July 12, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding from April through June
With this post about the second three months of this year, I'm almost caught up on blogging about birding. Given that it covers the relatively recent past there is more long-hand prose (including text posted on Facebook) than in my last three birding blog posts: Aug.-Sept. 2019 on June 28, Oct.-Dec. 2019 on June 30, and Jan.-Mar. 2020 on July 5. The subsection for each month below begins with a summary list of my outings.
Birding in April
April marked the first full month since the covid-19 lockdown began, and there were no Augusta Bird Club field trips. (The April meeting and June picnic were canceled as well, of course.) Instead, most of us went on solo bird outings, or sometimes in pairs or very small groups, maintaining social distancing. The Shenandoah National Park was closed for the whole month, and other recreational facilities were closed or had restricted access as well. Being busy with teaching, most of my trips were modest in scope, in and around Staunton.
- Apr. 3: Mill Place, Bell's Lane -- Tree Swallows, N. Rough-winged Swallows*, Wood Ducks
- Apr. 4: Shen. Wetlands -- Brown Thrashers*, House Wren*; Cheese Shop -- Purple Martins*; Big Levels -- Pine Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo
- Apr. 7: Bell's Lane -- Am. Goldfinches, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Apr. 11: Dowell's Draft -- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher*, Black-and-White Warbler*
- Apr. 16: Bell's Lane & Staunton H.S. -- Red-bellied Woodpecker, Chipping Sparrow, C. Grackle
- Apr. 17: Betsy Bell Hill & Front. Cult. Mus. -- Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Apr. 18: South River, Waynesboro -- Great Blue Heron, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Chimney Swifts*
- Apr. 19: Ramsey's Draft -- Blackburnian Warbler*, Black-throated Green Warbler*
- Apr. 22: Bell's Lane -- Green Heron*, Great Blue Heron, E. Meadowlark
- Apr. 23: Staunton -- Gray Catbird*
- Apr. 24: Bell's Lane -- Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown Thrashers, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, E. Phoebe
- Apr. 25: South of Staunton -- Baltimore Orioles & Orchard Oriole
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Brown Thrasher, Blue-headed Vireo, Pine Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Purple Martin, and in center, Belted Kingfisher. (Shen. Wetlands, Cheese Shop, & Big Levels, April 4)
On Saturday, April 11, Jacqueline and I hiked about four miles in the Dowell's Draft area, since Braley Pond had been shut down completely. (Only the picnic area was off limits when I led a field trip there on March 28.) We saw three of the early-arriving migrants from the bird club's March 28 field trip to Braley Pond, as well as two first-of-year birds: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Black-and-White Warbler. Several E. Towhees were heard, and one popped into view. Also seen: White-breasted Nuthatch, N. Flicker, and Downy Woodpecker.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-and-White Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Towhee, Blue-headed Vireo, and Pine Warbler. (Dowell's Draft, April 11)
On April 19 Jacqueline and I went to Ramsey's Draft, in western Augusta County. Not surprisingly, the picnic area was closed, but at least the trails were open. We hiked up Road Hollow Trail, and soon saw my first Black-throated Green Warblers of the year -- at least 5 or 6 of them! Blue-headed Vireos were all around, it seemed, and several Black-and-white and Pine Warblers made appearances as well. I also saw a distant Hairy Woodpecker, but the big highlight was a Blackburnian Warbler high in a tree top. The only photo I got was barely recognizable, unfortunately. On the way back to Staunton, Jacqueline spotted a Black Bear on the slope next to Route 250 -- the first one I've seen in almost two years! I stopped briefly at Chimney Hollow, but didn't see much other than a couple Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Downy Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Black-and-White Warbler. (Road Hollow Trail & Ramsey's Draft, April 19)
On April 25 I went to a private home south of Staunton to see a Western Tanager that had been reported (only the third one ever in the Augusta County area!), but I apparently just missed it. As with the private home where the Scott's Oriole had been seen a few weeks earlier, the hostess was very friendly and gracious, but wanted to protect her privacy, so only a limited number of birders were able to enjoy it. I had great consolation prizes, however: Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, both the first ones of the year for me, and a wide variety of other birds.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole (M), White-throated Sparrow, N. Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Towee, and Baltimore Oriole (M). (south of Staunton, April 25)
Birding in May
I really didn't want to miss the peak migration season, so I managed to do two significant birding trips during the first week of May. I had free time from May 13 on
- May 2: Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge -- Indigo Bunting*, American Redstarts*, Cerulean Warblers*, Ovenbirds*, Worm-eating Warbler*, Red-eyed Vireos*, Yellow-throated Vireo*
- May 7: Ridgeview Park -- Northern Parulas*, Common Yellowthroat*, Red-headed Woodpecker*, Yellow Warbler*
- May 10: Bell's Lane extended -- Great Crested Flycatcher*, Green Heron, Baltimore Oriole Common Yellowthroat (H), White-throated Sparrow (late!) in back yard
- May 12: N. Staunton -- Downy Woodpeckers juveniles being fed!
- May 13: N. Staunton -- Ruby-throated Hummingbird*; Bell's Lane -- Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo*
- May 15: Bell's Lane -- Orchard & Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher*, E. Kingbird, Green Heron
- May 16: Shen. Mtn. Trail -- Scarlet Tanager, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bay-breasted Warblers*; Ramsey's Draft -- Northern Parula ##
- May 17: Natural Chimneys -- Rose-breasted Grosbeak*, Eastern Wood Pewee; Hearthstone Lake -- Hairy Woodpeckers; Elkhorn Lake -- American Redstarts
- May 18: Leonard's Pond -- Spotted Sandpipers; back yard -- Swainson's Thrush
- May 22: Bell's Lane -- Baltimore & Orchard Orioles, Cedar Waxwings. Back yard -- Swainson's Thrush, Warbling Vireo (heard)
- May 25: Augusta Springs -- Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore & Orchard Orioles, Canada Warbler*
- May 26: Bell's Lane -- Willow Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole
- May 28: Bell's Lane -- Orchard Oriole, E. Phoebe; back yard -- N. Flicker
- May 30: Cowbane Pasture -- Orchard Orioles, E. Kingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwings, Brown-headed Cowbirds
- May 31: Pocosin Cabin (SNP) -- Black-billed Cuckoo*, American Redstarts, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Hooded Warbler ##
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
## = unofficial "field trip" with ABC members
On May 2 (on what would have been the "Big Spring Day" count, which was canceled) Ann Cline and I went birding along Route 610 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The weather was sunny and cool, almost perfect. We saw numerous neotropical migrants, including seven first of the year species for me! We also heard Hooded Warblers and a Great Crested Flycatcher.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler, Indigo Bunting, American Redstarts, Ovenbird, Cerulean Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo,and (in center) Worm-eating Warbler. (Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge, May 2)
On May 7 I had to go to Fishersville, and I figured that since Waynesboro is close, I might as well go to Ridgeview Park. On the way there I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk on a wire being harassed by various smaller birds. Once at the park, near Serenity Garden I heard and saw Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Parulas*, Red-eyed Vireos, etc. Along the wooded trails there were several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Gray Catbirds, and a Common Yellowthroat*. As I was about to leave I was startled to see a Red-headed Woodpecker*, as well as a family of Canada Geese, several Cedar Waxwings, and a Yellow Warbler*.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-headed Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwings, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Canada Goose (baby), Red-eyed Vireo, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (Fishersville, Ridgeview Park, May 7)
From May 12 and the next few days, we had a family of Downy Woodpeckers at our suet feeder, with the father feeding his new offspring. On the afternoon of May 13 I finally had some free time (grading duties were completed), and in northern Staunton I saw my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year! At Bell's Lane I saw an E. Phoebe, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Yellowthroat, and my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the year!
