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Hudson River Almanac February 12 - February 21, 2005

OVERVIEW

While heavy snow still blankets the upper Hudson, red-winged blackbirds are back along tidewater. Each year in late winter, birders make a big deal of the return of the red-wings. It is unclear how symbolic of spring this actually may be; some years they come back in the midst of a snow storm. Nonetheless, the throaty song of the male red-wing, perched atop a cattail, staking out its breeding territory, quickens the pulse and gladdens the spirit of river watchers as a promise of spring.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/19 - Battenkill State Forest, HRM 188: At the end of a two hour guided nature walk with 40 members of the Battenkill Conservancy along the banks of the Battenkill, 25 miles east of the Hudson, Davey Rolnick pointed to a raptor soaring its way up to the ridge and asked if it was a red-tailed hawk. I turned and looked and told him, no, that would be an eagle. Out came the binoculars and, after Lisa Randalls and I consulted, we decided that, with no white splotches underneath to indicate an immature bald eagle, that it was a golden eagle! It was a very nice ending to the hike.
- Sue Vanhook, Mr. & Mrs. Rolnick, Tracy Frisch, Doug Reed

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/12 - Danskammer Point to Roseton, HRM 67.5-65.4: At least two bald eagles were present near the Roseton electrical generating plant. One adult was busy chasing gulls away from its hard-earned meal, while an immature was soaring over the railroad tracks along the river. Several others were spotted flying between trees located on either side of the tracks farther downriver. Just a week ago, when it was much colder and there was more ice in the river, there were about two dozen eagles between Roseton and Danskammer.
- Christopher Kuhlow

2/13 - Dutchess Junction, HRM 59: It was a beautiful day to go out and check our favorite spot for bald eagles. Along the river just south of Denning Point we sighted an adult. After watching it for 30 minutes, Kathleen thought that "a pile of leaves" in the tree above the adult was moving - it turned out to be another eagle. This immature was as large as the adult. We watched as well as listened to them for over an hour.
- Dan McLaughlin, Kathleen McLaughlin

2/14 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: At 12:30 AM, I was suddenly jerked awake from deep sleep by the alarming sound of our dog, Claudia, barking wildly. I tried to shush her, but finally got up and let her go out to bark at this mysterious intruder. Opening the door, I could hear a lone coyote in a nearby field, barking and yipping as if part of a chorus - but no other wild voices joined in. Only Claudia replied to its insistent yipping. After she had her fill, we returned to bed. Drifting back to sleep, I could still hear the lone coyote singing. An hour later, I was again awakened by Claudia's quiet growl. Listening carefully, I could discern the sound of a coyote chorus deep in the distance.
- Liz LoGuidice

2/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The most exciting observation on today's tracking adventure was a small pile of weasel scat. It was probably left by a short or long-tailed weasel. While I was pretty excited about it, the seventh-graders I was leading were hard to impress. Our beavers were out last night, despite the lousy weather, harvesting more saplings along the Sucker Brook Trail and dragging them downhill to the Rich Lake Outlet.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/15 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 66.5: We had an amazing sight this morning. We counted 47 wild turkeys in our small backyard.
- Bruce Pung, Rosalie Pung

2/15 - Manhattan, HRM 2: I spotted an albino starling in Chelsea, on the lower west side of Manhattan between Hell's Kitchen and Greenwich Village. It was not pure white, but pretty close.
- Regina McCarthy

2/16 - Round Top, HRM 113: We've had a couple of good runs of sap, but the sugar content is low (2.2%). You burn a lot of wood to make a little syrup.
- Jon Powell

2/16 - New Paltz, HRM 78: This thaw seems to be opening the gates to spring migration. Canada geese were going north overhead last night. This morning several large flocks of mixed blackbirds were doing the same. Resident birds - Carolina wren, mourning dove, cardinal, bluebird - were singing strongly at sunrise.
- Steve Stanne

2/16 - Gardiner, HRM 73: About 1,000 blackbirds and grackles flew over this morning, a nice sign of impending spring.
- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

2/16 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: From the MetroNorth train heading to Manhattan, we counted seven bald eagles, a mix of adults and immatures, on the ice of Annsville Creek Bay.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

