Hudson River Almanac March 30 - April 4, 2015
This week gave us spring peepers, American woodcocks, glass eels, and eagle nestlings as a positive affirmation that the seasons have changed.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
3/31 - Town of Poughkeepsie: This was Day 2 toward a hopeful fledgling from eagle nest NY62. Dad was on morning nest duty when Mom brought in a small songbird - perhaps a robin. She pulled out its feathers for a while, then appeared to do a feeding. At dusk, a steady snow began again. Winter was still lurking.
- Bob Rightmyer, Terry Hardy, Dwight Reed, Debbie Quick, Tom Lake
[A songbird might seem to be an odd choice for an eagle to bring to the nest. But as Pete Nye reminds us, bald eagles are the consummate opportunists; the length of the list of prey that eagles bring to their nests is incredibly long and diverse. Tom Lake.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
3/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: A bitter cold north wind (29 degrees Fahrenheit felt like 13) greeted us and the new nestling(s) in eagle nest NY62 this morning. A half-inch snowfall overnight had covered tree branches and the rim of the nest.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
[Now that we have a hatch date for NY62 (March 29), we can project a date-range for fledging - the nestling's first flight. Bald eagles in the Northeast fledge, on average, from 72-90 days after hatching. This year that would be June 9 to 27. The average fledge date for fourteen NY62 nestlings across fourteen years has been 79 days; this year that would be June 16. Tom Lake.]
3/30 - Croton Point, HRM 34: A trio of woodcocks glided in over my head, pitched into a wet ditch, and completely disappeared. Kestrels had arrived, perched like finials on top of the well markers on the landfill. Harriers were rocking and rolling over the slopes, letting the north wind off Haverstraw Bay do most of the work. Many robins were bouncing around the mowed areas, and for the first time this spring I heard one in full song. Down by the railroad bridge two adult bald eagles were perched, side-by-side, seemingly touching - no space visible between them. I love to see them like that, and this is their season.
- Christopher Letts
3/30 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: Spring had finally reached Inwood Hill Park. Star of Bethlehem was coming up but there was no sign of new growth along the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek. In the Clove, the snowdrops had bloomed; a week ago there was no sign of them. I heard cardinals and saw one dark-eyed junco, one white-throated sparrow, and a male downy woodpecker. Pachysandra was budding and I saw a pretty little eastern garter snake up on the ridge; it had found a patch of sun but it was pretty well concealed. It was the first snake I have seen in the park.
- Thomas Shoesmith
3/31 - Newcomb, HRM 302: March did not exactly go out like a lamb; the temperature at 8:00 a.m. was a chilly 24 degrees F and we had sub-zero temperatures just two days prior. The birds, however, paid little attention to the cold; flocks of both snow geese and Canada geese were seen moving their way northward. There was a very large mixed flock of red-winged blackbirds (more than one hundred), common grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds at the feeders.
- Charlotte Demers
3/31 - North Bennington, Vermont, HRM 172: Driving by Paran Creek we were thrilled to see an adult bald eagle circle overhead, giving us a great look at its white head and immense (ironing-board-length) wingspread. While we have heard of eagles being sighted along the Battenkill, seeing one here was rare. Paran Creek flows into the Wallomsac, which flows into the Hoosick River, which continues on into the Hudson. We'll be on the lookout to see or hear of any eagles nesting in the area.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly
3/31 - Averill Park, HRM 147: As I ran past a bog that feeds the Wynantskill, a small but direct tributary of the Hudson, the year's first red-winged blackbirds greeted me with their calls. This area is colder than all of the immediately surrounding terrain by at least one degree Fahrenheit year-round - a cold sink of sorts - and the new arrivals found only ice in the still marsh. However, the 'kill' is flowing freely; the hard shell formerly covering all but the rapids having retreated to the banks in the last couple of weeks.
