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Hudson River Almanac Archive March 8 - March 14, 2015

OVERVIEW

The ice was still thick on the upper reaches of the Hudson River estuary, and the diverse collection of waterfowl spending the winter near the mouth of the Mohawk hadn't yet left for points north. But further south, river ice was starting to break up and red-winged blackbirds finally made their appearance.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/10 - Manhattan, HRM 1: We recently caught three-spine sticklebacks in our fish traps at The River Project, on Pier 40, for the first time in ten years. The first catch occurred January 28; the second February 18, both during the Hudson River's winter phytoplankton bloom. They are omnivorous and will eat diatoms, a group of phytoplankton species with silica shells. Three-spine sticklebacks are small fish, averaging 50 millimeters [mm] in length, characterized by dorsal spines that give them their common name. Their scientific name (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is descriptive: the genus is Greek for "bony stomach," and the species is Latin for "sharp-pointed."
- Jessica Bonamusa

painting of a three-spined stickleback, a small fish with three dorsal spines

[According to C. Lavett Smith, the three-spine stickleback is a highly adaptive species occurring in salt, brackish and freshwater. In New York State they occur in Lake Ontario and on Long Island, as well as in the lower Hudson River where they enter the estuary in winter and early spring to spawn. While not rare, they are uncommon enough to avoid showing up in fish collections (fish traps and seining) for extended periods of time. Painting by Ellen Edmonson, courtesy NYSDEC. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/8 - Hudson-Mohawk, HRM 157-152: As an interesting footnote to the diversity of waterfowl in the Hudson-Mohawk corridor, I was able to view five duck species of the genus Aythya this afternoon in a one-hour period: canvasback, redhead, greater scaup, lesser scaup, and ring-necked duck. These are the five that can be expected in the region, but other than the ring-necked, the others are uncommon in this area. To see all five here in a single day was quite a treat.
- Tom Williams, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We arrived on site (NY62) in mid-afternoon - Mark just in time to see Dad (male of the nesting bald eagle pair) fly into the nest with some grasses and to relieve Mom. Their shared incubation has been working very well. Mom headed out and treated us to a spectacular show overhead. It was hard to believe that she didn't see us; it had to be an instance of feeling comfortable with our presence. Mom returned five hours later for her shift; Dad left immediately and flew to "his tree," a hardwood about 300 feet north of the nest.
- Kathleen Courtney, Mark Courtney

["Dad's tree" has been a part of this pair's relationship for fifteen years. His choices, adjacent to three different nests, have included white pines and oaks and they seem to be his sanctuary, a combination day perch/night roost. Tom Lake.]

3/8 - East Fishkill, HRM 67: I came upon a black squirrel foraging for and finding peanuts under the snow near Emmadine Pond.
- Rich Taylor

[Melanistic or black squirrels are genetic variants of the eastern gray squirrel that have increased melanin, resulting in black fur. Biologist have suggested that black squirrels may have a selective advantage over gray squirrels due to an increased cold tolerance. While not particularly rare overall (they are common in parts of Canada), it is estimated that only about one in 10,000 gray squirrels is melanistic. Tom Lake.]

3/8 - Peekskill to Croton, HRM 43-34: Across this nine-mile "eagle sweep," I counted 59 birds fairly evenly distributed, with most of them riding the ice. At Dogan Point, a half-dozen eagles bolted from their roost as three people broke out of the woods. Dogan Point, an important winter eagle roost, is a protected area - off limits in winter to hikers - and those birds would have to find additional forage to compensate for their flight.
- Christopher Letts

3/8 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: From the Viking boatyard we scanned the clear blue sky, dotted with fluffy white clouds, and we were thrilled to witness a beautiful courtship display between an adult and an "almost" adult bald eagle. They swooped and turned, flew in tandem for a while, and eventually locked talons. Then came the aerial descent and ritual of flying off in opposite directions, only to return again for another encounter. They finally they disappeared behind Dogan Point.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

[Purely surmising, this may have been an instance of an unattached adult male eagle courting a newly adult female (in her fourth year). That makes for a nice story and it may even be true. Tom Lake.]

