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Hudson River Almanac June 14 - June 20, 2015

OVERVIEW

This week began and ended with traditional springtime river festivals, both featuring fish, food, and music against a backdrop of seasonal celebration. In the realm of wildlife, we had a bear and a bobcat; a leaping sturgeon; and bald eagle nestlings primed to fledge.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
bobcat in the brush

6/17- Stuyvesant, HRM 127: In mid-afternoon, we spotted a bobcat that had emerged from the woods just south of Stuyvesant Landing and was walking along the shore. At first it was too far away, perhaps 200 yards, to identify. But looking through the viewfinder of my zoom lens I could tell it wasn't a fox and soon ruled out dog or coyote. It continued walking between sandy bluffs and the shore, unhurried, not deviating from its path or pausing for any purpose, neither drink nor game, except for occasionally passing behind brush, always returning to the same shoreline course. I approached to within 100 feet before it stared at me, turned away toward the woods, and disappeared. [Photo of bobcat courtesy of Michael Kalin.]
- Michael Kalin, Julie Elson

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/14 - Beacon, HRM 61: This was our 31st year of Hudson River Foundation-sponsored "shad bakes" along the Hudson River, featuring smoked and baked fish, education, discussions of estuarine ecology, and reconnecting people to their river. The Hudson's American shad fishery was closed in 2010 due to the effects of over-harvesting; a coast-wide species recovery plan was initiated. As a result, we now plank (bake on 90-year-old oak planks) and smoke steelhead (rainbow) trout. Today we were at Pete and Toshi Seeger Park as part of the Beacon Sloop Club's Strawberry Festival, where the smell of wood smoke and the texture of the golden-finished fillets were all part of springtime. Hundreds of festival-goers accepted our invitation to sample our fish.
- Chris Bowser, Tom Lake

[The Hudson River shad bake has its historical origins in Colonial times. Other than keeping a wary eye out for British warships, commercial shad fishing was hardly disrupted by the American Revolution. Europeans had been introduced to American shad by Algonquian people (river Indians) who lived along the estuary. For many millennia, they had celebrated the annual return of shad from the sea by baking fish on huge riverside roasting platforms, some of which were a half-acre in size. Fires, hot coals and cobbles were set around flat rocks upon which shad and other fish were placed for slow cooking and smoking. We have always wondered if they saw this as a festive occasion, with song, dance, and laughter. How could they not? Tom Lake.]

6/14 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: It was the summer of the American goldfinch in my garden. This morning I watched a crowd of little golden birds - seventeen in all - as they mobbed the standing feeder out on the lawn, while a cluster of them perched on the fence waiting for a spot.
- Robin Fox

6/14 - Scarborough, HRM 32: As I walked to the Scarborough train station today I noticed multiple dead fish in the Hudson. All seemed the same, silver and pink, about a foot-long. Menhaden, I guessed. Why are they dying in such numbers? As I looked them over, farther out, a huge fish jumped out of the river. You don't suppose that was a sturgeon?
- Elisbeth Lindner

[Sounds like a sturgeon! They are the stuff of myth and legend. In terms of evolution, they are a very ancient class of cartilaginous (non-bony) fishes whose ancestry dates back several hundred million years. Among their many unusual behavioral traits is their predilection for jumping clear out of the water, similar to the breaching behavior of dolphins and whales. Sturgeon can leap several feet out of the water and then land with a large and loud splash. There are Hudson River records of sturgeon leaping and landing in canoes and fishing boats. While drift-netting for American shad twenty years ago, Chris Lake and I had a five-footer leap, land on the gunnel of our boat, teeter, and then topple back into the river. Why they leap is a mystery. It may be a way to rid themselves of external parasites or to take in air to fill their swim bladder. Biologists are unsure. Tom Lake.]

