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Hudson River Almanac January 2 - January 8, 2015

OVERVIEW

In most weeks, fishers, foxes, and bobcats would be highlights, but in this one the first-time appearance of a sub-tropical visitor tops them all. Incongruous in a week when air temperatures in most of the watershed did not get above freezing was a bird that would feel right at home in steamy Central America.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
close up of a crested caracara perched on a log

1/5 - Bear Mountain State Park, HRM 45.5: This is normally a time of year when people head south. However, on this blustery winter day a Floridian made a rare visit to the skies over Doodletown at Bear Mountain State Park. We watched in amazement as a crested caracara soared overhead in the late morning sun. The bird circled several times, drifted north out of view, and then returned overhead before heading east toward the Hudson. The field markings and overall gestalt of the bird were unmistakable. To our knowledge, this was the first record of a caracara in New York State. We later learned that one of these southern raptors was photographed in Berks County, PA, just a week earlier, so perhaps our sighting was the same bird blown north by the previous day's violent winds. Wherever it came from, it was a sight to behold, a tropical apparition on a brisk winter's day. [Photo of crested caracara by Robert Burton, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Ed McGowan, Gerhard Patsch, Dave Baker, Mike Adamovic

[The crested caracara (Caracara cheriway), related to our falcons (Falconidae), is about the size of a red-tailed hawk. In the U.S., the caracarat occurs primarily in Texas and Arizona and occasionally in coastal areas of other Gulf states. There is also a small population in south-central Florida. Its range extends south into northern South America, where I've seen this caracara in the eastern foothills of the Ecuadoran Andes. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/2 - Germantown, HRM 108: I glanced out of my window this morning at just the right time to see a lovely bobcat standing on the path to our front porch. At first, I wondered where the stray cat came from, but then noticed the bobcat's unmistakable stubby tail. It was a bit smaller than the one I saw here a few years ago. It didn't stay in one place for very long; it walked across the lawn, down a slope, and disappeared into the brush. It's nice to think that our property might be part of its territory.
- Cynthia Reichman

1/3 - Fort Edward to Fort Miller, HRM 202-193: I counted 36 bird species on my journey between the Fort Edward Grasslands and Fort Miller, with stops at Hartford (river mile 214) and Moreau. Highlights included many red-tailed hawks including one leucistic individual (some of its feathers lacked melanin pigment), eastern bluebirds, a ring-necked pheasant on the Towpath Road in Kingsbury, a bald eagle by a pig farm in Moreau, and more cardinals than I had ever seen in a single day.
- Scott Varney, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/3 - Troy, HRM 152: We recorded 63 species during the Troy Christmas Bird Count. Among the highlights were snow geese, green-winged teal, ruffed grouse (24), bald eagles (7), hermit thrush (16), eastern screech owl, great horned owl, barred owl, and Iceland Gull (8). The species total was below the ten-year count average of 68.
- Larry Alden, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/3 - Putnam County, HRM 55: This afternoon, during the Putnam County Christmas Bird Count, I had a brief encounter with a late-season male black-throated blue warbler in Carmel. It was in some evergreen shrubs along the north side of Old Route 6.
- Doug Gochfeld

1/4 - Washington County, HRM 210: I got a report this afternoon from Rob Chapman (with photographs) of an out-of-season male common yellowthroat (warbler) in winter plumage along Towpath Road, in the town of Kingsbury. While generally rare at this time of year, a few do attempt to winter here.
- Will Raup, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/4 - Saratoga Lake, HRM 182: I traveled around the lake in midday and found that the great mass of ducks had left the southern end as it was rapidly freezing over. Across 48 hours, the lake went from mostly ice free to just some small leads of open water. Halfway up the east side I found approximately 120 mixed scaup (about 85% percent lesser scaup). A short distance beyond them were three redhead ducks, two drakes and a hen. The north end of the lake was almost entirely common mergansers. Continuing down the west side I came upon the greatest number of waterfowl, easily 1,000 common mergansers and another 300 mixed common goldeneye, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, black ducks, and a single coot. Flyovers during my trip included an immature bald eagle and a male northern harrier.
- Ron Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/4 - Hudson to Poughkeepsie, HRM 119-76: Heading south on Amtrak this afternoon I counted at least six beaver lodges (sticks and mud) in the backwaters and wetlands inside the railroad tracks. Dare I hope that these industrious New World rodents are thriving in the inlets created by New York Central Railroad more than a century ago? The irony of the possibility that these iconic American furry residents might find haven in Cornelius Vanderbilt's iron-bound marshes is a joy to me!
- Christine Kulisek

