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Hudson River Almanac May 2 - May 9, 2015

OVERVIEW

With the addition of dogwood and lilac blooms and green leaves on these and other flora, the river's shoreline began to show its spring awakening. In the Hudson, herring and shad continued their spawning runs while at the same time supplying rich forage for the many bald eagle nestlings in the watershed.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/3 - Bear Mountain State Park, HRM 45.5: I have heard about cowbird predation for years and today I saw it in action at Doodletown. A brown-headed cowbird clearly laid an egg in a gnatcatcher nest while being buzzed by the adult gnatcatcher. What seemed really odd was a second gnatcatcher was on a nest less than two trees away. Is it possible they could dupe the cowbirds by building a second unused nest?
- Larry Trachtenberg

[Brown-headed cowbirds reproduce through a behavioral adaptation called brood parasitism. By using a "surrogate nanny," the larger cowbird nestlings will likely outcompete the smaller hatchlings of the nest owner, thus better ensuring the parasite's survival. Tom Lake.]

[According to the Birds of North America Online, blue-gray gnatcatchers are regularly parasitized by cowbirds; this parasitism may be contributing to local or regional population declines. Blue-gray gnatcatchers are one of the cowbird's smallest host species, and their own young rarely survive once a nest has been parasitized. I found no mention of building decoy nests; desertion is the gnatcatcher's only apparent defensive response once a nest has been parasitized. Steve Stanne.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our snow total for winter 2014-2015 was 79 inches, well below our average snowfall of about 120 inches. It felt nothing like winter today with the air temperature hitting nearly 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but the average low temperature the past five nights was 25. The cold temperatures might be responsible for the lack of spring bird migrants returning; very few warblers were heard in the woods this morning. However, coltsfoot was in bloom, trout lily leaves were sprouting, and trillium leaves had unfurled and their blossoms will arrive soon.
- Charlotte Demers

5/2 - Red Hook, HRM 96.5: Redwings were calling at Poets' Walk Park. Spicebush was blooming. Among many bushes (including the invasive multiflora rose) and plants putting leaves out, little yellow trout lily was blooming along all the woodland paths. Out on a meadow we were surprised to see young shoots of field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) in one small area, suggesting that the ground was wetter there than was apparent at the surface. Mockingbirds were calling back and forth across a meadow and by a tiny pond a frog was "croaking," though the sound was more like "glonk."
- Thomas Shoesmith, Donna Mendell

5/3 - Minerva, HRM 284: I took a nice kayak trip (about five-and-a-half miles) down the beautiful Minerva Stream and saw more signs of spring: swamp sparrows and white-throated sparrows singing; tree swallows flitting; a yellow-rumped warbler or two flashing; broad-winged hawks cruising; and pussy willows blooming. Fresh beaver sticks were floating in the water as I paddled over close to a dozen beaver dams. With the water fairly high, I cruised over most of them. Minerva Stream eventually connects with the Schroon River and then Warrensburg where it meets the Hudson River.
- Mike Corey

5/3 - Columbia County, HRM 119: I was out in my yard in Hillsdale, watching male bumblebees cruising over the grass looking for females. I finally saw two butterflies, first of the season for me. The first one was a European cabbage butterfly, somewhat of a disappointment. The second was a spring azure, at least a native! The azure landed on a Norway maple flower and sipped some nectar before flying off.
- Bob Schmidt

5/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Mom has been the major provider recently for the nestling in NY62. Today she arrived with a "buck" American shad, a good example of energy from the sea moving inland to the Hudson River, and then into the uplands.
- John Badura

5/3 - Beacon, HRM 61: While fishing for carp and channel catfish off Long Dock, I caught and released only small brown bullheads - lots of them! I lost count after seven or eight but I'm sure I caught a dozen of them. There was a lot of bait-stealing going on. I've always suspected golden shiners, but now I wonder if brown bullheads were doing it too.
- Bill Greene

[The brown bullhead population in the Hudson River seems to fluctuate; there have been times when they almost disappear from some areas. This raises the concern that the introduced channel catfish might be in competition, as it seems to be with the white catfish, another species in the same genus as the bullhead. Tom Lake.]