6/14 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: This was the worst day in terms of numbers of dead fish. In addition to the many menhaden (bunker) there appeared to be at least one catfish. Someone who had been kayaking told me that there were many more dead fish out on the water.
- Linda Pistolesi

[There have been many reports of dead fish, mainly menhaden, in the lower estuary in recent weeks. The cause is under investigation, but no answers are available yet. Steve Stanne.]

6/15 - Greene County: This morning was my first visit in eighteen days to check on the bald eagle nest (NY203) near where I live. Both adults were perched in a dead tree near the nest, but I could discern no activity in the nest itself. I returned later in the day just as daylight was fading and finally saw a very young-looking nestling looking out of the nest. I could just see the little brown head between the cottonwood leaves.
- Kaare Christian

close up of a few gypsy moth caterpillars on a rock

6/15 - Mohonk Preserve, Gardiner; HRM 75: After the rains passed, I was able to cap off my Monday with an evening jaunt in the Near Trapps area of the Shawangunk Ridge. There were signs of seasonal transitions, with mountain laurel blooms appearing to be passing their peak (yet still lovely to behold and being enjoyed by many insects and butterflies), and the first ripe berries of lowbush blueberry starting to show. And with a week to go before summer, I was surprised to see a maple sapling with bright red leaves! But most noteworthy were the ubiquitous signs of gypsy moth caterpillars. I observed oak leaf damage, frass, and caterpillars along much of my hike on the Millbrook Ridge trail. I also observed a group of small, black caterpillars on the underside of an oak leaf; our NYSDEC Regional Forester identified them as buck moth. [Photo of gypsy moth caterpillars courtesy of Laura Heady.]
- Laura Heady

[DEC Foresters have noticed and have received numerous reports of defoliation of trees, mostly on higher drier oak sites such as the Hudson Highlands in Rockland and Orange Counties and the Shawangunk Ridge in Orange and Ulster Counties. These are traditional oak forest areas that are susceptible to gypsy moth defoliation as oak is a preferred species of the insect. Field observations of dead and dying late instar gypsy moth larvae indicate that the nucleopolyhedrosis virus has finally started to kill the larvae after an extremely dry spring. Oak tree mortality can occur after successive years of heavy defoliation. Other defoliators noticed include the elm spanworm, forest tent caterpillar and cankerworms. Jeffrey Wiegert, Regional Forester, DEC Region 3.]

6/15 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It was Day 80 for the bald eagle nestling in NY62. She was now climbing higher up the tulip tree. Her courage was growing and her mini-flights within the nest tree were getting her ready for the day to come when she would step off and fly.
- Bob Rightmyer

6/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: We checked on the osprey nest on the cell phone tower today. At first we saw just one adult perched on the edge of the nest. Eventually, the other adult appeared from inside the nest. The two of them huddled and preened but gave no outward indication that nestlings were present. [Earlier in the day, with no adult osprey around, Hugh McLean heard what he thought might have been nestlings calling from the nest.]
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

6/16 - Wallkill River, HRM 77: It was sixteen years ago today, as I walked along the edge of a fallow cornfield listening to the "witchity-witchity-witchity" song of the common yellowthroat, that I spotted a piece of gray stone (chert) protruding slightly from a crack in the dry earth. It was the thin edge of a small projectile point staring up at me, having eroded from the soil. I had found a very old Indian spear point, later dated to c. 12,500 years ago.
- Tom Lake

[This stone artifact was a Barnes-type fluted spear point, a style that originated in southwestern Ontario about 12,500 calendar years ago. They are a diagnostic tool of what archaeologists believe were the first people, called Paleoindian, to enter the Hudson Valley. The Wallkill River Valley was a seasonal passageway for these hunter-gatherers from Ontario, through the Mohawk River Valley, then south through Greene, Ulster, Orange and Rockland counties, stopping at stone quarries and following game herds. Tom Lake.]

