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Hudson River Almanac January 15 - January 24, 2005

OVERVIEW

We have been seeing more robins than is usual for the season. Maybe they are confused - after all, the Mid-Hudson Valley went from a record high of 65°F on January 14 to a low of -12°F on January 24, a 77° change in 10 days. The river is frozen nearly everywhere, and ice floes are bumping into Manhattan. Runoff slowed as the watershed went into the deep freeze; over this period the salt front bounded from HRM 22 at Hastings-on-Hudson to HRM 59 at Newburgh.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34: About an inch of fine, gentle snow drifted down last night, and before going to bed I laid my plans to arrive here before sunrise - before the wind, the dog-walkers, and the snow-phobic plow-boys could arrive to muddle the snowfields. I had not walked a quarter mile before I had counted 6 red-tailed hawks and at least 3 harriers hunting over the landfill. Croton's own "Pale Male," an elegant male harrier, cut an especially fine figure in the rising light. Coyote tracks were everywhere; one display of tracks seemed to indicate that three had trotted side-by-side down the middle of the Wine Cellar Road on the south side of the Point. I admit to a tingle, a heightened sense of awareness, when I see coyote signs out here. This peninsula is becoming more of a complete ecosystem because top-line predators make their homes here. Aldo Leopold, in his essay "Escudilla" speaks of how a single grizzly bear, Bigfoot, made the mountain Escudilla much more than just a mountain. And how, when the bear was killed, that sense of special place evaporated. Something like that is going on here.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/15 - Ulster County, HRM 102-71: Eighteen observers in eight field parties conducted a county-wide survey of significant waterfowl habitat in conjunction with the annual New York State mid-winter Waterfowl Count. The survey recorded 13 species (plus 1 hybrid) and 4,016 individuals. Highlights include 33 mute swans, 11 wood ducks, 1,037 canvasbacks, 2 ring-necked ducks, and 1 red-breasted merganser. The 1,563 Canada geese were a low number for this count. A dozen bald eagles were also seen. Two adults were on Gumaer Island in Rondout Creek just south of Kingston, and two more were perched at the confluence of Esopus Creek and the Hudson River. One immature soared low over the spit as we hiked out to the lighthouse. Two adult eagles were also spotted on the upper basin of the Ashokan Reservoir and four adults and one immature on Rondout Reservoir.
- John Burroughs Natural History Society

1/17 - Minerva, HRM 284: The air temperatures hit -15° last night. At 6:30 AM it was very crispy, with the sound of trees cracking and snow crunching. Good winter weather. Walking on the ice in the swamp behind the house, I found some otter tracks in the shallow snow - always a treat. It's getting to be deep winter here. We even had some evening grosbeaks at the feeder checking out the sunflower seeds.
- Mike Corey

1/17 - George's Island, HRM 39: We spotted two adult bald eagles and one immature perched on Dogan Point, but the highlight of our day occurred at 1:30 PM at Croton Point (HRM 34). As we drove into the parking area, we noticed three harriers using the sharp winds to swoop across the landfill. Parking and walking up the road, we had a great close up view of the harriers, all females. Then a male came over the rise and began hunting right in front of us. A second male followed. It was windy and cold but in the bright sunlight we could see the gray plumage with black edges and the bright white undersides. When a male and female crossed each other's path, we could even see that the male was significantly smaller than the female. Seeing two males in the group was a thrill. When we returned later there were still two females hovering over the landfill. We also spotted a sharp-shinned hawk as it flew into and out of the pines near the campground, and saw an adult eagle circling overhead.
- Bob Rancan, Janet Rancan

1/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We went tracking along the Rich Lake Trail this morning as a preview for tomorrow's school program. What a feast of tracks! We haven't had significant snow in a while, so there were tracks all over: fox (with perfect toes on some, and some great urine spots to sniff), squirrel, raccoon (again, perfect toes), grouse, and mouse. Good stuff. It was still quite brisk - it may have warmed up to 0°F. Thankfully the wind wasn't blowing.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/19 - Minerva, HRM 284: The air temperatures have eased off quite a bit. At 10:30 PM it was 10°F and snowing lightly.
- Mike Corey

