Hudson River Almanac June 7 - June 13, 2015
While black bears and bald eagles highlighted the week, there were several stories of wide-eyed students seeing the aquatic wonders of the estuary for the first time. Seeing the river through new eyes is always a highlight for estuary educators.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
6/7 - Albany, HRM 145: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC] reported today that its staff responded to a report of a deceased bald eagle alongside a road in Henrietta, Monroe County, on Tuesday, June 2. According to the eagle's leg band number, it was 38 years old [banded August 5, 1977]. The U.S. Geological Survey's Banding Lab Longevity Records indicate that this eagle was the oldest banded bald eagle encountered in the nation to date - by five years.
[My favorite "ancient eagle" tale comes from a New York Times editorial dated September 7, 1897: "At Garrison, just across the river from West Point, there is an old bald eagle said to have been a native of the place during the American Revolution. It may be recognized by the drop of its right wing, which was shattered by the shot from a British soldier's gun." That eagle would have been 125 years old. Tom Lake.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
6/7 - Hudson, HRM 118: I saw several flocks of non-breeding Canada geese heading north. This was the start of the annual north-bound molt migration of one-year-old birds that will molt their feathers anywhere from the Saint Lawrence River Valley up to northern Canada's sub-Arctic region.
- Sal Cozzolino
[There is evidence for molt migration to the Arctic by radio-tagged Canada geese originating in New York State and the Hudson Valley. Individuals from many northern-breeding populations make annual molt-migrations anywhere from several to more than 900 miles. Molt-migration primarily includes first and second-year non-breeding geese, but also adults that did not breed or that lost their nests or broods. Migrations are always northward to take advantage of plants in earlier phenological stages of growth, and invariably to larger water bodies. The birds are unable to fly once they start molting. Pat Vissering, DEC; Birds of North America Online.]
6/7 - Rhinecliff, HRM 89: We put our kayaks in a receding tide this morning, and a light northwest breeze made for a delightfully easy paddle down past Sturgeon Point and onto tiny Jones Island. We fought the outgoing flow under the railroad trestle as we power-paddled into and explored peaceful Wilderstein and Vanderburgh Coves, accompanied by great blue herons, wood ducks, swallows, and a cedar waxwing. As we approached our Mills Mansion destination, two adult bald eagles from a nearby nest watched us from riverside trees, then displayed their soaring and fishing abilities. We finished our six-mile trek in the face of a north breeze near low tide.
- Dave Lindemann, Tad Herman
6/7 - East Fishkill, HRM 66: Our security alarm went off in midday. Normally it is from a raccoon or an overfed squirrel, so I barely took notice. Within five seconds, however, I saw a black bear walking across the deck just on the other side of the window, no more than ten feet away. This one looked smaller than our usual visitor so it may have been a female. She was sauntering, in no particular rush, and looked right at me as she went by. I was happy to see the back doors were closed but the outdoor grill might have been in her sight. Instead, she took the stairs down to the lawn and went under the bird feeders that are on wires hung high into the trees. After checking to see there were no other bears, especially cubs, I went out, waved my arms around, and scared her back into the woods.
- Tony Anderson
6/7 - Putnam County, HRM 54: A morning bird walk on the blue trail at Fahnestock State Park from Canopus Lake to Beaver Pond featured warblers including chestnut-sided, prairie, yellow, American redstart, black-throated blue, worm-eating, black-throated green, Louisiana waterthrush, and ovenbird, the latter almost too numerous to count. There were also many veeries, wood thrushes, a few hermit thrushes, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and scarlet tanagers. This trail includes a stretch that I maintain for the NY/NJ Trail Conference.
