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Hudson River Almanac February 22 - February 28, 2015

OVERVIEW

As February ended, the deep freeze of winter continued as significant ice spread downriver. Eagles drifted on ice floes in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. With shrinking options for hunting in the watershed, the number of bald eagles in the lower estuary continued to rise.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/25 - Upper Bay, New York Harbor, HRM 0: We have had fabulous ice in New York Harbor this month, the most I have seen in the fifteen years that I have been in my office at the Battery. And not just the usual nice crusty chunks, but large flat pieces, the kind that would invite a polar bear to sit in the middle. We can even see ice accumulating south of Governors Island. On the out-going tide it hugs Manhattan and accumulates at the Battery and out to Governors Island. As the tide comes in, the ice starts to spread out, the water in between rivers of floes becomes smooth and shiny as glass, and the ice starts to hug the New Jersey shore.
- Helena Andreyko

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/22 - Stillwater, HRM 171: We spotted four white-winged scoters in a stretch of water on the Hudson just south of Stillwater. Sitting low in the water, they had first-year or female plumage (sooty brownish with prominent white patches in secondaries on the folded wings) and large sloping bills with prominent yellow to orange tips on a couple of the birds. Other waterfowl included several hundred common goldeneyes, common and hooded mergansers, buffleheads, and greater scaup. In the air we watched a pair of adult bald eagles fly in and do a little courtship display over the river before heading away.
- Gregg Recer, Cathy Graichen, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

immature cooper's hawk perched in a thin tree branch while snow is falling

2/22 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: I was watching our feeder this morning when 40 or so birds suddenly scattered and a flash of brown sped by at eye level. The only detail I caught was a heavily barred tail with a light tip before it disappeared. Soon the raptor, a juvenile Cooper's hawk, returned and perched on a vine-covered trellis ten feet from the feeder. The bird noticed a couple of sparrows hiding down among the vines and tried to roust them out, but the sparrows just moved into better cover. After a while, the hawk gave up and headed off to try its luck at other feeders. [Photo of immature Cooper's hawk courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- David Lund

2/22 - Andes, Delaware County: While this story is just outside the watershed, the natural history element is interesting enough to mention. Jack McShane watched an adult bald eagle chase and harass a very upset and vocal raven today. As Jack acknowledged, the roles in this case were reversed. Ravens, generally, being more maneuverable and perhaps with a more evolved sense of humor, usually "tease" eagles with stooping, close fly-byes, and body bumps, all the while keeping just out of talon range.
- Tom Lake

2/22 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Wild winds off the river had sculpted the snow drifts along the road into fantastical shapes, lovely to look at. To the north, ice fields extended out across Haverstraw Bay as far as I could see. I thought of the resident red-tail hawks, incubating eggs in their pine tree nest high above the beach, as blasts of Arctic air rocked my pickup. A kestrel, the first I had seen in many weeks, braved the wind from its perch on the highest branch of a roadside willow.
- Christopher Letts

2/23 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Our visiting granddaughter announced "the hawk is here!" We had heard the racket of a dozen songbirds fleeing the feeder area, bumping into kitchen windows in panic. No more the 50 feet from the north-facing window a Cooper's hawk was perched in full view and good light. It began to pluck, and then eat its prey. Our nine-year-old got binoculars and examined the scene. "It's eating a titmouse," was the report. She stayed to watch for fifteen minutes until the hawk departed with the remains of its catch.
- Christopher Letts

2/23 - Bronx, HRM 13.5: From my home in Riverdale, I can see the Hudson River to just south of the George Washington Bridge, a short distance upriver, and the Harlem River at its confluence with the Hudson at Spuyten Duyvil. From this vantage I have noted a great many large and small ice floes as far as my eyes can see, north and south. The presence of these fluctuates with the flow of the river's tides. Often there has been startlingly little ice, but then within hours much of the river is once again covered in floes.
- Jen Scarlott

2/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Overnight air temperatures dropped to 25 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 for today was significantly warmer - 4 degrees F. Tom Lake.]