1/19 - Greenville, HRM 124: I had "bounder" this morning - I think it was a mink, but it could have been a fisher. I couldn't get a good fix on its size, because it was running across the road at least 100 feet in front of my car. There was a small stream at the point where the small, dark, furry mammal crossed the road.
- Liz LoGuidice

1/19 - Gardiner, HRM 73: As a Cooper's hawk soared above me, I noticed that it had its eye on something. All of a sudden the hawk grabbed a flicker, drove it to the ground, and sat on it. The hawk watched its kill for a few minutes, then started to chow down.
- Rebecca Johnson

1/19 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: At dawn it was +2°F. Even with no wind, the air was bitter cold. The tidal Wappinger was frozen bank-to-bank. Tidewater ice often has a haphazard look to it, not the smooth glassy appearance of pond ice. A new level is added on each flood tide as the ice splits, water flows up and out, and then freezes, giving a layered effect. I've had school children tell me that river ice is scary, because of its lack of order and uniformity. It has that Picasso look.
- Tom Lake

1/19 - West Branch Reservoir, HRM 55: Ice fishing in 0°F at West Branch, part of the Croton System, we caught some nice white perch.
- Robert Vargo Sr.

1/19 - West Point, HRM 52: I took a quick ride down to the North Dock and was rewarded with a pair of ravens sitting together in a tree overlooking the helipad next to the river. Both seemed to be calmly enjoying the peacefulness of a light snow falling.
- James A. Beemer

1/19 - Manhattan, HRM 11: Returning from a short trip out of state, I was - as always - eager to get my first glimpse of the Hudson. What I saw as we crossed the George Washington Bridge made my heart go pit-a-pat. Sizeable ice floes were spread out up and down the channel. To me that translated as upper Hudson and Delaware River frozen, a flood of bald eagles headed this way! And sure enough, when I check the Westchester County shoreline I counted 15 eagles, mostly out on or flying over the suddenly ample ice.
- Christopher Letts

1/19 - Manhattan, HRM 2: I was volunteering at the New York City Audubon office when I got a call from a woman on 13th Street and 5th Avenue, 6 blocks from the Hudson River. She was puzzled by the flock of robins eating the berries on a holly. I explained to her how robins don't always make a full migration, especially when it is so warm. The robins she saw were probably from a more northern area like New England; they were just following the food source. When they finished the berries there, they'd go find them somewhere else. There are lots of hollies around in city gardens.
- Regina McCarthy (See Sandy Hook, January 11.)

1/20 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 61: Just one year ago, I noted three hundred Canada geese in a vacant field along Route 17K. They were at the top of a snowy slope, all completely prone with their necks outstretched on the ground. This odd posture brought to mind a similar account by John James Audubon. I won't see such an odd sight here again though. Ground is now being broken for a new chain hotel with its attendant concrete and asphalt. It may not be only the geese and other wildlife who will be displaced. I wonder whether an old family burial ground in an adjacent lot - its tombstones dating as early as 1817 - will also go.
- Ed Spaeth

1/20 - George's Island, HRM 39: I counted 15 eagles this morning, most of them on the ice. There is a lot of ice, too much. The birds need strings of floes, not fields of ice, miles wide, restricting open water to the channel.
- Christopher Letts

1/20 - Yonkers, HRM 18: We were very surprised to see a pine warbler mixed in with the regular birds at our backyard feeder. The warbler was feeding primarily on suet but on occasion would take some hulled sunflower seed. A Carolina wren was also enjoying the suet. Abruptly, a boisterous European starling flew in and scared off the pine warbler and wren. However, the starling did not get to enjoy his meal. A moment later a Cooper's hawk dove and caught the starling. The struggle between starling and hawk took its course, and we watched as the Cooper's had her meal. It ate almost everything except the feathers. Needless to say, we were glad that the hawk did not take the pine warbler or the Carolina wren.
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

