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Hudson River Almanac January 10 - January 18, 2005


This week encompassed record-setting spring-like warmth and ab-b-b-b-sur-r-r-r-d cold. Accompanying the cold front that led the way for the Arctic air were heavy rains that combined with melting snow to drive the salt front from HRM 43 near Peekskill on 1/13 to HRM 22 at Hastings-on-Hudson by 1/16. Lack of river ice made our 26th annual bald eagle count less than spectacular.


1/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had some rare to uncommon birds at the Adirondack Park Visitor Information Center today: hoary redpolls at the feeders, pine grosbeaks in the parking lot, and a "robust" male black-backed woodpecker on the Sucker Brook Trail.
- Ellen Rathbone

[The hoary redpoll is a circumpolar finch, similar to the common redpoll, that breeds in the Arctic and rarely ventures south into New York State even in winter.]


1/10 - Hudson River Valley, HRM 150-34: We conducted our 26th Annual NYSDEC Bald Eagle Census with a helicopter flyover. The river was wide open with very little ice, and very few birds in the traditional places (perches). We did see 21 bald eagles, but I think most of them were probably local birds. The largest number were seen in the vicinity of Soap Hill and Danskammer Point (HRM 68-66).
- Pete Nye

1/10 - Westchester County, HRM 43-33: Ah, the hardship, the toil, the unfairness of it all - forced to drive along the Hudson River in Westchester County tallying wintering bald eagles! I love it, of course, and it forces me to poke in a systematic way into every cranny and nook I think might hold eagles. Along the way there are rewards other than eagles. I was surprised to report 7 bald eagles this morning - this is not the eagle-watching year last winter was. It is just too warm and there is no need for the birds concentrate in the lower Hudson since open water is about everywhere. Dividends included a tower full of double-crested and great cormorants in Peekskill Bay, a few peaceful minutes with a flock of 200 (try counting them - they keep diving!) lovely canvasbacks at George's Island, a male and female harrier, red-tails, and a Cooper's hawk at Croton Point, and 300 common mergansers off Sing Sing Prison in Ossining. Are we sure that one census a year is sufficient?
- Christopher Letts

1/10 - Annsvile Creek to George's Island, HRM 43.5 - 39: I stopped by Annsville Creek to check up on the tagged mute swans; they were gone. At George's Island I spotted quite a few canvasbacks as well as two eagles - one immature in flight and one adult riding a 4x4 chunk of ice floating down the river. The eagles are certainly slow to appear this year, but it does look like their numbers are increasing.
- David Baker

1/10 Navesink River, New York Bight: Clam digging in this tributary of Raritan Bay is open for direct harvest of hard clams from November through April. In two hours the results were plenty: clams of all sizes, one small horseshoe crab, plus sightings of brant, Canada geese, buffleheads, red-breasted mergansers, mute swans, a belted kingfisher, and a very tame ring-billed gull that hovered overhead dipping down to feed on the worms we were turning up.
- Dery Bennett

1/11 - Fishkill, HRM 62: It was mid-afternoon with a gentle snow and low cloud cover. I spotted a straggly V-formation of about 50 tundra swans not more than 250 feet overhead as they noisily flew northeastward. I live on a small mountainside and when there is a low pressure system in wintertime, I see many unusual birds. They fly low because they can't get the lift needed to navigate up and over the mountain.
- Ed Spaeth

1/11 Sandy Hook, NJ, New York Bight: It has been unseasonably warm here (60°F on new Year's Day) and we have had an invasion of robins, feeding on worms in the big grass field nearby. One naturalist counted 500 one day, 200 on another. The accepted wisdom is that these are robins from Canada that migrate down and make a living on the holly berries. With the warm weather and rain, the ground is not frozen. Small worms are all over the sidewalks, and there is one lone dandelion blooming in the field.
- Dery Bennett

1/12 - Croton, HRM 34: As I was driving along the shoreline of Croton Reservoir, I spotted an immature bald eagle perched in a tree low over the water. A while later I saw an adult near the dam and another immature winging over the water.
- Robert Vargo Sr.

