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Hudson River Almanac May 10 - May 16, 2015

OVERVIEW

This was not a hum-drum week. We received reports of black bears, rattlesnakes, a huge snapping turtle, and aggressive Canada geese. The forests were fully leafed out, making birding a bit more challenging, Hudson Valley bald eagle nestlings were more than midway to their fledge dates, and the feel of summer was beginning to permeate our days.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/11 - Walden, HRM 65: My daughter, Skyla, called this "The First Bite of Spring!" We have an amazing rope swing that sends our daughter out over our small backyard pond. Every year we eagerly anticipate seeing all the frogs and tadpoles there. Today Skyla came running to me and insisted that something was drowning and needed help immediately. We all rushed down to the pond and followed a high-pitched squeak, almost like a dolphin's - a garter snake had a green frog by its back legs. We watched the slow process as the snake swallowed the entire frog!
- Bernadette Henighan-DeMaro

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
green bullfrog partially in the water surrounded by matching vegetation

5/10 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The first bullfrogs were calling - such a pleasure and so good to know they survived the winter. [Photo of bullfrog courtesy of Cara Lee.]
- Christopher Letts

5/10 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The covering of spring beauties that made the lawn look like it had snowed had given way to a lake of blue ajuga and purple violets. The blue was dotted with tiny burgundy-red Japanese maple seedlings. Next will be masses of buttercups - sunshine to step through.
- Robin Fox

5/10 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I watched a male scarlet tanager and a male orchard oriole jockey for possession of a mulberry tree. Both species nest on the Point.
- Christopher Letts

5/10 - Croton River, HRM 34: Three great egrets stalked the muddy flats at low tide. Along the shore, thronged with Canada geese, one area was claimed by an aggressive pair that charged head-down and hissing at any intruders within a 25 foot radius. They were guarding a "tennis ball on legs," the first gosling of the season.
- Christopher Letts

5/11 - Beacon, HRM 61: I went for an early morning walk on a trail along Fishkill Creek toward Madam Brett Park. I saw smoke, investigated, and spent some time putting out some careless person's campfire near a wooden observation platform. As I was getting ready to leave, I saw an osprey fly over the marsh and land in a dead tree, displacing another osprey that was already perched there. My reward for a job well done.
- Harriet Zbikowski

5/11 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: Now that the weather had turned warm after the long winter, the plants seemed to be rushing to make up for lost time. Star of Bethlehem was suddenly blooming and the little bedstraw called cleavers had both its tiny blossoms and the sticky burrs that are its fruit. A little mustard called shepherd's purse was blooming; its basal leaves look like miniature dandelion rosettes. Up on the ridge, oak pollen lay in windrows on the paths and petals fell like snow. Every plant seemed to be growing urgently. Stinging nettle was much more widespread than last year. Celandine was blooming more extensively than it had been, as were wild geranium and Herb-Robert, and I saw more common mallow flowers than usual. False Solomon's seal was also more abundant, but not yet flowering, and poison ivy, always prolific, was setting a new standard. The population of garlic mustard had exploded! It was suddenly everywhere and becoming a real problem. Still, a few little clumps of Spanish bluebells were blooming in the woods.
- Thomas Shoesmith

5/11 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: I decided to take Bryant Park's birding tour this morning on 42nd Street. Things were pretty slow when someone spotted what looked like a Carolina wren in the southwest corner of the park. Closer inspection, however, revealed it to be a marsh wren. It wasn't shy and everyone got a good look. (I went back the next day and the little guy was still there in the same spot, singing away.)
- Caroline McDonald

dunlin, a sandpiper, on the shoreline digging for food with its beak

5/12 - Greene County, HRM 121: I just watched a flock of ten dunlin fly up the Hudson River at Four-mile Point. They circled around an exposed mud flat but did not light. They just kept going. [Photo of a dunlin - the larger sandpiper in the center - courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Rich Guthrie

[The dunlin is a sandpiper in the same genus - Calidris - as the smaller look-alike sandpipers known to birders as "peeps." Its larger size and - in spring - rich red-brown back and black belly distinguish the dunlin from its smaller relatives. Dunlin winter along the Atlantic Coast and breed in the Arctic. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

