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Hudson River Almanac Januay 31 - February 7, 2015

OVERVIEW

Whether it is a tag on a fish that swims to the Carolinas, or a band on an eagle that stays in the watershed to find a mate, such evidence strengthens our understanding of the ecological role of the Hudson in the lives of its creatures.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/7 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I lost count of our bald eagle sightings at the Teatown Lake Reservation's Eagle Fest today. Twenty-four was one number I heard but I knew we saw far more. Five miles upriver at Verplanck the number was more than 30; a little father upriver at China Pier, it was more than 50. Altogether there were more than 100 eagles on Haverstraw Bay. The best bird of the day was at Croton Point, where an adult bald eagle was feasting on a gizzard shad. My optics allowed me to get close enough to capture the identifier on the bird's blue leg band: U62.
- Matthew Willis

[Bald eagle U62 was banded Pete Nye when it was 3.5 weeks old on May 17, 2006. The nestling - a probable female - was one of three eaglets in DEC's nest number NY101, located on the Hudson River just north of Albany (river mile 148). This April she will be nine years old. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/31 - Peekskill, HRM 43: My journey along the river in Westchester County ended at China Pier overlooking Peekskill Bay. The eagle count was 37. There was some wonderful aerobatic flying, mostly by immatures.
- Christopher Letts

bald eagle in flight just above the water carrying a large gizzard shad in its talons

1/31 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: I had a special treat when an adult bald eagle came swooping in, grabbed a large gizzard shad off the water, and then headed across the river to the Stony Point Battlefield. [Photo of adult bald eagle carrying gizzard shad courtesy of Terry Hardy.]
- Terry Hardy

1/31 - Bronx, HRM 15: Just north of Riverdale, in a tiny cove sheltered from the north wind, two dozen canvasbacks were snoozing, riding easily, only a few yards from shore. They would be so much more rewarding to count than sheep.
- Christopher Letts

1/31 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 67: About four years ago, some local bluebirds began to winter over here, some of them hiding in the woodpile to take shelter from the wind. But a half dozen formed a roost group. At dusk they pile into a nest box if a woodpecker has not already claimed it. The huddle they form enables them to collectively share warmth. They insulate themselves from the extreme cold by puffing up their feathers (piloerection) and inflating air sacs. This helps these warm-blooded animals conserve energy.
- Tom McDowell

1/31 - Beacon, HRM 61: The prevailing winter westerlies had pushed most of the river ice to the east side, so birding expectations were limited. We spotted at least 50 gulls settled in a broad but well-defined ellipse, belly-down on the ice. While most were ring-billed, four were Iceland gulls of unknown vintage.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/1 - Town of Stuyvesant, HRM 127: I spent most of my time looking over flocks of horned larks (hundreds of birds on fields and in corn stubble) looking for Lapland longspurs. I found five in one flock after a long search and tired eyes. About 900 Canada geese flew down on a large cornfield in late afternoon.
- Nancy Kern, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

2/1 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: Two - then three - large black birds were causing a ruckus on the roof of a restaurant in downtown Staatsburg. Black vultures. There was so much commotion: chasing, squabbling, and beating of wings. One of the vultures disappeared and the remaining two took up perches on opposite corners of the roof and continued some their flapping display. On my return trip, both vultures were still in the area, but on different roofs.
- Dave Lindemann

2/1 - Galeville, HRM 74: Several of us from the John Burroughs Natural History Society counted at least thirteen short-eared owls today at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge.
- Ken McDermott

2/1 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Gull numbers were good today on the Newburgh waterfront. The highlights included a first-winter glaucous gull and two first-winter Iceland gulls.
- Curt McDermott

2/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I was able to get some nice photos today of "Dad," the male half of the bald eagle pair at nest NY62. His stark white head set against a deep cobalt blue sky gave him a royal countenance.
- Bob Rightmyer

[After viewing Bob's photos, I would agree that Dad looks ready for the new season. At the risk of sounding anthropomorphic, when I compare photos of him from eleven to twelve years ago, I can now see a much more "serious" approach. (Dad gained his adult feathers long before his lost his immaturity.) Tom Lake.]

2/2 - Greene County, HRM 112: After shoveling off fifteen inches of snow at our home in West Kill, I was surprised by a mole sitting on the snow, apparently sunning itself. The mole didn't seem alarmed and, since it wasn't particularly warm (20 degrees Fahrenheit), its dark fur was lush and fluffed up. After a long minute or two, the mole scrambled into a nearby whiskey barrel planter through a missing slat. From the sound of things, it already had a network of tunnels in there.
- Emily S. Plishner

2/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 77: I have a bird feeder hanging from the clothes line and an old round redwood picnic table on which I put black oil sunflower seed for the squirrels and birds. I also sprinkle sunflower seed on the ground around the table. I was surprised this morning to see three white-tailed deer standing around the table eating sunflower seed. A fourth arrived, followed a few minutes later by a fifth. The deer had good coats and seemed healthy, but they were definitely looking for food.
- Salley Decker

2/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: At long last, we finally felt as though we had joined the "Redpoll Team." Several gorgeous little common redpolls arrived at the feeders this morning, jostling with the goldfinches and a few pine siskins to get at the thistle.
- Phyllis Lake

