July 1, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Super Schwarber sparks Nats' amazing upsurge
After stumbling a bit in Miami over the weekend (see below), the Washington Nationals have drawn closer to their rivals the New York Mets in the race for the National League East title. On Monday they played the first of three makeup games against the Mets necessitated by the postponement of the scheduled early April series in Washington. Since the #5 starting pitcher Erick Fedde was placed on the Injured List, Paolo Espino was tapped to fill in for him, and just like in the game I saw on June 16, he rose to the occasion again and got the win. Kyle Schwarber hit yet another leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning, and the #2 batter Trea Turner did likewise. In the second inning, Gerardo "Baby Shark" Parra, recently called up from the minor leagues, hit his first MLB homer of the year, and in the fifth inning, Schwarber hit a second solo homer. In the top of the eighth inning, the Mets closed the gap with two homers of their own, but in bottom of the inning, Ryan Zimmerman hit a long three-run homer into the Red Porch seats, securing the Nats' 8-4 win. That brought the Nats to within three games of the Mets in the NL East race.
Schwarber's June homers
Believe it or not, for the first eleven days of the month, Kyle Schwarber did not hit any home runs. Then manager Davey Martinez decided to move him into the leadoff spot, which seemed strange for a batter known more for power than batting average or speed. Well, it turned out to have worked out very well, to say the least! For the rest of the month, Schwarber made history becoming just the third player ever to hit 16 home runs within an 18-day period. The other two, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, have big asterisks next to their records, and one may easily conclude that Schwarber really stands alone in this regard. [With 25 home runs this year, he now ranks #4 in the major leagues, one behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (Padres), and three behind the Angels' incredible slugging pitcher Shohei Ohtani, who has hit five more homers in the last seven games.] Perhaps the most jaw-dropping aspect of Schwarber's hot streak is that seven of those 16 homers were in the first inning! He hit two home runs in three games over that span, and three home runs in one game. He hit home runs in ten games overall between June 12 and 29, nine of which the Nationals won. I happened to see (on June 16) one of the nine games during that period in which Schwarber did not homer. Here's a quick listing:
("@" = away)
| June 12
| June 13
| June 14
| June 19
| June 20
| June 23
| June 24
| June 25
| June 28
| June 29
= Nationals victory; = Nationals defeat
Scores and opponents are shown once per game only; ditto marks indicate multiple home runs by Schwarber within one game.
Kyle Schwarber at bat in the fifth inning at Nationals Park on June 16. In the first inning, he hit a leadoff single, but this time he flew out to left field.
In left field, Kyle Schwarber catches a fly ball hit by Gregory Polanco for the third out in the top of the sixth inning.
Nats split with Marlins
Last Thursday the Nationals flew down to Miami to play Marlins, almost coinciding with the apocalyptic collapse of that condominium building north of Miami beach. Joe Ross had one of his best nights on the mound this year, allowing just two runs over seven innings. Two more home runs by Kyle Schwarber proved to be decisive in the Nats' 7-3 win. The first one landed several rows up in the upper deck near the right field corner, and the second one landed just beyond the center field fence, in a spot that would have been in play before they shortened the center field dimension a few years ago. In Friday's game, pitcher Jon Lester was just awful, and he later expressed deep frustration over not being able to command the ball. He was replaced during the third inning, by which time the Marlins were way ahead. Kyle Schwarber's home run was of little consequence. Final score: Marlins 11, Nats 2. On Saturday, Patrick Corbin completed six innings on the mound, but the Nats only scored two runs, losing in a close one. Sunday was Max Scherzer's turn to pitch for the Nationals, and he came through once again. Home runs by Trea Turner and Josh Bell (both with one runner on base, both in the sixth inning) gave the Nationals the winning edge in the 5-1 final score. Thus ended the 2-2 series split.
