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Hudson River Almanac February 23 - March 1, 2004

OVERVIEW

Rumors of spring became fact this week. In many river reaches the ice broke up and floated away on the current. Even above tidewater, the ice was loosening its grip. Open leads attracted migrating waterfowl. Red-winged blackbirds appeared, singing in marshes along the Hudson. Maple sap was flowing. Our nesting eagles were getting serious. It is nearly time to put ice fishing gear and snowshoes away for another year.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/28 - Garrison, HRM 52: We had just enjoyed two hours around Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, watching bald eagle antics with 40 people during a public program, when - right after the last visitor left - an immature golden eagle flew east over the nature center.
- Eric Lind, Rich Anderson

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/25 - Town of Northumberland, HRM 200-205: While riding along West River Road (a five mile reach) I spotted an adult bald eagle in the big tree where I've seen it, on and off, all winter. The river was mostly open; it is only a matter of days before it is ice free from Fort Edward to Schuylerville. Over two hundred common goldeneyes were in the open water today.
- Charlie Maurer

2/25 - Astor Point, HRM 97: We have had good ice boating the past few days just north of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. A half dozen boats sailed in gusty conditions this morning. Commodore Bob Wills joined me aboard the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club's big old side-rail yacht, Whiff (1875), to explore the southern reaches of the ice sheet. Just below the bridge we ran onto some beautiful ice and pushed the boat along as fast as it would go. A bald eagle soared overhead as we raced southward on a stiff northeasterly breeze. A minute later we were skirting upheaved ice at the pressure crack off Clifton Point, looking for a safe crossing place. The ice flattened out near the eastern shore and we crossed without difficulty. Pressing on, we reached the ice sheet's end just south of the old Slate Dock in Rhinecliff, some five miles from our starting point. With nothing but dark blue water ahead, we lingered only a minute; all our instincts told us to retreat before being cast adrift. While working our way back we could see Reid Bielenberg off Cruger Island, sailing down from Cheviot, bringing his boat Vixen (1886) home to Red Hook for the off season. The coyotes and red foxes seen on the ice earlier in the year have not been observed for several weeks. - John Sperr

2/25 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Matt Merchant spotted a long-eared owl boldly perched in a roadside ash tree, even though large sheltering evergreens abound. When we got close, he would "stretch out," trying to look like a broken-off snag.
- Larry Biegel

2/25 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: A few days of mid 40s air temperatures, combined with a longer and stronger sun, had this reach of the river strewn with ice floes, slowly moving upriver on the flood current. Four eagles, three adults and one immature, perched and soared around Soap Hill across the river. A dozen drake goldeneyes were swimming and diving among the ice floes.
- Tom Lake

2/26 - New York State Thruway, HRM 78-145: During a trip from New Paltz to Albany we counted 16 red-tailed hawks, along with one rough-legged, a sharp-shinned, and two other hawks that - given the realities of piloting a car safely at 65 mph - went unidentified.
- Rebecca Johnson, Steve Stanne

2/26 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: They're back! Red-winged blackbirds, four days late but a real sign of spring! Also one raven, two robins, and three chipmunks.
- Bill Drakert

2/26 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Our canvasbacks were back today, only this time they brought a whole bunch of their friends. I counted 52 of them - 40 were drakes. Salinity at the Beczak Center was 6.5 ppt, and the water temperature was 36°F. We'll be seining with our students in no time!
- Niall Cytryn

2/26 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: I saw and heard my first red-winged blackbird today. Passing tugboats opened a slice of water in an arctic riverscape, and the outgoing tide enlarged it. It didn't take long - a few hours - until eight common mergansers dropped in. A few herring gulls landed on the ice and stood by. Mergansers like to fish in these leads, I imagine because the water is still very cold, and the fish they eat are still very lethargic - easy pickings. The gulls wait for a merganser to surface and then try to steal a meal, creating a bit of excitement as the birds try to outmaneuver each other. Usually the merganser wins. After a while, the mergansers started a bit of courtship display. I could hear the "grr-grr grook" grunting calls of the males as they showed off to the apparently totally disinterested females.
- Rich Guthrie

2/27 - Brandow Point, HRMM 117: Beckoned by the gorgeous light of the lengthening days and already nostalgic for the passing winter, Claudia the dog and I walked along the ice-covered shoreline after work today. A pair of red-tailed hawks that frequent the fields here moved from tree to tree ahead of us, complaining loudly all the way. The river was still ice-covered from shore to shore; the only open water was in the channel, chock full of ice chunks. The ice we walked upon had deep cracks; peering into these, I estimated the ice to be between two and three feet thick. Large chunks of ice that had been heaved up by incoming tides suggested a glacial landscape. At one spot, we noticed a dead vole recessed into the ice. The heat of the sun had warmed its dark fur, melting a hole around the body and lowering it into a hoary grave. An Amtrak train passed on the eastern shore and Claudia, an avowed car-chaser, watched it with great interest, calculating whether she could sprint across this river of ice and catch that speeding train.
- Liz LoGuidice

