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Hudson River Almanac April 26 - May 2, 2015

OVERVIEW

There was a rush of hummingbird sightings this week along 200 miles of the estuary and its adjacent watershed, a testament to the arrival of warmer days and spring flowers. Songbirds, from warblers to orioles, were filling the landscape. In the Hudson river herring, striped bass, shad, "glass" eels, and harbor seals were popping up.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/1 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: The Fall Kill migrations were amazing! Our group of students from Poughkeepsie High School and Marist and Sienna Colleges caught 308 glass eels in our fyke net, and witnessed thousands of alewife river herring in the creek. I've been spending a lot of spring afternoons on the Fall Kill since 2008, and this is one of the best herring migrations I've ever seen here. The students caught them in their buckets while they were drawing water, including a female - eggs literally spilling from her body - that we immediately returned to the water. Tiny golden eggs and silvery deciduous scales were everywhere in the water. Between the eels and the herring it was an amazing firsthand lesson in the marvel of diadromy.
- Chris Bowser, Mark Angevine, Chris Pizer

[River herring and American eels illustrate two versions of diadromy (diadromous in the adjective form), a life history in which fishes migrate between fresh and salt waters. Alewives are anadromous; they live much of their lives in marine waters but return to their natal streams to spawn. American eels are catadromous; hatched in the ocean, most migrate into fresh water as tiny glass eels and spend years there before swimming back to the ocean to spawn. Steve Stanne.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
close up of a diamondback terrapin on the grass

4/26 - Hudson River Estuary: The diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is a native species that can trace its presence in our area back to the post-glacial Pleistocene epoch more than 10,000 years ago. Its present distribution is along the coastal strip and associated brackish marshes from Cape Cod to southeastern Texas (Dobie and Jackson: 1979). However, our resident populations are threatened and we need more data on their locations, numbers, and habitats. Terrapins might be seen basking on shorelines or on projections, floating at the surface, or swimming. Whatever and wherever, we'd like to know. Thanks. Russell Burke, Hofstra University, Department of Biology. Photo of diamondback terrapin by Ryan Haggerty, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]

4/26 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: The glass eels had finally arrived. We caught six today in our fyke net along with a dozen elvers and numerous amphipods.
- Jean Cardany

4/26 - Valatie, HRM 129: For the past seven years, I've visited this stretch of the Kinderhook Creek around the same date in April to have a look at the stream and do some water quality testing. I confess to an underlying reason for this annual visit: fiddleheads! Alas, I came home empty-handed today and will have to wait for the spring season to finally unfold before I can enjoy these tasty seasonal delicacies.
- Fran Martino

[The harvest time is short for these delectable fern fronds that can be found in the woods in the early spring. The preferred fiddleheads of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) grow best in sandy, moist soils near rivers and streams. The curled-up fern shoots are called "fiddleheads" because they resemble the decorative scroll seen on the peghead of violins. Their flavor is hard to describe - kind of a collaboration of artichoke-green bean-spinach). Note: Always consult an appropriate field guide or knowledgeable botanist before consuming any wild plant. Fran Martino.]

4/26 - Black Creek, HRM 85: We were back in the game today as our fyke net collected 175 glass eels and ten elvers!
- Chris Bowser

4/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The breadth of the nestling's menu in eagle nest NY62, now 29 days old, has been impressive. This afternoon Mom brought a gray squirrel to the nest for at least the third time this spring.
- Bob Rightmyer

4/26 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The clean white blossoms of shadbush were beginning to bloom along the river, perhaps a little late this year. This plant was named, in part, because its flowers generally appeared at the time the American shad was beginning its spawning run up estuaries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. However, seasons have shifted over the last century (climate change), and its timing has become more aligned with the full throttle of the run.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[For thousands of year years, people have measured springtime in the Hudson Valley by the appearance of flowers, a process called phenology, the study of nature through the appearance of seasonal phenomena. Phenology comes from the Greek word "phaino," meaning "to appear," or the Latin "phenomenon," meaning "appearance, happening, display, or event." Those who worked on the river came to associate certain blooms with events unseen, such as the shadbush and the arrival from the sea of American shad and river herring. Presently, the progression moves north in an orderly manner from magnolia to forsythia to shadbush to dogwood, with lilac being the final signal that spring is ready for summer. Tom Lake.]

