager -- July 12, 2019.
The very next day (July 13), Jacqueline and I drove down to Virginia Beach, where we spent a pleasant, relaxing weekend by the seashore. Of course, I managed to squeeze in a little birding time. On Saturday afternoon we had a picnic lunch at First Landing State Park, and stopped at the trail center by the cypress grove, where we saw Great Crested Flycatchers and various woodpeckers. Then we drove through downtown Virginia Beach, where I got my very first photo of a Laughing Gull in breeding plumage, with the black head.
Laughing Gull, downtown Virginia Beach, July 13, 2019.
Early on Sunday we spent about 45 minutes at Pleasure House Natural Area, which has a network of sandy trails that follow the edge of a lagoon that looked beautiful in the morning light. I saw a Pine Warbler and an offspring that was about to devour a caterpillar. I also heard a strange song that reminded me of a Mourning Warbler, and after tracking the bird down, discovered to my surprise that it was a Blue Grosbeak! On our way out, I heard some squeaks like a rubber toy would make, and in some pine trees, soon spotted four Brown-headed Nuthatches!! Their range is restricted to the Atlantic coast, and I had not seen one since our last visit to that area in November 2014. At First Landing State Park, there were several Osprey nests, a family of Great Crested Flycatchers, a family of Great Blue Herons, a young Red-headed Woodpecker, and just before I turned back to leave, I was amazed to see a Yellow-crowned Night Heron -- my 505th life bird!!! At the beach, we saw 100+ Brown Pelicans perched on wood poles, as well as several Great Black-backed Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, etc. We left early in the afternoon to get home before dark. In sum, it was a wonderful weekend.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warblers (J & A), Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Osprey, Brown Pelican, Great Black-backed Gull, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and in center, Great Crested Flycatcher. At Pleasure House Natural Area and First Landing State Park -- July 14, 2019.
Roll mouse over for a better view of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
Hearthstone Lake # 7
On July 20 Dan Perkuchin, Ann Cline, and Penny Warren joined me for one last (?) VABBA-related visit to the Hearthstone Lake area. There was one trail that had not been covered at all, so that was our first priority. We also needed to get additional documentation on breeding activity for certain species where breeding was not confirmed. It was very busy at most of the stops early on, gradually slowing down as the heat rose. At various points along Tillman Road, we saw families (adults and juveniles) of Blue-headed Vireos, Indigo Buntings, Pine Warblers, Hooded Warblers, and Ovenbirds north of Hearthstone Lake today. The subsequent visit to the Reddish Knob area was a bit disappointing, with few birds other than Juncos, and no warblers up there at all.
Two days later I took advantage of the mild temperatures by visiting Bell's Lane in the morning, and had some nice surprises. I just missed getting a shot of a Green Heron flying past, but then a Great Egret flew over! They don't breed in this region, but many such water-dwelling birds scatter to inland states after breeding season ends in mid-summer. A few minutes later I had a great look at a Ruby-throated Hummingbird shining in the sun. They love honeysuckles! Late in the afternoon, I heard a Great Crested Flycatcher out back, and managed to get a photo of it as well.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Egret, Gray Catbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown Thrasher, American Goldfinch, and in center, Eastern Meadowlark -- July 22, 2019.
Etc., etc., etc.
July 25 was a beautiful day, sunny but not too hot, and I was determined to enjoy it fully. I had to do some things in Weyers Cave, so I stopped at Bell's Lane once again on the way up, where I had had nice views of American Goldfinches and a Cedar Waxwing. Later at Leonard's Pond (a few miles north of Weyers Cave) I saw two Red-tailed Hawks up above, as well as some Killdeers, a Solitary Sandpiper, an Eastern Kingbird, and to my great surprise, a Blue Grosbeak! The only photo of it I could get I could was rather poor, however.
Finally, on Saturday, July 27 I went hiking along the Dowell's Draft trail (in western Augusta County) for the first time since April 20. Soon after I started I was pleased to see a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but otherwise there wasn't much bird activity along the western part of the trail. After the clear-cut area where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction work has been suspended, I saw a family of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, including a young one begging for food. But the big surprise of the day was a Red-breasted Nuthatch that I heard. I played its call on my iPhone, and it responded by coming very close! I got some very good photos of it, marred only by the imperfect lighting conditions. Later on, I heard another one at nearby Braley Pond. I was disappointed not to see any Prairie Warblers or Northern Parulas, both of which I had seen in April and in July last year. Finally, at Chimney Hollow trail (also in the same area) I heard some Acadian Flycatchers and saw one, and saw a Scarlet Tanager as well. The main photographic attraction on that trail was an amazing variety of mushrooms. Not a bad day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (J), and in center, Red-eyed Vireo -- July 27, 2019.
Roll mouse over for a better view of the Red-breasted Nuthatch.
As always, many more photos are on the Wild Birds yearly page.
August 1, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nationals fall short vs. Braves
The Washington Nationals had a golden opportunity to gain at least some ground on the Atlanta Braves in the race for the National League division title this week, but they just couldn't "get 'er done." In Monday's game, the Nats' #3 pitcher, Patrick Corbin, was up against Dallas Keuchel, the mega-star recently acquired as a free agent by the Braves. The Nats took an early 2-0 lead, but the Braves came back and tied it in the sixth inning. In the bottom of the inning, with the bases loaded and on a 2-0 count, Anthony Rendon calmly smashed the ball way up into the left field seats for his third career grand slam. He is simply amazing with his methodical approach at the plate, smacking balls every which way. That gave the Nats a 6-2 lead, and the only additional score was when Charlie Culberson hit a solo homer off Sean Doolittle in the ninth inning. Otherwise, the bullpen did their job efficiently and without angst, for a change.
