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Hudson River Almanac April 24 - April 30, 2006

OVERVIEW

Through the eyes of both naturalists and casual observers, no two springs seem quite the same. When we observe that something arrives early or late, it is rare that we use more than simple recollection. Regardless, several river-watchers, myself included, have commented that this spring seems to be condensed. Flowers are not necessarily blooming out of order, but on top of each other, with little of the usual separation. Some birds are early, and some winter birds are lingering. It is this uniqueness of every season year to year that makes the study of natural history so compelling.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/29 - Southern Catskills, Wittenberg, Cornell, and Slide Mountains, HRM 100: This was springtime in the Catskills. The weather was sunny and calm with air temperatures in the 60s. Our group started a hike at the Woodland Valley Campground. Spring beauties, trout-lilies, and false lily-of-the-valley were blooming along the Red Trail up to the peaks. Gaining elevation, we observed natural waterfall rock gardens strewn with club moss, lichen and wood sorrel. Striped maples and red oaks were beginning to leafout. On Wittenberg Mountain, a lone yellow-rumped warbler was spotted along the edge, perched on a balsam fir. We heard ravens in the distance, and the buzzing of flies, but for the most part it was very quiet. At the highest elevation, ice was still evident within the rock base on the trail. We all took some to time to ponder our thoughts near the Burroughs plaque.
- Richard Balint

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/24 - Hackensack Meadowlands, NJ: I conducted a frog-calling survey in the Guarini Tract marsh in Secaucus, NJ. This is a large tide-gated phragmites marsh on the upper reaches of Penhorn Creek in the Hackensack Meadowlands. There was a modest chorus of southern leopard frogs. I also heard 2 Virginia rails and a least bittern. Amphibian and reptile diversity and abundance is generally low in the Meadowlands. Readers' biological observations from the Meadowlands, current or historic, are very much of interest to me in my research for a book on the biodiversity of the Meadowlands I am writing with Kristi MacDonald-Beyers of Rutgers University.
- Erik Kiviat

4/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Maple buds were swelling and there was a reddish haze, especially to the south toward Minerva and North Creek. Even though the trillium are up and their buds are ready to open, that will only occur when we get some sun (it is snowing out right now). Violets were also up, but no blooms yet. I've also seen trout-lily leaves poking up through last year's dead grasses and leaves. In one patch I spotted a red eft, so they are up and about.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/25 - Minerva, HRM 284: Our bloodroots were out, the wood frogs had fallen silent, and the peepers have been up and down lately in the chilly night air. There are some eastern phoebes around and that's always a good spring sign. No real bugs yet, so I don't know what they're feeding on.
- Mike Corey

4/25 - Mid-Hudson Valley: The beautiful stark white of the flowering dogwood was slowly replacing the soft white of the shadbush along the river. In most places across the lower river valley, flowering dogwood bloomed about a week earlier than usual.
- Tom Lake

4/25 - Croton Point, HRM 35: On this bright and breezy morning I was well content to be filleting shad on the north seawall. Wood ducks squealed overhead and splashed down at the tiny beach called Mother's Lap. A loon passed silently, logging miles straight up the river. Behind me, in large puddles left by frequent and copious rains, a flock of yellowlegs and spotted sandpipers teetered, probed, and called. Nice office!
- Christopher Letts

4/26 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a hard frost last night with a low of 22°F. Mike Tracy had 16°F at his house this morning. It is bright and sunny today and I bet the trilliums will be opening. I think I heard Blackburnian warbler this morning while cruising the trails.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Wrens were singing along with kinglets this frosty morning. The blue jay and flicker presence was strong. A dozen anglers along the west seawall were catching stripers every few minutes, fish from a pound to over 15 lb. A couple of anglers told me they didn't dare fish more than one rod, and that the fish seemed to be larger each day.
- Christopher Letts

4/26 - Croton Reservoir, HRM 34: Walking up Hunter Brook, a small tributary off the Croton Reservoir, for a little fishing, I was not 50 yards in when I scared a large owl out of the upper canopy of pines. I did not get a good look at it, but when her partner showed up and started giving me the business, I could see it was a barred owl. They were so agitated I assumed there was a nest nearby. However I really didn't look for it because I didn't want to disturb them.
- Scott Craven

4/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As Toby Rathbone and I went for a walk this evening, we watched a pair of broad-winged hawks flying in tandem, a courtship display. They spiraled higher and higher, eventually out of sight. It was like watching a pair of figure skaters. They would spiral together, one closing in on the other, then zoom apart. A couple times one would flip over as if to do a talon-grab, but never actually catching hold . It was great to watch.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/27 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: What a lovely day to be on the river as the Coxsackie-Athens Environmental Science Class visited Cohotate Preserve. We saw rue anenome, trout-lily and wild cherry in bloom, and jack-in-the-pulpit was up as well. We seined and caught several spottail shiners, including 2 gravid females. An immature bald eagle flew overhead while we netted. At noon the air temperature was 67.5°F and the river was 54.7°F. Along the river I found part of an old Kaolin clay pipe [probably 19th century].
- Liz LoGuidice, Jon Powell