2/27 - Astor Point, HRM 97: The wind had held up all week. This morning it was so strong from the northeast that when the tide started to ebb, a huge sheet of ice, nearly three miles in length and the breadth of the river, from the Rhinecliff Bridge down to East Kingston, was set adrift. To the north, foot-thick ice still had enough tensile strength to hold fast against the piers of the bridge without buckling under the immense forces of wind and tide. A Coast Guard icebreaker was quickly on station at Kingston and began carving up the giant sheet into small pieces as it drifted into navigable water.
- John Sperr

2/27 - West Point, HRM 52: There was a great aerial show going on at the North Dock at midday. Three immature bald eagles were flying about; one tagging along with an adult that flew right over my head, filling the view of my binoculars. It was magnificent to see an eagle so close. The surprise of the day was seeing an owl (90% sure it was a snowy owl) perched on the south side of Constitution Island.
- Kaylee Seagraves, Jim Beemer

2/27 - Garrison, HRM 52: Male red-winged blackbirds showed up in Constitution Marsh Sanctuary today, a little later than usual. Yesterday a raft of ring-necked ducks was in South Cove.
- Rich Anderson

2/27 - China Pier, HRM 43: No ice on the river and no more free mass transit for the eagles. Nine of them, a mix of adults and juveniles, were soaring above Peekskill Bay.
- Tom Lake

2/28 - Germantown, HRM 109: On this warm Saturday you could feel spring in the air though the river still looked solidly frozen. As the sun was going down a Coast Guard cutter left the main channel and broke through the ice sheet, halting about halfway between shore and the channel just south of the boat launch in Lasher Park. Ten or so guys in Coast Guard snowsuits with bright orange vests climbed down a rope ladder to the ice and there played a rousing game of football - running up and down across the frozen river - often taking sliding nosedives. Their whooping, screaming, and hollering was the only sound except for the occasional groaning crack of river ice. We wanted to walk out to greet them, but were separated by 6 feet of iffy ice near shore and a lack of nerve. We yelled our hellos and waved back and forth. The boat, from Bayonne, New Jersey, had been keeping the channel open all the way to Albany. The crew reported that the ice was about 8 to 10 inches thick.
- Robin Raskin, Kaare Christian

2/29 - Astor Point, HRM 97: We removed the last iceboats from the ice this morning; by late afternoon, the crack at the edge of Astor Cove was six feet wide and growing. The ice will be gone in a day or two.
- John Sperr

3/1 - Stony Creek, HRM 231: We have no red-wings yet, but we can hear the changes in the mornings. During the winter we'll hear "coos," blue jays, chickadees, and nuthatches. But now we start to hear "chirps" and happier songs. We had a kill near the house. Massive pools of blood. My husband, Richard, tracked it and found deer hair. Whatever killed it was quiet and dragged the deer away, so I am assuming it had to be big. The river is still solid.
- Karen LaLone

[In severe winters, white-tail deer can be deprived of adequate forage by the snow and ice, and in a weakened state more readily fall victim to predators.]

3/1 - Ramshorn Creek, HRM 112.2: Red-wing blackbirds have arrived and are calling! From Dutchman's Landing a couple of miles upriver, I spotted an adult bald eagle on sentry duty at Rogers Island. After a while it began harassing ducks and geese in one of the open leads. In another, black ducks, mallards, common mergansers, Canada geese, herring, ring-billed and great black-backed gulls enjoyed the open water. Overhead several flocks of Canada geese, a small flock of snow geese, and nine northern pintails were all heading north.
- Larry Federman

3/1 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: This is one of the prettiest places on the river, at the northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands. There was considerable snow and ice on northeast-facing Crow's Nest and Storm King; the southwest-facing slopes of Mount Taurus and Breakneck were bare. The air temperature was a spring-like 62°F. There was a steady procession of crunching ice floes in the strong ebb tide, all talking at the same time. Out in the channel, the ice was rushing seaward; along the shore it was curling back north in an eddy current bouncing off Constitution Island. A dead slider (turtle) was in the winter's accumulation of flotsam at the high tide line. Its carapace measured 264 mm in length.
- Tom Lake

[The red-eared slider is a southern turtle that has been widely introduced through release of pets. This one was near the maximum size for the species, which the Audubon Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians cites as 289 mm carapace length. Average size is much less, 125-203 mm.]

3/1 - West Point, HRM 52: At midday we watched two immature bald eagles flying at different times with a very gutsy raven. It was not clear who was harassing whom - the antagonism seemed to be mutual. It was a spectacular show, with the raven displaying its great maneuverability and agility. A second raven kept after the eagles only if they got too close to one particular area - perhaps an indication of nest preparation. We also saw a rough-legged hawk perched toward the southwest end of Constitution Island.
- Kaylee Seagraves, Jim Beemer

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