- Larry Trachtenberg
6/8 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: It was a brisk and breezy day, with a strong northwest wind pushing the river onto the beach. We were hosting at least three dozen Hudson Valley homeschoolers who were eager to learn about the mysteries of the estuary. The fishing was very slow, predictably so, given the difficult seining conditions. Yet, after a few hours of persistence, we managed to catch a representative selection of resident fishes: white perch, American eels (elvers 125-175 millimeters [mm] long), banded killifish (gravid females with eggs), tessellated darters, and a darling little young-of-the-year smallmouth bass (25 mm). The water was 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Giancarlo Coppola, Tom Lake
6/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie: This was Day 72 for the nestling in eagle nest NY62. In mid-afternoon, Dad brought a bright orange koi to the nest; the nestling was feeding well. (See April 11, Town of Poughkeepsie, for a previous koi feeding and a description of the species.) [Photo of adult bald eagle bringing koi to the nest courtesy of Bob Rightmyer.]
- Bob Rightmyer
[Bald eagles in the Northeast fledge, on average, from 72-90 days after hatching. This year that would be June 8 to June 26. The average fledge date for fourteen NY62 nestlings across fourteen years has been 79 days; this year that would be June 15. Tom Lake.]
6/8 - Croton River, HRM 34: A week ago I had a quick glimpse of a beaver - a brown coconut-sized head cutting through the water. The animal did a smooth midstream dive. Today I came upon a first for me: a fresh beaver stick the size of a baseball bat, stripped of bark and incised with the marks of beaver teeth. I was on my way to conduct a nature program in a New York City school and this, along with a beaver skull I was bringing, would be Exhibit A.
- Christopher Letts
6/8 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: Pineapple weed and field mustard were blooming; one is a cousin of chamomile, the other of rape. Nightshades, both black and bittersweet, and horse nettle (really a nightshade too) were coming up. Red-winged blackbirds were busy in the white mulberries that had unripe fruit. Common quickweed and black medick, a little plant with flowers that look like miniature yellow clover, were blooming. False indigo, with its rich-purple clusters, was nearly finished, curly dock was fully in fruit, and the first lovely flowers of field bindweed had appeared, along with little Pennsylvania smartweed. Salt-marsh grass (Spartina species) was coming up on the tiny strip of marsh (salinity was 14.0 parts per thousand [ppt]); with the tide near high, "its feet were wet." A pair of great egrets were flying and fishing. The tulip trees had shed all their petals, which patterned the path up The Clove where a few cinquefoils were blooming and jewelweed was nearly knee high. The glacial pothole was teeming with wrigglers; water ran out steadily as the recent rain had fed the spring. Inside, above the water, the rock was half covered with lichen, but some must have died off in the winter, revealing garnet crystals - in sunlight, they were gray-green shading into red.
- Thomas Shoesmith
6/9 - Newcomb, HR302: After some extensive real estate inspections last weekend, the bluebirds in my yard settled on a box and have been working on their grass-lined nest. I checked the box yesterday and there were two beautiful blue eggs. The tree swallows were much further along. There was one tiny little hatchling in the nest this afternoon, the first of the five eggs to hatch. I am hopeful that the mice, snakes, blue jays, and other nest predators stay away long enough for both species to successful fledge their offspring.
- Charlotte Demers
6/9 - North River, Warren County, HRM 263: Our property backs up to Ruby Mountain and the garnet mining project where a power line was cut through from Route 28. Over the last two weeks, I have heard a single coyote howling well into the night. In the day, we saw a doe white-tailed deer and her tiny fawn. So tiny, in fact, we believe our previous beagle would have been larger. Last night, the single coyote became a pack; they were on a hunt. We fear, as we do every year, for the fawns.
- Marion Fuller, Gary Fuller
6/9 - Mahopac, HRM 55: I went out to my garden to pick some greens and found a black swallowtail caterpillar on my dill. The caterpillar was about a quarter-inch-long and likely had molted several times already. It was black with small knobby bumps, had a white saddle around its middle, and looked much like a bird dropping. Its appearance will change as it molts and grows. The host plants of black swallowtail butterflies are parsley, dill, carrots, and Queen Anne's lace. The caterpillar does very little damage to an established plant, so it is important to sacrifice the small amount that they feed on. If you want butterflies around your home, put in some host plants for the butterflies to lay their eggs on.
- Jim Steck
6/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I found an ovenbird nest today. I almost stepped on it and the five lovely eggs.