On Tuesday the Nats were in a bind, since Max Scherzer went back on the Injured List, so Erick Fedde was given starting pitching duties. He did OK at first, and got out of a jam in the second inning (giving up just one run), but things fell to pieces in the third inning when the Braves scored four more. Since the manager Dave Martinez was determined to give his bullpen a rest, he kept Fedde in for another inning, and the Braves scored four more runs. Javy Guerra then came in as a reliever, remaining through the seventh inning, when the Braves scored two more runs. That made the score 11-1, but then the Nationals staged a comeback with seven runs in the last three innings, yielding a more respectable final score: 11-8.
That left the outcome of the series up to the series finale on Wednesday, and with Anibal Sanchez on the mound, the Nats seemed to stand a very good chance of prevailing. He got out of a jam in the second inning, only allowing one run, and when Juan Soto tied the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning, the Nats' prospects seemed bright. But the Braves kept chipping away, and had a 4-1 lead after six innings. [Perhaps the decisive play in the game was in the bottom of the sixth, when Trea Turner doubled to the left-center gap. Howie Kenrick, who had just walked, was waved home by the third base coach Bob Henley, and was tagged out by at least five feet. With nobody out, that seems like a dumb move by the coach. Turner never scored either. In the eighth inning Matt Adams (who had rested two days after getting hit in the foot by a pitch on Sunday) hit a solo homer to right field, which was a big psychological lift.] In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats loaded the bases with no outs, and Kurt Suzuki came through with a clutch single to make it a one-run game. Gerardo Parra then grounded into a double play, tying the game, and Brian Dozier struck out, sending it into extras. In the top of the tenth Nats' closer Sean Doolittle gave up a home run to Josh Donaldson, a crushing blow. The Nats got two runners on base with one out in the bottom of the tenth, but neither Adam Eaton nor Anthony Rendon could get them home, so the Braves won it, 5-4.
That put the Nationals 6 1/2 games behind the Braves, and only 1/2 game ahead of the Phillies in the NL East. [The Nats went 15-10 for the month of July (see the Washington Nationals page), losing five of the last seven games, so their win-loss record is now 57-51 (.528) as they head to Arizona and then San Francisco.]
Nats beef up bullpen
On the final day of the summer trading season, the Nationals acquired three pitchers: Hunter Strickland (Mariners, 8.10 ERA), Roenis Elias (Mariners, 4.40 ERA), and Daniel Hudson (Blue Jays, 3.00 ERA). Strickland's numbers aren't impressive, but he is remembered in Washington as the guy who "beaned" Bryce Harper in 2017, starting a big brawl between the Nats and the Giants. In October 2014, also with the Giants, he became the first MLB reliever in history to give up six home runs in a single postseason. It seems to me that those modest acquisitions will do little (!) to change the Nats' bullpen situation. Overall, there weren't many big transactions this week, the main exception being the Houston Astros getting ace pitcher Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
A few more photos
Here are some more photos from the game on Sunday that might be of interest.
Beyond the "Red Porch" and west parking garage at Nationals Park are new condominium buildings. The one on the left features small trees and a swimming pool [on the roof], while the one on the right is apparently in the final stages of preparation.
I later noticed in this photo of Walker Buehler walking toward the dugout after being replaced in the sixth, that none other than Clayton Kershaw was there.
Clayton Kershaw, in the dugout.
I noticed in some of the photos a tribute to recently-deceased Dodger Don Newcombe (see February 25) on the team's uniforms: the nickname "Newk" and the number 36 on their right sleeves.
With more and more accidents involving stray foul balls striking spectators in the lower decks of other stadiums, Nationals Park was one of the first ones to extend the protective netting most of the way down to the left and right field corners. It affects visibility only a little, and is on balance a positive development.
The recently-extended net down the first base line at Nationals Park.
From the position I was in, I couldn't get a good photo of Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo, the TV announcers for Nationals games, but I had better luck with the radio announcers:
Charlie Slowes (left) and Dave Jageler (right), radio announcers for the Nationals.
July 29, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nationals crush the Dodgers, avoid being swept
If there was one absolute must-win game for the Nationals this year, yesterday's series finale against the L.A. Dodgers was it. Having lost the first two games of the series (see below), the Nats desperately needed to avoid losing a fourth consecutive game as the NL East division-leading Atlanta Braves headed to Washington. The daunting challenge weighed heavily on my mind as I drove north and east toward Washington yesterday morning, but I was confident that with Stephen Strasburg as the starting pitcher, the Nationals had a very good chance of prevailing. I went for the first time with a friend named Matthew and his son Julian, and we parked on the south side of Audi Field, which opened as the new home of the D.C. United soccer team about a year ago. (I previously saw it in the latter stages of construction.)
Since the temperatures were expected to reach the mid-90s, we chose seats based on proximity and shade: the back of the second deck on the first base side. The location suited us fine, but I forgot about the restricted visibility. Indeed, we missed seeing a couple extra-base hits into the right field corner. I noticed that they are adding an extra level to the roofs on top of the parking garages (right center in the photo below), which will probably further reduce the view of the Washington skyline. The new condo buildings across N Street from those parking garages are open.
Nationals Park, in all its glory, during the first inning. (All photos in this blog post are from the Nationals-Dodgers game on July 28, 2019.)
Stephen Strasburg got off to a great start, striking out the first two batters and inducing a groundout by the third batter. The bottom of the first inning featured a dramatic moment in which Adam Eaton (the second batter) struck out and then complained to the umpire about the called second strike, which should have been ball four, and was promptly ejected from the game. Manager Dave Martinez then voiced his objection to the umpire, and he was ejected from the game as well! That probably helped boost the team's fighting spirit.
Adam Eaton walks away after striking out and being ejected from the game in the first inning, while Dave Martinez objects to the umps. He was ejected as well.