two shad

4/26 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Author John McPhee calls it "the founding fish," and indeed for hundreds of years it was, at the least the piscine equivalent of the "everyman's dinner" along the Atlantic Coast. And yet, just five years after the closure of shad fisheries in the Hudson River, my guests at an Earth Day observance did not recognize the fish I showed them. I have to buy my teaching specimens, in this case an American shad, from southern fisheries where they are still permitted to take shad. Times change. History tells us that no family prior to World War II faced winter without an ample supply of salted and barreled shad for winter provender.
- Christopher Letts

4/26 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I saw my first orchard oriole of the season perched near the top of an evergreen. When I tried to imitate its call and chipping sounds, it wasn't impressed. He fluffed up and dozed off.
- Chris Kostek

4/26 - Brooklyn, New York City: While checking our Brooklyn Friends School's oysters for the Billion Oyster project, we hauled up the cage that houses 300 oysters along with a northern pipefish. Our oysters had grown and the pipefish looked healthy as well. We visited our oyster cage in September, October, and November (2014), and March and April (2015). We are very excited to contribute data to this project.
- Janet Villas

[The Billion Oyster Project began restoring oysters in 2010 as part of NY/NJ Baykeeper's Oyster Restoration and Research Project. Together with our partners, we built a small reef (50 square meters) and seeded it with 50,000 oysters grown in our facilities on Governors Island. The oysters were the first that had gone through the stressful transition from free-swimming larvae to sessile, shell-bearing juveniles in captivity in New York Harbor. This was historic for us because before that time we did not know if oysters could metamorphose in New York Harbor water. The oysters survived that critical time and then spent a season growing like crazy at the eco-dock. It was at this time that the eco-dock became the largest concentration of oysters known to exist in New York Harbor in more than 100 years. Billion Oyster Project.]

4/27 - Ulster County, HRM 99: While doing fisheries surveys for the DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit on the river near Turkey Point, we spotted a float of ten to twelve red-necked grebes. We weren't the only ones to take notice of them. An immature bald eagle made several passes at the group to no avail as the grebes easily evaded the eagle by quickly diving under the water and popping up some time later in a different location.
- Peter Kinney, Russ Berdan, Bob Adams

4/27 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Marist College biology students helped us sample the shallow south-side bay at Norrie Point. Our catch was modest in the 51 degree Fahrenheit water, but interesting, and included bluegills, tessellated darters, and two dozen spottail shiners. The context in which we seined may have been the highlight: shadbush was blooming along the river bank; an osprey glided past; and an adult bald eagle, canting into the north wind, made a few circles overhead before disappearing.
- Giancarlo Coppola, Amy Cahill, Tom Lake

4/27 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released a carp and two small brown bullheads at Long Dock today. The carp measured 24 inches in length and I estimated its weight at 6.0 lb.
- Bill Greene

4/27 - Fishkill, HRM 61: My first hummingbird of the season, a male, was at my feeder today.
- Christin Kostek

[Male ruby-throated hummingbirds generally arrive in their breeding territories ahead of the females. This is true for other birds as well, including the red-winged blackbird. Tom Lake.]

4/27 - Bedford, HRM 35: Everything was very quiet at the great blue heron rookery; each nest had one of the adults incubating eggs. The nests are at least a hundred yards from the road and viewing them through many dead trees to do a count is not easy. I have a tentative count of twelve occupied nests. The incubation period is 27-29-days and I think that on my next visit we may have some nestlings.
- Jim Steck

4/28 - Troy, HRM 151: We saw our first snake of the season - a fat garter snake - from the new fishing pier just downstream of the Poesten Kill. We watched several anglers throwing chunks of herring into the river for striped bass, futilely however.
- Bob Schmidt, Bryan Weatherwax, Jeremy Wright