2/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Deb Murphy, of Schenectady, told us that she saw an adult bald eagle just south of Newcomb on Route 28N. It flew up from the side of the road, glided alongside the car, then flew in front and off into the woods.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The day started off sunny and bright, blue sky blaring above, and the air still. What a change from yesterday, when we were enjoying some heavy rainfall, followed by snowfall. It left everything covered in white. All the little dead flower heads poking up above the snow in the garden are wearing little white caps. The warm temperatures, however, seemed to have brought the critters out last night. For the last couple of days beaver and otter had been active along the Rich Lake Outlet, but today we hit the jackpot: snowshoe hare, red squirrel, mink, marten, fisher, fox, possibly coyote as well, and mouse. And while we were exhausted from hoofing it at near light speed around the trail twice with a large school group, it was a pleasure to see such wonderful tracks.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/17 - Ramshorn Creek, HRM 112.2: A rough-legged hawk (my first) flew over the marsh heading north around noon. I also heard four ravens, and had two pairs of red-tailed hawks soaring over the sanctuary.
- Larry Federman

2/17 - Beacon, HRM 60: While walking the wooded trails of Madam Brett Park at the mouth of the Fishkill Creek, I was engrossed in watching my footing as I approached a virtual mud wallow. Just inches from my feet there was a sudden burst of wings as a woodcock flew up and away.
- Ed Spaeth

2/18 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 68: Grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and brown-headed cowbirds made an appearance today.
- Steve Seymour

2/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Yesterday at 2:00 AM, I was awakened by the sounds of birds calling, flying, wings beating against branches, all greatly agitated. My two dogs were wide awake and looking out the window at our backyard. My neighbor, Eileen Chadwick, and her dog, were doing the same. Coyote? But why would there be a pandemonium of songbirds? Tonight it happened again. Then I heard it, very close to the house: "Hooo, hooo, hooo, hooo." Great horned owl. In that call, birders can hear the phrase, "Who's awake? Me too." Very apropos for all concerned.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

2/18 - Fishkill, HRM 62: The soil was frozen rock hard, but the mighty little snowdrops had valiantly begun to push up to make a first show of spring.
- Ed Spaeth

2/18 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The orange and brown witch hazel blooms in Central Park were giving a lovely orange backdrop to Christo's Gate flags along Central Park West in the Nature Sanctuary. A few miles south, in Chelsea, tulips, daffodils and cowslips were breaking ground. today. Squirrels will be breaking off maple branches soon to find sap rising. I saw one yesterday that seemed to licking on a pruned branch cut. That may be an easier way to get sap.
- Regina McCarthy

2/19 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: As twilight was falling and I was leaving the barnyard, I could hear a pack of coyotes howling. Their vocalizations had an exuberance that made me think they were celebrating a fortunate occurrence, perhaps a large and easy kill. Their cries were coming from an area to the northeast, not too distant. Later in the night, after darkness had fallen, I heard another outburst of coyote howls, this time coming from a spot nearby, but to the southwest. The coyote pack was joined by every dog in the neighborhood in this eerie serenade.
- Liz LoGuidice

2/19 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: The ice on the Hudson River is finally breaking up with a symphony of crunching, cracking, and tinkling like broken glass. The barges and Coast Guard cutter are mincing it up further and the cakes float past on the tide. Several common mergansers were diving among the floes, and the gulls must be excited by the open water as they swoop around looking for tidbits.
- Peg Duke

2/19 - Ulster Park, HRM 87.5: We were along the river just north of Esopus Meadows this afternoon. There was not very much open water, but the ice near the channel was making a neat noise as it pushed and prodded its way down river. The sound was almost continuous, like a car going over the expansion joints on I-84. I counted a dozen common goldeneyes and one long-tailed duck (formerly known as the oldsquaw).
- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

2/19 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: Our first red-winged blackbirds appeared today. Our snowdrops were peeping out and we cut some pussy willows that are just starting out. What we did not see was the famous weather forecasting woodchuck, Esopus Ed.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