[The beaver (Castor canadensis) is the New York State mammal. With the arrival of the Dutch in the Hudson River watershed (1609) the pressure to meet a European fashion demand for beaver pelts was overwhelming. The "Beaver Wars" ensued (1640-1664) between the Dutch and the native Americans, with the beaver being extirpated from Iroquoia (essentially the Mohawk River Valley and western New York) by 1640, and from the Mohican homeland (Algonquian River Indians) by 1650. By 1800, there were few, if any, beaver left in the watershed. Through wildlife management efforts, beaver re-occupied New York State by the middle of the twentieth century and are once again commonly found throughout the watershed. Tom Lake]

1/4 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: As I walked on Garden Street I kept my eyes down on my feet so I wouldn't slip on the black ice. But then I almost stumbled on a large brown raptor cloaking some prey it was snacking on curbside. An opportunistic crow was harassing the hawk. The three of us stopped for a moment, then I slowly walked backwards so as not to disturb the hawk, who resumed eating. With some agitated squawks, the crow hopped on a fence. From what I could see the raptor appeared to be an immature red-tailed hawk.
- Pat Joel

1/5 - Bear Mountain State Park, HRM 46: Seeing a group of white-tailed deer in Bear Mountain State Park is usually not noteworthy. Today, however, a small herd of eleven deer included two eight-point bucks fighting like it was early November. We watched them as they locked antlers, pushed each other back and forth, disengaged, and then did the whole thing all over again.
- Ed McGowan, Gerhard Patsch, Dave Baker, Mike Adamovic

1/5 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was very cold and blowing hard. The Tappan Zee was corn-rowed with white-capped waves, and the only water sheltered from the north wind was in the lee of Croton Point. Off the south service road, 125 ruddy ducks were snoozing, tails cocked at 45 degrees. Beyond them, four goldeneyes and a dozen buffleheads, and that was all.
- Christopher Letts

1/5 - Yonkers, HRM 18: It looked like someone had pulled the plug out of the bath tub. At low tide outside the mouth of the Saw Mill River, a mud flat appeared between the bulkhead and the Science Barge and I could see live oysters attached to the steel structure. I had not seen the tide so low in more than a decade.
- Bob Walters

[Three days of north-northwest winds culminated in a blowout tide. Blowout tides are not common. They occur most frequently following several days of steady and strong north-northwest winds. According to Dr. Alan F. Blumberg, director of the Center for Maritime Systems at the Stevens Institute of Technology, blowout tides result from these winds acting on the ocean off New York Harbor, causing extremely low tides there and in turn up the Hudson. It culminates in an ebb tide that seems to go seaward forever, draining tide marshes and inshore shallows to give us a glimpse of seldom seen parts of river bottom. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

close up of a fisher on a dead tree in the woods

1/6 - Haines Falls to Catskill, HRM 112: I had two recent fisher sightings that were important to me, both from a natural history perspective and a spiritual one. The first was coming down Route 23A from Haines Falls through Kaaterskill Clove December 23. It was a warm morning with a low mist in the air. The fisher loped across the road right in front of me, fairly casually, and as I slowed down to let it have more time, it noticed me and made eye contact through the windshield. As it reached the shoulder it resumed its path unperturbed into the woods. The second one was this morning, again Route 23A, not far from the Village of Catskill. This fisher was very black, looked hefty and well-fed, and was loping parallel to the right side of the road and moved as though it intended to cross. I slowed down. Still loping, the fisher angled full onto the road. I honked my horn and it immediately headed directly away from the road into a field of trees and shrubs. It, too, was a beautiful animal, and I considered seeing two of them as an absolute treat. [Photo of fisher courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Jim Planck

1/6 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: We were prepared to accept our effort as no more than a cold walk on a frigid day on the Walkway-over-the-Hudson State Historic Park when a peregrine falcon blurred past in front of us, angling toward the river. Pirouetting up from underneath was a pigeon, and the chase was on. Despite the peregrine's deserved reputation for speed, a pigeon with some space to move and a bit of a head start can prove to be an elusive target. They are far faster than they look. Within seconds they both disappeared from sight. The rest of the drama played out somewhere in the 212 feet between the Walkway and the river below.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[This encounter brought back a story told to me fifteen years ago by Cal Rankin, a member of the climbing team that attended navigation lights on the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge (Walkway). He told me of an October visit he made several years before to replace a burned out light. On that occasion he did not see the falcons but he knew they had been there by the collection of pink pigeon feet that were piled on the top of a bridge support. He concluded that peregrines loved pigeons, but took a pass on their feet. Tom Lake.]

