July 1, 2023 [LINK / comment]
(Catching up): Birding in March
March 4, Verona: The pond behind Hardee's was full of different kinds of ducks on this nice and sunny day. Stanley Heatwole was already there when I arrived. I had seen the Hooded Mergansers and Ring-necked Ducks there before, but was pleasantly surprised to also spot a Green-winged Teal and a Greater Scaup (both males)! Too bad they didn't come closer. The usual Canada Geese and Belted Kingfisher were there as well. Nearby along Mill Place Parkway was a Red-shouldered Hawk and an Eastern Meadowlark..
(March 4, Verona)
March 5, Madison Run: Jacqueline and I went hiking in the afternoon, and on the way there we stopped to admire a pair of American Kestrels perched on a wire. My hopes of finding an early Pine Warbler or other spring migrant did not pan out, however. It was surprisingly un-birdy, in fact, with just a few Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch in a tree top. In contrast, we saw a number of butterflies, including several bright orange Commas, many Spring Azures, a few Juvenal's Duskywings, and a couple beautiful Mourning Cloaks. They made up for the lack of birds.
March 6, Bell's Lane : None of the early Tree Swallows were present in the afternoon, but at least I managed to spot an Eastern Phoebe and had a nice closeup view of some Red-winged Blackbirds, plus the other usual suspects.
March 8, Bell's Lane: A brief visit in the afternoon quickly yielded my first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (F) in several weeks, as well as a Red-shouldered Hawk that flew away before I could get a good photo. Later I saw several House Finches, Red-winged Blackbirds (males in display mode!), and American Robins. I was startled by the nearby rattle of a Belted Kingfisher, and managed to get a photo after it landed on a power line. I also identified distant Tree Swallows, Ring-necked Ducks, Shovelers, and an American Kestrel, but NO Northern Harriers once again! It has been weeks since I have seen one there, and I assume that they migrated north earlier than usual because of the warm weather.
March 10, Bell's Lane : The sun came out in the afternoon, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a female Downy Woodpecker getting a nest hole ready for spring! This was in a tree above the stream near "Cujo Corner." Soon I came across a group of White-crowned Sparrows, as well as an American Kestrel across the field. Further along I saw Nathan Miller, who had just seen some Rusty Blackbirds near the "beaver pond," but I couldn't find any. There were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds and American Robins, as usual, but the biggest surprise of the day was spotting a group of eight or so Cedar Waxwings, the first ones I had seen in several weeks, if not months!
March 14, Bell's Lane: In the afternoon, I had my first views of a Golden-crowned Kinglet and several Wood Ducks (M & F) in quite a while. Also, that big marsh-dwelling rodent again...
March 18, Waverly / Wakefield, Virginia: On the long-distance (about 3 hours each way) field trip led by Allen Larner we saw many, many birds in the pine forests, but at least 95% of them were one of just two species: Brown-headed Nuthatches and Pine Warblers. We saw a few Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pileated Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Eastern Phoebes as well as a Red-shouldered Hawk and a Bald Eagle up above. Finally, we heard a few Eastern Towhees and a White-breasted Nuthatch. In some open fields near the forest we saw a variety of sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, and a Red-tailed Hawk. A Northern Mockingbird below was outside the Virginia Diner in Wakefield, where we had a nice lunch. We came across a guy who had just seen the elusive Red-cockaded Woodpecker, on his fifth visit to that forest, but we never did find it in the area he indicated, or anywhere else. Next time maybe? Anyway, many thanks to Allen Larner for driving and for showing us around this unique ecological habitat in the southeastern part of the Old Dominion!
(March 18, Waverly / Wakefield, Virginia)
March 20, Fishersville: I spotted two of the American Coots that have been reported in the big quarry pond. Then at the Murphy Deming trail I saw a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Great Blue Heron, and heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Along Guthrie Road I saw a few distant Killdeers and a Red-tailed Hawk up above. Back home, two male Downy Woodpeckers were squabbling over territorial rights. They must know that today is the first day of spring, and it's time to get busy!
March 25, Augusta Springs: After the sun came out this afternoon, I headed out to in hopes of seeing a Blue-headed Vireo, which Kristin Fuoco had heard there yesterday. No such bird was present today, but I had several excellent bird views which more than made up for it: Mallards, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Eastern Towhees, and a noisy Winter Wren that managed to elude my camera lens.
(March 25, Augusta Springs)
March 26, Verona: I had my hopes up to see the Horned Grebe and other rare birds that Vic Laubach spotted at the Hardee's pond yesterday, but all I got there today was the Greater Scaup. Still, it was a nice, closeup view, so I can't complain. Along the Mill Place trail I saw several Field Sparrows, a Pied-billed Grebe, and a few other birds. A noisy Killdeer decided to perch on the roof of the dairy manufacturing plant. Along Bell's Lane the Tree Swallows are settling in, trying to decide who will get which of the nest boxes. I also saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker there.
(March 26, Verona)
March 29, Bell's Lane: I saw one of the Eastern Phoebes at the same place as before, right around that culvert through which the stream that feeds that small pond passes. I had seen one with moss nesting material on Monday, so they are definitely getting ready to procreate! Further along I had some nice views of a Red-bellied Woodpecker, some Eastern Towhees, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a Great Blue Heron. No Tree Swallows, oddly.
As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
July 3, 2023 [LINK / comment]
(Catching up): Birding in April
NOTE: This blog post was uploaded prematurely on Monday, and major corrections have been made to it, including three additional photos montages.
