Hudson River Almanac March 15 - March 21, 2015
With the vernal equinox of March 20, 2015, we ended Year 21 of the Hudson River Almanac and began Year 22. The Almanac, a natural history journal that seeks to capture the spirit, magic, natural history, and science of the Hudson River Valley, from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to the sea, began on the vernal equinox of 1994, and has been a forum for capturing defining moments of the seasons ever since.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
3/20 - Tillson, Ulster County, HRM 84: At 8:00 p.m. this evening, the motion sensor light came on in my yard. I thought there might be a deer venturing out of the forest or a skunk making its way through the late season vernal snow. I always like to catch a glimpse of the nocturnal wanderers in the neighborhood, but I was surprised to see a very large, brown mammal snuffling its snout in the snow and trotting around. It was a "fisher cat!"
- Deb Weltsch
[The fisher (Martes pennanti) is our largest weasel, reaching over 40 inches in length. While the fisher has re-established populations in other parts of the state, and are seen periodically in the Catskills and Adirondacks, they are uncommon in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Though the name of this furbearer suggests an aquatic habitat and diet, they actually much prefer dense forests and porcupines. One of the colloquial names for fisher is "fisher-cat," owing to its feline-like movements. Many reported sightings of "black panthers" have been confirmed as fishers. Ellen Rathbone.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
3/15 - Minerva, HRM 284: I hung up five buckets on the backyard sugar maples today. They were dripping slowly with the air temperature in the mid-30s. I am confident and looking forward to my usual pint of stove-top-cooked sap-into-maple syrup!
- Mike Corey
3/15 - Hillsdale, Columbia County, HRM 119: A sign of spring! It had just stopped snowing as I looked out the window and saw our resident woodchuck walking over the snow pack in our back yard. He looked fat but confused.
- Bob Schmidt
3/15 - Garrison, HRM 51: The snow in the Garrison School Forest was covered with tiny dark specks, giving it a sooty appearance. Closer inspection revealed vast numbers of snow fleas, spaced as if sprinkled from a giant pepper mill. A six-by-six-inch box drawn in the snow held over one hundred. So at 400 per square foot, roughly eight million snow fleas occupied just the half acre around me, matching the human population of New York City.
- Ed McGowan
[Snow fleas, (Hypogastrura nivicola), or springtails, are frequently seen in winter on the snow. Wingless, they have a little forked tail (furcula) that they fold under their body and use to spring up many times their body length. Their bodies contain a protein that acts as a natural antifreeze, allowing them to appear on top of the snow where they are easy to spot on warm days. Once taxonomically grouped as an order within the class Insecta, the springtails are now put in a separate class or subclass within the subphylum Hexapoda. Tom Lake.]
3/15 - Wawayanda, Orange County, HRM 51: Red-winged blackbirds returned here a couple of days ago; I was walking, heard that familiar sound, looked up and saw the first one. Today, the wetlands were populated and their bird song was so welcoming to hear.
- Ann Reichal
3/15 - George's Island, HRM 39: Twenty fine canvasbacks were floating just off the boat launch. A dozen scaup sparkled in the morning sun, bobbing and diving where there had been nothing but an unbroken ice field several days ago. Today's bald eagle count along this reach of the river was 39.
- Christopher Letts
3/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Thirteen eagles were dancing and sky larking in the fresh breeze, hanging in the sky as long as I cared to watch. Five more were similarly soaring and skirmishing over the railroad bridge at the head of Croton Bay. Of the 28 eagles seen today, just four were adults. The only ducks in sight on the lower Croton River were a pair of green-winged teal, looking sharp and bright in spring plumage.
- Christopher Letts
3/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: We saw our first chipmunk of 2015 today. It poked its head out of a tunnel it had dug through the snow, then scurried over to one of the bird feeding areas in the yard. After stuffing its cheeks, it hustled back and disappeared quickly. This went on for most of the afternoon and provided a lively little harbinger of spring.
- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart
3/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 19 for the eagles incubating in nest NY62. Lately, switch-overs were occurring less frequently in the afternoon with the female taking extended breaks from incubating in the nest. The dynamics have been interesting: During these long periods, the male would briefly (30 seconds) leave the nest and call out, presumably to get the female to return. Migrating eagles, mostly immatures, have been visiting the area, causing the pair to diligently patrol the airspace around the nest. On several occasions the nesting adults have been bumping and nipping the intruders, encouraging them to move on. [Photo of adult and immature bald eagles interacting courtesy of Tom McDowell.]
- Tom McDowell
3/16 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: Along the tree line, up and down the shore as far as we could see (and hear), scores of red-winged blackbirds flew tree-to-tree. The noise drowned out all other sounds. The river was still 80% ice, but the floes and seven immature eagles were all moving downriver in the afternoon ebb.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
3/16 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: We scanned the water off the Viking Boatyard, not expecting to see much eagle activity, and were surprised to see more than fifteen birds - adults and immatures - in the trees at Montrose Point. Two of them that looked like four-year-olds (new adults) flew out and did a courtship display right over the inlet to the boatyard, locking talons and dancing their aerial acrobatics before disappearing behind the Point.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson
3/16 - Croton River, HRM 34: On my morning rounds through the winter, I've regularly seen two to four great blue herons. Now, two to three dozen are present. Over the years, I've come to associate this event as being related to the incipient arrival of river herring that come in from the sea in late March to spawn in the tributaries.
- Christopher Letts
3/17 - Northumberland to Schuylerville, HRM 190-186: The Hudson River was mostly open along this stretch. Among the waterfowl were at least 200 common goldeneyes, 40 hooded mergansers, 100 common mergansers, 25 lesser scaup, and 20 ring-necked ducks.
- Ron Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
3/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This was day four of the red-winged blackbird invasion. It seemed to be a continuous flight, but many of the birds were likely holding over day-to-day. Three leafless white birches were so filled with birds that they appeared to be bearing black fruit.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
3/17 - George's Island, HRM 39: The strong north wind created a relatively calm lee at the boat ramp behind the point. A mixed raft of canvasback, scaup, goldeneyes, ring-necked ducks, and common mergansers were sheltered out of the three-foot waves on the river and seemed happy to dive and forage.
- Ed McKay
[Windward and leeward are terms that are often used to provide color and accuracy to the description of a location or condition under which a sighting is made. These are sailing terms used to denote wind exposure: windward being in the face of the wind; leeward meaning sheltered, as in the lee of a point or an island. Tom Lake.]
3/18 - Town of Wawayanda, HRM 47: Across the day, 1500-2000 Canada geese, more than 200 snow geese, and eight tundra swans were spotted at Camel Farm.
- Rob Stone, Jesse Jaycox
3/18 - Pine Island, HRM 42: A greater white-fronted goose was reported at a golf course in Pine Island among Canada geese.
- Rob Stone
[Both the greater white-fronted and Ross's geese [see 3/19] are tundra breeders seen in our area only in migration. Tom Lake.]
3/18 - George's Island, HRM 39: Everyone was on the move; flock after flock of high flying geese went over headed north. On the water there was a grand mix of waterfowl including 20 canvasbacks, a mix of scaup and ring-necked ducks, and a flock of 40 wood ducks splashing against the south side of Dogan Point.
- Christopher Letts
3/18 - Croton River, HRM 34: According to the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book, there should have been, but was not, a fairly high morning tide today [5.4 foot variance]. In fact, it has been weeks since I've seen a really high tide. The tides in Haverstraw Bay seemed lethargic.
- Christopher Letts
[Records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's tide gauge at the Battery, available online, confirm that tides were more than a foot lower than predicted on March 18. (The high and low tides observed there generally maintain their relative heights as they roll on up the Hudson.) This was a minor blowout situation caused by strong northerly winds. Steve Stanne.]
3/19 - Clermont, HRM 103.5: The sun was setting and it was below freezing but a flock of geese in a V formation over the Hudson was headed north. It gave me my first hope that spring was coming even though it was to snow the next day.
