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Hudson River Almanac February 15 - February 21, 2015

OVERVIEW
aerial photo of looking north at the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River wih a lot of ice on it

This was the coldest week of the winter so far, as the watershed continued to lock up in ice. Eagles and waterfowl were pushed downriver in search of consistently open water. Significant ice was found all the way south to the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. [Aerial photo of ice on Hudson River, looking north over George Washington Bridge, courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.]

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/15 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: I was able to take a photo on February 8 of an adult bald eagle lifting (laboriously) a several pound striped bass from the river. Upon looking at the digital image, I could see where it carried a dark band (A/2) on its left leg. Today we discovered the origins of the band.
- John Badura

[Thanks to information from Michael O'Leary, we know that this bald eagle (A/2) was a single chick banded at the Barkhamsted, Connecticut, nest about twenty miles northwest of Hartford on May 28, 2009. Talon measurements taken at banding time suggested that it was a female. The Barkhamsted nest was Connecticut's first successful nest post-DDT (1992). Pete Nye.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/15 - Saratoga County, HRM 157: The two pairs of eastern bluebirds that started visiting our feeders in Rexford have suddenly multiplied into a flock of at least a dozen.
- Bernie Grossman, Chris Grossman, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

2/15 - Manhattan, HRM 5: As I was taking a Riverside Park sunset walk along the partially frozen Hudson River at the 70th Street Pier, looking for any sea life sheltering from the cold, I spotted four black vultures flying very high over the West Side Highway. I was hoping they'd come closer but they were catching the fierce northwest tailwind, headed inland.
- Alan Drogin

2/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adult pair of bald eagles from nest NY62 continued their busy chores of readying the nest for the soon-to-arrive breeding season. Today they both brought new sticks and branches to refurbish the nest, as well as talonfuls of grass and other soft material destined for the egg cup.
- Bob Rightmyer, Debbie Quick, Judy Winter

2/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Overnight air temperatures dropped to 26 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
- National Weather Service

[At the other end of the Hudson River in New York City, nearly a mile lower in elevation and more than 300 miles south, the low temperature was significantly warmer at 3 degrees F. Tom Lake.]

2/16 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Most evidence of coyotes occurs at night with their vocalizing but the widespread presence of frozen waterways has them traveling in the open by day as well. This afternoon we watched a lone coyote making its way along the edge of the tidal Wappinger Creek, intent on its hunt.
- Kathleen Courtney, Mark Courtney

2/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Extreme air temperatures can provide brief moments of clarity. A walk into the salt pan at Death Valley when it is 118 degrees F seems refreshing, for about one minute. I took a woodland walk this evening in search of owls and coyotes - heard neither. (Is there anything as mournful as the sound of winter wind blowing through pines?) The air temperature of 14 degrees below zero had me humming "Oh the weather outside is frightful ..." (from Cahn and Styne 1945: Let it Snow). I was happy that I had a warm place in which to retreat.
- Tom Lake

2/16 - Town of Shawangunk, HRM 74: The gyrfalcon at Blue Chip Farms was quickly located. We watched as it preened and stretched for a half-hour before relocating to a spruce tree. It was great to see it fly. To watch my daughter, Genna, look through a spotting scope at the gyrfalcon and say, "It's looking at me!" is pretty cool.
- Sean Sime

short-eared owl in flight against a light grey sky

2/16 - Galeville, HRM 74: A conversation with John Askildsen and Sandra Paci at the Blue Chip Farm tipped us off to a golden eagle that had been seen heading toward the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Shortly after arriving at the grasslands, we located two light morph and one dark morph rough-legged hawks as well as two short-eared owls that briefly coursed over the grasslands before disappearing. The kids were able to get great scope views and were excited about its "super-cool mask!" After seeing a few black vultures, I picked up the golden eagle flying toward the ridge. [Photo of short-eared owl in flight courtesy of Terry Hardy.]
- Sean Sime

2/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: More than two dozen juncos were swarming, bobbing, and jittering around the ground beneath the standing feeder to catch the seed drops. Their little "wind-up" motions keep them in constant action. When they were all on the ground at one time it looked like ground black pepper on a pile of mashed potatoes.
- Robin Fox

2/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Overnight air temperatures dropped to 30 degrees F below zero, the coldest night of the winter.
- National Weather Service

[On the coldest day of the season in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, the low temperature at the other end of the Hudson River in New York City was considerably warmer - 14 degrees F. Tom Lake.]

