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Hudson River Almanac August 5-August 10, 2004

OVERVIEW

We devote a good part of this issue to marking the passing of Everett Nack, who was a vital part of the rich but now narrowing tradition of commercial fishing on the Hudson. He was a mentor to the younger fishermen working the estuary, yes ... but he was also a guiding light for all who aspire to be students of the Hudson.

HIGHLIGHT FROM A RECENT WEEK

Croton River, HRM 34: The numbers of wading birds and shorebirds seems to increase daily. Great egrets and great blue herons together total about two dozen. Mature and immature black-crowned night herons, green herons, and snowy egrets can be seen regularly on the low tide. This morning, three immature little blue herons had me fooled at a distance. A closer look revealed that they were not snowy egrets.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our leaves have started to change color - a sugar maple here, a sugar maple there. Nothing grand yet, of course, but it has begun. This has not been a good summer for monarch butterflies; I saw my first one a week ago, but none since.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/5 - Shawangunk Ridge, HRM 77: While hiking Plateau Path on the border between Mohonk Mountain House and Mohonk Preserve lands, we heard ravens flying towards us. As one passed directly overhead, it swooped down, lowered its head, and peered at us. It felt a little odd to have it look so intently at us.
- Reba W. Laks, Carole Brush

8/5 - Haverstraw Bay - Tappan Zee, HRM 42-27: The blue crabs have been beautiful but few for Cal Greenburg at Verplanck; he's averaging only a keeper crab per-pot-per-day. Bob Gabrielson is doing much better in Nyack 15 miles to the south, catching 7-8 bushels (60 crabs to a bushel) every three days from 120 pots. They are big and healthy-looking.
- Christopher Letts

8/6 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I picked 20 pots today and had a dozen keeper-size crabs, but tossed them back along with three dozen smalls.
- John Mylod

8/6 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 65: It's a bird, it's a turkey vulture, no it's a bald eagle! Driving down the New York State Thruway I spotted an adult bald eagle circling almost directly overhead. The sun glinted off of the white head and tail making it unmistakable.
- Reba W. Laks

8/6 - Doodletown, HRM 45.5: In mid-afternoon we startled a coiled black snake while walking along the north side of Dunderberg Mountain. The snake shook its tail in the dry leaves, which made it sound like a rattlesnake. It drew back its head and hissed at us, then shot straight across the trail and disappeared into the rocky brush. It was about four and a half feet long. As startling as the snake's threat display was, we were even more surprised to see a shorttail weasel on a log watching the snake, and then us. It was brown; about ten inches long. It regarded us for a moment, then darted between two rocks. Near the cemetery, five crows silently flew up from the long grass, followed by a Cooper's hawk that landed in a dead tree above us. We could see a snapping turtle in the clear water of the Doodletown Reservoir before it submerged. A kingfisher rattled, patrolling the shore. Several cedar waxwings and a wood thrush were eating wild cherries, and we tried not to step on the pebble-sized toads criss-crossing the old road. Descending Gray's Hill, we saw a red fox crossing the trail.
- Amy Silberkleit, Isis Shiffer, Elijah Shiffer

8/7 - Hudson River Estuary: Thirty of the thirty-four sonic-tagged sturgeon were observed in the final two weeks of July. In general, the fish are still in the river north of Hastings-on-Hudson (HRM 22). The most interesting trend for July was the northward movement of some fish (3 wild, 5 hatchery) from the Hudson Highlands into lower Newburgh Bay.

Wild Fish: All nine wild fish were observed in the final two weeks of July. The big news here was the return of "Tim Whately" (#2638), found in the lower Highlands. This fish had not been observed since May 19. Being one of the larger tagged wild fish, we had suspected that it had left the estuary.

Hatchery fish: It appears as though the hatchery fish are becoming accustomed to their new home. The distance between locations from week to week seems to be on the decline. Five of the hatchery fish have moved to Newburgh Bay where three wild fish were found. Six hatchery fish have been found multiple times in the Highlands region.

Submersible hydrophones: We were able to retrieve the two submersible hydrophones in the vicinity of Hastings-on-Hudson during the week of August 2. Both submersibles functioned well; sturgeon were detected in every 48 hour interval recorded by the unit. Some 48 hour intervals recorded up to eight fish. Further analysis will attempt to determine the range of the submersibles and distance of fish movement between locations determined by the portable hydrophones.
- Gregg Kenney, NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program

8/9 - Claverack, HRM 118: Everett Nack died today. His business card simply read Everett Nack, Claverack, NY. No need for any further address; there was just one Everett and everyone knew him. His card offered goldfish, snails, driftwood, and live bait. There was nothing ordinary about Everett.
- Tom Lake