April 1, Montgomery Hall Park: While at a church clean-up early in the afternoon, I was surprised to see a Bald Eagle flying over central Staunton. Later I went for a walk at Montgomery Hall Park and had a nice sunlit view of a Tufted Titmouse, but there wasn't much else until the very end, when I heard and then saw my first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of the season!
(April 1, Montgomery Hall Park)
April 8, Chimney Hollow: I led a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club in the morning (very chilly), and I saw two birds for the first time this year: Louisiana Waterthrushes (we saw or heard five total) and Blue-headed Vireo (surprisingly, just one). We also had brief views of Winter Wrens, both singing males, but they were too shy to pose for my camera. Two White-breasted Nuthatches were setting up a household in a tall tree, while an Eastern Towhee kept singing and singing at the Braley Pond dam. There were lots of fishermen but few birds there. All in all, a very good (if) day! Just as I returned home an Osprey made a surprise flyover, my first one of the year!
April 10, Bell's Lane: There were some bright primary colors in the sunshine along Bell's Lane late this afternoon (including some American Goldfinches in transitional molting), but the real highlight was when I spotted two Brown Thrashers scurrying about in the bushes. They were my very first ones of the year, but were NOT eager to have their pictures taken!
April 12, Betsy Bell Hill: I was hoping for some early warblers or something similar in the afternoon (very warm!), but had to content myself with a nice closeup view of a female Pileated Woodpecker, along with glimpses of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a White-breasted Nuthatch. Over at Bell's Lane, I was surprised to hear and then see a Pine Warbler foraging in a big oak tree near the kiosk. Further on was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Red-bellied Woodpecker.
April 16, Turk Mountain: Jacqueline and I hiked to the top of the mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. We more than met our exercise goals, but the bird sightings were a bit below expectations. At least I did see my first Black and White Warbler of the season -- three of them in fact! I also had brief looks at a Pine Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Dark-eyed Juncos, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Finally, I heard a few Blue-headed Vireos, a probable Hooded Warbler, and a Common Raven.
(April 16, Turk Mountain)
April 21, Bell's Lane: I substituted for Penny Warren in leading a bird walk (field trip), and we had a great turnout, both in terms of participants and birds! We heard several Gray Catbirds at various places, but they were very shy and I didn't get a photo of one until near the end of our walk. It was the first of the year for many of us, including me. We also heard a Great Crested Flycatcher, but never saw it. The only warbler species was a Yellow-rumped "butter butt," but there were several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, with males displaying their crowns and/or singing. A singing Eastern Towhee was remarkably tame as we walked past to get a better closeup view. Pairs of Eastern Bluebirds and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were at nest holes, getting ready to raise young ones. American Goldfinches, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Phoebes, a Red-tailed Hawk, and finally a Blue-winged Teal rounded out a very rewarding morning of birding. Thanks to all who came!
(April 21, Bell's Lane)
April 23, Road Hollow Trail: When Jacqueline and I went hiking up the mountain from Ramsey's Draft early this afternoon, the main objective was getting exercise, so I was a bit constrained in terms of seeing and photographing birds. Nevertheless, I finally managed to get good views of Black-throated Green Warblers, my first one(s) this year. We must have heard at least six or seven of them! Other highlights included Blue-headed Vireos, Louisiana Waterthrushes, and nesting pairs of Eastern Phoebes at both kiosks. Finally, we heard a few Pine Warblers and Black & White Warblers, and saw some American Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, and a Hairy Woodpecker. I was also pleased to meet fellow birder Darlene Coleman in person for the first time, just as we were leaving.
April 29, Humpback Rocks picnic area: Jacqueline and I went hiking in the afternoon, and not surprisingly, there were lots of warblers and other neotropical migrants. I saw SEVEN first-of-year species, as shown in this photo montage: Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, American Redstart, Scarlet Tanager, Cerulean Warbler, and Red-eyed Vireo. I also heard my first Wood Thrushes of the year! The highlight of the day came at the farthest point along the trail, where we turned back: a pair of Blue-headed Vireos making a nest!
(April 29, Humpback Rocks)
As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
July 7, 2023 [LINK / comment]
All-Star rosters are finalized, but injuries mount
On Sunday MLB announced the complete rosters for the 2023 All-Star Game, to be held in Seattle's T-Mobile Park. On the American League side, the Texas Rangers claimed four spots in the starting lineup: Jonah Heim (C), Marcus Semien (2B), Josh Jung (3B), and Corey Seager (SS) -- virtually the entire infield! Most of the other names are well-known, including two from the Tampa Bay Rays (1B Yandy Diaz and OF Randy Arozarena) and two from the Los Angeles Angels (Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani). Speaking of Ohtani, I happened to be watching watching when he hit that monster home run in Angels Stadium on Friday night. The estimated distance was 493 feet. The ball apparently landed in the void where the bullpen used to be, just to the right of the seating area in right field. I estimate that it traveled about 440 feet horizontally and struck the back side of that void about 35 feet up in the area.
Unfortunately, injuries will prevent several players from competing in this year's All-Star Game. The Texas Rangers' ace pitcher Jacob deGrom (formerly of the Mets) had Tommy John surgery last month, and will miss the rest of this season and part of next year. Also, the Angels' Mike Trout just broke a bone in his left hand, and he will be out for several weeks. And the Yankees' superstar Aaron Judge (OF) will be also unable to play, because the injury to his toe suffered while making a spectacular catch in Dodger Stadium on June 3 is worse than originally thought. After it was determined that he tore a ligament in that toe, his time on the injured list was extended to at least four weeks, a big blow to the Yankees' hopes of recovering during the second half of this season. Judge is considering having surgery on that toe during the off-season. See MLB.com. I have stubbed my toe badly a few times, causing permanent joint stiffness, so I can sympathize with Judge. Get well soon!