On May 15 at Bell's Lane, I heard a N. Parula and Yellow-rumped Warbler singing, but didn't see either one, but did see two Eastern Kingbirds making a nest just south of the Moore farm entrance, and a Willow Flycatcher (FOY!) was doing his "FITZ-bew" song nearby. Also notable: both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, both Great Blue and Green Herons, a loud Brown Thrasher, a Downy Woodpecker at a nest hole, and an E. Phoebe; most of those were by the beaver pond. I was also happy to see two bird club members whom I had not seen for two months: Allen Larner and Josephine King.
On May 16 Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and I went hiking along the Shenandoah Mountain trail south of the Confederate Breastworks, and it lived up to our high expectations. I finally saw my first Scarlet Tanager and Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year, and we were amazed to see a group of Bay-breasted Warblers (also FOY) in the tree tops! Later at Ramsey's Draft picnic area we saw a Northern Parula. On the way home I saw a Louisiana Waterthrush and two Wood Thrushes at Chimney Hollow. Altogether we saw nine warbler species total, and heard three others.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, American Goldfinch, Scarlet Tanager, Worm-eating Warbler, Wood Thrush, Bay-breasted Warbler, American Redstart, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and (center) Black-throated Green Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. (Shen. Mtn. Trail, Ramsey's Draft & Chimney Hollow, May 16)
The very next day, May 17, Penny, Ann, and I ventured into the mountain woods, and we had some very nice finds even though the overcast skies made it hard to see. Our first stop was Natural Chimneys, where we heard and eventually saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak* -- my first one of the year! An Eastern Wood Pewee* also came down to pose in a convenient position, while a Yellow-billed Cuckoo proved more elusive. Later at Hearthstone Lake (the road was still closed, to my annoyance) we saw or heard several Scarlet Tanagers, Ovenbirds, and Hooded Warblers. The highlight there was a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers bringing food to noisy babies inside the nest hole. Our final main stop was the entrance to Elkhorn Lake, which was extremely crowded! We heard several Blackburnian Warblers, Northern Parulas, Pine Warblers, but couldn't see much other than some American Redstarts. Penny showed us where she had seen some rare Yellow Lady Slippers, and that was a great photo op. All in all, though, it was quite a rewarding day.
On May 25 I went to Augusta Springs in hopes of seeing the Mourning Warbler that Vic Laubach saw yesterday, but no such luck. I did see my first Canada Warbler of the year, at least, but otherwise it was mostly what you would expect there during breeding season. Other than what is shown here, I also saw Ovenbirds, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, E. Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Cedar Waxwing, and an Eastern Phoebe at the parking lot kiosk, guarding its nest with at least one baby in it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Pine Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Red-eyed Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and (center) Worm-eating Warbler. (Augusta Springs, May 25)
On May 31 Roz Holt, Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and I took advantage of the perfect weather with a trip to Pocosin Cabin in the recently-reopened Shenandoah National Park. We heard many different warblers, but other than the American Redstarts, they were hard to see. Highlights included Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (mating pair!), Least Flycatchers, E. Wood Pewees, and best of all, a Black-billed Cuckoo! It was spotted by Diane Lepkowski, whom with met along the way with Greg Moyers and another guy. On the way back we stopped at Madison Run, and were dumbfounded to hear an Eastern Whip-poor-will singing very close by! Unfortunately, we never did see it. We also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher there, and heard some Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes, as expected. It was a wonderful day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood Pewee, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (F), Least Flycatchers, and (center) Ovenbird. (Pocosin Cabin / Shen. Nat. Park, May 31)
Birding in June
I kept up my intensive pace of birding throughout June, with mostly good weather.
- June 1: Shen. Nat. Park: Hooded Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler
- June 3: Dowells Draft -- Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula, 9+ Ruffed Grouse!
- June 6: Elkhorn Lake, Puffenbarger Pond -- Blackburnian Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch
- June 8: Hightop Mountain (SNP) -- Acadian Flycatcher, Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-throated Vireo
- June 10: Hearthstone Lake -- Wood Thrush, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-thr. Hummingbird ##
- June 12: Dowells Draft -- Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula, Scarlet Tanager #
- June 18: Bell's Lane -- Willow Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwings, Wood Ducks, Belted Kingfisher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
- June 20: Falls Hollow -- Hooded Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Black-throated Green Warbler
- June 26: Dowells Draft -- E. Wood Pewee, Scarlet Tanager, Cedar Waxwings, Wood Thrush
- June 27: Highland County -- House Wrens; Reddish Knob -- Chestnut-sided Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warbler*; Briery Branch Reservoir -- Northern Parula #
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
# = attempted unofficial "field trip" (solo); ## = unofficial "field trip" with ABC members
On the first of June, Jacqueline and I took advantage of perfect weather with a drive along Skyline Drive in the recently-reopened Shenandoah National Park. We stopped at a few overlooks and went for a couple short walks, but that was enough to get some great looks at birds. Bird-wise, a Chestnut-sided Warbler was probably the highlight, but a Black Bear provided the biggest thrill. On the way back home we stopped at the Cheese Shop in Stuarts Draft, and I enjoyed watching the Purple Martins. Another wonderful day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Purple Martin (M), Pine Warbler, and in center Red-eyed Vireo. (Shen. Nat. Park, June 1)
On June 3 I explored the Dowell Draft trail, which had been on my "to-do" list for a long time. (Several of us have birded the fire road at Dowell Draft in the past.) I hiked about three miles each way, climbing about 900 feet in the process. There was quite a difference as you reach the (slightly) cooler higher elevations where Mountain Laurels thrive. Based on sound, I confirmed that there are Northern Parulas and Prairie Warblers in the low open areas once again, but never saw the latter. The expected warblers, etc. were seen along the trail, as well as some Yellow-billed Cuckoos, which I heard but didn't see. The big highlight was on my way back: a family of Ruffed Grouse right in front of me!! I heard strange squeals from the mother, and at least eight fledglings flying away from me. I was utterly enchanted!
