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Hudson River Almanac December 18-January 1, 2005

OVERVIEW

The river is freezing in places, awash in floe ice in others, and open below the Highlands. The presence or absence of river ice will have an impact on the number of Hudson Valley eagles we count for the NYSDEC Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey on Monday, January 10. Happy New Year to all of our Hudson River Almanac readers and participants.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/18 - Dutchess County: Our 105th annual Christmas Bird Count produced 70 species, less than last year's 79, but consistent with the average over the last 10 years. Poor poison ivy and cedar fruit crops and very few acorns had an impact. There was a heavy morning frost but no snow on the ground. The ponds were, with few exceptions, completely frozen. The total number of birds - 17,811 - was the highest since 1996. We hit all-time highs for yellow-bellied sapsucker, pileated woodpecker, and northern cardinal. A species new to the count was the long-eared owl spotted at Vassar College. Cedar waxwings were few this year. Among the birds missed: bald eagle, northern pintail, grebes, kestrel, eastern screech owl, gray catbird, and yellow-rumped warbler.
- Bill Case

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/18 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: On the way into Little Stony Point this morning I was greeted by three white-breasted nuthatches and a male downy woodpecker busily looking for breakfast on tree trunks. Nearby was a small flock (7-8) of black-capped chickadees. Later I heard a flock of Canada geese (30-40) approach from the south and watched them land together in a small bay behind the railroad tracks. Several minutes later another flock numbering nearly a hundred approached from the same direction. They began to land near the first flock but, at the last instant, all of them pulled up, circled back out over the open river, and landed together there.
- Christopher Kuhlow

12/19 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: Northbound on the early morning Metro North train, I glanced up from my crossword just in time to spot an adult bald eagle perched on a barren tree limb. Elated, I called out, "Wow! A bald eagle!," but the train had passed by before my fellow riders could look up.
- Dan Kricheff

12/20 - West Hurley, HRM 91: We were on our way to school on Dike Road Monday morning when a beautiful bald eagle flew in from the eastern tree line. It followed along the road and then floated above the Ashokan Reservoir. My 8 year-old son and I spent some time enjoying a closeup view of the magnificent bird with the freshly snowed-on Catskill Mountains and the crisp waves of the water as backdrop. What a way to start the day!
- Susan Hereth, Soleil Martinez

12/21 - Round Top, HRM 113: This morning at the solstice it was -5°F, but with no wind it was not too bad. Ice fishing soon.
- Jon Powell

12/22 - Greene County: During the 12/14 Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Bird Count, I found a dead common eider on the riverbank near Coxsackie. My assumption was that it was shot by a hunter, leaving the possibility that it was taken on the Hudson on the count day. One of my waterfowler friends did a little detective work and discovered that it was shot in Maine, brought back to this area, and then discarded. Given the eider's provenance, it doesn't count. Our tally remains at 64 species and the cumulative list for about 40 years of Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Counts remains at 141 species.
- Rich Guthrie

Accidentals: Eiders, ducks of the tundra and seacoasts, rarely stray inland. While this common eider doesn't count as a Hudson River record, a hunter did take a female king eider off Germantown in 2003. I found out about it when a taxidermist friend called to ask me about the identification. We may miss some good record information if we don't learn about interesting takes by waterfowlers. For a variety of reasons, some of them may be hesitant to come forth with reports of unusual species. Three whistling ducks, wanderers from the South, were shot near Saugerties about 10 years ago. Again, a taxidermist contacted me about the identification. I'm sure there are more stories like that out there. There are post-taxidermy tales too. One year a Christmas Bird Count team placed a stuffed Baikal teal on the bank of the river in another group's territory, the object being to set them up for a big letdown. The other team retaliated the next year by sticking a plastic pink flamingo in plain view on the first team's side.
- Rich Guthrie

12/22 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: Sue Patton and I stood on the front steps of the Manor House at DEC's Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center commenting on the "ripping" sounds coming from the flock of Canada geese that covered the lawn. Then we heard a bird call that seemed wrong for this time of year; it was a killdeer circling the pasture. Perhaps this is the same killdeer we spotted December 8, 2003, pecking at grain in a lone bare spot on the snow-covered ground.
- Carolyn Plage

