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Hudson River Almanac July 20-August 4, 2004

OVERVIEW

Blue crabs and bluefish dominate conversation among river folk in the lower estuary. Katydids have begun their scratchy serenades. Shorebirds and large wading birds are appearing in numbers: egrets and herons are hunting young-of-the-year fish that have now grown to noticeable size. Terns are also fishing in the lower estuary. Pete Nye of DEC's Endangered Species Unit reports that the tidewater Hudson's 11 bald eagle nests produced 13 fledglings this summer. Since 1997, when the first successful fledge in 100 years occurred in Greene County, Hudson estuary nests have produced 60 young bald eagles. Finally, continued soggy weather has at last pushed the salt front downriver, from roughly HRM 68 near New Hamburg July 17-23 to HRM 52.6 at West Point on August 4.

HIGHLIGHT FROM A RECENT WEEK

7/17 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: Countless lion's mane jellyfish had drifted into the lower estuary and collected around the 79th St. Boat Basin. These fascinating creatures are known to reach a size of 8' in diameter,but the ones I have been seeing average 8"-12". I scooped one up with a dip net and placed it in a five-gallon bucket for the benefit of the sloop Clearwater's passengers. It proved a big hit with the students, a few of whom could not seem to get enough of touching the squishy mantle. When I flipped it over for a closer examination of its underside, the remains of a young tomcod were clearly visible.
- Daniel Kricheff

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/20 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was quite a sight - a dozen great egrets, dazzling white against a gray sky, passed overhead in near-perfect formation. They dipped low over the marsh, then continued south over Crawbuckie Beach and disappeared in the direction of Ossining.
- Amy Silberkleit, Elijah Shiffer

7/20 - Doodletown, HRM 45.5: As we hiked up the road to Doodletown we saw three kestrels and three blue-gray gnatcatchers. A pair of cedar waxwings were dismantling a cup-shaped nest suspended from a low branch in a maple tree. The birds flew across the path with beakfulls of long strips of fiber for their own nest high in a tree draped with vines. In contrast to the neat, compact woven nest they were pulling apart, their bulky, twiggy nest was a mess. We later found what was left of the cup nest on the path. It was three inches across and woven from eigth- inch strips of peeled bark and dried grass. Bits of paper wasp nest decorated the outside and pine needles lined the inside. We thought it had been made by a red-eyed vireo but never used. At the Doodletown reservoir we startled a great blue heron that flew into the trees. Common white-tailed dragonflies, blue dashers, and twelve-spotted skimmers flew just above the water. Along the trail, we heard indigo buntings, great crested flycatchers, wood peewees and redstarts. We splashed up Doodletown Brook where the moss by a small waterfall was covered with hundreds of young millipedes, some massed together in a ball.
- Amy Silberkleit, Isis Shiffer, Elijah Shiffer

7/21 - Albany, HRM 145: I crew with the Albany Rowing Center out of the Corning Preserve. During many morning and evening rows this summer we have spooked an adult bald eagle out of its roost. Its perches have all been on the east shore, across the river from the busy bike path, in relatively isolated terrain.
- Kevin McLoughlin

7/21 - Saugerties, HRM 102: We've been taking pictures of an eastern phoebe's handiwork on the lateral portion of a downspout under the eave of the lighthouse: a carefully executed nest of mud, fine twigs and some mosses, but without an inner chamber of finer materials. Shortly thereafter two eggs appeared (second brood? first in this nest), but mama phoebe would seemingly use any excuse to not sit on the eggs. On colder nights early this month we thought the eggs would get a chill, but on July 9 they hatched. We began photographing the little fluffs every few days. By July 15 their mouth edges started getting a little yellow and tail feathers started sprouting. By July 18 they were getting plump and feathery but their tail feathers were still a little stubby. By July 21 we were wondering why they hadn't fledged. I got out the ladder, mirror and camera and was about to snap a shot when both fledglings burst out of the nest. Later mama phoebe started feeding them in the adjacent forest.
- Dan Marazita

7/21 - Croton River, HRM 34: At least 15 species of aquatic birds were present this morning. Spotted, semipalmated, and least sandpipers joined the great egrets and great blue and black-crowned night herons. Three Forster's terns flew in to hunt the shallows. Two left; the third stayed until it had a bouquet of small fish lined up cross-wise in its beak and then flew off in the direction the others had taken, calling loudly.
- Christopher Letts

