Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Baseball, Tornadoes and Randy Wayne White

This afternoon I traveled down to Fort Myers to watch a double header between the Fort Myers Miracle and the St Lucie Mets. Given my disgust with the Mets after last weeks games in Sarasota it seemed only appropriate that I find a venue where I could pester them again before the season ended. Tonight was a perfect venue for it.

The games were played in beautiful William Hammond stadium off Six Mile Cypress Road in Fort Myers. This is one of the nicest stadiums in Florida not only for its aesthetics but also because they have 32 ounce draught Landshark Lagers for $6.00 each and real bratwurst that could have been made in Wisconsin. The only down side to this stadium is this is where the baseball team from that state to the west of Wisconsin does spring training. Were it not for that, Hammond Stadium would be perfect.

Before getting to the game however there was some excitement in the parking lot. Well....excitement seen from the parking lot. On pulling into the stadium the guy collecting money for parking ($3.00 per car) very excitedly said "have you seen the funnel cloud?" Saying no he got more worked up pointing to the south in the direction of the storm. I pulled ahead and saw a very prominent rope-like funnel that had apparently moved out of the ocean and onto the beach at Fort Myers Beach. How freaking cool is that?

I watched the tornado for a couple of minutes and then as quickly as it formed it disappeared. I parked my car and as I got out I asked this family if they had seen the tornado. They had and as we talked about it one of the kids of this family yelled "there's another one!" And there was! I am not sure if it was the same vortex or a new one but another funnel hung in the sky. This one also dropped to the ground (you could see debris in the air) and this one was much closer than on Fort Myers Beach. As this was going on a Delta Airlines MD-88 flew over and lined up for final approach to Fort Myers International. The plane had to be less than 1 mile from the funnel. Good old Delta - their motto is "We'll Get You There When We Get You There." I guess that was what drove the pilot to fly so close to a funnel! Not.

The last tornado I saw was in Washington DC one week after 9/11. Before that it could have been any of a dozen of them I saw while living in Grand Island Nebraska. I remember the summer of 1991 seeing 6 of them from my front steps in Grand Island.

After the tornado excitement I purchased my ticket, got a Landshark and a bratwurst and moved to my seat in Section 108, Row 1, Seat 1. This is a perfect seat. You are almost at field level and not far behind home plate - perfect conditions for pestering umpires and opposing players.

The first game started at 4:55 p.m. with a temperature of 91 degrees and tornado forming clouds overhead. The Miracle won the first game 3-1 and did so rather resoundingly. My buddy the St. Lucie catcher number 9 didn't play the first game so I chose number 22 at random to harass. It worked. He became visibly upset with me for yelling "You have a kindergarten swing" each time he swung and missed a pitch. Eventually by the end of the game he game me the finger. Mission accomplished!

Before the second game began the announcer said that there was a large group of people in the stands from Doc Ford's Sanibel Rum Bar and Grille, on Sanibel Island. This is quite possibly one of the best places to eat anywhere in Florida north of the Keys. I had wondered why this group of people down the third base line were bouncing beach balls around and when the announcer said who was there and why, the beach balls made perfect sense.

Before the start of the second game (preceded by an absolutely horrible singer doing the National Anthem) author Randy Wayne White strolled to the mound and threw out the first pitch.

This was most appropriate given Randy's local residence on Pine Island and his rabid love for baseball, especially Cuban baseball. I had hoped to dash over to talk to him before the end of the game but he split at the top of the sixth inning. I will catch him next spring at another book signing I guess.

Luck was not with the Miracle in the second game as St. Lucie won 5-4. Had it not been for a horrifically bad 4th inning the game would have turned out differently. But a 3 run homer followed by a solo blast is difficult to overcome no matter how much screaming I could do.

My harassment of St. Lucie reached a fevered pitch in the fourth inning - to the point that one St Lucie batter seemed to accidentally on purpose let his bat slip out of his hands and on a perfect trajectory for my mouth behind him. The bat careened off the mesh backstop less than 1 foot from me and this only served to kick me into an even higher gear.

Some of my favorite taunts of the Mets included "You guys suck worse than the real Mets" yelling at a player "The rookie league just called for you you loser" "Where'd you learn that swing - in kindergarten?" And of course for the umpire it was either "Open your good eye ump" or "I can call them for you from back here ump. Obviously you can't."

All in good fun and it seemed to be entertaining for the Fort Myers fans because several of them walked up and shook my hand and thanked me for firing up the crowd. My pleasure.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lightning Strikes Twice - Sarasota Reds Win Two In A Row!

Stranger things have happened but not very often. This evening the Sarasota Reds beat the St. Lucie Mets by 5-4 giving them a 2-game winning streak. Their record now with me in the stands is 8 wins and 33 losses. I still have complete confidence that they can get 40 losses with me in the stands - but if they keep on this strange concept of winning it might be close with the season over on September 6.

The Mets took a 1-0 lead in the top of the 2nd and added another run in the top of the third. The Reds somehow got a run in the bottom of the 3rd to keep the game somewhat close. The Mets added another run in the 4th and a fourth run in the 7th. It was starting to look like the latest in an endless streak of Reds losses.

However in the bottom of the 9th, and without Mighty Casey at the bat, the Reds came alive. Dennis Phipps who sucks at best reached first on a throwing error (about the only way he gets on base it seems). He then stole second base and is now in scoring position. Kyle Day walked and the pitcher then threw a wild pitch to Shane Carlson allowing Phipps to take third and Day to go to second. Carlson then grounds out short to first allowing Phipps to score. Its now Mets 4 and Sarasota 2.

With Kyle Day now on third, Jake Long (who needs some serious coaching on how not to be afraid of being hurt as a catcher) walked and then after a pitching change Justin Reed the lead off hitter walked. The freaking bases are now full!!! There is only one out but that doesn't mean the Reds can't screw things up royally.

Alex Bucholz comes to bat now with the bases full and hits a ball down the third base line that just makes it fair. The ball scoots down the line and into the far corner of the field. While its rolling along the Reds on base are scoring like crazy. With the ball flying in from deep left field Justin Reed hits the deck and slides into home giving the Reds an impressive come from behind victory 5-4. I almost hyperventilated!

Tonight marked the return of Yonder Alonso from the Double AA Carolina League. He's a big heavy hitting kid from Havana Cuba whom many in the Minor Leagues view as an up and coming player. One of the top 50 who might make the show. Coming from AA to A isn't normally the route to the show but who knows.

He was a real joy to watch at first base and a damned smart batter. With only a few days left in the season and the fact that he's from my most favorite Caribbean island, I'm not only looking forward to watching this kid for the rest of the season but also hoping he can make it to the show...maybe next year. Who knows.

Regardless the Reds have won two games in a row and I'm ecstatic! They finish this series with the St. Lucie Mets at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon. The weather forecast is for 88 degrees and high humidity tomorrow at game time with the possibility of thunderstorms. Hey, its freaking Florida in summer what else can you expect in the afternoon? What would be really nice would be a third in a row Reds victory and thunderstorms be damned.

