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Hudson River Almanac January 9 - January 15, 2015

OVERVIEW

Two of our more iconic birds made appearances this week: golden eagle and snowy owl. We were reminded that we share the wintry landscape with more than birds by the tracks, vocalizations, and occasional glimpses of foxes, coyotes, and bobcats.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/11 - Queens, New York City: We took advantage of warmer temperatures and sunny skies to go for a walk on the beach at Breezy Point. We went all the way to the end along the ocean side, seeing the many holes dug by gulls and watching small shorebirds weave back and forth along the sand. On our way back along the bay side in mid-afternoon, two-year-old Beatrix fell asleep and I carried her. As I walked, I noticed that something spooked the shorebirds and they flew off in a flock. I thought it was a huge gull on the sand that was acting strangely. But as we continued along the beach I saw that it was a very large owl sitting on some debris, turning its head around - a snowy owl had been the source of the discord. The bird flapped its huge wings and took off into the dunes.
- William Bredbeck, Beatrix Bredbeck

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
golden eagle in flight against a wooded background

1/9 - Dutchess County, HRM 88-82: Today was the 37th annual New York Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey and my beat was Hunn's Lake, Tamarack Lake, and the surrounding roads. On my second trip around I counted eleven bald eagles on the ice at Tamarack, working on a deer carcass. I met up with John Askildsen and he spotted a golden eagle and a "grey ghost" (male northern harrier). [Photo of golden eagle courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Deb Kral

[The golden eagle, in the mythology of the Native Americans of the west and southwest, was the sacred Thunderbird, the War Eagle. It is an iconic figure found on pottery and other ceramics, pictographs, petroglyphs, and emblazoned on the shirts of warriors. In some Indian societies it was considered a deity. It is far less common in the Northeast than the bald eagle. Tom Lake.]

1/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was after midnight when the sound woke me: coyotes, several of them. Their yips and barks seemed to come from various compass points but I knew that was an illusion. A soft snow was falling through frigid air (9 degrees Fahrenheit) and I could picture them tip-toeing across a frozen field, their calls echoing through the intervening forest.
- Tom Lake

1/9 - Dutchess-Orange Counties, HRM 70-55: Five inches of fresh powdery snow made finding and counting bald eagles problematic. Every white niche, notch, and crevice of a hardwood or snow-laden bough of a conifer masqueraded as an adult bald eagle's white head. Across 30 miles of shoreline, and with little ice on the river during the Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey, I managed to find only five bald eagles, four of which were adults - probably local birds from two nests in this reach of the river.
- Tom Lake

1/9 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I thought about the tiniest birds - the juncos and winter wren - today as I stood inside my house with the furnace chugging and me in a sweater. It must be a challenge to be a bird in January They were hopping around on the ground; perhaps their busy little motions were helping them to stay warm. The most amusing bird to watch was the wren. I noticed that when they perch, they puff up their feathers to become at least half again their size, ending up a ball of feathers with a stick poking up (their tail).
- Robin Fox

[Birds fluff up their body feathers in the cold to create more air tiny pockets and thus better insulation between the freezing air and their warm body core. Steve Stanne.]

1/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: A "dusting of snow" ended up being two inches overnight. Although the inlet from Croton Bay was frozen with a coating of white, the Croton River was flowing. The first thing we noticed was "clusters of black rocks." With closer observation these changed into hundreds of Canada geese hunkered down and barely moving. Not far away buffleheads and common mergansers were very busy fishing.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: A flock of eastern bluebirds visited the mulberry trees at Bowdoin Park and would occasionally drop down to the intermittent stream for a drink. For at least the last three years, in many areas, bluebirds seem to have stopped migrating and are wintering in their breeding areas. The flocks they form seem to be for roosting as well. On my property the wintering flock will pile into a nest box at dusk and play leap frog in a huddle, sharing body warmth.
- Tom McDowell

1/10 - Danskammer, HRM 66.5: A strong west wind had pushed the floe ice across the river to where it extended more than 300 feet out from the east bank. In midday I spotted two adult bald eagles flying on a straight trajectory toward Danskammer Point. There was a time not long ago when Danskammer Point was a daily winter destination for eagles, as the warm-water discharge from the power generating station provided a good supply of fish as well as fish-eating waterfowl. The Point's main attraction now is being in the lee of high ground, out of the west wind. There may also be some eagles old enough to remember when it was producing warm water.
- Tom McDowell

[The Damskammer Point Power Generating Facility (built in the 1930s) was rendered inoperable as a result of Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012. The facility was later decommissioned. Tom Lake.]

