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Hudson River Almanac January 16 - January 22, 2015

OVERVIEW

The relentless icing of the river pushed on south, spreading well into the lower estuary. Wintering eagle concentrations grew as they found floe ice to ride and open leads to hunt south of the Hudson Highlands.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/21 - Greene County, HRM 112: I live in West Kill in a small log cabin on a hillside, near a tributary of a tributary to Schoharie Creek. I was very excited today about finding a spotted salamander, way out of season. In the basement I have a wood stove elevated on a pedestal, and I store a fair amount of firewood on pallets. I also overwinter potted plants under grow lights and do the laundry there. I was in the basement tending the woodstove when I spotted the salamander while shaking out a dry towel. At first I thought I'd killed it in the wash, something I've accidentally done to a fair number of toads and ring-necked and red-bellied snakes that seemed to like hiding in dirty laundry. However, when I picked it up, it came alive in my warm hand. It was small for a spotted salamander, 4-5 inches-long, probably a juvenile. After showing it to my husband, I returned it underneath the woodpile. Providing it has the smarts to stay away from the sump pump when things warm up, it has a good chance to make it out to the vernal pool the basement drains into. I'm not sure whether it came from there or hitchhiked in on the firewood or potted plants, but I hope it finds some potential mates in the spring.
- Emily S. Plishner

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/16 - Greene County, HRM 112: I live adjacent to large blocks of public land in West Kill. We see a fair number of bobcat tracks in the area, especially on Halcott Mountain. They occasionally cross the road but are good at sticking to swales and ditches so you don't see them for long. We have a lot of wild turkey and I've found evidence of them taking a turkey several times. Twenty years ago we saw a neighbor getting an enormous bobcat weighed at a store in Prattsville. It was 44 pounds. I don't expect I'll ever see another that big.
- Emily S. Plishner

[As mentioned in earlier entries, bobcats have large paws that serve them well in winter, functioning like "snowshoes." The 44-pounder must have had paws that seemed like dinner plates. Tom Lake.]
1/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 70: Two pine siskins showed up at my feeder. They arrived following an "Arctic blast" that may have encouraged them. The last time I saw pine siskins, there was a lasting irruption (more than a handful) from October into November, 2012.
- Diane DesAutels

adult bald eagle soaring above bare trees in the foreground with Danskammer Point and Facility in the background

1/16 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: For the first time in ten days the air temperature reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit and it felt nice. I was set up across the river, nearly a half-mile away from the Danskammer facility, but my 60x spotting scope brought me much closer. There were four bald eagles in view, though I had to swivel the lens a bit to get them all. Two adults and two immatures were lined up on shoreline hardwoods like shoppers waiting for a store to open. While the facility gave no outward indication that it was active, apparently the eagles had inside information. [Photo of adult bald eagle near Danskammer Point courtesy of Tom McDowell.]
- Tom Lake

[As a result of some welcome prodding by readers, we discovered that information in our January 10 sidebar regarding the Danskammer Power Generating Facility was outdated. While it was true that the plant was disabled by Superstorm Sandy and subsequently closed, by late 2014 the facility had been refitted to use natural gas and has been operating at low capacity. Tom Lake.]

1/16 - Newburgh, HRM 61: We spotted a very dark-mantled gull this evening that we were unable to positively identify due to fading light, distance, and only being able to view the bird while it was on the ice. The bird appeared to be slightly smaller than neighboring herring gulls, and had a black ring around its bill, but with no obvious red mark on the lower mandible. The gull lacked the streaking on the head and nape typically found on most winter plumage lesser black-backed and slaty-backed gulls. The bird appeared to show a slight dark smudge concentrated around the eye. I was unable to get any color on the eyes or legs. Eventually all the gulls lifted off and headed south into Cornwall Bay where they probably were spending the night. I hope local birders will keep an eye out for this gull. It's ironic that sometimes the most interesting birds are the ones we can't positively identify.
- Curt McDermott, Clara McDermott, Ken McDermott

1/16 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: Once the river gets its load of winter ice, eagle watching at Denning's Point can be very rewarding. Today six were out over the cove, three were on the ice and another one was in the trees on the Point. Two more were perched on Hammond's Point just below the mouth of Fishkill Creek and, later, I counted four more in the air.
- Jesse Jaycox

close up of a male common redpoll perched on a small branch

1/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Common redpolls had arrived in big numbers. I counted over 80 this afternoon. They had taken over the thistle and sunflower feeders while the goldfinches, black-capped chickadees, blue jays, hairy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, and a solo American tree sparrow looked on. A spike-horn white-tailed buck also visits the feeders. He still has antlers, which is not uncommon this late in the season for small bucks. However, my neighbor reported seeing a buck still sporting a large set of antlers earlier in the week. A gray squirrel visits the feeder as well, although I have switched from regular suet to one infused with red pepper to try and curb its appetite. I have a soft spot for squirrels so I did buy a bag of peanuts for this gray squirrel and its red squirrel cousins. I suspect that the flying squirrel that I occasional glimpse at night will appreciate them too. [Photo of male common redpoll courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Charlotte Demers