6/16 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was one of those warm and lazy days made for quiet observation. As we walked in Pete and Toshi Seeger Park, we began to take notice of the Canada geese in the water and foraging on the grass. At first it was interesting, then impressive, and finally they made us stop and wonder: What were all these geese doing here? So we started over, made a complete round of the park, and counted 177 Canada geese. Except for one pair with three little goslings, they were all adult birds. Were these birds heading north as part of the molt migration (see 6/7). An hour later they were all gone, heading north.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

6/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It was Day 81 for the bald eagle nestling in NY62. She had passed the average fledge date (79 days) so we already knew she was special! We watched her hanging on and very active on the limbs of the nest tree.
- Debbie LePhew

6/18 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: Here are our results from surveying the Mohawk River and sampling five of its tributaries for the presence of American eels.
- Cayudutta Creek: We fished two sites up to a mile upstream. The lower site yielded white sucker, golden shiner, longnose dace, fathead minnows, tessellated darter, various sunfishes (rock bass, smallmouth bass, and pumpkinseed), and also rosyface shiners. The upper site, below some rocky ledges, had all but the rosyface shiners, and also had carp, creek chub, common shiner, and a central stoneroller. No eels were found.
- Zimmerman Creek: This little stream in St. Johnsville contained both blacknose and longnose dace, fathead minnows, tessellated darters, and some beautiful brook trout and brown trout. Again, no eels.
- Timmerman Creek: Here we found many of those same fish plus a few small green sunfish and fantail darters. No eels here either.
- Crum Creek: This tributary is less than a mile east of the East Canada Creek and yielded our most bio-diverse catch: both blacknose and longnose dace, white suckers, cutlips minnow, carp, fallfish, pumpkinseed, common shiner, central stoneroller, green sunfish, and fantail darter. In a recurring theme, there were no eels here either.
- Canajoharie Creek: We sampled a small stretch between Mill and Creek Streets, below a small cataract. Rumor had it that local Amish folk fish up eels here with their bare hands in the spring. Our catch was sparser here than in other sites, doubtless due to the urban setting, but still with a similar fish community. In addition to some of those we had found in other tributaries, there were fathead minnows and bluntnose minnows. Despite the rumors, no eels were found.
So far, tributaries of the Mohawk were yielding zero eels, but that is not to say they are not farther up in these sub-catchments. Nevertheless, all sites we sampled looked "eel-friendly," that is, in similar tributaries that drain directly into the estuary, we would have seen eels aplenty. Something of note is the commonness of green sunfish. In C. Lavett Smith's 1985 atlas, there was only a single record of green sunfish in the Mohawk drainage, in Schoharie Creek. Today we found green sunfish at three sites.
- Karin Limburg, Barry Baldigo, Scott George, Luis Ramirez, Noelle Deyette

6/18 - Bedford, HRM 35: The nestlings at the great blue heron rookery were beginning to get more vocal and as a group this sounded like chatter. An occasional adult would fly to a nest filled with eager nestlings and make what appeared to be a food drop. The nestlings were growing rapidly, with some individuals flapping their wings and walking out onto branches that support the nests.
- Jim Steck

red admiral butterfly on a bright green leaf

6/18 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: Yellow sweet-clover, bittersweet nightshade, and field mustard were blooming with field bindweed and a few chicory flowers along the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek. White mulberries were ripening by the water. Up in the woods, where a grey catbird was flying among the shrubbery, white and red mulberries and black cherries were already falling. Common enchanter's nightshade (not a nightshade) and stinging nettle were blooming, and poison ivy, false Solomon's seal and black raspberry had unripe berries. Motherwort and the umbrels of sweet cicely were in flower, and celandine now had seed pods filled with the bright orange sap of the genus. A few plants of field garlic were in flower, if that's the right term, since the "inflorescence" likely contains more bulblets than flowers. The first big, bright daylilies had opened. And finally, I came upon a red admiral butterfly, posing for a moment on a maple-leaf viburnum. [Photo of red admiral butterfly courtesy of Thomas Shoesmith.]
- Thomas Shoesmith