On June 6: I explored a new area of Augusta County on the West Virginia border, Puffenbarger Pond. Gabriel Mapel had reported hearing Mourning Warblers there, but I did not. On the way I stopped at the road leading to Elkhorn Lake and saw the usual American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, Blackburnian Warbler, and heard a Hooded Warbler. The road leading to Puffenbarger Pond abounds with a variety of birds, as this montage attests: (Not pictured: Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Blackburnian Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, American Redstart. (Elkhorn Lake & Puffenbarger Pond, June 6)
On June 8 Jacqueline and I went for a vigorous hike to the top of Hightop Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. We heard or saw most of the expected warblers, but none of the very vocal Cerulean Warblers actually made an appearance. Bird highlights included Yellow-throated Vireos, Acadian Flycatchers, and (at the summit) Dark-eyed Juncos.
On June 10 Tom Roberts and I went to the Hearthstone Lake area, and were greeted almost immediately near the map kiosk by a Wood Thrush that was singing and foraging for grubs. Soon thereafter we came upon a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on top of the very same dead tree where it was seen repeatedly last year! (I assume it's the same individual.) Other highlights included a Pine Warbler, numerous Ovenbirds, E. Wood Pewees, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo! There were also two Eastern Phoebes and a nest at the same stream crossing where we saw one last year, but in the other culvert. Finally, we heard but did not see Acadian Flycatchers, Hooded Warblers, and Red-shouldered Hawks. I was glad to learn that Tilghman Road is now totally open, as the construction barriers have been removed! We drove to the "lake" behind the newly refurbished dam, but it is still empty for some reason.
On June 12, a delightfully cool morning, I returned to Dowell's Draft, and it didn't take long before I heard and saw a Northern Parula, probably the same one I saw there last week. It was the first of four that I saw or heard, and one of them was singing like a Cerulean Warbler, which had me confused until I actually saw it. There were several loud Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes, but neither made an appearance. Likewise for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but I saw one of them at least. Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Red-eyed Vireos were numerous and visually prominent. There were also a few Scarlet Tanagers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Eastern Wood Pewees along the way. A family of Tufted Titmice with a few fledglings was making lots of noise. Finally, I saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo near a nest that may have been his/her own. I was disappointed not to hear the Prairie Warbler that was there last week, and didn't see the Ruffed Grouse either.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Scarlet Tanager, Black-and-white Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Black-throated Green Warbler, and in center Worm-eating Warbler. (Dowells Draft, June 12)
June 20 was the date of a semi-formal field trip to Highland County which I had tried to organize, but the rainy forecast forced me to abandon those plans. Instead I hiked the Falls Hollow Trail, on Rt. 254 near Elliott Knob before you get to Augusta Springs. There were plenty of warblers and vireos, as expected, but none of the Black-throated Blue Warblers which I had hoped. The highlights were seeing two females: Hooded Warbler and Indigo Bunting. I heard several singing male Scarlet Tanagers, but none of them came down into view; I saw a probable female, though. The falls were a raging torrent thanks to the recent heavy rain.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler (M), Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Black-and-white Warbler, Indigo Bunting (F), Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler (F), and in center, Blue-headed Vireo. (Falls Hollow trail, June 20)
But wait, there's more! I heard something strange out back about 9:00 that same evening, and it turned out to be a family of Screech Owls!!! My neighbor had a high-intensity lantern, which proved to be perfectly suited for this situation. This juvenile was being fed by one of its parents while perched on a tree limb.
Eastern Screech Owl. (north Staunton, June 20)
My final birding expedition in June (on the 27th) was to the Reddish Knob area at the northern tip of Augusta County. It was supposed to be a semi-formal field trip, but no one else showed up. For the first time, I took an indirect route to get there, via Highland County (where I rescued a Box Turtle in the middle of Rt. 614 and saw a pair of House Wrens at a nest in a dead tree) and West Virginia. While ascending the big mountain slope back toward Virginia, I observed a Pine Warbler at a clearing. Soon after reaching the "famous" (to birders) crossroads at the top, I saw some Chestnut-sided Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, and two young Dark-eyed Juncos. Hiking along the road toward Bother Knob, a beautiful cool alpine meadow lined with spruce trees, I saw Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Redstarts, Common Yellowthroat. There wasn't much at the summit of Reddish Knob, but on my way back down I saw some Black-throated Green Warblers and my very first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the year -- finally! Then at the Briery Branch Reservoir I had a great view of a Northern Parula, marking my ninth (or perhaps tenth) warbler species of the day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Cedar Waxwing, Pine Warbler, and (center) Black-throated Green Warbler. (Reddish Knob & Briery Branch Res., June 27)
And that's that! More bird photos for this year, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page
July 7, 2020 [LINK / comment]
New page: Globe Life Field!
NEW! At long last, I have finished preliminary work on a diagram for Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers which is scheduled to open in a little over two weeks. As yet there are no separate diagram versions for the upper and lower decks, roof open vs. closed, etc., but I expect to do those in the next few days. I must say, it was every bit as challenging as I had imagined (or feared?) it would be, with four main decks arranged in a rather chaotic way so as to accommodate the retractable roof. But it was worth it, and I gained some appreciation for the stadium, which has interesting angles in the outfield wall and many interesting seating areas. For example, there is a very high (and small) third deck of seats overlooking left field. They could have lowered that deck by 10 or 20 feet, and I don't quite understand the point of making it so high. In right field there are two very large decks, evidently catering to lower-income fans who resist insane ticket prices. If so, it's a small step in the right direction. Bucky Nance, the guy who sent me the aerial photo of construction at Globe Life Park, expressed displeasure that public money is being used to create a luxury palace out of reach of common folk. Indeed, I remain deeply skeptical of the need to replace the Rangers' old home, Globe Life Park. It had major flaws, but it could have been improved, at least. According to the Rangers' website, the total cost of the project is about $1.2 billion, of which the city of Arlington will provide up to 50% of the funding. Seating capacity is about 40,300 -- about 8,000 less than the Rangers' old home Globe Life Park!
With two weeks to go before the baseball season (hopefully) starts, I figure I can get at least a couple more of the "top priority" diagram revisions completed by Opening Day, and the other two during the next couple weeks after that.
Snafus in MLB's covid-19 tests
Just when we were gaining confidence that this season would be saved after all, we learn that for some teams there are big delays in the tests for the covid-19 virus mandated by MLB. Both the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros canceled Monday's workouts because test results were not back yet. Monday's Washington Post describes the arduous process for getting results from the labs, which are evidently over-worked. Previously, I wondered why they needed four full weeks to prepare to play, since they had almost finished spring training when the quarantines went into effect across the nation in mid-March, but I guess there are limitations with health services.