3/9 - Cohoes, HRM 157: Some of us heard our first killdeer of the year below the falls at Cohoes on the Mohawk River. Spring is coming.
- Will Raup, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/9 - Green Island, HRM 152: Among the waterfowl at Green Island today were red-breasted mergansers, ring-necked ducks, greater scaup, lesser scaup, long-tailed ducks, common goldeneyes, and one Barrow's goldeneye. There was a perfect view of a textbook male bird.
- Nancy Kern, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: A white-tail deer herd made its way through the woods, alternately walking on the crust or plunging into a foot to eighteen inches of snow. There were a few does and a half-dozen almost year-old fawns. There was apparently at least one buck in the group as it made a move, hopped on the back of a doe (a copulatory jump) before she could escape. Seconds later they all moved on.
- Tom Lake

3/9 - Manitou, HRM 47: We kept seeing ducks drop in near the shore and ran to get the binoculars. We counted 37 wood ducks (drakes and hens) dodging the ice floes on an outgoing tide. They seemed to be a little early as Manitou marsh was still quite frozen near the tree line. The skunk cabbage was up about six inches though.
- Owen Sullivan, Zshawn Sullivan

3/9 - Palisades, Rockland County, HRM 23: Red-winged blackbirds were back, more than two weeks later than usual, and singing at the marsh at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. They usually arrive here and start setting up territories during the third week in February.
- Linda Pistolesi

3/9 - Croton Point, HRM 34: There was more open water now as the warm spell made itself felt, but the tides were still sluggish from all the ice. A pair of regal canvasbacks was dredging for breakfast in what I knew to be no more than two feet of water. Out on the ice, eight immature bald eagles were involved in a variety of activities: One hauled up a water-logged stick the size of a rolled newspaper. That was a popular plaything for a few minutes, but didn't hold their interest. Fifty yards out on the ice edge stood a great blue heron with three eagles in close attendance. Were they hoping to steal a fish? Thinking big? No one moved while I watched. The heron did not seem disturbed by the presence of the eagles.
- Christopher Letts

3/10 - Green Island, HRM 152: A female merlin has been here, flying over the open water of the Hudson River after harassing gulls and geese on the edge of the ice.
- Louis Suarato, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/10 - Poughkeepsie, RM 75: On my morning walk across the Vassar College campus, I noticed five common mergansers (three hens, two drakes) swimming along the Casperkill Creek. It was one of the first days I've noticed the ice thawing enough to provide some open water.
- Michael Fraatz

3/10 - Newburgh, HRM 61: This evening along the Newburgh waterfront, we spotted an adult lesser black-backed gull. The bird was on an ice floe in the river, in good viewing range, not more than 300 feet offshore.
- Matt Zeitler, Bruce Nott

3/10 - Manitou, HRM 47: I came home today to find a male Baltimore oriole in the bird feeder. Time to put out some halved oranges.
- Zshawn Sullivan

3/10 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: There was little open water on the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and in the channel a strong ebb carried a few floes toward the Harlem River. Just before noon, the temperature reached 50 degrees Fahrenheit and there was nearly a foot of rotten snow on the fields, but cardinals were calling constantly. The Clove path was still snow-covered and as I neared the spot where people put seed out for birds, I bent over to look at a track and felt a rush of wings past my head - they had seen me coming. I spread some seed and soon all the regulars arrived: black-capped chickadees, three male cardinals, tufted titmice, a white-breasted nuthatch, dark-eyed juncos, white-throated sparrows, and the downy woodpecker that had been here all winter.
- Thomas Shoesmith

3/11- Green Island, HRM 152: In addition to the continuing cast of waterfowl in the open water at Green Island, I added a pair (hen and drake) of green-winged teal today.
- Naomi Lloyd, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/11- Town of Poughkeepsie: The air temperature reached 60 degrees F today, a welcome respite from the bone-chilling cold of the last two months. It was Day 14 of our eagle-watch, with the adult eagles in nest NY62 regularly making their switch-over in incubating their eggs. In mid-afternoon, Mama sat in the nest facing west and the warm sunlight, her head glowing white against the drab colors of winter. She was two hours into her shift and likely would be relieved in late afternoon.
- Tom Lake

coyote in mid leap on an ice floe on the Hudson

3/11 - Peekskill Bay, HRM 43.5: I was out birding with a few friends from the Mearns Bird Club. As we scanned the ice floes for eagles, we spotted a lone coyote out on the ice. Surrounded by water, we were concerned for its well-being as it ran back and forth apparently looking for a way off. Had the coyote gotten onto the floe but forgotten how it made it out there? Or was it simply running along the ice in search of some scraps left behind by eagles? We watched for some time before we had to leave. The coyote was still traversing the massive ice floe. Hopefully, it found a safe way off. [Photo of coyote on ice floes courtesy of David Baker.]
- David Baker

view from below of a leucistic northern mockingbird, colored white, perched in a tree branch

3/12 - Dutchess County, HRM 84: I came upon a leucistic northern mockingbird today that had survived the winter with rose hips to spare! [Photo of leucistic northern mockingbird courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Deborah Tracy-Kral

