Hudson River Almanac February 8 - February 14, 2005
You can almost set your calendar by it: it's mid-February when bald eagles start performing aerial courtship ballets as part of their mating rituals. In a couple of weeks, they will be incubating eggs. Maple sap is flowing, harbor seals are looking for the spring herring run, and eagles are courting - it's the start of spring.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM RECENT WEEKS
2/4 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: As I checked passing ice floes from the cab of my truck, a female harrier went into a steep dive that ended just out of sight, at the seawall 50 yards away. Seconds later the harrier rose, carrying what looked like a rat. An adult bald eagle was on it in an instant, circling and rising as the harrier took evasive action. I've watched harriers out-fly everything but falcons, but this bird was hard-pressed to keep its groceries. The chase went on for several minutes until the harrier finally zoomed off through the trees. You have to wonder if the eagle really wanted that piece of meat, or if it just likes to break things. I'd guess that there would have been a net calorie loss even if the eagle had won the prize. It was just something to spice up the day, hone the skills.
- Christopher Letts
2/5 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: A neighbor spotted a young seal that had hauled out on an ice floe inside our marina at the 79th Street Boat Basin. He roused a bunch of us and we all went down the dock to see if it was hurt. It looked fine - there was steam rising from its body and it was lying on its side with its eyes closed. It had some white on its face, with brown and black flecks on its body. Every once in a while it would open its eyes and wave its right front flipper. It also rubbed its back flippers against each other. It stayed on the floe until 10pm when it slid off and was seen swimming north up the Hudson. The boat people at the marina were so thrilled to see such a beautiful animal.
- Leslie Day
Kimberly Durham, rescue program director and biologist of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, identified it as a juvenile harp seal from a photo provided by Leslie Day. It is not an uncommon reaction to see a seal out of water and wonder if it is injured. Seals on ice floes often look "in distress." That's just their resting posture. If you do spot a marine mammal that is genuinely in need of assistance, you can call the Riverhead Foundation's 24-Hour Stranding Hotline: 631-369-9829. Tom Lake
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
2/8 - Bear Mountain Bridge, HRM 46: From the Metro North commuter train heading to Manhattan, we spotted five bald eagles in a circle on an ice floe just below the Bear Mountain Bridge. They looked like a gathering of medieval monks - their feathered exteriors resembling frayed robes.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner
2/8 - Nyack, HRM 29: While looking for eagles on the few ice floes left in the Tappan Zee, I spotted a harbor seal lounging on a small block of ice floating north off Nyack. Looking through a spotting scope, the seal appeared to be about 6' long. The passing Coast Guard buoy tender Katherine Walker didn't faze it, nor did a couple of tugs pushing oil barges. A half hour later, at the turn of the tide, it was gone.
- Doug Maass
2/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Our property, which ends at Wappinger Creek, has always afforded us a wide assortment of wildlife to watch and enjoy. Last week a pair of red foxes ran across the backyard. At the same time, three white-tailed deer and our resident flock of 40 wild turkeys pecked, pawed and scratched through the snow in search of food. I'm sure the bounty of bird feeders we have hung throughout the yard helps attract these critters.
- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart
2/9 - Westchester Shoreline, HRM 45-34: An amazing day. The river was a mirror, the air was warm and still. Floe ice was everywhere, mirrored in the water, seeming to hang in the misty air. As we have learned to expect, where there is floe ice, eagles will be riding it. In less than and hour and with no real effort, I logged 108 birds over 10 miles of shoreline, a new high count for me.
- Christopher Letts
2/9 - China Pier 43: We spotted at least 30 eagles riding the ice floes from China Pier. One odd sighting was an immature perched atop a channel marker regurgitating whatever it had eaten. Another immature made pass after pass at a great cormorant that had a good size fish it was trying to swallow. Each time the eagle dove at the cormorant, it would dive. After five tries, the cormorant eventually came up with no fish in its bill, having either eaten it or dropped in desperation.