6/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It was the evening of Day 83 for the bald eagle nestling in NY62. We found the nestling perched way up high on a branch in the nest tree. She stayed there the entire time we watched, preening, flapping furiously at times, teetering on the branch, and occasionally calling out. We waited, hoping to see if she would fly back down from her perch, or that Mom or Dad would fly in with a fish so we could see how she would react. No such luck!
- Kathleen Courtney, Bob Rightmyer

red fox trotting carrying a sizeable grey animal its mouth

6/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: It was early evening when a red fox came strolling past my front porch. In her mouth she carried both a baby woodchuck and a gray squirrel. This was not the first time I have seen her. There is a pair. This one sneaks around as she is hunting, strolls past, glances my way, and continues on behind our house. I would love to see her babies! [Photo of red fox with prey courtesy of Sheila Bogart.]
- Sheila Bogart

6/20 - Millbrook, HRM 82: The last day of spring was a fine day for weeds: Hopeful anthers dangled from waist-high timothy and unarmed brome; the bright yellow of the brome anthers complementing the purple of the timothy. Bird's-foot trefoil and cow vetch were vivid around my ankles. Ox-eye daisies, horse nettles, tower rockcress, daisy fleabane, yellow salsify, nodding catchfly, bladder campion, dogbane, late meadow hawkweed and early St. John's wort bloomed along my path through young goldenrod frosted white with the tiny flowers of marsh bedstraw. Great spangled fritillaries flitted, and ungainly wood nymphs fluttered, through air rich with the aroma of acres of milkweeds.
- Nelson Johnson

6/20 - Gardiner, HRM 73: Along with the usual white-tailed deer sightings today, I was stopped by an extended family of Canada geese out for a walk. With three adults in the lead and one taking up the rear, two fuzzy goslings had their place in line. They crossed the road and continued into the woods. This evening, on North Mountain Road, I watched a young black bear that was also out for walk. It moved along the road, not minding my headlights, and passed in front of my stopped car, paying me no mind.
- Hal Chor

6/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It was the evening of Day 84 for the bald eagle nestling in NY62. One of the adult had dropped off a fish earlier in the day and the young bird was very active, jumping and branching; I thought she might break the branch she was hopping on.
- Bob Rightmyer, Eileen Stickle, Debbie Quick

6/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The eve of the summer solstice was cool with a steady drizzle for Clearwater's thirty-sixth annual Great Hudson River Revival. Yet, a small crowd braved the conditions to help us haul our 125-foot-long seine in the shallows off the swimming beach. We found eight fish species including yearling striped bass to 125 millimeters [mm] in length, spottail shiners, banded killifish, American eels, a hogchoker, and more than one hundred white perch of varying sizes and ages. Echoes from the ocean included young-of-the-year bluefish (84 mm), blue crab (30 mm), and a small spot (49 mm). The river was 73 degrees Fahrenheit with a salinity of about 2.5 parts per thousand.
- Eli Schloss, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Spot are a sporadic visitor to the Hudson estuary. Their colloquial name, "Lafayette," honors the Marquis de Lafayette, whose visit to New York City in 1824, to be lauded for his role in the American Revolution, coincided with unusually large numbers of these small fish in New York Harbor. Spot are a member of the drum family that also includes freshwater drum, black drum, northern kingfish, croaker, weakfish, and silver perch. Most of them have a highly specialized swim bladders that serve as sound-producing organs, hence the family name. Tom Lake.]

6/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34: While watching the talented singer/songwriter Neko Case perform on the main stage at the Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival, I was surprised to see an adult red-tailed hawk settle into a tree above me, seemingly oblivious to the music and hundreds of people covering the hillside below it. I was even more surprised when Neko Case commented that she was enjoying the hawk vs. mockingbird contest playing out in the tree top. It was an impressive identification, as the mockingbird must have appeared as a gnat-sized speck from the distant stage.
- Ed McGowan

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