On Catching Foul Balls

By now it should be obvious to anyone that the hapless Sarasota Reds, a Class A minor league team in Sarasota stink with a capital S. There is no other word to describe them.

Through out this summer season for the Reds I have been one of their most consistent and vociferous fans. To show my dedication I have sat almost every game in Section 14, Row A, Seat 1 in less than impressive Ed Smith Stadium.
Throughout the summer and all of the Reds defeats I have sat in that seat and hoped to catch at least one foul ball. I don't know how many times I've had a foul ball rocketing back at my face only to be stopped by the backstop mesh net. Lots of foul balls were caught by people down the left field line and down the right field line. Few came directly behind home plate and none of them came close to "my" seat in Section 14, Row A, Seat 1.

On Monday this week I went to yet another Reds game. This time the Reds played the Jupiter Hammerheads and this time they won resoundingly by 9-2.

I arrived at the stadium late thinking that maybe if I got there late I'd help the team win. Everything else I have done did no good - maybe a late arrival would help? When I went to purchase my ticket, my buddy Marc told me that someone else had already purchased seat 1 in Row A of Section 14. I took a seat five rows back from "my" seat in the front row. Imagine my frustration Monday night when I watched the kid sitting in "my" seat catch not one but two foul balls! Those should have been mine.

Tuesday night this week the Reds were defeated by the Manatees by a score of 8-2. The highlight of tonight's game was the umpire kicking the Sarasota pitcher out of the game for supposedly throwing a ball at a Manatee batter. He came no closer to hitting that batter than I am right now. The Sarasota coach came onto the field and was immediately ejected from the game also. I think that the Sarasota coach's use of the word "cocksucker" to describe the umpire may have contributed to his ejection. I sat in my usual seat and no foul balls came by.

Wednesday night the Reds are thoroughly demolished by the Manatees by 8-4. No foul balls came near me. The same story held last night (Thursday night) as the Reds are demolished by the hapless St. Lucie Mets by the score 10-4 with the Mets having 10. Again no foul balls fell into my seat.

Which brings us to tonight's game again against the St Lucie Mets.

On entering the stadium I purchased "my" seat and took up my position behind home plate. The first pitch of the game was thrown at exactly 7:00 p.m. with the temperature 78 cold degrees. The Mets batter swung at the first pitch and hit it foul directly behind home plate. I watched it sail over the mesh back stop and then hit the Press Box area. There it bounced forward and headed back toward the field. Seeing the ball come over the fence I watched its trajectory as it hit the Press Box and then bounce outward. It was coming directly at me in my seat.

Seeing the ball I leaped up and cauught it in my uncovered left hand! As I was grabbing the ball I held a large cup of Budweiser in my right hand. I grabbed the ball and didn't spill the beer.

The Reds beat the Mets by a score of 8-5. And to top it off I caught Minor League baseball. Life is definitely good for the retired.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Thirty-two years ago this morning, August 21, 1977, I trundled across the Mendota Bridge over the Minnesota River in St. Paul, turned left into a big parking lot, walked into the Federal Building at Fort Snelling, and began my career as a wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Actually I really began as a Biological Technician in a temporary position. Two months later I was converted to a permanent employee and two months after that converted to a wildlife biologist. For the 1.5 years before today I had worked (for $3.00 an hour) with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Thirty-two years ago today my now-ex-wife was heavily pregnant with Jennifer (who debuted on September 2) and we had no health insurance. That changed 32 years ago today. My starting salary was $11,523 per year - a sum that was more than twice anything I had ever made in a year before. On that salary we bought a house in Hudson, had a baby, and lived very comfortably. Its funny how things change. In 2008, my first year of retirement, I paid $19,000 in Federal taxes alone!

I had wanted to be a biologist ever since I was 6 years old and went for a hike in a forest with my grandfather. As we walked along we came onto a pile of trees that had been bulldozed to make a road into the east side of Desair Lake northwest of Rice Lake in Barron County, Wisconsin. I became really upset when I saw the dead trees and remember telling my grandfather that if people keep killing trees by the time I was his age (which I am now) there wouldn't be any more trees. My grandfather reassured me that there always would be. I think I decided then that I wanted to make sure he was never proven wrong.

Then came the banded duck I found dead along the road when I was 9 years old. The duck (a female Mallard) had been killed by colliding with a powerline. Its interesting how that incident and a later accomplishment in my career were apparently intertwined. I sent the band in and a couple months later received a "Certificate of Appreciation" from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The certificate told me what kind of bird it was (as if I didn't know already???), where it had been banded, by whom and when. I thought it was pretty cool there was an organization out there that put bands on bird legs so at 9 years old I wrote my first letter to a member of Congress. In it I asked for more information about this organization. Soon our mail box was filled with a huge package from Washington DC containing everything you ever wanted to know about the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I read everything and right then decided when I grew up I would be either a zoologist or a government trapper with the Service.

In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls, while sitting in the library reading papers published in the Journal of Wildlife Management (that I later started calling the Journal of Metaphysical Wildlife) I kept seeing papers by this guy named Stewart and another guy named Cowardin, and another guy named Johnson at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center on the frozen tundra of Jamestown, North Dakota. They were heavily published and what they wrote about was profund and cutting edge. One night in graduate school I decided that once I was hired by the Service one day I would be at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center where those two wrote all these papers. I got to Northern Prairie on January 20 1979, a day when the high temperature was -27 degrees F.

It was a really exciting day 32 years ago today. My supervisor, Chuck Elliott, told me on this day that the way to succeed is to "Always keep your mouth shut until you have all your facts and figures in order, and you know you can defend your position. When you get to that point, go for the throat." I never kept my mouth shut (which is why I never advanced) but I certainly went for the throat whenever necessary. Like the time in Nebraska when in a heated debate over data about Whooping Crane use of the Platte River, the vice-president of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District rocketed across the table and attacked me screaming "you lying son of a bitch." I guess Dave didn't like unsolicited intrusions of reality to upset his day.

Chuck also told me that 30 years down the road when I retire, if I can look back and count three things I accomplished in my time then I had a successful career. Today I can count two things: 1) the research we did to address the issue of bird collisions with power lines and 2) turning around the attitudes of much of Nebraska about the importance of protecting the Platte River. Two for three is a damned good batting average and unheard of for the Sarasota Reds.

I think of all the things I did and places I went as a Service employee I accomplished the most and made the biggest impact while stationed in Nebraska. I remember well my first visit to the Platte River in 1979 while at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. An editorial in the Omaha World-Herald that day said that any water flowing down the Platte that had not irrigated water at least once was "wasted" water. That same year I was threatened by a landowner near Kearney Nebraska who told me to carry a sidearm for protection because of who I worked for because "You're trying to save those god-damned cranes." John Spinks and Nathaniel P Reed sent me to the Platte River on a permanent basis in January 1987. John Spinks' direction to me was to "go out there and sell the river." And we did. Six years later, when I left the state, the same Omaha World-Herald wrote an editorial in which they discussed the impact to the human psyche that would occur if the Prairie White-fringed Orchid went extinct and why it was a good idea for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list it as an endangered species.