- David Baker
2/9 - Ossining, HRM 33: The Ossining police received a phone call from a tower guard at Sing Sing prison about a seal on the ice that might be in distress. We arrived and got a good look at it. It was fine, just hanging out on the ice as it drifted down the river.
- Scott Craven
2/10 - Minerva, HRM 284: We had 10" of snow in the Adirondack's Essex County. School was canceled ...
- Mike Corey
2/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: ... while 217 miles south in the Hudson Valley, we had 0.60" of rain.
- Tom Lake
2/10 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: A short peninsula extends into Wappinger tidewater and at the very tip is a newly constructed beaver lodge. The creek is frozen over except for one small open lead that allows the occupants to emerge. Ozzie Chucelo saw one the other day ambling across the sandbar at low tide. "It was as big as a black bear!" That conjured up thoughts of the huge giant beaver that we once had in the watershed until about 9,500 years ago. They could be 5' long and weigh 350 pounds. Palaeontologists frequently describe them as having been "the size of a black bear."
- Tom Lake, Dick Lahey
2/10 - Rockland County, HRM 33: I was walking along the river behind Rockland Lake, heading north toward Haverstraw, when I had a premonition, the sense that something was about to happen. I noticed a Coast Guard cutter heading downstream and laughed - my premonition must have been the low rumble of its diesel. Whereupon, an adult bald eagle wheeled right overhead, crossed the river and hung over Sing Sing, the gold of sunset catching its wings, as if it were a sign.
- Dan Wolff
2/11 - The Ice Meadows, HRM 245: The frazil ice is looking solid, about 6' thick. The two weeks of mostly sub-zero weather at night really made the difference. Mike Corey
2/11 - West Point, HRM 52: In mid-morning a spotted immature bald eagle was sitting on ice floating up river past Constitution Island. It spread its wings a few times and I really got to see the white spots on his chest and stomach. It bobbed its head into the water a few times and switched position on the ice. I watched the bird for ten minutes before it flew up into a nearby tree. It appeared to have caught something. It was mantling in the tree with its back to the river.
- Kaylee M. Seagraves
2/11 - West Point, HRM 52: I received a call that a large, unidentified object was floating upriver heading past World's End, the river's deepest point at over 200'. The tide was heading upriver at full force and the flotsam was immediately apparent 500 feet off shore surrounded by a huge ice pack. Looking through binoculars, I could tell what it was: some homeowner wanted to increase the size of their yard next to the river. This was a board and plywood-constructed dirt container that had grass and flowers planted in it. When winter came, ice, with the pressure of the river's current behind it, easily snapped the timbers and sent it floating on its way. Then I heard croaking noises and looked up to see a raven pair fly from Constitution Island westward across the river toward Crow's Nest. Six eagles were spotted just minutes later soaring above the river. Two more, both immatures, were seen sparring in a tight pattern. One was chasing the other sparring with its talons - the fleeing bird would roll over and defend with its own.
- James Beemer
2/11 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: This morning I watched a red-tailed hawk hover over the landfill, and then stoop. The hawk rose with a chunky rodent in its talons - a vole? I was trying to get a good look at the prey as the hawk circled up, when suddenly there were two birds in view - the second an adult bald eagle in very hot pursuit. The redtail barely made it into the woods 100 yards down the road and the eagle broke off the pursuit. Three more seconds would have seen a different ending, I am sure. Watching eagles rob ospreys and other water birds is not uncommon, but these raids on landlubberly raptors? Something new for me.
- Christopher Letts
2/12 - Dutchess County, Town of Wappinger: I was taking a walk when I head a blood-curdling "gobble, gobble" overhead, looked up, and saw an adult bald eagle flying, laboring, over the road carrying a wild turkey. It disappeared into the woods.
- Eileen Chadwick
2/12 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: It usually happens by mid-February, adult pairs perching a bit closer and beginning their aerial courtship displays as a prelude to mating. This pair was a half-mile to the south, but even at that distance we could their white heads as they performed wing touches and talon grabs hundreds of feet above the water.