- Ripley Hathaway
3/19 - Ulster County, HRM 66: A fresh covering of snow blanketed the ground yesterday in Clintondale but a noisy flock of blackbirds covered a tree out back, reminding me that the snow won't last for long. This was the first flock of blackbirds to arrive here this season. This morning, individual red-winged blackbirds were heard calling - a sure sign of spring.
- Jesse Jaycox
3/19 - Poughkeepsie to New Hamburg, HRM 75.5-67.5: It takes the Metro North train only about ten minutes to make this commute and we looked hard for eagles on the ice. Across those eight miles we did not see a single bird except for the half-dozen immature eagles feeding together on the ice floes just outside Casperkill Creek, a tributary well known for its gizzard shad.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
3/19 - New Hampton, Orange County, HRM 55: John Haas and Rob Stone reported a blue morph Ross's goose as well as a white morph Ross's goose yesterday among a few thousand snow geese on Onion Avenue. After analyzing many digital images of the "blue morph" Ross's goose, it was determined that the bird was a hybrid snow goose x Ross's goose.
- Jay McGowan, Tom Burke
3/19 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Tradition has it that Saint Patrick's Day is when the first sowing of peas is done. This year we would need a snow shovel to reach the earth and a hammer and crowbar to make planting holes.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts
3/19 - Peekskill, HRM 43: The river was free of ice. At China Pier, the water was thronged with cormorants, the white flank patches of the great cormorants easily visible.
- Christopher Letts, George Hatzmann
3/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: It was the vernal equinox and a fitting first day of spring given the harsh winter. The air was 22 degrees Fahrenheit and a steady snow fell that would eventually accumulate to nearly three inches. I stood in the North Rockshelter at Bowdoin Park, on a dolomite ridge 147 feet above the river, and wondered how days like this were handled long ago. I guessed with a roaring fire. From excavations, we know that there has been a human presence in this rock overhang for nearly 8,000 years. While winter might not have been a favorite time to visit this northwest-facing rockshelter, today's elements combined to create a wonderful feeling of antiquity.
- Tom Lake
3/20 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I spotted five immature bald eagles in mid-morning out on the ice of this tidewater creek busily feeding. As hard as I tried, looking through the snow, I could not discern what they had. Fish were unlikely, so perhaps it was a deer carcass.
- Sheila Bogart
3/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: There were three Wilson's snipe this morning on the grass where the snow had melted, halfway across the Point. A northern harrier was working the landfill and several eagles were still around.
- Larry Trachtenberg
3/20 - Croton River, HRM 34: Just as the snow started today, I saw a flock of fifteen tree swallows (blue back, white breast) flying and feeding over the Croton River a half mile downstream from the New Croton Dam.
- Daniel Cummings
3/21 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: An early morning walk on Mills Cross Road, with one inch of new snow underfoot, provided numerous fresh tracks to observe. All were crossing the road heading north. There was a coyote tracking into a wetland, many wild turkey tracks into the woods in three different areas, and almost always white-tailed deer tracks.
- Bill Jacobs
3/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 24 for the eagles incubating in nest NY62. In mid-morning we began what has become an almost daily observation odyssey of the eagles as they manage both their time and their efforts to incubate their eggs. Shortly after we arrived, Mom left the nest to go collect Dad, who was perched several hundred yards away. It was his turn on the nest, although it appeared it may have slipped his mind. He flew back immediately to cover the eggs. Mom came back about three hours later for the changeover. During all this time, as has been the case over the last week or so, several immature eagles stopped by briefly on their way upriver. For today, at least, none required an escort out of the area.
- Debbie Quick, Bob Rightmyer, Tom McDowell, Terry Hardy, Eileen Albro Stickle, Bill Stickle
3/21 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 68: With the brutal winter still holding on, the ponds, lakes and streams were slow to have open water. Today I came across a hooded merganser pair in a small open pond along a busy secondary road. They seemed content enough in the pond even though big trucks and many cars zoomed past only fifty feet away. [Photo of a pair of hooded mergansers courtesy of Terry Hardy.]
- Terry Hardy