2/19 - Chelsea, HRM 65: Through my binoculars, facing a bitterly cold northwest wind, I could see two adult bald eagles perched in a shoreline cottonwood a mile away at Danskammer Point. These were our local breeding pair. As they sat, steamy vapors from the warm water discharge swirled about them. They were intent on what the current might bring them for a meal. As I turned to leave I noticed a small white ash that seemed to still have all its leaves - its bare branches were adorned with 16 colorful and noisy cedar waxwings.
- Tom Lake

2/19 - Manhattan, HRM 5: After discovering that "black is the new black" during fashion week a little while ago, Debra Morrison and I headed to Central Park to view Christo's Gates project. It was here that we discovered that "saffron is the new orange." In light of this, I counted a dozen robin saffron-breasts as they foraged on the grassy park walkways. I also noted several saffron retrievers sniffing the saffron gates expectantly under a saffron-colored late day sun.
- Dave Taft

2/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The furry little catkins of our pussy willows were showing a bit of silver, but were not yet ready to pop.
- Tom Lake

2/20 - Peekskill, HRM 43.5: There was a strong north wind and several hundred feet of new ice on the bay. The eagles seemed to be having a convention; there were as many as 28 at one point, about evenly split between adults and immatures. One immature was oddly colored; it was a grayish-brown with a few scattered dark feathers. Several eagles were feeding; I saw one medium-sized fish carried in the air and dropped at least three times.
- Steve Seymour

2/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Five wood ducks flew over the south side of the Croton Point landfill this morning. Up the nearby Croton River, below the dam, there were several small flocks of ring-necked ducks.
- Steve Seymour

2/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was snowing, snowing, snowing. We had 5" of very fluffy stuff by 7:30 AM, and at least 7" more is predicted. Birders from Connecticut saw a hoary redpoll near our feeders. These were the same people who spotted the hoary redpolls on January 17.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/21 - Battenkill River, HRM 188: We spotted an immature bald eagle and two ravens feeding on a deer carcass in the middle of a cornfield about 200 yards from Washington County Route 61, 26 miles east of the Hudson. Ron Cadiuex counted five bald eagles feeding there yesterday.
- Doug Reed, Teri Ptacek

2/21 - Round Top, HRM 113: We had 8" of snow. It is nice to have snow in the woods - when the days get warm, it helps to cool the trees at night, halting the sap flow.
- Jon Powell

2/21 - Ulster Park, HRM 87.5: Amidst the snow today, our bird feeders played host to some newly returned guests: red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds.
- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson.

2/21 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: There was 7" of snow piled on the nest near the top of the tall white pine; we could barely make out it was there. As I watched, a cascade of snow fell down from the limb above. One of the adults had come in to perch and had shaken the branch. A white head popped up in the nest. Mama had a puzzled look. A short distance away an immature perched in a black locust. Ths could have been one of last summer's fledges.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

2/21 - Queens, New York Bight: Even with a 4" coat of fresh snow, there is something unmistakable about spring at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Ranger John Zuzworsky and I spent some time trying to identify just what it was. The extra humidity? The higher angle of the sun? A subconscious memory from a time when this information really mattered and our primitive brains were evolving? The West Pond was still frozen, tree buds were just starting to expand, and temperatures held just above freezing. Like others before us, we never did figure out how we knew spring was coming, but settled for the thrill of leaving fresh footprints in the blank snow. As we rounded the bend near the visitor center, 13 red-winged blackbirds called their unmistakable spring trill from a dead pine. Later in the season each individual call will not seem nearly as loud buried in a chorus of thousands, but for now it is an absolute miracle in the snow, in February, in 21st century Queens, NY.
- Dave Taft

2/21 - Lake Katrine, HRM 96: While driving down Legg's Mill Road we spotted an adult eagle perched in a tree overlooking Esopus Creek. At first all we could see was a big black silhouette, but as I drove off it flew and we could see the white of its tail against the dark water of the creek. Although I have seen many eagles on the Hudson, this is the first I've seen on this reach of the Esopus, and the first my wife Lisa has ever seen in the wild. Quite an experience for both of us!
- Scott Davis

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