Then there was Maureen Nickels' class of ecowarriors at Wasmer Elementary School in Grand Island. In the fall of 1991 I challenged these fifth graders with a $1.00 challenge to raise $3.00 more to protect one acre of rain forest in Guatemala. The following June three kids from the class and their teacher were flown to New York City where they dined with the Secretary General of the United Nations who gave them an award on behalf of the UN Environment Programme for "all the work you have done to teach children around the world about the rain forest." A group of fifth graders in a corn field in Nebraska who never saw a rain forest. But they changed the world because it was something they believed in. In the spring of 1992 John Turner, then the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service made a trip to Grand Island to look at Sandhill Cranes. When asked by the Regional Office what he wanted to do while in Nebraska, John said only one thing "I want to meet Craig's ecowarriors." And he did.

And there were the times working with our Special Agent Cleveland Vaughn helping to educate people about why there are laws protecting wildlife and why someone has to enforce them. One of the best cases Cleveland ever had was some low life's who had purposefully destroyed 8 Least Tern nests on an island in the lower Platte River. I helped Cleveland do his investigation and we eventually figured out who did the deed. Three of them had criminal records, two of them had prison records and one of them was known to carry a concealed weapon. I went along when Cleveland and some FBI agents took them down. As we drove up to their trailer (how did I know they'd be in a trailer?) Cleveland said "When we go in you go in first." I asked "WHY me first?" Cleveland smiled and said "If they shoot I want them to shoot your white ass before they shoot my black ass." No shots were fired and Cleveland and the FBI hauled them away. The US Attorney for Nebraska personally prosecuted the case winning a huge fine and prison time for these three losers. I still smile when I think about the day we took them out for harming the earth.

My first official trip as a Service employee was with my supervisor when we drove down to near Mason City Iowa and put into place the steps needed for the Service to purchase the first Waterfowl Production Areas in that state. Also in my first position I helped identify 26 unique wildlife habitats in 6 states that were nominated to us for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge system. As of today 25 of the 26 areas have been protected by the Service, by a State agency, or by a group like the incomparable Nature Conservancy. The 26th area, the Scioto River in south-central Ohio, is today under consideration by the Service to become a National Wildlife Refuge.

In my time with the Service I traveled on official duty to each of the 50 states and nearly 1,000 of the nation's 3,076 counties, earned more than $1.3 million in salary, and traveled more than 1,000,000 miles on 31 airlines. There's no way of knowing how many miles I drove in a car or rode on a ferry accomplishing the work of the Service but it was substantial. I also did official travel to the Bahamas (mon), the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad (mon) Taiwan,Japan, Johnston Atoll, Kwajalein, Majuro, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Truk, Guam and Rota. I only wish now that I had saved all of my travel vouchers so I knew how much was spent on travel to cart me around the world. I also published more than 60 papers and 2 books about birds and other wildlife during my career.

I left the Service on March 1, 2008 with 31 years of creditable service to the agency and our natural resources. On the day I left I walked out the door, never looked back, got on the subway and rode it home. I then got in a car and took off for Florida. I still haven't looked back - well not often. I started my career under Jimmy Carter, second only to Teddy Roosevelt in terms of being a great conservationist. I ended my career under George Bush, the biggest mistake and embarassment the White House has ever known. What a difference a few years and a few Administrations can make.

Its funny how there are days that you never forget - like where you were when Kennedy was shot, what you were doing when we walked on the moon, the birth day of your daughters, and the day Barack was elected President. For me for some reason I have also never forgotten the day I started work for the most important natural resource protection agency on the face of the earth. I'm thankful I had the chance to be there.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sarasota Reds Snatch Defeat From Jaws of Victory TWICE Today

I've been told that when you're at the bottom the only direction to go is up. However whomever came up with that little line never considered the hapless Sarasota Reds baseball team.

Today they played the Fort Myers Miracle in a double-header. The first game started at noon and was mercifully over by 2:15. Because this was a double-header both games are only 7 innings long. I'm not sure why they have that rule - I guess to lessen the pain?

Final score in game 1 today was Fort Myers 6 and Sarasota 3. Fort Myers scored 2 runs in the top of the 4th inning and surprisingly Sarasota came back with 3 in the bottom of the 4th. Their lead was frittered away immediately in the top of the 5th inning when Fort Myers scored two runs followed by single runs in the top of the 6th and again in the top of the 7th. They had the lead and blew it. I think that should be the epithet of the Sarasota Reds.

The second game of this two-game set began about 2:45 with Fort Myers taking an early 1 run lead in the top of the 1st inning but the Reds came back with three runs in the bottom of the third inning. Score now Sarasota 3 and Fort Myers 1, a Fort Myers batter pulverized a hanging curve ball into the left field bullpen in the top of the fourth bringing the score to 3-2. It looked like Sarasota might actually win on this slim margin as we moved to the top of the seventh inning. But, Fort Myers scored a run tying the game and then scored a go-ahead run in the top of the eight. True to form the Sarasota Reds could not get anything going in the bottom of the 8th inning and lost 4-3.

Twice in the same day they had the lead and twice in the same day the Reds allowed defeat to snatch away victory. At least they are consistent - consistently bad that is! Attendance today was 162 people and I think about 160 of them were Fort Myers fans. Currently and appropriately the Sarasota Reds are in last place in their division 9 games out of first place. At least they were able to regain the bottom of the standings...maybe that says something for them?

They start a 3-game home stand tomorrow night against the Jupiter Hammerheads. The Hammerheads are just 1.5 games out of the cellar of the division so there might be a good fight for 3 nights to see if the Reds can retain their bottom dweller status.

Today's games put my record as a fan at 5 wins and 30 losses for Sarasota with me in the stands. My goal for the rest of the season is to have them at 40 losses so they are well on the way to fulfilling that dream of mine!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Space Coast Stadium - Brevard County Florida

The beautiful Space Coast Stadium off Interstate 95 at exit 195 near Cocoa Florida was the 11th and final stadium used by Florida State League teams that I wanted to visit this year. Yesterday, August 12, I accomplished that "mission" (but without the banner and without landing on a ship moored 500 meters off the coast of San Diego).

Space Coast Stadium is the spring training home of the hapless Washington Nationals. It is obvious from the results of the 2009 season thus far that the Nationals should have stayed in Florida for more spring training.

I arrived at the stadium late yesterday after spending the morning visiting seven counties in north-central Florida I had not visited yet in 2009. From the county chase I hung out for a couple hours on the beach at beautiful Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville where I hoped to find some migrating seabirds. The only thing of interest were three Forster's Terns freshly arrived from somewhere north of here.