Neither team scored during the first four innings, and the Nats recorded the only two hits. In fact, Strasburg had a perfect game going until the fifth inning, when A.J. Pollock smashed a double into the left field corner. He later scored. But the Nationals bounced right back to take the lead in the bottom of the inning, with a hit by Gerardo Parra and a home run over the scoreboard in right field by Brian Dozier. [Each time Parra came up to bat, they played his theme song, the cute but intensely annoying "Baby Shark."] An inning later the Nationals unleashed a four-run rally on three singles, two walks, and an errant throw to home plate by the first baseman, Joc Pederson. I was amazed that Dave Martinez let Strasburg bat rather than put in a pinch hitter, since his pitch count was almost as high as the temperature -- in the nineties. But Strasburg hit an RBI single, validating the decision. The Nats scored four more runs in the eighth inning, giving them a ten-run lead, but the Dodgers made a token comeback in the ninth inning. Relief pitcher Michael Blazek gave up two walks, got two outs, and then a home run to Corey Seager. That made the final score slightly less lopsided: 11-4. In short, it was a wonderful afternoon of baseball in Our Nation's Capital.
Coincidentally, both starters threw exactly 100 pitches, but that is where the similarity ended. Strasburg got nine strikeouts [with no walks and just two hits] over seven innings, whereas Buehler struck out just three batters over five and a third innings. It's worth pointing out that Stephen Strasburg's superlative performance on the mound and in the batter's box yesterday was strikingly similar to the July 18 game, in which the Nats beat the Braves by the very same score: 11 to 4! It provides a nice margin of safety for the Nationals as their ace pitcher Max Scherzer deals with a lingering tight back.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Anthony Rendon hits an RBI single in the fifth inning; Stephen Strasburg throws his 100th and final pitch to Will Smith (who flew out) in the seventh inning; "Screech" celebrates the Nationals' 56th win of the year; Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, and Cody Bellinger converge on a "Texas League" base hit by Anthony Rendon in the sixth inning; and Juan Soto "rehearses" (in the fourth inning) a home run that he would later hit (in the eighth inning).
I managed to get photos of a few of the new Nationals players, as well as Matt Adams, who played with the Nats for much of last year but was traded away before the game I saw in September. Miniature photos of them are now shown on the Washington Nationals page. I didn't get photos of others who did not play, however: Yan Gomes, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, or Fernando Rodney. And since Manager Dave Martinez was ejected early in the game, I never got a good photo of him.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Brian Dozier, Stephen Strasburg, Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Will Smith, Matt Adams, and Gerardo Parra.
Since the Atlanta Braves lost to the Phillies on Sunday, the Nationals regained one of the two games they had lost in the NL East standings, and are now 5 1/2 games in back.
On our way out of Nationals Park, I noticed a primitive-looking sign for a new craft brewery: Bardo's Beer Garden. Since it is located under the Frederick Douglass bridge, I assume the name Bardo is a play on the name of French actress Brigitte Bardeaux.
The first two games
In the first game of the series (mentioned in my Friday blog post), the Nats rallied to tie in the seventh inning and almost took the lead. But the Dodgers came right back in the eighth inning, as Justin Turner hit a three-run homer off Kyle Barraclough, who had just recently returned to the active roster and was obviously not ready for prime time. Another managerial goof by Dave Martinez, I'd say. The Nats rallied in the ninth inning, but still lost, -2. [CORRECTED]
The outcome of Saturday's game almost seemed like a foregone conclusion, as relief pitcher Matt Grace took the mound as a starter for just the second time in his career, [facing the legendary Clayton Kershaw]. To my amazement, he went two innings without allowing any batter to reach base. But for some strange reason, Dave Martinez replaced him with Joe Ross in the third inning, and all hell broke loose. The first batter he faced, young catcher Will Smith (not the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"), hit a solo home run, and three more Dodger runs scored in the fourth inning. Smith ended up with six RBIs in that game, almost single-handedly winning it for the Dodgers. Final score: L.A. 9, D.C. 3.
July 26, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nats almost sweep the Rockies
The Colorado Rockies came to Washington on Monday to face an amped-up Nationals team that was hungry for even more victories. Unfortunately, the game was postponed because of forecast rain that -- as far as I know -- did not actually take place. This scheduling change put added pressure on the Nationals' roster and may have ended up costing them a game. The Rockies boast an impressive lineup of hitters, most notably their All-Star third baseman, Nolan Arenado. They also include two former Nationals: Daniel Murphy, who signed as a free agent after being traded from the Nats to the Cubs one year ago, and Ian Desmond, who spent a few years with the Texas Rangers. But the Rockies lack pitching (as a team they're tied with the Orioles for the highest ERA in the majors), and that was evident in the first game of the series on Tuesday.
In the Tuesday game, Trea Turner led off with a home run, and Adam Eaton also scored later in the [first] inning. In the second inning [Turner] hit an infield single, and in the fifth inning he hit a leadoff triple, but in neither case did those hits result in any scoring. In the seventh inning, when the Nationals staged an eight-run rally (!!), he hit an RBI double, thus completing the "cycle" for the second time in his career. (The first time was April 25, 2017; see the Washington Nationals page.) By amazing coincidence, [Turner's] previous cycle was also against the Colorado Rockies, but it took place in Coors Field. (Would that qualify as "recycling"? ) Stephen Strasburg pitched six scoreless innings and got his National League-leading 13th win of the year. Final score: Nats 11, Rockies 1.
In the first of two games on Wednesday, Erick Fedde only lasted four innings on the mound even though he had a low pitch count (79) and only gave up one run. Solo home runs by Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon tied the game and took the lead, respectively, as the Nats held on to win, 3-2. In the nightcap game, Patrick Corbin had a scoreless six-inning outing, while the Nats took advantage of an error to score a run in the fourth inning. Yan Gomes added an insurance run with a homer in the seventh inning, and the Nats won again, 2-0.