Nats take two from Rays
On Tuesday night the Nats welcomed to town the Tampa Bay Rays, who until recently had been leading the AL East Division. (The Red Sox pulled ahead last week.) Joe Ross was effective once again, but the real difference was -- surprise? -- another leadoff home run by Kyle Schwarber. Trea Turner then doubled and Juan Soto homered, giving the Nats a 3-0 lead before an out had been made. Victor Robles homered in the second inning, and then the Nats just kind of took it easy. Closing pitcher Brad Hand took the mound in the ninth inning, and promptly gave up a home run to Mike Zunino, making it a 4-3 ball game, but then the next three Marlins batters flew out or lined out to end the game. On Wednesday the big star was Trea Turner, who singled, doubled, homered, and (in the sixth inning) tripled to the right field corner to complete his third career "cycle," tying the all-time MLB record for that rare accomplishment. Two Washington Nationals, Brad Wilkerson (2005) and Cristian Guzman (2008) previously hit for the cycle. In the fifth inning, Jordy Mercer hit his first home run with the Nationals, and Starlin Castro did so one inning later. Jon Lester got the win even though he gave up five runs over five innings on the mound. Final score: 15-6. That put the Nationals (40-38) two games over .500 for the first time this year, and brought them to just two games behind the Mets.
For the month of June, the Nationals finished 17-9, an amazing improvement over their 11-17 performance in May. If ever one man made a decisive difference in a team's fortunes, this was it: Kyle Schwarber! The latest hard data and assorted useful factoids have been posted on the Washington Nationals page.
Tom Boswell retires
Long-time Washington Post sportswriter Tom Boswell has retired as of the end of June, and today's paper featured a series of tributes to him by colleagues and various sports notables, along with his final column, "The joy of sports can't quite be explained, but you can happily spend a lifetime trying." For most of his career in Washington, he was without a hometown baseball team to report on, but since the arrival of the Nationals in D.C. in 2005 he has relished covering first-hand the grandest sport of them all. I will miss his thoughtful and uplifting observations about the Washington Nationals and other sporting teams.
July 4, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in May: many great views, a few rarities
Much like the month of April, I had several very good birding experiences in May, but relatively few out-of-the ordinary sightings. The only rare warbler I saw was a Nashville Warbler, on May 11. The two rare birds that I did see -- Red-necked Phalarope and Yellow-breasted Chat -- were near the end of the month, on the 25th. In the narratives and captions below, asterisks (*) indicate first-of-year bird sightings. A high priority for me this summer is updating my first-of-year (spring) and first-of-season (fall/winter) records, which I used to do on the extremely outdated Annual arrival page. We shall see...
After being canceled last year due to the coronavirus, the annual "Big Spring Day" count fell on the first day of May this year, and it was a pretty big day for me. In the early morning I covered at the picnic area at Ramsey's Draft in western Augusta County, In the afternoon, I hiked along the Shenandoah Mtn. trail about 3/4 mile south of the Confederate Breastworks, where I saw several warblers and vireos. Later I stopped briefly at Dowell's Draft, where I saw two Ovenbirds courting, and Chimney Hollow, where I saw two Wood Thrushes. Other species of note: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Louisiana Waterthrush, Tennessee Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler, and Pine Siskin. Altogether I tallied 42 species that day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler* (M), Northern Parula (F), Indigo Bunting (M), Ovenbird, Wood Thrush*, American Redstart (M), Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, and (center) Yellow-rumped Warbler (M). (Ramsey's Draft, Shenandoah Mtn. trail, Dowell's Draft, May 1; Underlines distinguish birds at Ramsey's Draft from those at other places.)