The gate of the visitors' (right field) bullpen at Dodger Stadium, during the June 16 game against the Giants. Notice the concrete base underneath the gate itself; that is where Aaron Judge stubbed his toe in the game on June 3.
On the National League side, the Braves and Dodgers tied with three elected starting players each: Sean Murphy (C), Orlando Arcia (SS), and Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF) from Atlanta, and Freddie Freeman (1B), Mookie Betts (OF), and J.D. Martinez (DH) from Los Angeles. Nolan Arenado (3B) from St. Louis, Corbin Carroll (OF) from Arizona, and the incredible Luis Arraez (2B) from Miami round out the lineup. Arraez has been batting very close to .400 for most of this season, and has an outside chance of becoming the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to break that barrier.
Unfortunately, only one Nationals player was chosen for the All-Star Game, pitcher Josiah Gray. He has done very well this year overall, but I think that the Nats' right fielder Lane Thomas was more deserving. He is currently batting over .300, with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs. Joey Meneses also deserved consideration, but he has fallen into a slump in recent weeks, and his average is down to .280.
Braves rise to the very top
Having swept the Miami Marlins, the Atlanta Braves' winning streak continues unabated, and they now have the highest winning percentage (.674) in the major leagues. The Braves look very hard to beat, and will certainly make it at least through the first round of the postseason this year. (After that, who knows? Their postseason history is less than encouraging.) A big factor in the Braves' surge is Ronald Acuña, who recently became the first major leaguer ever to hit 20 home runs and steal 40 bases before the All-Star break. In contrast to Juan Soto, his rival in the 2018 Rookie of the Year awards, Acuña has continued to rack up superstar numbers.
This week the Braves began a road trip in Cleveland, against the Guardians, who [briefly shared] (virtual) first-place honors with the Minnesota Twins, despite having a losing record. [They are now 43-44.] The Guardians actually beat the Braves on Tuesday night, putting an end to Atlanta's nine-game winning streak. This weekend the Braves play in St. Petersburg, Florida against the only other MLB team with a winning percentage over .600 right now: the Tampa Bay Rays. That ought to be one heckuva matchup -- and possibly a preview of the World Series!
The skyline of north side of Atlanta, from the train I was on, June 11, 2023. For some reason, AMTRAK no longer serves downtown Atlanta, and the "Peachtree" station was as close as I got.
Nats resume downward spiral
Thanks to a grand slam by Stone Garrett (his second of the year!) and more gutsy performances by their relievers (especially Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey) on Sunday afternoon, the Washington Nationals bounced back from a humiliating 19-4 loss and beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-4. They thereby prevailed in their third straight series, another sign of improvement after the awful first three weeks of June. Unfortunately, things then turned sour once again...
On Monday the Nats began a four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at home in Our Nation's Capital, part of the annual Fourth Of July holiday celebrations. And I was there! (Or at least close by, on the National Mall in Washington.) As has happened so many times this year, the Nats had golden opportunities to take the lead but just kept blowing it. I won't bore you with the dreary details. Jake Irvin was tagged with the loss even though he had a quality start of 6 innings pitched and just 3 runs allowed. The Nats lost 3-2 on Monday, 8-4 on Tuesday (as Patrick Corbin had another lousy outing), 9-2 on Wednesday (as Josiah Gray failed to live up to his All-Star billing), and then 5-4 in 11 innings on Thursday, as Mackenzie Gore's bid to recover from his awful night against the Phillies on Saturday was cut short by a rain delay of nearly two hours. The Nats took a 3-2 lead in the 7th inning thanks to a solo home run by Alex Call, who was just called back up from the minors, but then the Reds tied it. In the bottom of the 9th, Riley Adams hit a one-out double, and then C.J. Abrams hit a long fly ball to the right field fence but Nick Senzel made an awkward leaping catch to save the game, which went into extra innings. On the very first pitch in the top of the 10th, that same guy hit a 2-run home run, and that turned out to be just enough for the Reds to win it. As a result, the Nationals were swept in a 4-game series for the first time this year. [That indignity befell the Nats twice last year: August 4-7 at Philadelphia, and July 1-4 at home against the Marlins.]
To their credit, the Reds have surged into first place in the NL Central Division for the first time in years. The combination of aging veteran slugger Joey Votto and young slugger Elly De La Cruz is a very potent one. Just a year or two ago, the Reds were a bottom-dwelling bunch of misfits, much like the Nationals are now. Things change!
Speaking of sweeps, all 29 other MLB teams have won a series in a sweep since the last time the Washington Nationals did so. That was against the Pittsburgh Pirates, in Washington from June 14 to 16, 2021. And I was there!
Demolition begins at RFK Stadium
After the seats and other salvageable items were removed from RFK Stadium late last year and in the early months of this year, abatement of asbestos-containing materials began. In June, the D.C. government gave official approval [for the] demolition of the structure itself, and that work has now gotten underway. In the photo below, you can see the void where the football press box used to be at the top of the upper deck on the first base side. It was quite sad to see the once-grand rusting hulk first hand. For further updates, see eventsdc.com . Apparently, RFK seats are still available for sale; maybe I'll get myself one after all...