2/17 - Schoharie County, HRM 157: All the snow has been a bonanza for my backyard birding. An American tree sparrow I've been watching was still there and I now also have a fox sparrow, a pine siskin, and more goldfinches than ever. A Cooper's hawk came by yesterday with a pigeon in its grip.
- Caroline McDonald

2/17 - Columbia County, HRM 120: While snowshoeing today at Scenic Hudson's Vosburgh Swamp Natural Area, I couldn't believe that I saw my first flock of red-winged blackbirds despite an air temperature of 10 degrees F.
- Steven Young

2/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie: In a scene that will likely not occur again for another month at least, the female bald eagle brought a fish to the nest area (NY62) to feed. It appeared that she may have left a scrap for the male as well. Once they are on eggs, no food will be anywhere near the nest for fear of inciting the local raccoons to egg thievery.
- Bob Rightmyer

2/17 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: With the passage of two winter storms, the bald eagles were out in force on this bright morning, cavorting on ice floes on the Hudson at Spuyten Duyvil. I saw six total, some adults, some immatures, floating southward on the floes, and then winging it north to re-alight on new south-bound floes. It was an amazing display by the fishing eagles, and it went on for much of the day.
- Jennifer Scarlott

2/18 - Albany to Rensselaer Counties, HRM 135.5: As I crossed the Hudson River over the Castleton Bridge (I-90), I saw a peregrine falcon (presumed to be a male by size) perched on one of the highest points of the superstructure. Let's hope he is staking out his territory for this season's nesting prospects.
- Richard Guthrie

2/18 - Georges Island, HRM 39: What I saw here this morning warmed me, brightened my day, and gave me heart. I watched as twenty robins stripped fruit from a crab apple tree. Unlike last winter, robins have not been much of a presence. These were the first I had seen since the beginning of winter. I chose to regard them as an infallible sign of impending spring. If you know something I don't, please don't share! Across the cove on Dogan Point, a dozen bald eagles were stacked in a tall sycamore. For the morning, I counted 21 eagles across the eleven miles between Croton Point and Peekskill.
- Christopher Letts

2/18 - Croton River, HRM 34: There was a patch of open water about the size of a handball court at the mouth of the Croton River this morning. A few buffleheads and common mergansers ghosted over the steaming water, wraiths in a mist. There were no geese, no gulls. Had I ever been here in any season, any year, when there were no gulls or geese?
- Christopher Letts

2/18 - Manhattan, HRM 6: Early this morning a male common redpoll arrived at the thistle feeders within the Ramble of Central Park. Also there were a pine siskin, two yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a nice assortment of sparrows including one (winter-plumaged) chipping, several American tree sparrows, and several "red" fox sparrows. Common grackles continued to be numerous.
- Tom Fiore

2/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Over the last two days, both adult eagles from nest NY62 have made appearances, delivering collected twigs and grass. Today an immature eagle made a pass over the nest. It was quickly escorted away by the male that had been perched in a nearby tree.
- Tom McDowell

2/19 - Crugers, RM 39: At first glance at our feeders, we thought the usual male red-bellied woodpecker was hanging from one of the suet cages. What a pleasant surprise when we realized it was a beautiful male common flicker. Its striped brown back, red patch on the back of its neck, black patch on the front, and its black mustache were clearly visible. We were happy to be able to supply this one with food as the heavy snow has undoubtedly made it difficult to find sustenance.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/19 - Croton River, HRM 34: The open water at the mouth of the Croton River continued to shrink. The dozen canvasbacks and the few black, ruddy, and bufflehead ducks were clustered close to the openings to the twin channels beneath the railroad trestle. As I watched from no more than 30 feet away, they held position in the slack water, most with heads tucked in, somehow snoozing and maintaining position, staying watchful without watching. Two immature eagles appeared, hunting over that patch of water smaller than a basketball court, making several circuits close to the water, finally landing on the ice across the channel 150 feet away. The ducks' strategy seemed sound: the eagles were not inclined to hunt right up to the bridge, so those waters were a "safe" zone, and if it came to it they could shelter under the bridge.
- Christopher Letts

