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Hudson River Almanac April 5 - April 11, 2015

OVERVIEW

The spring pulse of glass eels began making its way up the estuary from the sea this week. In the wetlands, heron rookeries were filling up with nesting great blues.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
close up of a rock gunnel underwater on a sandy bottom

4/6 - Manhattan, HRM 1: We caught another three-spine stickleback in the Hudson River at The River Project, Pier 40 (see March 10 for a description of this fish). We have also been catching rock gunnels this spring in our fish traps. [Photo of rock gunnel by Andy Martinez, courtesy National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.]
- Jessica Bonamusa

[Rock gunnels (Pholis gunnellus) are small, slender fish - often mistaken for eels - that are related to tropical blennies. Pholis, the portion of their scientific name identifying their genus, is from Greek; it refers to "one who lurks in a dark place." Taken together, their common and scientific names they suggest a habitat preference for dark, inshore rocky areas. Rock gunnels are able to briefly remain in sheltered and wet intertidal habitats out of the water, breathing atmospheric oxygen. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/5 - Vischer Ferry, HRM 159: The highlights among the waterfowl at Vischer Ferry Preserve this morning were ten northern shovelers. Most of them were drakes in breeding plumage, and that is always a treat. I also found a horned grebe that was still eclipsing to breeding plumage.
- Jon Hershey, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

4/5 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: There were dark-eyed juncos in my backyard on Easter Sunday, and then when I looked out the window this evening, a great blue heron was at the edge of my pond. A big change in one day.
- Phyllis Marsteller,

4/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: I was driving along just after dark with my windows down. Rolling to a stop on a quiet road, I listened, and there they were - dozens of spring peepers flexing their voices after the long, cold winter. They instantly put a smile on my face every time I hear them, but the first songs of spring are much anticipated and ever-so-special.
- Donna Lenhart

4/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Eight days following what we suspected was a successful hatch in eagle nest NY62, we got our first glimpse, albeit briefly, of the small fuzzy head of a nestling. Late in the day, Dad brought a squirrel to the nest.
- Debbie Quick, John Badura, Bob Rightmyer

4/5 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The snowdrops and crocuses have only been blooming for a short time but last night (under a gorgeous full moon) we were treated to our first serenade by spring peepers! Since that is traditionally when you stop collecting maple sap, it made this a really short season for making maple syrup.
- Susan Butterfass

4/5 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I came upon a boat-tailed grackle on Easter Sunday, only the eighth confirmed sighting of this blackbird in Westchester County. This was confirmed through photos viewed by top birders around the state. Boat-tailed grackles are rare inland, and of the eight from Westchester County, this was the first found away from coastal salt marsh areas.
- Larry Trachtenberg

4/6 - Town of Glenville, HRM 159: Jamie Taft found two tundra swans at Collins Lake yesterday afternoon. Early this morning, the two swans were along the beach but took off after a while, heading north. Still present at the lake was a common loon in breeding plumage.
- Jeff Nadler, Tom Williams, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

4/6 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: A few days ago a neighbor reported seeing a great egret at the Coxsackie Creek Grasslands Preserve. This one was sporting a blue wing tag. I sent a report in to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and today received a reply: The great egret was confirmed to have come from Ontario, Canada, as reported by Chip Weseloh.
- Richard Guthrie

[This great egret was banded at Nottawasaga Island about 90 miles northwest of Toronto, near the town of Collingwood, Ontario, on the south end of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. This sighting provides interesting data about the migration and distribution patterns of great egrets in the northeast. Chip Weseloh.]

adult bald eagle in a nest with two tiny grey nestlings

4/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: In late morning, the fluffy head-bobbing eagle nestling first spotted yesterday became two! In their fifteenth year of nesting, the NY62 pair had hatched two more, bringing their total to sixteen across those years. [Photo of bald eagle with two small nestlings courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Deb Kral, Debbie Quick, John Badura, Bob Rightmyer

4/6 - New Hamburg, HRM 67: It is not often that we see a sizeable raft of non-mallard ducks inshore, so we stopped and got out the scope Just outside the mouth of Wappinger Creek, in the lee of a spiffy north wind, were 40 lesser scaup taking a breather on their spring journey north.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

4/6 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: Yesterday's strong winds created a condition known as a blowout tide where a strong northwest wind had pushed through the system, making ebb tides extremely low. As we traveled over the George Washington Bridge (NYC) today we noticed extensive exposed mud flats. Arriving at Piermont, we found the tide as low as I can ever recall seeing it. The entire north side of the Pier was an open field of mud.
- Margie Turrin, Brent Turrin

