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Hudson River Almanac June 1 - June 6, 2015

OVERVIEW

This week saw a wonderful mix of native fauna, from gray fox to whip-poor-will to stoneflies. It was also the season for nestlings, fledglings, and incredible bird song. All this was a backdrop to the river-long explosive cadence of spawning carp in nearshore shallows, bays, and tributaries.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
photo of carp splashing while spawning and coming semi-out of the water in a bed of water chestnuts

6/3 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: The river was 65 degrees Fahrenheit, adding the final ingredient needed to trigger carp spawning in the bay next to the Norrie Point Environmental Center. The bay was now covered, albeit lightly, with Eurasian water chestnut, a nonnative aquatic plant. Completing the invasive picture were scores - if not more - of common carp, 10-30 pounds. each, exploding holes in the green vegetation in their frenzy. The loud eruptions always makes me think someone is tossing cement blocks into the water. [Photo of common carp spawning in water chestnut courtesy of Steve Stanne.]
- Tom Lake

[One of my favorite C. Lavett Smith stories was his debunking of the Lake Champlain "monster" (their Loch Ness monster), Champ. The most compelling "evidence" was a 30-second video taken by a boater with a hand-held camcorder. It showed a long and broad series of undulating ripples with what could be construed as a "head" on one end and a "tail" on the other. Smitty - longtime curator of ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History - took that video, slowed it down to study it frame-by-frame, and after painstaking analysis concluded that it showed a large congregation of spawning common carp, with the males leap-frogging over the females, creating the undulating illusion. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/1 - Selkirk, HRM 135: I watched a common loon in breeding colors swimming and vocalizing on the river at Henry Hudson Park (see Rich Guthrie at Coxsackie 5/31).
- John Kent, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

6/1 - Schodack Island State Park, HRM 135: On a short walk, we saw five snapping turtles laying eggs in the soft soil of the recently graded trail. Three of them chose an open, sunny location to hasten the incubation.
- George Heitzman

6/1 - Staatsburg to Poughkeepsie, HRM 85-75: Over the last few days, remnants of two dead Atlantic sturgeon were found along the shore in this ten-mile reach. Both were missing their heads. Even with truncated bodies, the Staatsburg fish was five feet long and the Poughkeepsie fish four feet long.
- Dave Lindemann

6/2 - Newcomb to the Battery, HRM 302-0: The fourth edition of my course "The Hudson River Watershed: Source to Sink in Eight Days" began on May 26 and ended today. Highlights follow.
- Karin Limburg, Professor, SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, with Sarah Mount, Adriana Beltrani, Gavin Lemley, Mary Evelyn Lucier, Carrianne Pershyn, Melvin Samson, Christopher Strait, Dennis Swaney

Newcomb, HRM 302, 5/26: Biologist Charlotte Demers of the Adirondack Ecological Center greeted us with the news that Wolf Lake, the pristine water we planned to study, was undergoing an algal bloom for the first time in memory. Indeed, when we went out in boats, we could see that the water was green. We set a trap net, deployed a sonde [water quality monitor], and took some irradiance measurements [solar radiation on the surface of the lake]. We also set out a small fish trap in Arbutus Lake. Later in the evening we watched a pine martin scamper away.

painting of a common shiner

Newcomb, HRM 302, 5/27: The trap net set on Wolf Lake yielded nearly 300 fish. The majority were common shiners - how strange to call such beautiful fish "common." They were anything but in their drop-dead-gorgeous spawning colors. Likewise, the male creek chubs, sporting their spawning tubercles, were bad dudes. Other fish of note included a large number of what appeared to be hybrids of two sunfish species: redbreast x pumpkinseed. Among other fish caught were white sucker and cutlips minnow. [Painting of common shiner by Ellen Edmonson courtesy of DEC.]

Hudson Falls, HRM 205, 5/28: We met Kevin Farrar, DEC's point person on the remediation of PCBs (poly-chlorinated biphenyls) in the Hudson. His "al fresco" lecture filled in both the history and current status of the long, drawn out controversy over this major contaminant of the river. The dredging project is nearly complete, and soon scientists will be able to determine its effectiveness.