- Charlotte Demers
6/10 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Beneath the shade of a cottonwood tree in a park alongside Esopus Creek, a black rat snake was slowly swallowing a gray squirrel. To envelop this large meal, the skin of the snake was stretched so much that it appeared white. [Photo of back rat snake swallowing gray squirrel courtesy of Patrick Landewe.]
- Patrick Landewe
6/10 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Seventh graders from Highland Middle School excitedly agreed to don chest waders and help us sample the cove next to the Norrie Point Environmental Center. While the catch was not surprising to us, for the students it was like opening a present as they peeled back the bag of the seine. The residents were all there: banded killifish, tessellated darters, American eels, and spottail shiners. Given the "fireworks down range" - spawning carp in the cove - it was quite fitting that we netted a juvenile carp (185 mm) as well. There were five small fish in the net that made us look twice as they were an uncommon catch: fathead minnows. The cove was a warm 71 degrees F.
- Giancarlo Coppola, Tom Lake
[The very unassuming pinkie-sized fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) is native to mid-continent United States. Its presence in the watershed may be a combination of canal immigration and bait-bucket release. Tom Lake.]
6/10 - Dutchess County, HRM 86-84: After finding and reporting two Atlantic sturgeon carcasses along the Hudson's east shore two weeks ago, I went as an observer on the DEC's sturgeon research boat. As a bottom feeder, this species can be an important indicator of the river's health. Its resurgence thanks to a 1996 moratorium has been heartening, but it may also have led to more fatal boat strikes (up to about 40 per year now). Six Atlantic sturgeon in the five to seven foot, 80-140 pound range were netted, evaluated, recorded, and released.
- Dave Lindemann
6/10 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught, weighed, and released a 7 pound, 14 ounce carp as well as five channel catfish, two of which were almost 3 pounds each. Another angler at the pier caught a carp that weighed 15 pounds. Brown bullheads that had pestered me on some previous trips were quiet today. Carp had begun to actively spawn in the near shore area that was now becoming covered by water chestnut.
- Bill Greene
6/10 - Ossining, HRM 33: The gray fox that I saw one week ago (see 6/3) - reported with a comment on how unusual it was; we only see red fox - was back again this evening.
- Patricia Loquet
6/11 - Albany, HRM 145: We have been hearing geese flying overhead in the morning for the past week. This morning, on my way to work, a low flying flock of brant went over Western Avenue in the vicinity of the State Office Campus.
- Debra Ludwig Dunbrook
6/11 - Hudson River, HRM 85-75: There are three bald eagle nests in this reach of the river, each has two eaglets growing like weeds. The second eaglet at NY142, along the west shore, finally showed itself, while the first was now perching on the edge of the nest. At NY143, on east side, an adult left to hunt for its two nestlings. At NY261, inland in Dutchess County, I watched the "alpha" nestling flap-jumping and practicing short flights from limb-to-limb.
- Dave Lindemann
6/11 - Hyde Park, HRM 83: This spring's glass eels (yearling American eels) were now fully pigmented and working their way upstream. We have been finding about one hand-full, twice a week, in our big capture bucket at the "eel ladder" at the bottom of the Vanderbilt estate dam.
- Dave Lindemann
6/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The eagle nestling in NY62 began her "branching" and nest hopping activities today. One foray was only six inches but we're calling it branching! Mom flew right over our heads with a fish, heading for the nest. She dropped off the fish and flew to a nearby pine tree, a tree often used by the adults as an "escape" when nestlings are too much to take.
- Kathleen Courtney, Bob Rightmyer
[As the nestlings grow and discover their wings, they find that with vigorous flapping they can gain some elevation. From that first lift-off comes the realization that they can move from branch to branch, up and down, hence the term "branching." Over time this gives them instinctive confidence that will help when they take their first real flight. It reminds me of children at play on the climbing apparatus of playgrounds. Tom Lake.]
6/11 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The cool river (70 degrees F) felt wonderful in contrast to the summer-like air temperature (88). Our small group of students were excited as we hauled in our 85-foot-long seine fairly bulging with yearling striped bass (77-85 mm). There was an oddity, however: On a beach where it is common to catch between six and twelve species of fish, depending on the season, we found only striped bass today.