5/12 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: It's not unusual to find occasional turtle visitors along our driveway on Rabbit Island at this time of year. Females haul out of the water and somewhat miraculously manage to climb up the steep, rocky bank from the river, looking for nesting sites. We spotted a large snapping turtle resting by the side of our driveway today and I managed to measure the carapace: 20 inches long, from stem-to-stern. We wished her well and continued home.
- David Cullen

5/12 - Wallkill, HRM 66: I was driving across the Wallkill River in the Town of Wallkill and what did I see soaring above the river, the roads, and the usual chaos of suburban life, but an adult bald eagle, its white head and tail glowing in the midday sun.
- Ed Helbig

5/12 - Kowawese, HRM 59: It was a very sultry afternoon, a prelude to summer. With the air temperature at 84 degrees Fahrenheit, the river (68 degrees F) felt very refreshing as we seined in shorts and tees. It felt so good that our catch became secondary, which was just as well. After several hauls with the same catch - spottail shiners and white perch - we were ready to leave. However, in the back of the net on the final haul, we discovered a gorgeous painted turtle (170 millimeter [mm] carapace length).
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) is native to much of eastern North America. It was the local Algonquian Indian equivalent to the western coyote "trickster" in Native American lore. Tom Lake.]

5/12 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: An adult osprey was perched on one of the cell phone tower antennas adjacent to its nest this morning, but there was still no sign of hatchlings. Since the tower is so tall and the nest is on the very top, you can't see into the nest at all, and can hardly see if there is a bird sitting on eggs. In the past, it wasn't until hatchlings began poking their heads above the rim of the nest that we could be sure of their existence. That being said, the continued presence of the adults at the nest (as in years past) is a good sign.
- Hugh McLean

5/12 - Harriman State Park, Rockland County: We were startled by a buzzing sound as we took an early morning walk along a trail in Harriman State Park. Robin had nearly stepped on a large rattlesnake, coiled, rattling, and ready to strike. Needless to say, we backed off quickly. Until we disturbed it, the snake was nearly invisible in the middle of the trail.
- Karl Coplan, Robin Bell

[The timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is a threatened species in New York State. Accordingly, entries such as this one are intentionally left vague regarding location. Not disclosing the exact sites of eagle nests, snowy owls, orchids, and rattlesnake dens becomes necessary given examples of damage caused by human intrusion. Tom Lake.]

5/13 - Selkirk, HRM 135: The male hummingbirds have been here since last week and I have been waiting to see when the first females would arrive. At 6:10 a.m. today, the first female was spotted at the feeder. She flew off and a male came in for a drink. I have a feeling this was just a travel stop but will keep looking. I wonder why hummingbirds have such a magical effect on me.
- Roberta Jeracka

5/13 - East Fishkill, HRM 66: While filling my bird feeders this morning I was being watched by a large black bear about fifteen feet away from me, just sitting and watching my every move. I remained calm and walked back into my house. The bear proceeded to take down my feeders and then walked through my yard like it owned it, stopping at my bird bath for a nice cold drink. It stayed for 30 minutes or so. I now have my bird feeders on twelve-foot-high cables.
- Diane Anderson

5/13 - Bedford, HRM 35: Some adults in the great blue heron rookery were still sitting on eggs. At other nests there was usually one adult standing on the edge, preening or feeding the nestlings which were still too small to be seen. Both adults take turns feeding the young herons; they do not feed them bill-to-bill as many birds do. The adults regurgitate partially digested food into the bottom of the nest for the nestlings to feed on.
- Jim Steck

5/13 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: This morning one of the ospreys in the cell phone tower nest near the Croton-Harmon commuter train station flew to the nest and carefully settled down, apparently still on eggs.
- Hugh McLean

5/14 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: We have had low numbers of glass eels in our net so far this spring, but the real story has been the water temperature and water level. The creek temperature was 44 degrees F when we installed the net on April 24, but had climbed into the 70s by this week. The water level has been dropping with the lack of rain and we actually had to adjust the net to be sure that the cod end of the fyke net remained submerged at low tide. We need some serious rain!
- Elizabeth LoGiudice