That article mentions that the Braves' Nick Markakis has opted out of playing this year, in addition to David Price and Felix Hernandez, both former Cy Young winners. Angels superstar Mike Trout is on the fence, as is the Nationals' closer Sean Doolittle. Ryan Zimmerman, as noted before, was among the first to opt out. The photos accompanying the article show a guy picking up baseballs with rubber gloves, a grounds crew worker wearing a plastic face shield, etc. More signs that this "new normal" is going to make sporting life, and life in general, strange and awkward for the indefinite future...
Among other sports, Major League Soccer is getting underway, and both the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League are preparing to do so under extremely tight "bubble" arrangements, rather than using the teams' own arenas. For such contact sports, those extra precautions make sense. But what about football? Getting up close and personal with your opponent is the whole point of the game, and I really wonder if they can actually hold either college or pro football games this fall.
July 6, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Nationals to host Yankees in season opener
Believe it or not, major league baseball is on track to get underway in less than three weeks, and at last they have released the actual 2020 schedule. Until today the MLB.com website still had the same schedules that were in effect back in March, which was very strange. So, at 7:00 PM on Thursday July 23rd, the World Champion Washington Nationals (that sure sounds nice!) will have the honor of opening the 2020 season by hosting the New York Yankees. Later that evening the L.A. Dodgers will play the Giants. The games are set to be broadcast by ESPN, which is too bad for the many millions of fans who have "cut the cable" in recent years. If they were smart, they would co-broadcast it on ABC, which is owned by the same parent company, Disney. Presumably Max Scherzer will start for the Nationals, and I heard that Gerritt Cole might start for the Yankees, even though I thought he was among those who are "opting out" this year. It will be a strange and surreal, and yet very emotional and dramatic event.
Summer training (or retraining) began last week, under strict protocols such that only players who have tested negative for covid-19 are allowed into the stadium. In today's Washington Post, relief pitcher Sean Doolittle said he hoped to play when the season starts on July 23, but expressed concern about health and said he might opt out. "Sports are like the reward of a functioning society," he said, making it clear that he thinks this country is not handling the pandemic effectively enough. Dootlittle, who like Ryan Zimmerman graduated from the University of Virginia, has been known as a socially conscious players who is very attuned to workers rights and minority issues. Even though I very much want baseball to get underway, I don't blame the players for hesitating. For professional athletes, their bodies are their livelihoods, and damage to one's lungs could wreck a career.
I saw a report on ESPN.com that 38 MLB players have tested positive for covid-19, which is about 1.2% of all those tested, but it could be more. Two Nationals players have tested positive, but we don't know which ones yet. Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves is among those affected.
Barry Svrluga points out in Friday's Washington Post how strange it's going to be when baseball starts well after what would be the midpoint of the season: "It's going to get late early." On a wry note, he laments that with no fans in the stands, the Houston Astros will not have to endure the loud jeering by fans which everyone expected, and which would be richly-deserved.
The Astros cheating scandal
For the first three months of this year, while I was preoccupied with teaching duties, the big news story in baseball was the cheating scandal involving the Houston Astros. How soon we forget! (Quick rehash: for at least three years up through 2019, including their 2017 World Series championship, the Astros had been stealing signs from the catchers via a TV camera in center field of Minute Maid Park, and relaying the signs to somebody in the team clubhouse, so that the Astros batters would get a warning (clang, clang! with a garbage can lid) if the next pitch was going to be off-speed or not. That might explain why the Astros had the best win-loss record in home games in all of major league baseball last year, and why it seemed so remarkable that the Nationals overcame that record in the World Series. Reactions varied widely, from the cynically dismissive to the righteously outraged. Somehow or other before or during the World Series the Washington Nationals caught wind of what had been going on, and they evidently took the appropriate counter-measures. As one side-effect of the scandal, Manager Alex Cora, who played for the Astros while the cheating was going on, was released as manager of the Boston Red Sox.
So how big a deal was it, really? Back in March, senior Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell noted that Oriole Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken thinks the Astros aren't that much worse than many other teams, and that sly cheating in one form or another has been going on for a long time. Players are always going to bend the rules to get a competitive advantage, but what the Astros were doing was far beyond what's tolerable. It's too late to revoke their World Series title, but there should definitely be some asterisks in the record books. Those who said it was far worse than what Pete Rose did may have a point, and MLB officials will need to consider more thoroughly what sort of sanctions there should be.
Comiskey Park update
Since last year I had been meaning to make some minor corrections to the Comiskey Park diagrams, and finally got it done. While I was working on it, I came across a few puzzles and inconsistencies that I had to resolve. The support beams in the profile diagrams have been moved back a couple feet (one pixel), and such things as the size of the dugouts have been tweaked as well. I've concluded that the "real" distance to the foul poles for most of the years since 1934 was 347 feet, rather than 352 feet or 349 feet as it was sometimes reported. Photos indicate that the left foul pole was at the exact same position when the sign said "347" as when it said "352," and I think somebody goofed in the measurements back in the 1930s, and it never got corrected until 1986. I have compiled my own estimates of the actual outfield dimensions over the years, and I may include that information on that page.
The mail bag
Terry Wallace suggested a baseball-fever.com page as a nice diversion. It provides an annotated series of old photographs of the ballparks in which Babe Ruth hit home runs going 500 feet or more. He also pointed me to a page with all of Ed Burns' "Burns-Eye Views" stadium sketches from the late 1930s.
Angel Amezquita pointed out a glitch on the Turner Field page, so I fixed that and updated the rest of that page as well. Note that I am in the process of segregating the hard data and estimates for each stadium from my own subjective evaluations of them: the "Clem Criteria." I am also experimenting with putting the crude city "maps" that show the stadiums' approximate location in a separate section toward the bottom of each page.
Last fall, David Marshall asked me about doing a diagram of London (West Ham) Stadium where the Yankees and Red Sox played last year. So, I got restarted on that little project as well.
I've still got a boatload of other news items and tips from fans that I need to cover, so please be patient while I get caught up...
July 5, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding from January through March
In my continuing effort to get caught up on blogging about birding (and other subjects), here is another brief summary of my outdoor nature activities during the first three months of this year. As before, I merely list dates and places when noteworthy sightings were made; long-hand prose is used for field trips and other significant outings.
- Jan. 1: Bell's Lane -- Bald Eagles; mating pair!
- Jan. 11: Highland & Bath Counties -- Bald Eagles, Gr. White-fronted Geese
- Jan. 20: Bell's Lane -- Short-eared Owls, Northern Harrier
- Jan. 25: Mill Place & Bell's Lane -- Hooded Mergansers, Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier
On Saturday, January 11, Allen Larner led the Augusta Bird Club's annual winter field trip to Highland County, and I was one of the three others who participated. Three Golden Eagles were seen early on, and two more later, as well as two Bald Eagles. It wasn't very active, though, so around noon we decided to head south from Monterrey. Soon after crossing into Bath County, a wide variety of ducks and geese were seen at a pond, most notably a pair of Greater White-fronted Geese. That species has rarely if ever been seen in Bath County. The final destination was Lake Moomaw, where a Common Loon, Horned Grebes, and several Red Bats were seen.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hermit Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Ring-billed Gull, Common Mergansers, Horned Grebes, and (center), Greater White-fronted Geese. (Highland & Bath Counties, January 11)
Birding in February
February began and ended with sightings of Bald Eagles during excursions made by Jacqueline and me. At the nest in Swoope, the Bald Eagle nest presumably yielded one or two offspring. The only really significant bird outing was the Great Backyard Bird Count (on the 15th), when I finally got a decent photo of a Short-eared Owl, one of three I saw.