The final game of the series on Thursday was much different. Max Scherzer was pitching for the first time since the All Star break, needing to rest a strained back muscle. He was doing fine until the fourth inning when -- you guessed it -- he gave up a home run with two runners on base. He stayed in through the fifth inning, and would have been exposed to a potential loss had it not been for a three-run homer by Anthony Rendon, tying the game. In the top of the sixth, Matt Grace lobbed an easy pitch to Ryan McMahon, who hit a two-run homer to retake the lead. But in the bottom of the inning, Gerardo Parra tied the game once again with a two-run double. Trea Turner then batted him in to give the Nats the lead. One inning later, a solo homer by Matt Adams gave the Nats a valuable insurance run. But an inning after that (the eighth) the former National Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer, and in the top of the ninth, another former National, Ian Desmond, did the same thing to tie the game. The Nats' bullpen was worn out and depleted, and manager Dave Martinez decided to let Fernando Rodney pitch even though he had pitched in both games on Wednesday, just like closer Sean Doolittle. Rodney obviously didn't have it, and the Rockies took advantage. Thus, the Nats blew a perfect opportunity to sweep the Rockies and draw to within 3 1/2 games of the first-place Braves. (Does that scenario sound familiar?) Final score: Rockies 8, Nats 7.
Tonight the Nationals welcome the defending National League Champion L.A. Dodgers to Our Nation's Capital, a potential preview of a postseason matchup, if things continue as they have been. The game underway right now is close (LAD 1, WSH 0) but seemed to be a mismatch as far as starting pitchers go: the Nats' Anibal Sanchez (6-6, 3.80 ERA) faces Hyun-Jin Ryu (11-2, 1.71 ERA). Saturday bodes even worse for the Nats: it's Who Knows Who against Clayton Kershaw. Sunday's game offers the best hope for the Nats to win at least one game: Stephen Strasburg (13-4, 3.37 ERA) against Walker Buehler (9-1, 3.23 ERA). And barring some unforeseen contingency, I'll be there!
Stadium locations: all done!
I finished the Stadium locations page, adding map/diagrams for Montreal, Toronto, as well as Queens and Brooklyn, New York. The Queens map/diagram actually encompasses all of the current and past MLB stadiums in New York, since there isn't much else in Queens with which to compare the location of Citi Field and Shea Stadium, other than Arthur Ashe stadium, where the U.S. Open tennis tournament is played each September.
Abstracted map of [Queens and adjacent boroughs] of New York, showing where several stadiums are (or once were) located. Roll your mouse over the image to compare to the Brooklyn map/diagram.
Reorienting "The Murph"
Thanks to a tip from Angel Amezquita, I realized that I had the wrong compass orientation for Jack Murphy Stadium. Center field was not due north, as I apparently thought before, it was actually east-northeast. So, I corrected the directional compass for all the diagrams, but nothing else changed other than making the football gridirons with solid lines.
But wait, there's more! I have beefed up the "Coming Attractions" box on the right side of the baseball blog page, separating stadiums whose diagrams need to be updated from those I have not done at all. It also shows the remaining "site today" diagrams, and indicates that the map/diagrams are all completed. Once I finish revisions to the remaining stadium diagrams in the next few weeks, I'll get started on long-deferred stadiums -- various stadiums where special MLB games have been played in recent years (most notably, London Stadium), as well as the "antique" wooden ballparks from the turn of the 20th Century, such as Washington Park III in Brooklyn. I just learned for the first time that Washington Park was totally rebuilt with a concrete and steel grandstand when the Brooklyn Federal League franchise was born in 1914. [As you can see in the Brooklyn map/diagram, Washington Park IV] looks almost identical to Weeghman Park, home of the Chicago Whales during their two years of existence, and which later became transformed into Wrigley Field.
July 22, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nationals conclude three-city road trip
The Washington Nationals entered the All-Star break with lots of momentum from their six-week hot streak (May 24 - July 7), but their subsequent road trip through Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Atlanta fell a bit short of expectations. The good news is that they went 5-4, but the bad news is that they failed to take advantage of the opportunity to gain ground on the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
No sweep in Philadelphia
Things got off to an excellent start as the Nats shut out Phillies in Philadelphia on Friday, July 12. Stephen Strasburg had to work around a few minor jams, but kept his cool and completed six innings unscathed. Victor Robles and Adam Eaton got clutch hits for the Nats, while the relief pitchers did their job in the 4-0 victory. On Saturday, Patrick Corbin gave up three runs to the Phillies over six innings, and the Nats were behind going into the ninth inning. That's when the awesome youngster Juan Soto knocked a two-run homer to give his team the lead and the win: 4-3. That ensured that the Nats would remain ahead of the third-place Phillies no matter the outcome of the Sunday game. Anibal Sanchez matched the performance of Corbin the day before (six innings pitched, three earned runs), and once again the Nats were behind in the latter innings. A pinch hit RBI by Howie Kendrick and another RBI single by Trea Turner in the seventh inning tied the game, 3-3. But in the bottom of the ninth, Matt Grace lobbed an easy pitch to Maikel Franco, who hit a solo walk-off home run to end the game. Thus, the Nats blew a perfect opportunity to sweep the Phillies.