1/17- Mohawk River, HRM 159-157: Our gull identification workshop drew fifteen intrepid birders as we covered the area between Cohoes and Crescent this afternoon. Off Clark Avenue in Cohoes we had one adult and several immature Iceland gulls among the big numbers of herring and great black-backed gulls. From the New Street Overlook to the Cohoes Flats, we found a staging area of gulls (hundreds of birds). Then there were at least three immature Iceland gulls above the dam with two more immatures and one adult Iceland gull below the dam. On our return trip, we also found a second-cycle glaucous gull. In the end we were confident we had six Iceland gulls (five immature, one adult) and one glaucous gull.
- Will Raup, Gregg Recer, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/18 - Fort Miller to Troy, HRM 193-153: Today's Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club field trip was part of the annual New York State Waterfowl Count. We surveyed any open water we could find along the Hudson River from North Troy to Fort Miller and counted 752 ducks and geese. Among the highlights were 371 Canada geese, 60 common goldeneye, and 17 hooded mergansers.
- Tom Williams, Gary Goodness, Don Gresens, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/18 - Greene County, HRM 134-113: I did the Greene County portion of the New York State Waterfowl Count today. Except for one or two open spots, the river was totally frozen, making counting waterfowl much easier. By early afternoon, the weather changed to sleet and freezing rain, limiting access to some locations. Among the waterfowl highlights: Canada geese (160, all in one field, not on the river); wood ducks (two in a spring-fed pond away from the river); and common mergansers (50, all in one patch of open water). There were also six bald eagles and one red-shouldered hawk.
- Rich Guthrie, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

drake merganser in flight just over the water

1/19 - Battenkill River, HRM 188: While most of the Hudson River was frozen over from Fort Edward to Stillwater (river miles 202-172), most of the Battenkill was free-flowing from Greenwich to Salem. Along Route 29 in East Greenwich, I counted five bald eagles, four of which were immatures. I also found several common goldeneye, three hooded mergansers, many common mergansers, black ducks, and mallards. This is a great area for winter birding. [Photo of drake common merganser in flight courtesy of Tom McDowell.]
- Scott Varney, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/19 - Mohawk River, HRM 159: We spotted a lesser black-backed gull on the frozen Mohawk River from the Halfmoon-Crescent Park. The bird looked almost tiny next to the great black-backed gulls around it. We wondered if this bird came from Europe (Iceland) or whether they are breeding in North America.
- John Hershey, Will Raup, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

[Given the numbers, timing, and age of individuals sighted along the east coast, I think it is a safe bet that they are indeed nesting in North America, as have little gulls. Rich Guthrie.]

1/19 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I spotted a pine siskin through my kitchen window this morning and I was tempted to say "only" a pine siskin. But it was a first for me, number 135 on my life list, and it brightened up a gloomy day.
- Eileen Stickle

[Pine siskins are gorgeous little winter finches that show up when they are needed the most. Winter would be far less colorful without them. Tom Lake.]

1/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The mated pair from eagle nest NY62 was mostly absent from the area this afternoon. But we found them (and another adult pair) out on the river ice. The deep freeze and wicked windchills lingered and it was requiring extra effort to "stoke the furnace." The increased ice cover was making hunting for fish and ducks more difficult and costly (calorie-wise).
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

1/19 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63: I came home to find that my six bird feeders had not been touched during the day. There in the grass were the feathery remnants of a mourning dove. Maybe a Cooper's hawk. That would explain the lack of smaller visitors. Rearranging my wood pile later this afternoon, I found a mouse nest that had been lined with mourning dove feathers that must have been from a meal earlier in the season.
- Andra Sramek

1/19 - Brooklyn, New York City: I came upon a drake canvasback hanging out with some gadwall at Pier 4 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on the East River this afternoon. This was the first time I had seen one here with its gorgeous white body and those fantastic red eyes! - Matthew Wills

1/20 - Town of Bethlehem, HRM 141: I was surprised to look up from fastening my skis to see, less than five feet away, a Cooper's hawk perched in a tree at eye level. I found evidence that the hawk had scored and eaten most of a dark-eyed junco, leaving only feathers behind in the snow. While we love feeding the songbirds, it's hard to create an environment for such an easy meal for the raptors who enjoy them as their dietary preference.
- Liz Strickler

1/20 - Columbia County, HRM 118: I had seven cardinals (four females and three males) at my bird feeder in Claverack all at the same time. In the last 40 years I have never had more than a pair of cardinals at the feeder at once.
- Sal Cozzolino

1/20 - Millbrook, HRM 82: I heard them long before I saw them, and as they drew close they darkened the horizon. These were Canada geese in numbers I had not seen since early December at Saratoga Lake. They were not high-flyers; they came in huge flocks, just over tree-top level, two flocks abreast, a quarter-mile apart, the largest with several hundred birds. These had to be cornfield geese; looking north, I could not envision open water anywhere in that quarter.
- Tom Lake

