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Hudson River Almanac February 17 - 23, 2004

OVERVIEW

The sun's higher angle, increased daylight, and a week of milder temperatures seem to have loosened winter's grip on the river. The ice has broken up in many places, turning frozen river into floes moving in the current. The U.S. Geological Survey's gages on the lower estuary have tracked a small but steady increase in water temperatures since early February: up about 3 degrees F at Hastings-on-Hudson, a degree or so at West Point. At Albany, though, water temperature remains at the freezing point, and further north, up into the High Peaks, it will take many more than just a few days to begin the transition to spring.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/19 - West Point, HRM 51.5:. Today I brought along my "wildlife attractor," Kaylee Seagraves, another West Point employee. Whenever Kaylee joins me on a wildlife observation journey, all sorts of creatures make appearances. On the intramural athletic field we spotted a dozen Canada geese, one of which had an aluminum U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band on its right leg and a red plastic band (C91) on its left leg. At the U.S. Military Academy's South Dock, while looking at gulls out on ice floes, Kaylee spotted a number of large dark birds on the ice near Garrison: 23 bald eagles, two-thirds adults, one third immatures. Four other eagles (three adults, one immature) were also seen soaring downriver near Con Hook.
- James Beemer, Kaylee Seagraves.

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/19 - Town of Northumberland, HRM 200: My wife and I went down to the river to see if we could find any bald eagles. We had been told that several had been sighted. Right at dusk we spotted one across the river; the white head was clearly visible. It seems to pick the highest tree in the area for its perch. This was the same tree where we observed a pair of eagles two months ago. There is much more open water here now than there was two weeks ago.
- Charlie Maurer, Patty Maurer

2/19 - West Point, HRM 51.5:. Today I brought along my "wildlife attractor," Kaylee Seagraves, another West Point employee. Whenever Kaylee joins me on a wildlife observation journey, all sorts of creatures make appearances. On the intramural athletic field we spotted a dozen Canada geese, one of which had an aluminum U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band on its right leg and a red plastic band (C91) on its left leg. At the U.S. Military Academy's South Dock, while looking at gulls out on ice floes, Kaylee spotted a number of large dark birds on the ice near Garrison: 23 bald eagles, two-thirds adults, one third immatures. Four other eagles (three adults, one immature) were also seen soaring downriver near Con Hook.
- James Beemer, Kaylee Seagraves.

2/19 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: Love was in the air at the Chelsea waterfront! We watched as two adult bald eagles put on a great display of "flirting" in the sky. They circled and flew extremely close to each other, twisting and turning, appearing to be only inches apart.
- Kerri Brady, Melissa Gray

2/20 - Ulster/Orange County Line, HRM 69: Driving the New York State Thruway, I saw four black vultures circling not far overhead. Passing underneath them, I caught a glimpse of white on the wing tips. Business is always good on the Thruway.
- Reba W. Laks

[The black vulture is less common in the Hudson Valley than the turkey vulture, but has been extending its range northward in recent years.]

2/20 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: Can spring be far away? A male bluebird was perched on one of the nest boxes this morning, checking out some of the prime real estate here at Stony Kill Farm. The female was close by.
- Kerri Brady, Chris O'Sullivan

2/21 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: For three hours we had 75 people at our bald eagle watch. The river was frozen bank-to-bank except for a narrow strip in the channel where the ice was chunked up in loose floes. Perched in a pine on Esopus Island was an adult eagle that many people were calling "albino." It had a white head and tail, but also had broad white streaks on its back. This was probably a new adult. Nearby in another white pine was a lone raven. At 9:45 A.M. John Ike noticed a dark animal leaving the western shoreline and rambling out onto the ice: a river otter with its unmistakable "galloping gait." It came out to the edge of the ice at the channel, and then worked its way downriver for several hundred yards, visiting spots where eagles had been feeding and looking for leftovers. After a half hour it disappeared. We wondered if it went fishing. A Moran tug came upriver pushing a big red barge, the Maria T, that broke through the ice in the channel with a sound like cannons booming.
- Linda Brandt, Christine Papele, Barbara Michelin, Lori McKean, Tom Lake

[The new adult eagle was in what birders refer to as an "eclipse plumage" that occurs when a bird is molting - in this case, making the transition from immature to adult plumage.]

2/22 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: The sun was out and the wind must have been good, because an ice boat was cavorting back and forth across the river just north of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge.
- Peter Relson

2/22 - Anthony's Nose, HRM 45.5: We stopped at the Route 6/202 overlook above Iona Island, hoping to see a bald eagle fly by. An adult did appear briefly. Looking south, I noticed a different bird coming towards us - a peregrine falcon. As we watched, a second peregrine come over the ridge from the north. The two met talon-to-talon right over our heads and put on an aerial display before disappearing over the ridge.
- Barbara Michelin, Bill Case

2/23 - Pine Plains, HRM 96: Most birders go to the Thompson Pond area this time of the year to see the wintering golden eagles on Stissing Mountain. My goal was to view a rarely seen Dutchess County visitor, a northern saw whet owl. The bird was spotted over a week ago by members of the Waterman Bird Club and has been quite "faithful" to its particular favorite hemlock tree. It was there again today. Due perhaps to the wind, it was huddled a bit closer to the trunk of the tree than on previous visits. Though mostly sleeping, the owl did stir enough to lift one leg, stretch one of its wings, and look around with bright yellow eyes. It preened a little bit, and then settled back to its resting position.
- Peter Relson

2/23 - Breakneck Brook, HRM 55.5: Breakneck Brook tumbles down from a swale 600 feet up between Mount Taurus and Breakneck Ridge in the Hudson Highlands. The ice and snow on the trail increased the higher I went along the brook. There used to be a few refugia along the trail, places where you could take a break from a hard winter hike and listen to snowflakes on hemlock boughs. Now there are only bare branches. The hemlock woolly adelgid has taken its toll. I had almost forgotten just how peaceful it is up there. As I stood in the lee of the two mountains, the warm sun on my face, the only sounds I could hear were the brook, a raven, a pileated woodpecker, and three red-tailed hawks overhead - kiirrrrrrrr - against a sky so blue it hurt my eyes.
- Tom Lake

[Hemlock woolly adelgid is an insect of Asian origin that has killed many stands of eastern hemlock along the tidal Hudson and its tributaries since first being found in Westchester County in 1987. Latitude and elevation seem to be limiting factors to the adelgid's distribution in the Hudson Valley.]

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