4/28 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: Marlboro Middle School students carefully emptied the cod end of their research fyke net and then even more carefully counted 173 glass eels. A nice catch but modest by some recent counts. We watched alewives zig-zagging upstream in the early flood tide, occasionally creating a flurry of white water. A pair of common mergansers flew downstream like two projectiles not more than ten feet off the deck. The water was 55 degrees F.
- Lily Collins, Jake Repke, Rebecca Houser, Maude Salinger, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

4/28 - Palisades, HRM 23: This morning, tree swallows were gathering nest material for their nest box at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. It was the first time I had seen them this year. Also present and singing were male and female yellow-rumped warblers and a male ruby-crowned kinglet, cheekily displaying his namesake ruby crown.
- Linda Pistolesi

4/29 - Ulster County, HRM 87: Driving home through High Falls tonight I spotted a black bear cub in a tree staring back at me. My husband, in a second vehicle, saw two adults and three cubs walking across the road toward the woods.
- Sue Horowitz

4/29 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: The south-side bay at Norrie Point had warmed up four degrees Fahrenheit (55 F) from two days ago and Marist College biology students were back for more sampling. The highlights included a juvenile white sucker 85 millimeters [mm] in length, an American eel elver (150 mm), and an immature rudd (95 mm). An osprey visited overhead and alewives were pulsing upstream in the Indian Kill.
- Giancarlo Coppola, Tom Lake, Victoria Ingalls

[The rudd is a large European minnow that has been in the Hudson watershed since the 1920s and seems to be getting more common in the estuary. It is a stubby, deep-bodied fish, with really bright red fins, including the tail. Bob Schmidt.]

4/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The 32 day-old eagle nestling in NY62 had grown to "chicken size" and, not surprising, its appetite seems to be non-stop.
- John Badura

4/29 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: An all-brown immature bald eagle executed a fifteen-second windhover eighteen feet above the mouth of the Croton River. There was no telling what it was pursuing but the message was certainly clear: this bird was on the hunt. A pair of buffleheads, some drake mallards, even the gulls, fish crows and geese all promptly left.
- Christopher Letts

4/30 - Saugerties, HRM 102: In late afternoon I spotted a beaver at the mouth of Esopus Creek near the Saugerties Lighthouse. It was actively doing some spring cleaning of its lodge or perhaps caring for its young.
- Fran Martino

4/30 - Annandale, HRM 98.5: The Saw Kill finally showed signs of waking up! I saw a small pod of alewife just upstream of the head of tide, probably about a dozen fish. In their midst was a white sucker, but without its spring spawning colors. The alewife showed some interest in my lure but not enough to actually get caught. Additionally, several banded killifish chased my lure - delusions of grandeur on the part of these small fish.
- Bob Schmidt

4/30 - Milan HRM 90: The bluebirds had returned to their nest boxes and we had our first hummingbird visit our feeders. I also saw a streak of orange cross the road - Baltimore oriole.
- Marty Otter

[The first hummingbirds we see in late April and early May are not necessarily those that will spend the summer with us. As hummingbirds migrate upriver to more northern breeding areas, they stop at our feeders - grateful for the supplement to the new spring flowers. Tom Lake.]

photo from below of a bright yellow blue-winged warbler perched in a tree against a bright blue sky

4/30 - Dutchess County, HRM 77: Lots of warblers were arriving and I was very happy to hear the "bee buzz" song at Peach Hill Park and then see my first-of-the-season blue-winged warbler! I was hiking with Maha Katnani and she mentioned we should be seeing black swallowtail butterflies; one then obliged and flew by. [Photo of male blue-winged warbler courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Deb Kral

[Peach Hill, one of Poughkeepsie's "hotspot" bird migration destinations, in an old apple orchard located off Salt Point Turnpike. Its summit is the highest point in Poughkeepsie. Deb Kral.]