- Feb. 1: Swoope & Augusta Springs -- American Kestrel, Bald Eagle (at nest), Brown Creeper
- Feb. 4: Mill Place & Bell's Lane -- Red-tailed Hawk, E. Meadowlark, Hooded Mergansers
- Feb. 15: N. Staunton & Bell's Lane -- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Short-eared Owls
- Feb. 29: Potomac River at Rt. 301 bridge -- Bald Eagles
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Amer. Robin, Short-eared Owl, Amer. Crow, Carolina Chickadee, and in center, N. Cardinal. (Bell's Lane, February 15)
Birding in March
March started off with a real bang, as I was among a select group of birders invited to to a private residence where a Scott's Oriole had been seen for a few weeks. I was a bit skeptical, since that bird normally ranges in Mexico and Texas, but after a while, I saw the bird with my own eyes -- the first one ever for me! (See my Life bird list.) The bird feeders at the residence were busy with American Goldfinches, House Finches, various woodpeckers, and a Red-tailed Hawk overhead.
- Mar. 1: Swoope -- Scott's Oriole
- Mar. 6: Bell's Lane -- Northern Harriers, Short-eared Owls (also a Red Fox!)
- Mar. 9: Bell's Lane -- Tree Swallow*, E. Phoebe*, Brown-headed Cowbirds*
- Mar. 14: Murphy Deming Trail -- Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Mar. 20: Verona & Silver Lake/Dayton -- Blue-winged Teals, Lesser Scaups, Buffleheads
- Mar. 24: Bell's Lane -- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Mar. 25: Staunton -- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Mar. 27: Cowbane Prairie, Stuarts Draft, & Staunton -- Sharp-shinned Hawk, C. Grackles*
- Mar. 28: Braley Pond (ABC) & Chimney Hollow -- Winter Wren, La. Waterthrush*, E. Phoebe*, BH Vireo*, Pine Warbler*
- Mar. 29: Madison Run, Bell's Lane -- Pine Warbler, La. Waterthrush,
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Downy Woodpecker, Scott's Oriole, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch and American Goldfinch. (Swoope, March 1)
As the month progressed, more early spring migrants arrived. I recorded three first-of-year birds on March 9 and several more toward the end of the month. On March 14 I made my first real hike along the Murphy Deming Trail in Fishersville, adjacent to the Murphy Deming School of Health, which is associated with Mary Baldwin University and Augusta Health. There is a new, rapidly growing community of condominiums at the top of the hill, with a very nice view of the area. I had a very good view of a Red-shouldered Hawk in a nearby tree, and I heard (but didn't see) an E. Towhee for the first time this year.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, E. Meadowlark, Belted Kingfisher, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (Murphy Deming Trail, March 14)
On Saturday, March 28, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Braley Pond, with two other participants. It was two weeks after the covid-19 emergency measures went into effect, and each person drove separately to the destination, adhering to the "social distancing" guidelines. The temperature was mild but skies were overcast with a hint of lingering mist. Right from the start, we heard two early-arriving migratory species singing near the parking area: Pine Warblers and Blue-headed Vireos. Also, two Eastern Phoebes were building a nest under the kiosk. After setting off on the trails, we saw Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Winter Wrens, Belted Kingfishers, and more Pine Warblers and Blue-headed Vireos as we hiked a short way upstream from the pond. We ended the trip with 20 species total, not including the Brown Creeper that Debbie Pugh saw after returning in the afternoon, and not including an early-arriving Louisiana Waterthrush at Chimney Hollow and other birds at Dowell's Draft. (Text from the article I wrote for the April bird club newsletter.)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Phoebe, Winter Wren, Belted Kingfisher, Pine Warbler, and Blue-headed Vireo. (Braley Pond & Chimney Hollow, March 28)
One day later (Sunday the 29th) Jacqueline and I went hiking along the Madison Run road on the western edge of the Shenandoah National Park, and we saw two of the early migrants that I had seen the day before.
July 3, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Racism in pro sports: what to do?
Ever since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May, there has been a rising drum beat against all vestiges of racism in the world of sports. It so happens that the team in Minneapolis (the Twins) were moved there by an MLB franchise owner (Calvin Griffith) who harbored strong racist views, motivating his departure from Washington. While baseball declined in Our Nation's Capital during the 1950s and 1960s, football surged upward, thanks in large part to the efforts of George Preston Marshall, who bought the Boston Redskins and moved them to Washington in 1937.
There was a problem, however: Marshall espoused racist views as well, and refused to hire African American players, so the Redskins were the last NFL franchise to get a black player. It was for this reason that the statue of Marshall next to RFK Stadium (see below) was removed by D.C. workers earlier this month. It's sad and ironic because as the Redskins had become one of the NFL's premier franchises in the 1980s, a sense of pride and social harmony was restored in the D.C. area. But over the years the team's name began to bother more and more people, who took it as an ethnic slur. One might question why in the world a team would adopt a name with a derogatory meaning, but that's not even the point any more. It appears more and more likely that the Redskins will adopt a new name in the not-so-distant future. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians announced that they are looking seriously at changing the team's name; see mlb.com. They got rid of the grinning "Chief Wahoo" mascot after the 2018 season, and one would imagine the same is in store for the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs. Unlike other teams, the Indians had a valid reason for adopting that name: one of Cleveland's star players in the late 1890s, Louis Sockalexis, was a Native American.
And so, I would like to remind folks about the origins of the Redskins' name. The franchise was born in Boston in 1932, and since they played in Braves Field, home of the Boston Braves, they used their host team's name as their own. One year later they moved to nearby Fenway Park, which necessitated a new name to avoid an awkward situation. What name could retain a sense of identity with their founding and yet be compatible with their new hosts, the Boston Red Sox? The answer was fairly obvious: the Redskins. When Marshall bought the franchise and moved them to Washington four years later, they chose to keep the name.
So, what should the Redskins' new name be? Either the Braves or the Red Sox would make sense, but I think "Warriors" sounds better, since the first letters match the city's name. There ought to be some kind of continuity in team identity, as pro sports franchises invariably derive success from upholding a proud legacy. (When the NBA Washington Bullets changed their name to the "Wizards" in 1997, it kind of fell flat.) Redskins team owner Daniel Snyder will have to consult with D.C. government officials, because they have made clear that they will not accept a new stadium for that football team as long as it retains the current name.