- Rik Scarce
3/31 - Sleightsburg Spit, HRM 91.5: I was scoping [studying through a spotting scope] a small raft of northern pintails and mallards when right in front of them appeared two massive black-backed gulls. As I zoomed in, I realized that one showed pink legs while the one showed yellow. That one was marginally smaller with a finer beak and smaller head. This was my first lesser black-backed gull. Nearby was another, both in beautiful breeding plumage.
- Kent Warner
3/31 - Queens, New York City: I was on a walk at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in a light rain on a very cool day - unfortunately typical of the "spring" so far. Among the treasures today, a downy woodpecker, a hairy woodpecker, my first phoebe of the season, my first osprey of the year, and the buds of pussy willow just cracking open. But mostly, I'd come to hear spring's chorus of peepers. The first five or six peeped from the edges of Big John's Pond, and I was not disappointed. I was eager for the main show to begin but pleased that with the cool weather, I might still have a week or two to enjoy the great anticipation. [Photo of spring peeper courtesy of Steve Stanne.]
- Dave Taft
4/1 - Fishkill, HRM 61: While cleaning nest boxes in my backyard, I passed an area of leaf litter near an embankment without noticing anything unusual. Later, as I approached the leaf litter again, an American woodcock with its bright cinnamon breast flew up and away into the nearby woods in a flurry of whistling wings. In the 32 years I have lived here, this was a first for me.
- Ed Spaeth
4/1 - Mid-Hudson Valley: The first week of April was traditionally the time for commercial fishermen to set their nets and catch the first of the American shad on their spawning run up the river from the sea. Two days ago the river was awash in ice; yesterday there were still enough scattered floes to tear a net; today (would have been just in time) the Mid-Hudson reach of the river was essentially ice-free.
- Tom Lake
[All commercial fishing for American shad ceased on the Hudson River in 2010. The closure was made necessary by the drastic decline in shad populations primarily due to decades of poorly regulated over-harvesting in coastal waters. Tom Lake.]
4/1 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Just when I thought I had seen the last of the eagles, I noticed one adult and one immature on what was left of the ice on Lake Meahagh. There were many gulls scattered about and they were having their share of frozen fish (gizzard shad) as well. The immature kept pecking at the ice; I was surprised that he didn't just take the gulls' meals.
- Dianne Picciano
[A similar fish kill occurred in January 1997 (see Hudson River Almanac, Vol. III) when, following a sudden freezing-over of Lake Meahagh, hundreds of gizzard shad died. Gizzard shad, a non-native herring, do not fare well when winters get extreme. In 1997, the frozen fish in the ice attracted a dozen eagles every day. They would allow the gulls to drill - their bills are better-adapted to dislodge the fish embedded in the ice - and then steal the fish away. Tom Lake]
4/1 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: Eels in April! Our fyke net at Furnace Brook caught its first glass eel of the season. The net is monitored by an enthusiastic group of local volunteers, including Ossining High School students Pedro Montes de Oca, Sandra Castillo, and Reid Komosa. They caught the single glass eel with their Science Research teacher Valerie Holmes. [Photo of glass eel courtesy of Chris Bowser.]
- Chris Bowser
[Freshwater eels have survived global cataclysms for millions of years but some populations now appear to be diminishing, even disappearing, worldwide, and scientists are not quite certain why. While American eels are considered freshwater fish, they are born at sea and many of them spend much of their lives in tidewater. "Glass eels" are one of their juvenile life stages. They arrive by the millions in the estuary each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the greater Sargasso Sea area of the Atlantic where they were born. Glass eel is a colloquial name, owing to their lack of pigment and near transparency. This is a particularly vulnerable time for them and little is known about this period in their life history. In anywhere from 12-30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea where they will spawn once and then die, or so we think. Tom Lake.]
4/1 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Several glass eels, newly arrived on their journey from the Sargasso Sea, have been caught in ropy "eel mops" at the mouth of the Saw Mill River, monitored by the Science Barge and Groundworks Hudson Valley.
- Chris Bowser
[DEC has a dozen citizen-science sites sampling eels from Staten Island to Albany. Interested volunteers can email Chris Bowser at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out the eel project website for more info. Chris Bowser.]