1/20 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: I'm used to seeing red-tailed hawks in my neighborhood in the city of Poughkeepsie, but this morning I was surprised to see a peregrine falcon in my backyard. It spent the better part of 20 minutes sitting on a downed tree, picking apart and devouring a mourning dove.
- Cornelia Harris

1/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: At the midday high tide it was difficult to tell whether the river - now iced bank-to-bank - was locked tight or just sitting quietly at slack water. Not far offshore from Farmer's Landing an adult bald eagle with a blue leg band was crouched over a gizzard shad. This may have been the female from nest NY62 not far away. Every few seconds she looked skyward, and so did we. Two more adults and an immature were making lazy circles less than 200 feet overhead. As the ice increases, hunting becomes more difficult and sharing often becomes hard to consider.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Gizzard shad are a winter favorite of bald eagles due to their availability. They frequently succumb to a phenomenon known as "winter kill" in the northern extent of their range. Studies have shown (Jester and Jensen 1972) "high mortality rates at water temperatures below 2.2 degrees C (35.96 degrees F)." Tom Lake.]

1/20 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: The inlet at Oscawana Point was ice-free and glimmering in the waning sunlight. We spotted five eagles in one of their favorite eagle trees: three adults and two immatures. Two of the adults were facing each other and vocalizing, leading us to believe they were communicating. They may have been a mated pair. As we watched, four more eagles flew in, swooping low over the water and giving us a total of nine. Eventually all of them left except the pair that continued to chortle at each other.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

["Eagle trees" are easy to spot, even when eagles are not in them. They are large, open canopy trees, like cottonwoods, oaks, tuliptrees, sycamores, and white pines, on or near the river or a tributary, with a view of the water. Some of these trees have large horizontal limbs that make perfect feeding perches. Many are in sheltered locations, out of the prevailing wind, with a sunny exposure. The formula for a good eagle tree is "easy in, easy out." Tom Lake.]

close up of a common raven perched on top of a branch

1/20 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: What pleasure it has been to see or hear ravens several times a week this winter. A few days ago, just at dusk, two flew and conversed around Pine Lake (river mile 38.5) for more than fifteen minutes. Yesterday at Croton Point (river mile 34) a pair of crows harassed a raven in the air, keeping a prudent distance from the larger bird. Today, as I led a visit to the Tarrytown Light at Kingsland Point, I could hear ravens calling. When the students were on the way back to their bus, I went looking. Out on the "moonscape" that was once a an automobile assembly plant, three ravens were strolling, foraging, and having a conversation on the far side of the vast, ruined, parking lot. [Photo of common raven by Dave Menke, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Christopher Letts

1/21 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Since yesterday, the landscape (ice-scape) of the river had changed dramatically. The river was completely filled with floe ice and held an estimated 5,000-6,000 gulls. After sifting through only about 200, we already had found two first-year Iceland gulls when a bald eagle sent all the gulls into the air. Once they settled, we began to scan again, this time finding two more first-year Iceland gulls, until the eagle returned.
- Curt McDermott, Ken McDermott, Bruce Nott, Peter Schuyler

1/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: As I took a walk this evening around the neighborhood, bordered by woods and fields, I heard a sharp cry, almost a scream. My guess was bobcat. The animal wandered the perimeter of the area most of the evening. While I could hear it, more than once, I never caught a glimpse of it in the darkness.
- Patrick Chadwick

[Those who have heard the midnight cry of the bobcat regularly compare it to the classic scream from a horror movie, of a woman in peril, pursued by Frankenstein. Tom Lake.]

1/22 - Newburgh to Beacon, HRM 61: After two hours of scanning from the Newburgh side, producing only a single first-year Iceland gull, we were eager to check the Beacon side of the river. I was rewarded at Long Dock with two first-year Iceland gulls and a first-of-season adult lesser black-backed gull. Gull numbers were continuing to increase. In a five minute scan of the Hudson River from a single location on the Newburgh waterfront this morning, I counted sixteen bald eagles.
- Curt McDermott, Ken McDermott

1/22 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: The river near Steamboat Dock was the calmest we had ever seen - a mirror reflecting the beautiful sunset and hills across the river. This was the Saw Mill River Audubon's eagle survey and we counted at least six adults in the trees at Dogan Point and several immatures flying in and out. We spotted one immature perched in a tree near the old Stony Point Lighthouse nest. We also enjoyed watching the common mergansers catch their evening meal.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/22 - Hudson Valley: Common redpolls, one of the "winter finches" usually associated with extreme weather to the north, have had an irruption year (last year it was purple finches and the year before pine siskins). This surge of redpolls began in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks in late December and moved down the Hudson Valley until, by January 24, dozens of redpolls were being counted in Central Park in Manhattan and on Staten Island.
- Tom Lake

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