Walking from the parking area to the ball park visitors first encounter a large bronze statute of "Mighty Casey" the mythical famous home run hitter for the "Mudville" team. The statute must be at least 16 feet tall. Assuming its a life-size replica of Casey, its easy to understand why he hit so many home runs in his day.

All seats for Florida State League games (except for season ticket holders) are general admission. I paid $6.00 for mine. The gates open one hour before the game. Once inside the gate I went immediately to the Manatee store and purchased my Brevard County Manatees baseball cap. I told the person selling the cap about my quest to see a game in each stadium and to get a baseball cap for each team. For whatever reason she gave me a little carry on bag from the 2008 Florida State League All-Star game as a memento of my efforts. I guess I must have good karma because she certainly didn't have to do that - that or she saw a way to get rid of an old carry on bag!

The one grill in operation (there are apparently 3 during the Nationals spring training season) didn't have bratwurst on the menu but they had an excellent Italian sausage for $4.00. Adjacent to this grill (that only sold Budweiser products) was a small stand with adult beverages that included 32 ounce cups of Presidente for $9.00 ($10.00 with the tip that I had no alternative but to leave because the guy didn't offer me change).

Inside the stadium I was very impressed with what I saw. The stadium was completed in 1993 and has a feel of having been completed much more recently than that. There is a large press box area and several very conspicuous VIP lounges on the same level as the press area. The seats are very wide and comfortable with more than adequate space for your legs in front of you. Having seen all 11 stadiums I have to rank Space Coast in the top 3 in terms of niceness, right up there with the Fort Myers stadium and the one used by the Clearwater Thresher Sharks.

Tonight's game was between the Brevard County Manatees and the Dunedin Blue Jays. The final score was Brevard County 8 and Dunedin 2. The game was never close with Brevard County taking an early 4 run lead in the bottom of the first inning and that was all they really needed to do for the rest of the night. Probably the best play of the night came in the top of the fifth inning when Dunedin scored its two runs. With a runner on second base the Dunedin hitter lined a ball to deep center field. The center fielder picked up the ball and threw a strike to home plate. The Brevard catcher stood directly in front of the plate, hovering the base line (which is where he's supposed to be - not out in front of the base). He caught the ball, hunkered down, and was rolled over by the incoming Dunedin runner trying to score from second. The catcher went down on this back with the runner on top of him. But he held onto the ball and the runner was out.

I remember a similar situation in the 9th grade when we were playing Bruce, Wisconsin. A Bruce runner was trying to score on a fly ball to center field. I stood in front of the plate with my mask on waiting for the ball. When I caught it I squatted down and waited for the impact. It came and when it did the runner smacked me on the top of the head with his elbow knocking me out cold as a fish. But I held onto the ball. When I finally came to I was laying on my back and the coach had removed my mask and was slapping my face. Finally able to focus he held out two fingers and asked me how many I could see. I squinted with one eye, then the other, and sheepishly said "two?" The coach said "you'll be fine now get up." And I did - just like the Brevard County catcher did tonight.

The paid attendance was only 650 people but they were boisterous and vocal in support of their home team. Its always more fun to be around fans like that than listening to the anemic response of most Sarasota Reds fans.

During the game I was able to add the following bird species to my list of birds observed in/ over baseball stadiums: Wood Stork (!!!), Glossy Ibis, Limpkin (!), and Common Nighthawk. How cool is that?

Following the game I darted across the state arriving home in record time from the east coast. There were some big thunderstorms crackling the sky as I made my way through the menagerie of Orlando and its theme parks but I made it home safely which was the point having put on a little more than 600 miles just yesterday. I was lucky that my friend Laura was on the phone with me from east of Orlando to the intersection with I-75 at Tampa. Her company was really helpful in keeping me awake during that part of the drive.

This ends my quest to visit all the ball parks used by Florida State League teams. Last year I visited all of the 141 state parks in the Florida state park system. This summer it was all of the stadiums used by the Florida State League. I'll have to think hard this winter about what sort of silly goal I can set for myself during the 2010 summer season and then set out to accomplish it also. For the rest of the 2009 season I'll just keep going to Sarasota Reds games and keep watching them lose to whomever they play. Maybe occasionally I'll dash down to Port Charlotte for a Stone Crabs game - for no other reason than to sit in the tiki bar in left field and hope it gets hit by someone's home run.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark - Daytona Beach Florida

Tuesday night, August 11, I had the extreme pleasure of watching a baseball game in the world-famous Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach Florida. Jackie Robinson was the 10th stadium of the 11 stadiums in the Florida State League that I wanted to visit this season. Named for someone who in my opinion was one of the five best baseball players ever to wear a uniform, visiting this park is a combination of baseball fever, American history, and humility.

The ballpark is located on Orange Avenue just off Beach Street along the waterfront in Daytona Beach. I arrived a few minutes before the gates opened and purchased a $6.00 general admission ticket. I had first asked for a seat directly behind home plate (one that cost $11.00) but I was told by the ticket salesperson that "there wont be many people here tonight so you can save money and sit anywhere." I said "including right behind home plate?" The guy behind the screen selling tickets said yes. Apparently he had not talked to the hall monitor in the ballpark because when I went to sit down in a seat in the first two rows behind home plate I was politely asked to sit elsewhere because I didn't have one of the $11.00 VIP tickets!

Jackie Robinson Ballpark can best be described as "old" and therein lies the charm. There is a set of bleachers down the third base line and a "grandstand" behind home and along the first base line. The dugouts look exactly like that - dug out. In fact the ballpark reminds me of the ball field at the Barron County (Wisconsin) fairgrounds in Rice Lake Wisconsin back in the very early 1960s. It is retro and it just feels like the kind of place you want to play baseball.

On entering the stadium I saw a historical placard that told about the huge amount of prejudice that Jackie Robinson had to endure as the first black ball player to break into the show. There are 10 more similar placards spaced around the edge of the stadium - each is historically important and very accurate. Most will make you angry when you read them. For instance despite all of his accomplishments, on arrival in Daytona Beach in 1947, Jackie Robinson was not able to stay in a hotel in town because the law forbade black people from staying in hotels. Instead Jackie stayed with a white doctor during his stay.

The beer selection at this stadium is pretty good with one bar offering 20 different beers on tap and all of them including Landshark Lager, available in a 32 ounce cup for the ultra reasonable price of $5.95. Also the little grill here has REAL bratwurst...I mean the kind of stuff babies born in Wisconsin are weaned on for our first solid food. I was also able to acquire a Daytona Cubs baseball cap, bringing me closer to the ultimate goal of having them all.

I took my seat behind home plate, but three rows back because I lacked a VIP ticket, and settled in to enjoy a game between the Daytona Cubs and the Tampa Yankees. There were 1620 fans in the audience for this game won by the Yankees by 8-3. Its frustrating that even the Class A minor league Yankees are rarely defeated as they were last night. They also possess the best record in the Florida State League.

I enjoyed this game immensely for several reasons. First of all neither of the teams was beating the Sarasota Reds. Plus there is the history surrounding the ballpark and the fact that they ballpark feels like something out of the 50s. Then there are the fans.