Cohoes, HRM 157, 5/28: Here we met environmental sociologist Rik Scarce (Skidmore College), hydrologist Gary Wall (U.S. Geological Survey), and biologist A.J. Smith (DEC). From them we learned about the Hudson watershed as a hopeful place for sustainable development (Rik), the amazing formation of the Mohawk River (Gary), and the resurgent interest in the Mohawk for research, restoration, and management (A.J.).

Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5, 5/29: Liz LoGiudice (Cornell Cooperative Extension), her colleagues, and Chris Bowser (DEC/Cornell) recruited us to help them pull out the fyke net that had been monitoring glass eels all spring. Happily, we found two eels - a glass eel and an elver - in the net before pulling it out.

Acra, HRM 113, 5/29: We followed Liz up to her headquarters and learned about the importance of forested uplands in this part of the Hudson's watershed. We saw the damage caused by tropical Storms Irene and Lee - streams still scarred by immense flooding in 2011. We also saw how well-managed forests withstood the flooding with less damage. We learned that one of the practices encouraged by the Cornell Cooperative Extension ecologists is selective thinning of trees, and then use of those trees as "bolts" for producing shitake mushrooms. I think half the class is going to start doing this at home!

Saw Kill-Tivoli South Bay, HRM 99, 5/30: We visited the Saw Kill and Tivoli South Bay, learning about the function of this system and the impacts of the invasive Eurasian water chestnut (their growing season was just getting started). Our teaching assistant Sarah Mount led us in electro-fishing for eels in the Saw Kill. Our efforts yielded more than 30 eels large and small, several banded killifish, and two species I'd never encountered there: a rock bass and a logperch.

Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5; 5/30: We headed to the back of Tivoli North Bay where we met Jean McAvoy (DEC) and Jim Herrington (Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve). They led us on a wonderful canoe paddle through the bay, discussing its ecology, plants, birds, invasive species, etc. The sun beat down and the Catskills showed themselves in their glory, as we paddled into a somewhat stiff headwind.

Norrie Point, HRM 85, 5/30: In late afternoon, we set a different fyke net in the Indian Kill at Norrie Point. This net is used to quantify animals that move in and out of the creek, in particular "silver" eels in the fall.

Millbrook, HRM 82, 5/31: We visited Dave Strayer at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies and spent an hour on the East Branch Wappinger Creek, kicking up numerous hellgrammites (dobsonfly larvae), as well as larvae of caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies, and several other invertebrates. Although we left the electro-fisher in the car because of the rain, a couple of agile students managed to net some small fishes (mostly young black-nosed dace, but also a juvenile brown trout and a tiny white sucker.

Norrie Point, HRM 85, 5/31: In the afternoon at the Norrie Point Environmental Center, Chris Bowser led us through some of his educational exercises including seining, and an overview of his career path, which was of interest to students who are in the midst of figuring out their own careers. The fyke net was pulled and, from both the fyke and seine we collected around 20 species of fish.

Storm King-Little Stony Point, HRM 57, 6/1: On our way downriver, we stopped to pay homage to Storm King Mountain and the birth of the environmental movement, spawned in the controversy surrounding the mountain and a potential pumped storage power installation there. Mist hung over Storm King as we looked across the river from Little Stony Point.

Palisades, HRM 23, 6/1: Dorothy Peteet, a professor at both Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Columbia University, hosted us for tours of various research facilities including Lamont's famous sediment core "library," a similar library of tree ring research (dendrochronology) critical for climate change studies, a high-tech analytical lab, and her own lab where she conducts pollen analysis on lake and Hudson River sediment cores. She also presented her research on Piermont Marsh, showing us how various pollen types signal the arrival of European colonists, while charcoal from about 5,000 years ago indicates extensive fires, perhaps associated with native peoples. One amazing fact about Piermont Marsh is how deep its sediments are: Dorothy has extracted a core 17 meters (56 feet) deep!
Brian DeGasparis (DEC Restoration Ecologist) gave the final lecture of the day about some of the restoration projects associated with the Tappan Zee Bridge re-build. One involves oyster restoration in that area, an exciting prospect given that only remnant populations exist there now. Another project involves Piermont Marsh, and a third will pilot side-channel restoration upriver.