The statue of longtime Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, in September 2018. This image is part of a larger panorama of RFK Stadium, seen in the background.
More web page updates
I have updated the Stadium names chronology page with several corrections and clarifications. The columns for the early decades (1910s-1040s) are now narrower because there were fewer name changes, and the columns for the later decades (190s-2010s) are wider because there have been more name changes lately. Also, I have updated the Stadium lists, Baseball chronology, annual and Stadium chronology, annual pages.
July 1, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Black Lives Matter:
peaceful protests or mob violence?
One week ago on Wednesday, while visiting relatives in the Washington area, I decided to drive downtown and see the Black Lives Matter protests for myself. Little did I know that there had been some violent clashes on Tuesday, as a group of people tried to pull down the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. That morning, police extended the barrier of security fences, so that now you can't even get within one block of Lafayette Park. That explained my puzzlement as to why most of the office buildings in that neighborhood had boarded up all the windows on the first floor.
Fortunately, the situation in Washington never got as bad as in Seattle, where days of rioting led to the establishment of an "autonomous zone" from which the police were denied access until today. It was an anarchist's dream come true. After weeks of indecision, city leaders in Seattle gave orders to remove the insurrectionists from their enclave. Here in Virginia, the state capital of Richmond has been under siege by rioters who have toppled Confederate monuments while the city government just fiddled. (Today the new state law allowing for removal of such statues went into effect, and they wasted no time.) Such acquiescence is mob violence is an absolute disgrace, but that's a topic for another day.
My other main sightseeing objective that day was to see the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial up close for the first time, but all the parking near the mall was closed in preparation for the July 4 celebrations. As we were driving along Independence Avenue, we encountered a caravan of vehicles carrying signs in support of immigrant rights. A truck full of protesters had a sign along the side with the iconic graffiti art of George Floyd, the black man who died in May after the police officer in Minneapolis (Derek Chauvin) pinned his neck to the street for over eight minutes. Future historians may regard that one episode as the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, unleashing a tidal wave of pent-up grievances among black people. The sign quoted Martin Luther King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," highlighting the solidarity between the immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter movements. That protest caravan failed to get much press coverage, however.
The three of us entered the newly named "Black Lives Matter Plaza," which consists of the two blocks of 16th Street NW between K Street and H Street. The street has the words "Black Lives Matter" painted in huge yellow letters on the asphalt, and the sidewalks are lined with T-shirt vendors. I was merely a curious impartial observer, and didn't express any support or opposition to what was going on. There was no anger or hostility expressed by any of the hundred or so protesters that I saw. Likewise, the police were restrained and professional in enforcing the closed portion of 16th Street. Some of the signs held up by protesters were either harsh or rude, but that's fairly normal. After a while, we headed back home.
Black Lives Matter Plaza protesters, police (Washington, June 24)
To see more protest-related photos, click on these camera icons:
To see photos of the immigrant rights protest, click on these camera icons:
Links to those and other photos I took of Washington yesterday have also been placed on the Chronological photo gallery page.
The President's religion
It was exactly one month ago (June 1) that orders were given to clear protesters who had been occupying Lafayette Park from the vicinity of St. John's Episcopal Church so that President Trump could have a brief photo op in which he ostentatiously held up a Bible in front of the church. What was the point he was trying to make? The infamous show of shallow religiosity elicited sharp rebukes from the parish priests, from Bishop of the Diocese of Washington Mariann Edgar Budde, and even from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. If the President thought that little stunt would boost his popularity, he seems to have been greatly mistaken. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, later expressed regret for accompanying Trump on the stroll, as did Secretary of Defense Mike Esper. Even though President Trump actively courts the votes of Christian conservatives, as exemplified by his speech at Liberty University during the spring of 2016, he has generally refrained from overtly cloaking himself in religious symbols. For what it's worth, I was surprised to learn a year or so ago that President Trump considers himself a member of the Presbyterian Church.
St. Johns Church ||
McPherson statue ||
Laborers Intl. Union bldg. ||
Old Post Office (June 24) Click on the above camera icons to see each successive photo.
Who is "Black Lives Matter"?
As a rhetorical slogan, "Black Lives Matter" is brilliantly effective. The problem is that BLM is both an affirmation of a simple principle (with which almost everyone agrees) and a political movement tied to certain organizers (with which many people disagree). If you oppose the BLM movement, do you think that black lives do not matter? Of course not. But under our contemporary conditions bordering on hysteria, anyone who speaks out against BLM risks sharp hostility and/or ostracism.
In some ways like the Tea Party movement, which spawned a variety of organizations and associated websites, it is hard to pin down the identity of "Black Lives Matter." The most prominent website seems to be blacklivesmatter.com, through which donations are handled by actblue.com, which is a fundraising subunit of the Democratic Party; hat tip to Stacey Morris. The movement got started in 2013 after George Zimmerman, the self-styled neighborhood watch guy who killed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, was acquitted of murder charges. As more such incidents took place in the years that followed, the movement gained strength. Quoting from that BLM website, here are the names and descritptions of the three co-founders:
- Patrisse Khan-Cullors is an artist, organizer, and freedom fighter from Los Angeles...
- Alicia Garza is an Oakland-based organizer, writer, public speaker, and freedom dreamer...
- Opal Tometi is a New York-based Nigerian-American writer, strategist, and community organizer...
The common thread uniting these leaders is a left-wing ideology that prioritizes forging political alliances with other causes such as LGBTQ, rather than pursuing reforms in police departments which are the crux of the problem that led to the current crisis. Indeed, Patrisse Khan-Cullors acknowledged that she and her comrades are "trained Marxists." (See the interview on youtube.com.) I also found blacklivesmatter.org, but that website has no clear organizational identity, just a series of video clips and a fund-raising portal.
I'm a person who has long been firmly committed to resisting the forces of polarization in this country, and I am leery of any peer pressure to join a putative "social justice" cause. Do I support vigorous reforms of police forces across the country and serious dialogue about racial issues? Absolutely, yes. Am I going to become "woke" about racism in America as portrayed by leftists and join their glorious March of Progress? No, thank you. For me, the golden standard is whether a given political leader or group serves to promote greater national unity and reconciliation, or brings about more divisiveness. Those who agitate on behalf of perceived grievances invariably do the latter. For me, failure to unequivocally condemn rampant street violence as utterly unjustified is a sign of moral bankruptcy, and the current situation puts moderate Democrats (especially Joe Biden) and civil rights leaders in a very tight spot. I am extremely skeptical of any movement with ties to extremist ideologies, and based on what I know, I fear that Black Lives Matter is liable to do more harm than good.
