Hudson River Almanac August 22 - August 28, 2006
The observations of late summer are a stew blending migration, young of the year creatures learning their way in the world, and wanderers from the south. This week the mix ranges from giant bluefish in the Tappan Zee to giant rays in the Lower Bay of New York Harbor, to bald eagles and blackbirds.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
8/24 - Lower Bay, New York Harbor: My brother Anthony and I motored down the Hudson from Piermont to fish the Lower Bay-Raritan Bay area. He told me about some large rays that had been caught a few days ago off the southeast shore of Staten Island. We figured if they caught 4, there must be many more. As the day progressed we came across the rays and soon a mosaic of brown-winged creatures surrounded our boat. There was a mix of sizes ranging from 1½ - 4' "wing spans" [pectoral fins]. They swam effortlessly across our path and engulfed our drift. Our fish finder blacked out. My reel started screaming and I had a ray on the line. Anthony hooked one as well. Mine got off but I did not care. I just looked into the water in amazement; as far and as deep as I could see, there were rays. We landed one and quickly returned it to the water as the large school flowed beneath the boat. That made our trip.
- Greg Mercurio
[These were probably cownose rays, a fish of inshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Florida that often travels in schools numbering in the hundreds. Rays are related to sharks and skates; their skeletons are cartilaginous, having no true bones. Rays frequent the ocean bottom where they feed chiefly on shellfish. In the Chesapeake Bay they have been known to inflict damage on clam and oyster beds. Tom Lake.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
8/22 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: A huge flock of migrating blackbirds, easily hundreds, worked their way down along the river, in the trees adjacent to the railroad tracks. Most were common grackles, some were brown-headed cowbirds, and a few were red-winged blackbirds. There were some starlings mixed in as well. It was difficult to tell if they were part of the group or just enjoying the company.
- Tom Lake
8/23 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I've caught no carp for about 8 weeks now. I had one on the line but it managed to dislodge my treble hook. There is, however, an abundance of channel catfish. A few weeks ago they were 1-3 lb.; now I'm seeing them 4-5 lb. For the last 2 days, a 5" catfish has been swimming back and forth near the surface. It floats dead still, head up. Just when I think it may be dead, it swims around like nothing is wrong. I have seem carp "breach" and catfish jump but never such odd behavior as this.
- Glen Heinsohn
[This surface behavior sounds like that of a small channel catfish. Tom Lake.]
8/23 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: On this sunny day, a male Baltimore oriole, his flashy colors catching my attention, splashed around in the birdbath.
- Nancy P. Durr
8/24 - Bullville, Town of Crawford, Orange County, HRM 61.5: We were conducting a cultural resource assessment of some fields along the Dwaar Kill, a tributary of the Wallkill and thus the Hudson River. Despite a southerly breeze it was a day for monarch butterflies crossing the fields. I stopped counting at 15 and I'm sure there were more. In mid-afternoon, we were mentally transported back 4,000 years by the discovery of a small Indian campsite. One of the artifacts was a small spear point called a Lamoka made from a type of stone (a light blue chert) that had been quarried in Sussex County, New Jersey, about 50 miles to the south. Then the Goodyear blimp flew over, heading to New Jersey and the Jets-Giants preseason football game the next day, hauling us back to the present.
- Leah Redding, Greg Korosec, Tom Lake
8/25 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: There have been plenty of coyotes around at night feasting on fallen fruit and documenting their visit. Overnight into this morning, 2-3 of them had a brief, growly scuffle about first dibs.
- Nancy P Durr
8/25 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Fishing has been improving and today the Boyz at the Bridge headed out in several boats to try their luck. I watched Midgie Taube motor under the railroad bridge and was surprised to see him come back and pull up to the boat launch less than ½ hour later. "I've got your fish," he said. Sure enough, there was a 34", 12 lb. bluefish flopping on the floorboards, hook still in its mouth. I immediately bled the fish and headed straight home to process it. After I did the necessary - fillet, skin and remove all the dark red flesh on the skin side - I ended up with a little less than 4 lb. of meat. The cheeks, a delicacy too often ignored by fishermen, were breakfast. Lunch was thinly sliced steaks, sauteed briefly and served over toast points. The rest I soaked in milk overnight, while I pondered how best to unite it with tomatoes and herbs from the garden for Friday dinner. All the boats came in with fish: striped bass to 8 lb. and blues to 14 lb. Interestingly, the Boyz report that the pesky bait-stealing blue crabs seem to disappear when the big blues are around. After careful inspection of my blue's dental equipment, I'm not surprised.