2/3 - Columbia County, HRM 104: I saw an immature golden eagle along Route 22 in Boston Corners today. I had an excellent view as it flew low from east to west, then perched 30 feet up in a tree. As I watched, the eagle began flying north over Route 22, eventually veering east over the open fields near Taconic State Park. The bird flew low the entire time and was easily viewed without binoculars. The distinct white patches at the base of the primaries were clearly visible, as was the white base and black band of the tail feathers.
- Jesse Jaycox

close up of a yellow pine warbler on the ground

2/3 - East Fishkill, HRM 60: I have had a pine warbler at our feeder near Emmadine Pond almost every day since mid-December. [Photo of pine warbler courtesy of Rich Taylor.]
- Rich Taylor

2/3 - Peekskill to Croton River, HRM 43-34: By the time I had completed my trip along the river today the eagle count had reached 34. Interaction between eagles is increasing as the days lengthen, with much more aerial activity - so compelling to watch as long as it lasts. The cherished moment came early today with a coarse serenade from a pair of ravens on the south end of the railroad bridge over the Croton River. All the magic of the North Country is conveyed in their guttural discussions.
- Christopher Letts

2/4 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: My wife called out "There's an eagle sitting in the oak tree outside your office!" Then she called out again, "There are more and they are flying out on the ice." Looking out from our home on Rabbit Island, I could see a squadron of bald eagles, eight in total - two adults and six immatures. They were focused on a fish carcass a hundred yards offshore. This was by far our largest eagle sighting of the season.
- David Cullen

2/4 - Staten Island, New York City: From those of us who recall just how rare bald eagle sightings were in and around New York City only fifteen years ago, the fairly regular sightings of eagles in the greater metro area is absolutely wonderful and inspiring. We now see eagles in areas as far apart as southern Staten Island and Jamaica Bay, Queens. Staten Island naturalists have been eyeing those birds and what appears to be a "test nest" for several years. It is not believed that the birds are on eggs, but the nest will be monitored closely to see what happens during the next breeding season.
- Dave Taft

2/5 - Pine Island, HRM 45: As in years past, Missionland Road has become the most reliable winter location for seeing Lapland longspurs. Rob Stone alerted me that there was a large group there, and when I arrived I counted nineteen. Several were coming into breeding plumage.
- Ken McDermott

2/5 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We were ready to take photos of the predicted blowout tide today but with all the snow on the ice the usual landmarks were muted. The only sign of an abnormally low tide was the walkway leading out to the pilot boat's floating dock. The walkway dropped at a pretty good angle down to the floating dock. But with all the ice and snow it was tough to get any kind of visual impression of how low the water was.
- Jim Herrington

2/5 - Beacon, HRM 61: A blowout tide was predicted for today along the tidewater Hudson. However, with the heavy ice cover it was difficult to visually measure the extent. At Long Dock, acres of ice had simply settled onto the bottom. The predicted tidal variance for today was a modest 4.4 feet (maximum high to maximum low), but that was a long-term, astronomically-based prediction made without the benefit of a forecast of persistent northwest winds.
- Tom Lake

[Blowout tides happen when strong, persistent winds from the northwest blow waters out of the New York Harbor, draining down the levels of the Hudson River. It is easier for blowout tides to be observed when this wind set-down coincides with "low water springs," or spring tides, which is the time in the normal tidal cycle when low tides are lower and high tides higher than usual because the earth, moon, and sun are lined up. Nickitas Georgas.]

2/5 - George's Island, HRM 39: There was not much eagle activity at George's Island or adjacent Dogan Point, but a female pileated woodpecker came out in the open in good lighting, allowing for a nice photograph. This was a rare treat as these birds like to be in woodlands with lots of shade. It is amazing how they can find their primary food sources in this frigid weather.
- Terry Hardy

2/6 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97: The air temperature at dawn was 10 degrees below zero. The tributaries, marshes and backwaters were locked up and not contributing ice to the river. The tides and currents had worked on fissures, widening them to open leads and finally to large areas of clear, glassy, barely iced-over water - some the width of the river. Despite some open water, there were few waterfowl. We did spot one small raft of dark shapes, huddled against the -22 degree F windchill. We could tell they were scaup, "bluebills," but had to guess that they may have been lesser scaup.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

closeup of a gyrfalcon from below, in flight against a bright blue, clear sky

2/6 - Wallkill, HRM 66: A gyrfalcon was seen and photographed at Blue Chip Farms today. [Photo of gyrfalcon courtesy of Mike Pogue.]
- Rob Stone

[Gyrfalcons are by far the rarest of four falcons that occur in the Hudson Valley, the other three being American kestrel, peregrine falcon, and merlin. Gyrfalcons, largest of the four, are primarily cliff nesters, usually near water, and their normal prey is ptarmigans, ducks, gulls, and alcids. Arctic breeders, they are seen only in winter here. A gyrfalcon in Dutchess County years ago feasted on ring-necked pheasants. Rich Guthrie.]

2/7 - Saratoga County, HRM 157: On a brief swing through Charlton this afternoon I saw a huge flock of birds, including about 100 horned larks and more than 40 snow buntings. Near a large dairy farm, along a long strip of manure, I counted at least 80 horned larks, 50 snow buntings, and a Lapland longspur.
- Ron Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

2/7 - Wallkill, HRM 66: Yesterday's gyrfalcon was spotted again today, flying over the fields on Bates Lane south of the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. It landed several times in willow trees along the lane.
- Curt McDermott, Mardi Dickinson

2/7 - Westchester County, HRM 34: Among the birds other than eagles seen during the Teatown Eagle Fest were seven redhead ducks (six drakes), canvasbacks, red-breasted merganser (uncommon on the river), ruddy ducks, black ducks, American wigeon, common raven, great horned owl, northern harrier (3), peregrine falcon, and horned lark (about 15).
- Larry Trachtenberg

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