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Hudson River Almanac December 18 - December 24, 2005

OVERVIEW

Wandering black bears and a thaw ushered in winter on the solstice. One of the joys of winter is watching bird behavior. Birds are the most evident of the valley's creatures at this time of year, filling farmers' fields, visiting feeders, plucking fish from the river, and exhibiting their skill at adapting to the season.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/18 - Croton Point, Hudson River Mile [HRM] 34.5: It was midday when I spotted a handsome adult bald eagle perched in a tree on Croton Point. I was able to read a blue band on its leg: T13.
- Louis Buscher Jr.

[T13 was born in a Hudson River nest in northern Dutchess County in 2001. It was the only fledgling from the nest that year. Now it is a new adult, looking for a mate. - Pete Nye]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/18 - Hillsdale, Columbia County, HRM 112: We found an insect on our doorjamb tonight, the second one in a week. We found the first one on December 12, and at that time neither one of us recognized it. In fact we couldn't immediately tell the order to which it belonged. We finally decided that this was a wingless moth. There are a couple of families of moths that include a few species with wingless females, but finding one in December seemed unreasonable. Use of the Internet, however, quickly told us that we had a specimen of winter moth (Operophtera brumata). This moth is in the family Geometridae which includes the "inch-worms." This species is a new European invader to North America. There was an outbreak of this moth in coastal Massachusetts in 2003 and they were seen in substantial numbers in Ithaca in 2004. Apparently this moth likes to snack on ornamental plants and fruit trees.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

12/18 - Ulster County, Gardiner, HRM 75: I wonder if other people are finding bear tracks on their property? We found what seemed to be bear tracks coming from a l00 acre forest near the Wallkill River, crossing our 14 acre field, and circling our house. The tracks then led back through the field. The strange thing is that it did not attack our bird feeders. To verify the tracks I sent photos to Matthew Merchant at NYSDEC. He confirmed that they were indeed bear tracks. He felt that it was odd of the bear not to attack the feeders but - since this is late for bears to be wandering about - perhaps it was denning and scared off by something, or on the verge of denning nearby and therefore not eating or drinking. Now, if only we could catch an actual glimpse of the animal!
- Anne Allbright Smith

12/18 - Orange County, Town of Minisink, HRM 42: It was 19°F at dawn. The shin-deep snow was crunchy as I re-walked some transects I flagged for archaeology yesterday, checking numbered pin-flags across acres of pastureland. I followed my trail up steep pitches and across snowy terraces. At about 800 feet another trail crossed mine: superimposed over my day-old bootprints were the broad tracks of a black bear. Sometime between nightfall and first light, the bear had come out of a treeline, traveled SSW for 150 yards, and then entered back into another treeline. It seemed late in the season for nocturnal wandering.
- Tom Lake

12/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A movement out my window caught my eye: gray landing on a branch 20' away. My first thought was "chickadee," but as my eyes focused, I saw the bird was larger than a chickadee, and silvery grey. It was a northern shrike. Something looked funny about its head, until I realized a chickadee was dangling limply from the shrike's beak - the smaller bird grasped by the scruff of its neck. The shrike fidgeted on the twig for 20 seconds, glancing about - the chickadee flopping lifelessly - and then took off, its lunch still firmly clasped in its beak. My heart goes out to the chickadee but shrikes have to eat, too. It would have been amazing to see this small raptorial bird catch its lunch.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/19 - Georges Island, HRM 39: The weather forecast was right on, partly sunny, brisk and cold, with winds west to northwest. Instead of a lunch break, I took a kayak break, nothing heroic, given the conditions, just a short jaunt around Georges Island. Around the southern tip, perched high in a tree near the water, was a solitary adult bald eagle checking out the food supply.
- Stephen Butterfuss

12/19 - Pine Island, Orange County, HRM 45: Pochuck Creek, a tributary of the Wallkill River, passes just west of Pine Island. The creek was frozen, as was the small wetland to the west. Standing in a serious snow squall, I swung my binoculars across the view and spotted a bird dipping, diving, canting its wings - a short-eared owl hunting the hummocks along the reed grass for small mammals.
- Tom Lake

12/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There have been few birds at any feeders in the Newcomb area in the last week or so. Ray Masters told me that they have had hardly any at the feeders at the SUNY Ecological Center, and that people in town were reporting few at their feeders. So it can't be that our shrike scared them all off. There have been many stories of shrike sightings in the Adirondack Park this winter.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/20 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: In the bright sun of late afternoon, four female common mergansers paddled around the open water at the mouth of Esopus Creek. A fifth one surfaced at the foot of the lighthouse dock with a small fish in her bill. She craned her neck back to swallow the fish lengthwise before rejoining the others.
- Patrick Landewe

12/20 - Mid-Hudson Valley, HRM 75-70: While there has been ice upriver for a while, the first of the floes has been drawn down to the Mid-Hudson reach by the ebb tide and seaward flow.
- Tom Lake

12/20 - Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn: Early morning found me driving into the office, largely on autopilot. A Cooper's hawk banked directly over my car's hood and rocketed into some nearby pines. Starlings scattered like sparks, and no hawk emerged from the other side. I walked into my office, stared at my bacon-and-eggs breakfast, and wondered whether - if I had to do all that before 8:00 AM - I would still be standing in two days' time.
- Dave Taft

Winter Solstice

12/21 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97: It has been a week since the ice first started forming on this reach of the river, a week before the formal start of winter. It seems early. Now we hear the clanking of ice against barges and its crinkling as it hits the shoreline.
- Peg Duke

