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Hudson River Almanac December 16-21, 2003

OVERVIEW

As indicated by the observations included in the Almanac each week, there is much to see along the Hudson in winter. Come look for yourself at our first eagle watch of the season on Wednesday, December 31, at Westchester County's George's Island Park, off Route 9A in Montrose (just south of Peekskill). This program starts at 2:00 PM in the parking lot at the river. Or celebrate the arrival of 2004 with our 18th Annual New Year's Day Natural History Hike at Westchester's Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson. The hike will begin, regardless of weather, at 2:00 PM in the main parking lot. Afterwards we will share hot cider, toasted marshmallows, good music, and a warm fire in Senasqua Lodge. Both programs are free of charge.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/16 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 43: This morning saw ice, the first of the season, on Loundsbury Pond near the headwaters of Dickey Brook, a Hudson River tributary. I pussyfooted out onto 4" of ice and drilled my first holes of the season. The sunrise was lovely and I was as excited about viewing the morning flight of crows as I was about ice fishing. For two decades now I've watched at dawn from this little pond as the commuter crows from Rockland County pass over, headed for their day jobs in Westchester. The numbers vary, day to day, but average about 150 birds, singly and in small groups, some chattering, some silent. But this year things are different: only 40 crows were to be seen. West Nile virus has taken a tremendous toll on several species of birds, and crows seem especially vulnerable, or perhaps it is just more noticeable with them.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/16 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 43: This morning saw ice, the first of the season, on Loundsbury Pond near the headwaters of Dickey Brook, a Hudson River tributary. I pussyfooted out onto 4" of ice and drilled my first holes of the season. The sunrise was lovely and I was as excited about viewing the morning flight of crows as I was about ice fishing. For two decades now I've watched at dawn from this little pond as the commuter crows from Rockland County pass over, headed for their day jobs in Westchester. The numbers vary, day to day, but average about 150 birds, singly and in small groups, some chattering, some silent. But this year things are different: only 40 crows were to be seen. West Nile virus has taken a tremendous toll on several species of birds, and crows seem especially vulnerable, or perhaps it is just more noticeable with them.
- Christopher Letts

Hudsonia's studies of wildlife interactions with invasive plants - especially common reed (Phragmites), purple loosestrife, Japanese knotweed, and water-chestnut - continue. I'm very interested in hearing other peoples' observations. Some things to look for (these have all been observed in the northeastern states): sparrows eating Phragmites seeds; beaver eating purple loosestrife; bird nests in Japanese knotweed; invertebrates overwintering on or in any of these plants; squirrels and other rodents eating water-chestnut seeds; birds or mammals using stands of these plants for shelter from the weather or for foraging. Please post your observations to the Almanac or email me kiviat@bard.edu . Quick messages are fine, details are even better. Thanks!
- Erik Kiviat

12/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While the lower Hudson Valley had 1.3" of rain, up here we had rain, followed by heavy wet snow, topped off this morning with fluffy snow, more like foothills of snow. We had accumulated 18" from the weekend storm (Paul Smiths Adirondacks Visitors Information Center northeast of Saranac Lake had 34"). We now have about 20". The world was a beautiful white outside the Newcomb Adirondacks Visitors Information Center this morning.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/18 - Minerva, HRM 234: The foot of snow we were supposed to get ended up being four inches, wet and slushy. Fortunately there was very little freezing rain, a blessing for sure, since our area has had two substantial power outages in the past five weeks. At the Minerva Central School this morning I spotted a flock of about 30 pine siskins.
- Mike Corey

12/18 - Gansevoort to Fort Edward, HRM 196-202: The drive along the West River Road was most enjoyable. Last evening's ice and rain storm finally turned into snow, blanketing the landscape with a half-inch of fresh, white, sparkling snow. This morning, the waters of the river, colored gray and dreary, looked wild and foreboding. Its restless surface was barren of waterfowl.
- John DeLisle

12/20 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: The tugboat Atlantic Salvor was heading north with the heavily-laden Chesapeake 1000 barge. It threw a nice wake to me as I stood at my little seining beach. The crashing sound of the smaller chunks of ice reminded me of a Christmas from long ago, when I dropped the box of glass ornaments. I found some Christmas greenery - garlic mustard growing out of the root ball of a huge oak that had blown down - while walking in the woods along the ice house trail. The bright green really stood out against the gray, brown, and white of the winter day.
- Fran Martino

12/21 - Manitou, HRM 46.5: It was high tide and I was out for my weekly walk along the river. I avoided the shoreline trail at Manitou so I wouldn't disturb any perched eagles. The trail was also a sheet of ice; a slip on that path can put you right into the river. I spotted two adult bald eagles and a yellow-bellied sapsucker. More of the hemlocks at Manitou have died from woolly adelgid infestation. One group of three large trees at the turn in the access road had outlived most of their neighbors by several years. Unfortunately all three died during 2003.
- Steve Seymour

12/21 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: My section of the Chatham Christmas Bird Count includes New Baltimore and Coxsackie. The river at the Coxsackie boat launch was a hotspot today. Six immature Iceland gulls joined an estimated one thousand of the three common species: herring gulls (80%), great black-backed gulls (10%), and ring-billed gulls (10%). An adult double-crested cormorant and an immature great cormorant were feeding near each other. One would surface while the other was under water. At first, it wasn't clear to me that there were actually two cormorants, making the identification process curious: first double-crested, then great, then double-crested, then ... get the picture? The double-crested caught a medium-sized catfish, which sent the gulls into a pirating frenzy. Swallowing a catfish is not a one-stop affair. They have stiff spines on their pectoral fins, which if not broken or softened, might cause problems in the throat of the bird. I was impressed with the cormorant's tenacity. Despite continuous harassment from several gulls at once, it managed to hang on to the fish and swallow it OK. Overhead, an immature male peregrine falcon engaged in what had to have been avian "play." The bird dove on, chased, and harassed the gulls, and in turn was chased by one or more gulls. I believe he could have easily outpaced any one of them, but kept them close on his tail as he evaded them in flight. The "show" went on and on for about five minutes as he switched between attack and evade modes. Spectacular sight!
- Rich Guthrie

12/21 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Early this afternoon, I spotted my first bald eagle of the season, an adult, flying north along the river. This may have been a migrant, or simply a wintering eagle from the Croton area on a low tide reconnaissance flight looking for dinner.
- Doug Maass

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