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Hudson River Almanac December 24 - December 31, 2005


In many areas of the watershed we have "safe" ice, a term that is often correlated to thickness rather than strength. Early season ice, though often somewhat thin, is usually the strongest. Three inches of hard ice can carry a skater. Late winter ice, even 6" or more, that would normally support a group of hikers, might be rotting away in the warm days and increased sunlight of March. If we have a usual winter, tidal tributaries like Catskill and Esopus Creek will freeze and provide ice skating, ice fishing, and long, peaceful walks on frozen tidewater.

Highlight Of The Week

12/31 - Town of Minisink, Orange County, HRM 41: Less than 200' below the terrace on which we worked is a small unnamed stream that meets the Wallkill River a mile to the southeast. This would have been a nice place for a prehistoric hunting camp. We found a small spear point, chipped from local gray chert, a type called Lamoka named after the type site near the Finger Lakes. The 4,000 year-old stone tool was so perfectly made, we could almost feel the hand-warmth of the maker.
- Tom Lake, Leah Redding, Beth Selig

Natural History Notes

12/24 - Danskammer-Roseton, HRM 66.5-65.4: I was on the grounds of the Roseton and Danskammer electrical generating plants when I spotted an adult bald eagle perched in a tree near the water intake for Roseton. An another eagle, an immature, perched in a tree along the river a few hundred yards away near the Danskammer water intake.
- Chris Kuhlow

12/24 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: While walking the loop around Little Stony Point I came across 5 white-breasted nuthatches, 2 male cardinals, a red-bellied woodpecker eating hackberries, a downy woodpecker, a cedar waxwing feeding on berries, 20 juncos feeding in some waist-high bushes, 4 tufted titmice, 5 black-capped chickadees, 3 crows, and 2 blue jays.
- Chris Kuhlow

12/24 - Croton River, HRM 34: There is interest and appreciation from the The Boyz-at-the-Bridge for the errant killdeer's out-of-season appearance. Gino Garner: "That little guy's still running around!" Midgie Taube: "I never saw one of those here this late in the year." Two snow geese were mixed with the Canadas on Croton Point the past three days, another out of the ordinary treat.
- Christopher Letts

12/25 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 43: The air temperature was in the single digits when I walked onto the ice before sunrise, and the crashing and booming of the thickening ice was cacophonous. It did not seem to disturb the fish, and by the time the sun had cleared the treetops I had caught all I needed. The ice boomed, dozens of black and turkey vultures spiraled up from night roosts, and I felt as though I could be walking out of a performance of the 1812 Overture.
- Christopher Letts

[One of the most unsettling sounds to someone who is doesn't spend time on frozen ponds is the loud boom and fracture of the ice. It is often taken as a sign of unsafe conditions; the reverse is actually true. As water freezes, its volume increases, pushing outward and upward, causing the ice to sigh, moan, and boom. Jagged cracks will frequently snake across the ice as two plates expand and shear. These are called expansion cracks, and are a welcome sign to veterans on the ice. However, anglers and ice skaters alike will always remember the first time one passed between their legs at 40 mph. No measure of assurance could dull the apprehension that you were about to fall through. -Tom Lake]

The Hudson River is like
Snowballs frozen into a
Big bowl of cold water.
The sound I hear is the river cracking
Because the sun is shining.
It wants to be water again
So the river can flow forth.
- Michael Sanchez, Vails Gate Elementary

12/26 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I had been seeing 3 adults and 2 immature bald eagles. This morning an adult perched on a small tree at the end of the remains of the old deep water dock. He seems to like this spot on foggy days, and stayed there for a few hours.
- Barbara Nuzzi

12/26 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Rain was lightly falling at 8:30 AM. Much of the snow blanketing the ground had disappeared. Yet, in the remaining cover of snow, one could see the vast network of trails constructed clandestinely these past several weeks by the meadow voles or mice. A Carolina wren was still at our feeders. It has been visiting since late November. Meanwhile, five wild turkeys were now meandering through the nearby woods.
- Ed Spaeth

12/26 - Town of Goshen, Orange County, HRM 49: I was at the edge of a terrace 100' over Irish Ditch, a small tributary stream of Quaker Creek in the Wallkill River drainage that may have been a bit larger in antiquity. The rain had melted the snow off a prehistoric site, a small camp with hearthstones, a couple of small hammerstones, some fire-treated rock, a broken chopper made of beautiful green chert, and two net sinkers. It was probably a 3,000 year old Indian fish camp. The day was windy and cold, and the ground muddy beyond belief.
- Tom Lake

12/26 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: After my walk yesterday, I was surprised to note how much more open water there was at the West Pond of the refuge. Ducks in full breeding regalia were everywhere this morning, including two of my favorite species. I surprised 7 pintails (6 drakes and a hen) along the south edge of the pond. They swam quickly off to deeper water, passing a pair of hooded mergansers, male and female. Hundreds of snow geese called to each other from the air and from the water as a juvenile harrier hunted the grassy stretches of the pond trail. Even at that hour, the air was strangely warm, and the smell of the thawing salt marsh permeated everything.
- Dave Taft

12/27 - Cheviot, HRM 106: Five tundra swans have been staying around the Cheviot area for the last two weeks.
- Barbara Nuzzi

[This is very unusual behavior for migrating tundra swans. As of New Year's Day, they were still hanging around, but by January 5, they were gone. Audubon experts Larry Federman and Eric Lind wonder if they might have been immature mute swans; they can resemble tundra swans.]

12/27 - Town of Minisink, Orange County, HRM 41: Liberty Marsh remained solidly frozen. Two female harriers coursed the hummocks in their dipsy-doodle flight and in catching the sun's rays were lit up like lanterns. One caught a tiny wriggling quadruped far off in one corner of the marsh and immediately found a branch on a nearby hardwood to perch and feast. The goose exodus continued: six more impressive flights of Canadas today. This gives you an appreciation of the enormity of the population. They began in September, and three months later they continue.
- Tom Lake

12/28 - Town of Minisink, Orange County, HRM 41: In just two hours early this morning six more flocks of Canada geese passed by. Since I was looking at the ground, I may have missed some whose call did not carry to me on the wind. One fabulous V was white with snow geese.
- Tom Lake

12/29 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Our white Christmas disappeared with 0.85" of rain. The fog obscured the river view. Although I could hear ducks and geese out on the water, and even a bald eagle back in a stand of white pines, I could see nothing.
- Tom Lake

12/30 - Town of Minisink, Orange County, HRM 41: While I realize that some of these geese are simply moving from uplands to open water, there were still 14 flocks of Canada geese before noon. Two more were comprised of snow geese.
- Tom Lake

12/31 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 43: I went out on the ice in a patter a rain, a smother of fog, hydroplaning through the skim of water atop the slicked ice. Getting on was touchy; getting off the ice in a couple of hours would be touchier still, but I could read the handwriting. Warmer than usual temperatures and a full day of rain would put an end to safe ice for a good long time, and I wanted to fish. Except for the weather, it turned out to be one of those memorable mornings. Bluebirds called, robins and cedar waxwings passed overhead, and an immature eagle swept across the far end of the lake at treetop height. The resident pileated woodpeckers were calling and courting, and a pair of black vultures looked as though they were in the first phases of love. The fish bit willingly, and just as the first trickles of rain worked through to my skin, I decided I had all that I could use, all that I wanted to clean. I knew as I left the ice that it was the last ice fishing of the year. I hoped it would not be the last of the season.
- Christopher Letts

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