Bad bullpens in Baltimore
After that brief "hiccup," the Nationals had every reason to expect to win both games against their regional interleague rivals in Baltimore. The Orioles had just lost three of four games against the Tampa Bay Rays, barely clinging to a .300 winning percentage. Rookie Austin Voth started as pitcher for the Nats (in place of the ailing Max Scherzer), and he did surprisingly well: only one run given up over six innings. Home runs by Matt Adams and Juan Soto put the Nats on top, and rallies in each of the latter four innings ensured an easy Washington victory, 8-1. But the next night, the tables were turned as the Nats bullpen wasted a fine outing by starting pitcher Erick Fedde (six innings, one earned run). In the seventh inning, the Orioles scored three runs off Wander Suero, who later explained that he was mentally distracted by some kind of family or domestic problem. Too bad he didn't tell the manager. Javier Guerra and Matt Grace allowed five more Baltimore runs to score in the eighth inning, as the Orioles got their revenge by the lopsided score of 9-2.
Showdown in Atlanta
With the sour taste of a loss in their mouths, the Nationals had to catch a late flight to Atlanta for a pivotal four-game series against the Braves. Once again, Stephen Strasburg rose to the occasion on Thursday night (July 18) with a spectacular performance on the mound and in the batter's box. He led off the third inning with a single, sparking an eight-run rally that was capped when he hit a three-run home run that sailed over the bullpen in left field. Strasburg thus became only the fifth MLB pitcher in the last 50 years to get two hits in the same inning, with one of them being a homer. Believe it or not!!! Final score: Nats 13, Braves 4. The next evening Patrick Corbin only made it through five innings, and would have been tagged with a loss were it not for some incredible heroics in the ninth inning. With two outs and facing a two-run deficit, Ryan Zimmerman hit a single and Victor Robles hit a bomb home run that tied the game, 3-3. Dance party in the Nats dugout! But manager Dave Martinez faced a bullpen dilemma in the bottom of the ninth inning: put closing pitcher Sean Doolittle on the mound in hopes of getting to the tenth inning a taking the lead, or have Fernando Rodney pitch for a second inning. (He's 42 and hadn't pitched two full innings for several years.) Obviously, he wasn't up to that challenge as he quickly loaded the bases and gave up an RBI single to end the game, 4-3 in the Braves' favor. Disheartening as that was, it didn't affect the way the Nats played on Saturday. Anibal Sanchez went toe-to-toe against the young phenom pitcher Mike Soroka, and came out ahead. Matt Adams homered, and Adam Eaton went three for five as the Nats won it, 5-3. That was only Soroka's second loss of the whole year; he's 10-2. On Sunday the Nats were in a predicament because Max Scherzer was still not available to pitch, and for some reason Martinez went with Joe Ross, who was called up from the minors. Ross has pitched with the Nationals for years, but has never quite gotten settled as a starting pitcher. Things looked bleak when he gave up two runs in the first inning, but then he composed himself and didn't give up any more runs until the sixth inning, when he was replaced. All in all, not bad. But the Nats' bats fell silent again, while the team's shaky bullpen gave up more runs in the late innings. A pinch hit RBI single by Gerardo Parra in the eighth inning was the only score by the Nationals. Final score: 7-1. Thus, the two rivals split the series two games apiece, and the Braves retained a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL East.
Back in Washington to begin a home stand, the Nationals prepared to welcome the Colorado Rockies to town tonight. The game was postponed because of forecast rain, even though there was no actual precipitation for at least an hour after the scheduled start time. That seems like another bad weather-related judgment call by the Nationals front office.
American League wins All Star Game
The American League team won the All Star Game at Cleveland's Progressive Field on Tuesday, July 9. It was the seventh year in a row that the AL prevailed in the Midsummer Classic. Most of the game was fairly subdued, with just one home run per team: Charlie Blackmon (COL) in the sixth inning and Joey Gallo (TEX) in the seventh inning. Final score: AL 4, NL 3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) took the loss as Michael Brantley (HOU) hit an RBI double in the second inning, and the AL remained ahead for the whole game. No Nationals players appeared on the roster this year: Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon both needed to let their sore bodies heal.
Attendance was a modest 36,747, probably the lowest of any All Star Game in many years. Seating capacity at Progressive Field dropped from 42,487 to 36,856 in 2015, as most of the upper-deck seats above right field and around the corner were replaced by a bunch of party decks. Beginning with 1988, the win-loss record in the Midsummer Classic is 27-6-1 in favor of the "Junior Circuit." I updated the Baseball chronology (annual) page accordingly.
Progressive Field thus became the first MLB stadium built since 1990 to have hosted the All Star Game more than once. When the ASG was held there in 1997, it was called "Jacobs Field." Four such stadiums have not yet hosted any All Star Games: Tropicana Field (1990), Citizens Bank Park (2004), Yankee Stadium II (2009), and SunTrust Park (2017). Tropicana Field is frankly not an attractive enough venue to merit All Star consideration. Philadelphia had hosted the All Star Game in 1996 (in Veterans Stadium), relatively recently, while Bronx, New York had hosted the All Star Game in 2008 (in the original Yankee Stadium). Atlanta will presumably get an All Star game in brand-new SunTrust Park before long.
Home Run Derby 2019
For obvious reasons, I wasn't paying as much attention to the Home Run Derby as I did last year, when Our Nation's Capital was briefly delirious with joy over the triumph of a (then-) hometown hero. Ironically, Bryce Harper (who is now with the Philadelphia Phillies) was absent from the annual spectacle this year. (Rather embarassingly, Progressive Field was adorned with big banners showing (among others) Harper, who was widely expected to be an All Star before the 2019 season got underway.) Triple Crown candidate Christian Yelich chose not to compete and was replaced by Matt Chapman (OAK). Rookie phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR) prevailed over Joc Pederson (LAD) in a tense and memorable "swing-off" tie-breaker in the second round. He then went up against Pete Alonso (NYM) in the final round, falling just short, 23-22. Congratulations, Pete Alonso!
I must admit, I didn't even know who Pete Alonso was, even though the Nats have played against the Mets several times this year. This points out one of the main benefits yielded by the All Star Game (and the Home Run Derby): it give top performers, especially young ones, visibility on the national stage. Alonso, I have discovered, is right behind NL-leading Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger in the home run department, with 33. Not bad for a 21-year old rookie!
