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Hudson River Almanac November 30-December 6, 2004

OVERVIEW

Runoff from late November rains pushed the salt front down to the Tappan Zee during the first few days of December. The arrival of winter to our north prompted the appearance of treats for birders: eagles, tundra swan, brant, and other winter waterfowl. Our first report of a snowy owl along the coast is another harbinger of winter. In a look back to summer, the positive identification of a bird found in the Town of LaGrange produces a first for Dutchess County.

LATE ARRIVING REPORTS FROM LAST WEEK

11/20 - Croton, HRM 34: I was using an Audubon "squeaker" and trying to get a look at a flock of skulking sparrows in the Croton Marsh. A few feet away in the thick grass at the edge of the water, a loud scolding broke out as a sora voiced displeasure with my presence. Off Croton Point an immature tundra swan was eschewing the company of several mute swans feeding in the shallows along the shore. The young tundra swan seemed aloof and stately, floating in the current, feet hoisted out of the water and trailing behind.
- Christopher Letts

[The sora belongs to the group of secretive marsh-dwelling birds known as rails. Their bodies are compressed from side to side, allowing them to slip easily through dense marsh vegetation and giving rise to the expression "thin as a rail." The tundra swan (once called the whistling swan) is our native swan, but is much less commonly seen in the Hudson Valley than the non-native mute swan.]

11/21 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: It was a misty, still morning, and a hard day to use binoculars. Every couple of minutes I had to stop and clear the lenses with a tissue. A peregrine passed over at 200' and went into a scorching stoop, only to disappear behind fogged lenses at the moment of truth. I did not see what it was hunting or if it had been successful. I had better luck with the first common mergansers to arrive this year. There was a fair amount of gunning yesterday which may account for the concentration of waterfowl inside the railroad bridge: black ducks, mallards, coot, green-winged teal and buffleheads. In the mist, a flotilla of two dozen mute swans looked like a distant view of a tall ships parade. The choice view was that of an all-white immature little blue heron, very tame, and willing to let me approach to within 100 feet.
- Christopher Letts

11/27 - Long Island, New York Bight: On the beach front at the west end of Jones Beach State Park in Nassau County, we saw a snowy owl. Later, at Robert Moses State Park in Suffolk County, we spotted a mountain bluebird.
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/30 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Two of our interns from Saunders High School in Yonkers braved the elements and seined from the beach at the Beczak Environmental Education Center. They pulled up winter flounder (2), striped bass (4) and shrimp (mostly shore shrimp and a few sand shrimp). They recorded a salinity of 5.5 ppt and a water temperature of 49°F.
- Cynthia Fowx

12/1 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: After another stormy day of heavy rain (one inch) and high winds (gusts over 40 mph, resulting in two power outages) the sky was brightening in the west. A strong west wind, gusting to 60 mph, was toppling the river's swells and - with the tide high - sending spray onto the railroad tracks. Up the slope behind me, perched in the top of a black locust, was an adult bald eagle. Wind in its face, the bird held on as the top of the tree bent and swayed. She looked like a kid on a carnival ride.
- Tom Lake

12/1 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The Lenoir Preserve Hawk Watch, overlooking the Hudson River, concluded on November 30. Between September 1st and November 30th, a total of 193 hours of observation time was logged and 3,013 migrating raptors and vultures were counted. This included 10 black vultures, 539 turkey vultures, 95 osprey, 35 bald eagles, 19 northern harriers, 299 sharp-shinned hawks, 58 Cooper's hawks, 2 northern goshawks, 24 red-shouldered hawks, 1,628 broad-winged hawks, 169 red-tailed hawks, 89 American kestrels, 21 merlins, 13 peregrine falcons, and 12 unidentified raptors. The total count number was down 9.57% from the average for the previous eight years. (For more details go to www.hawkcount.org ) As for non-raptors, we had several thousand blue jays push through in October. The best migrant sighting at the watch this year had to be the two red-headed woodpeckers.
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

12/2 - Putnam County, HRM 54: In mid-March of this year, I spotted an adult bald eagle flying over West Branch Reservoir. Now I'm seeing a pair of them. I wonder if they live here or are just passing through.
- Bennett Gray

12/3 - Town of LaGrange, HRM 76: Jude Holdsworth found a dead bird at James Baird State Park, in the Town of LaGrange in Dutchess County, on August 30. While its identity was not readily apparent, it was believed to be either a king rail or a clapper rail. Today, Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology positively identified the bird as an adult clapper rail, a first for Dutchess County. The clapper rail is a bird of coastal salt marshes; NYSDEC's Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve lists it as very rare in the Hudson Valley.)