2/24 - Columbia County, HRM 112: Two ravens were in a mini-courtship flight over Route 9G today. With quarries nearby, I wouldn't be surprised if they are setting up a nesting site in the area.
- Richard Guthrie

aerial view of the mid Hudson River covered in ice with the cutout channel visible from Saugerties to Germantown

2/24 - North Germantown, HRM 109: The overnight air temperature fell to 12 degrees below zero; shortly after sunrise it was still below zero. The river looked Arctic with bank-to-bank snow-covered ice. Apparently there had been no recent river traffic to nudge aside the floes in the channel. There was no room for waterfowl; the only bird we spotted was an adult bald eagle perched atop an ice floe that was tilted on end by the tide. Where was this raptor finding sustenance? [Photo of ice-covered Hudson from Saugerties north to Germantown courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.]
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/24 - Dutchess County, HRM 85: Eastern Dutchess County has been a wintering ground for a small number of golden eagles in past years, usually in the Pawling-Amenia corridor to Stissing Mountain. However, this year they seem to almost everywhere. Gorgeous birds!
- Deb Kral

2/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Looking out from along the river by Bowdoin Park, I saw two coyotes out on the ice. They seemed to be playing. A little while later one left and the other was sitting on the ice, grooming.
- Kathleen Courtney

[In addition to coyotes, traveling on winter ice has likely been a part of Hudson Valley human culture since we first arrived about 12,000 years ago. Prior to World War II, the estuary pretty much shut down to boat traffic in winter, allowing hiking, skating, ice boating, and automobile travel (legend has it that driving on the river was often quicker than negotiating local roads). Tom Lake.]

2/24 - Croton River, HRM 34: There was a complete freeze up, the Route 9 bridge to the train bridge, on the lower half-mile of the Croton River. A dozen black ducks and a few Canada geese were huddled on the ice close to the trestle, where they could take shelter from eagles. It was a chill and barren scene.
- Christopher Letts

2/25 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: A morning visit to Bradley Beach at Fort Edward resulted in a nice showing of ducks: mallards, hooded mergansers, ring-necked ducks, common goldeneyes, and buffleheads. A pair of adult of bald eagles was perched at riverside.
- Mona Bearor, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

2/25 - Peekskill to Croton River, HRM 43-34: Along my nine-mile riverside route this frozen morning I counted 52 bald eagles. An oddity was that there were no cormorants or buffleheads.
- Christopher Letts

2/26 - West Sand Lake, HRM 145: After commenting online that I hadn't seen any cedar waxwings this winter, I just saw a flock of about a dozen fly into my neighbor's trees.
- Naomi Lloyd, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

2/26 - New Scotland, HRM 144: Our local pair of pileated woodpeckers had been coming to our suet basket for several weeks. This morning, they were both feeding at once.
- Alan Mapes, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

2/26 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Someone must be spreading birdseed to the local songbirds. As I got out of my car they flew right into the nearby shrubbery in the parking lot. I spread some cracked corn and sure enough there was an instant parade of white-throated sparrows, juncos, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmice, black-capped chickadee, downy woodpecker, and red-bellied woodpecker. It was just a handful of feed, but well appreciated.
- Rich Guthrie

2/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The team of nest monitors for eagle nest NY62 have been keeping a close watch. Today seemed to be the first day when one or the other adult was settled in the nest with little or no lapses in coverage. For now, at least, we will infer that they are incubating.
- Bob Rightmyer, Deb Kral

[If the eagle pair are incubating, and all goes well, there should be a hatch in 32-35 days. The average hatch date for this pair, across fourteen years, has been 32 days. All eyes will be on the nest on March 30. Tom Lake.]