More stadium locations
I added map/diagrams for four more cities on the Stadium locations page: Phoenix, Denver, St. Petersburg, and Baltimore. I put extra effort into rendering the Denver Broncos' stadium, but I make no special claim to accuracy for football stadiums. I also added the locations of three additional football stadiums and two basketball arenas on the Atlanta map/diagram. I think it's more important to depict the location of stadiums that are near downtown and/or near other stadiums than it is to do so for stadiums in the far-out suburbs. Eventually I may reconsider how I handle far-apart stadiums in other cities such as Chicago and Miami. In any event, that completes the western U.S.A. and leaves only three cities in the east left to do: Montreal, Toronto, and New York -- with separate ones for Queens and Brooklyn.
July 9, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Busy, busy, busy: Birding in June
Apparently I was so busy birding in June that I didn't have time to blog about it! That was at least true for the first three weeks, as long as pleasant weather continued. Since then I've been getting caught up on other things. On the very first day of the month, I joined 30 or so other members of the Augusta Bird Club for our annual picnic brunch, held for the second year in a row at the Humpback Rocks picnic area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Crista Cabe and I led separate bird walks along nearby wooded trails, but we didn't see as many birds as we had hoped. At one point there was an Ovenbird with agitated behavior, usually a sign that it is guarding a nest nearby. We looked briefly, but didn't find any. Later we had a nice view of a Black-and-white Warbler, but it was hard to get a good photo of the little speedster. The real highlight, however, came on the way home when I stopped at an "overlook" (where the trees have grown so tall that the view is gone), and got some pretty good photos of a Cerulean Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cerulean Warbler (M), Eastern Phoebe, Scarlet Tanager (M), American Redstart (adult male), Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting (M), Black-and-white Warbler (M), and American Redstart (female); near the Humpback Rocks picnic area and along the Blue Ridge Parkway on June 1.
Hearthstone Lake II & III
In preparation for a field trip (see below), I made a preliminary "scouting" visit to the north side of Hearthstone Lake on June 4, following up on my initial visit to the south side on May 18. (See May 31.) I took special care to map the limits of the block as accurately as possible. Most of the highlights were to be expected: Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo (close!), Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Acadian Flycatcher, and Red-eyed Vireos. On the way back I stopped at nearby Hone Quarry, which was mistake because the road was so full of potholes (presumably due to the floods of last year) that I was afraid my car would get damaged. I saw an American Redstart for the first time that day, but otherwise the effort getting there did not pay off.
(On June 6 I went for a short walk around Betsy Bell Hill, and saw an Eastern Towhee, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and a Wood Thrush, but my photos weren't particularly good.)
As part of the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA-2) survey, on Saturday, June 8 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the north side of the Hearthstone Lake area for the first time. The weather forecast was bleak, however, and only three other members showed up: Dan Perkuchin, Ann Cline, and Roz Holt. It was overcast but at least it didn't rain until almost the end of our trip. Our first major stop was at the intersection of Tillman Road and Sand Spring Mountain Trail, at the northern edge of the Reddish Knob SE block. (For VABBA, the entire state of Virginia is divided into rectangular "blocks," some of which are designated as "priority blocks.") A bit south of there we saw a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched at the top of the very same bare tree branch it had been four days earlier. We also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (again), but didn't see it this time. The biggest surprise of the day was hearing and eventually seeing a Red-breasted Nuthatch. With poor lighting conditions, however, the photos were rather mediocre. We also saw a Pine Warbler that was carrying food (an indicator of probable breeding), and we heard others later on. At the nearby Narrowback trail head, we saw an Acadian Flycatcher. We heard several of them at various points further along Tillman Road, where we made two or three brief intermediate stops, and likewise there were Ovenbirds at multiple locations. One of the Hooded Warblers we saw was carrying food, and we also had brief views of Scarlet Tanagers (probable mated pair) and a Black-and-white Warbler. Other birds that we heard only included Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos (fewer than expected), Blue-headed Vireos, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Wood Thrushes.
At our terminal stopping point near the Hearthstone Lake dam construction site (road closed!), we saw two Bald Eagles, one an apparent mature adult and the other either a second- or third-year bird. I listened for the American Woodcocks which I had seen near there on May 18, to no avail. On our way out of the area, we paused to take a look at an Eastern Phoebe at a stream crossing, and noticed three Cedar Waxwings bathing. We ended our visit to the Hearthstone Lake area with 26 species total. Many thanks to Dan Perkuchin for keeping close track of our observations.
Afterwards we drove up to Reddish Knob, only about seven miles to the west-northwest as the crow flies, but more like 15 miles along the roads, as the human drives. Approaching the mountain crest we saw a Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warblers, an Eastern Towhee, and a Common Yellowthroat at close range. To my great annoyance, my camera battery ran out, and I missed some great photo ops. Near the summit, we finally heard a Black-throated Green Warbler and saw some Dark-eyed Juncos. At the summit, we saw an Chestnut-sided Warbler and I managed to take a couple photos with limited battery power. At the ridgecrest crossroads on the way back down we saw an American Redstart (oddly absent from the Hearthstone Lake area), but we didn't get any of the hoped-for Black-throated Blue Warblers or Red Crossbills.
One final oddity to cap off a very successful outing was a flock of 20 or so mostly white doves in a grassy field along Rt. 257 on the way back to Briery Branch. Released from a wedding, perhaps?
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Indigo Bunting (M), Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler (M), Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), Cedar Waxwings, Acadian Flycatcher, and (in center) Eastern Phoebe and Pine Warbler (M); June 8, 2019.
Ramsey's Draft & Shen. Mtn.