12/3 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: From this terrace above the river I watched the water in the muted light of dawn; behind me the sunrise in the southeast was turquoise and pink. Like a prelude to Noah's Ark, the waterfowl were on the river were arranged in twos: mallards, buffleheads, mergansers, Canada geese, and cormorants.
- Tom Lake

12/3 - Fishkill, HRM 63: We walked out of our home this morning and were invigorated by the bracing cold December air. Frost covered the front lawn. We spotted a Cooper's hawk in the tree across the street; a moment later if flew off its branch in pursuit of prey and disappeared behind our house. Later that morning, on Metro North heading to Manhattan, Storm King looked like a glowing mound of gold in the early day's sunshine.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

12/4 - Bronx, New York Bight: We spent a cold brisk morning looking for owls at Pelham Bay Park. We were fortunate to locate one long-eared owl and two saw-whet owls on Hunter Island.
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

12/5 - Kingston Point, HRM 92: It was mild and mellow at Kingston Point Park. There were two snow buntings there, as well as the usual large number of ring-billed gulls and a few mallards.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

12/5 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I brought in my last 60 crab pots over the last two days. The wind was out of the northwest today at about 20 knots. It didn't make retrieving the crab pots any easier, but it did help a red-tailed hawk hover in the same place for a very long ten seconds. Many of the pot warps had amphipods on the bottom knot and the mud line was rough on the hands as zebra mussels had begun colonizing these nylon lines. The water temperature was 42°F. Although the pots have been left open and not baited for a month and a half, some fish and blue crabs like to hang out in them just the same. Today, deuces were wild: two brown bullheads, two white perch, two suckers, two bluegills, two small white catfish, two crabs and a two-foot American eel. All went back to the river alive, the last bycatch of a very disappointing crab season.
- John Mylod

12/5 - Blue Point, HRM 74.5: This afternoon a flock of about 100 brant whistled down the middle of the river with the tailwind urging them on. At dusk, at least 5,000 common crows were circling and making their way along the ridgeline north of Blue Point. The cacophony was marvelous and could be heard all away across on the Hudson's east shore. I expected them to hang a right and head for night roosts in Poughkeepsie, but, surprisingly, they didn't. Usually they stream out of Ulster County and head for the nightlife in the Queen City.
- John Mylod

12/6 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: The air temperature had dropped 25°F since yesterday, snow is in the air, and we have a tree sparrow at our feeder.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

12/6 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: This morning Jim Herrington spotted Mr. Woodchuck in the middle of the pasture at Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center. He was out of his hole and looking around at the snow falling, perhaps thinking "Maybe I'd better get down to that long winter's nap."
- Carolyn Plage

12/6 - Town of Wawayanda, HRM 46: A year ago today we had a blizzard that left 14" of snow in the Mid-Hudson Valley. I thought of that as I faced into the horizontal snow driven by a bitter northeast wind. We were on a ridge overlooking Quaker Creek at the headwaters of the Wallkill River, investigating a site visited by the first people to live in the Hudson Valley. Below us was the impressive "black dirt area" of Orange County - fields of highly organic soil from a late Pleistocene swampland, inundated with bones of extinct animals like mastodonts, ground sloths, horses, peccaries, and elk-moose. The evidence in the ground told us people had been on this hilltop at least 8,000 years ago. The snow and freezing windchills gave us pause to wonder how they managed the cold Northeast winters. They must have burned a lot of wood.
- Tom Lake, Pat Sabol, Jim Kennedy

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