A closeup of the south side of RFK Stadium, July 5, 2023.
On a related note, the impending sale of the NFL Washington Commanders (formerly known as the "Redskins") franchise by Daniel Snyder to Josh Harris raises the likelihood that the land on which RFK Stadium sits could be made available for a new football stadium. (NFL owners will meet to formally approve the transaction on July 20.) Such an outcome is by no means guaranteed, as there is much political opposition from neighborhood groups as well as other political factions in the District. But it is the most logical place for such a stadium to be built, and it is probably just a matter of how much the new owners of the Commanders are willing to pay for the stadium. Rep. James Comer (R-KY) [plans to introduce] a bill to facilitate the use of the federally-owned land to allow a new stadium to be built there. [This legislation seems intended to smooth over differences between the D.C. government and Congress over law enforcement policy, etc.] (See the Washington Post)
I thought I had sent a batch of e-mail messages to various people before I embarked on my grand tour of the western states, but apparently they were not delivered. After trouble-shooting, I will try again in the next couple days. My apologies for being incommunicado.
July 11, 2023 [LINK / comment]
All the Stars converge in Seattle
The 2023 All-Star Game is now well underway, with the National League leading 3-2 in the 8th inning, trying desperately to prevent the American League from winning the tenth consecutive Midsummer Classic. (The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic; see the annual chronology page.) Elias Diaz [of the Colorado Rockies] hit a two-run home run in the top of the 8th to put the NL on top. Because of all the injuries, the Texas Rangers ended up with FIVE players on the starting lineup: Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Adolis Garcia, Josh Jung, and Jonah Heim. The Washington Nationals' lone representative, Josiah Gray, got through a quick 1-2-3 second inning.
[UPDATE: Closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel (of the Philadelphia Phillies) got the first two batters out, then gave up two walks, but managed to strike out Jose Ramirez (of the Cleveland Guardians) to get the save for the National League. As a result, the NL All-Stars won the Midsummer Classic for the first time since 2012!]
Coincidentally or not, I happened to be at the venue for this year's big game last month. Somehow I seem to show up at stadiums that either were just about to host the All-Star Game, or just did, as noted in my April 6, 2021 blog post, which features a montage of five different All-Star Game logos: Comerica Park (2005), Yankee Stadium (2008), Nationals Park (2018), Kauffman Stadium (2012), and Busch Stadium III (2009).
T-Mobile Park (partial) update
The T-Mobile Park diagrams have been (or are being) partially revised as this game got underway. The most significant change since the last update in 2020 is that the angle between the two wings of the grandstand has been reduced by about 2 degrees. It is definitely a "work in progress," with several details yet to be finalized, so I didn't even bother to update the original (1999) diagram or the variable-roof diagrams. During my brief visit two and half weeks ago, I made note of several details of which I was not aware, and this update does not reflect those. Later this summer I will redo all of those diagrams, as well as a version showing the lower deck and perhaps one of the upper deck without the roof.
T-Mobile Park from the southwest, on June 22, 2023.
In the geographic section of the T-Mobile Park page, the following scenic montage of Seattle has been included:
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The Space Needle, built for the 1962 World's Fair; gate in Chinatown; Mount [Rainier, about 50 miles to the south-southeast]; and the downtown Seattle skyline, with the clock tower above Union Station near the center.
Vlad Jr. wins Home Run Derby
As so often happens, the player who hit the most number of home runs in the first round ended up losing to someone else. Home-town favorite Julio Rodriguez knocked an amazing 41 homers in Round 1, beating the Mets' Pete Alonso by 20, but Vlad Guerrero Jr. (of the Blue Jays) beat him in Round 2 and ended up winning the Home Run Derby in Round 3, prevailing over Randy Arozarena of the Rays.
Nats pull out of tailspin
In Washington on Sunday afternoon, the Washington Nationals beat the Texas Rangers for the second day in a row, thus winning their fourth series of the last five. The Rangers have been in first place in the AL West Division since early in the season, so the Nats deserve credit for overcoming the odds. Bouncing back from the embarrassment of being swept by the Cincinnati Reds in four games was a sign that, whatever the team may lack, they at least have a core reserve of spirit and motivation. The biggest factor in their rebound was Joey Meneses, who homered twice (to no avail) in the 7-2 loss on Friday, and then homered both on Saturday (when the Nats won 8-3) and on Sunday (when the Nats won 7-2). Obviously, a big factor in the two victories was the starting pitchers: rookie Jake Irvin made it through five innings on Saturday, and weary veteran Patrick Corbin sailed through seven innings on Sunday, striking out six batters and only walking one. His improved control was very reassuring. On Friday the Nationals will begin a road trip in St. Louis, against a Cardinals team that remains at the bottom of their division. For the past month, the Nats have been pitted against some very stiff competition, so perhaps getting easier opponents will help them improve.
July 13, 2023 [LINK / comment]
(Catching up): Birding in May*
April 30, north Augusta County: Jacqueline and I took a long country drive, stopping along the Middle River and finally at Leonard's Pond. The expected Solitary Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper (far) were there (both FOY for me), as well as a Killdeer. The big highlight of the day, however, was an odd medium-sized, dull-plumaged bird perched on a wooden fence. For a while I thought it might be a very early juvenile Northern Mockingbird, but when I noticed the white outer tail feather, my initial impression was confirmed: American Pipit! He or she will be heading to the Arctic tundra soon.