Penny Warren scheduled an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Betsy Bell Hill for May 3, but it was rained out, so I went there the next day when weather was much better. I was amazed that my new Canon PowerShot SX70 camera (purchased in February) was able to get such a good image of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak up in a tree at least 40 yards away. Besides the birds shown below, I also heard a Red-eyed Vireo and a Yellow-throated Vireo.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak* (M), Northern Parula (M), E. Wood Pewee*, and Scarlet Tanager*. (Betsy Bell Hill, May 4)
On May 8th the Augusta Bird Club's annual picnic brunch was held once again, after being canceled last year due to the coronavirus. It was at the same location as in 2018 and 2019: the Humpback Rocks picnic area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had great looks at Ovenbirds engaged in physical combat, as well as a Red-eyed Vireo at eye level. Multiple Blue-headed Vireos and Ovenbirds were seen as well. Afterwards I made a few stops along Rt. 610 on the way home, and saw Great Crested Flycatcher*, Hooded Warbler*, and a Cerulean Warbler*. Others such as the Am. Redstarts and Cerulean Warblers were more elusive, staying in the tree tops. I took the three photos along the bottom at the visitor center and along Rt. 610 on the way home, including a Hooded Warbler (also seen by Linda J. Matkins) near the BRP visitor center, and my first Great Crested Flycatchers* of the season.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo*, Blue-headed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher*, Hooded Warbler*, Cerulean Warbler*, American Redstart, and (center) Ovenbird. (Humpback Rocks picnic area and Rt. 210, May 8)
I went to Bell's Lane four times in mid-May, hoping to catch the tail end of migration season. On the 11th (Tuesday) I took a long stroll there and eventually had great looks at several warblers, etc. Jo King arrived just before I was about to leave, and she saw the N. Parula but not the Nashville Warbler, which is smaller than most warblers and therefore capable of hovering like a hummingbird. The view of the Common Yellowthroat was exceptional as well.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (male), Northern Parula (M), Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler (M), Common Yellowthroat (M), and (center) Nashville Warbler. (Bell's Lane, May 11)
Penny Warren invited me to another visit to Bell's Lane the next morning, and I couldn't resist! We saw three kinds of flycatchers, including a Great Crested and an Eastern Phoebe, as well as an Empid of some sort -- probably a Willow Flycatcher. The highlight was when we heard a mysterious warbler song, so I started playing back various ones. The Connecticut Warbler song elicited a strong response, and we were eagerly hoping to see that species as the bird was moving around in the bushes. It turned out to have been a relatively plain Northern Waterthrush, however. They are uncommon, so it was a worthwhile sighting. It was the first one I had seen this year. It's remarkable how similar the two species' songs are. We later saw Northern Parulas, a Black-throated Blue Warbler*, and an American Redstart, as well as a first-year male Orchard Oriole in the distance. On the way back I got a nice look at an Indigo Bunting.
On the afternoon of the 13th, I went to Montgomery Hall Park, just in case there were any warblers there. That area is not nearly as bird friendly as it once was, but I did at least see an Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Red-eyed Vireo, and heard a Great Crested Flycatcher and Indigo Bunting. My luck was somewhat better on Bell's Lane, where I saw my first Baltimore Oriole* and Yellow Warblers* of the year. It was hard to get pictures, though. On the plus side, a Barn Swallow posed briefly in the sun.
My fourth visit to Bell's Lane that week was rewarded with good looks at several recent arrivals, most notably a Yellow Warbler at the corner toward the far (NE) end. Nearby was a Warbling Vireo*, the first I have seen this year. The Northern Waterthrush that Penny Warren and I saw earlier in the week was still there, singing loudly. I also saw my first House Wren of the year, as well as an American Redstart, a Great Crested Flycatcher (on the ground!), and an Indigo Bunting. A guy named John Tyndall (whom I had met once before) tipped me off about a Solitary Sandpiper in the stream south of Carolyn Ford's farm, and I noticed it was having escargot for brunch.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Warbling Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Indigo Bunting, House Wren, Solitary Sandpiper, and (center) Northern Waterthrush. (Bell's Lane, May 14)
On the 15th of the month (Saturday), I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Ramsey's Draft, joined by Penny Warren, Peter Van Acker, and Herb Myers. The weather was just beautiful. We started by exploring the fringes of the picnic area, noting some American Redstarts at mid-level, as well as some other warblers up high. There was a nest full of young Eastern Phoebes under one of the kiosks. Then we began hiking up the Road Hollow trail for about a mile, with some good views of a Black-throated Blue Warbler, some Ovenbirds, a Worm-eating Warbler, and some Northern Parulas. The highlights of the day were two or three Blackburnian Warblers squabbling up above, and a female Scarlet Tanager at close range down below. On the way back to Staunton we stopped at Braley Pond but didn't see the Bald Eagles that had been seen earlier in the morning. We did hear an Acadian Flycatcher at close range, but never saw it. I stopped at nearby Chimney Hollow and saw a Northern Parula and a couple Wood Thrushes there, but not much else.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo (male), Blackburnian Warbler (M), Northern Parula (M), Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager (F), Worm-eating Warbler, and (center) Black-throated Blue Warbler (M). (Ramsey's Draft / Road Hollow trail & Chimney Hollow, May 15)
Wednesday May 19th was my day to take recycled items to the landfill south of Staunton, and since it was a beautiful day I kept going south after that. I first paid a brief visit to the Shenandoah Wetlands Bank south of Stuarts Draft, where I had excellent views of a Green Heron and a Common Yellowthroat. Later I drove up Howardsville Pike to some of the overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I saw a number of warblers, etc.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Redstart (M), Scarlet Tanager (M), Green Heron, Black-and-white Warbler, Indigo Bunting (M), Dark-eyed Junco, Common Yellowthroat (M), and (center) Hooded Warbler (M). (Shenandoah Wetlands Bank and Blue Ridge Parkway, May 19)
On May 22nd I drove up to Harrisonburg, hoping that my past good luck at Hillandale Park would be repeated. That was not the case, however. At Cove Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater, however, I did get a nice view of two Cedar Waxwings engaged in courtship rituals. I hadn't seen any of that species for several months.