1/10 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: At dusk the silhouette of a large bird against the pink and orange sky caught our attention as it perched on a branch overlooking the river. From a different vantage, we discovered that it was a beautiful adult bald eagle.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/11 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: With the arrival of a yellow-bellied sapsucker this week, we've been getting five species of woodpeckers on the suet just about every day: hairy, downy, red-bellied, northern flicker, and the young yellow-bellied sapsucker.
- Peter Fanelli

short-eared owl perched on a post against a dary blue-gray background

1/11 - Galeville, HRM 74: After two winter seasons of visiting the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, I had a lucky day. The short-eared owls came out early; they usually emerge when it is too dark to photograph. Seven came out an hour before sunset and put on a great show. They chased each other and got chased by harriers and rough-legged hawks. If you really listened you could hear them chattering the entire time. Two owls caught an early meal. [Photo of short-eared owl courtesy of Terry Hardy.]
- Terry Hardy

1/11 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63: I saw a healthy-looking red fox race across my back lawn. After it disappeared into Stony Kill Farm, I measured the distance - its stride - between the paw prints left in the smattering of snow as the fox flew across my yard: 32.5 inches. What a thrilling sight!
- Andra Sramek

1/11 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 40-34: Ice cover on the Hudson increases daily. I find it fascinating to see the bays and coves fill in and watch the march of shelf ice out toward the channel.
- Christopher Letts

1/12 - Cohoes-Mohawk River, HRM 157: I birded the Albany side of the Mohawk River in this morning's snowfall. I was mostly in search of gulls, but the waterfowl I turned up proved more interesting. I found a green-winged teal among the many mallards at the Cohoes Falls overlook. Down the road at the Elks Lodge parking lot, I found a drake white-winged scoter dozing among a raft of common goldeneyes, as well as four greater scaup. I found the largest concentration of gulls on the ice at Cohoes Flats, among which was an immature Iceland gull.
- Tristan Lowery, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/12 - Beacon, HRM 61: I heard much squawking in the top of a Norway spruce on South Avenue. Perched there were two red-tail hawks. One had scored a gray squirrel, hanging limp, and the second hawk was trying to share in the spoils. The first bird was having no part of that and flew off with the second hawk in hot pursuit.
- Andra Sramek

1/12 - Westchester County, HRM 42.5: There has been much vocalization from the pileated woodpeckers with some pretty fine display flights, flashing wings, and loud cackling. When I see red-tailed hawks these days, most of the time I see double. Pairs are often "cuddling" on a favorite perch or flying as a pair. Spring is in evidence; it will be warm again.
- Christopher Letts

close up of a red fox in the woods

1/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: I had the pleasure of standing motionless for an extended period of time in order to watch a gorgeous and very healthy-looking red fox move along the river at Bowdoin Park. [Photo of red fox courtesy of Mark Courtney.]
- Mark Courtney

1/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I found both adult bald eagles at midday, in and out of the trees adjacent to the nest (NY62). Their activity has been very consistent and it seemed like they are just marking time until breeding season - another six weeks.
- Bob Rightmyer

1/13 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was finally cold enough for icicles. The rock face on Route 129 across from the Croton Gorge Park entrance was hung with long ice "beards" that glistened as they caught the light. On the river side of the road, the early afternoon sun shone through the trees. Bare branches wetted with rain and snow, then frozen by the cold night looked like they were slicing the air with brilliance when the sun touched them.
- Robin Fox

1/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was another cold one last night with the low reaching 20 degrees below zero. This followed the previous night's low of -10. Just over two inches of snow fell earlier in the week to add to our meager snow accumulation of eight inches. Two gray foxes have been coming to my bird feeder in the evening to scrounge what seed the birds have scattered to the ground. I am presuming that it is a male and female as gray foxes are breeding at this time of the year. Common redpolls, a winter finch, have joined the feeder birds.
- Charlotte Demers

1/14 - Putnam County, HRM 54: Rime ice and the 7 degree F air temperature had turned Fahnestock State Park into a crystal forest. Every twig, branchlet, branch, and trunk, coated with smooth clear ice, dazzled in the sunlight. As if bluebirds needed anything to enhance their image, seeing one perched on a "chandelier" was exquisite. The edge of Canopus Lake had a skirt of snow and I was able to follow the tracks of two coyotes as they had walked single file halfway around the lake. I lost them when they veered off the snow onto the hard ice heading toward some fishing holes, no doubt in hopes of scavenging leftovers.
- Tom Lake

1/15 - Delmar, HRM 143: Driving on Orchard Lane adjacent to Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, I spotted two black vultures perched in a tree just off the road.
- Steve Mesick (HMBirds)

1/15 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I visited Vassar Farm for a walk over at the back ponds and I noticed some animal footprints. When trying to identify them they looked to me like bobcat prints. They had retractable claws and were isolated from any human footprints in the snow.
- Jay Collins

[One of the more enigmatic mammals in our midst is the bobcat (Lynx rufus). When the forests are fully leafed, sighting one is problematic. This month we have had at least three sightings (1/2 in Germantown, 1/3 in Columbia County, and 1/15 in Poughkeepsie). Perhaps the most interesting was January 3 in Columbia County. John Sanford and Tom Sanford nearly hit a big bobcat as it was crossing one of the bridges over Kinderhook Creek. The bobcat was up on the bridge structure and jumped off in front of their truck. The tufts on the ears and short tail identified him. They guessed its weight at 35 pounds, but the winter coat may have made him look bigger. Several years ago I made plaster casts of fresh bobcat prints in the mud on South Mount Beacon that were so large that they overlapped the small end of mountain lion tracks. That gave me pause. Tom Lake.]

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