12/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: A record air temperature for the date of 61°F was set today, eclipsing the previous record of 58°F set in 2003.
- National Weather Service

12/23 - Hudson Valley: A strong storm with high winds and heavy rains (eastern Dutchess County 1.9"; western Dutchess County 1.3") swept across the area causing power outages to 5,200 people in Dutchess and Ulster counties.
- National Weather Service

12/23 - Ossining, HRM 33: A lark sparrow was seen by a number of birders in the Ossining area, while a boreal owl was spotted in Manhattan's Central Park (HRM 5) this week.
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

[The lark sparrow, a bird of the continent's mid-section, is an uncommon stray east of the Appalachian Mountains. The boreal owl, at home in the coniferous forest of the far north, is a rare winter visitor to our area.]

12/23 - Manhattan, HRM 5: A custom-made platform for red-tailed hawk Pale Male's nest is back in place on the12th-floor cornice above Central Park at 927 Fifth Avenue.
- Mike Boyajian

12/24 - Highland, HRM 76: Our first eagle of the winter flew north past our picture window today in Highland. This is the earliest we have seen one; usually we see them in January sitting in a huge tree above the river.
- Vivian Wadlin

12/24 - Croton River, HRM 34: I spotted two banded mute swans, EA12 and EA26, in the marsh along the north side of the Croton River.
- Scott Craven

12/25 - Minnewaska State Park Preserve, HRM 76: We were the only people out in this section of the park this winter's day, but it was worth braving the slippery paths and cold to view the fantastic cliff ice sculptures. We saw one lone black-capped chickadee and flushed a ruffed grouse. A light wind-blown snow made zig-zag patterns across Awosting Lake. Ice crystals formed on vegetation above crevice openings. Two small chipmunk burrows and one larger one, perhaps a fox, had ice crystals edging their openings. We should have brought a camera.
- Reba Wynn Laks, Richard Balint

12/25 - George's Island, HRM 39.5: It was Christmas Day afternoon with the air temperatures in the 20s, the sun shining bright, and a modest north wind. I launched my kayak toward Croton Point and spent the next two hours on this beautiful river. There were no other boats; everything seemed still. On the way back, the wind picked up and my gloves and paddle jacket collected ice where they were wet. Halfway back to the launch I spotted an adult bald eagle, soaring higher and higher on the thermals.
- Stephen Butterfass

12/25 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: The first pair of canvasbacks appeared, diving over the mud flats just north of our home. Their presence indicates that the Hackensack Meadowlands on the other side of the Palisades are probably covered with ice. Canvasbacks prefer the marshes of the Meadowlands but are forced over here when they can't reach the tasty worms and bivalves under the ice. Two other winter visitors showed up as well: a grebe (too far away to identify to species) and a beautiful male bufflehead, both diving for their morning meals.
- Terry Milligan

12/25 - Hudson Valley: On Christmas Night the full moon was higher in the sky and brighter than any since 1981.
- National Weather Service

12/26 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Amy Freiman, one of our volunteers, has had common redpolls at her home at Goodnow Flow for a while now, but the Visitors Information Center had its first of the season at the feeders today. The story so far this winter is goldfinches; we are inundated with them. Thirty to fifty evening grosbeaks turn up a couple of times a day, but these certainly aren't the numbers or consistency seen a few years ago. No purple finches at our feeders yet, either. We mostly have goldfinches and the regulars: chickadees and nuthatches (red and white-breasted).
- Ellen Rathbone

12/27 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: Our collared mute swan, EA49, now has company, EA97. I first saw them together just after noon.
- David Baker

12/28 - Manhattan, HRM 5: Pale Male and Lola, the mated pair of red-tailed hawks, were spotted at noon roosting in their newly restored nesting area for the first time since December 7.
- Associated Press