5/14 - Greene County, HRM 112: We had a cool overnight in West Kill, cool enough so the giant Japanese butterbur leaves went limp (although I didn't see any frost), only to revive as the sun came overhead and the day warmed up. I was down in the basement in mid-morning when I heard the youngest hound barking excitedly, focusing on the sun-drenched stone steps. As I approached, I saw a dark, lightly-mottled snake sunning itself and ignoring the hound. At first, I thought it was a brown snake, but those are not so common in the mountains here. It was a garter snake, about eighteen inches long.
- Emily Plishner

5/14 - Saw Kill, HRM 99: I saw about 120-150 alewives in the reach of the Saw Kill between the falls and the tidal mouth. A few of them evinced some interest in my lure but most were more interested in chasing each other. I saw numerous circles, swirls, and splashes indicating that they were spawning. By now, minuscule living threads will be washing down into the Hudson (newly hatched alewife are about 6.0 mm long, transparent, and thick as a hair). I also saw two moderately large carp (8-10 lb.) lazing in the pool at head of tide, and my first tiger swallowtail of the season along the banks.
- Bob Schmidt

5/14 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: A Baltimore oriole came to my hummingbird feeder and was able to drink some of the nectar. I have had a pair nesting in my yard in years past with a sweet hanging nest safe from predators. I hoped they would nest again as I watched the brightly-colored male fly off in the direction of the former nest.
- Nancy Clancy

5/14 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: This is a story that came to us: An angler, night-fishing in the Hudson River, was reeling a twenty-inch-long striped bass when something almost bit a chunk out of it. The tail was still on it but just hanging by the skin. This sounds very much like a hit and a miss by a seal.
- Tom Lake

large eagle nestling in a nest in a tree

5/15 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The eagle nestling in NY62 was now 48 days old and had settled into a nice rhythm of basking in the sun, feeding, and then taking a nap. She is growing up and before too much longer will begin to explore the nearby limbs of the nest tree, expanding her universe every day. [Photo of nestling bald eagle courtesy of Bob Rightmyer.]
- Tom Lake

5/15 - Manhattan, HRM 5: As I stood on the 70th Street pier on the west side of Manhattan at midday, I watched a double-crested cormorant eat an American eel. The cormorant dropped the eel in the river a few times and then picked it up as it maneuvered the fish into a position to swallow. It was not clear if the eel was still alive, but I couldn't help but wonder if it was as it disappeared down the bird's gullet. What a sensation that would be!
- Paul Mendelsohn

5/15 - Manhattan, HRM 1: This week we caught a very large blackfish (tautog), nearly sixteen inches - or 40 centimeters [cm] - long in one of our crab pots at The River Project on Pier 40, as well as our first American eel of the season, a seahorse, and a blue crab. To some however, the most special catch was the year's first oyster toadfish (21 cm).
- Jessica Bonamusa

[Oyster toadfish, known colloquially as "oyster crackers," are common along the Atlantic Coast and in New York Harbor. They set up shop on the bottom of the river, where - with strong, sharp teeth - they crush and feed on crabs and shellfish such as oysters and other bivalves. While they are most often found in salt or brackish water, they can tolerate low salinity and even freshwater for a short time. Tom Lake.]

5/16 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Lately, there have been peacock sightings in New Paltz. A neighbor has a video of one walking through a local bank's drive-through. More than one have also been sighted behind a local supermarket.
- Steven Kraus

[Peacocks are brilliantly-plumaged Asiatic exotics that are generally found in captivity. Two years ago there were sightings across the river in Hyde Park of a blueish-green peacock that had escaped from someone's backyard bird-coop. Tom Lake.]

5/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I was just drifting off to sleep when a brilliant flash of light startled me wide awake. A storm? Lightning? Should I get up and close the windows? Another flash and I realized that the light was coming from a lightning bug (firefly) stuck in the window screen - the first of the season, announcing that warm summer nights had arrived.
- Robin Fox

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