4/2 - Albany, HRM 145: It was a bald eagle, the first time I had ever seen one at the University at Albany uptown campus. It flew over Indian Pond shortly after my arrival this morning, giving me a view of its large white tail and little else, before disappearing over the trees. The species isn't included on the official SUNY Campus Birdlist, begun by Ken Able long before my time, presumably because of its scarcity in past decades. I also counted more than 1,200 Canada geese flying over in large skeins and V-formations; it seemed that an enormous migratory flight was underway today.
- Tristan Lowery, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/2 - Albany, HRM 145: A co-worker and I, on a lunchtime walk in the Corning Preserve, saw a river otter in one of the ponds that is connected to the Hudson by a culvert. At first sight I assumed it was a muskrat, but I had good binocular views and the tapered, furred tail made it clear it was an otter. It was swimming and diving in classic otter style.
- John Kent, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/2 - Delmar, HRM 143: I had two American woodcocks at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center last evening in the usual area west of Wood Duck Pond. One was doing his thing: the sky dance. The other was lying in wait to scare the "begeebers" out of me. He peented loudly and repeatedly only fifteen feet away as I took a side trail to get away from the first bird's calling ground without disturbing him. I did not hear that bird do a flight, but I was close enough to easily hear the "hiccup" that precedes the peent call. [Photo of American woodcock by Jake Dingel, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.]
- Alan Mapes, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/ 2 - New Paltz, HRM 78: On the first day with an air temperature in the high 50s, and with receding marsh ice, it was not surprising that I heard my first spring peepers and woodcock in this area along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail.
- Roland Bahret
4/2 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63: I heard one, just one peeper singing, then three, and by 8:00 a.m. the entire wetland at Stony Kill Farm was absolutely vibrating and levitating with chirping. It was fantastic. In less than an hour it sounded like every peeper was welcoming their side-by-side neighbor after a long quiet winter.
- Andra Sramek
4/2 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Leaving my house this morning, I saw the most flights of Canada geese heading north - ten in ten minutes - that I have seen this spring. One thing caught my attention: The strings of geese, all of them, were not as long as I remember in prior years.
- Lee Banner
4/2 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: There were two ospreys at the nest this morning on the cellphone tower at the southern end of the train platform at the Croton-Harmon Rail Station. Hopefully they're back for another successful season. I have been looking for them every day, and this is the first time I saw any activity.
- Hugh McLean
[This will be the osprey pair's third season at this nest. They fledged three young in 2013 and then two more last summer. Tom Lake.]
4/3 - Moreau to Stillwater, HRM 200-172: On a drive south along the Hudson I met a lot of expected friends including some first-of-season birds for me. Among the highlights were four double-crested cormorants and a pied-billed grebe in Northumberland, thousands of Canada geese from Schuylerville to the Saratoga Battlefield, with hundreds of mallards, black ducks, wood ducks, northern pintail, American wigeon, and small rafts of green-winged teal. Finally, there was a beautiful drake canvasback at Stillwater.
- Ron Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/3 - Vischer Ferry, HRM 157: I walked the length of the towpath west of the Whipple Bridge again this morning at Vischer Ferry Preserve. I saw four drake and at least one hen northern shoveler. I came upon two Canada geese fighting along the towpath. I assumed it was a battle over turf. Two other Canadas were watching closely.
- John Hershey, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
[The nineteenth century Erie Canal, built 1817-1825, utilized mules and horses to tow the canal boats along a towpath bordering the canal on the north side. Horses and mules were hitched to the boats by means of a towrope. The twentieth century Barge Canal did not require towpaths, as canalboats operated under their own power. National Park Service.]
4/3 - Colonie, HRM 150: Ann Lee Pond was quite busy around noon, despite being more than 50% covered with ice. In addition to several species of waterfowl and songbirds, I spotted a river otter at the edge of the ice, keeping the mallards moving.
- Tom Williams, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/3 - Albany, HRM 145: This morning there were two horned grebes in winter plumage at Corning Preserve opposite Jennings Landing on the Rensselaer County side of the Hudson. There may have been a pied-billed grebe too, but the distance was really pushing the limits of my binoculars. I also counted 48 double-crested cormorants in a single flock making a northbound flight up the river.