On May 24th I went to Bell's Lane for the first time in seven days, and had an excellent look at a male Baltimore Oriole, as well as a Brown Thrasher, and a few other birds.
Thanks to an e-mail alert from local nature lover Rich Wood, on Tuesday May 25th I made a quick impromptu visit to the pond next to the Target distribution center in Stuarts Draft. The object of my quest was a rare Red-necked Phalarope, and sure enough, I easily spotted it as soon as I parked my car along the road. (It is a constricted area with very little grass.) Also there were a few Least Sandpipers, likewise my first of the year. Since I was relatively close, I next headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which turned out to be completely shrouded in fog. I almost did a U-turn when I reached the top, but I figured I might as well check out the first overlook at least. I'm very glad that I did, as I soon heard a peculiar "song" consisting of whistles, clucks, and buzzes, like a catbird on steroids. Could it possibly be a Yellow-breasted Chat*? I played the "song" on my iPhone, and soon spotted the colorful vocalist. At first all I could get were miserably dull photographic images due to the fog, but soon it approached and perched in some bushes below the overlook -- a perfect pose for my camera! On the way back, I stopped at the Blue Ridge Tunnel west trailhead, where bright sunlight prevailed. There I saw a Scarlet Tanager, an Ovenbird, and some Red-eyed Vireos, one of which was acting like a nuthatch, hanging upside down from a tent caterpillar nest in pursuit of food. Most amusing! A Hooded Warbler was singing nearby, but I didn't see it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Red-necked Phalarope, Least Sandpiper, and Scarlet Tanager (M). (Target pond, BRP / Afton overlook, and Blue Ridge Tunnel west trail, May 25)
On Thursday May 27th, I went for a long drive birding in various hot spots in western Augusta County. At Chimney Hollow I finally saw an Acadian Flycatcher, a species which hitherto I had only heard this year. Also present were Ovenbirds, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Northern Parula. At nearby Dowell's Draft I saw Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Worm-eating Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Indigo Bunting; I also heard Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. There was no sign of any Prairie Warblers, however. Finally, I drove on the back roads up to Elkhorn Lake, and as usual the vicinity of the restroom was chock full of birds: American Redstarts, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Wood Thrushes. There were no Blackburnian Warblers, however. At the lake itself, a Bald Eagle flew past. Overall it was a pretty good day with beautiful weather.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Evening Grosbeak (male), American Kestrel, E. Meadowlark, Evening Grosbeak (female), Red-winged Blackbird (male) and White-crowned Sparrow. (Rt. 250 near West Augusta and Bell's Lane, May 27)
Finally, on May 31st I went back to Bell's Lane and confirmed that a Willow Flycatcher was there. In past years there were at least two or three breeding pairs in that area, but there numbers (and those of Yellow Warblers) seem to have descreased this year. And that concludes the "merry, merry month of May"! More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.