Everett Nack was a Hudson River original, all right. A savvy advocate for the river and a lifetime student of natural history, Everett was comfortable appearing as an expert witness on PCB impacts on commercial fishermen one minute, and in the next explaining how to descent a skunk. With humor, dedication, and plenty of opinions about what was happening on the Hudson, Everett shared his knowledge equally with scientists, government regulators, environmentalists, educators, writers, students, reporters, and folks who turned up in his backyard for bait, shad roe, or a good story. I was one of those folks who ended up there many times and who, for nearly thirty years, shared information on the shad run or sturgeon research or PCBs or the variables associated with smoking shad. Even if we did not quite agree on how best to smoke shad, we had a lot of fun debating as to who actually produced a better product. When it came to the river (but not smoked shad), I was the student and Everett was the professor. I will miss the learning, but I certainly won't forget the man.
- John Mylod

The question had been argued for years. Who made the best Hudson River smoked shad? In the spring of 1989 we decided to find out. Shad smokers were invited to bring their best product to our public shad bake in May at George's Island in Montrose, where it would be judged by an impartial panel. All of the best were represented: John Mylod, Bob Gabrielson, Ron Ingold, Everett Nack, and others. Their samples were lined up on paper plates with the names of the smokers on a piece of paper turned upside down. In a blind taste test, the judges narrowed their selections, but before they could make their decision, the wind blew the names of the contestants off the table. Nevertheless, the judges declared Everett's the best. They presented him with a plaque that he proudly displayed in his home; a visit there rarely ended until it was pointed out and the competition recalled. "If you decide you want to learn how to smoke shad, come see me," Everett would say. In the years since, a legend has grown that the judges picked Everett's by mistake, that they actually meant to choose Bob Gabrielson's. Maybe so, but the intervening years would not have been nearly as much fun if Bob had won.
- Tom Lake

Everett Nack had the last haul seine operation on the Hudson River. Fifty years ago, haul seining was a common commercial method of catching shad and striped bass. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Everett's operation was famous for its "all girl" crew. This sometimes struck people as chauvinistic, but to Everett it was logical and efficient. His crew was an assemblage of family and friends, of bored housewives to whom Everett offered an opportunity to get personal with the river and see sizes and numbers of fish that few of us could ever imagine.
- Tom Lake

After much negotiating and cajoling, Christopher Letts and I managed get Everett and Bob Gabrielson in the same jonboat one day for a ride up the Ramshorn in Greene County. Here were the two giants of Hudson River commercial fishing, who at the time had never spent more than a few minutes together. As we idled up the Ramshorn we were treated to Bunyanesque tales of river feats and conquests by two men who collectively had seen over a century of shad runs. They spoke of the river from perspectives more than 90 miles apart and we realized that day that the estuary is two rivers: one a freshwater outlet of the Catskills and Adirondacks and the other an extension of the North Atlantic.
- Tom Lake

One of the very best reasons to stop and visit Everett, in addition to perusing his 1950s-type bait shop, was to sample the latest batch of his homemade wine. We would designate a driver and the rest of us would indulge. Strawberry wine and dandelion wine were among our favorites. Explosive. We would sit and talk for hours, and he would tell us about the new crop of "sawbellies"in the river (every river herring was a "sawbelly" to Everett), and the "blue-banded mudminnows" he had caught in his bait net. This was Everett's colorful colloquialism for the male banded killifish, one of several "minnies" he netted for his bait shop. Wine or no wine, it made perfect sense to us. Estelle, Everett's now-deceased wife, was another good reason to visit Everett. If you mentioned how beautiful her wildflower garden looked, she'd send you home with clippings from every plant you saw. Everett and Estelle were a team.
- Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

Once Everett invited me to come along while he and a buddy caught golden shiners for his bait shop. He would catch them out of the Hudson and rear them in a pond until winter, when he would sell them to ice fishermen. On this particular day, we fished the bay directly south of Rhinecliff - I remember working my way through the underbrush beneath the rickety old boat-launch. Everett had a 300' seine with which he encircled the entire embayment. We drew the seine closed and he proceeded to work out the shiners. I recall that he collected every single fish, all the while telling me how he used to seine these bays and collect great numbers of shiners, goldfish, crayfish, and snails, but now they were all gone. He felt that the decline in these organisms was due to river pollution. I was somewhat unconvinced, as Everett was taking every shiner (his target that day) in sight. Surreptitiously, I began slipping fish back across the seine into the open bay so that at least a few might live to spawn another day.
- Karin Limburg

Everett was hired to do shortnose sturgeon tagging for the Boyce Thompson Institute in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I accompanied him one day, Christmas Eve in fact, to help with the tagging. We launched his jonboat at Rhinecliff and moved down to Esopus Meadows. The wintering shortnose were "stacked like cordwood" on the bottom. We set a 100-foot shot of 5" mesh gill-net in the shallows near the edge of the channel right around slack water. Every 20-30 minutes we'd haul it up, take out the sturgeon, measure, tag, and release them. It was so cold that the water was freezing on the gunwales, and soon the net was stiff as a board. Everett thought it was funny that I was freezing in my ice-fishing overalls. He was one with the river, one with the weather, and never indicated any discomfort. We fished for several hours, tagging and releasing many shortnose, never catching the same one twice.
- Tom Lake