5/4 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived right on schedule, even though my lilacs had not yet begun to bloom. I dumped a partially filled bag of potting soil I had wintered over into a container only to discover plants aren't the only things that grow well in Miracle Grow. There was mama mouse and four almost grown "mouselings." I lay the pot on its side so that it would be easier for the family to move out if mama so desired, and gave them a handful of sunflower seeds for their troubles.
- Barbara Wells

bright blue indigo bunting perched in a tree

5/4 - Garnerville, HRM 45: This evening I found a beautiful indigo bunting at one of my feeders. He stayed around for a couple of hours, until dusk, enjoying the sunflower seeds. [Photo of male indigo bunting courtesy of Caroline McDonald.]
- Caroline McDonald

5/4 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: Our Marlboro Middle School team counted an incredible 2,991 glass eels that our fyke net had collected overnight in Quassaick Creek. All were transported and released well upstream.
- Rebecca Houser

[Why transport the young eels upstream for release? For one thing, upstream is where they were heading, inland, to ponds, lakes, and reservoirs, where they would spend the next twelve to twenty years. The more immediate reason is our data: in taking a census of glass eel immigrating into the tributary, we do not want to skew our numbers by possibly counting the same fish twice. Tom Lake.]

5/4 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: By midday, the air temperature was nearing an unseasonable high of 84 degrees F. The big crabapples were a perfect confection: white blossoms mixed with the deep pink of buds not yet opened. There were no birds on the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, but a red-winged blackbird was flying and calling among the trees along the shore. A mockingbird was imitating everything from the burr of the red-wing, to the calls of the many robins, to what sounded like a cell-phone ring. On the path up through the Clove, spring was progressing: Spicebush blossoms had finished and leaves were coming out; lesser celandine was now forming carpets and blooming; and violets, blue and a few white bloomed among the ubiquitous periwinkles. I met two people coming down who said they had just seen a wild turkey. It was gone when I reached the top, but a Baltimore oriole was moving among the trees and a red-bellied woodpecker was drumming and calling. The lilacs and dogwood were flowering and there were a few blossoms on the true celandine and false Solomon's seal.
- Thomas Shoesmith

5/5 - Hudson, HRM 118: Master fly-tier, A. K. Best once said, "The fishing was good; it was the catching that was bad." Three days ago during our Rensselaer Land Trust public seining program at Papscanee Island, our net came up empty - first time ever skunked! Today at the Hudson boat launch with students from an after-school program sponsored by the Hudson Opera House, our net was bubbling with activity from killifish, white perch, rudd (with bright red fins), and a lovely, iridescent, nine-inch-long river herring. We had caught 26 fish in just one haul.
- Fran Martino

5/5 - Greene County, HRM 112: Today dawned warm and sunny on the mountaintop at West Kill. Sitting in the sunshine, watching the dogs wrestle on the lawn, I was buzzed by the first ruby-throated hummingbird of the season. He was clearly one familiar with the location; after buzzing me, he flew to where the hummingbird feeder usually hangs, then back to me, then back to the missing feeder station, then back to me. I got the message, went inside to mix up some sugar water, and put the feeder out for him. He hung around all day.
- Emily Plishner

5/5 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We had quite a few adult river herring in our seine today (not usual), some yearling brown bullheads, and a three-foot-long northern water snake. Overall, a quarter of the catch was tessellated darters.
- Giancarlo Coppola

5/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Mom arrived back to the nest (NY62) in early morning carrying an American shad. The eaglet looked on longingly and Dad sat alongside with his usual "deer-in-the-headlights" expression. Mom continues to demonstrate her superior hunting skills by bringing back a variety of fish and small animals to the nest.
- John Badura

colorful ruby-throated hummingbird in flight feeding on a pink flower

5/5 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 67: The first ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived. Here we get a ratio of about eight females to every male. They don't seem to form breeding pairs. On the occasions when I get more than one male around they spend the day fighting (territorial disputes). Today the birds were feeding on Mandevilla, a very hardy potted vine plant that produces flowers from mid-June until October. [Photo of ruby-throated hummingbird courtesy of Tom McDowell.]
- Tom McDowell