7/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It has been humid, humid, humid but now it is getting steadily darker and a storm is in the offing. I took a Rich Lake paddle today past several beaver dams, through pickerel weed, swamp candles, cardinal flower, fragrant white water lily, spatterdock, and swamp milkweed. All were in bloom. I saw a great blue heron, a turkey vulture, and a tiny little fawn, which vanished into the weeds.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/22 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 101.5: While paddling down the large channel close to the bay's mouth on our biweekly seining trip, we noticed a map turtle basking on a snag near shore. The turtle jumped in the water as we approached. On our way back an hour later, the turtle was again basking on the same snag. We paddled over and pulled a seine through the area where the turtle submerged, but to no avail. This is the first time we've seen a map turtle in the Tivoli Bays although we know that they are frequently seen north around Mill Creek and a couple have been captured at Norrie Point, south of here.
- Bob Schmidt, Jackie Anderson, Nsikan Akpan

7/22 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: It seems they get earlier every year - tonight we heard our first katydids.
- Bill Drakert

7/22 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The scratchy, sublime music of a hot summer night, the first katydids of the season, spurred me to set crab gear for thirty pots. The river temperature is 77°F.
- John Mylod

7/22 - Fishkill, HRM 62: It was a humid 80°F at 6:00 PM. Excitedly, a spicebush butterfly attended to the blossoms of the bright red beebalm, as a hummingbird moth gathered nectar opposite it on the same flower. This seemed late in the day for nectar retrieval as several other insects had visited these same flowers earlier in the day.
- Ed Spaeth

7/22 - Buchanan, HRM 40.5: Sometimes you can check the pulse of the river without even going to the shore. I spotted a tray of large, cooked blue crabs for sale in Cole's Fish Market this morning at the amazingly low price of $12 per dozen. These were Cal Greenburg's #1 jimmy crabs, from Verplanck. At only a dollar apiece, it must be a very good crab season indeed.
- Christopher Letts

Blue crab size (carapace width) terminology - jumbos are the biggest and the best of the catch - the prime market crab (7" +). #1 Jimmies are the next largest and most commonly caught size (6" +). #2 are smaller but marketable, the minimum market size (5-5½"). Throwbacks are less than 5".

7/22 - Sandy Hook, NJ, New York Bight: This was the first of the American Littoral Society's half dozen Family Nights at Horseshow Cove on the bay side of Sandy Hook. Our net hauls included many Atlantic silversides, 4 calico crabs, a green crab, a small bluefish, 2 pipefish, 3 mummichogs, and 2 lion's mane jellyfish. The catch of the evening was a 4" long northern sennet, a miniature barracuda in all proportions. This was a first for us in five years of seining. The diggers came up with hard clams (quahogs), some soft-shelled clams (including some that were only an inch long), hermit crabs, and mud snails. The local common tern population has learned that seining in the Cove can result in a slick of injured silversides. Fifty or so birds homed in on us as we sorted through the net, diving within a few feet to pick up fish - raucous, graceful birds at a feast. The tide was low, the water was tepid, and the kids were great.
- Dery Bennett

7/23 - Normanskill, HRM 143.5: The regular Tuesday evening paddle of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Capital District chapter, was held on the Hudson this week, launching from Henry Hudson Park in Bethlehem. The condition of the river was the worst I can remember in several years of paddling from this site. The group of 30 paddlers went north with the last of the flood tide, reaching the mouth of the Normanskill before turning back downstream with the start of the ebb tide. "Combined Sewer Overflows" - CSOs - was the pertinent phrase for the night. In cities where storm drains and sewers flow into the same pipes, sewage treatment plants cannot cope with the volumes of flow during storm events. Heavy rain at the start of the week had washed a lot of trash into the river, and it smelled faintly of sewage. We were surprised, because the water on this stretch of the river is normally quite good, despite being just downstream from the tri-cities area. By way of hope for the future, funding was announced last week to begin addressing CSOs in the Albany area. It can't come too soon!
- Alan Mapes

7/23 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I set more crab pots and picked ten that I had baited yesterday. There were a dozen shorts in the haul, all returned. This flood of rain won't help. The river was 77°F.
- John Mylod

7/23 - Mid-Hudson Valley: An overnight storm dumped 2.17" of rain. TL

7/23 - Fishkill, HRM 62: I was on hands and knees gleaning weeds from my walkway when I noted a somewhat bedraggled banded hairstreak quietly resting sideways on a blade of grass. The small tails were missing from its hindwings but color spots were still present; its eyes were encircled in white and its antennae were distinctive with white spots. As I watched, it slowly shifted position on the blade of grass to frontally look at me with both eyes: a tiny little creature wondering about this big four-eyed monster.
- Ed Spaeth

7/23 - West Point, HRM 52: A dead Atlantic sturgeon 44" long washed up at West Point. It had no visible tags. We estimated that the fish had been dead no more than one week.
- James A. Beemer

