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Hudson River Almanac December 12 - December 17, 2005

OVERVIEW

Christmas Bird Counts highlighted a week of Arctic weather. The Christmas Bird Count is held throughout the country around this time of year. It replaces the Victorian era "side-shoot," in which teams went out to shoot as many different bird and mammal species as possible on Christmas Day. In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman organized a group of friends to observe, count and share information about bird species without shooting them. The National Audubon Society, which Chapman helped organize, now sponsors this annual tradition, in which thousands of people go into the field to count as many bird species as their group can find in a sporting, competitive way. The result has been the gathering of significant data which has monitored changes in bird populations and distribution over the years.
- Rich Guthrie

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/16 - Moordener Kill, HRM 138.5: I was exploring the Moordener Kill's banks for tracks after a fresh snowfall when I heard an odd sounding flock of Canada geese coming my way. Looking up to watch them pass I saw white bodies with black wingtips and realized it was a flock of snow geese! Later, the day was topped off by seeing 5 bluebirds in a tree at the edge of a farm field.
- Leanna O'Grady

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

A common thread for Almanac entries is a reference to Hudson River miles. These indicate where in the watershed, relative to the main stem of the Hudson River, an observation occurred. Hudson River miles are measured north from the Battery (HRM 0) at the southern tip of Manhattan. The George Washington Bridge is at HRM 12, the Tappan Zee Bridge at 28, Albany at 145, and the Federal Dam at Troy, the head of tidewater, at HRM 153.7. While cities and bridges make convenient points of reference, river phenomena do not always occur at such neat and tidy intervals, so we need reference points for places in between. Entries from the watershed reference the corresponding river mile, due east or west, on the mainstem. For example, New Paltz, on the Wallkill River in Ulster County, is at HRM 78.

12/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Stories of our freezing were greatly exaggerated. Last night it reached -7°F. I will say that on a walk it was cold, tears left my cheeks wet, objecting mightily to the temperature and wind. There was no wind this morning, but it was still sub zero at 7:00 AM. Even now, three hours later, my cheeks are still feeling the after-effects. But it was worth it. The mountains were rosy pink in the sunrise, and the sky a cloudless blue. We only heard one bird calling - the rest were probably still huddled together somewhere trying to keep warm.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

12/12 - Dennings Point, HRM 60: In a couple of hours I may have spotted as many as 4 bald eagles. Early on I saw a very dark immature that appeared to land on the river side of the point and a while later there were 2 adults soaring over the point. From a north side terrace a short distance up Fishkill Creek I saw 3 eagles leave Dennings and head southeast. Another immature, with lots of white underneath, flew over, headed in the same direction.
- Ralph O'Dell

12/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We hit -20°F overnight! At 7:00 AM it was still -15°F. Brrrrrr. It was rather picturesque, though, seeing all the chimneys with plumes of smoke rising in the still morning air, like something out of an old painting.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/13 - Round Top, Greene County, HRM 113: At 5:30 AM it was 0°F. Some of the black bears are still out. My son Seamus saw a big track right by the house yesterday.
- Jon Powell

12/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was a frigid 7°F at dawn. As I scraped my windshield to go look for eagles, I heard a blue jay doing an excellent imitation of a red-tailed hawk. It had me fooled for a moment, especially when I saw 6 crows take off from a nearby tree and circle. Maybe they were fooled as well.
- Tom Lake

12/13 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: I saw a magnificent adult bald eagle and another large immature perched in the trees at the edge of Oscawana Island. Now I will stop by there every day this winter to watch them.
- Diane Picciano

12/13 - Croton River, HRM 34: With a churning river loaded with slush ice and a -10°F wind chill, it was not surprising that the local waterfowl were piled up in the lower Croton Estuary. It looked like a barnyard, with swans, geese, and ducks jammed into the warmer and more sheltered waters inside the railroad bridge. Ring-necked ducks, ruddy ducks, and a pair of goldeneyes were foraging between the railroad and Route 9 bridges.
- Christopher Letts

12/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We got about a foot of snow that has now compacted to about 10". In places, however, it is still knee deep. Common redpolls have arrived at the Adirondack Park Visitors Information Center. They seem to have arrived in great numbers all over the park this weekend, as evidenced by the numerous reports on the Northern New York Bird List on-line.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/14 - Greene County, HRM 124-113: Twenty-one intrepid birders were out in a cold morning and through a very chilly day to come up with a total of 75 species for the Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Bird Count. The full moon over brilliant snow cover and absence of any wind provided excellent conditions for those who braved the sub-zero pre-dawn hour for some rewarding owling. At sunrise, a freezing fog enshrouded the Hudson River limiting horizontal visibility significantly. The overhead visibility, however, was magnificent, especially when viewed through hoar frosted branches of the cottonwoods along the shore. As if the combination of brilliant blue sky, shimmering freezing fog, and crystal coated twigs weren't enough, one group added yet another dimension of spectacular to the scene when, before their very eyes, a huge flock of several thousand snow geese rose up through the sun sparkled crystalline mist. Ahhh! A breathtaking, spiritual moment for those lucky ones.