4/30 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The cold weather may have made the hummingbirds show up later than usual. We put out a feeder this week and the first male showed up today. He was very active all day. I expect the females in the next week or so.
- Ed Juras

4/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: In mid-morning at eagle nest NY62, Mom arrived with a gray squirrel, the fourth she'd provided in recent days. Dad opened the squirrel for the nestling. The eaglet was able to dissect about 40% of its meal by itself and was assisted by dad for the other 60%. Afterward, both adults busied themselves discarding soiled nesting material over the side, essentially "mucking" the nest.
- Tom McDowell

4/30 - Stony Point, HRM 40: While driving on Route 6 from Stony Point toward Harriman State Park, I got a good look at a gray fox darting up a roadside bank away from the highway.
- Caroline McDonald

5/1 - Minerva, HRM 284: The little frogs began calling like crazy three days ago although, oddly enough, I have heard no wood frogs so far this spring. Those critters usually pre-date the peepers by several days, but I've heard none, which is disconcerting. Red-winged blackbirds were still in "ganging mode," hanging together in small flocks. There were no garden flowers as yet and we still had some small piles of snow in secluded, protected places.
- Mike Corey

5/1 - Columbia County, HRM 129: It has been a double-header, seeing beavers two days in a row. This time it was at the Lewis A. Swyer Preserve on Mill Creek, again spotted in late afternoon, and again actively doing spring cleaning of the lodge or caring for young.
- Fran Martino

5/1 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I watched a large animal about a hundred yards from shore go under the water and then resurface about 50 yards away - a seal.
- Jim Herrington

[This may have been the same seal, a harbor seal, spotted by Aaron Fallon on April 13, 39 miles upriver at Coxsackie. Tom Lake.]

garter snake with a digestion bulge on the forest floor

5/1 - New Paltz, HRM 78: As I explored our woodlot today, I came across an eastern garter snake with an obvious belly bulge. It was heading up from our intermittent stream, probably having found a spring amphibian meal. [Photo of garter snake digesting recently eaten meal courtesy of Bob Ottens.]
- Bob Ottens

5/1 - Town of Lagrange, HRM 69: Our first hummingbirds arrived safely today!
- Dennis Reedy

5/1 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I prepared the nectar and set out a hummingbird feeder and was thrilled to receive a visit from a male ruby-throated within just a few hours.
- Kim Simons

5/1 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The forest fronting the tidewater Wappinger Creek was alive in sounds and colors from robins to red-winged blackbirds to orioles, and red maples to shadbush. The water had warmed to 58 degrees F and the spawning season for carp was just beginning. We sat stream-side and watched the geysers as small yellowish-brown carp (5-7 lb.) leaped out of the creek and then crashed back with an explosive smack.
- Tom Lake. T.R. Jackson

bald eagle in flight carrying a rather large striped bass

5/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Dad returned in mid-morning to eagle nest NY62 with a fish. During his processing, I could tell it was an alewife. Mom came in a while later with a large (for an eagle catch) fish. She made it as far as a tree a hundred yards away but could not quite summon the strength to lift it a hundred feet into the nest tree. She rested. After a while she gave it another try and successfully made the carry all the way. We estimated the fish at 7-8 lb.
- Tom McDowell

[Photos showed Mom's delivery to be a striped bass with a distended abdomen. Since the fish seemed too small to be a gravid female, we guessed that it was chock full of river herring, a double treat for the nestling. The estimated weight of 7-8 pounds is probably high. The bass looks to be about one-quarter as long as the eagle's wings are wide. Assuming that wingspan to be six to seven feet, the fish is in the range of 18-20 inches long. Hudson River striped bass of that length typically weigh 2-3 pounds, perhaps 4 pounds for this well-fed fish. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

5/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Not ten minutes after our hummingbird feeders went up, we had a male ruby-throated stop by. Within an hour, four males were jousting for positions at the three feeders.
- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake

5/2 - Stony Point, HRM 40: I came upon a beautiful brown thrasher this morning at the Stony Point Battlefield.
- Caroline McDonald

5/2 - Roa Hook, HRM 44: On a morning Metro North commuter train heading into Manhattan, I saw a seal basking on a rock just before the long arcing turn toward Peekskill. It was hauled out, covering the whole rock, still, and basking in the morning sun.
- Myron Adams

5/2 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Early this morning, I thought I was being buzzed by a large bee. Later I looked out the window to see a hummingbird sitting on the fence looking toward me. The dance begins!
- Robin Fox

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