July 9, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Schwarber gets hurt, Nats get swept
After the pivotal role he played in the Nationals' big rebound last month, the loss of Kyle Schwarber in the lineup has had a huge effect on the Nats's fortunes during the early part of this month. In the opening game of the four-game series against the Dodgers in Washington on Thursday July 1st, Schwarber once again ignited the offense with a first-inning leadoff double, but the run he soon scored was one of only two for the Nats that day. Patrick Corbin did very well as pitcher until the fifth inning, when the Dodgers scored five runs. Final score: 6-2. On Friday Max Scherzer took the mound and once again lived up to his All-Star caliber standards. (For some incomprehensible reason, however, he was not selected for the 2021 All-Star Game.) He struck out eight and only gave up one run over six innings, but the bullpen immediately crumpled in the seventh inning, as the Dodgers scored nine (9) runs. Argh!!! Final score: 10-5.
The worst part of that game, however, was that Kyle Schwarber pulled a hamstring while rounding first base, and immediately left the game. He was put on the ten-day Injured List, so he might be back soon after the All-Star break. Such injuries are often dicey, however, and we won't really know his status for at least another week.
On Saturday, Josh Harrison filled in as leadoff batter and left fielder, while the Nats acquired Alcides Escobar from the Kansas City Royals. (Escobar has taken Harrison's place at second base.) Paolo Espino was having an OK night pitching until a lengthy rain delay in the fifth inning put an end to his evening on the mound. The Dodgers scored a couple runs in the latter innings and won that one too, 5-3. On Sunday, the Fourth of July (game time 11:05 AM!), the Nats took a 1-0 lead in the third inning thanks to Starlin Castro's RBI single, but the Dodgers came right back to tie it. Starting pitcher Joe Ross was having one of his best games of the year, striking out eleven batters over six-plus innings, but then he gave up an RBI single to aging superstar Albert Pujols, and that proved to be all the Dodgers needed. They won the game 5-1, thereby completing a four-game sweep of the home team on a quite disappointing Independence Day in D.C.
Nats get thwarted in San Diego
Then the Nationals headed to the west coast to face the San Diego Padres in another grueling four-game series with a highly competitive team. Thanks to the acquisitions of infielder Manny Machado and pitcher Yu Darvish, the Padres have been highly competitive in the National League West Division this year. They even held first place for a while earlier in the season, but have slumped a little recently. On Monday Jon Lester only lasted into the fourth inning as pitcher for the Nats, but home runs by Trea Turner (back from a short stint on the IL) and Josh Bell proved to be the decisive edge in the Nats' 7-5 victory. On Tuesday Erick Fedde had a mediocre day on the mound, giving up six runs in less than five innings. As a starting pitcher, he has sometimes been excellent and sometimes not this year. In spite of homers by Josh Harrison and Juan Soto, the Padres won that game, 7-4. On Wednesday Patrick Corbin was dominant for seven innings, only allowing two runs to the home team. Juan Soto homered again, while "the two Joshes" (Bell and Harrison) had three hits apiece in the offensive eruption. Final score: Nats 15, Padres 5.
Last night (Thursday) started out great for the Nationals, and thanks in part to Trea Turner's two home runs, they had an 8-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning. That's when Fernando Tatis Jr. put his team on the board with a leadoff home run. That apparently rattled the Nats' pitcher Max Scherzer, who proceeded to hit two of the next four batters, while another one hit a single. Nerves began [to] tighten across Nats Land when he walked in a run with the bases loaded, but since the next batter was a backup pitcher who had just been called up from the minor leagues, what's the worst that could happen? You guessed correctly, a #&@$%! grand slam! The batter, Daniel Camarena, had never even gotten a hit in the major leagues before, and Max Scherzer had never given up a home run to the opposing pitcher throughout his entire career. So, you might say it was an unlikely event. The pitch he hit was a bit low and inside, reminding me of when Howie Kendrick hit such a pitch for a home run to give the Nats the lead in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. How Camarena connected with that pitch is a mystery. The score was now 8-6, and all depended on whether Scherzer would compose himself and get out of the inning with the (shrunken) lead intact. He did not. The next batter, Tommy Pham, doubled, and Max was replaced by Kyle Finnegan, who gave up an RBI single to Tatis, and the margin was now only one run. Two innings later, Pham doubled again, driving in the tying run. The Nats failed to score any runs in the latter innings, and in the bottom of the ninth, relief pitcher Sam Clay (who was culpable in the fourth-inning debacle in the July 2nd game), gave up a walk and two hits, including the game-winning single hit by Trent Grisham. The Padres won it 9-8 after being behind 8-0 in the middle of the fourth inning. It was one of the worst collapses in Nationals' history, ruining what could have been an uplifting series win against a very good team. Instead, the Nats and Padres split the series two games apiece.