Absolutely nothing in the Florida State League comes close to the fevered excitement that comes from the Daytona Cubs fans. They are loyal, vocal, vociferous Chicago Cubs fans. They are the best. The crowd was exceptionally noisy and involved and gave the umpire hell each and every time it was needed. I felt right at home among all these crazed fans.

Despite the Cubs being throttled by the Yankees I had a great time at this game. It was all about history however. There was nothing remarkable about the plays or the game. I was sitting in a baseball shrine of historic importance. Just imagine that 62 years ago this spring a black man made history by joining the show and doing so in Daytona Beach. Sixty two years ago this spring he was running bases and sliding into them, and upsetting the establishment and tearing down more walls that helped to eventually lead us to Barack's triumph last November.

Daytona Beach is also of historical significance to Parrotheads because it was in this town at the Ocean Deck bar on the beach where Jimmy Buffett received the inspiration for his uber-party song "Fins." While in the bar, Jimmy watched a girl walk in the bar alone and she was immediately hit on by five or six guys whom Jimmy referred to as "Landsharks". From that song came the incomparable Landshark Lager beer.

And to think that I was able to sit there in an historically important ball park in Daytona Beach less than one mile from that historically important bar on the beach that was the inspiration for a great song and an even better beer, and soak it all in with a 32 ounce cup of Landshark Lager in one hand and a real bratwurst in the other. Life is good for the retired.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another Sunday and Another Sarasota Reds Loss

Here is the sad tale from yesterday's loss by the Sarasota Reds. It is almost easier to simply say "yesterday's loss" because by now its assumed it will be the Reds.

It was a great game after the disasterous first inning when Fort Myers sent ELEVEN batters to the plate. Things settled down after that but my hapless Reds never regained the lead. Attendance was 160 people. 159 of them sat in the shade while yours truly sat the entire game in the first row directly behind the catchers and home plate where I became parbroiled in the baking sun. Thankfully the beer tap in the concessions area didn't go on strike so I was able to stay hydrated in the 96 degree heat.

To make matters worse after the Reds were thoroughly trounced by Fort Myers we retired to my sister's pool and watched the Seattle Mariners throughly eviscerate the Tampa Bay Rays by 11-2. At least I was in the pool the entire time that debacle was happening.

I've tried every conceivable thing to help the Reds win but nothing helps. They are now 5 wins and 28 losses with me in the stands. As I pondered this yesterday afternoon it dawned on me that if the team I am always rooting for (the Reds) always lose, then maybe the thing to do is to start rooting for whomever the Reds are playing? Surely that must be the answer? I think that now with me having a baseball cap for all but two Florida State League teams (and I'll get those on Tuesday and Wednesday nights) I'm going to start showing up at the stadium wearing the cap of the team the Reds are playing. I'll even cheerlead for the guest team - maybe then the Reds will win?

Of course Jon Andrew has pointed out ever so not gently that "face it, the Reds suck" and that might be contributing also. However I won't know unless I try so tonight I'm going to the game in a Fort Myers Miracle cap. My buddy Chris Cates, the 5'3" second baseman for the Miracle will approve at least.

Tuesday night I'll be in Jackie Robinson field in Daytona watching a Daytona Cubs game and Wednesday night at the Brevard County Manatees game near Cocoa Beach/Titusville. With those two stadiums under my belt I will have seen a game in each of the 11 stadiums occupied by the 12 Florida State League teams.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Poor Muskrats March on Washington

In 2007, I posted this on a blog I used to manage but want to make sure its available for all of posterity to enjoy.

Maybe someday it will happen.

The Poor Muskrat's March on Washington

It was about 34 years ago today, while sitting around in our basement apartment outside River Falls Wisconsin that my room mate Tom "Mad Dog" Nelson and I hatched the idea for a Poor Muskrat's March on Washington. The idea may have had it's genesis in what seemed like a half pound of very high grade herb that Mad Dog and I had been inhaling at warp speed for most of the late afternoon. It and a couple bottles of low grade Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill made us ready to tackle any issue.

Growing up in the north woods of the great state of Wisconsin my family wasn't what you would call one of Bush's "elite." My dad was an artificial inseminator, otherwise known as a "bull cheater." He made enough for us to get by but it wasn't an extravagant existence. I owned about 100 sheep and also 18 Jersey cows. These added to our income. After graduation from High School in May 1969, I decided to attend the University of Wisconsin at River Falls where I majored in Earth Science and Biology for my Bachelors Degree, and later in Biology for my Master's Degree.

When I started college in August 1969, room, board, and tuition for 18 credits cost $401 per quarter or $1203 a year (funny, I pay more than that each month in extortionate rent on a one-bedroom apartment now!). Because the combined income from the dairy cows and sheep helped defray family costs, I needed another source of income.

Ever since I was a little kid I had fantasized about living in northern Canada where I would live off the land and make money by trapping fur bearers for their pelts. In late October 1963 I set my first traps (all 10 of them) during each weekend of the trapping season and wound up the first year catching 5 Muskrats and 1 Mink for which I received a grand total of $6.25! However by the time college came around I knew much more about how to catch fur bearers and had become quite proficient at it. Ultimately I was good enough at it that I caught enough Muskrats, Mink and Raccoon in the fall, and Beaver and Red Fox in winter, that I could pay for all of my room, board and tuition each of four years as an undergraduate. Because of their abundance and relative stupidity (I've often wondered if Muskrats aren't Repugnicans) I caught one hell of a lot of Muskrats.

First quarter of my freshman year in college the University of Wisconsin at River Falls gave me as a roommate a Baptist kid from near Milwaukee named David W. He was 18 years old and had never drank, swore, smoked anything, been out with a girl or stayed out after 10 at night in his entire life. He was also a member of the campus "Young Repugnicans." They put him in a room with me.

Clashed isn't an appropriate word to describe how David and I got along. I spent that first quarter in college working feverishly to drive him from my dorm room. David would wake up every morning at 6:00 am and take a shower. He would return and then stand in front of the mirror popping zits (he had no shortage of them) until 7:00 am when he would grab his books and say "I'm going to go feed my face." (as if I cared?) He would return in the late afternoon and sit at his desk to study. This is a kid from just outside of Milwaukee in the great State of Wisconsin yet the little bastard would listen to or watch nothing but ball games from Minnesota. Name a Minnesota team and David was a fan. He would sit at his desk with two radios playing; one tuned to a Twins game the other to a Gophers game. This was in WISCONSIN for Christs sake - the state where it is a genetically inherited trait to despise everything related to and about Minnesota. One night David walked down to the basement of Johnson Hall to watch Star Trek with all of us and promptly left when he was pelted with a barrage of beer bottles. We didn't want the traitor anywhere near us.

No matter what I did or said nothing would drive David from the room. I'd come home drunk and puke on the floor. David was still there. I once brought home a female "friend" who stayed in my bed all night not four feet from David's head but nothing in the thrashing and moaning for most of the night caused David to want to leave. Nothing moved him from the room. Nothing.

