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Hudson River Almanac January 18 - 25, 2004

OVERVIEW

The tidal Hudson continues to be locked in ice, with little open water north of Esopus Meadows at River Mile 87. The Upper Bay of New York Harbor has been awash with ice floes. Wintering eagles are abundant downriver, concentrated near open water with available fish and waterfowl. Ice fishing, ice boating, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing have seldom been better in recent memory.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/22 - High Peaks, HRM 311: Atop Algonquin Peak at 5114 feet, we were near the origin of the Hudson River. In and out of the clouds, we caught but glimpses of Mount Colden and Flowed Land. It was bitterly cold on the summit with blowing wind, rime ice and lots of flying spindrift that got in everywhere. There was not much wildlife except black-capped chickadees at 3000' in the crowns of the mature birches. No matter how hard I squinted I could not make them boreal chickadees.
- Scott Craven

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/19 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: The river is frozen with only the channel open, and that intermittently. From the Rip Van Winkle Bridge I could see places where the channel was open and others where it needed an icebreaker.
- Liz LoGiudice

1/19 - Danskammer, HRM 66.5: Traveling north aboard CSXT C712, the local freight from Kingston, we kept an eye out for bald eagles. At last light we spotted six of them roosting at Danskammer Point.
- Earl Pardini, Jay Laraway

1/19 - China Pier, Peekskill, HRM 43: Through a spotting scope a flock of birds out on the ice turned out to be 24 eagles, a mix of adults and immatures. Further south, the mouth of the Croton River (HRM 34) was full of waterfowl: a dozen gadwalls, mallards, Canada geese, buffleheads, at least one canvasback, and a lovely pair of redhead ducks. Due to habitat loss to the north, these diving ducks are very rare in the Hudson Flyway, as they are most everywhere else. Perched nearby were five bald eagles.
- Alec Malyon, Bob Rancan, Janet Rancan, Hillary Malyon

1/20 - Marlboro to Danskammer Point, HRM 68.5-66.5: Traveling south just before noon aboard the local freight from Kingston, we spotted 21 bald eagles in this two mile stretch.
- Earl Pardini, Jay Laraway

1/20 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 61: 3:00 PM: In a field where two days ago several hundred Canada geese had been foraging, I at first saw only tracks on the snowy slope. At second glance, there lay the geese at the top of the slope, all three hundred completely prone with their necks outstretched on the ground. This odd posture brought to mind an account from John James Audubon. While exploring Missouri in the early 1800s, he observed similar behavior in a flock of trumpeter swans that lay quiet and still on the ice-covered Mississippi River. Audubon noticed dark forms approaching from shadowy woods on the distant shore. As they crossed the ice it became clear that these dark forms were wolves. When the wolves neared the prone and very still swans, the birds suddenly rose up in unison, trumpeting loudly and flapping their wings. The surprised wolves fled the havoc. Today I was unaware of any predator lurking in the bordering woods. Possibly the geese were just trying to keep warm, but I suspect that this is a defensive posture. By staying prone and still, they are less visible to predators.
- Ed Spaeth

1/20 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: At first light five adults and four immature bald eagles were all perched in one cottonwood. The air temperature was +8°F, the windchill was -15°F, but the air coming off the warm water discharge was probably 10° to15°F degrees warmer. For the birds, the "soup was on." The flume was liberally sprinkled with dead or struggling white perch and small striped bass. As one might expect, the area attracts diving ducks as well, expanding the eagles' menu.
- Tom Lake

1/21 - China Pier, Peekskill, to Croton River, HRM 43-34: After two weeks of ice buildup, I decided to make an eagle sweep of upper Westchester County. My total was 49 birds, more than four times the number I counted during the state census on January 9. Most of the birds were gathered on ice floes. Off George's Island a lone Canada goose was paddling in a tiny lead the size of a bathtub when an immature bald eagle flew over, circled, and dropped toward the goose. There was lots of hissing, wing flapping, and neck jabbing as the eagle settled on the ice and spent ten minutes walking around the goose in its bathtub. Like the dog that catches the school bus, it didn't seem to know what to do with it. The eagle finally left and the goose, still paddling in its tiny enclosure, drifted north out of sight in the current.
- Christopher Letts

1/21 - Yonkers, HRM 18: I had recently become discouraged about seeing bald eagles from the Beczak Education Center in Yonkers. This morning - just as Dick Manley asked "Have you seen any eagles across the way yet?"- my eyes locked on a magnificent specimen sitting on a huge ice floe in the middle of the river.
- Niall Cytryn

