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Hudson River Almanac January 23 - January 30, 2015

OVERVIEW

This week can euphemistically be called "the week of the common redpolls." While not especially rare in winter, their numbers and range, from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to Staten Island, have increased far beyond what might be considered normal for these winter finches.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/25 - Town of Stuyvesant, Columbia County, HRM 127: I watched large flocks of Canada geese in V formations flying east to west for more than half an hour. They came in incredible numbers that I estimated at 7,000. I suspected they were heading to the miles of corn fields to the west. I drove there and found thousands of geese on the fields. It was beautiful to see flock after flock land.
- Nancy Kern, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The playground at Bowdoin Park was closed, frozen in ice and snow. From behind my truck, through a cold winter wind, I watched from a distance as a grizzled coyote cautiously made its way through the playground, sniffing, probing, perhaps sensing remnants of PB and J's past [children's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches].
- Tom Lake

1/23 - Peekskill, HRM 43: What a contrast with yesterday's observation of the river. While it was calm and mirror-like at Verplanck yesterday, today the river at China Pier was clogged with ice, making and closing small leads of open water. We spotted 26 drake common mergansers cruising over the water, settling, then diving for fish. As we watched their antics, they suddenly scrambled, making quite a commotion, and closed ranks in one spot. An adult bald eagle stooped on the small raft causing pandemonium. But it was strictly harassment; the eagle flew to a shoreline hardwood to perch.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

[Stooping is a term that is used by birders, primarily for raptors, to describe a dive. Webster's Dictionary defines it as "to dive down swiftly; to attack prey." Tom Lake.]

1/23 - Rockland County, HRM 36: We arrived at Haverstraw to find six bald eagles perched around the marina. Overnight pockets of ice had formed inside the breakwater. Scattered on these thin sheets of ice were heads of gizzard shad with most of the flesh missing. The eagles remained content until a gull would pick up a fish carcass. At that point an eagle would swoop down, take the fish, and head back to a feeding perch.
- Tom McDowell, Bob Rightmyer, Debbie Quick

1/23 - Westchester County: There has been a long-eared owl hanging out along the river for more than a week now. This general location has seen both short-eared and long-eared owls in seasons past.
- Larry Trachtenberg

[Entries such as this one are left vague almost to the point where they provide little value to readers, other than to note their presence. Exact locations of easily threatened flora and fauna, such as eagle nests and night roosts, snowy owls, and orchids, becomes necessary following examples of human intrusion. Tom Lake.]

pileated woodpecker in flight against a ligh blue sky

1/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: First I heard it, then I saw it, a male pileated woodpecker flying across my path between the trees at Bowdoin Park. [Photo of pilieated woodpecker in flight courtesy of Tom McDowell.]
- Tom McDowell

1/24 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: At midday in snowy downtown Croton-on-Hudson I was surprised to see a kettle of more than 60 turkey vultures overhead.
- Jim Miller

[Larry Trachtenberg had just noted the presence of a large turkey vulture night roost in Croton-on-Hudson. These were likely the same birds. Tom Lake.]

1/24 - Manhattan, HRM 7: A male common redpoll visited the Evodia Field feeders in the Ramble in Central Park today.
- Ed Gaillard

1/24 - Staten Island, New York City: There was a flock of 24 common redpolls at Great Kills Park today. The birds, in with a large mixed flock of tree sparrows, song sparrows and goldfinches, were ranging widely and feeding in the grasses bordering the beach.
- Isaac Grant

[These are two more downriver examples of the common redpoll irruption. An "irruption" is a word used most often by birders to describe an incursion of birds into an area where they are not usually found. Winter finch irruptions are thought to be caused by a lack of forage across their normal wintering area. Tom Lake.]

1/25 - Austerlitz, Columbia, HRM 124: I spotted two bald eagles, one adult and one immature, feeding on a deer carcass along with six ravens. The adult eagle had a satellite tracking device with an antenna on its back.
- Nancy Kern, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

[The NYSDEC stopped using satellite tracking devices on bald eagles in 2008 [they had been removed from the Endangered Species list in 2006]. Over the preceding years, we had radio-tagged many eagles along the Hudson, both adults and immature, but all of them would be adults by now. I would bet this eagle was one of those. Pete Nye.]

1/25 - Farmer's Landing to Beacon, HRM 67-61: On a quick survey of the river and the ice from Wappinger Creek south to Beacon I counted fifteen bald eagles.
- Jay Meyer

1/26 - Hudson Valley: This was, in part, the day of the common redpolls. There were no fewer than eight reports of these often uncommon little winter finches, mostly at feeders, from the greater Capital District of Albany County and environs south into the Catskills.
- Barb Beebe, Deb Berry, Kristin Clemmy, Larry Federman, Alan French, Naomi Lloyd, Gregg Recer, Denise Hackert-Stoner - Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

two european starlings in semi-flight in a pine tree

1/26 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 67: Today I had a good supply of European starlings, often seen as the "bullies" of the feeders. While not native, they have been here long enough (about 140 years) so other species have had time to make allowances for their rude behavior. [Photo of European starlings courtesy of Tom McDowell.]
- Tom McDowell

[A bird from the bard? The American Acclimatization Society was a group founded in New York City in 1871 and dedicated to introducing European flora and fauna into North America. In the 1800s they released several European avian species to Central Park in New York, one being the European starling. Many believe the species selected were a result of those mentioned by Shakespeare in his works. Tom McDowell.]