The 1969 trapping season in northern Wisconsin began on Saturday October 25 and I trapped heavily near home that first week. The trapping season in the central zone (where River Falls was located) began on Saturday November 1. I moved all of my traps and equipment to River Falls and trapped a large wetland near Roberts that was crawling with Muskrats. In the first week of the central zone season I caught 150 Muskrats, 1 Mink and 1 Raccoon. I had no place to skin them, stretch them, or hang them up to dry so I did all of that in my dorm room (209 Johnson Hall probably still smells of muskrat skins). You could walk in the front door of Johnson Hall and smell my room on the south wing of 2nd floor. Being used to the smell of Muskrat skins I rather enjoyed the experience but it was the breaking point for David. At the end of the quarter, two weeks later, he quit college, joined the Army and went to Vietnam. His name isn't on the Wall, so I assume he came back.

That first year I caught more than enough critters to pay for all of my tuition and housing and food. The trend was set for the rest of my college career.

By the time my senior year in college came around I was quite fervent in my love for and respect of Muskrats. This may be related to my college nickname of "Muskrat" that an old girl friend Robbie Pitsch (who I missed out on marrying by _ that much) affectionately called me for many years to come. I once gave a senior seminar titled "Muskrat - King of the Fur Bearers". There was virtually nothing about them that I didn't know and couldn't recite.

Which brings us to 34 years ago this week.

In our herb-induced haze, Mad Dog and I started talking about social injustice. This was back when people gave a shit about social injustice. Both being Earth Science and Biology majors we turned the conversation into environmental injustice. As we toked away and drank we slurred the conversation in the direction of how to apply social issues to the environment (isn't it great what herb can do to your thinking?)

In 1968 Washington DC saw the "Poor People's March on Washington." This was back in the days when we had a real President who actually cared about something other than his own net worth. Thousands of people converged on Washington to march on the Capitol demanding justice for the poor people (that would be the non-Republic Party people) of the nation.

Emboldened by that knowledge Mad Dog and I decided that the most important environmental issue we could tackle (other than over population that at the time we were more than willing to contribute to) was wetland protection and trying to stop the draining of wetlands. From the 1950s to the 1970s the United States was destroying an average of 458,000 acres of wetlands every year in this country. Muskrats used to live in those 458,000 acres that had been turned into housing developments or surplus hard red spring wheat. Something had to be done.

After maybe the 8th or 9th passing of the bong, Mad Dog and I decided what we would do was to organize the "Poor Muskrats March on Washington." The concept was simple (had to be, we were stoned out of our gourds) but the implementation might take a bit of coordination.

What we planned was a two pronged approach.

First we were going to rent a Cessna and fly low over the marshes of America calling to arms all of the Muskrats we could find. Once we had 2 million of them in our camp, we were going to bring them all to Washington DC (don't be surprised if what follows sounds like something out of Jerry Rubin's book "Do It").

Once in Washington, Mad Dog was going to organize 1 million Muskrats and have them shut down all transportation systems into and out of Washington DC. All the Potomac River bridges would be blocked. All the rail lines. Everything. Once the city was secured I would take the other 1 million Muskrats and we would march on and then occupy and control the United States Capitol. When it was secure, the Million Muskrat March and I would remain in the Capitol building and not move until Congress passed mandatory legislation banning all forms of wetland loss in the country. Once we could say "mission accomplished" (but from a marsh not the deck of a boat 500 meters off the San Diego beach - and without a sign proclaiming the same) we would never have to worry again about homes for Muskrats because the wetlands would all be protected.

As the night dragged on we accepted the fact that there would probably be a few logistical obstacles that had to be overcome, but in our cannabis-induced euphoria we knew we could handle them.

History, of course, shows that the Poor Muskrats March on Washington has not yet happened. It might have been because of the logistics, or the inability of renting a Cessna, or it could be that when we slept off all that dope and Boone's Farm the next day we lost our direction.

Whatever the reason was then, the idea has never left my mind. To this day, every time I fly into or out of Washington National Airport (never EVER call it Washington Reagan airport) I look down at the bridges and streets of the city and fantasize about what they would have looked like then, or could look like in the near future, with 1 million Muskrats standing on their haunches, incisors bared, right paw clenched in a fist, and a look of "not in my wetland you won't" written across their furry little faces.

The Poor Muskrats March on Washington hasn't occurred - yet. But don't be surprised if some day before I move on to that great Muskrat marsh in the sky, you don't hear about a bunch of militant Muskrats swarming over the city sizing up the bridges leading out of Washington DC. The Captain and Tennille's song "Muskrat Love" playing in the background, and 1 million of them will rise up on their haunches and start chanting "Power to the Muskrats, Power to the Muskrats, Power to the Muskrats, Power to the Muskrats right on."

It could happen.

Roger Dean Stadium in Palm Beach

Roger Dean Stadium in northern Palm Beach County is the spring training home of both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Florida Marlins. In summer it houses both the Jupiter Hammerheads and the Palm Beach Cardinals. I was there last night for a game between the Hammerheads and the Cardinals. Up front it was sort of funny watching one team claim to be "away" and the other the "home" team in the stadium where both of them are home! But, its Florida and that should explain much.

This stadium is another in a long line of nice baseball facilities in Florida. The seats are spacious and there are lots of them in the box seats, and even in the general admission area. I think Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota is hands down the worst stadium but that will likely change now that the Orioles are coming to town and the ball park is scheduled to receive upwards of $30 million in renovations. They will be dollars well spent when you consider all the other parks.

The dimensions of Roger Dean are similar to most other Florida State League stadiums with dead center at 410 feet. The beer selection is adequate but the Landshark Lager sign in right center field is especially nice. With Jimmy Buffett now a resident of Palm Beach County the stadium better damned well be carrying advertisements for his beer!

General admission tickets for this park are $8.50 each but surprisingly you can reserve a seat for that price. I stopped by the field about noon 30 and got my seat - directly behind home plate 4 rows back - and then went out to work on my Palm Beach and Martin County bird lists until game time.

The final score in tonight's rout was Palm Beach 9 and Jupiter 3. However given the distance I had to drive home coupled with a few brewskis under my belt (couldn't resist, I was at a ball game) I left after the sixth inning when Palm Beach was ahead 8-0. I guess I wouldn't have gained much by staying any longer. I left the parking lot at Roger Dean stadium at exactly 9:00 p.m. and pulled into my parking lot at home at exactly 12:00 midnight (is midnight a.m. or p.m.?? nobody has ever been able to give a cogent answer). I was surprised to be able to make it across the state in exactly 3 hours especially with the two pit stops I had to make in Okeechobee and Highlands counties. Luckily for me there were no fire ants waiting to munch on my toes as happened a week or so ago coming home from Fort Myers.