5/5 - Bedford, HRM 35: I was not able to spot any nestlings at the great blue heron rookery today but I believe that eggs have hatched. Some herons might still be incubating, but seven nests had an adult standing up at the edge, a good indication that hatching had occurred. At one nest I watched a heron with its head down in the nest making a thrusting motion as they do when regurgitating food. The nests are fairly deep so it may be at least another week or so before the nestlings are large enough to be seen.
- Jim Steck

5/5 - Westchester County, HRM 30: A walk around Swan Lake in Rockefeller State Park this evening provided an assortment of recent bird arrivals including the usual horde of squabbling Baltimore orioles, a singing first-spring orchard oriole, many yellow and yellow-rumped warblers, American redstarts, warbling vireos, and an uncommon number of huge snapping turtles in the shallows, some that looked to be pairing up. Just a stone's throw from the park information center, we encountered a short-tailed weasel. As we stood still, it ran back and forth, over rocks and across logs, coming within several feet of us before retreating. Finally it crossed the trail and darted into a thicket of fallen trees and brush; only then did we realize that it might have a den there (and a litter?). A beautiful mammal.
- Joe Wallace, Sharon AvRutick

bald eagle half submerged swimming in a lake

5/6 - Saratoga County, HRM 169: I watched as an adult bald eagle caught a fish in Ballston Lake that was too heavy to carry away. The eagle had to swim twenty feet to shore with the fish, using its wings as paddles. Once there, it devoured its catch; it didn't even leave scraps for the circling crows. [Photo of swimming bald eagle courtesy of Christa Ippoliti.]
- Christa Ippoliti

5/6 - Yorktown, HRM 43: A black bear was chased away from an alpaca farm today [photos indicated that it was a juvenile or a cub]. Evidence from a while ago - tracks in the snow - suggested that a bear had been in the area for at least a month.
- Sam Baron

5/7 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: Across the way at bald eagle nest NY142, one adult was tending and likely feeding young in the nest while the other adult stood watch. I estimated their hatching occurred around April 9. A little farther upriver, a fluffy gray nestling, about three weeks old, finally showed itself in nest NY143 while one of its parents watched over it. The youngster even demonstrated its house-broken skills, doing its "business" over the side.
- Dave Lindemann

5/7 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Three dozen adult double-crested cormorants and a dozen lighter-colored juveniles were drying out their wings on the mid-river rocks exposed at low tide off the north end of Esopus Island. We also spotted a common loon swimming and diving on its way out toward mid-river, and an osprey was perched in a large sycamore along the shore.
- Dave Lindemann, Jim Herrington

5/7 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: It was a very warm day for early May at Bowdoin Park, in the mid-80s, but that would not deter four eager classes of fifth graders from Lakeview Elementary in Mahopac. We hiked the dolomite ridge line to the North Rockshelter and allowed the students to let their imaginations drift back to the distant past, when families of Ice Age elephants roamed the grassland below, wolves, elk, caribou, and moose trumpeted in the forest, and our ancestral Native Americans made a comfortable living off the land and the river. In the air we watched an osprey, a raven, and two adult bald eagles. One of them "exploded" out of a close by tulip tree, performed a pirouette twenty feet overhead, before landing on a nearby limb to chortle at us. The students were speechless.
- Tom McDonald, Dave Beck, Tom Lake

[The North Rockshelter at Bowdoin Park sits 147 feet above the river facing due west. When the first Europeans arrived here 400 years ago, there was an Algonquian Indian village along the river below. Archaeological evidence suggests that people have been escaping to this naturally "air conditioned" spot for more than 7,000 years, encompassing multiple cultures ranging from hunters and gathers to fishers to farmers. If you go there on a hot day in summer, you can catch a cool westerly breeze. Tom Lake.]