As a result, the Nats fell into a tie for third place, and facing the division-leading Giants in San Francisco tonight, things are not looking much better...
July 10, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in June: ducks, orioles, and falcons
Just like the month of May, the first day of June (a Monday) was quite memorable for me. Someone reported that two extremely rare ducks had been seen at Willow Lake, just south of the Augusta-Rockbridge County line near Raphine. So, I prevailed upon Jacqueline to make that one of our stops during a leisurely drive through the countryside, and I lucked out. We started out at McCormick's Mill, located nearby, and had nice views of an Eastern Kingbird, Great Blue Heron, and Warbling Vireo. Then we drove to Willow Lake and soon saw a Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, and a Green Heron. I didn't know exactly where the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were supposed to be, but a guy from Elkton named Mike Smith spotted them, next to the gazebo. (He had a spotting scope.) I could only get to within about 80 yards of the ducks, so the photos were mediocre but still clear enough for positive identification. Life bird #508!! Unfortunately, there is no indication that those birds flew north one mile into Augusta County, as it would have been the first-ever record of that species in this area.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Warbling Vireo, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Meadowlark, and (center) Eastern Kingbird. (McCormick's Mill and Willow Lake, June 1)
The next day we went for another lengthy drive, this time into the Shenandoah National Park -- all the way from the south entrance to Route 33 east of Elkton. It was sunny at first, but then clouds began to impinge negatively upon the lighting conditions. We got our first good bird views at the Crimora Lake overlook, where an Indigo Bunting and Pine Warbler both responded to their species' songs being played back on the iPhone. Further along, at the Dundo picnic area, we saw two Eastern Wood Pewees fighting over territory, as well as an Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwings, Red-eyed Vireo, and Chipping Sparrows. Next, at the Powell Gap parking area, I heard and finally saw a Cerulean Warbler, which -- typically -- refused to cooperate with my picture-taking efforts. Finally, at the Hightop Mountain trail head (part of the Appalachian Trail), I had a great view of a young male American Redstart, an Ovenbird, a female Eastern Towhee, and glimpsed another Cerulean Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwing, Pine Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Cerulean Warbler, American Redstart, and Ovenbird. (Shenandoah National Park, June 2)
On Friday June 4th I paid a brief visit to Bell's Lane, and was handsomely rewarded. I saw both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles (the latter munching on mulberries in a tree), as well as a Great Crested Flycatcher and others listed below.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, Indigo Bunting, Brown Thrasher, and (center) Great Crested Flycatcher. (Bell's Lane, June 4)
The next day Jacqueline and I went to Braley Pond, hoping to see Bald Eagles, but I settled for nice views of a Pine Warbler and a Wood Thrush. On June 8th I went back to Bell's Lane and was amused to see a Willow Flycatcher perched on a wire in close proximity to a Brown Thrasher. (Willow Flycatchers seem less common this year.) The other highlights were a Baltimore Oriole and Green Heron. I went all the way to the end of the extended portion adjacent to the golf course, where I heard but did not see a Prairie Warbler singing. Six days later, on June 14th, I returned to Bell's Lane. Once again I saw both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, but the big highlight was seeing two adult male Pileated Woodpeckers right next to each other along the extended portion of Bell's Lane. I was surprised that there was no physical altercation between them! Once again I heard the Prairie Warbler singing.
