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Hudson River Almanac December 9-16, 2003

OVERVIEW

Heavy rainfall coupled with snowmelt produced flooding in the watershed as tidewater tributaries left their banks. Then, for the second week in row, a coastal storm developed into a nor'easter. This time it dropped from 6 inches to 2 feet of snow in the Hudson Valley. As a cold front swept through on December 15, ice formed on the river providing a stage for bald eagles.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/12 Cohoes, HRM 159: The snow from the nor'easter of December 5-6 was almost all washed away by the rains of December 10-11 (an inch or more). Where did it all go? Into Hudson Valley streams and thence into the Hudson. Today the tributaries were roaring, nowhere more so than at Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River. Set in a steep-sided gorge, the falls are about 1,000 feet across and tumble down some 70 feet. They were a thrilling sight this afternoon as water crashed down and then ricocheted back up in plumes that seemed nearly as high as the cataract itself. According to the U.S. Geological Survey gaging station, discharge at the falls was around 45,000 cubic feet of water per second, six times the average flow for this date.
- Jennifer Dupont, Laurie Fila, Rebecca Johnson, Jean Valla McAvoy, Steve Stanne

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/9 Saratoga County, HRM 200: A sense of awe and wonder always accompanies the twilight hour just before dawn. The blueish hue at this time of day contrasted starkly with the dazzling white hoarfrost that covered the trees and lower brush along the banks of the upper Hudson. Old Jack Frost was definitely busy last night, decorating the landscape with his frigid art form for us to wonder at and admire. To add to this pre-dawn wonderland, the sky to the east slowly began to give a bright, dazzling, orange glow reminding me of that old adage, "Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning!" I then silently wondered what old man winter had in store for us.
- John DeLisle

Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I pulled out my last 30 crab pots today. It was a spectacularly beautiful, gray dead-calm day on the river with the snowy background and dark water in sharp contrast. A mackerel sky reflected the landscape and leafless trees on the hillsides revealing paths and back roads unseen since spring. The snow cover also etched the routes of deer runs and some switchback trails that have not been used for generations. During the pot lift there were a few lurkers, but no lunkers. A list of transients in the pots included: white and yellow perch, ("nice ones," as Gussie Zahn would say), a half-dozen white suckers, a few sunfish and a white catfish. Overhead, 3 pairs of mallards and a flock of brant were furiously flying south. The moon tides had left a billion water chestnut seed heads adrift on the river's surface, that was a chilly 37°F.
- John Mylod

Yonkers, HRM 18: At the conclusion of our annual autumn hawk watch at Hudson Valley Audubon's Lenoir Preserve, we tallied a total of 2,583 raptors and vultures that were reported to the Hawk Migration Association of North America. The regular hawk watchers clocked in a record total of 217.25 hours of observation time between September 1 and November 30. By next spring, the raptor totals from around the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, will be tallied and we will see how their populations are faring.

The best birds of the 2003 season were 5 golden eagles, 1 rough-legged hawk, 1 white-winged scoter, 1 vesper sparrow, 2 common ravens and a sandhill crane. Bald eagle numbers increased this season to a record 48 birds. There were 17 black vultures, which is extremely rare for our site. We normally get one bird every few years. Broad-wing hawk numbers were way down, and we are not sure why. Red-winged blackbird numbers (56,445) also declined. As far as non-raptors, we counted higher numbers of migrating blue jays (5,270) this season, an increase over recent years affected by the onset of West Nile virus in the area. Migrating monarch butterflies (359) made a nice comeback this season. This was the highest number of monarchs in the last 3-4 years.
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

12/11 Newcomb, HRM 302: Snow buntings, so numerous recently, have become rather scarce. They must have moved on. Our evening grosbeaks are still around.
- Ellen Rathbone

Nyack, HRM 28: At 11:30 AM the heavy rain subsided, the sun came out, and an incredible rainbow hung over the Hudson from Upper Nyack three miles south to the Tappan Zee Bridge. Thirty minutes later and 18 miles upriver, a double rainbow rose from the Hudson at Bear Mountain, arced over the hills and disappeared westward into Orange County.
- Tom Lake

Croton River, HRM 34: It was early morning when we spotted an adult bald eagle perched along the side of the Croton River only a few hundred feet upstream from the Hudson. Out on the lower reach of the Croton we also saw a pair of canvasbacks and a dozen hooded mergansers.
- Bill Kress, Nancy Kress