Black Lives Matter seems to have a parallel ideology to the 1619 Project, which got underway nearly a year ago in the New York Times Magazine as a scholarly and activist push to reshape how American history is taught and understood. That project will be the subject of a future blog post.
June 30, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding from October through December
In my continuing effort to get caught up on blogging about birding (and other subjects), here is a very brief summary of my outdoor nature activities last fall and the early part of last winter. I took advantage of a nice wooded trail at Blue Ridge Community College, and had a few good finds there. During October I led two Augusta Bird Club (ABC) field trips.
- Oct. 3: Blue Ridge Community College -- Common Yellowthroat (J M)
- Oct. 4: Bell's Lane -- Palm Warbler, Vesper Sparrow
- Oct. 5: Blue Ridge Pkwy (ABC) -- N. Parula, RC Kinglets, YB Sapsuckers
- Oct. 11: Augusta Springs -- Magnolia Warbler, Blk-thr. Green Warbler
- Oct. 18: Bell's Lane & Mill Place -- Palm Warbler
- Oct. 19: Bell's Lane: Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Harrier
- Oct. 26: Madison Run (ABC) & Leonard's Pond -- Long-billed Dowitcher (life bird!)
On October 5, a chilly day, bird club members (and one daughter) saw a wide variety of warblers on the Blue Ridge, but they were hard to see, especially as the skies turned gray. We thought the one in the middle was a Tennessee Warbler, but the yellow color suggests a possible Blue-winged Warbler. The Northern Parula was a nice surprise, and we had two early-arriving winter birds: Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
October 11 was a gorgeous day at Augusta Springs, and I was astounded by the large number of Cedar Waxwings almost as soon as I arrived. At least 30, maybe 40. I spotted Black-throated Green Warblers and Magnolia Warblers foraging among the tree leaves, but didn't get any good photos. I had better luck, however, with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Blue-headed Vireo, and some Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The Augusta Bird Club had a field trip there the following day, and they spotted some of the same birds I did.
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 (Augusta Springs, October 11)
The October 26 field trip to Madison Run got off to a great start, with lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and a Yellow-throated Vireo, but then it quieted down, and we really didn't see much else. The real birding action came later on, at Leonard's Pond, when two of us saw a Long-billed Dowitcher, which was a life bird for me!
Long-billed Dowitcher (Leonard's Pond, October 26)
Birding in November
- Nov. 1: BRCC, Leonard's Pond, Bell's Lane -- YR Warblers, Wilson's Snipe, RC Kinglet
- Nov. 2: Mill Place -- Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron
- Nov. 10: Braley Pond -- Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, GC Kinglets
- Nov. 11: Blue Ridge C.C. -- Yellow-rumped Warbler, Am. Goldfinches, House Finches
- Nov. 15: Mill Place & Bell's Lane (ABC) -- Wild Turkey, N. Harrier, Hooded Mergansers
- Nov. 23: Chimney Hollow (ABC) -- Winter Wrens, Red-breasted Nuthatches, GC Kinglets
- Nov. 27: Mill Place, Bell's Lane -- Horned Grebe, Hooded Mergansers
The first day of November I saw several Yellow-rumped Warblers around Blue Ridge Community College once again; they had been there all week. Then over at Leonard's Pond, there was a Wilson's Snipe and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at close range. Finally, at Bell's Lane I had nice views of a Great Blue Heron and a White-throated Sparrow, only my second sighting of the season.
November 10 was a big day for me, as I went for a three-mile hike from Braley Pond upstream along the Johnson Run trail, and then looping back. It was the first time I had done that circuit hike. Early on I heard what I thought was a Brown Creeper singing, but it turned out to be a Winter Wren. I was utterly enthralled! At two different locations along the way I saw several Fox Sparrows, as well as some Golden-crowned Kinglets.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Belted Kingfisher, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Winter Wren. (Braley Pond, November 10)
On Friday, November 15, I was one of five Augusta Bird Club members who went for a walk at Mill Place, where we saw a Swamp Sparrow and two Wild Turkeys. At the Hardee's pond where were four Hooded Mergansers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and others. Finally, at Bell's Lane we saw an adult male Northern Harrier!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swamp Sparrow, Wild Turkey, Cedar Waxwing, Hooded Mergansers, and Northern Harrier. (Mill Place and Bell's Lane, November 15)
Saturday, November 23rd was chilly and overcast, but to my surprise six club members and friends joined me on a vigorous and enjoyable hike along the Chimney Hollow trail. Highlights were multiple Winter Wrens, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. We also had brief glimpses of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Pileated Woodpecker. I only got one bird photo the whole day, however: a Golden-crowned Kinglet.
Birding in December
- Dec. 8: Bell's Lane -- Northern Harrier
- Dec. 14: Montgomery Hall Park & Betsy Bell Hill -- Merlin, Hermit Thrush, YB Sapsucker
- Dec. 28: Waynesboro -- Sharp-shinned Hawk (J)
- Dec. 30: Bell's Lane -- Northern Harrier
Teaching duties occupied most of my time in December, but I managed to find time to do the Christmas Bird Count on the 14th. I was joined by Peter Van Acker and Ann Cline, and almost as soon as we arrived at Montgomery Hall Park, we saw a Merlin perched in a tree! That's a quite uncommon kind of falcon, and coincidentally I had seen one at the same park a year earlier. Other highlights included Hermit Thrush, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hermit Thrush, Swamp Sparrow, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Merlin. (Montgomery Hall Park & Betsy Bell Hill, Dec. 14)
Later in the month I saw Northern Harriers several times along Bell's Lane, and on the 20th I saw some Short-eared Owls there as well. On the 28th I happened to see a young Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in a tree along a busy street in Waynesboro.
Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (Waynesboro, Dec. 28)
June 30, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Zimmerman and others opt out
Washington National veteran Ryan Zimmerman is among the MLB players who announced that they are opting out of playing this year, on the grounds that they or their families have special factors putting them at greater risk to covid-19. Joe Ross, who was the main contender for the fifth spot in the starting pitching rotation, did likewise. Zimmerman signed a one-year $2 million contract last winter, and that money is subject to the murky conditions that MLB owners and the players agreed to when it was announced that the season would be postponed in March. Other noteable players opting out include former Astros pitcher Gerritt Cole, now with the Yankees, and Mike Leake of the Diamondbacks. I guess Cole figures that with eight years remaining on his nine-year $324 million contract, he can afford to play it safe. See mlb.com.
If a substantial number of other players opt out, it's going to cause a lot of anxiety. Baseball teams are preparing to reopen under the "new normal" protocols for minimizing the risk of covid-19 contagion, but there will be a significant risk no matter what they do. Several members of the Philadelphia Phillies organization have tested positive for covid-19, and all it takes is one careless individual to put an entire team in serious health jeopardy. Games will be played with a figurative cloud of worry hanging overhead. Do fans really want their favorite players to be exposed to such a mortal risk?