1/12 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: A single pair of ruddy ducks spent the day snoozing. This is my first sighting of these ducks this year. They are another of the many species we see only during the worst part of winter when their preferred habitat in the Hackensack Meadowlands and other points further inland are iced in.
- Terry Milligan

1/13 - Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York Bight: A meeting regarding the new visitor contact station ended just in time for a few of us rangers, contractors, and volunteers to check out a reliable sighting of a snowy owl at the refuge. Though we never did find the bird, no one was disappointed with the two short-eared owls and the kingfisher we turned up. The weather remains ridiculously warm, and rain has turned the winter grasses a wet orange color no one would believe if you painted it.
- Dave Taft

1/14 - Ramshorn, HRM 112.2: At the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, in the time between the rain and snow showers and the ensuing shift to winds out of the north, I spotted four common mergansers, two red-tailed hawks, three downy woodpeckers, one belted kingfisher, seven white-throated sparrows, a flock of three dozen tree sparrows, two female purple finches, two northern flickers, two male northern cardinals, and a raven being harassed by the marsh's sentry crow. But the highlight of the day was nine immature red-winged blackbirds! All birds were seen from the sanctuary's tower or at the bridge over RamsHorn Creek.
- Larry Federman

1/14 - Mid-Hudson Valley: Record air temperatures were set in the Town of Poughkeepsie (64°F, beating the previous record of 63°F set on this date in 1995) and in the Town of Montgomery (62°F, eclipsing the 58°F recorded in 1992).
- National Weather Service

1/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The thermometer read 65° in midday but the rainy air had an uneasy feel to it. Rather than a spring-like warmth, it seemed like a practical joke ready to spring. And it did. Several hours later the temperature had plummeted to 29°F as an incredible cold front passed through and the winds moved to the northwest. The rain turned to sleet and then snow: 1.88" of precipitation.
- Tom Lake

1/14 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 63: With straw and black plastic, we were covering a half-acre of wooded ground to be archaeologically excavated this winter. Underfoot I kicked and picked up a perfect quartzite hammerstone and a fair amount of fire-cracked rock - Indian artifacts, all at least 1,000 years old. The warm air mixing with the cold, snow-covered ground created a ghostly, Scottish moor-type fog that enveloped the woods, so thick you could not see twenty feet. We were in a cross between The Blair Witch project and The Last of the Mohicans. I was uncertain as to whether I should shudder or be in awe.
- Tom Lake, Pat Sabol

1/14 - Manhattan, HRM 5: This was mid-January in Central Park and I saw snowdrops, forsythia and Cornelian cherry all blooming. Where is winter?
- Regina Ryan

1/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I joined a bird walk led by High Peaks Audubon on a beautiful day for a hike: sunshine, blue sky and bracing temperatures (4°F when we began, 19°F when we returned). We did a three-mile round trip along the trail that heads towards Hanging Spear Falls and Mount Adams in the southern portion of the High Peaks. We crossed the Hudson River on a 50' long suspended bridge made of metal grating sections. The river was rushing five feet below us. One of the trip leaders said this was very unusual; by this time of year the water is usually iced over. Considering there is less than a foot of snow on the ground, and we've had so much rain, I was not surprised. We saw a flock of boreal chickadees, a small group of golden-crowned kinglets, a couple flocks of black-capped chickadees, and a raven. There were also many animal tracks: weasel, marten, snowshoe hare, fox, coyote, mouse, red squirrel, deer, bird. It was a good morning.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/15 - Fishkill, HRM 62: A lone Carolina wren was still visiting the feeders but I have not heard it calling. We have four cardinals as well; when all are together, they are engaged in territorial squabbling. The males chase each other and the females chase each other. When a group of about six blue jays visits our feeders, most other birds will steer clear of them, yet the red-bellied woodpecker is able to frighten the jays from the suet feeder. One particularly aggressive mourning dove will also cause the blue jays to step aside when they are in its personal space.
- Ed Spaeth

1/15 - Dutchess Junction, HRM 60: I was traveling south of Beacon on Route 9D when I spotted a large flock of robins, mostly males, feeding on staghorn sumac.
- Robert Vargo Sr.

