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Hudson River Almanac March 22 - March 29, 2015

OVERVIEW

Dutchess County's bald eagle nest NY62 had a hatch this week, following 32 days of incubation. While this nest is only one of 50-60 active nests in the Hudson River watershed, it serves as a reliable gauge of what's going on in many of the others. Some have already produced nestlings; some are still waiting. To put all this activity in perspective, remember that it was only 18 years ago - 1997 - that we had our first successful hatch along the river in 100 years at a nest in Greene County.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
photo of a group of canada geese wading in the water with two tundra swans in the middle and a small, green-winged teal in the lower right hand corner

3/29 - Pine Plains, HRM 96: I spent the morning hunting down rare-to-Dutchess County tundra swans that were found and photographed by R.T. Waterman Club member Carol Pedersen two days ago at The Fly, a wetland area just north of Pine Plains. Also there were American black ducks, wood ducks, common mergansers, northern pintail, and green-winged teal. [Photo of tundra swans with Canada geese and green-winged teal courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral; note the size difference between the swans, one of our largest waterfowl, and the teal, one of our smallest.]
- Deb Kral

[Unlike the more frequently seen mute swan, tundra swans are a native species in New York. Their common name refers to their summer nesting range north of Hudson Bay in the Arctic tundra. They can usually be heard calling long before they are seen, which leads to another frequently used common name, "whistling swan." David Sibley remarks that distant flocks sound like baying hounds. Tundra swans are occasional visitors to the Hudson Valley during spring and fall migrations. In Dutchess County they are uncommon to rare, with occurrences every few years. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302 -Red-winged blackbirds and common grackles arrived yesterday, just in time to celebrate the first day of spring. Common redpolls were still in abundance but their numbers seemed to be thinning. Woodpeckers are now drumming, and I've heard black-capped chickadees singing their "phoebe" song. I have seen a horned lark, purple finch and mourning dove over the past week as well. Spring must be coming, even with overnight temperatures still in the single digits.
- Charlotte Demers

[Two days later, March 24, the nighttime air temperature in Newcomb fell to 11 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. National Weather Service.]

3/22 - Burnt Hills, HRM 157: It paid off to inspect the flock of cedar waxwings frequently in our crabapple tree - today one Bohemian waxwing was among them.
- Jeff Nadler, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/22 - Greene County, HRM 116: I went down to the river today at the Cohotate Preserve to listen to the ice. It spoke to me: "Snap, crackle, pop," with a few "Thunks." Spring was coming!
- Fran Martino

3/22 - Brewster, HRM 52: We had a family of red foxes complete with some kits living under our shed. We started seeing the adults around the shed in January and they often seemed anxious as they paced around. Last evening we saw the kits for the first time; they seemed to be about eight inches long, balls of light charcoal fur. As darkness fell, one of the adults carried off a kit, stayed away for ten minutes, and then carried the kit back. Then the adult carried the kit off again. That was the last we saw of those two before dark, but the rest of the litter remained. Today they all seem to be gone. We felt privileged to have been witness to this, if only intermittently.
- Bruce Iacono, Maureen Iacono

3/22 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: We were looking for eagles today and seeing very little activity when a floe came into view with a large brown "log" on the ice. Strangely, the log began to move and we realized as a light brown face came into view that it was a seal! Two immature bald eagles came to investigate but after a few minutes of stand-off the seal took its leave into the icy waters.
- Abbye Carsten, Bevin Carsten

[This sounds like a harbor seal. Over the last 21 years, we have had four species of seals recorded in the Hudson River Estuary: gray, harbor, hooded, and harp seals. The overwhelming majority of sightings have been harbor seals, with Almanac records as far upriver as Albany (river mile 145). They are seen most often in winter on ice floes or in spring when the spawning runs of river herring and American shad surge in from the sea. Tom Lake.]

3/22 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: We had at least six woodcock on Saw Mill River Audubon's annual woodcock walk along the landfill's easternmost path. They seemed to come out of the marsh right where the tree line ends. While one was in clear view less than 20 feet away, giving its "peent" call, their flights seemed somewhat truncated. After all, it was freezing. The night sky was beautiful and, for a perfect ending, we saw Venus rising and shining from the northwest corner of a brand new crescent moon.
- Larry Trachtenberg

3/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 26 at eagle nest NY62. Mom and Dad made their switch-overs at noon and then again around 6:00 p.m. Another adult flew close over the nest but continued on north. When Mom returned in early evening she brought some grass, some new padding for the nest.
- Debbie Quick