4/27 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I spent a couple of hours today exploring the recently opened easternmost trails of the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve. It was a beautiful spring day with many trees and flowers in bloom. Among the more interesting items spotted were gorgeous nodding trilliums, at least a dozen mourning cloak butterflies, and a half-dozen spring azures, all very wary and skittish. I was surprised to see 3 different violets: purple, white and yellow. The recent opening of a new trail to the wetland and its headwaters area is a welcome addition and the brush-hogging renovation of the overgrown meadows by the wetlands has turned that impassable tangle of wild roses into a wonderful network of interconnected mini-meadows with trout-lillies and odd-looking 5-10" tall all-brown leafless single-stemmed plants with upright nub-covered almond-shaped heads. This is the fertile spike and strobilus of the field horsetail that emerges before the sterile stalk of the brushy green plant itself. The Esopus Creek Conservancy has done so much good work recently to make all areas of the preserve more accessible.
- Dan Marazita

4/27 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: Just before dusk, a very large raptor, dark colored but slightly mottled, flew into a nearby tree as my daughter and I were walking along the edge of Cooper Lake. I moved under the tree to get a better view and as I looked up, it tilted its head and peered down at me. This reminded me of the old "I Met a Bear" song, and I wasn't sure which one of us would run first. In the end, the great bird heavily flapped its wings and took flight low over the lake, straightening its huge wings flat as it glided across. As it settled into another tree on the opposite side of the lake, I caught sight of some white on its tail. This was an immature bald eagle. Sometimes I am still amazed that I live where I can walk out my door and see eagles, bears, wild turkeys and a variety of other wildlife. For my daughter, it is all a common part of where she has grown up, though she definitely has a healthy respect for the bears.
- Reba Wynn Laks

4/27 - Gardiner, HRM 73: Our brown thrasher returned today, almost a week earlier than last year. Such a joy to hear his mimic song and to see his lovely streaks!
- Anne Allbright Smith

4/27 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: On the Metro North commuter train to Manhattan this morning we spotted our first great blue heron of the season foraging at the mouth of the creek. Its bold coloration was impressive.
- Michael Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

4/27 - White Plains, HRM 23: There was quite a stir in the new DEC White Plains sub-office today. Air Program staff have been enjoying the proximity of a robin's nest in a tree just inches on the other side of the glass of the office window. As they sometimes will do, a lone crow made brunch out of the eggs in full view of all. As I expected, mama robin was back at it today, undeterred. Being the only Conservation Officer in the building, I was able to ward off demands that the crow be brought to justice, as he was, after all, just being a crow.
- Peter Fanelli

4/28 - Newcomb. HRM 302: While sitting in my yard this afternoon I was buzzed by a hummingbird. I heard that distinctive humming buzz they make as they fly by. I never saw the bird, and I haven't heard it since. It is about 2 weeks early for hummers, but that is definitely a sound that one cannot mistake. Chickadees are darting in and out of my bluebird boxes, sometimes with beaks full of moss. Not a bluebird in sight yet this year.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/28 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: While drift gill nets in this reach of the river are used primarily for catching American shad, they have the added benefit of occasionally giving us a glimpse of some of the more exciting and yet cryptic fish species in the Hudson. This spring, commercial fishermen have captured and released a number of walleye, huge channel catfish, several northern pike, and one fish that appeared to be a salmon.
- Tom Lake

4/28 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released 5 carp, all about same size, at Long Dock today. One of them weighed 8¼ lb. before release. I caught the first one at 9:30 AM. High tide was about 1:00 PM and I caught the last 4 in late afternoon. It pays off in enjoyment and fish production to stay for a longer time. If I had quit early, I'd only have caught only one fish.
- Bill Greene

4/29 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: Our clothesline fell over the winter. My wife, Fran, said we had better get it up before the hummingbirds return, a favorite perch as they go to our feeder. We set it up and in an hour we had our first hummingbird! This is very early, I don't remember ever having an arrival in April.
- Bill Drakert

4/29 - Mid-Hudson Valley: Lilacs were blooming, a week earlier than in each of the last two years.
- Tom Lake

4/29 - Manhattan, HRM 5: I've been watching a flock of 8 brant geese on the Hudson near 63rd Street for the past month. The canvasbacks and gadwall ducks that were here all winter have left.
- Leslie Day

4/30 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: A strange observation for this spring is that everything seems to be happening at once. The forsythia is in bloom at the same time as the magnolia, at the same time as the cherry and the apple. I always think of the apple tree flowering on Mother's Day. I think the trees got pretty stressed this winter.
- Liz LoGuidice

4/30 - Saugerties, HRM 102: This evening I spotted large snapping turtles mating in the little bay just north of the Saugerties Lighthouse. From a distance, it almost looked like they might be wrestling, but I believe they wrestle only on Saturday evenings.
- Alan Beebe

4/30 - Rhinebeck, HRM 92: I saw a pair of Canada geese today with 5 goslings. I don't keep track of birds' reproductive schedules from year to year, but this seems a bit early. Something else that's early is lilac blooming at Wilderstein during the last week of April.
- Phyllis Marsteller

4/30 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This morning I was having a cup of coffee, gazing up at the sun-lit yellowing oak trees that surround my house, when a red-tailed hawk circled and perched on a branch. The bird was lit from behind so its tail showed tinges of red. It made a huge show of flapping and hopping and plopped on what I'd thought was a lower branch. But it was not a branch, it was a female hawk that had been hidden by other branches. As I watched, there was frantic hopping and flapping, mating, and then the male took off circling in the sunlight. The female composed her feathers and sat in the sun. A few minutes later I saw a flurry of wings in a lower tree as a pair of nuthatches mated. Quite a morning, and all before 9:00 AM.
- Robin Fox

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