- Tristan Lowery, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/3 - Albany County, HRM 138: I was surprised to see a mink swim across the Vlomankill, then stop to ascertain who the guy with the hat and camera was.
- Tom Williams, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/3 - Four Mile Point, HRM 121: We checked out the Four Mile Point and Vosburgh Swamp area today and found that the river and marsh were both open with a few ice chunks here and there. Small ponds were still mostly frozen. Among the highlights, was a first-of-season deer tick! Of the 36 species of birds, we saw a dozen snow geese, and 75 green-winged teal.
- Alan Mapes, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/3 - Milan, HRM 90: I heard my first spring peepers tonight. It is amazing how such a small cold-blooded creature can survive a winter like the one we just had!
- Marty Otter
4/3 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Now that the snow was almost gone and the swamps were no longer frozen, I heard my first peepers tonight. There were only two or three, but I am sure there will be hundreds out there in a few days. A true sound of spring.
- Ed Juras
4/3 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I spotted a barred owl this afternoon along the rail trail, perched on a tree branch. I could see the rain running down its feathers as it hunted with its eyes. Also heard spring peepers for the first time this year.
- Susan Livingston
4/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Dad was on nest duty (NY62) this morning, and from his "head swiveling" had me wondering if he was looking at more than one eagle nestling. But this was still speculation; so far we had no confirmation on any nestlings. Mom was perched 150 feet away, watching me. I heard a loud snap as she came off her perch, breaking the limb, and flew straight at me, landing on a branch less than ten feet over my head. She had not allowed me to me that close in years. She was not defensive; I hoped she sensed I was not a threat. I'd like to believe that - after fifteen years - she recognized me, but that was doubtful. We shared that space for a full five minutes before she flew off over the field and out to the river.
- Tom Lake
4/3 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67: I heard the mating chorus of the "peeper frogs" for the first time today. It seems they call near a swamp or body of water, mostly at dusk or near dawn. A welcome song after this winter.
- Frank Poplees
4/4 - Fort Miller to Stillwater, HRM 192-172: From late morning to mid-afternoon on a very windy day (gusts to 50 miles per hour) we explored the Hudson River and environs from Stillwater to Fort Miller. The ice was completely out of the river and waterfowl were present only in low numbers for much of the route. We found a huge flock of perhaps 2,000 tree swallows at Stillwater, milling about, at times right down at the water level. Among the waterfowl were lesser scaup, a drake canvasback, northern pintail, northern shoveler, American wigeon, and green-winged teal. At Hudson Crossing Park in Schuylerville we found our first eastern phoebe and a merlin. At Fort Miller we saw our first great blue heron plus several redhead ducks and hundreds of Canada geese. On a final note, there was a faint hint of green in some of the lawns and grassy fields along the way, although with the winds and a bit of snow, it did not feel one bit like spring!
- Scott Stoner, Denise Hackert-Stoner, Gregg Recer, Cathy Graichen, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club
4/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie: There was a high wind advisory today and while the nest tree was solid, those along the hillside swayed. As we watched, Dad left the nest on a changeover as Mom arrived with a stick and immediately began rearranging things with new furniture. Later, Mom stood up in the nest, on alert. She called out and we heard Dad reply from where he was perched north of the nest. Then we heard a third call, to the south, another eagle. Although we never saw it, it was no doubt another interloper on a brutally windy day. [Photo of bald eagle on nest courtesy of Terry Hardy.]
- Terry Hardy, Debbie Quick, John Badura
4/4 - Beacon, HRM 61: The winter was still making itself felt on early fishing efforts, if my experience was any indication. By this time in years past, I could scratch out a catfish or a carp; today, not a bite in four hours of fishing. A total dud. The Hudson River water temperature was 36 degrees F - a strong negative for fishing.
- Bill Greene
[Scientists recognize that zero is still data. Bill's "dud" strengthens his hypothesis. Tom Lake.]