On June 15th, for the first time this year, I went to the lowland meadow along Indian Mound Road, northeast of Staunton. I could hear a Common Yellowthroat singing, but only caught brief, distant glimpses of it. I did get a nice view of an Indigo Bunting, however, and on West Amber Road, which intersects Indian Mound Road, I saw an Orchard Oriole, Yellow Warbler, and Cedar Waxwings. That place is a veritable hot spot for birds, and should be monitored more often.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole, Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Brown-headed Cowbird*, Indigo Bunting, and (center) American Goldfinch. (Indian Mound Rd. & W. Amber Rd., June 15)
* seen on the extended portion of Bell's Lane.
Returning from the Washington, D.C. area on June 17th, I decided to take the scenic route, entering the Shenandoah National Park via Route 211 east of Luray. My first stop was at the parking lot where the Panorama restaurant used to be, adjacent to Route 211. (It had been closed for many years, but I didn't realize that it has been completely demolished.) Barn Swallows were zooming all around, some at very low level. I had brief views of some American Goldfinches, but not much else. Then I stopped on the south side of the tunnel adjacent to the peak known as Mary's Rock. There I saw Eastern Phoebes and some kind of warbler. At the Stony Man overlook I had nice looks at a Chipping Sparrow and Indigo Bunting, but the highlight of the day was at the Timber Hollow overlook. There I spotted a young Peregrine Falcon soaring and diving at high speed, but it soon departed the area. That is a rare species, and I was awestruck. I also was lucky to see a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the same overlook. Soon thereafter I stopped at the the Franklin Cliffs overlook, where I was told that the Peregrine Falcon restoration project is located. That was time well spent! Later in the day I stopped at Big Meadows and one or two overlooks farther south, where I finally saw my first Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year. I was running late, so decided to bypass Pocosin Cabin trail, one of the premier birding hot spots in the region, and headed home via Route 33.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Indigo Bunting, Peregrine Falcon, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male). (Shenandoah National Park, June 17)
I talked with this wildlife biologist about the Peregrine Falcon restoration project, which is explained in that sign. She was monitoring the "hacking box" next to the Franklin Cliffs overlook, where four young Peregrine Falcons were placed last month. They were moved from nexts atop high-rise buildings in Richmond or other cities, and are fed every day so that they can survive while learning to hunt on their own. (Click on the image to see it full size.)
One week later, on June 24th, I hiked along the Madison Run trail, my first time there since May 31st last year, I believe. I had a few nice views, especially of a Louisiana Waterthrush and Acadian Flycatcher, but it was only an average day overall.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Wood Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, and Ovenbird. (Madison Run, June 24)
My final bird outing of the month was on the 26th of June, when I hiked about a mile north from the Confederate Breastworks along the Shenandoah Mountain trail. Among the highlights were a Scarlet Tanager (probable year-old male), Black-throated Green Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler. I saw several Pine Warblers, but had a hard time getting a good photo of them. Perhaps the most notable sighting was of a young Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I only identified after looking at the image on my camera screen a few minutes later. They are rare breeders in the highlands of Virginia, the southern edge of their summer range.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, and Worm-eating Warbler. (Shenandoah Mountain trail, June 26)
(NOTE: There were no Augusta Bird Club field trips in June.) More montages and photos of individual birds can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.
July 27, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Apocalypse now: Nationals' season is in ruins
In retrospect, that ugly 9-8 loss to the Padres in San Diego on July 8 probably marked the end of the Washington Nationals' chances for a berth in the 2021 postseason. They quickly went from being potential rivals of the National League's best teams (in the Western Division) to mere pretenders. In San Francisco, they were swept in three straight games by the Giants. On July 9, Paolo Espino had a short outing on the mound, while most of the offensive output was generated by rookie Tres Barrera, who batted in two runs. Final score: 5-3. The next day (Saturday), Jon Lester disappointed once again, and was replaced during the third inning. Newly acquired Alcides Escobar (traded by the Kansas City Royals) knocked in two runs, but the Nats lost by a lopsided 10-4. In the Sunday game, Erick Fedde had a decent outing (just three earned runs over five innings pitched), but the Nats' offense fell flat again as the home team won it, 3-1. Notable in that game was Starlin Castro's three hits in four at-bats; he was subsequently taken off the active roster after he was accused of domestic violence, and it is clear that he will not be returning to the team.