1/27 - Austerlitz, Columbia, HRM 124: It snowed heavily and steadily. We had at least six inches overnight, powdery and blowing off the roof. The air temperature during the day was 8 degrees Fahrenheit with winds 10-30 miles per hour. This is an area near the Berkshires and northern Taconic Range that seems to get heavier precipitation than other areas. Among the fourteen bird species sighted, were four common redpolls. This was the first day they had been on the feeders.
- Nancy Kern, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/27 - Croton Bay, HRM 35: I commute to Manhattan daily via the Metro North commuter train. This morning, the day of "the blizzard that wasn't," was the first day this winter that I saw more than a single bald eagle. I counted eight, both immatures and adults, perched in trees above the Phragmites on the north shore of Croton Bay.
- Tom Rhindress

[The track of a predicted nor'easter blizzard (three feet of snow) shifted further eastward than forecast, impacting Long Island and eastern New England but sparing the lower Hudson Valley, which had snowfall totals of six inches on average. Tom Lake.]

1/28 - Athens, HRM 119: I had been wondering if I would have the pleasure of seeing coyotes on the ice this year. This morning I glanced out my window and saw a coyote emerge from the woods, heading toward the river. Seconds later another one followed. Through binoculars I watched them move northeast at a slow trot, about one hundred feet apart, across the unevenly frozen river. The first one turned to glance back at the other one every minute or so. A couple of times they slid on the ice but did not fall down. Just short of the shipping channel they stopped and lay down on the ice for five minutes. I had not seen any river traffic yet and the channel was clogged with ice chunks. After a while the second coyote got up and made its way toward the north end of Middle Ground Island. The first coyote walked around with its nose to the ice before joining the second coyote and both disappeared into the woods on the island.
- Michele Tarsa

1/28 - Peekskill to Croton Point, HRM 43-34: On my nine-mile winter morning look-around, I checked a half-dozen known eagle roosts between Croton Point and China Pier in Peekskill. So far this season 20 birds had been the high count. That changed overnight. There was floe ice in the channel this morning, eagles were on the ice, and I counted 37 in an hour.
- Christopher Letts

1/28 - Crugers, HRM 39: Today, after the "blizzard," we had more birds at the feeders than we've had in a long time. We counted at least 30 juncos, a dozen cardinals, pairs of red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, and a solitary mourning dove. At one point, the feeders were invaded by a flock of brown-headed cowbirds. They monopolized the seed for a while before moving on.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/28 - Tuxedo, Orange County, HRM 36: I saw a Cooper's hawk in the snow just beyond our bird feeder, pulling feathers out of a well-fed mourning dove. It took 50 minutes for the hawk to get its fill under a nearby Euonymus bush [burning bush]. Its crop was so full that I could see that the section of the breast just below the throat was protruding and the feathers in that area were fluffed out. It looks as though that hawk has found a good restaurant and will no doubt be back another day, as will all our other wintering feeder birds.
- Mary Yrizarry

1/28 - Croton River, HRM 34: A dark immature bald eagle was working hard to get a meal from something frozen in the ice no more than 150 feet from the boat launch. A half-dozen fish crows were in attendance, waiting to glean leftovers. Across the railroad tracks a pair of ravens were perched side-by-side on a branch. I watched as they preened and nuzzled one another, and was sorry that I could not hear the sweet nothings that were surely being spoken.
- Christopher Letts

a yellow, male evening grossbeak perched on a bird feeder

1/29 - Warren County, HRM 210: Our Thursday birding group wandered up to frigid Warren County today. All the action was at feeders, with large flocks of common redpolls including one male with white cheek patches. At one house, with at least a dozen filled feeders, we first heard and then saw five evening grosbeaks (three females and two males). [Photo of male evening grosbeak by George Gentry, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Naomi Lloyd, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/29 - Glenville, Schenectady County, HRM 167: Six bluebirds were out around and in my bluebird boxes. A nice treat.
- Alan French, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

1/29 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I flushed a flock of horned larks from their gravel picking on the plowed landfill service road. Such a welcome, cheerful sight on a very chilly morning.
- Christopher Letts

1/29 - Irvington-on-Hudson, HRM 24.5: As I passed on Metro North heading to Croton-Harmon, an eagle came into view, close to the tracks, perched not 40 feet above the ground. I felt as though I could reach out and touch it. The descending sun shone through its feathers, back lighting it, tuning it golden. For a brief second I was looking at a golden eagle. What did I see? Like the really big fish that slips the hook, I'll relive that vivid snapshot for a long, long time to come. It had no sprinkling of white feathers, all golden, no diagnostic marks, just a huge golden bird. What a treat, what a memory!
- Christopher Letts

1/30 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: I watched a coyote picking at a deer carcass on the ice midway across the river. It got out of the way before a barge came down and pushed the deer under. Too bad. I was hoping it would stay for a while and draw in some eagles, three of which were watching from shoreline trees on the other side.
- Rich Guthrie

[Coyotes are quite the survivors. They have been scavenging deer off the frozen river since before indigenous people were here to watch them. Tom Lake.]

1/30 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: As the sun emerged just before noon, we watched two bald eagles floating slowly down river on adjacent ice floes past the New Hamburg Yacht Club. Their white heads and tails were glowing. One lifted off and flew back up the river to find another ride. At the same time we noticed a dark eagle perched in a black walnut near the river. The bird gave us ample time through binoculars to make a positive identification: golden eagle. After a while it flew off, disappearing over the rooftops of New Hamburg.
- Michael Joyce, Carolyn Guyer

[Eagles often use ice floes drifting in the current as a conveyor, a means of hunting without expending calories. They will drift past promising spots and, if nothing shows up (fish or fowl), they will fly back and hitch another ride. These always remind me of the "moving sidewalks" at airports that assist travelers as they move through terminals. Tom Lake.]

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