Highlights included the following: snow geese (2,790), Canada geese (3,571), American black duck (232), canvasback (70), common merganser (49), bald eagle (14), northern harrier (14), rough-legged hawk (1), American kestrel (3), peregrine falcon (1), wild turkey (92), herring gull (678), ring-billed gull (2,087), Iceland gull (3), glaucous gull (1), greater black-backed gull (264), eastern screech owl (8), great horned owl (5), barred owl (4), saw-whet owl (2), pileated woodpecker (13), common raven (4), horned lark (210), Carolina wren (14), winter wren (2), eastern bluebird (118), American robin (1,326), American pipit (1), cedar waxwing (90), savannah sparrow (3), fox sparrow (1), white-throated sparrow (445), snow bunting (13), red-winged blackbird (58), eastern meadowlark (2), purple finch (2), pine siskin (12), Egyptian goose (1). Total: 18,411 individuals of 79 species (not including the silly goose).
- Rich Guthrie

12/14 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: Two immature bald eagles showed up together in the early afternoon and perched on opposite sides of Esopus Creek. One flew down from its perch and stood for awhile on the frozen surface of the creek, going after something in the ice with its dark beak. A crow strutted from the shoreline past the eagle, like a curious passerby vaguely interested in what the eagle was doing.
- Patrick Landewe

12/14 - Nutten Hook to Greenport Conservation Area, Columbia County, HRM 124-120: The Stottburg Christmas Bird Count began at 5:30 AM with a bright moon and cold crisp air as we trudged through the snow. In the distance the Catskill's white caps shone brightly and shooting stars rained periodically. As David Diaz called owls in all directions we perked our ears in anticipation. Three eastern screech owls and a great horned owl readily responded to screech owl calls. There was no response to the saw-whet, and an eerily close howl from a coyote returned a barred owl call. An hour or so later, as the sun's first rays peered over the eastern horizon, the glowing ochre moon was just as beautiful as any sunset.

We continued our count, Greenport Conservation Area to Nutten Hook, including town roads and farm fields to the east. We had a total of 47 species. Notables included 4 northern harriers, one a "gray ghost," (male harrier), 7 bald eagles (6 around Stockport Middle Flats), hundreds of American robins migrating in streams across the sky, 40 snow geese, 270 canvasbacks, 45 horned larks, 8 snow buntings, 8 eastern bluebirds, 2 American pipits, a kestrel, and an adult Iceland gull on the Hudson.
- Michael Morris

12/14 - Mid Hudson Valley: Record low temperatures were recorded overnight: -5°F in the Town of Poughkeepsie (HRM 68), breaking the old record of -2°F, and -9°F at Newburgh (HRM 61), breaking the old record of -6°F.
- National Weather Service

12/14 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35.5: On the south side of Hessian Hill overlooking Haverstraw Bay we were pleasantly surprised by the sighting of a pileated woodpecker ripping apart some vines on a dead locust. While we have often heard them, in recent years their visual appearance has been rare. They are magnificently large and their amazing fan-like motion and wing markings when in flight brings to mind the recent footage of the once thought to be extinct ivory-billed woodpecker.
- Scott Horecky, Kathy Sutherland

12/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: With temperatures in the low single digits, and a stiff north breeze, the local waterfowl have gone into their deep freeze mode. Generally they stay well away from the train station commuter parking lot and launch ramp, but this morning they were all crowded against the shore, only a few feet from my truck. Some of the coot were walking around the parking area, picking grit. And what was this? The first killdeer I had seen here for more than two months, hunkered down amidst the big guys. Where did you come from?
- Christopher Letts

12/14 - Outwater Place, Carlstadt, Hackensack Meadowlands, Bergen County, NJ: Several red-winged blackbirds were feeding on the large "reed scale" insects (Chaetococcus phragmitis) under the leaf sheaths of the 2005 Phragmites stalks. I have seen black-capped chickadees many times (and at least once a Carolina chickadee) harvesting these insects, which are very common in the northeastern states. Reed scales look like 3 millimeter diameter brown pancakes with no appendages, encased in a pinkish-white waxy material, under the leaf sheaths.
- Erik Kiviat

12/15 - Mid-Hudson Valley: It was another night of record-breaking cold in the Town of Poughkeepsie (HRM 68) where the air temperature fell to -4°F, breaking the old record of +3°F, and in Newburgh (HRM 61), which hit -6°F.
- National Weather Service

12/15 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: The full moon was setting over the hills to the west. Heavy mist was rising off the river, nearly obscuring the Orange County shoreline. It was cold testimony to the frigid air (-3°F). The Hudson was 35°F, a drop of four degrees in the last week. An adult bald eagle was sitting in a riverside cottonwood at Danskammer Point, just 100' from the new day perch. It may take awhile for the birds to trust the new structure.
- Tom Lake