3/23 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: This was no doubt a rough winter for every living thing. It was not possible to keep the bird feeders full; they were mobbed, from dawn to dusk. I estimate almost twice the usual amount of seed and suet were fed this winter. A neighbor remarked "The deer are right on top of us; they are out in the daytime and they are eating things they never ate before." I crunch around the yard, making notes - mental lists - of spring chores, occasionally breaking through the crust into a foot of snow. I'm glad it is there, protecting the plant roots, keeping the soil from drying, the frost from going deeper. Past the asparagus bed and past the cutting garden where 100 tulip tops have already poked into the light. Rhubarb pie! Don't forget to start the tomato plants. We made it!
- Christopher Letts

photo of a single canada goose on the water with its head pointing up in mid honk

3/24 - Stillwater, HRM 171: While photographing Canada geese as they took off, I noticed how groups of them would first start stirring, accompanied by increased chatter. Eventually, one would honk loudest like a signal for the flock to take off. A small group near shore began to stir and I was able to observe and photograph the apparent leader as the bird raised its head, bill pointed straight up, and waved its head back and forth, honking loudly. The goose did this head-shaking-honking about three times, presumably as a final call that signaled the group to take off. [Photo of Canada goose courtesy of Jacquie Tinker.]
- Jacquie Tinker

[This is a common phenomenon of poorly understood group communications that includes snow geese as well. One of the most incredible sights in nature is to see a thousand snow geese rise off a cornfield as one, following the preliminaries that Jacquie describes. Tom Lake.]

3/24 - Croton River, HRM 34: My heart did soar this morning, as I watched the first tree swallow gliding and circling over the train bridge. If past observations can be a guide, by week's end a hundred more will have joined this scout or outlier.
- Christopher Letts

3/25 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: We had an unusual experience during a bird walk at Vassar Farm. Approaching a tree where a red-tailed hawk was perched, we stopped to let the photographers click away before proceeding along the trail. Much to our surprise, the hawk did not move but instead continued to scan the ground below. Then it dove down among us to grab some prey that was less than ten feet from us. The bird remained on the ground for a short time to secure its quarry and then flew to a nearby tree to dine.
- R.T. Waterman Bird Club

a pair of hooded mergansers swimming on the water, the drake in the foreground with a small bullhead in its bill and the hen in the background

3/25 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I came upon two females and one male hooded merganser that were fishing close to the boat launch along Creek Road. I hid behind my car so they would not see me and might swim closer. The male caught a small fish and, despite being dive-bombed by a gull, was able to swallow it. Two immature bald eagles came in as well and did some fishing. One managed to catch a small fish. [Photo of pair of hooded mergansers, the drake with a bullhead, courtesy of Terry Hardy.]
- Terry Hardy

3/25 - Hudson Valley: As the ice recedes and the little ponds open, they are populated now by wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, and hooded mergansers, all colorful and boldly patterned, wonderfully embellishing the dark quiet waters they frequent.
- Christopher Letts

3/26 - Fort Miller, HRM 193: Our Thursday morning birding group set out in search of the greater white-fronted goose that had been reported. We had no luck with that, but found a female Barrow's goldeneye just north of the village of Fort Miller. Photos showed its orangish bill, the steep forehead, and the darker brown head compared with nearby female common goldeneyes. Much of the Hudson was now open so the waterfowl were not congregating as closely. They included plenty of common goldeneyes, common mergansers, hooded mergansers, ring-necked ducks, scaup, and buffleheads.
- Naomi Lloyd, John Hershey, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/26 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: Two counter-singing eastern phoebes were present this morning at the Route 144 bridge over Hannacroix Creek. It was a very welcome sound to hear after the endless cold weather.
- Tom Williams, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/26 - Town of Warwick, HRM 41: We hiked around Liberty Marsh in a soft drizzle. The wetland was still mostly frozen. In the few open areas ring-necked ducks, mallards, gadwall, and some green-winged teal floated. Several northern harriers occasionally lifted up out of the marsh to teeter a while before descending onto some prey. While we had come looking for snow geese, we had to be content with Canada geese and a pair of brilliant-looking bald eagles.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Liberty Marsh's 335 acres is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, near the headwaters of the Wallkill River. Tom Lake.]

3/26 - Crugers, HRM 39: We were disappointed but not surprised through this winter that the resident great blue heron was nowhere to be seen on Ogilvie's Pond. So it was a pleasant event today to spot the heron fishing in the far end of the pond. What made the scene even more special were three pairs of beautiful hooded mergansers, competitors, swimming around the heron.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34: In a near repeat of March 22, and in the midst of a dense fog that completely hid the Croton and Hudson Rivers, a dozen woodcock were "peenting" and twittering over the east side of the landfill at dusk. We also came upon three Wilson's snipes that were spotted feeding on the once-wetlands, now ponded lawn, by the northwest corner of the landfill.
- Anne Swaim

3/27 - Minerva, HRM 284: I heard my first couple of red-winged blackbirds today, lurking in a tree among a few other early and crazy blackbirds. The spring songs of the chickadees were heard all over. Our snow was alternately crusty and granular with bits of litter from pine and hemlock needles as covering. Our maple sap buckets were very slowly adding sap.
- Mike Corey