- Christopher Letts
8/25 - Bristol, Rhode Island: The Florida manatee that visited the Hudson River in late July, was spotted today in Bristol Harbor, Rhode Island. (See 7/29 and 8/20.)
- Tom Lake
[For an in-depth look at the Florida manatee, see the Tuesday, August 29, Science Times section of the New York Times.]
8/26 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The "chirping" of an unseen osprey in the trees along the shoreline of Turtle Cove, south of the Dutchess County garbage plant, alerted me to the possibility that another osprey might be in the vicinity. Looking up while baiting a crab trap, I saw an adult osprey survey the river shallows for an early breakfast before flying off in a direction away from the water.
- John Mylod
8/26 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 46.5: About a hundred grackles came through my property today, flocking up for their late summer migration.
- Scott Craven
8/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34: A great time to paddle Croton Bay is when the weather is slightly poor. It seems to keeps away almost all the jet skis and various water craft that disturb the fauna and flora. With a light rain today, not a craft could be seen all the way south to the Tappan Zee Bridge. Nine osprey enjoyed the solitude. This was the greatest number of osprey that I've seen in all my years of canoeing this area. Five were together, soon joined by 3 more, and then another arrived from Ossining, just down river. They circled, fished, and flew about with sole command of the bay. Some were quite large, appearing to have about a 5' wing span, and they struck an "eagle pose" when perched. The occasional belted kingfisher called as it passed by. As I traveled through the marsh, giant carp rubbed against the canoe bottom. Several great blue herons awkwardly landed as they flew from tree to tree. I was startled by a giant snapping turtle's head above the surface, nonchalantly watching me drift along. Above the marsh grass thousands of swallows cut through the air, often flying right up to my face as if to say hello. On shore the day was made complete by the sight of my first hummingbird this year, who treated me to a long viewing as he cleaned his wings for a moment before flying off.
- Scott Horecky
8/27 - Bullville, Town of Crawford, Orange County, HRM 61.5: Wood smoke and wild turkeys greeted us on a cool, rainy morning, our second day searching along the Dwaar Kill. A nearby farmhouse had a wood stove going to handle the chill, and a dozen wild turkeys walked just fast enough to stay ahead. Near the creek, on the opposite side from our previous visit, we found a large concentration of fire-cracked rock, a prehistoric hearth and a campsite where we could see that someone had been fashioning stone tools out of quartzite. Waste flakes were strewn all over. A bit closer to the creek were two netsinkers, double-notched pebbles that had been tied to the bottom of nets fished in the Dwaar Kill long ago, as well as a few chert scrapers that were probably used to scrape deer hide. By day's end the rainfall was at nearly an inch and a half (1.45) and the transects we walked were mud.
- Leah Redding, Greg Korosec, Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake
[Fire-cracked rocks are artifacts of hearths, campfires, and possibly human food-processing that can predate the advent of pottery in the Northeast about 2,000 years ago. They are usually sandstone or quartzite that - when fire-heated - will crack, spall and fracture in a way that is diagnostic to archaeologists. Tom Lake.]
8/27 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: A small flock of 6-8 Baltimore orioles has been visiting a small orchard (unsprayed) near the house. Although it has a few peach trees and several unnamed varieties of pear, the orioles are only interested in the very ripe Bartlett-type pears. The first one I saw was a male. Then I started to notice the others, all females, their coloring blending in with the overly ripe pears. A female flew with a chunk of pear into a nearby dense forsythia, a dining place more sheltered from the vigorous breeze and endless downpours which have made the birdbath ridiculously superfluous.
- Nancy P. Durr
8/27 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 46.5: The Fort Montgomery "Air Force," the local black vultures and turkey vultures, got tired of fighting the south wind and perched on the roof of the old Fort Montgomery marina. I had never seen this before. Maybe it's because there is a new patch of black tar paper across the building's ridgeline, making it warmer or grittier and definitely attractive to the vultures.
- Scott Craven
8/28 - Cheviot, HRM 106: In mid-morning, with the tide halfway ebbed, I spotted 2 mottled immature bald eagles flying north. Both searched the water as they flew quite briskly up river.
- Susan Droege