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Hudson River Almanac January 1 - January 8, 2006

OVERVIEW

There have been stories this winter from people who are, seemingly, trying to form a personal relationship with bald eagles. "I got close enough to hear its wings beat when it took off" is a common theme. Some described a stealthful approach, trying to get closer. These are wild animals, not pets. In winter, they need to conserve energy, and continually being flushed from their perches does not help. Eagles have an "alert distance" of about 250 yards, depending on circumstances, and a "flight distance" of 125 yards. Carry and use binoculars. On the Hudson, 10 x 50s work best. You will get a good view and the eagles will not feel threatened. Where possible, the best and least intrusive viewing can be done from inside your vehicle. Eagles, black bears, bluebirds, coyotes, even cute gray squirrels could not care less who we are or how much goodness is in our heart. We may hate to hear this, but it is true. It kind of makes the Disney image go "poof." Enjoy the wildlife of the Hudson River Valley, but allow it to stay wild.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/4 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 27: I am always amazed at how few people watch the river during their morning train commute on the Metro North Hudson Line. Today I saw my first bald eagle of the new year flying toward the river just south of the Philipse Manor station. The educator in me wanted to yell, "Did you see that?!" Apparently my body language said what I did not. I craned my neck to watch the eagle through my neighbor's window and he actually lowered his newspaper to see what I was looking at. He was a second too late to see the eagle, but I think it was progress.
- Cynthia Fowx

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Not all hikes are adventures, not all programs are show stoppers. This was our 20th annual New Year's Day hike at Croton Point. Over the previous 19, we've walked with 6,000 people, in the midst of bald eagles, winter waterfowl, raptors of many kinds, and enough Canada geese to darken the sky. On this occasion our 55 hikers had to be content with a flock of robins tut-tutting from a thicket of multiflora rose and a lone killdeer. The latter hopped energetically around a flock of Canada geese looking like a border collie steering sheep. On the way off the point at the conclusion of the program, we drove past a soccer field where 5 white-tailed deer had come out to browse. Flying low overhead on its way to the Croton River was an immature bald eagle, an hour late and a mile short of our New Year's Day gathering.
- David Baker, Steve Schwartz, Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek, Tom Lake

1/1 - Manhattan, HRM 4.5: Life goes on, even a few dozen feet below busy Manhattan on the 59th Street subway platform. Accustomed to watching rats as they forage along the tracks, I was completely surprised when one, then another, English house sparrow began to peck at an old pizza crust left near one of the seats on the platform. I had to admire them. Just upstairs in Central Park, the now famous antics of "Pale Male," the red-tailed hawk, were grabbing the limelight. There wasn't a predator I could think of down here, plenty of food, lots of potential nesting areas. I propose that "Dusty" the English house sparrow get his 10 minutes of fame. He won't get the publicity of our local red-tail, but I think he's twice the survivor.
- Dave Taft

1/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There were numerous reports over the holiday weekend of "freshwater seal" sightings on Lake Julia, a small water body between Belden Pond and Lake Harris. Some of the local residents reported their find to neighbor and outdoor enthusiast Michael Tracy who, after recovering from a bout of laughter that rendered him unable to speak, informed them that these were not seals, but a family of river otters. Much chagrined, but not deterred in their enthusiasm, people accepted the explanation and continued their observations of the local wildlife with aplomb. These same residents have not only been frequented by otters on the water, but a pine marten that came to check out their bucket of chicken wings while they were barbecuing dinner. It lost interest when a red squirrel ran by their garage door; it took off after more mobile prey.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/2 - New Paltz, HRM 78: It was a gray ending to a warm day as twilight set in over the village of New Paltz. As I walked downtown I noticed a large gray silhouette flapping silently, high over the bustle of traffic. Its large form was unmistakable, reminiscent of a pterodactyl. It was a great blue heron coming from the Wallkill River. As it flew over the center of town, it began to veer north as if it had deemed the fishing prospects of Main Street New Paltz unsuitable.
- Michael Morris

1/2 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 52: We visit Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, just south of Cold Spring, for short hikes and bald eagle sightings in the dead of winter. Today we took a short trek up to the bench overlooking the marsh, the Hudson River, and West Point. We saw 2 bald eagles perched in a tree in the distance. Then we spotted 2 more adult bald eagles riding an ice floe, feeding on a fish, as they floated up the river. What a sight!
- Audrey Hinck, Mike Tizekker

1/2 - Croton River, HRM 34: No professional aid was required to figure that another winter storm was on the way. The air was still and heavy, and the sun, when it rose, came up like blood. I sipped my coffee and made a short list: more bird food, get another load of stove wood in the house, position shovels at front and back doors. A great blue heron coasted in from Croton Bay and glided across the face of the sun. One more time when I should have had the camera ready.
- Christopher Letts

1/2 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: My first walk at the wildlife refuge for the new year started auspiciously when an American bittern came out from a nearby stand of Spartina and flew a few hundred yards to the east. The bird wheeled once or twice low over the south marsh, as if looking for dry ground on this exceptionally high tide. It finally settled in, becoming instantly invisible again. Further down the trail I also spotted an immature harrier, several hooded mergansers, a horned grebe, several bufflehead, northern shovelers, and a gadwall. Not a bad first outing for '06, and on a very mild winter's day to boot.
- Dave Taft