1/22 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: In late afternoon the channel was clearly open, though the rest of the river was locked in ice. A large sea going vessel just north of Storm King and Breakneck was accompanied by two tugs as it vanished into what appeared to be a storm front. High above, two eagles soaring in circles eventually disappeared in the same clouds.
- Jim Casey

1/22 - World's End, HRM 52: In early afternoon we went to look for eagles from the North Dock of the US Military Academy. We quickly spotted an adult bald eagle over the southwest corner of Constitution Island. A raven soared just a few feet away from the eagle, dipping and gliding, banking and climbing in perfect rhythm with it. They flew downriver to the bend, at which point the raven banked and headed back while the eagle continued south. I then noticed a second adult bald eagle on an ice floe coming upriver. It appeared to be feeding, probably on fish scraps. Within two minutes a two-year-old immature eagle and an adult both landed on the floe, chasing the first one to another ice floe. The immature immediately began feeding. A few minutes later, a yearling immature appeared along with two crows, all intently watching the two-year-old. Five minutes later, another adult soared past, but did not join the luncheon party. - James Beemer, Kaylee Seagraves, James A. Beemer

1/22 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Situated back in an inlet, Cal Greenburg's front porch has a view of the Hudson that is cropped by trees and other homes. Through this narrow window he counted 41 bald eagles all at one time on several ice floes, passing upriver on the flood current.
- Christopher Letts

1/22 - Upper Nyack, HRM 31: We've got an iceberg in the Tappan Zee off Upper Nyack. I could see fifteen feet of piled up ice scraps that should calculate to thirty feet below the waterline, which means it's stuck on the bottom. It doesn't move and doesn't seem to shrink much, but just sits out there in the otherwise open river. I am waiting for penguins.
- Dan Wolff

1/22 - High Peaks, HRM 311: Atop Algonquin Peak at 5114 feet, we were near the origin of the Hudson River. In and out of the clouds, we caught but glimpses of Mount Colden and Flowed Land. It was bitterly cold on the summit with blowing wind, rime ice and lots of flying spindrift that got in everywhere. There was not much wildlife except black-capped chickadees at 3000' in the crowns of the mature birches. No matter how hard I squinted I could not make them boreal chickadees.
- Scott Craven

1/23 - Indian Point to Crawbuckie, HRM 43-33: With the tributaries and upper Hudson frozen, more and more bald eagles seem to be arriving each day. We counted 59 - 26 adults and 33 immatures. Several flew close enough that we could hear their wings. At the mouth of the Croton River an assemblage of waterfowl were sheltering from the strong north wind:16 gadwalls, a few goldeneyes, buffleheads, coot, and the currently resident tundra swan.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Nancy Slowik, Sandy Bonardi

1/23 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Two dozen members of the Greenbrook Sanctuary looked across the river at the tall day-perch trees at Stony Point State Park and saw no activity. The wind was frost-bite brutal and we were about to leave when suddenly (and I mean suddenly, like actors pouring out onto a stage) a stream of bald eagles emerged from behind Stony Point, no more than 100-200 feet off the ice. We stood there counting: 5, 10, 15, 19 - a mix of adults and immatures. Some were chasing each other, some were doing wing touches, flip overs, and do-si-dos. Almost all of them spiraled upward to create the first "eagle kettle" we had ever seen.
- Nancy Slowik et al.

1/24 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: In early morning it was 10°F. In less than two weeks, the river had gone from mostly open water to none at all, and therefore no eagles. Now, it is all white and quiet. The jumbled ice makes new islands out of nothingness.
- Dave Lindemann

1/24 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: Just a few hundred feet upland from its confluence with the Hudson, the tributary was frozen - ten inches of hard ice. The fishing was excellent: bluegills, yellow perch, and black crappie. All but the crappie went back; they would be dinner. How good are crappie? In Louisiana they are called sac au lait, "sack of milk."
- Tom Lake

1/25 - Hudson Highlands: We visited an eagle night roost to make a count and spotted 16 birds, including what looked like a juvenile golden eagle with a distinct white patch on each wing and black terminal tail band - very different looking from the slew of 1 to 4 year-old bald eagles we had seen earlier in the day.
- Ed McGowan

1/25 - Verplanck to George's Island, HRM 41-39: Again today we had more birds than people at our eagle watch: 54 people, 61 eagles (26 adults) along two miles of shoreline. The most memorable moment was at Verplanck, when we followed an adult pair in our binoculars for over a quarter mile. This pair flew so close to each other that one looked like a reflection of the other - I suppose they knew each other. Spring is on the horizon: we are starting to see more of the "talon grabs" and "sky dancing" of the adults and the impetuous behavior of the immatures.
- Tom Lake, Andra Sramek, Christopher Letts

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