12/30 - Garrison, HRM 53: I watched three bluebirds as they perched on a bluebird house at Boscobel Restoration, along the Hudson above Foundry Cove. It was a cheery and beautiful winter sighting.
- Andra. Sramek

12/30 - West Point, HRM 52: Kaylee Seagraves and I stopped at West Point's North Dock on our return from lunch. About two dozen ring-billed gulls and two herring gulls were standing on the helicopter pad while others were floating on the river and soaring about on this gorgeous afternoon. Looking across at Constitution Island, we saw three adult bald eagles sitting in trees along the southern shoreline.
- James Beemer

12/30 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens, New York Bight: Judy Virbukas, Chris Olijnyk and I were inspecting a recently mowed area along one of the refuge trails. The weather was beautiful - sunny and in the upper 40s. As we stared off into one of the shallow swales between the bayberry clumps, a short-eared owl flew up and out of the shrubs, continued low over the bayberries, and landed in a grassy hummock about fifty yards away. A mockingbird was the only one present who was displeased at the sighting.
- Dave Taft

12/31 - George's Island, HRM 39: About three dozen people joined us for the season's first bald eagle watch. The program began with no eagles in sight and we were resigned to telling stories of eagles past for a half hour or more. Just as we were about to leave, someone spotted an adult eagle perched on Dogan Point, a short distance to the northwest. Its back was to us but it still afforded good viewing. A while later an immature landed on the point, and then we spotted three more in the air for a total of five.
- Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek

12/31 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: What a great show for the last day of the year. Our hike yielded a red-tailed hawk and a harrier hunting over the landfill in the late afternoon, accompanied by four white-tail deer browsing in the fields. Entering the pine forest, we came upon a beautiful great horned owl. The climax of the day was a sunset hunting foray by a short-eared owl, again over the fields of the park. What a wonderful lead-in to 2005.
- David Baker

1/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: The air temperature reached 55°F today, just one degree shy of the record high for the date, 56°F, set in 1979.
- National Weather Service

1/1 - Fishkill, HRM 62: Mild air temperatures made the day seem quite spring-like. While moving Christmas decorations to storage, I spotted a woolly-bear caterpillar making its way across my driveway.
- Ed Spaeth

1/1 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: We took a late afternoon New Year's walk at the Samuel F.B. Morse Historic Site, taking the trail to the river overlook. There we were treated to the spectacular beauty of Blue Point on the opposite shore and long views of Poughkeepsie Bay and the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Ice covered half the river and chunks the size of tennis courts eased along on an up tide. Through binoculars we could see thousands of crows on the ice in what looked like a large, black puddle, extending out from the Poughkeepsie shore to the first bridge pier. Across the river in Milton, the new, silver bubble of an indoor sports complex looked like a giant chrysalis attached to the brown earth and highlighted by the late afternoon sunshine. As we watched an empty garbage train southbound on the West Shore railroad, an adult bald eagle flew into view, standing out against the forest green of the train cars. The eagle gained altitude and headed for the hardwood forest just north of Blue Point. It landed on an upper limb of a large oak and stayed there, perhaps all night, protected below the ridge line from west and northwest winds.
- Judy Lombardi, John Mylod

1/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: On a warm winter's day (55°F) we held our 20th annual New Year's Day hike. This event has been held in driving rain, a foot of snow, and every imaginable weather phenomenon in between. We've had nearly a thousand people and as few as 40. Today we had 175. Some years we see bald eagles in every quarter of the sky; today we had just one, soaring off to the east. As we hiked, a small flock of snow buntings pushed along ahead of us, there was a red-tailed hawk flyover, a rough-legged hawk dropped down out of a black oak, and at least one northern harrier teetered across the landfill in serious hunting posture. For all of us, however, the highlight was two short-eared owls hunting on the landfill. Through binoculars we watched them dipping and rising, listening and looking, and canting their wings side-to-side as they flew, their round heads prominent on their narrow bodies. Later we chugged sassafras cider, toasted marshmallows by a fire, and welcomed the New Year.
- Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek, Barry Keegan, David Baker, Tom Lake

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