4/6 - Bedford, HRM 35: Two weeks ago I received a message that a great blue heron was standing on one of the nests in the rookery off Route 121. It is very likely that the female was down in the nest, out of view, and already incubating. This rookery is the only one known in Westchester County and was started three years ago. This is year four. When visiting today I counted eight occupied nests.
- Jim Steck

4/6 - Staten Island, New York City: Our Richmond Creek eel fyke collected 127 glass eels today. This was the first early pulse of eels that we have been waiting for.
- Chris Bowser

4/7 - Ice Meadows, HRM 243: The short hike into the Ice Meadows was highlighted by the "croak" of ravens, the "ank ank" call of the red-breasted nuthatch, and the aromatic scent of balsam fir, all signature sounds and smells of the Adirondack Park. Much of the ten-mile-long reach of the Ice Meadows was still frozen over. Standing mid-river, it felt like being on a wasting glacier long ago. In some places you could hear the river rushing seaward several feet below the ice. The tracks of white-tailed deer, coyote, otter, mink, and other smaller weasels were etched on the ice, recording their past travels across the river.
- Tom Lake

4/7 - Saratoga Lake, HRM 182: The lake still had plenty of ice and the ribbon of open water around the lake extended out from just a few feet to several hundred. The number of waterfowl crammed into those areas was incredible, including hundreds of buffleheads, common and hooded mergansers, lesser scaup, and several common loons and pied-billed grebes.
- Tom Lake

4/7 - Westerlo, HRM 134: The heron rookery in the Bear Swamp Preserve was fully populated today. I counted 21 great blue herons.
- Louis Suarato, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

4/7 - Minisceongo Creek, HRM 39: We collected our first glass eels of the season today, a total of thirteen, as well as six elvers. We set the fyke net nine days ago and had since caught dozens of mummichogs and banded killifish, an eight-inch-long elver, and a small four-spine stickleback.
- Nicole Laible, Margie Turrin, Brent Turrin, Margaret Grace, Rod Johnson, Kathy Galione

close up of a sand shrimp on a sandy background

4/7 - New York City: We were an intrepid group of seiners checking out spots for the Great Fishing Event to be run as part of the World Science Festival on May 30. We started at Soundview Park in the Bronx, where a serene pocket of park borders the mouth of the Bronx River and the East River. The tides were extremely low and our net was not productive. Moving on to Randall's Island, we seined in both the reconstructed saltwater marsh and the Bronx Kill, pulling in a few mummichogs. Then we headed to Brooklyn's Valentino Pier to test our luck and netted three Atlantic silversides and several dozen sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa) that displayed their small claws as we shared them with visitors. A nice end to a beautiful day. [Photo of sand shrimp by Claude Nozeres, posted on the World Registry of Marine Organisms photogallery and used under Creative Commons license.]
- Margie Turrin, Steve Stanne, and SCA members Katie Friedman, Kacie Giuliano, Giancarlo Coppola, Julie Schroeger, Erica Kepski, and Eli Fox.

4/8 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We spotted a red-necked grebe swimming in the south side cove at the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center today.
- Chris Bowser

[Red-necked grebe are in migration now from wintering areas on the coast to breeding sites in the mid-continent prairies of Canada. Tom Lake.]

4/8 - Hudson Valley: In honor of April's Poetry Month, Robin Fox offers these stanzas excerpted from Emily Dickinson's poem A Bird, came down the Walk.

A Bird, came down the Walk -
He did not know I saw -
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass -
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass -

4/9 - Town of Glenville, HRM 159: There were two common loons in breeding colors on Collins Lake this morning, diving fairly close to the shore. Also present were pied-billed, horned, and red-necked grebes. Two drake redhead ducks were mixed in with a large raft of ring-necked ducks.
- Tom Williams

4/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Dad was on the nest (NY62) in midday feeding the eagle nestlings. At the end of feeding time, Mom came in with some grass and the two adults spent some time arranging it into the nest. This has become a daily activity, with grass, twigs, and branches being brought to the nest. It has become a formidable structure.
- Debbie Quick

4/10 - Schuylerville, HRM 186: On the Hudson River today, I saw the greatest number of black ducks - at least 250 - that I have ever seen in one place.
- Ron Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

4/10 - Fish Creek, HRM 182: I spotted a Eurasian wigeon at the confluence of Fish Creek and Saratoga Lake, along with one drake and five hen red-breasted mergansers.
- John Hershey, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