This is now the 9th stadium I have visited of the 11 stadiums used by the 12 teams of the Florida State League Class A minor league teams. There was nothing truly remarkable about this stadium that made it stand out from the others I have visited and its glaring lack of a tiki bar made it unlikely Roger Dean will ever make it to my "most favorite stadium" list. Still it was a nice place to watch a game and enjoy the ambiance of baseball. Tonight's official attendance was 778 spectators - it seemed like there were fewer people in the stands than that. Maybe the attendance figures include season's ticket holders?

I was able to pick up baseball caps for the Palm Beach Cardinals:
And the Jupiter Hammerheads
bringing me two steps closer to my goal of getting baseball caps for each of the 12 FSL teams.

I need to check next week's schedules for Daytona and for the Brevard County Manatees. Especially for the latter I need to make damned sure that I read the starting time of the game correctly so I don't miss a game. Perhaps by the end of next week I will have been able to see those two teams on their home turf and completed the mission of getting them all. Given the history of Jackie Robinson and the prejudice he experienced in Florida when he was a rookie, it will be most enjoyable seeing a game in a stadium named after him in Daytona Beach. That alone will make this mission worth the effort and expense. Regardless I want to have visited all the stadiums and obtained a baseball cap for each team by the time the baseball season ends in early September.

As for tonight...well my hapless Sarasota Reds are playing against the St. Lucie Mets here in Sarasota. Its $1.00 night for admission, hot dogs and popcorn. I can expect a mob of people trying to get any concessions from the poorly-managed concession stand here. The Reds are just four games back from the lead in their division but I have confidence they can make that even worse and will lose to the Mets. To make matters more frustrating, the St. Lucie Mets have the lousiest record in all of Florida State League baseball....yet they can beat the Reds. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tradition Field and Another Sarasota Loss

It's Tuesday evening and I'm sequestered in the Hilton Garden Inn in Port St. Lucie Florida. Just arrived here a bit ago from watching the latest in a seemingly endless streak of Sarasota Reds losses with me in the stands. Tonight it was the St Lucie Mets who kicked the collective ass of the Sarasota Reds humbling them 5-2. The Reds are now 5 and 25 with me in the stands and worse yet 5 games back from first place in their division. Adding insult to injury tonight is the fact that St Lucie has the worst record of ANY team in the Florida State League. If you have the stomach for it you can view the box score here.

Tradition Field is the spring training home of the hapless New York Mets. As lousy as the Sarasota Reds are, I think they should switch allegiance and become the Sarasota Mets....they deserve each other.

Despite who trains here in spring, and who got their asses beat here tonight, this is one very very nice stadium. The seats are very room, each has a glass holder in front of it. The overall feeling is of an amphitheater with seating for thousands. I'm not sure how many people can fit in the stadium, but tonight more than 1,900 people were in the stands. It was a rush to be around that many minor league fans. I was able to acquire a Mets baseball cap, taking me closer to my goal of getting a hat for each Florida State League team.

The dimensions of Tradition Field are similar to other stadiums; 338 feet down each line and 410 feet to dead center. Palm trees line the outfield and there is a berm area where more can be seated. In right center field along the wall there is a very prominent Landshark Lager advertising sign and along the third base line is "Island Girl Tiki Bar" that has Landshark in bottles. More importantly there are 8 tables next to the Tiki Bar and each has a sun umbrella with Landshark plastered on it. According to the 20 something blonde behind the bar they have 10 kinds of beer on sale in the Tiki Bar. Its certainly not Clearwater or Port Charlotte but its a close approximation.

The only real highlight from tonight's game was the rather bodacious redhead festooned in only a tank top sitting in front of me with her two 10-12 year old sons. She obviously knew little about baseball and tried explaining things to her sons. Seeing the opportunity to be a good samaritan I frequently reached over the seat to explain what was going on in the field. Her lack of a bra under the tank top had absolutely nothing to do with my willingness to explain baseball to her sons.

Tomorrow night I will be in Palm Beach/Jupiter for a game between the Palm Beach Cardinals and the Jupiter Hammerheads. This is "home" for both teams so I'll be able to get the stadium and baseball caps for both teams at once. Once acquired I'll have only the Brevard County stadium and Jackie Robinson stadium in Daytona left for the Florida State League teams and their accompanying baseball caps. I only wonder if the redhead will be at the game in Palm Beach tomorrow night? At least I know the Sarasota Reds will not be.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Birding Away in Margaritaville

Despite my bad luck with scheduling baseball games today, and my horror at finding the first Canadian tourists of the year already, I was able to end the day on a high note birding on a couple of Sarasota's keys. On returning from the east coast I went immediately to Lido Key and the South Park on the island. There I walked the beach looking for newly arrived migrant birds and perhaps some summer residents I had not found earlier. Between here and the Quick Point Nature Preserve later in the evening I picked up six new species for my Sarasota County bird list.

On walking to the beach from the parking lot I came across a large group of Laughing Gulls miling around on the beach just being Laughing Gulls. Among them was one bird that was obviously sick - it was flopping around in the water, its feathers soaked, and the bird in not very good shape. I picked it up, felt its sternum and after looking at it a bit concluded that it was starving to death. When birds get to that point there is very little you can do for them but I didn't want to do what I should have done for it - instead I put the bird back on the beach and decided to let mom nature take her course. Plus killing it would have been a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 USC 703-712) and I wasn't eager to do that.

Not far from the hapless Laughing Gull I found a pair of Willets hanging out waiting for the tide to change. For whatever reason I had not yet found Willet in Sarasota County, I think because I haven't tried very hard. You can learn more about Willet's at this website.

Not far from the pair of Willet's I found a group of seven Ruddy Turnstones recently arrived from the high Arctic and no doubt enjoying the 91 degree temperature and similar humidity of south Florida. They were my second Sarasota County bird of the afternoon.

Sarasota County government cooperating with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission had roped off a small area of the beach to protect nesting pairs of Least Terns, Black Skimmers and Snowy Plovers from any sort of harassment by uninformed beach users. I walked over to the closed area and enroute found a pair of Snowy Plover that almost perfectly blended in with the sandy beach. Talk about protective coloration!

Earlier this summer I had found numerous Snowy Plovers in Manatee County just a few miles north. These, however were the first I found in Sarasota County. County bird number 3.

Despite this being August 2 there were still adult Least Terns flying about carrying fish to their dependent offspring. Hopefully they had a successful nesting season with there being no tropical storms or other nasty weather to have screwed them up this year. A month from today about 95 percent of the Least Terns will have departed Florida for Trinidad and the coast of South America where they will hang out until they return next year in April. Some times I wish I was a Least Tern. If you want to read more about the ecology of this species, make sure you check out this excellent paper published about the Interior race long ago and in a galaxy far away. The paper might be old but it was one of the principal pieces of evidence used to justify the listing of the Interior Least Tern as an endangered species, and the Piping Plover as a threatened species many years ago.

Right there with the Least Terns were probably 25 to 30 Black Skimmer floating around in the air and skimming the water's surface and just generally being one of the most beautiful species of bird you could ever see on the west coast of Florida.