2/19 - Scarborough, HRM 32: I have counted at least 40 robins here over the last two days. They were not interested in the feeder but very busy in the trees. A beautiful sight!
- Drusilla Van Hengel

2/20 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: I was pleased to see a pair of golden-crowned kinglets while cross-country skiing at Mills-Norrie State Park. I spotted the female first with her yellow crown in a low shrub and it "talked" to me from a low bush about two feet away. I followed it as it hopped from bush to bush and it did not show any shyness. Soon the male joined her with his bright orange crown and he was just as comfortable with my presence.
- Bob Hahn

2/20 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Sunshine on the thermometer at the back door was slowly bringing the mercury up to zero degrees. The hanging feeder was tossing around as birds crowded for feed. I cannot recall having so many different kinds of birds all feeding at the same time: a female cardinal, two chickadees, a male goldfinch, a redpoll, a house finch, a nuthatch, and a frustrated titmouse fluttering around trying to find a perch. Surprisingly, there was very little of the usual aggressive wing-flapping and head-pecking.
- Robin Fox

2/20 - Orange County, HRM 35: With an air temperature of 2 degrees above zero, four downy woodpeckers, three nuthatches, a red-bellied woodpecker, and our first winter sapsucker were lined up at dawn along the lee side of an ash tree trunk in our yard in Sterling Forest, all trying to get some warmth from the morning sun.
- Mary Yrizarry, John Yrizarry

2/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I came upon a good-sized flock of common redpolls early this morning (estimated twenty birds) in and around the black birches, in bushes, and on gravel roads.
- Larry Trachtenberg

close-up of a horned grebe in winter plumage on glassy water

2/20 - Croton River, HRM 34: There was enough open water at the mouth of the Croton River to draw a nice congregation of waterfowl, highlighted by seven redhead ducks (six drakes, one hen). A horned grebe, closely associating with several buffleheads, was diving repeatedly. Having heard that Long Island Sound was freezing over in certain areas, it did not surprise me that the grebe had worked its way inland. [Photo of horned grebe in winter plumage by Dave Herr, courtesy U.S. Forest Service.]
- Ryan McLean

2/21 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The mid-afternoon high tide was nearing full height as ice floes crept upriver in the channel. Inshore, however, in shallower water, the current had already turned to ebb as smaller bands of ice drifted gently downstream. We watched two immature bald eagles on ice floes - one near shore, the other mid-river - and they were drifting in opposite directions.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

["Mahicanituk" is a written approximation of an Algonquian word describing the estuary that has been loosely interpreted as "the river flows both ways." Since Hudson River Indians had an oral language this word has been written with as many variations as it has had interpretations. The most common interpretation is that "flows both ways" refers to the tidal currents of the estuary, two floods and two ebbs daily, each lasting about six hours. But there is another interpretation that is never more obvious than with winter ice: As each tidal current slows, there is a brief period of time where the momentum associated with the volume of deep water takes longer to stop and turn than in shallow water where the lesser volume succumbs sooner. During that winter window today, the river and its ice flowed both ways, at once. Tom Lake.]

2/21 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Ravens, happy roisterers, were talking back and forth, "gronk, gronk," from Old Steamboat Dock. They may be enjoying this brief return to the Little Ice Age more than anybody except the manufacturers of ice-melt products.
- Christopher Letts

2/21 Croton River, HRM 34: Open water at the mouth of the Croton River was diminishing nightly and so was the waterfowl population. This morning, a dozen Canada geese, four black ducks, and a pair each of buffleheads and ruddy ducks were huddled on the ice at the edge of the open water, tight against a bridge abutment. There was not a gull was to be seen, nor an eagle. The landscape seemed to be locked up, bird life retreating. From Croton to Peekskill the eagle count was only thirteen, dramatically down from three weeks ago.
- Christopher Letts

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