7/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: Just yesterday morning I had enjoyed surveying the aquatic birds at the mouth of the river: a dozen great blue herons, 2 great egrets, a black-crowned night heron, cormorants, killdeer, at least 3 osprey, and swans, ducks, and Canada geese galore. Two flocks of shorebirds swept overhead, moving so fast that I could not identify them, a reminder that even as we approach the high summer season, the fall migration has begun for some species.
This morning the scene was vastly different. The reek of gasoline and diesel fuel reached into the truck cab before I even got the door open. A tanker truck had rolled on Dead Man's Hill, the portion of 9A that descends steeply just before crossing the Croton River bridge. Upwards of 5,000 gallons of gasoline flowed down tiny Indian Brook and into the Croton, despite a boom at the mouth of the brook. A broad band of tar lay across the little beach, and a slick was flowing out with the tide. Yesterday's birds were absent, with the exception of a female mallard and a family of half-grown young, too small to fly. The stink in the air was not of gasoline, and we surmised that the large amount of gas must have dissolved asphalt pavement, causing the tar-like substance, and that the smell was from spilled truck fuel. What a mess, and one that will be with us for the rest of the season.
- Christopher Letts

7/23 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Along with our usual catch of Atlantic silversides, white perch, bay anchovies, striped bass, and American eels, we found one 115 mm northern pipefish and one 20 mm yoy striped searobin in our seine net. Water temperature was 24.8 C, salinity 10.1 ppt.
- Cynthia Fowx

[YOY is shorthand for young-of-the-year: the multitude of recently hatched aquatic fauna found in the Hudson River each spring, summer, and fall. These progeny of tomcod, shad, river herring, striped bass, white perch, blue crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, and other species are present by the tens of millions.]

7/24 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Boys and girls from the Mid-Hudson Children's Museum helped us haul our 85' net today to see who was home in the river. It was low tide at midday. The water was a sultry 77°F and silty brown. In the aftermath of over 2" of rain, we could detect no salinity either by taste or with our titration kit. We caught a net full of yoy fish, among them dozens of bay anchovies (28-38 mm), striped bass (24-125 mm, including some yearlings), alewives (35-56 mm), American shad (69-85 mm), bluefish (114 mm), and smallmouth bass (50 mm). As we counted, measured, and released the fish, a half-dozen small blue crabs scurried back into the river.
- Simone Kukla, Alexis, Jenna, & Lisa DiMarco, Ethan & Violet Kravitz, Phyllis & Tom Lake

7/24 - Croton River, HRM 34: My rain gauge showed almost 4" of rain from yesterday's downpour, most of which fell in a two hour period. Nevertheless, I can still taste salt in the river. The petro-stink was still in the air, the tar and tar balls more widely distributed on the beach. Some of the birds had returned. A female mallard with one duckling was in the area where I had seen a brood of half a dozen the day before. I wondered if it were the same family, and if so, what had been the fate of the other five young. I watched for 45 minutes as a Forster's tern fished the edges of the marsh. Half a dozen times it made a catch, and each time it flew directly overhead, over the railroad tracks, and disappeared to an unseen point along the shore at the base of Croton Point. Within a minute it was back, fishing again. I decided it must be feeding a young one, perched just out of my sight. Bluefish are being caught, snappers up to 8" long.
- Christopher Letts

7/25 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: A sure sign of the changing seasons is the sound of katydids in the evening. I heard my first ones this evening, starting the debate - "Katy-did," "Katy-didn't" - which will continue up to the first frosts. I guess we'll never know just what Katy did or didn't do, but I do enjoy listening to the exchange of views.
- Rich Guthrie

7/25 - Fishkill, HRM 62: A common whitetail, a stocky dragonfly with broadly banded wings, alighted on our unlit barbecue grill, resting for awhile.
- Ed Spaeth

7/25 - Harriman State Park, HRM 44: As we walked along the Appalachian (Timp Torne) Trail on West Mountain, we could see Iona Island from several lookouts. We saw and heard indigo buntings, field sparrows, and prairie warblers along the rocky open path. Cedar waxwings and towhees were feeding on blueberries and huckleberries. Wood peewees called and redstarts chirped their warnings. A hen wild turkey and eight half-grown poults ran across a grassy slope and into blueberry cover. Red spotted purple and common wood nymph butterflies flew above the grasses and shrubs. The stream was unusually full, and we took care not to step on the tiny toads crossing the path. Wood frogs were camouflaged in the leaf litter until they jumped.
- Amy Silberkleit, Isis Shiffer

7/26 - Fishkill, HRM 62: Two goldfinches, male and female, first perched on a shepherd's hook, but then landed on a coneflowers to glean seeds. Later, a female or immature male Eastern pondhawk dragonfly perched on a dried flower stalk still standing nearby.
- Ed Spaeth

7/26 - Croton River, HRM 34: Snapper blues in reasonable numbers and size suggested the main course for tonight's dinner. A month ago, they were hardly an inch long. Some now measure up to 9", and they will double their weight again by the time they leave the estuary in October.
- Christopher Letts