On June 12 Ann Cline and I went hiking at two separate but nearby locations on the western edge of Augusta County. We are both trying to get better photos of various uncommon (and elusive) neotropical migrants, especially warblers, and accomplishing that task requires more patience and determination than most non-photographers have. The first Road Hollow Trail, going about 3/4 mile up from Ramsey's Draft. We saw a nice mix of warblers, vireos, and flycatchers, and got some good photos. At the kiosk in the picnic area, we saw a pair of Eastern Phoebes and a nest. Nearby was a Brown-headed Cowbird, a species that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. Next we drove up to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain, spotted a couple Cedar Waxwings, and then hiked about a mile and a half south, to the. (I had led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to that location on May 24 last year.) Once again, we saw a nice variety of birds along the way. The weather was just perfect. Near the intersection with the Georgia Camp trail (where we turned back), we had some good looks at a Hooded Warbler and took some photos. On the way back I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco singing from a dead tree snag; they are very common in Virginia in the colder months, but we never hear them sing. They are only found at high elevations in Virginia during the summer. We met an interesting outdoorsman on the way back, and then saw a curious thing: a pair of Black-capped Chickadees clearing out wood chips from a broken tree trunk for a nest site, almost like what a woodpecker would do! While driving back on Route 250, we to stop and hike for a while on the Georgia Camp trail, which I had only visited once before. Not many birds were present, but toward the end we heard and then got a look at a Blackburnian Warbler: one of our main target birds!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, Dark-eyed Junco, Scarlet Tanager, Hooded Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting (F), and (center) Black-throated Green Warbler; at Ramsey's Draft and Shenandoah Mtn on June 12.
On June 15 Ann Cline and I went on sort of "makeup" field trip to Highland County, trying to recruit other folks who weren't able to be at the "official" field trip there led by Allen Larner on June 2. As it turned out, nobody else could make it that day either. We first stopped at John and Nancy Spahr's house in the village of New Hampden, getting tips on where to see various birds. At Lisa Hamilton's new house nearby we saw a Red-headed Woodpecker and a Phoebe gathering material to make a nest. Driving north along Wimer Mountain Road, we saw the expected Eastern Meadowlarks and a Bobolink. At the home of the late Margaret O'Bryan, we saw House Wrens, an Eastern Towhee, an Indigo Bunting, an American Kestrel, and at least two Chestnut-sided Warblers. After a while we finally heard and then briefly saw our main target bird: the Golden-winged Warbler! In fact, there were two of them briefly scuffling, and while Ann managed to get some decent photos of one of them, I never did. That was a disappointment, but at least I got some good looks at that striking bird. Next we headed west and saw even more Red-headed Woodpeckers, one of which was perched very nearby on a fence post! We had nice views of Cedar Waxwings, American Redstart, In the rhododendron forest along the stream, we saw another target bird: Canada Warbler. We saw three altogether, but couldn't get any good photos due to their speed and stealth. Finally, we drove farther west and saw a family of Dark-eyed Juncos as we approached the West Virginia state line. We stopped briefly at a brushy area where Mourning Warblers used to frequent, but struck out with that target species. We did at least hear a Veery while we were there. It was getting late (almost 2:30), so we then headed straight home.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Meadowlark, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Canada Warbler, Belted Kingfisher, American REdstart, Cedar Waxwing, and in center, Eastern Phoebe; all in Highland County on June 15.
Hearthstone Lake IV & V
Two days later, on June 17, I made a fourth trip to the Hearthstone Lake area, but only the second trip to the south side. My objective was to explore some of the trails that lead away from Tillman Road. I walked for about a half mile (one way) along a gravel road which eventually becomes Buck Mountain Trail, and saw a Pine Warbler, a Hooded Warbler, and a male Indigo Bunting that responded to the recorded songs I played on my iPhone with a wing-flapping mating ritual. That was surprising! I looked and listened for American Woodcocks once again, but not succeed. Next I hiked for about 3/4 mile (one way) along the Grooms Ridge Trail. I saw the usual Ovenbirds and Red-eyed Vireos, but not much else. Near the trail head I had a great view of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Returning south, I stopped at the Wild Oak trail head, and saw an Eastern Phoebe and a nest at a sign kiosk -- just like at Ramsey's Draft! On the way back I stopped in the village of Stokesville, mainly to take pictures of the old bridge there, but in so doing I came across a Red-eyed Vireo and got some excellent sunlit photos of it.
On Sunday, June 23rd, I led another Augusta Bird Club field trip to the north side of the Hearthstone Lake area, with Dan Perkuchin, Peter Van Acker, and Roz Holt. Unlike our previous field trip on June 8, this time we hiked along four separate side trails -- from 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile (one way) in and back each time, for a total of about 3 miles, plus another mile or so walking along Tillman Road. I was pleased to learn that those side trails were surprisingly well-maintained, and offered a nice variety of habitats, from shaded streams to semi-open meadows. The weather was almost perfect, and the scenery was beautiful.
Early on, we were excited to find a bulky nest inside a steel tube at a trail gate, but it turned out to be that of a relatively common Carolina Wren. No doubt the biggest thrill of the day was seeing (and photographing) a Blackburnian Warbler in the tree tops. It briefly skirmished with a presumed rival (or prospective mate?), behavior suggestive of breeding. At a stream crossing we saw an Eastern Phoebe at the same place as last time. Dan Perkuchin peeked under the culvert and found a nest there, just as expected, with at least two babies. Other signs of breeding included a pair of Indigo Buntings (male and female), and two pairs (male and female) of Scarlet Tanagers, the latter pair with two fledglings. Just like before, there were numerous Ovenbirds and Red-eyed Vireos, and several Acadian Flycatchers, Pine Warblers, Hooded Warblers, and Blue-headed Vireos at various locations. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was perched in the very same dead tree snag as it had been on the two previous visits! We also had a brief view of a Red-shouldered Hawk at the dam. Among the big "misses" that we had seen in that area previously but not this time were American Woodcocks, Bald Eagles, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
I owe thanks once again to Dan Perkuchin for compiling the eBird report, and to all three for helping out with the VABBA-2 project. I will try to arrange one or two more field trips to the Hearthstone Lake area in the near future.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: [Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting (F), Acadian Flycatcher, Pine Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager (F), Scarlet Tanager (M), and (center) Blackburnian Warbler;] north of Hearthstone Lake on June 23.