1/21 - Town of Pleasant Valley, HRM 82: An adult bald eagle has been frequenting Drake Lake for the past week. I saw it today feeding on a dead Canada goose.
- Barbara Mansell

1/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Last night it fell to -22°F. This morning my car thermometer read -13°F, and the car was not happy. At first it wouldn't start, and then when it finally did, it made awful sounds like everything under the hood was about to fall off. It's a hybrid electric car and really does not like this sub-zero weather [but what car does?].
- Ellen Rathbone

1/22 - Minerva, HRM 284: It's 12:15 AM, and it's -17°F out there. Brrrrrrr.
- Mike Corey

1/22 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: It was -5°F this morning at dawn. The eastern horizon was an incredible pallet of pink and blue. To the west, the sky was a heavy and somber off-white. A winter storm was on its way.
- Tom Lake

1/22 - Peekskill, HRM 43: There were nearly 50 of us out on 8" of black, hard-as-flint ice. In five days, this pond went from open water to safely frozen. For almost all of the scouts from Pack 222 in Saddle River, New Jersey, this was their baptism on ice, and certainly their first foray into catching fish through it. Across four hours we caught several dozen black crappie, pumpkinseed sunfish, and bluegill sunfish. Then at noon the wind picked up as it shifted to the northeast, the windchill increased, it began to snow, and it was time to leave.
- Tom Molnar, Fred Martin, Anthony Doviak, Timothy Terence, Tom Lake

1/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are back above zero (+5°F).
- Ellen Rathbone

1/23 - Minerva, HRM 284: It's presently +4°F at 4:15 PM. We got 10" of the softest, driest, fluffiest snow I've ever seen.
- Mike Corey

1/23 - West Shokan, HRM 92: The great storm dropped only 8" of snow in the Bushkill Valley in West Shokan. Single-digit air temperatures have kept the birds quiet, except for a few chickadees. A skunk managed to get to the compost heap.
- Jack Bierhorst

1/23 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34.5: After the snowstorm, we watched five pairs of cardinals, eight blue jays, brown-headed cowbirds, European starlings, common grackles, black-capped chickadees, mourning doves, a red-bellied woodpecker, and many dark-eyed juncos and tree sparrows along with other varieties of sparrows - all eating harmoniously together at our backyard feeders. What a treat to see them silhouetted against the snow drifts. At one point, I thought I saw a robin, but assumed I was mistaken. This morning, however, I definitely saw a robin eating with the other birds.
- Dorothy Ferguson

1/23 - Upper Nyack, HRM 30: We ended up with 10"-12" of snow in this part of Rockland County.
- Dan Wolff

1/23 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The blizzard left 13.8" of snow in Central Park.
- National Weather Service

1/24 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: It was -12°F this morning at first light. Mercifully, there was no wind. It was a gray dawn of winter, too cold for color except for the near full moon setting in the west, as orange as a pumpkin. The river was frozen bank-to-bank, covered with snow. You could have blinked your eyes and believed that it was a snow-covered valley, instead of a frozen tidal river.
- Tom Lake

[As cold as it was, this was not a record for the date. In 1961, from January 21-25, our area of the Hudson Valley had a string of bitterly cold days with air temperatures that ranged from -30° to -10°F. Northeast Regional Climate Center]

1/24 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: What appeared to be pools of open water here and there across the surface of the river were actually glassy ice. Gulls "walking on water" gave it away. A half mile upriver two immature bald eagles were sharing a carcass out on the ice.
- Tom Lake

1/24 - George's Island, HRM 39: Although I was there to watch eagles, I was very impressed with the two red-throated loons bobbing and diving offshore.
- Christopher Letts

1/24 - Upper Nyack, HRM 30: The river is frozen and looks solid all the way across.
- Dan Wolff

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