According to plans, the umpires make the official "Play ball!" shout in 15 stadiums across the country around July 23 or 24, but with so much uncertainty, nothing should be assumed. Opening Day this year was supposed to be Thursday, March 26. (Personally, I think baseball should never start until April, and should always finish the regular season by the end of September.)
Web page maintenance
I just made some updates to two of my baseball web pages. First, the Stadium locations page is now a bit more friendly to mobile devices so that you can trigger the map/diagram-changing effects without being redirected to the stadium page for the respective cities, and the larger-scale inset portions of those map/diagrams are shaded pale gray to distinguish them more clearly from the city "map." Second, the Washington Nationals page now includes information about the 2020 season, which of course remains rather uncertain at this point. Also, in the near future (seriously!) I plan to update the Baseball cities page with information about attendance during the decade that was just completed: 2010-2019.
June 28, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding last August and September
Little by little, I am getting caught up on blogging about the subjects that interest me, and in some cases I am way behind schedule. Three entire seasons have passed -- fall, winter, and spring -- since my last birding blog post, August 2, 2019. So instead of writing normal prose, I'm going to concentrate on the highlights, listing in brief fashion the dates, places, and notable species that I saw. For special occasions I will write a short paragraph.
The dog days of August
- Aug. 1: Shenandoah Wetlands (Stuarts Draft) -- American Goldfinches tending to a nest
- Aug. 3: Augusta Springs -- Great Egret wading close to the boardwalk
- Aug. 7: Bell's Lane and Montgomery Hall Park -- American Redstart (F / J)
- Aug. 9: Leonard's Pond -- Spotted & Solitary Sandpipers
- Aug. 10: south of Buena Vista -- Swallow-tailed Kite
- Aug. 17: Madison Run -- Acadian Flycatcher, E. Wood Pewee
- Aug. 24: Ramsey's Draft and Dowell's Draft -- Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Aug. 31: Switzer Lake -- Black-throated Green, Magnolia, & Blackburnian Warblers
The month began as I was preparing to teach at Blue Ridge Community College, which made it convenient for me to stop at Leonard's Pond (about five miles northeast) every so often. Most of my bird outings were to Bell's Lane, but I did make a special trip to Rockbridge County on August 10 in hopes of seeing a rare Swallow-tailed Kite, which I had seen in Florida in March 2017. The bird had been reported near a river about five miles south of Buena Vista, and after about a half hour, the folks had gathered there spotted it. That was quite remarkable!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Common Raven, Green Heron, Swallow-tailed Kite (twice), Red-shouldered Hawk, Barn Swallow. (August 10, south of Buena Vista)
Among my other noteworthy outings in August was my first-ever visit to Switzer Lake (a bird hotspot in the mountains of western Rockingham County) on the 31st. I was fortunate to run into William Leigh, a prominent birder in that area, and he showed me around.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, E. Wood Pewee, Cedar Waxwing, Scarlet Tanager (F), Red-eyed Vireo, Canada Warbler (?), Magnolia warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Blackburnian Warber (head not shown). (August 31, Switzer Lake)
September: "peak" migration!
- Sept. 7: Elliott Knob (ABC field trip) -- American Redstart (F / J)
- Sept. 15: Turk Mountain, SNP (with Jacqueline) -- Spotted & Solitary Sandpipers
- Sept. 18: Leonard's Pond -- Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper
- Sept. 18: Riverheads High School (ABC field trip) -- hundreds of Chimney Swifts
- Sept. 21: Blue Ridge Parkway (ABC field trip) -- Common Nighthawks, Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Sept. 22: Montgomery Hall Park & Bell's Lane-- Common Yellowthroat, White-throated Sparrow (?)
On Saturday September 7, I led an ambitious field trip, but somehow I got the time mixed up, and arrived a half hour late! Not only that, but I had a sudden onset of Achilles tendonitis, with sharp pain that made me doubt whether I could go ahead with the plans. But somehow, I managed just fine as three other Augusta Bird Club members (Allen Larner, Peter Van Acker, and Ann Cline) joined me on a rigorous hike of roughly nine miles, climbing about 2,400 feet to the very top of Elliott Knob (elev. 4,463 feet) and back down again. The grand expedition began at the Falls Hollow trailhead on Route 42, and proceeded up through a variety of woodland habitats. Near a lush waterfall we saw a small cluster of warblers, vireos, and woodpeckers. After turning left away from the stream and climbing for a while past thick green shrubs, there was a big "fallout" of warblers, most notably Blackburnian Warblers. Eventually, the trail intersected with the very steep Elliott Knob fire road, which leads up to the summit where there are several communication towers. That was another "hot spot," full of Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and other "winter" birds that only breed in the highest elevations in Virginia. The view at the top was exhilarating, but the long descent back down was exhausting. We ended the memorable day with 39 species of birds, including 12 species of warblers and 3 species of vireos.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler (M), Dark-eyed Junco, E. Wood Pewee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler (M), Blue-headed Vireo, and in center, Cape May Warbler.
I made it to the top of Elliott Knob three previous times: July 13, 2004 (solo), August 6, 2008 (with Jacqueline), and June 29, 2013 (with Allen Larner, Penny Warren, and Ann Cline; a one-way hike going down only). In addition, I did significant birding hikes along Falls Hollow trail (with the Elliott Knob fire road as part of the loop) on August 14, 2006 May 26, 2007 June 1, 2016 ; part way May 15, 2017; Hite Hollow Road June 14, 2016
On September 15, Jacqueline and I went hiking to the top of Turk Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. It's a modest-sized mountain, conical in shape, with rugged rocks at the summit.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Cape May Warbler, E. Wood Pewee, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Common Grackle, and in center Common Yellowthroat. (September 15, Turk Mountain).
On September 18 I went to Leonard's Pond after teaching duties at BRCC were over, and in the evening I joined Penny Warren and other bird club members on a special visit to Riverheads High School, where hundreds of Chimney Swifts were roosting during migration season. It was a spectacular sight to see so many birds gather in one place as the sun set in the west.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Lesser Yellowlegs, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Least Sandpiper, Killdeer, and in center Song Sparrow. (September 18 at Leonard's Pond)
On September 21st I led three other ABC members (Roz Holt, Peter Cooper, and Tom Roberts) on a field trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Rt. 610. There weren't as many warblers as expected, but a big surprise made up for that: for over 15 minutes a large flock of Common Nighthawks (25-30 total) was swooping directly overhead at the southern intersection of those two roads. We were utterly dumbfounded. While birding we met a new birder in this area named Doug, and he is very knowledgeable. Later we visited the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch open house for a while.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chestnut-sided Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, Hooded Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Nighthawk, and Cape May Warbler.
As is my custom, links to a full set of photos, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page. With any luck, I'll do another blog post summarizing my observations for the last three months of 2019 in the next day or two.
Complete blog entries for the current month:
(with links to archives of previous months)