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Hudson River Almanac November 28 - December 5, 2005

OVERVIEW

A last taste of autumn briefly teased us, but snow, ice and early winter arrived pretty much uniformly throughout the watershed. The first of our wintering bald eagles appear to be arriving as areas to the north of the St. Lawrence River receive serious snowfall.

HIGHLIGHT OF A PREVIOUS WEEK

11/26 - Fishkill, HRM 61: At 3:00 AM, neighbors Andrea and Ron Adams were awakened by the repeated howling of coyotes in the vicinity of their home on a wooded hillside in southern Dutchess County. They advised us to keep our pets indoors.
- Ed Spaeth

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/28 - Brooklyn, New York Bight: The Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a haunting place before dawn. Arriving at 3:30 AM. to meet the weather forecaster for a morning show, there was no sign of light. In fact, the blustery, wet weather (as observed through my bloodshot eyes) didn't leave much hope that the sun would ever shine again. The crew positioned the cameras and the weatherman at a bench overlooking West Pond. As the studio folks went to work, I reached for my binoculars and enjoyed a view of the refuge that I rarely have. On a dim, pewter-colored pond, the silhouettes of 3 muskrats, 10 northern shovelers, and a hooded merganser coasted along as if the pages of Peterson's Field Guide had come to life. In the background, the weatherman prattled on about the rain when suddenly a glowing orange sunrise flashed out from the horizon for a precious few seconds. The orange light caught 9 horned grebes, a young harrier, and a great blue heron in its grip - frozen in a single snapshot - as they worked the dim marsh. By 9:30 AM, a flat, even light dispelled most of the early morning magic and I left for breakfast, having worked 6 hours. I suppose a morning's sunrise never killed anyone.
- Dave Taft

11/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Two days ago it was in the teens all day, bitterly cold. Today it was practically T-shirt weather. All the snow is gone and a very warm wind was blowing. It looked and felt like spring, but not a bird was singing. Eerie, actually. This must be wreaking havoc on the plants. All sorts of things are sprouting in the garden, and I swear the grass is still growing.
- Ellen Rathbone

11/29 - Delmar, HRM 143: After a week of cold, snow and skim ice on the ponds, "spring" arrived today. It was 55°F at 8:00 AM when I saw a large flock of Canada geese go over, flying north.
- Dee Strnisa

11/29 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Early this morning, looking out on the Croton Bay, I spotted hundreds of what appeared to be common mergansers at the mouth of the Croton River near Crawbuckie. I was surprised to see them again in the exact location and numbers in late afternoon, in the throes of a rain and wind storm.
- Scott Horecky

11/29 - Town of Goshen HRM 53: This has been a confusing few weeks. I worked in shirt sleeves again today with the air in the mid-60s. Geese and tundra swans, hedging their bets, were flying west. Fifty magnificent snow geese, two dozen in each wing, passed low overhead. As they flew, a couple of birds in one leg of the V exchanged places with a like number on the opposite leg - looking for the window seat I suppose. They were making the morning trek from the cornfield to the Wallkill, not far away.
- Tom Lake

11/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 65°F today, breaking the old record of 64°F.
- National Weather Service

11/29 - Liberty Marsh, HRM 41: With a strong cold front heading east, a major storm was brewing. The sky looked threatening in the west and the wind was gusting over 30 mph. Out in the marsh were black ducks, lesser scaup (only hens as far as I could see), and a magnificent tundra swan. The swan took off, beating the water for a hundred feet before lift-off, banked into the blackness of the western sky where its stark white silhouette contrasted with the dark clouds.
- Tom Lake

11/29 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: The storm arrived. In eight hours of near-constant downpour, winds gusting over 40 mph, we received 1.77" of rain.
- Tom Lake

11/30 - Croton Point, HRM 35: This morning there were no cedar waxwings for the first time in two months. Yesterday I had four, today, none. Three days ago I had four flocks of them. Today's count was a couple of dozen robins, a small flock of cowbirds, and one male red-winged blackbird. No sign of grosbeaks of any species. At Croton Bay I spotted two adult bald eagles. One came down the Croton Bay side of the point and made for the eagle tree, a large cottonwood, where the other adult was already perched. As the first one approached, the second left and moved deep into the tree and 20' lower. Pecking order?
- Christopher Letts