[Leucism is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird's feathers. As a result, the birds do not have the normal, classic plumage colors listed in field guides, and instead have several color changes, including: white patches where the bird should not have any; paler overall plumage that looks faint, diluted or bleached; and overall white plumage with little or no color discernable. Leucism affects only the bird's feathers, and typically only those with melanin pigment - usually dark feathers. Birding.about.com]

3/13 - Peebles Island, HRM 158: While hiking at Pebbles Island State Park, I spotted a six-point white-tailed deer buck that hadn't dropped its antlers. It was feeding on acorns under the snow.
- Jay Mohr

[Antlers play a huge role in the fall mating season for white-tailed deer. However, by late winter, almost all male white-tailed deer have dropped or shed their "racks." They will begin to re-grow antlers in spring. Tom Lake.]

3/13 - Green Island, HRM 152: Today a lone adult bald eagle took a couple of runs over the waterfowl - an assemblage including common mergansers, red-necked grebes, canvasbacks, a long-tailed duck, and many common goldeneyes. The eagle scattered the ducks but the goldeneyes seemed not to care as they just kept swimming and displaying. Maybe it was the displaying that distracted them enough to ignore the eagle.
- Ken Harper, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/13 - Palenville, HRM 110: Out with winter, in with spring! In my backyard this morning two pine siskins shared the seed with a male red-winged blackbird that announced his arrival with a refreshing "okla-reeee."
- Larry Federman

3/13 - Rhinecliff, HRM 89: I was driving parallel to the Hudson when I spotted an adult bald eagle perched on a branch overlooking the road. It was posed exactly as the U.S. Postal Service symbol: shoulders squared off, head turned over its shoulder. I see eagles frequently near home but this individual was extraordinarily magnificent. The river was frozen all the way across, except for a slushy channel where a ship had passed earlier.
- Emily Plishner

3/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We watched a classic turnover at noon today: Mom was on the nest; Dad flew past and landed in a hardwood 300 feet away; Mom flew over (leaving the nest briefly uncovered); they exchanged loud chortles; Dad flew to the nest to cover the eggs; Mom flew off south in search of...?
- Debbie Quick, Bob Rightmyer, Tom Lake

3/13 - New Hamburg, HRM 68: As the river ice transformed from solid sheets to moving floes, the northward migration of eagles was underway. We saw adults and three immatures out on the moving ice at the start of the flood tide.
- Bob Rightmyerr, Debbie Quick

3/14 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: At noon there were roughly 2,500 gulls on the ice just downriver from the Crescent Power Plant and above the spillway on the Waterford side of the river. They were well spread out, allowing for good views of nearly every bird. We turned up eight Iceland gulls among them. It seemed that ring-billed gull numbers were way up; perhaps they had just arrived from downriver?
- Tom Williams, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/14 - Town of Bethlehem, HRM 141: I stopped by Bethlehem's Henry Hudson Town Park to check out the eagles. I had been going weekly, but due to the heavy ice cover on the river I had not seen any activity. Today the river was breaking up. Not far away was an eagle and there was plenty of activity. Some sharp birders with good optics said that one of the adults had a silver band and the other a black band on its leg.
- Roberta Jeracka

[The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses silver bands that usually accompany colored bands (unseen in this instance) on the other leg. Black bands are used by wildlife managers in several New England states, but the consensus opinion is that his band was from Connecticut. Tom Lake.]

3/14 - Dutchess County, HRM 83: Driving in eastern Dutchess County, I came upon a male ring-necked pheasant walking along the side of Cricket Hill Road.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

3/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 17 - halfway home - for the pair of incubating eagles in NY62. The fog was thick, so much so that viewing the nest tree through a spotting scope was counter-productive as the lens simply concentrated the gloom. With the naked eye, standing in knee-deep snow 300 feet away, Mom's head (50:50 chance it was Mom) glowed like a light bulb.
- Tom Lake

close up of a red-winged blackbird perched at the top of a thin marsh plant

3/14 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: Rain did not deter fourteen noisy and hungry red-winged blackbirds from showing up at my feeders and proclaiming that they were back in town! I couldn't resist - rain or no rain - I went outside to admire the snowdrops that had emerged from what was left of the huge snow pile in my backyard garden. [Photo of red-winged blackbird courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Andra Sramek

3/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It happens every spring: the March return of blackbirds was in full fight. We started to count but quickly gave up as the pulse of birds - at least 100, all red-winged blackbirds as far as could tell - moved through the trees singing every version of their spring song.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

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