New York Harbor, HRM 0, 6/2: The final day of class meant we were heading to the Hudson's "sink," its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean in New York Harbor. We were able hitch-hike down the final reach of the watershed aboard the R/V Ian Fletcher, the Riverkeeper patrol boat piloted by John Lipscomb. He multi-tasked in his "aquatic office" as he patrolled different sites, with conference calls, e-mail, and talking to the class about various issues and the role of Riverkeeper as a watchdog organization. The Fletcher dropped us off at a public dock in lower Manhattan and continued on its patrol. We hiked the last mile to Battery Park and the Hudson River Foundation, our final venue. There we heard presentations on research opportunities and also had our closing discussions about what we learned on the trip. This course travels the watershed's entire length, and thus provides a rare chance for participants to experience it in a way that few others do. To round off the course's metropolitan leg, we traveled with commuters on Metro North back to Ossining, retrieved our vehicles, and drove the long road home.

6/2 - Albany County, HRM 159: On March 29, two anglers were night-fishing on the down side of Lock 7 of the Erie Canal on the Mohawk River in the Town of Colonie. Using chicken livers as catfish bait, they caught two strange "fish" that they were unable to identify. Their descriptors included "snake-like," and "walked or traveled" when set down on land. One photograph, showing the creature at a distance, was the only clue as to its identity. For many weeks biologists considered all the possibilities until a consensus was reached: These were both common mudpuppies (Necturus maculosus), a large salamander. These are rather common in the Mohawk and have been known to take anglers' bait.
- Tom Lake

young barred owl perched in a tree looking down at the camera

6/2 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: We are proud to be hosting two fledgling barred owls in our backyard this year! They are very hungry and quite active. Mama owl has been busy feeding them at regular intervals throughout the day. [Photo of young barred owl courtesy of Wendi Huff.]
- Wendi Huff

four speckled killdeer eggs in a gravel killdeer nest

6/2 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: While walking my dog this morning, we both became aware of a pair of killdeer doing their all to distract us away from our immediate location. A quick look around revealed the cause of their efforts: four perfectly camouflaged eggs in a shallow gravel nest. [Photo of killdeer eggs courtesy of Ed McKay.]
- Ed McKay

6/2 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Both adult osprey were at the cell tower nest this morning, with one moving around inside while the other perched on an adjacent antenna. I've still seen no indication of hatchlings, which in the past has consisted of either hearing the newborns calling their parents, or spotting them sticking their heads above the edge of the nest.
- Hugh McLean

6/3 - Minerva, HRM 284: Our American bittern with its "bad plumbing" call has returned to the marsh. But I have yet to hear our regular pied-billed grebes, which is distressing. Our Canada geese have their goslings out now.
- Mike Corey

6/3 - Kingston, HRM 92: Just an hour ago, a female blue budgie (parakeet) landed on my shelf feeder. I'm pretty sure it was a different one from a week ago because there wasn't a dark blue strip along the top of the beak. They are very pretty birds! [See Kingston 5/27]
- Karen L. Salzer

6/3 - Millbrook, HRM 82: Back in the hardwoods, veery and wood thrush were alternately sending their incredible flute music out to us - compositions so clear as they echoed in the forest. We had to stand under the hemlocks and listen for a full fifteen minutes, even when we had another destination to get to - the performance was that compelling.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

6/3 - Town of Wappinger: We spent the better part of the afternoon circumnavigating a four-acre freshwater pond looking for reptiles and amphibians. Our reptile tally included painted turtle, red-eared slider, snapping turtle (pretty sure, it was submerged), and a garter snake. For amphibians, we saw a green frog and a leopard frog, and heard but did not see a bullfrog and a few gray tree frogs back in the tree line, not a usual time of day for their chorusing. The pond had a nice cover of the gorgeous native aquatic plant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata).
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

6/3 - Ossining, HRM 33: A gray fox came through the yard this afternoon, slowly strolling along, looking quite well notwithstanding they are usually nocturnal. I can't remember seeing one here before; the infrequent fox I see are all red fox.
- Patricia Loquet

6/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The nestling eagle in nest NY62 was progressing through her steps to eventual fledging. Today she was flexing, spreading, and looking intently at her wings.
- Bob Rightmyer, John Badura, Debbie Quick