4/10 - Saratoga Lake, HRM 181: Nine northern shovelers (five drakes, four hens) were swimming in formation in Riley Cove on the west side of Saratoga Lake. I also counted eight Bonaparte's gulls, two pied-billed grebes, a horned grebe, and a common loon. In the air were hundreds of tree swallows and at least one rough-winged swallow.
- Ron Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

4/10 - Wynantskill, HRM 149: I heard the first wood frogs of the season this afternoon. Spring peepers had also been singing on several of the warmer evenings of the past week. I watched three turkey vultures and two black vultures circling low overhead. As a former airplane pilot, it was fascinating to watch the black vultures' short tails twisting this way and that to compensate for the turbulent air. The turkey vultures' tails were much less active. They must have been using other control surfaces.
- George Wilson

barred owl perched on a tree branch

4/10 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: We have had much wildlife living in the woods around our home for as long as we have been here: coyotes, bobcat, moose, black bear, fox, fisher, mink, and others. For the last week we have had a barred owl hanging around in a tree outside our door. Not long after I found a mess of downy woodpecker feathers on the ground near our suet feeder and close to the owl's roost. [Photo of barred owl courtesy of Ted Fink.]
- Ted Fink

4/10 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 62: I came upon a crested caracara in a farm field in the Town of Montgomery today. This is an extremely uncommon-to-rare occurrence and made me wonder if this was the same crested caracara reported by Ed McGowan and his colleagues on January 5 at Bear Mountain State Park seventeen miles downriver.
- Curt McDermott

[The northern crested caracara is related to falcons (Falconidae). The rarity of this sighting is underlined by the range descriptions in field guides by Roger Tory Peterson and David Sibley; they note that modest populations are found from Florida across the Gulf States to Texas, and south into Mexico and beyond. Tom Lake]

4/10 - Peekskill, HRM 44: As we were traveling between Annsville Circle and the entrance to Camp Smith this morning, we were delighted to see a large immature bald eagle atop one of the trees on the shoreline of Peekskill Bay. Its silhouette was quite prominent against the silvery sky despite the fog that engulfed the area.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

4/11 - Saratoga Lake, HRM 182: This afternoon we spent some time checking out Saratoga Lake, which was about half clear of ice. Our best spot was Riley's Cove, sheltered from the strong wind. Among our sightings were a dozen Bonaparte's gulls, pied-billed and horned grebes, four common loons in breeding plumage, and three immature bald eagles. One flew over us with a big largemouth bass in its talons.
- Alan Mapes, Jeff Mapes, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

4/11 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: It is not spring until you see the first warbler of the year and, for us, today it was finally spring. On the Hoyt property at Mills Mansion we saw a pine warbler and three palm warblers. As icing on the cake, there was also a female ruby-crowned kinglet flitting around.
- Linda Lund, David Lund

4/11 - New Paltz, HRM 79: My neighbors have been stopping me to ask about dead fish in an old oxbow pond off the Wallkill River. Fisheries colleagues at DEC have been fielding the same question regarding fish kills in similar shallow ponds throughout the region. The likely cause is a phenomenon called winter kill. Thick ice blocked diffusion of oxygen from the atmosphere into the water over the winter. Deep snow on the ice blocked sunlight, limiting production of oxygen by photosynthesis in the water below. Meanwhile, bacterial decay of dead vegetation and other organic matter in the pond continued, using up what oxygen was available. Levels got so low that even many carp - a fish tolerant of low oxygen conditions - couldn't survive until the ice melted. At least 150 dead carp were in view from a bridge over the oxbow.
- Steve Stanne

4/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Dad performed double duty today, providing fish for the two eagle nestlings in NY62. He arrived in mid-morning with a large channel catfish and an immature eagle on his tail. Mom hollered like crazy and the immature left. In the afternoon he came back again with a bright orange-and-gold koi.
- Tom McDowell, Debbie Quick, John Badura, Bob Rightmyer

[Koi, also known as sanke, are a domesticated variety of common carp (Cyprinus carpio). Carp are native to Asia and were introduced to North America early in the nineteenth century. While koi are best known from being stocked as ornamentals in backyard ponds, they are also found in the wild, most notably in the lower "day-lighted" reach of the Saw Mill River in Yonkers, probably as the result of aquaria releases. Tom Lake.]

4/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: One by one, eleven turkey vultures rose up over the tree line from the east, embracing a strong west wind that was gusting to 30 miles per hour. This was not a kettle - these were individual birds catching the current and teetering across the sky. We watched them for nearly an hour. Using their wings like sloops tacking their sails on the river, we saw not a single wing beat.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

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