I know that on the day Everett passed, the tide stopped. He leveled a place in the world that cannot be filled. Everett always had time to help, advise, and support what you were doing. He especially had time for kids. He was a guy that you never could spend enough time with; you could never collect enough of his wisdom of life. Our river will never be the same.
- Jon Powell

My favorite recollection of Everett? One day, when I was 5 years old, my father and I walked up Everett's driveway and, within seconds, he had handed me a baby raccoon and a small bottle with warm milk to feed it.
- Susanne Lake

Like scores of other people involved with the river, I can recall many tales of Everett Nack. He was the consummate riverman, a mentor, sharing his immense breadth of knowledge with one and all, but I think there is one point that should be remembered above all the others: At a time when environmental protection was more lip service than proactive, Everett was an ever-vigilant environmental watchdog on the Hudson River. He raised his voice to point out what he saw as unnatural occurrences and violations of the law when others would not. And he would not let us off the hook until we noticed them as well.
Everett joins some of the recently departed greats among Hudson rivermen: Henry Gourdine, Ron Ingold, and Gussie Zahn. Whenever we set a gillnet, haul a seine, or fillet a shad, we should remember our mentors, without whom most of us would be somewhere else engaged in something much less interesting. "Upriver" will be an empty place next spring, when the shad arrive, the shoreline is white with dogwood and shadbush, and there is one less drift-netter dodging the tugboats and hauling his twine.
- Tom Lake

8/9 - North Germantown, HRM 110: I spotted a dark eagle perched in a tree on an island in the river, just south of the Roeliff Jansen's Kill. It may have been a locally-bred immature bald eagle, or possibly an early migrant golden eagle.
- Jim O'Rourke.

8/10 - Town of Beekman, HRM 75: On July 25, a golfer at James Baird State Park told me that there was a "tree full of snakes" off the 18th fairway. I was a little skeptical, but after another person told me the same thing, the golf pro and I got in a cart and checked it out. Indeed there was a large rosebush full of garter snakes, piled up, laying on the branches, and crawling through the leaves, and a few in the tree just behind it. They were laying in tangled masses, all sizes. Two days later, the snakes were still there even though it was cool and had begun to rain. There is a large, old rotten tree fallen just behind the bush. This may be a hibernaculum [a winter den of reptiles, particularly snakes]. I've been doing daily checks ever since, seeing how they react to the weather; the count is down now since we had a cold snap - there were only three today.
- Jude Holdsworth

Analysis: These are a somewhat communal snake. Aside from hibernating by the hundreds (sometimes thousands) in Canada, garter snakes form massive breeding balls, where hundreds of males will vie to breed with a single female. Could it be that there is a very good den near the pond and they have found a nice supply of frogs to feed on?
- Matt Harris

My opinion is similar to Matt Harris' response. They definitely do this in the spring, but I have also seen this as the days start to grow shorter: masses of garters assembling, most likely males pursuing females. But in the branches is new. In Woodbridge, Connecticut, I once observed a "ball" of garter snakes swirling along - many, many, many of them. It is very possible that at the base of the bush or near the area is a communal hibernaculum, where they retreat and winter. It's not the time of the year I would normally expect to see a large congregation but the snakes don't read the books, and this has been a strange spring and summer. And if the food supply is good there, why travel far?
After seeing a photo of the snakes, I noticed that there is some white showing through the scales and that they look rather broad-bodied. I'm wondering if most of these are gravid females, basking to warm up the developing embryos, and having nothing to do with a mating congregation at all. However, garters that have eaten big recent meals also will show the white between the scales. They just seem to look like females to me. Maybe it's a case of safety in numbers, and they all use a chamber under that snag to birth. Of course, sampling the sex ratio there next year, by removing several just to sex them, would answer some questions. Usually there are less females then males in a mating congregation. If you end up with ten females, then it's probably basking for birthing.
- Kenny Barnett, NYSDEC

8/10 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I pulled some crab pots south of the Mid Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie. Among them was a blue crab tagged by the Department of Environmental Conservation at Cornwall Bay, south of Newburgh, the previous Friday. I recorded the tag number and returned the crab to the river. The water temperature was 78°F.
- John Mylod

8/10 - Nyack, HRM 27: With all of the rain we'd had, the salinity was down to 3.8 ppt. In a "normally" dry summer, I'd expect the salinity here to be nearly half that of seawater. The river was 78°F. Two monarchs fluttered past tacking their way south in the face of a warm southerly breeze. These were the first two we'd seen this summer.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[Ocean salinity, at this latitude in the Western Atlantic, is 32-35 parts-per-thousand (ppt). Throughout the year, the Hudson estuary's salinity is diluted depending upon the volume of freshwater flow from the upland watershed. In the aftermath of a prolonged storm or Adirondack snowmelt, salinity may be very low all the way south to New York Harbor's Upper Bay. However, at times of drought, you can taste salt in the water (> 3.0 ppt) seventy-five miles upriver. Salt water is denser than freshwater so the bottom of the river is generally saltier than the surface water.]

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