[Many more photos are on the Wild Birds yearly page.]
July 8, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Nationals almost sweep the Royals
The good vibes from the triumphant Fourth of July game in Washington carried over into the following series, as the Kansas City Royals came to town on Friday. Trea Turner hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first, followed by a single, a walk, and a double, but no more runs scored because Anthony Rendon grounded into a double play after Adam Eaton's single. Young Austin Voth was pitching again, and once again he lasted exactly 4 1/3 innings before he was replaced. Ryan Zimmerman hit three (3) doubles, the second of which (in the seventh inning) was his 1000th career run batted in. The third double came in the bottom of the ninth inning, bringing the Nats to within one run of the Royals (4-3). He then scored on a Brian Dozier single, and with nobody out, it looked like the Nationals were almost guaranteed a walkoff victory. But they choked and the game went into extra innings. They had another prime opportunity to win it in the tenth, but the rally fell flat. In the tenth inning, recently acquired relief pitcher Jonny Venters took the mound, and he loaded the bases with nobody out. Before you knew it, the Royals were ahead 7-4, and that was the final score. Major bummer.
On Saturday afternoon, Max Scherzer was pitching, and once again he threw every ounce of energy he had into that game. He went seven full innings and got 11 strikeouts, raising his season total to 181. (That's 11 more than Garrett Cole of the Astros, and 43 more than the next-highest National League pitcher(s); Stephen Strasburg and Jacob deGrom of the Mets.) [He even hit a single and stole second base!] Kurt Suzuki homered, and Juan Soto got two RBIs as the Nats prevailed, 6-0.
On Sunday, Patrick Corbin exactly matched what Max Scherzer had just done: 11 strikeouts over seven innings with no runs allowed. Unfortunately, the bullpen let him down, so he didn't get credit for the win. After Fernando Rodney gave up two hits in the top of the eighth inning, Sean Doolittle came in to replace him, and immediately gave up a double that tied the game, 2-2. It was another gut-wrenching choke, but all ended well as the Nats staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth. Clutch RBI doubles by Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick (pinch hitting) made all the difference as the Nats won the rubber game, 5-2.
That win preserved the Nats' hold on second place and the first of the two wild card slots, keeping them within six games of the division-leading Atlanta Braves. If only they hadn't choked at the end in the Friday game, they would have swept the Royals after having just swept the Marlins. In any case, it provided very positive vibes for the team as they entered the All-Star break with far higher hopes than they had a month ago.
All Star 2019 selections
The rosters for the 2019 All Star Game are pretty much set, but some players asked to be excused and will not appear. The Nationals' third baseman Anthony Rendon was selected after the voting phase of the selection process ended, but he is feeling banged up and says he needs time off. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer has a sore back and likewise will prioritize his own health, which is obviously a good thing. (He also is tending to a baby daughter who was born last week!) Anyway, not many of my All Star picks this year actually made it. The only two National Leaguers I correctly picked are Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger, who are -- coincidentally -- rivals in the NL Most Valuable Player race this year. Incredibly, either one of them could conceivably win the Triple Crown! I admit, Nolan Arenado is stiff competition at third base, but I think Juan Soto was more deserving than Ronald Acuña as an outfielder; the latter hits a lot of home runs, but Soto is better overall. On the American League side, I correctly picked five of eight position players plus the designated hitter.
2019 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
|| National League
|| American League
|| Wilson Ramos
| Wilson Contreras
| Gary Sanchez
| Gary Sanchez
|| Josh Bell
| Freddie Freeman
| Carlos Santana
| Carlos Santana
|| Mike Moustakas
| Ketel Marte
| Brandon Lowe
| D.J. LeMahieu
|| Anthony Rendon
| Nolan Arenado
| Alex Bregman
| Alex Bregman
|| Trea Turner
| Javier Baez
| Xander Bogaerts
| Jorge Polanco
|| Christian Yelich
| Christian Yelich
| George Springer
| George Springer
|| Cody Bellinger
| Cody Bellinger
| Trey Mancini
| Michael Brantley
|| Juan Soto
| Ronald Acuña
| Mike Trout
| Mike Trout
|| Josh Bell
| J.D. Martinez
| J.D. Martinez
|| Hyun-Hin Ryu
|| Justin Verlander
"Trop" capacity drops
I recently noticed that the seating capacity of Tropicana Field is now being reported in the Washington Post as 25,025, compared to 42,735 before, a drop of 17,710. The change was made some time in June, according to my clippings of box scores. So, contrary to what I wrote on May 12, there was in fact a change in capacity at an MLB stadium this year. I'll update that page shortly. The big drop reflects the closure of the upper deck, and indeed is fitting inasmuch as the team rarely draws more than 10,000 fans to a game. (The same thing goes for the other Florida team, the Miami Marlins.) How long can this go on?
More stadium locations
I updated the "new" (?) Stadium locations page with map/diagrams for four more cities: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Some of them include locations for football stadiums and/or basketball/hockey arenas. I may eventually do a separate such diagram for Anaheim. That takes care of all of California, and leaves only Phoenix and Denver among cities in the west.
Angel Amezquita made some helpful suggestions about that page, and I will try to get to those in the near future.
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