- Tom Lake
2/12 - China Pier, HRM 43: When our group of three dozen arrived, there were 12 bald eagles in immediate view, plus four more on an ice floe a mile upriver at the southern gateway to the Hudson Highlands. Bearing down on them was a tug headed upriver past Dunderberg hauling eight empty traprock barges. Within 200' the birds took off and the tug bisected the ice floe. With the naked eye we thought we saw a common loon just offshore. But with the spotting scopes we recognized a double-crested cormorant struggling with a small catfish in its bill.
- Eileen Goren, Cynthia Hodes, David Hodes, Lois Erlacher, Tom Lake, Andra Sramek
2/13 - Stony Creek, HRM 231: My golden retriever, Molly, was misbehaving as my husband Rich was doing the firewood so I called her over. She bounded over happily and I told her to sit and stay. I looked up to the beautiful clear blue sky and what wonder did my eyes behold? A bald eagle flying overhead. Not just one, not even two, but four - two adults and two immatures. What a glorious sight!
- Karen LaLone
2/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 66-67: There have been several reports by birders of a snowy owl perched in hardwoods near the river. However, the bird was proving to be very elusive; we have tried but failed to find it.
- Dick Lahey, Tom Lake
2/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: This morning at there were two long-eared owls here, one near the buildings at the west side of the landfill and one in the pines on the road leading to the nature center. On that same road was a sharp-shinned hawk perched in a tree. It soared up into a higher perch and finally took off. It was a great morning!
- Bill Kress
2/13 - Hudson River Valley: While it is easy to see where bald eagles spend the day, riding ice floes on the Hudson, where do they go at night? We conducted an exhaustive investigation of night roosts at five locations away from the river. Our count was 148 eagles. One night roost held 81 birds.
- Ed McGowan
2/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34: While riding the Metro North commuter train to Manhattan for the Chinese New Year festivities, I saw several common goldeneyes, a pair of buffleheads, two mute swans, lots of gulls of several species, one red-tailed hawk and a pair of mallards. Most of these were near Croton Point. The goldeneyes are always a delight to see and hear. I say hear, because a common nickname for them is "whistlers" - when they fly, their wings make a whistling sound.
- Jim Beemer
2/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The current issue of "Nature Study" says, "... in February, look for ravens flying in pairs, perhaps courting." While snowshoeing on the golf course today, I saw a pair of ravens flying and tumbling about the sky, and I wondered if it was nearing the raven mating season.
- Ellen Rathbone
2/14 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Each Valentine's Day I search for eagles celebrating the season. In a little more than two weeks, Mama may be incubating eggs. Today she was back in the nest, rearranging the woodwork, doing her spring renovations.
- Tom Lake
2/14 - Fishkill, HRM 62: All was quiet and still in the yard. Not a bird fluttered to the feeders as I looked from the kitchen. Suddenly, silently, a sharp-shinned hawk flew across the scene and perched on a mid-level branch. It twitched its tail and surveyed the scene below. Then it alighted on a lower branch, walking its length. Shortly, it hovered about the shrubs beneath the tree. Nothing stirred. It once again perched and surveyed the shrubbery below. Nervously, a chickadee and a junco began to move within the shrub. Do they hold still or fly away? The sharpie then swooped low, flying closely around all sides of the shrub. The chickadee and junco held their positions. The sharpie continued on, flying low and out of sight to patrol and stalk about in other low-lying vegetation in hopes of flushing some prey.
- Ed Spaeth
2/14 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: We had a class of 6th graders from Garrison School at the Constitution Marsh Sanctuary this morning to view bald eagles. For a while it looked like they were going to be the first class to be "skunked." No one home. After a half hour an adult flew in from the south and perched in a favorite snag on the south end of Constitution Island. That bird saved the day, for sure. Ten minutes later another adult flew in to the same perch. Gravy! The kids were pretty excited and we all wound up with smiles on our faces, rather than egg!
- Pete Salmansohn