3/27 - Papscanee Island, HRM 142: The fields were mostly clear of snow at the Papscanee Island Nature Preserve. Among the twelve species of birds noted were 40 Canada geese, a Wilson's snipe, and 300 red-winged blackbirds.
- Nancy Kern, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/27 - Brewster, HRM 52: The red fox family had not been seen in five days (see March 22). However, the area under the shed seems to be compartmentalized and we continue to see another tenant: a large woodchuck. This may have been one of the reasons the adults seemed so anxious and perhaps even why they moved their den.
- Bruce Iacono, Maureen Iacono

3/28 - Schuylerville to Stillwater, HRM 186-171: Waterfowl highlights on the Hudson River today included two groups of wood ducks numbering about fifteen pairs, ten pairs of hooded mergansers, and a male green-winged teal, as well as a dozen tree swallows over the river in Stillwater.
- Gregg Recer, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/28 - Albany, HRM 145: We birded the Hudson River at Corning Preserve today with the notables including a drake canvasback, a red-necked grebe, and a horned grebe.
- Robert S. Pastel, Nettye Pastel, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The eagle nest (NY62) was almost lost in the haze as we looked through a steady snowfall that was made horizontal by a strong and bitter cold north wind. The barest white crown of a head was visible as one of the adults incubated on Day 31. We could hear the bird giving loud and sustained chortles, probably asking for a changeover. The other adult was still out on river.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

3/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Despite the cold rain, snow, and strong wind, there were some interesting birds on the landfill today. We flushed a Wilson's snipe, spotted a first-of-season eastern meadowlark, and had an osprey flyover.
- Larry Trachtenberg

3/29 - Green Island, HRM 152: Among the waterfowl in the river at the head of tide today, in addition to a bald eagle, were red-necked grebe, canvasback, redhead duck, greater scaup, and lots of goldeneye.
- Alan Mapes, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/29 - Selkirk to Kingston, HRM 135-92: We checked several spots along the Hudson River, starting out this morning at Henry Hudson Park in Selkirk. There we spotted both hooded and common mergansers as well as wood ducks, green-winged teal, and lots of Canada geese. One bald eagle was on its nest not far away while its mate perched in a nearby tree. A third adult bald eagle was visible a half mile upriver. At the Coxsackie boat launch we saw four buffleheads and a pair of killdeer. From the North Germantown boat launch we saw eight bald eagles, four in a grassy area and four more together on ice floes in the river, harassing Canada geese. All but one of the eight were immature. A large skein of migrating Canada geese flew over. At Kingston Point there were scaup, common goldeneyes, a ring-necked duck, and common and hooded mergansers, with an immature bald eagle riding an ice floe out on the river.
- John Kent, Tom Williams, Colleen Williams, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/29 - Town of Northumberland, HRM 196: At Opdahl Farm, a northern goshawk swept past me over the field and into woods where it perched long enough for me to study its field marks and make a positive identification. This was my first goshawk and it was huge! It had the smaller birds and red squirrels chattering away.
- Marne Onderdonk, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

3/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Incubation Day 32 for the eagles at NY62 dawned after a bitter cold night (18 degrees F). This pair has had a successful hatch in nine of their fourteen years and the average time to hatch has been 32 days, so we are hopeful. The morning was slow, the nest was quiet, with only a few red-tailed hawks flying over, patrolling their airspace. The adults made a changeover in early afternoon and in mid-afternoon the female returned to chase away yet another immature eagle that had stopped by.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The incidence of other eagles, both immatures and adults, flying by and occasionally looking to visit the nest had increased in the last month. With the watershed largely locked up in ice over the last two months, wintering eagles had moved to the lower estuary to find consistently open water for fish and waterfowl. With the advent of spring, those birds were now returning to nesting areas north and east and the temptation and curiosity to stop by an occupied nest seemed to be far too compelling for many. Tom Lake.]

bald eagle soaring in flight against a bright blue sky carrying a small fish

3/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We have had a hatch! At 4:10 p.m., on Day 32, Mama came in to the nest (NY62) with the first fish, an immature following right behind her. The immature headed straight for the nest but at the last second decided to keep going. Forty-five minutes later Mama brought a second fish to the nest and, as with the first one, stayed for just a minute before leaving again. Ten minutes later she came back with a third fish. It appeared that there was at least one new mouth to feed. [Photo of bald eagle carrying small fish courtesy of Bob Rightmyer.]
- Debbie Quick, John Badura, Bob Rightmyer, Kathleen Courtney

["First fish to the nest" is typical new hatch behavior. Prior to that, during incubation, eagles try to keep food out of the nest since it might invite a visit from raccoons. Photos taken by John Badura and Bob Rightmyer showed the first fish to the nest to be a small common carp. Both the second and third fishes were channel catfish. Tom Lake.]

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