On returning along the beach to my car I found a local family who had discovered the Laughing Gull I left to die earlier. They had picked up the bird and were going to take it to a veterinarian for medical attention. I explained that the bird was just hours from death and there was likely nothing even a veterinarian could do for it. They were persistent and determined and I said nothing else to them. At least they will sleep well tonight knowing that they tried.

Leaving beautiful Lido Key beach with three new species for my Sarasota County list I passed thorugh (around?) St. Armand's Circle and then went north to the southern tip of Longboat Key where Sarasota County government has established the Quick Point Nature Preserve. The mangrove forest associated with this preserve is one of the best developed that I have seen along the Sarasota Bay. It was tough to leave it at the end of the day.

Offshore from the mangroves there were hundreds of Herons and Egrets foraging and among them I found my first Reddish Egret for Sarasota County.

Not far from the Reddish Egret, lounging on an exposed sandbar was a pair of American Oystercatcher - another new species for my Sarasota County list. This has been another favorite bird of mine ever since I saw my first one - appropriately on an oyster bed - along the causeway to Chincoteague Island, Virginia on September 2, 1978.

There is an extensive boardwalk that winds its way through the preserve allowing interested visitors a great opportunity to learn about the mangrove forest if they take the time to see the forest for its trees. I was enjoying the hike keeping an ear and eye piqued for anything feathered when I saw a medium sized white-bellied bird flop across the trail in front of me. Given the habitat I was hoping it was a Mangrove Cuckoo but on closer inspection found it to be the more likely Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

The Florida Breeding Bird Atlas indicates that this species is widespread during the nesting season throughout Florida. However this is only the first one I have seen or heard in the two breeding season's that I have lived here. I enjoyed watching the bird from as close as 10 feet as it nerded around in the vegetation looking for a hapless insect to scarf up for dinner. As I watched it I recalled the last time I saw one this closely and this clear - from just feet away on the Sabana de Bogota just outside Bogota, Colombia, in October 2003.

I stayed another 30 minutes in the mangroves watching Yellow-crowned Night-Herons stalking crabs and Red-bellied Woodpeckers drilling the bark of trees and watching Barn Swallows swirl around overhead as they make their way south to their winter homes. It was difficult leaving this remarkable little patch of what once was in coastal Florida.

Returning toward home I remembered hearing about a new addition to the aquarium that serves as the bar at the Lazy Lobster restaurant off Lockwood Ridge Road. Not too long ago the management of the Lobster added a Snowflake Moray Eel to their collection and I wanted to see this fish. He has only been there a few days but has already staked out a pelycopod shell as "his." I pulled up a chair and sat there for an hour watching the eel just be an eel. What a beautiful fish!

Jimmy Buffett once said that you should "never eat seafood if you can't see the ocean" and for the most part I abide by his teachings. However when it comes to the Lazy Lobster - located in a strip mall 5 miles east of the nearest salt water - I make an exception. I have yet to have a meal here that wasn't excellent and tonight's teriyaki salmon with a seaweed salad only added to the list of excellent meals that the chef at the Lobster consistently produces. I would buy stock in this place if they sold it.

So, despite the lousy luck with no baseball game in Cocoa Beach, and despite the arrival of the first tourists 3 months earlier than they should be here, the day ended weill with lots of great birds in beautiful habitats. It was topped off with another incomparable meal at the Lazy Lobster - plus I got to work further on my tan. And just think other people have to go to work tomorrow.

The Tourists Are Coming! The Tourists Are Coming

One thing you learn to quickly despise once you move to Florida is the annual immigration of tourists. From about the day after Easter until Thanksgiving Day life is pretty normal here. The weather is hot, the humidity is high, and the tourists are gone! As soon as Turkey Day arrives however, all things change. Suddenly every road and byway is clogged with endless traffic. Overnight you can't find a place to park anywhere near a beach. Just as quickly you need a reservation to eat at your most favorite restaurant - even in the middle of the afternoon on a week day! Worst of all the countryside rings with the nasal sound of people going to "wok da dog on lon guylund" and others who end every sentence with "eh"

I thought we still had 3 solid months of relative solitude here until in the last few days when I've seen an uptick in the number of "foreign" license plates, especially from Ohio and Kentucky.

Such was the case today as I dashed across the state on my futile jaunt to see a baseball game that ended as I arrived. Along the way I noticed an inordinate number of foreign license plates with Ohio leading the list. This was especially true around Orlando but at the time I dismissed this as an abberation because everyone and their cow seems to be in Orlando at the theme parks all year long. Maybe I was just hallucinating?

However on returning to Sarasota this afternoon I darted out to Lido Key and to the south tip of Longboat Key for some much needed birding. As I drove around St. Armand's Circle I saw an overabundance of license plates from Ohio and Michigan and Kentucky and Joyzee and New Yawk. Then I saw the clincher - a plate from Ontario, eh. When I saw that license plate I knew this was no blip in the system. For whatever reason the Canuckadians have left the great white north, eh, and have started to arrive already on Florida's west coast. This does not bode well!

My old friend and colleague Tom Dahl once said while living in St. Petersburg that he wanted to make his first million dollars by producing, marketing, and selling a bumper sticker for use in Pinealls County that read, simply, "Who's Left in Ontario?" If you have been here in winter you'll immediately understand Tom's idea.

Today, three months earlier than normal, I saw the first one. It's going to be a long long winter here in the palm trees. I can already tell.

No Baseball on Sunday

Despite the best laid plans I could come up with today, I didn't see a minor league baseball game - but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Checking the schedules this morning I saw that the Brevard County Manatees were playing the Sarasota Reds in Cocoa Beach at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. This looked like a perfect excuse to dash over to the east coast, get the stadium, buy a Manatees baseball cap and watch the Reds lose another game. One out of three wasn't bad.

I left home about 10:45 headed up I-75 to I-4 and dashed through the menagerie that is Orlando following the Beachline toll road past the airport and on toward I-95 and the east coast. All was going well and I arrived at the stadium at 2:15 where I planned to hang out, work on my Brevard County bird list, buy a ticket, get a cap, have a beer and watch a game. With a 4:00 p.m. start I figured I would be on the road headed home by 7:00 at the latest and here by 10:00.

One slight problem - I never factored in that I would misread the damned schedule and arrive as the game was ending. Actually that is what I did. The game started at NOON!!! and I was there at 2:15. By now there was no way I could purchase a ticket to prove that I had been in that stadium and the Manatees gift shop was closed so I couldn't buy a baseball cap. And as to be expected the Sarasota Reds lost. I was, to borrow a word, screwed.

Swallowing my pride and accepting all the gas I had just wasted getting to this side of the state, I got back in my car, turned on Radio Margaritaville, and headed back to the west coast arriving here in the remarkably fast time of 2 hours 40 minutes. Next time I will double check and then triple check the schedules and maybe call ahead to quadruple confirm the starting times.

Oh well, c'est le vie.