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Hudson River Almanac December 2-8, 2003

OVERVIEW

A huge, slow-moving coastal storm developed into a nor'easter dropping 14-21 inches of snow throughout the watershed. The wind, the cold, and the snow all combined to make it a bonafide blizzard. In its wake, a small flock of sandhill cranes were spotted flying toward the southwest over Dutchess County. On occasion, strong nor'easters draw Midwest-migrating waterfowl, such as white pelicans, to the Hudson Valley and the Atlantic Coast. In late November, following several days of strong west-northwest winds, several sandhill cranes were spotted flying south over the Bronx and Yonkers.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/7 - Fishkill, HRM 63: It was early morning and I was clearing the snow which had fallen over the last two days. The air was 28°F, the skies were clearing, and I had 20+ inches of snow cover. Overhead I heard birds calling and looked up to see not geese, but seven sandhill cranes making their way southwestward. Only a hundred feet above me, I could see their necks outstretched and legs extended. From whence had they come and to where were they going, I wondered, as I continued methodically moving white stuff from one pile to another.
- Ed Spaeth

[Sandhill cranes have an impressive 6-7 foot wingspan. They typically breed from the prairies of central Canada north to the Arctic tundra, though a pair did nest at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in central New York this past summer. In fall they migrate south through the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River valley to Texas and coastal areas.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/3 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: I was intrigued by something that sounded very much like a bicycle with a squeaky wheel. Upon inspection, it turned out to be one of two northern flickers perusing the trees. There was also a very large flock of robins in the woods at Cohotate Preserve.
- Liz LoGuidice

12/3 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: About an hour before low tide we spotted an adult bald eagle sitting on an exposed sandbar. A second adult was perched high in a tree on the hillside a few hundred feet away. This may be the pair of Canadian birds that have been spending their winters in Cornwall Bay.
- Jim Casey, Chip Putnam

12/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was really cold today - single digits. Bob Jennings reported seeing two adult bald eagles feeding on what appeared to be a river otter carcass on Long Lake.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/4 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: First ice - a widening rim that extended out to the channel in most places and covered the shallows. How thick was it? It held gulls and crows. Several hen common mergansers had hauled out onto half-submerged deadfalls.
- Tom Lake

12/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: Two weeks ago there were six American coot around the railroad trestle at the mouth of the Croton River. A week ago I saw a bald eagle feeding on one. They've disappeared, one at a time; this morning there was but one lone coot diving around the bridge abutment. Once they arrive the coot rarely stray far from the bridge, and this area is heavily frequented by winter eagles.
- Christopher Letts

12/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I pulled 36 crab pots, containing a half-dozen nice white suckers, a few sunfish, and one or two white catfish. It was very beautiful on the river.
- John Mylod

12/4 - Yonkers, HRM 18: In mid afternoon, ninety minutes into the flood tide at the Beczak Environmental Education Center, the river temperature was 43.5°F and salinity was 4.5 parts per thousand [Salinity in the open ocean is around 35 ppt].
- Dick Manley

12/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Snow levels upped to 6" today - lots of lovely fluffy snow. It is insulating the lakes as they all are frozen over. However, I wouldn't trust the ice to hold anything heavier than a crow.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/5 - Saratoga County, HRM 200: This morning the air temperature was 10°F. With a half-inch of snow on the ground, I watched four male bluebirds feeding on miniature crab apples. The Hudson was frozen along its banks - only skim ice, I guessed. The river seemed to be encased in skim ice from shore to shore, but a study of the surface hinted at open water here and there. I am always amazed at the puddle ducks swimming and dabbling in the frigid water. This morning there was a wisp of mist floating about them, as if they were frolicking in a hot tub.
- John DeLisle

12/6 - Warren County, HRM 240: Doug Green was out in the snow of early morning, duck hunting at a favorite spot along Schroon Lake. While he was sitting along the shore under a tree waiting and watching quietly, an adult bald eagle flew in and landed in a tree only a few yards away. The eagle was apparently just hanging out, waiting for a live fish snack or scouting for a dead fish treat. Doug respectfully waited for the bird to move on and eventually brought home a fat black duck, for an altogether successful day.
- Mike Corey

12/6 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Blizzard. Whiteout! The birds were anxious: white-throated sparrows digging vigorously in the snow to find yesterday's sunflower seeds, juncos at the thistle feeder!
- Tom Lake

[Juncos are not exclusively ground feeders, though that is where they spend most of their time feeding. They will perch on feeders, but it is atypical to see them feeding on thistle. However, the weather was atypical and the birds probably changed their feeding tactics as a result. Rich Anderson, National Audubon]

12/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We may have been above the full effects of the storm as we only had 2-3 inches of the white stuff. According to our snow stick, we still have about 6".
- Ellen Rathbone

12/7 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: The nor'easter brought at least 18" of snow to the hills at about 950 feet, but it was difficult to tell with all of the drifting. At the river there was significantly less. In late afternoon, deep into the storm with snow falling heavily, I spotted a gaggle of geese honking and flying along the river in a somewhat panicky formation.
- Liz LoGiudice

12/7 - Garrison, HRM 52: In Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, we had 16-18 inches of snow.
- Rich Anderson

12/7 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I heard and then saw four flocks of high flyer Canada geese passing through just before dusk this afternoon. The locals generally fly east-west at treetop level. These geese were headed south and would probably be hunkering down for a couple of days until the harsh weather passed.
- John Mylod

12/8 - Saratoga County, HRM 196-200: The Hudson River was wearing a fragmented coat of skim ice this morning. The air was 20°F and, here and there, columns of ghostly mist were slowly lifting off patches of open water, spiraling upwards toward the sky. The cold, slow moving river nicely reflected the blue and mauve hues of a colorful sunrise, as a troop of hooded mergansers, male and female, preened atop the frail ice that clung to the river's western bank. They were oblivious to the 21 inches of white, powdery snow blanketing the countryside.
- John DeLisle

12/8 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: At noon I blazed a snowshoe trail down to the river at Cohotate Preserve, carefully eyeing tracks in the snow and hoping for something exciting, maybe a bobcat or fisher. But all I saw were the tracks that gray squirrels leave behind as they hit the ground for brief forays. At the river I could see a few yards of ice flanking the eastern shore, just emerging from the shadow of Mount Merino. On the west side there was less, hugging the shoreline and quickly melting in the warm sun. Out in the channel, large pieces of ice were drifting north on a flood current. Going back up the hill, I was still searching for tracks when, hearing something overhead, I looked up to see a gray squirrel nearly fall from a very thin branch, far out in the crown of a tree. It recovered its balance and jumped to a nearby tree, running rapidly from branch to branch, tree to tree with amazing dexterity. This brilliant aerialist nearly flew through fragile branches until it finally arrived on a trunk high off the ground and disappeared into a cavity. My boring squirrel had become a rodent acrobat and I was reminded that even the most common of creatures have abilities that inspire awe.
- Liz LoGiudice

12/8 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: It was "opening day" for the Operation Explore program at DEC's Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center. Seventy New York City students were there to learn about watersheds, farm animals, plants, soil, and more, tramping through about a foot of snow. We spotted a lone killdeer, scurrying back and forth on perhaps the only bare ground around, looking for a meal. We wondered whether it was late, lost, or planning on changing the usual migrating habits of killdeer.
- Carolyn Plage

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