12/12 Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: It was just past noon and all was quiet on Cornwall Bay. The tide was up, the water calm, and two swans were swimming offshore. John McGrath and I walked along the tracks while several crows harassed a red-tailed hawk overhead. Once off the tracks and on the beach we spotted an adult bald eagle as it flew in from the river. At the last minute it spotted us, turned, and quickly flew north along the river.
- Jim Casey

Yonkers, HRM 18: What a gorgeous day! The rains had given way to a clear (albeit windy) and picturesque day. I spotted 16 canvasbacks napping in the cove in front of the Beczak Environmental Education Center just before noon today. Often I see one or two, but to see so many was a treat.
- Niall Cytryn

Mid-Hudson Valley: Just like last weekend, a nor'easter swept across the Hudson Valley. In the Mid-Hudson reach we had 8" of snow.
- Tom Lake

Cohoes, HRM 159: The snow from the nor'easter of December 5-6 was almost all washed away by the rains of December 10-11 (an inch or more). Where did it all go? Into Hudson Valley streams and thence into the Hudson. Today the tributaries were roaring, nowhere more so than at Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River. Set in a steep-sided gorge, the falls are about 1,000 feet across and tumble down some 70 feet. They were a thrilling sight this afternoon as water crashed down and then ricocheted back up in plumes that seemed nearly as high as the cataract itself. According to the U.S. Geological Survey gaging station, discharge at the falls was around 45,000 cubic feet of water per second, six times the average flow for this date.
- Jennifer Dupont, Laurie Fila, Rebecca Johnson, Jean Valla McAvoy, Steve Stanne

12/15 Minerva, HRM 284: The storm ended and we measured the snow level at 19 inches this morning. For a while it fell at a rate of nearly 3" per hour. Pretty amazing.
- Mike Corey, Sue Montgomery Corey

Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: In the wake of the storm, a brutal northwest wind, gusting to 45 mph, had the river in tumult. On the afternoon flood tide there was wind against current. The 3-foot waves capsized in a frothy white over the gray water. When we walked too close to the water's edge, a wind-blown chilling spray covered us. We heard hi-flyer Canada geese and then saw 2 skeins of 50-60 birds each. With the strong tailwind they passed over quickly. Along the shore crystal rime ice coated trees and shrubs and whenever the sun peaked out, the prism effect was dazzling.
- Christopher Lake, Phyllis Lake, Bill Jackson, Susanne Lake

[Tide is a vertical measurement of tidewater movement; current is a horizontal measurement of tidewater movement. Often the river will cease to rise or fall (tide), but the current will continue to move up or downriver. This has to do with the physics of hydrology. Some people believe this is the "river that flows both ways" phenomenon that we hear from Indian folklore, not simply the two tides.]

Town of Fishkill, HRM 66: Traveling north parallel to the river, I spotted a pair of adult bald eagles and an immature. These may well have been the breeding pair and their summer 2003 fledgling that has been frequently seen in the general area.
- Andy Mele

Foundry Cove, HRM 53: It was a day for soaring birds so we were not surprised when we spotted two black vultures over Foundry Cove.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

12/16 Denning's Point, HRM 60: The trail out and around Denning's Point was a good workout, crunching through eight inches of new snow and ice. It was really snowshoe trekking conditions and we wished we had remembered ours. We heard an eagle along the low tide beach at the tip but never saw it. There was one immature eagle out on an ice floe, drifting down river. On the way back a Cooper's hawk cruised past so fast we barely had time to figure out what it was. As for tracks, we saw a few dogs, one may have been a coyote, another small set may have been a fox, but no eagle kills or great horned owl butchering scenes.
- Christopher Lake, Tom Lake

Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: The tide was low in the bay and there were hundreds of gulls and crows on the exposed sand flats. This is always a good indication that the wintering eagles have already eaten. As we were about to leave, we spotted one adult eagle high up on Sloop Hill in the crown of an oak, and an immature perched in a cottonwood along the shoreline at Kowawese Park.
- Christopher Lake, Tom Lake

New Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The breeding pair of bald eagles (NY62) spent all morning soaking up the sunlight in the lee of several white pines. The female sat in the middle of the nest surrounded by 6 inches of snow, while the male perched on a limb a couple of feet above. They looked like old friends. In the afternoon they switched over to the river, a quarter mile to the northwest. There they sat in the crown of a tall black locust, watching the river, facing the afternoon sun, with a cool breeze in their faces.
- Christopher Lake, Tom Lake

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