7/27 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: I noticed half of a blue egg below the big sugar maple in front of our house. Since I had seen a similar egg in early June, I wondered if the robins may be incubating a second brood.
- Liz LoGuidice

7/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34: When we got down to the south beach the tide was going out. Three osprey were perched on three snags along the shore like sentries. Two great blue herons and one little blue heron stood at the edge of the phragmites, watching the water. Tree swallows flew over the reeds and whirled over the water. By now, two of the osprey were fishing. One hit the river, went under, and emerged with a fish in its talons. After flapping heavily a few beats, it stalled, shook itself to shed water and flew on. We heard a willow flycatcher in the phragmites and saw a marsh wren rise above the seed heads, tail straight up, and flutter and chitter gracelessly back down. The marsh road trees were obliterated by prolific vines: Asiatic bittersweet, Virginia creeper and wild grape. Porcelainberry vines linked the trees and shrubs in undulating leafy curves through which goldfinches, yellow warblers, redstarts and common yellowthroats flew. A female ruby-throated hummingbird zig-zagged through the leaves. A chipping sparrow fledgling begged from its parent on the road. Soapwort and skullcap were in bloom.
- Amy Silberkleit, Isis Shiffer, Elijah Shiffer

7/29 - Catskill, HRM 113: On the grounds of Cedar Grove, the historic home of Thomas Cole, stands a three-foot-plus diameter honey locust tree. Although due to storm damage the tree is bereft of the upper portion of its main trunk, it has maintained a presence on these grounds since the 1840s as evidenced by early paintings of the home and grounds. Thomas Cole was the founder of the Hudson River School of Art with an emphasis on the natural landscape. Also, the home has views of the distant Catskill Mountains, a favorite haunt of Cole and his fellow artists.
- Ed Spaeth

7/29 - Roeliff Jansen Kill, HRM 111: We were seining in the Roeliff Jansen Kill at Route 7A in Copake, Columbia County, looking for creek chubsuckers, a species that may be disappearing in the Hudson Valley. We chased fish out of a muddy stand of aquatic plants and when we pulled up our net, a stinkpot turtle was running around inside. This is the first time we have run across this species in the Roe-Jan, although the New York State Herpetology Atlas lists them from the area.
- Bob Schmidt, Jackie Anderson, Nsikan Akpan

7/29 - Yonkers, HRM 18: We watched double-crested cormorants dive near the pilings at the edge of our marsh. The inshore river was about 81°F, and salinity was 9.2 ppt. We hauled our seine and caught American eels, blue crabs, Atlantic silversides, striped bass, comb jellies, moon jellyfish, shore shrimp, and a largemouth bass. This isn't the first time we've found largemouth bass in our net, but it always surprises me that they tolerate the brackish water here. When I walked back to the river to release the largemouth, I startled a snowy egret from our tidemarsh.
- Cynthia Fowx

7/30 - Doodletown, HRM 45.5: Five crows, cawing and flapping vigorously, reminded us of their scarcity on our walks this summer. Twenty spiraling turkey vultures were silhouetted against the white sky, chimney swifts careening below them. Warblers congregated in an area of vine shrouded trees: hooded, worm-eating, Blackburnian, cerulean, and American redstarts. We also spotted an immature scarlet tanager and an indigo bunting.
- Amy Silberkleit, Isis Shiffer, Elijah Shiffer

7/31 Hudson Valley: Blue Moon! The second full moon in July.

8/2 - Manhattan, HRM 2:, We noticed an adult and a juvenile black-crowned night heron perched on one of the Pier 26 pilings at The River Project. One or both of them have reappeared nearly every morning.
- Chris Mancini, Scott Wingerter

8/3 - Kowawese, HRM 59: It was a beautiful day on the river, and for several hours we had an osprey circling around this riverside park. We worked a seine and caught bluegills, redbreast sunfish, yoy striped bass, white perch, and river herring.
- Rebecca Johnson, Steve Stanne

8/4 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: Yet another gorgeous day on the river. We worked our seine and filled the net: yoy striped bass, river herring, white perch, sunfish, banded killifish, and tessellated darters. Best of all were two male blue crabs (one a soft-shell), the first they have seen this summer at Cohotate Preserve.
- Rebecca Johnson, Steve Stanne

8/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: A Forster's tern that I believed was ferrying food to a young one outside the railroad tracks and out of sight seems to have been doing just that. The immature was with the adult on the inside of the tracks this morning, trying to catch breakfast. After a number of fruitless dives, it gave up and crouched at the water's edge. The old bird continued fishing, and when it connected, it would fly directly to the waiting young one, screeching as it flew. The immature would beg, the old one would feed it, and then stay beside it for a few minutes until it was off for another load of baby food.
- Christopher Letts

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