* The above paragraph was mistakenly omitted from the monthly summary of April; see my July 3 blog post.
May 3, Bell's Lane: I paid a visit to on the way home from work today, going from north to south. By the "beaver pond," I had nice views of a Brown Thrasher and an Orchard Oriole (one of which I had seen briefly at the April 21 field trip), and then saw a Yellow Warbler fly past, my first one of the year! Later on I heard and soon saw a Great Crested Flycatcher (which we had heard on April 21) and a couple American Goldfinches. The Gray Catbirds are becoming more conspicuous and vociferous.
May 6, Cowbane Prairie: Lynne Parks led a wonderful field trip to the Cowbane Prairie nature preserve, with many participants (about two dozen) and many birds as well. The birds in the top row are the first ones I have seen this year: Common Yellowthroat, Warbling Vireo, and Baltimore Oriole. Likewise for the Eastern Kingbird at bottom right. There were so many Orchard Orioles that I felt obliged to include both a male and female, even though that meant excluding a Brown Thrasher, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Black Vulture. The Osprey was a nice bonus. Many thanks to Lynne for leading the trip.
(May 6, Cowbane Prairie)
May 10, JMU Arboretum: Jacqueline and I had some things to do in Harrisonburg today, so I spent a half hour or so at James Madison University's Edith Carrier Arboretum. Not surprisingly, the tree tops were filled with a variety of migrating birds. I saw my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Bay-breasted Warbler of the year, along with several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Downy Woodpecker, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a Great Crested Flycatcher or two. I could hear Cerulean Warblers, and probably glimpsed some. Near the ground were Gray Catbirds and late-lingering White-throated Sparrows. A quick walk along the Mill Place trail in Verona on the way back yielded a Spotted Sandpiper (far) and a singing Orchard Oriole.
May 11, behind Staunton High School: I squeezed in about 30 minutes of time late this afternoon to do a bit of birding in our neighborhood. Behind Staunton High School I heard a Great Crested Flycatcher, but couldn't see it for sure. There were multiple families of Eastern Towhees anxiously defending their breeding grounds, as well as a Scarlet Tanager doing likewise. THAT was a nice surprise. Nearby I also saw a pair of Tufted Titmice at a nest hole and a mama Eastern Bluebird with a yummy worm for her babies.
May 12, Bell's Lane: Along this lovely morning, I saw TWO first-of-year birds: Indigo Bunting (finally) and White-eyed Vireo!! I would estimate there were at least three of each kind singing in various places. Other highlights included Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Towhees, a Common Yellowthroat (concealed in the bushes), an Orchard Oriole (first-year male), and a Red-bellied Woodpecker probing in some willow branches -- rather unusual behavior!
(May 12, Bell's Lane)
May 14, Shenandoah Mountain: The weather was much better today, and the forests were full of gorgeous warblers and other neotropical migrants! Jacqueline and I hiked about two miles south from the trailhead near Confederate Breastworks. I spotted four first-of-year birds (Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler), and also heard my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the year. Even Jacqueline (who is not really a bird enthusiast) was impressed by all the natural beauty up above.
(May 14, Shenandoah Mountain)
May 18, north Staunton: When Jacqueline and I went hiking along the Shenandoah Mountain trail last Sunday, she expressed deep doubts about the need to drive so far just to go on a nature hike. I explained to her that uncommon birds require a special habitat, and indeed the birds we saw along that trail (such as Canada Warblers in the rhododendron bushes) vindicated my argument. Well, guess what showed up in our back yard today? A Canada Warbler!!! Not only that, but a Yellow Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler -- the first of the latter that I have seen in years, I think. Possibly more than one of each species. Up above two Red-shouldered Hawks were circling with their menacing screams. I simply could not believe my eyes, and thanks to the migratory stroke of good luck today, Jacqueline cannot believe my rationales for hiking far from home. Oh well.
(May 18, north Staunton)
May 21, Bear Den Mountain, Shen. Nat. Park: Jacqueline and I hiked along the Appalachian Trail up to Bear Den Mountain, where all those communications towers are in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park. There were lots of other hikers! We heard and/or saw several of [each one of] the birds shown here: American Redstart (adult and first-year males), Ovenbirds, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Hooded Warblers. Others not shown included Indigo Buntings and Eastern Towhees, as well as Cerulean Warblers that eluded my camera aim. Perfect weather!
(May 21, Bear Den Mountain, Shen. Nat. Park)
May 23, Bell's Lane: I made a brief visit to Bell's Lane for the first time in almost two weeks. I started at the northern ("beaver pond") end and was rewarded immediately with nice views of an Eastern Bluebird family. The youngsters were learning to hunt for bugs! Nearby was a pair of Cedar Waxwings, presumably a breeding pair. As I approached the gate of Carolyn Ford's farm I heard the familiar song of a House Wren, and it wasn't long before I had one in view. My first one of the year! Toward the southern end I heard and then saw a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers, and also heard an Orchard Oriole. Time well spent!
May 26, Montgomery Hall Park: After running errands in the afternoon, I stopped at the top of the hill in the park, and immediately heard a Red-eyed Vireo singing. He obliged me by posing at eye level for a photo op. Then I spotted a Northern Flicker (F) on a big tree, and managed to get in position for a good shot. I don't see them very often, but this was the second one in two days for me. I also saw an Indigo Bunting (M) and multiple Eastern Wood Pewees and Great-crested Flycatchers in the tree tops, as well as an elusive Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
May 28, Leonard's Pond: I was finally able to get up to Leonard's Pond, and was happy to see that the Red-necked Phalarope (female, as indicated by the sharply contrasting colors) was still there! (I was also happy to see another bird club member, Ramona Bearor!) Then I went for a short hike in the Madison Run area, where I saw some Eastern Wood Pewees, Acadian Flycatchers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Scarlet Tanagers, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and (surprise!) a Belted Kingfisher.