12/21 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: In the acute angle of early morning winter solstice sunlight, a bustle of activity ensued where the waters of Esopus Creek meet the Hudson River, in direct view of the sitting room at the lighthouse. Two dozen common mergansers, a mix of males and females, dove repeatedly along the edge of the ice and came up, more often than not, with fish. Gulls tried to get in on the action, snatching after the mergansers' catch. Two juvenile eagles took turns swooping down on the mergansers, who plunged quickly under water to escape outstretched talons from above. Three black crows on a patch of floating ice pecked at the remnants of a fish left behind by a lucky gull.
- Patrick Landewe

12/21 - West Point, HRM 52.5: A frigid wind blew from the north as if to ring in the winter season. At 1:35 PM the moment of the solstice arrived. We had an adult bald eagle in our spotting scope, perched across World's End on Constitution Island. Another adult was nearby and we could hear a third around the corner, but it never made an appearance.
- Anthony Sedillo, Brandon Leyba, Belinda Sedillo, Tom Lake

12/22 - Fishkill, HRM 61: At midday on this relatively warm day (mid 40s), snow still covering the ground, I noticed some unusual chickadee behavior. Three black-capped chickadees were seen busily pecking at the seams of my vinyl barbecue-grill cover. I wondered if they were looking for nesting material to help line a nest box on these cold nights or were they simply feeding from residual cooking grease left on the cover. Later on, off in the nearby woods, I spotted some movement in the brush: an opossum trundling along on the snow-covered ground, getting an early start on its nightly rounds on this second day of winter.
- Ed Spaeth

12/22 - Crawbuckie, HRM 33.5: All manner of waterfowl were taking advantage of the low tide to forage in the shallows along the beach at Crawbuckie, on the edge of Croton Bay. We estimated that there were over 200 black ducks and a like number of canvasbacks just offshore. Between those two groups were a scattering of bufflehead, scaup, ruddy ducks, goldeneye, mallards, and mergansers. In a steady line along the beach, walking in soft rollers pushed by a westerly breeze, were dozens of coot, their chubby black bodies and ivory bills bobbing in the swash.
- Anthony Sedillo, Brandon Leyba, Belinda Sedillo

12/22 - Scarborough, HRM 32: We were so focused on waterfowl that we almost missed it: On an exposed rock a couple of hundred feet offshore an adult bald eagle appeared to be just finishing up a breakfast fish. As we passed, it spread its wings and did a body shake, like a golden retriever emerging from a swim, and then settled back on its perch in the sunlight.
- Anthony Sedillo, Brandon Leyba, Belinda Sedillo

12/22 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: A hike to an obscure area of the refuge with some volunteer and ranger friends was the perfect tonic for two weeks spent indoors with the budget. We climbed to a low rise I hadn't searched for almost four years, looking for a barn owl box we placed there some years ago. The clearing was now enclosed by jack pine and black cherry. With no sign of owls nearby, we opened the box and found a dead raccoon. A large one, probably an older animal, and only recently frozen. Removing the body, we hiked back to eat lunch in a sunny spot near the visitor station. While poking fun of each other's holiday commitments, we gradually became aware of an unannounced guest. A very young raccoon, walked past slowly, foraging as it went.
- Dave Taft

12/23 - Mt. Tremper, HRM 100: Route 212 follows the course of the Beaver Kill not far from where it joins with Esopus Creek in northwest Ulster County. Driving my daughter to school on this road this morning, we spotted a very large bird flying at an angle towards us. From a distance it seemed big enough to be a great blue heron, but the flight pattern wasn't right. It drew nearer and then flew directly overhead, the white head and tail of a bald eagle in clear view. Excitedly I turned to my 15 year-old, exclaiming "A bald eagle!" to which she nonchalantly replied that she sees them all the time. Whether this was typical teenager attitude or a sign of the bald eagle comeback is hard to say. I will always be excited by the sight of a bald eagle and, truthfully, my daughter was too, even if she didn't want to show it to mom. Later on a pileated woodpecker flew across the road, but it was anticlimactic to the eagle.
- Reba Wynn Laks

12/23 - China Pier, HRM 43: The view from this vantage never fails to impress: to the west is Dunderburg, southern gateway to the Hudson Highlands, stretching out to the north. Three miles upriver, Iona Island lies cradled between Bear Mountain and Anthony's Nose. In a month, when this reach of the river might be paved in ice, we may see dozens of bald eagles riding the floes. Today we had to be content with 31 double-crested cormorants, a full house, perched on the navigational marker at the entrance to Peekskill Bay.
- Anthony Sedillo, Brandon Leyba, Belinda Sedillo

12/24 - Dogan Point, HRM 39.5: Our wish was to see an eagle before Christmas. Although we had heard of some sightings already this season, we had not been successful. We made one last attempt this morning on our way home from some last minute shopping. The river was like glass, the sky a mixture of gray and blue and, sure enough, an adult bald eagle sat atop the highest tree on Dogan Point! It certainly made us happy to receive the gift we wanted for Christmas.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/25 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: This was a warm day after many cold ones. I took a late afternoon Christmas stroll along the West Pond Trail. Only a small section of the pond had defrosted and what little water was exposed was completely covered with coots. I counted 223 in an area about 50 by 50 feet. Snow geese lounged along the edge, and a few black ducks and Canada geese tried to force their way into the flock.
- Dave Taft

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