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Hudson River Almanac December 22-29, 2003

OVERVIEW

After late autumn featured successive snowstorms, the winter solstice brought heavy rains, melting away the ice that had covered most ponds in the watershed to a safe thickness for skating and ice fishing. Runoff after heavy rain on December 24 drove the salt front all the way down to Manhattan. Wintering songbirds continue to show at backyard feeders and winter ducks are on the river. The season's bald eagles are here, but with no ice on the river and an open watershed, their options are many and sightings may be fewer or more scattered for a while. On January 9, we will conduct our 25th annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census in the Hudson Valley. If you see an eagle that day please e-mail the specifics (exact time, exact location, soaring or perched, adult or immature) to trlake7@aol.com. Thanks.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/22 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: The last time I received a "dead eagle on the beach report," I went with a heavy heart to Senasqua and found, not an eagle, but a common loon, gift-wrapped in heavy fishing line with a chunk of bunker jammed down its throat. Another report today and this time I went to the beach at Little Stony Point. In a massive tangle of driftwood, I found not an eagle but a female Cooper's hawk. The bird, now frozen, will go to the NYSDEC wildlife pathologist, Ward Stone, to determine the cause of death.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/22 - Town of Durham, HRM 124: My car flushed a flock of snow buntings off the road shoulder. An appropriate sighting for the first day of winter, after an already snowy last month of autumn.
- Larry Biegel

[Snow buntings are one of those indicator species that we look for each year in late autumn, like common mergansers on the Hudson River, to give us some indication of impending winter weather.]

12/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: At first light on this solstice morning I had a "family portrait" in my spotting scope. Halfway up the slope on Soap Hill, facing east, were two adults and one immature bald eagle. They were perched within a few minutes flight time of eagle nest NY62. Even though I could not be certain at that distance, I'll bet it was the male fledged from that nest last June and its parents.
- Tom Lake

12/22 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: The last time I received a "dead eagle on the beach report," I went with a heavy heart to Senasqua and found, not an eagle, but a common loon, gift-wrapped in heavy fishing line with a chunk of bunker jammed down its throat. Another report today and this time I went to the beach at Little Stony Point. In a massive tangle of driftwood, I found not an eagle but a female Cooper's hawk. The bird, now frozen, will go to the NYSDEC wildlife pathologist, Ward Stone, to determine the cause of death.
- Christopher Letts

12/22 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The solstice sunset over Haverstraw Bay was only one of a string of glorious sunsets during the last couple of weeks. The depth of the color, bounced back from the scattered clouds, changed by the minute and was mesmerizing.
- Lyn Roessler

12/23 - George's Island, HRM 39: At noon today as the tide began to ebb, the river was calm. The high tide [the highest of the month] had floated an unusual amount of flotsam. A lone adult bald eagle was perched high on the south shore of Dogan Point just upriver, creating a magnificent profile against the blue sky. Soon an immature eagle flew into the trees, becoming quite difficult to spot once it found its perch - its mottled coloring making a great camouflage against the trees and hillside.
- Jim Casey

12/25 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: At first light on Christmas morning the high and muddy water at the mouth of Wappinger Creek belied the fact that low tide was approaching. The rain on Christmas Eve had stopped after dropping 1.65" of precipitation. That, coupled with melting snow and ice, had swollen the creek near its banks. A small flock of tree sparrows foraged in the underbrush along the river. Across the Hudson and a bit south, a pair of adult bald eagles were perched in shoreline cottonwoods along the warm-water outflow of the Danskammer Point Power Generating Facility. Those swirling waters teemed with small striped bass and white perch.
- Tom Lake

12/25 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: I spotted a woodchuck waddling around at Stony Kill Farm today. Maybe the groundhog thought it was spring already, but more likely it got flooded out of its burrow.
- Steve Seymour

12/26 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I spotted 15 bufflehead along the west shore of Croton Point this morning. There was a single adult bald eagle perched near Enoch's Neck on the north point and a second perched along Croton Bay on the south side. The one on the north point was keeping tabs on a lone Canada goose grazing on the lawn.
- Steve Seymour

12/27 - Clinton Point, HRM 69: A MetroNorth conductor, T.R. Gerstiner, told me that he had seen a pair of adult bald eagles perched riverside at Clinton Point on his way down from Poughkeepsie. He said that "he sees them every day" on the 7:30 AM train. He probably means that he sees them "frequently;" to say "every day" would lend far too much predictability to the behavior of any wild animal, particularly where tides are concerned.
- Tom Lake

12/27 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: Jim Herrington, Stony Kill Farm manager, spotted a woodchuck basking in the sun at the top of its den in the middle of the cow pasture. This woodchuck may not have read the literature that says woodchucks are on the short list of true hibernators in this part of the world. But then 50°F is not the norm for December. Maybe an early Groundhog Day?
- Carolyn Plage

12/27 - Fishkill Creek, HRM 60: Just below the outlet to Fishkill Creek, we saw an adult and an immature bald eagle perched in a shoreline sycamore not far from the railroad tracks. They studied a low tide bay studded with deadfalls, black ducks, and mallards.
- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake

12/27 - Crawbuckie, HRM 33.5: Just below the mouth of the Croton River we counted several small rafts of black ducks, totaling over 100 birds. They were swimming along the shore, dabbling in the shallows. Skittering in and among them were a dozen buffleheads. On the low tide beach a number of gulls were clamming. They would run out into the shallow water, dig out a clam (probably wedge clam) run back to the beach, and try to pry it open. Their best option is the one that drives commuters crazy: they fly over the Croton-Harmon commuter parking lot and drop the clams from a height, breaking them open. On occasion the clam will land on the hood of a Lexus or BMW.
- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake

12/27 - Sparkill, HRM 24.5: While walking across the Route 9W viaduct that crosses the Sparkill Gap, my dog Hudson and I were confronted with a large soaring bird. At first, I thought it was a turkey vulture, but it did not hold its wings in the typical V-shaped pattern. It was mottled with light and dark patches. In the background I saw another large bird, soaring even higher; it had a white head against a dark body. These were two bald eagles. They hovered and soared, making their way across the gap from north to south. I watched until they disappeared into the bright morning sky. I had seen bald eagles before, 21 miles upriver at Bear Mountain, but never this far south.
- Greg Mercurio

12/29 - Brandow Point, HRM 117: Arriving at the Willows this morning, I spotted a large flock of turkeys foraging on the lawn. Four males were strutting among sixteen females. The males had their tails fanned and feathers puffed, and moved slowly through the crowd of females like suitors at a fancy dress ball. The females seemed unimpressed, more interested in a good meal than romance. Behind them, the river glimmered in the morning sun. As I moved into their view, the entire flock scattered, awkwardly taking flight, heading for the trees.
- Liz LoGiudice

12/29 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The water temperature was 36°F this morning, up three degrees in the last two days. Hard to believe.
- John Mylod

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