May 31, Dowell's Draft: Jacqueline and I went for a hike in the trail located just east of Braley Pond, where I was hoping to see a Ruffed Grouse, but very few birds were present. We saw Ovenbirds, a Scarlet Tanager, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
July 18, 2023 [LINK / comment]
Nats' bullpens holds, then implodes
In Wrigley Field last night, the Washington Nationals took an early lead when Jeimer Candelario hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and kept getting clutch RBIs to hold onto the lead. Starting pitcher Mackenzie Gore had a great outing, only giving up one run in the first five innings, but then gave up a two run home run in both the 6th and 7th innings, at which point he was relieved by Mason Thompson. He and Kyle Finnegan (who got the save) both managed to get out of dicey situations, as the Nats beat the Cubs, 7-5.
Tonight, Lane Thomas homered on the very first pitch of the game, reminding me of Kyle Schwarber's penchant for doing just that, both with the Nationals last year and with the Phillies since then. In the 2nd inning, Corey Dickerson batted in two more runs, and it looked like the Nationals had found their groove once again. Patrick Corbin had one of his best nights on the mound, striking out six batters over 5 1/3 innings, but he gave up a solo home run in the 6th inning and left the game with the tying run on base. His replacement, rookie Amos Willingham, allowed four straight batters to get hits in the 7th inning (without getting any outs), and his replacement, Jose Ferrer, gave up two more runs. All of a sudden, what had been a 3-3 tie had turned into a 9-3 romp. In the 8th inning, manager Davey Martinez called Paolo Espino in from the bullpen (which is now situated underneath the bleachers at Wrigley Field), and he just fell apart, giving up 7 hits, walking two batters, and getting only one out. The Cubs scored a total of eight (8) runs in the 8th inning, humiliating the visitors from Washington. The pitiful Nats bullpen surrendered 14 runs in the Cubs' last two innings at bat, as the home team won it, 17-3.
Bad as that was, it was perhaps less painful than the Atlanta Braves' 16-13 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight! The Braves' rising star Riley Adams homered twice and doubled, batting in 7 runs altogether, but it was all for nought, as their closing pitcher Raisel Iglesias gave up 3 runs to the D-backs in the top of the 9th inning. Ouch! So, the Nationals remain 24 games behind the division-leading team from Atlanta.
There has been some drama in the American League East Division lately. The Baltimore Orioles had won 8 games in a row through Sunday, coming to within one game of the Tampa Bay Rays in the divisional race. They had a perfect chance to take first place with a series at home this week, but the Los Angeles Dodgers beat them twice. Meanwhile, the Rays lost the first two games of their series against the Rangers in Texas, so the AL East race remains as it was. That could change when both teams try to avoid being swept tomorrow. And then the Orioles head to St. Petersburg for a four-game series! Let's see if the Tampa Bay area fans respond by showing up at Tropicana Field.
Minute Maid Park photos!
Several new photos have been added to the Minute Maid Park page, including two exterior views and five interior shots such as this one:
The left field wall at Minute Maid Park, on June 13.
I'll probably add one or two more later on. And while I was at it, I added a photo to the Astrodome page, along with the urban "montage" that you see below. That takes care of Houston!
July 19, 2023 [LINK / comment]
(Catching up): Birding in early June
June 1, Blue Ridge & Charlottesville: It was a beautiful day to be outside, so as Jacqueline and I were driving toward Charlottesville today, I casually suggested that we might want to stop to take in the scenery at the Afton Mountain overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thanks to Bonnie Hughes, I was aware that a Yellow-breasted Chat had been seen there, in the same place where I have observed it (or one of its relatives) over the past two years. To my surprise, that gorgeous bird popped into view right after I played a catbird song on my iPhone -- only 15 or so feet away, and my first one of the year! Unfortunately, Jacqueline did not seize the opportunity to take a look, and since we had other things to do, I had to settle for a so-so photo of the Chat while it was in the shade. Once in Charlottesville, we had lunch (take-out from Bodo's Bagels!) at a picnic table at the office park by Route 29 on the south edge of town, and near there is where I saw a Pine Warbler, American Goldfinches, and many Cedar Waxwings.
June 3, Humpback Rocks: As others have noted, there are plenty of birds to be seen while hiking on the trail up to Humpback Rocks. Jacqueline and I stopped at the Afton Overlook in hopes of seeing the Yellow-breasted Chat again, and sure enough, there it was -- perched in a distant tree top, making his odd racket "song." This time Jacqueline *did* see it! The highlights along the trail itself were several Scarlet Tanagers and most of the warbler species, including quite a few Cerulean Warblers. At the top of the rocks I was amused to see a Dark-eyed Junco hopping around in search of crumbs left by hikers. On the way back down I heard and soon saw my first Yellow-throated Vireo(s) of the year. It was quite a day indeed!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Redstart, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Phoebe, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Ovenbird, Black and White Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Cerulean Warblers, and Dark-eyed Junco. (June 3, Humpback Rocks)
June 6, Bell's Lane: I went in the late afternoon, and was pleased to get a few good views. Brown Thrashers were making a racket here and there, but they mostly stayed hidden. Likewise with the Orchard Orioles, but I finally got a nice view of one (a year-old male) near an Eastern Kingbird. Indigo Buntings are common by now, but you don't see American Kestrels or Yellow Warblers every day! The hazy skies caused by forest fire smoke from Canada detracted from the visibility.