5/7 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Two male ruby-throated hummingbird were fighting over the feeder as I was putting it out just before dusk. They were in such a tizzy over the feeders that they bumped into me many times.
- Karen Hallenbeck

5/7 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: Along with my first yellow warblers and great crested flycatchers, I saw a male rose-breasted grosbeak at the feeder this evening. What a treat to see this beautiful bird and the first I have seen in the eleven years I have lived here.
- Kathy Kraft

5/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: What a difference a week makes. While our overnight temperature still hovered at freezing, our daytime temperatures have been in the 70s for the past week, with yesterday hitting the 80-degree mark. The beautiful weather had resulted in many birds arriving the past two days: least flycatchers, gray catbirds, and Blackburnian, black-throated blue, and black-throated green warblers, to name a handful. The only unfortunate outcome of these lovely warm days is that the first of the blackflies also made an appearance. The bugs are a small price to pay for such spectacular weather and the return of our fine-looking songsters.
- Charlotte Demers

5/8 - Greene County: While paddling my kayak on the river today, I visited an eagle nest (NY203) from off shore at a respectable distance. An adult (looked like the male) was perched in a tree just in front of the nest and another adult (the female?) was sitting in the nest.
- Kaare Christian

5/8 - Saw Kill, HRM 99: There were more alewives in the creek at Annandale and they had moved upstream to the base of the falls. I counted about 40. I also saw a small group of spawning white suckers in their boldly striped color phase and documented the arrival of smallmouth bass into the creek from the river.
- Bob Schmidt

5/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: In addition to the myriad of ornamental flowering trees and shrubs along the river, we now had the flowering dogwood adding its brightness. The black flies were quickly becoming an issue. You rarely feel a bite, just annoyance, but the next day the itch of the ensuing bump can be maddening.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

lined seahorse held in a person's hands

5/8 - Manhattan, HRM 1: We caught our first lined seahorse of the season this week from the Hudson River at The River Project on Pier 40. It was 90 centimeters [cm] long. [Photo of lined seahorse courtesy of Chris Bowser.]
- Jessica Bonamusa

[The lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) belongs to the pipefish family of fishes and is a close relative of the northern pipefish. These small (to palm-sized) fish swim in an upright position, looking much like the knight piece in a game of chess. They have a prehensile tail that allows them to hold on to the substrate and maintain position when the current might pull them away. Male seahorses and pipefish are notable for their brood pouches in which they carry fertilized eggs deposited by the females. In one of the rare instances in the animal kingdom, it is the males that give live birth. Tom Lake.]

5/9 - Lake Luzerne, HRM 208: While cleaning up our Hudson River camp after the winter, we could not help but count the birds, among them common merganser, pileated woodpecker, brown creeper, tufted titmouse, American goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, and cardinal. The common merganser flew into a tree, and then out into the Hudson River. I did not know that mergansers could land in a tree.
- Mike Meyer

[Common mergansers commonly nest in natural tree cavities or large holes carved out by pileated woodpeckers. Tom Lake.]
5/9 - Beacon, HRM 61: It took from 10:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., but I managed to catch and release three common carp, estimated to be eleven, seven, and six pounds in weight. In between the carp there were also about a dozen small brown bullheads that were constantly biting and stealing bait off my hook.
- Bill Greene

5/9 - Manhattan, HRM 1: We also caught our first blackfish (tautog) of the season in the Hudson River at The River Project on Pier 40. The largest of them was 39 cm - about 15 inches - in length. In addition, we caught our first juvenile striped bass of the season and almost caught a hake, but it slipped out of our trap as we were pulling it up. It was likely a spotted hake (Urophycis tenuis).
- Jessica Bonamusa

[Tautog (Tautoga onitis) are a rather common bottom-dwelling fish of New York Harbor. Their colloquial name, blackfish, refers to the adults as they attain a deep, coal black color. Among their favorite foods are shellfish that they find in abundance in near-shore rocky areas. In the spirit of "you are what you eat," blackfish, perhaps owing to their shellfish diet, are one of the most sought after food fishes in the New York Bight. Tom Lake.]

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