The River's Words

The river speaks to me.
It moans and groans,
sighs and cries,
in sleep and wake
telling me
to be free and frolic.
- Arturo Flores, Vails Gate Elementary

12/15 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: Moodna Creek was frozen over and the ice extended into the river, covering the expanse of Cornwall Bay. With the bay frozen, a pair of adult eagles that winter on the sunny side of Sloop Hill have been spending their days across the river at Dennings Point.
- Tom Lake

12/15 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: Puddled behind a 19th century mill dam, this impoundment is as big as a football field. On the spur of the moment I decided to make it the place of the first ice fishing foray this season. In a rush I gathered basic tackle and, without bothering to put ice fishing clothing on, made my way out onto the ice. I dropped the line and lure through the first hole. As I adjusted the lure up from the bottom, solid resistance - a log, on the first drop of the year, and daylight fading fast. But wait! As I pulled hard, the log moved, and I hoped I might save the lure - then the log moved off to the side and I realized it was a fish. It was strong, slow, and heavy, and it took more than 10 minutes before I could work it up close enough to see it in the murky waters. A carp, a big one, and a mirror carp at that. A beautiful fish, really, but this one was not going to be my dinner. It was not going to come through that auger hole, either. I guessed the weight at about 8 pounds. After five more minutes the head of the fish was in the hole. I gripped the little jig head, the fish surged, the hook straightened out, and we were both relieved. No golden fillets for dinner tonight. I took my story and went home to hot soup.
- Christopher Letts

[Mirror carp are a variety of the common carp. The difference is in the number of scales. Mirror carp, also called "half-scaled" carp, have many fewer scales, often in asymmetrical patches. Tom Lake]

12/17 - Mohonk Preserve, Ulster County, HRM 78: Conditions were too shallow for snowshoes and too icy for skis, but I decided to hike one of my favorites routes anyway. The trails past Duck Pond were quiet and still, except for the crunch of ice and snow betraying my approach. I imagined the northern water snakes I often see here sunning in the loosestrife stems, and wondered where they had hidden. White-breasted nuthatches seemed to explode from sunny breaks in the trees as they spiraled down the bark, their soft chirps in every direction. Black-capped chickadees abounded as well and a tufted titmouse lunched on tulip tree seeds. Near Mohonk Lake, two golden-crowned kinglets busily gleaned the hemlocks. While it is beautiful to have the ridge all to oneself, I didn't mind the company.
- Michael Morris

12/17 - Ulster County to Sullivan County: This year's pilgrimage to my family's holiday party took me through some of the most beautiful parts of the New York State. Down along the Shawangunks to Ellenville, it took discipline to limit the bird-watching and focus on driving. Many of the cornfields I passed were filled with Canada geese, and I wished I had the road to myself and time to scan the crowds for the errant snow goose. While hawk-watching through the Catskills I was shocked to spot a bald eagle. I'm used to seeing these great birds beside the Hudson. This one, perched in a tree along a little stream near Cooks Falls, seemed a bit out of place. Also, wherever the road cut through stone, I enjoyed the frozen waterfalls of ice cascading down. When I drove this same path a month ago, I saw several deer. This time they remained hidden, avoiding the cold and hunters. Finally, I passed beyond the Hudson's territory into the Delaware Bay watershed and finished my journey with an overall hawk count of 5, nothing compared to 13 spotted earlier in the week along the Thruway between New Paltz and Albany.
- Melissa Heneman

12/17 - Westchester County, HRM 46-34: The Peekskill Christmas Bird Count was conducted today. The count covers the area extending from the Hudson River at Croton Point north to the Bear Mountain Bridge, and east to the Taconic and Saw Mill River Parkways. The total count was 91 species, having broken the 90 mark for the second consecutive year (in 2004 we achieved a record high count of 96 species).

Highlights of the count include the following: snow goose (2), greater scaup (217), ruddy duck (1,304), black vulture (33), bald eagle (30), northern goshawk (1), peregrine falcon (1), killdeer (1), American woodcock (1), Iceland gull (1), red-headed woodpecker (1), common raven (1), house wren (1), brown thrasher (1), American pipit (1), eastern meadowlark (1), purple finch (4), common redpoll (2).
- John Askildsen

12/17 - Yorktown, HRM 46: Traveling on Route 6, we spotted a very dark immature bald eagle flying overhead, as well as a very whitish immature and an adult feeding on a carcass on Lake Osceola.
- Marty McGuire, Ralph O'Dell

12/17 - Town of Minisink, Orange County, HRM 41: Liberty Marsh was quiet, frozen over. Northern harriers that were so much a presence for the last month seem to have left. With so much ice on the Wallkill River and surrounding marshes and ponds, large congregations of Canada geese and some snow geese had taken to snow-covered cornfields. A couple of fields were so filled with geese that flocks were circling overhead waiting for a vacancy.
- Tom Lake

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