For most of the remainder of June, I was traveling out west, and that BIG trip will be the subject of a separate post on birding, coming soon! As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
July 25, 2023 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Giants!
Yes, sports fans, you read that headline right. Believe it or not, the Washington Nationals have won a series sweep, and it happened to be against a team that was recently leading the National League West Division: the San Francisco Giants! It was the fourth time this year that the Nats have won the first two games of a series, but in the first three cases (against the Twins, Mets, and Royals) they lost by one- or two-run margins in the third game. On Friday rookie pitcher Jake Irvin pitched into the seventh inning, and the relievers held the line to preserve a 5-3 win for the home team. Lane Thomas and CJ Abrams both homered. On Saturday, the Nats scored 6 runs in the second inning, stunning Giants pitcher Logan Webb, who was relieved very early. CJ Abrams homered again. (He was named National League Player of the Week recently!) Final score: 10-1. On Sunday a homer by Riley Adams and a 3-for-4 day at the plate all but guaranteed another Nats win; this time it was 6-1.
It so happens that this was the first series sweep won by the Nationals since June 14-16, 2021, when they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2, 8-1, and 3-1. And I was there (for the last game)! The Nationals' infamous streak of 103 straight series (of 3 or 4 games) without a sweep is now over. The Kansas City Royals now hold the dubious distinction of the longest such streak in the MLB: 34 series without a sweep.
So how did the Nationals follow up on their big weekend triumph [as they began a series with] the visiting Colorado Rockies last night? By repeatedly wasting run-scoring opportunities and letting the Rockies keep adding more runs in the late innings, making any comeback almost impossible. Rockies 10, Nats 6.
[UPDATE: Perhaps I griped too soon. After falling behind the Rockies 4-1 in tonight's game, whose starting pitch was delayed by nearly an hour and a half due to the mere threat of rain, and after a second delay of nearly an hour after actual rain started to fall in the 7th inning, the Nationals fought back with a 4-run rally in the bottom of the 8th inning, and held on to win it, 6-5. That makes three straight games in which the Nats have scored exactly six runs. The heroes tonight were Stone Garrett, who hit a solo homer in the 7th inning, and Joey Meneses, who hit a 3-run homer in the 8th inning. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox beat the team that used to play in Boston (the Braves), so the Nationals have pulled to within 23 games of first place! Hey, in times like these you gotta think positive.]
Orioles overtake the Rays
The Baltimore Orioles rose to the challenge in the weekend series, winning three games out of four [against the Rays in Tampa Bay], and now have a two-game lead in the American League East Division. [Tonight they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies on a dramatic walk-off RBI single by Alec Bohm. I really need to pay more attention to the O's, who have some great rising stars such as such as their catcher Adley Rutschman and first baseman Ryan O'Hearn. The last time the Orioles made it to the postseason was in 2016, as a wild card, which they also did in 2012. The Orioles won the AL East in 2014, and advanced to the ALCS, but were then swept by the Kansas City Royals.]
[My apologies for posting the above paragraph prematurely earlier today. I had intended to include the additional details.]
Trading season draws nigh
The big question on everybody's mind is, Which team will get Shohei Ohtani? He is well on his way to surpassing Aaron Judge's (legit) record of 62 home runs, with 36 four-baggers so far. Plus, he can pitch! Last month it was almost unthinkable that the L.A. Angels would find themselves in a position where they would want to trade away their best player, but with Mike Trout on the injured list, the team's postseason prospects are very meager. The San Francisco Giants are among the leading contenders for this big prize. They lost their [sixth game in a row yesterday, falling to the Detroit Tigers in a makeup game, but edged the Oakland A's 2-1 earlier tonight. That victory keeps them tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3 1/2 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.]
And what about the teams at the very bottom of the standings? It's all but certain that the Oakland A's, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago White Sox will be letting some of their more marketable players go, and of course the Washington Nationals belong on that list as well. Unlike the last two years, when the Nats traded away their top stars such as Max Scherzer and Juan Soto, this year Washington fans have been mentally prepared for a loss of talent. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario has proved very useful both offensively and defensively for the Nats, and the fact that he's on a one-year contract (see the Washington Nationals page) means that he will be of much greater use to a team vying for the postseason. The same goes for relief pitchers Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey. What about blossoming slugger Lane Thomas? The Nats could probably get a huge deal for him, but he is just entering his prime years, and I hope General Manager has been negotiating with him for a contract extension similar to what catcher Keibert Ruiz got prior to the beginning of this season. Don't trade Lane!
Holy cow! More revelations...
As I scrutinize the hundreds of photos of the various stadiums I saw out west last month, I am astonished at all the revelations from my first-hand looks. For example, with regard to Minute Maid Park in Houston, I now have a much clearer idea of the complicated layout of the multi-level party decks [built] in center field in 2017, after the Astros got rid of "Tal's Hill." Also, it is now clear to me that the "Crawford Boxes" in left field do not extend nearly as far toward center field as I previously thought. Likewise for that balcony near the corner in deep left-center field. It's a difference of over 15 feet, maybe as much as 20! Horrors!!! Also, I noticed that the distance markers in left-center field and right-center field have changed, even though there were no alterations to those parts of the ballpark. For left-center field, it is now 366 feet rather than 362 feet, and in deep left-center field (underneath that balcony), it is now 399 feet rather than 404 feet. I think that the difference reflects the overhang. [At the bend in front of the bullpen in right-center field, the marker now says "370" rather than "373." I'm not sure what caused that change.]
