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Hudson River Almanac February 9 - 16, 2004

OVERVIEW

Even with sub-zero wind-chills, the glow of extra daylight brings the promise of spring to the Hudson Valley. The eight bald eagle nests along Hudson tidewater will soon be busy places as breeding pairs ready for another season. The mainstem's ice cover is still impressive, and many of the tidal tributaries have up to 18 inches of ice. As temperatures gradually warm, the ice will start to break up. Its absence or presence in any one place will be controlled by winds and tidal currents, especially in the lower 75 miles of the estuary. Harbor seals are appearing in the estuary, which can only mean that the spring run of river herring is not very far off (six weeks; the seals have a lot of patience).

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/9 - Englewood, HRM 13: While filming some bald eagle footage for CBS News at the base of the Palisades, we spotted a small, narrow ice floe heading upriver in the flood current a short distance offshore. Hauled out on the forward end was a harbor seal and perched not far away at the aft end was an adult bald eagle.
- Jack Renaud, Eric Teed

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/9 - Englewood, HRM 13: While filming some bald eagle footage for CBS News at the base of the Palisades, we spotted a small, narrow ice floe heading upriver in the flood current a short distance offshore. Hauled out on the forward end was a harbor seal and perched not far away at the aft end was an adult bald eagle.
- Jack Renaud, Eric Teed

2/10 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: We saw two snow buntings along Farmstead Lane at DEC's Stony Kill Farm. We thought it was unusual to see only two; local birders have been seeing them in larger groups this winter.
- Carolyn Plage, Mary Ann Bahnsen

2/11 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The eagles have been busy with spring renovations. At 6:50 AM they were perched, side-by-side, at the tippy top of a dead hemlock. The male has been snapping off dead branches to refurbish the nest every morning. At times both birds are in the nest; it will not be long before the female is incubating eggs. (In 2003 she was incubating her single egg by about March 1.)
- via Tom Lake

[A bald eagle commonly lands on a branch and then jumps up and down and sways back and forth, perhaps testing its tensile strength. It then falls forward kamikaze fashion, talons clutching the limb, and breaks it off to carry back to the nest.]

2/12 - Saugerties, HRM 102: As the keeper for the Saugerties Lighthouse, I have a great opportunity to watch the river. In mid-afternoon I spotted two red foxes out on the ice directly across from the lighthouse. They were very vocal and played in the bright afternoon sun as they explored a mile and a half of the river's barge channel from Clermont south to near Tivoli. Two adult bald eagles looked on from a nearby tree. The whole scene lasted over an hour.
- Allen Emersonn

2/12 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 46.5: For the second day in a row, more than twenty five wild turkeys worked their way across the ballfield next to Brooks Lake in Fort Montgomery. I don't know if I'll ever get over their abundance. When growing up in a birding family in the area, I was well aware that there were no wild turkeys around. Now my kids don't even give them a second look.
- Scott Craven

2/12 - Peekskill Bay to Stony Point, HRM 43.5 - 40: The morning ebb had drawn plenty of ice downriver. Peekskill Bay was covered with floes, many the size of a dining room table. Each one seemed to carry an eagle. I counted 29 birds, most feeding on fish or waterfowl. At Tompkins Cove there were six more eagles, and a raft of 30 canvasbacks crowded close along the shore. By the time I completed my count at Stony Point, I had seen 55 bald eagles along four miles of river. No fewer than 30 were adults.
- Tom Lake

2/12 - George's Island, HRM 39: In late afternoon, with binoculars in hand, we were greeted by a gentleman who asked, "Have you come to see the crazy birds?" We had heard tales of "eagle romance in the sky" but WOW, seeing it was a sight we will not soon forget. We watched up to three pairs flying above Dogan Point, "sky dancing." The first time we saw the their feet heading upward we think we shrieked. For subsequent cartwheels and flips it was "WOW!" To top off this aerial show there was a beautiful sunset.
- Carolyn Plage, Mary Ann Bahnsen

2/13 - Ice Meadows, HRM 245: The frazil ice of the upper Hudson is very impressive. A thin ribbon of river can be seen snaking through the Ice Meadows south of The Glen, a few miles above Warrensburg. With this winter's cold weather the ice may get to be 15 feet thick.
- Mike Corey

[Frazil ice first forms as tiny round crystals - after nucleating in some way that has long been a puzzle to scientists - throughout the river in cold weather. Turbulent super-cooled (slightly below 32°F) water tumbles the crystals around, making them grow until they float at the surface in loose agglomerations. It looks like floating snow. If frazil touches something underwater, a deadfall or a rock, it sticks. It builds from the sides and from the middle of the river and can eventually form dams, as is the case at the Ice Meadows where the ice can grow to near glacial proportions. Cobbles and gravels at the bottom can be popped to the surface when the ice becomes buoyant enough. This process adds to the other river dynamics that are constantly moving sand, silt, gravel, and cobbles along the riverbed.
- Evelyn Greene]

2/14 - Town of Ashokan, HRM 91: It was a beautiful late winter's day as we walked the dike at Ashokan Reservoir. The opening between the upper and lower basins has grown a lot since my last visit. There were common mergansers, black and ring-neck ducks, and various gulls in the open water. In the air an adult bald eagle made a fly-by. There was a raven and some crows, always present, very vocal. Tufted titmice have started to sing. Perhaps spring will come after all.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

2/15 - China Pier, HRM 43: It takes a lot of intimidation to make cormorants move. Amid the ice and a blustery northwest wind, the light tower in Peekskill Bay had a full house of cormorants, mostly double-crested with a few great cormorants mixed in. The wind-chill was well below zero and we were losing the feeling in our faces. With a whoosh 40 cormorants took off in unison, circled the tower, and moved off to the east with a tail wind. A hundred feet overhead, an immature bald eagle was spiraling down, closer and closer. The anxiety had been just too much for them.
- Jack Renaud, Eric Teed, Tom Lake

2/15 - Senasqua, HRM 36: It is not common to spot seals in the Hudson estuary. However, there was no mistaking this harbor seal, hauled out on the edge of the ice just a hundred feet offshore, taking in the late afternoon sun.
- Tom Lake, Nicholai David, Justin Cumberbatch

2/15 - Croton River, HRM 34: Even though we've seen this happen many times before, it never ceases to impress: Twenty Canada geese in a sharply defined V were flying north across the mouth of the Croton River. An immature bald eagle was flying south, on a collision course. The eagle never wavered and the geese seemed to not notice until they were almost nose-to-nose. When they did notice there was serious backpedaling, banking, and wheeling, and the V opened like a zipper for the eagle to pass through.
- Andra Sramek, Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson, Bob Rancan, Jack Renaud, Eric Teed, Tom Lake

2/16 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: The Great Backyard Bird Count kept us looking out the window all weekend. The only surprise was a light phase rough-legged hawk that flew by yesterday and today. We rarely see this winter visitor and, having spotted one earlier, I wonder if others have seen this striking raptor this winter?
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

[The Hudson River Almanac has received six other reports of rough-legged hawks this winter, from Columbia to Orange Counties.]

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