1/6 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: A flurry of songbird wings against porch windows announced the arrival of a raptor in the feeder area. Seconds later, several downy feathers drifted past the kitchen window; the hawk had killed. Later, heading for the compost pile, I saw the story in the half-inch of new snow: a scatter of tiny bird prints on the ground; an impact point where the hawk had killed, wing and tail and body clearly outlined. The short and rounded wing prints said "Accipiter"; the size of the talon prints said Cooper's hawk.
- Christopher Letts

1/7 - Town of Bethlehem, HRM 141: I stopped by the Henry Hudson Bethlehem Town Park to see if anything was going on now that the ice on the river was forming fast. I heard a crow "caw," and looked up to see an adult bald eagle circling around on the east side of the river before crossing over to the west side, flying right past me at tree-top level heading south. I watched until it was lost in the clouds. The frigid wind picked up and it was also time for me to leave.
- Roberta Jeracka

1/7 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: I counted five bald eagles, three of which were immatures, in and around a bare tree on the bay at the mouth of the creek. The Hudson River was largely covered with moving ice, leaving just a small patch of open water where a few ducks and geese were hunkered down. The immatures foraged on the wing with one bringing something back to eat. After a while they began to fly away, moving upstream along the creek. At the same time, two gray foxes ran down a path one after the other. One was carrying something in its mouth so I assumed there was a wrangle over feeding rights. It was a good start to the day.
- Barbara Heinzen

[Thickening winter ice is a great motivator to move on for raptors like eagles, whose diet is almost entirely fish and waterfowl. Finding both requires access to open water. Tom Lake.]

1/7 - Milan, HRM 90: I had a great beginning to my day with a half-hour viewing of a red fox very close to my home. By far, this was the healthiest fox that I had seen here. Its sleek coat and bushy tail gave an appearance of being "groomed." The fox acted very relaxed, circling my house several times and even lying down within 30 feet of my deck.
- Frank Margiotta

1/7 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: At the mouth of Furnace Brook six hooded mergansers and four ring-necked ducks were sheltering. Such a treat to have them here. I knew that open water would turn to ice within 48 hours and wondered where their next refuge would be.
- Christopher Letts

goldfinches in winter plumage on a birdfeeder

1/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A very cold overnight had air temperatures dipping to 24 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The daytime temperature only reached 14. Folks have been ice fishing in the small bay east of the Route 28N bridge over the Hudson River for about a week, but even with these extreme cold temperatures, there are pockets of open water. One American robin (I call him Crazy Ivan) is still around and eking it out by feeding on what is left of the crab cherries. The most abundant bird at the local feeders is the American goldfinch. [Photo of American goldfinches in winter plumage by Brett Billings, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Charlotte Demers

1/8 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Brilliant light from the waning gibbous moon sparkled through ice crackles where Jack Frost had touched the windows in my house. I scratched an eye-hole in the frost to catch a glimpse of the moon. There was bright Jupiter close by as it will be for several nights. Quite a sight!
- Robin Fox

1/8 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The Point was locked in with ice on all sides this morning. The game had changed; the waterfowl of two days ago coldly evicted. With some open leads, the lower Croton River was chock-a-flock with waterfowl. Several hundred black ducks, mallards, bufflehead, and one female ruddy duck were sheltering in the shrinking open water upstream from the railroad trestle.
- Christopher Letts

1/8 - Ossining, HRM 33: On this frigid morning, as I drove onto the Mariandale property, my eyes caught sight of a lean, healthy, fast-moving animal with a long tail loping across the field: a coyote! The usual Canada geese and occasional wild turkeys that greet me in the morning were nowhere to be found.
- Dorothy Ferguson

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