But that's not all! I have also been learning a great deal about Dodger Stadium and other stadiums that I recently visited, and my insights will be incorporated into diagram updates for them in the next few months...
July 31, 2023 [LINK / comment]
Mad? Max Scherzer departs the Mets
In a much-anticipated move, former Nats ace and future Hall-of-Famer Max Scherzer officially parted ways with the New York Mets over the weekend, getting traded to the Texas Rangers. One can imagine how upset he must be at having signed a contract with a team that has flopped so disastrously this year. He apparently has a player option to extend his current contract for another year, so if he has success in October, he could return with the Rangers next year. At age 39, however, there are many questions about how effective he can be, but he stubbornly refuses to concede defeat to Father Time. In today's Washington Post, Chelsea Janes addressed this drama. There have been negotiations over a possible trade involving Justin Verlander as well. Will this be a "fire sale"??
Nats come up short vs. the Mets
Scherzer's last start with the struggling Mets was, ironically, against the Nats on Friday night in New York City. In the opening game of the four-game series on Thursday, the Nats had a chance to win but fell just short, 2-1. Since only five games separated the two teams in the current NL East standings, the Nats could have pulled to within a half game of fourth place if they had managed to sweep the Mets. On Friday evening the Nats' young starter Mackenzie Gore faced Scherzer, but the odds were against them and the Nats lost, 5-1. Scherzer has lacked consistency this year, and he is giving up even more home runs than usual. (That's his weak spot as a pitcher.) On Saturday Patrick Corbin almost got through six innings before being replaced, while the Nationals racked up 13 hits (without any home runs), dominating the Mets, 11-6. But their hopes of evening the series on Sunday were dashed, as starting pitcher Trevor Williams (highly overpaid IMHO) had another mediocre outing, lasting just four innings on the mound. Final score: Mets 5, Nats 2.
Earlier in the week, the Nationals fought back to beat the Rockies after falling behind 4-1 in two games in a row! On Tuesday they took the lead on a a 4-run rally in the 8th inning, winning 6-5, and on Wednesday they did so in the bottom of the 9th inning, sparked by Joey Meneses's leadoff single, finally winning it 5-4 on a two-out bases loaded single by CJ Abrams. And the crowd (if you can call 16,893 fans a "crowd") went wild! Truth be told, it was mainly the result of the Rockies' poor relief pitching, as the Nats reached base five times on walks (one intentional) and a hit by pitch.
Back in Washington tonight, the Nationals prevailed in a close back-and-forth game with the Milwaukee Brewers. Rookie pitcher Jake Irvin put in another respectable outing (5 1/3 innings), while Joey Meneses hit a solo homer in the 2nd inning, a double, and a clutch 2-run single in the 7th inning to give the Nats a 5-3 lead, and that ended up as the final score. Lane Thomas accounted for the other two RBIs. The Nats now have a 45-62 record (.421), having won six of their last ten games.
[UPDATE: The Nats ended up with a record of 12-14 for the month of July, which has been duly recorded on the Washington Nationals page.]
Elsewhere in the majors, the Chicago Cubs won eight games in a row before losing to the Cardinals on Sunday. The NL Central Division is rather weak this year, and the Cubs are only four games behind the division-leading Cincinnati Reds. (Wow!?) The Baltimore Orioles continue to hold a small lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.
Candelario to the Cubs
Just before tonight's game, it was announced that third baseman Jeimer Candelario is being traded to the Chicago Cubs for two minor league prospects. No surprise there. One more day before the trade deadline passes...
Dodger Stadium photos!
Several new photos have been added to the Dodger Stadium page, including one exterior view and six interior shots such as this one:
"Grand view" of Dodger Stadium from the top of the fourth deck, on June 16.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Various scenes at the June 16 game I attended, including a rainbow variant of the Dodgers' L.A. logo (part of the postgame "Pride Night" observance); some friendly female Dodger fans; a portion of a photographic tribute to longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully; and a view of the distant Hollywood Hills after the sun went down.
I'll probably add one or two more photos later on. And while I was at it, I added two photos to the Memorial Coliseum page, along with the urban "montage" that you see below. And as if that weren't enough, I also posted two photos of what the neighborhood where Wrigley Field once stood looks like today. That takes care of Los Angeles!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The iconic Hollywood sign; the verdant slope above the beach at the Santa Monica pier; and downtown Los Angeles skyline; and the Los Angeles City Hall building.
Even more "revelations"!
Another "revelation" about Minute Maid Park: during the 2017 renovations that got rid of "Tal's Hill" in center field, not only did they remove a large portion of the second deck near center field, but they removed a large portion of the third deck near the right field corner! Both former seating areas have been replaced by various party decks. Also, I realized that the promenade behind the left field wall (above which the rails for the retractable roof are located) is about 8 feet wider than I estimated before. Needless to say, I've been spending a lot of time getting those diagrams fixed!
Today I got distracted by some of my Oakland Coliseum photos, and noticed some additional details that I had not recognized previously. It was mostly a matter of modifications since the Raiders left town in 2020. More updates to come!