2/26 - Town of East Fishkill, HRM 61: I thought I spotted a bobcat running across East Hook Road near Wright's Farm this morning. But, after reconsidering what I had seen, and consulting references, I am certain it was a lynx. I was able to get a close look at it when it climbed a snow bank and stopped to look back at me. It had very beautiful markings, tufted ears, and a large, defined black tip on its short tail. Then it disappeared into the thicket.
- Barbara Martire

[From historical records we know that Canada lynx were present in New York State in the past; however, we do not know for sure if there were ever self-sustaining resident populations in New York. It is likely that there were always lynx traveling through the state from other areas and that the New York population was sustained by immigration from these other areas. Occasionally, we still get reports of lynx. Some of the reports turn out to be the similar-looking bobcat; however, over the last few years we have had a few convincing reports of lynx in the state, and it is clear from these that New York still has an occasional lynx passing through. We do not know of any recent instances of lynx breeding in New York. NYSDEC.]

close up of a red-necked grebe on the water

2/26 - George's Island, HRM 39: There were two red-necked grebes here this evening. Keep an eye out for more on the Hudson and anywhere else that may have larger areas of open water, as there may be more of them displaced by extensive ice on the Great Lakes. [Photo of red-necked grebe by Donna Dewhurst, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Tait Johansson

2/26 - Croton River, HRM 34: "Clamming season" was open and the gulls on the lower Croton River were hard at it. How do they do it? They probe, or if the water is too deep for wading, they do a lift and dive, and always seem to come up with a meal, a wedge rangia clam. A new wrinkle this year: instead of bombing the parking lot to break open the shells, they fly a few feet to the closest ice and drop the clam there. Shorter commute.
- Christopher Letts

[Wedge rangia (Rangia cuneata) is a bivalve mollusk native to more southerly brackish coastal and inshore waters like Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. It is believed that they were inadvertently introduced to the lower Hudson River about 25 years ago through the ballast water of commercial vessels. They are now found as far upriver as Newburgh (HRM 61). Dave Strayer, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.]

2/27 - Ramshorn, HRM 112.2: As winter continued its icy grip on the Ramshorn-Livingston Sanctuary and surrounding areas, signs of life witnessed included white-tailed-deer, gray squirrel, and cottontail rabbit tracks as well as several hearty birds including ravens, crows, blue jays and a couple of woodpecker species. Best sign of all: a bald eagle was seen on its nest at the sanctuary!
- Larry Federman

2/27 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I spotted an odd waterbird not far from a common merganser, and even though it was quite a distance out in the river, my observation and photographs suggested that it was a red-necked grebe.
- Eileen Stickle

[Red-necked grebes are migratory aquatic birds. While they are not common in the Hudson, there has been a series of recent sightings in the watershed, lessening their improbability. By far the largest number seen in Dutchess County was 25 in one flock on March 6, 1959, on the Hudson River off New Hamburg. John Bull's Birds of New York State says their occurrence is erratic with more during severe winters. Barbara Butler]

2/27 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The cardinals, doves, and titmice were singing spring songs, but on trips to the woodpile I found it prudent to have my hood up and to keep my gloves on.
- Christopher Letts

2/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: At the headwaters of the Hudson River, the air temperature during February never climbed above 26 degrees F. The daily low air temperatures during the month were below zero on 23 of 28 days, with a maximum low of -30 degrees F.
- National Weather Service

2/28 - Green Island, HRM 152: Along with some greater and lesser scaup, common mergansers, and a red-breasted merganser, I spotted a red-necked grebe.
- Jeanette Roundy

Man holding up a bluegill sunfish that has just been caught on a sunny winter day

2/28 - Saugerties, HRM 102: There is a bay in Esopus Creek just above the dam in Saugerties that has been, over the years, an amazing producer of winter panfish through the ice. Despite being barely four feet deep, the bay attracts at least eight species, five of which are sunfish. While there have been days when we caught and released several hundred fish, today was not one of those as we experienced the vagaries of sportfishing. Two dozen of us caught just 28 fish: 23 bluegills, 2 redbreast sunfish, and 2 bluegill x redbreast hybrids. The biggest fish was Bob Schmidt's foot-long yellow perch; "high hook" for the day was Chris Bowser with five fish caught. [Photo of bluegill sunfish captured through the ice courtesy of Chris Bowser.]
- Tom Lake

[Sunfish (Centrarchidae) are known to hybridize with other members of their genus, the most common cross in this area being bluegill x pumpkinseed. The bluegill x redbreast hybrid surprised us. Tom Lake.]

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