6/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: We saw both parents on the cell phone tower osprey nest this afternoon. One had its head down for a long time, very busy, while the other stood up on the edge of the nest. One left for fifteen minutes and when it returned we were disappointed that it did not bring back a fish. Meanwhile, its partner kept leaning into the nest. There could be a nestling and they may be feeding it when we are not looking.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

young great blue heron nestlings awaiting food in their nest in a tree

6/4 - Bedford, HRM 35: The nestlings at the great blue heron rookery were getting bigger. At some nests they have started growing their feathery plumage. The nestlings still huddle together and it is still too soon to get a full head count. At this time it appears that about half the nests have two young and the rest have three young. As they grow, get more independent and can be counted, I am sure the numbers will increase. [Photo, courtesy of Jim Steck, shows nestling great blue herons tracking a parent's arrival with food.]
- Jim Steck

6/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I was hopeful that the dry weather in May would result in fewer blackflies but that was just wishful thinking. They have been thick, annoying, and hungry. Wildflowers in bloom include blue flag iris, two-leaved toothwort, cinquefoil, and leather leaf. I also I saw a female snapping turtle laying eggs on the shoulder of Route 28N today.
- Charlotte Demers

6/5 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught, admired, and released only one carp (6 pounds) at Long Dock today. The rest of the catch included two small channel catfish. The real treat of the day was watching carp breaching in the river, as far as the eye could see. While spawning activity concentrates in near-shore shallows, today's phenomenon was far broader, encompassing square miles of the river.
- Bill Greene

close up of a stonefly nymph against a white background

6/5 - Rockland County, HRM 25: While conducting a class to connect children to the life of Sparkill Creek, a rare find was made. For only the second time, we discovered a magnificent yellow stone fly called Eccoptura. This aquatic insect occurs only in very pristine waters. The first sighting was made by Butch Rosenfeld, aquatic taxonomist, who at the time said it was surprising to find this insect in Sparkill Creek. He had previously seen it only in places like clear headwater streams in the Catskill Mountains. Our group has since honored this insect as our mascot, as a symbol of our goal of working to attain clean water. For our Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance celebratory sail on the Mystic Whaler today, we made a pennant to fly with Eccoptura's photo image. [Photo of Eccoptura stonefly nymph courtesy of Laurie Seeman.]
- Laurie Seeman, Joanna Dickey

6/5 - Manhattan, HRM 1: This week we caught a male seahorse 75 millimeters [mm] long at The River Project on Hudson River Park's Pier 40; we could see its brood pouch. We also caught a blackfish (tautog, 37 mm), a juvenile striped bass, and two juvenile oyster toadfish.
- Jessica Bonamusa

[Male sea horses and pipefishes have a brood pouch 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.]

6/6 - Greene County, HRM 112: We were visited in West Kill today by a red-spotted purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis), also known as the white admiral. It looked more like the southern subspecies, but my field guides says there are many variations and the northern and southern subspecies interbreed along the border, which we are near. My field notes say the last time we saw the butterfly was in 2007. This one was very dark - essentially black - with brilliant blue markings, very handsome, and was sunning itself on a terra cotta flower pot, ignoring the flowering dianthus growing in it.
- Emily Plishner

6/6 - Gardiner, HRM 73: While hiking down from the Shawangunks after sunset, I was greeted with the call of a whip-poor-will.
- Rebecca Houser

6/6 - Poughkeepsie to Rhinecliff, HRM 76-89: The day was blustery with a strong northwest wind (25-30 mph) butting against a flood tide to produce three-foot rollers. Across the thirteen miles we traveled, we counted 41 vultures, mostly turkey vultures with only a couple of black vultures. It was their kind of day: Not one of them stroked a wing beat; canting their wings like sails on a river sloop, they navigated the sky with precision. We also counted six bald eagles.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[We were aboard the John J. Harvey, a 130-foot-long New York City fireboat, launched in 1931 and now retired. The John J. Harvey was one of the important fire-fighting units following the attack on the World Trade centers, September 11, 2001. Tom Lake.]

6/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 70. It was a slow day at eagle nest NY62. Mom and Dad did a series of high flyovers but the nestling was left alone, and as a result was calling a lot. As fledging time nears, eagle nestlings usually become quite impatient, wanting to be fed almost all the time. The adults, as part of their instinctive strategy to get the nestling to think about leaving, will begin to lessen both feeding and their time in the nest.
- Bob Rightmyer

6/6 - East Fishkill, HRM 66: This evening I saw a bobcat sitting in the tall grass next to my house. My neighbor had two bobcat cubs playing on her deck yesterday.
- Diane Anderson

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