11/16 - Garrison, HRM 52: Rich Anderson spotted 3 fox sparrows and the first tree sparrow of the season in the grass below our feeders, searching for errant bits of millet and sunflower, at the Constitution Marsh Sanctuary. Later in the day, Eric Lind saw an immature bald eagle flying along the railroad tracks, between Constitution Marsh and Constitution Island. While bringing in the floating dock, they spotted an American pipit flying over the south cove of the marsh.
- Tom Lake

12/1 - Town of Goshen, HRM 49: I was on yet another hilltop overlooking the black dirt region of southwest Orange County. At the base of hill flowed Irish Ditch, a small stream that empties into Quaker Creek and then into the Wallkill River a couple of miles away. The soft damp dirt in a newly plowed field held footprints of the residents: white-tail deer, coyote or fox, wild turkey and, the best of all, what appeared to be bobcat (large paws with retractable claws).
- Tom Lake

All Speak One Word

The ice cracks and snaps,
The geese honk,
Snow crunches,
Wind blows,
Water rushes,
Mountains stand,
Eagles soar,
Coyotes trot,
They all speak,
And they all say how,
Without one another,
They couldn't make this place
A masterpiece.
- Robert Dickman, Vails Gate School

12/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Looks like the party is over for this year. For the first time in two months the point has been bare of robins, blackbirds and waxwings. My special interest is the waxwings, and the tally for this fall is close to 4,000 birds. I have no way of knowing what percentage I saw in my frequent but brief visits. The consolation gift today was two Baltimore orioles, stripping moonseed fruit down near the wine cellars, the warmest and most sheltered place on the peninsula when the wind blows from the north.
- Christopher Letts

12/3 - Liberty Marsh, HRM 41: The marsh seemed fully occupied. The skim ice from a frigid overnight had dissolved with the arrival of several dozen black ducks and mallards. They joined some lesser scaup, ring-necked ducks, green-winged teal, hooded mergansers, and coot. The numbers of Canada geese do not seem to be lessening. I have watched large numbers fly away to the southwest only to be replaced by like numbers arrived from the northeast. A birder was leaving as I arrived and told me that he had seen a gray jay and a black-backed three-toed woodpecker in his spotting scope. Both of these birds would have been far south of their normal range, especially this early in the season.
- Tom Lake

12/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: If we stretch things, we had 2" of snow. While snow did indeed fall for much of the last 72 hours, the majority of it was horizontal, thanks to the gale-force winds that accompanied it. Even now, big fluffy flakes are drifting down and everything is white.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/4 - Saugerties, HRM 102: A rusty brown raptor swooped low over the snow-coated cattails and reeds visible from the kitchen window of the Saugerties Lighthouse. There was conspicuous white patch on its rump. With sudden twists and turns in its flight path, it flew erratically across Esopus Creek and disappeared over the tidal marshes: northern harrier, female or young one.
- Patrick Landewe

12/4 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Our first snow (2") of the season that begged to be shoveled. As I broomed the snow off my truck I heard keee-keee-keee-keee and looked up in time to see a gorgeous pileated woodpecker fly over. The bright white, black, and red colors were in stark contrast to the snowflakes. Very pterodactyl-like.
- Tom Lake

12/4 - Town of Wawayanda, HRM 46: If I had been paying closer attention to my driving I would have missed them. Out in the middle of a snow-covered Orange County cornfield were at least 100 snow geese. As the name implies, they blended perfectly. It was a few flashes of black wing-tips, as the birds munched on leftovers from this summer's crop, that gave them away.
- Tom Lake

12/4 - Liberty Marsh, HRM 41: The day that waterfowl dread, when the marshes will freeze, is fast approaching. With a 3" snowfall and an air temperature in the 20s, there was a thin covering of ice on Liberty Marsh. A small flock of Canada geese flew over and - without hesitation - landed as a group, scattering the skim ice in their wake. A pair of northern shovelers took advantage of the widening area of open water and landed as well.
- Tom Lake

12/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: After several dark days, it was nice to see the sun and blue sky today. We had a dusting of snow last night, the kind with very flat-sided flakes that look like sequins; their planar geometry throws the sunlight right back at you making the world look very glittery. It's the kind of day that begs you to go out for a stroll. A pileated woodpecker flew across my driveway this morning and we are now inundated with evening grosbeaks. All good signs for a good day.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/5 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I spotted two adult bald eagles on the island off Cheviot this morning, just resting in the trees.
- Susan Droege

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