- Cynthia Cox, Buck Cox, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
6/11 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: A group of Manhattan Center for Science and Math undergraduates came to work with me today. For most of them it was their first seining experience. I shared with the students that just three weeks ago in this same spot, we caught a beautiful male diamondback terrapin. This group netted two American eels, an immature blue crab, five white perch, and a half-dozen shore shrimp (Palaemonetes species). The salinity was 5.0 ppt and the water was a warm 73 degrees F. [Photo of diamondback terrapin courtesy of Margie Turrin.]
- Margie Turrin, Meghan Marrero
6/12 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: Following a very warm and humid day (88 degrees F), the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch early this evening. It was easy to see why. The sky in the west grew as black as midnight. The river's strong flood current was pushing back on a strong east wind creating three-foot-high, white-topped combers. The rain, when it came, was torrential. For twenty minutes I watched the cedar-topped limestone ridge across the way for a wall cloud, but none appeared. Ten minutes later the sky in the west was pink and the river was mirror calm.
- Tom Lake
6/12 - Fishkill, HRM 61: The current gypsy moth caterpillar infestation has created quite a bit of devastation to my white pines and other conifers - pine needles were everywhere. In years past, it was generally oak trees and other broadleaf trees that were affected. The gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) in an invasive species, native to Eurasia.
- Ed Spaeth
6/12 - Croton River, HRM 34: We paddled and dragged our canoe up the river to Fireman's Island, at or just above the tide, depending on the moon. When we hit the first riffles we grounded out, thus began our dragging. Our total rod-and-reel catch was a single small striped bass. The air was rich with the scent of "sawbellies," alewives that had not survived passage upstream to the Croton Dam. We came upon many blue crab moults, the first we had seen this year. An early summer treat: mulberries and juneberries were ripe.
- Christopher Letts, Gino Garner
6/12 - Upper Nyack, HRM 31: During Upper Nyack Elementary School's Field Day, a black bear came ambling across an adjacent field. The students were ushered into the school and Field Day was cancelled.
- Doug Kreeger
6/12 - Manhattan, HRM 1: We had a really exciting catch this week at The River Project on Hudson River Park's Pier 40. We caught our first adult Atlantic tomcod in ten years. We also caught two juvenile oyster toadfish, and our first spider crab of the season (Libinia emarginata). An angler showed us a spotted hake he had caught as well.
- Jessica Bonamusa
[The spotted hake (Urophycis regia) is one of eight members of the cod family (Gadidae) found in the Hudson River estuary. The others are the Atlantic cod, the Atlantic tomcod, pollock, silver hake (whiting), red hake (ling), white hake, and the ephemeral fourbeard rockling. All are considered to be marine strays except for the tomcod, a species that enters the estuary each fall to spawn under the winter ice. The tomcod population in the river has been declining drastically over the last 20 years and, being a boreal species, ecologists have suggested the global warming might be a possible cause. Tom Lake.]
6/13 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Geese and their new goslings were the show today: Two adults were shepherding seven, and another four adults had eight goslings in tow, all of varying sizes.
- Sophia Hsieh
6/13 - Ulster County, HRM 84: I spotted a very young and very small walking stick (no more than an inch long) making its way up a tree on the Wallkill Valley Railtrail in Rosendale. It must be the sixth one I ever seen, but I've never come upon one looking so vulnerable. [Photo of walking stick courtesy of Sue Horowitz.]
- Sue Horowitz
6/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In mid-afternoon, a black bear moved west off Route 9D near Hughsonville, and wandered through several backyards along Wheeler Hill Road before disappearing in the woods.
- Eileen Albro Stickle
6/13- Piermont Pier, HRM 25: Walking the Pier at low tide this afternoon, we saw an American avocet on the north-side mud flats. We also noted at least 10-15 dead menhaden along the shore as well. This has been a common sighting the last few weekends we've visited the pier.
- Linda Pistolesi, Marcel Jaloveckas