Any hope that the Nats might bounce back after the All-Star break (to be discussed later) were instantly crushed on Friday July 16, as they suffered the biggest defeat of the entire year. The Padres were visiting Washington D.C., but Erick Fedde was not at all ready for them. He lasted a little more than one inning, giving up six runs, and the bullpen was not ready to fill in for him, as they gave up an additional 18 runs during the remainder of the game. Juan Soto's two home runs were utterly meaningless, as was Gerardo Parra's one. [Final score: 24-8. ] Saturday night's game was suspended in the sixth inning due to a strange incident outside the stadium. Several gunshots were fired from cars driving down South Capitol Street, and when a wounded passerby staggered into the gate on the third base side, a mild panic erupted among some of the fans. Eventually fans were told to exit the stadium on the north and east sides, but the period of confusion seemed unduly long. When the game resumed on Sunday afternoon, the Padres added to their lead and ended up with a 10-4 victory. The Nationals finally ended their losing streak in the second game, as Max Scherzer had a solid 7-inning game, striking out eight more batters -- perhaps his last ever in a Nats uniform. Alcides Escobar and Juan Soto homered, and after Brad Hand blew the save in the top of the ninth inning, Escobar got the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the ninth to rescue what would have been a disgraceful loss, thereby avoiding another sweep. It ended the Nationals' six-game losing streak.
That marked a mini-revival, as the Nats won the next two games against the Miami Marlins. On Monday July 19 they totalled 18 runs, the most of the year thus far, thanks to home runs by Juan Soto (2), Josh Bell, Tres Barrera, Trea Turner, [and even the pitcher Jon Lester!] Lester finally had a superb day on the mound, going seven full innings without giving up a run. The Marlins scored one in the latter innings. On the 20th Paolo Espino likewise bounced back and got the win in a 5-3 victory for the Nats. But the Nats managed to lose the final game of the series in spite of a good outing by Erick Fedde. In the top of the tenth inning, the Marlins got two runs across and won the game, 3-1.
Next came a visit to Baltimore, where the lowly Orioles showed more spunk than might be expected. Patrick Corbin had a lousy day, giving up four earned runs and one unearned run, while all the Nats could manage was a solo home run by Josh Bell. Final score: 6-1. On Saturday Juan Soto homered and Trea Turner got two RBIs, while Jon Lester had an OK day, giving up three runs. The Orioles won that one, 5-3. On Sunday Paolo Espino did likewise, and a sixth inning three-run home run by Ryan Zimmerman put the Nats ahead, with Espino in line to get the win. But in the bottom of the ninth inning, closing pitcher Brad Hand fell apart, and the Orioles scored twice to win the game 5-4 and thus complete the sweep. Things were going from very bad to worse...
Last night's game in Philadelphia against the Phillies was even worse: Thanks to an early four-run rally, the Nats had a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, whereupon closing pitcher Brad Hand plunked the first batter, got an out, gave up a walk to Bryce Harper, and then gave up a walk-off home run to Andrew McCutcheon. And the fans went wild! Final score: Phillies 6, Nats. 5.
That was the final straw. All hope for bouncing back and salvaging the 2021 season has been lost.
Trading deadline approaches
Since the Nationals are essentially out of the race for the postseason, there is no longer any point in speculating who they might acquire in trades by the deadline this coming Saturday night. (NOTE: Unlike recent years, there will be no waiver exceptions for the month of August.) Quite the contrary, General Manager Mike Rizzo has indicated that all players are negotiable for trades, except Juan Soto. Max Scherzer will almost certainly get his 3,000th career strikeout wearing the uniform of a different team, but no one doubts that when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame it will be as a National. I would have thought that keeping Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber ought to be a bigger priority, but it is clear that [the owners of] the Nationals have decided to embark upon a full-blown franchise rebuilding effort, from the bottom up. That means restocking the depleted minor league rosters, and pretty much forgetting about contending for at least the next couple years. With one of the weakest farm systems in the major leagues right now, the Nationals' top priority must be to rebuild the team's long-term foundations in the minor league rosters. What an incredible, sad turnaround for a franchise that was until recently so successful and so proud.