1/15 - Dutchess Junction, HRM 59: While looking out the windows of a catering establishment in mid-afternoon, I spotted two adult bald eagles circling over the river. These were my first sightings of the season. Later I saw single birds, all adults, four more times, one of which landed in a nearby tree. Very exciting!
- Roland Ellis

1/15 - George's Island, HRM 39: Eagles were at a premium. We saw only one all day, and that one five miles down river at the Croton train station. The ducks are doing just fine, however. We counted 142 canvasbacks in one group. Buffleheads, common and hooded mergansers, mallards and black ducks have all been showing up fairly regularly. Perhaps this cold snap will finally drive some eagles to the river.
- David Baker

1/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I took a walk on the Point the morning after the cold front had gone through. Two harriers and one short-eared owl were hunting over the cap of the landfill. There were several buffleheads and one hen goldeneye along the west shore, and one eagle in sub-adult plumage over Croton Bay. There was a flock of 50 coots on the bay with a pair of wigeons mixed in. The wigeons were up to their usual tricks: whenever a coot surfaced with a morsel the widgeon tried to take it away before the coot could swallow it. I saw one small flock of red-winged blackbirds in the reed grass and there were at least forty mute swans on the bay near the railroad bridge.
- Steve Seymour

1/17 - High Peaks, HRM 311: This was my second annual winter pilgrimage to the summit of Algonquin Park, at 5114 feet. There wasn't a whole lot of snow but it sure was icy. When we began, the air temperature was above zero, but the last three hundred feet to the summit were all ice and significantly colder. We saw a raven mobbing or playing with a solitary crow. It was obvious that the much larger raven was the superior flier. Above the tree line in the spindrift among the krumholtz we could see tracks of a small bird on the ground. They were recent as the spindrift was blowing away as I looked at it. What could possibly have been up there? Snow buntings? We did not see the elusive boreal chickadee; I count on this trip to get one for the year, but always seem to strike out. One will probably show up at my feeder this week.
- Scott Craven, Henry Atterbury

1/17 - Town of Rensselaerville, HRM 132.5: For my job I go from sea level at the Hudson River to 1,600 feet at the Huyck Preserve. At this 2,000 acre preserve and biological research station on the Helderberg Plateau, ice has a pretty good hold on our hundred acre lake and the snow is several inches deep.
- Liz LoGuidice

1/17 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: I spotted two immature bald eagles perched along the river and, closer in, three male robins feeding on staghorn sumac. Where would they be without the late food supply that sumac provides? Later I saw a pair of soaring red-tailed hawks over the huge number of common mergansers that are around.
- Robert Vargo Sr.

1/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: What a chilly morning: -16°F!
- Ellen Rathbone

1/18 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I set up my feeders just after Christmas, and have noticed that black-capped chickadees are largely absent, while tufted titmice are all over them - at least six in the regular group of birds that visits. There are some chickadees in the neighborhood, but they don't seem to be hanging out with this group of titmice as is usually the case.
- Steve Stanne

1/18 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: It was 5°F this morning at first light. The north wind made it feel like -25°F. As one National Weather Service meteorologist put it, "an absurdly cold air mass has descended upon us." The snow had that dead-of-winter crunch to it. Just inside the mouth of Wappinger Creek, 150 Canada geese had found an open patch of water to spend the night. Two adult eagles and one immature were perched across the river on Cedarcliff, facing east, eager for sunrise.
- Tom Lake

1/18 - Newburgh-Beacon, HRM 62.3: I was out on a field survey this morning and crossed the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge about 9:00 AM. The river was iced over from shore to shore; evidently no tugs or freighters had been through for a few hours.
- Steve Seymour

1/18 - West Point, HRM 52: While driving back to my office in late morning, I spotted an adult bald eagle slowly circling upward above Crow's Nest Brook. The sky was azure blue without a cloud in sight while the air was crisp and cold. The eagle was about 100 feet above Route 218 when first spotted; it slowly climbed upwards to about 1,000 feet before tacking off in a different direction.
- Jim Beemer

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