1/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Mike Tracy spotted an adult bald eagle this afternoon flying over Flat Brook just east of the Adirondack Park Visitors Information Center.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/3 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Our first nor'easter of the new year. It began with 0.28" of rain that turned to wet snow, about 7", with the consistency of cement (if fluffy, it would be foot or more). Schools were closed, roads were not plowed and I could hear tree branches and limbs snapping from all quarters, like gunshots, under the weight of the snow.
- Tom Lake

1/4 - Lake Tappan, HRM 25: This afternoon, while doing some scouting for the NYSOA January waterfowl count, I drove around Lake Tappan. The lake sloshes across New Jersey's northern border into New York. It is roughly 2½ miles long, less than a mile wide, and about 3 miles west of the Hudson River in Rockland County. In early afternoon, on the New Jersey side of the lake, I counted 4 bald eagles in the air, one adult and 3 immatures. The juveniles were doing an interesting close-order, roller-coaster play exercise. An hour later and less than a mile north, just across the border in New York, I counted 15 bald eagles. Eight adults and 4 immatures were perched in trees. Two more adults and a juvenile were in the air, scaring the dickens out of the common mergansers that numbered in the hundreds on that section of the lake.
- John Workman

1/5 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: More than usual I'm a slave to the bird feeders this year, all seven of them. The feeders are mobbed from dark to dark and even the ones with the largest seed capacity (15 lb.) need filling twice a week. Along with the usual back door regulars have appeared some irregulars, the icing on the cake for feeder people. This year they seem to be all singletons: 1 purple finch, 1 pine siskin, 1 red-breasted nuthatch,1 brown creeper,1 Carolina wren, and 1 immature yellow-bellied sapsucker, a glutton for suet.
- Christopher Letts

1/6 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 39-35: Although we're dealing with neap tides this week, the estuary is crammed, jammed, with floating debris. Must be a combination of rain, snowmelt, and east winds, to sweep the beaches clear and fill the Hudson this way. Logs, trees, sections of docks and all the rest of the floatables make it seem more like a big freshet than a January thaw.
- Christopher Letts

1/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I led a tracking walk today with 10 people, including a 3-year-old who did really well, walking a whole mile, most of it on snowshoes. Despite the less than optimal conditions, we saw a great variety of tracks along the Sucker Brook Trail: snowshoe hare, red squirrel, red fox, an enormous coyote, ruffed grouse, deer, mink, pine marten, and old otter slides. A pretty good haul.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/7 - China Pier, HRM 43: With mild air temperatures and the watershed fairly free of ice, our wintering bald eagles had many options for where to spend their day. I had no expectations for seeing any so I was surprised when I spotted an immature lazily circling the Indian Point power-generating facility a mile down river.
- Tom Lake

1/7 - George's Island, HRM 39: With a bluebird sky, warm air, and no ice on the river, we held our first public eagle program of the winter. The consensus in our group was "no eagles today." Yet, over an hour in mid-afternoon, from the parking lot at George's Island along Haverstraw Bay, we had 5 adults and 5 immatures. The 5 immatures passed very low over our heads, one at a time, over a 20 minute period. It was as though someone over the hill out of sight was releasing them. A few in the crowd of 50 had their suspicions. As one passed over a question was asked about its plumage. As if to assist us, the eagle reversed course, came back, and made tiny circles 150' over our heads for three minutes, as we answered. Eerie stuff. One pair of adults, no more than 200 yards away on Dogan Point, were snuggling on adjoining limbs. The slightly larger female extended her neck downward, the male upward, and they touched beaks. Even at that distance we could hear their squeaks, a soft chortling. With our 60x spotting scopes, they filled the eyepiece.
- Genevieve Lutton, Robin Fox, Nancy Pappas, Rich Friel, Mike Reid, Tyler Hoke, Bobbi Buske, Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek, Tom Lake

1/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are up to a whopping one foot of snow. This comes out to about 5" of new snow since last weekend. And while a foot of snow is hardly an eye-opener, without snowshoes, it is still exhausting to walk through. For the last two days, we've had a male pine grosbeak at the bird feeders at the Adirondack Park Visitors Information Center. He's been all fluffed out, looking quite rotund. His color is stunning, and when he sits at the platform feeders right outside the windows, one gets a perfect view of all the dark spots on his back between his wings. What a joy to see this magnificent bird up close.
- Ellen Rathbone

The Hudson River
Down by the River, there are animals to see.
Down by the River, you hear its heart beat.
Everyone lives near the watershed and the watershed lives near you.
At the river, as a fish flies, a bird catches it.
Someone told us a story about a fox and an eagle.
The eagle gets a fish as food and so does the fox.
The Hudson is the best river of all
Because it connects to the Atlantic Ocean.
- Yesenia Rosado, Vails Gate Elementary

1/8 - Dennings Point, HRM 60: For the past week and a half, while walking south on the Riverside Trail in Beacon, I've noticed two bald eagles (one adult, one immature) perched on the north-facing tree line of Dennings Point.
- Bob Kacur

1/8 - Garrison, HRM 50.5: While walking on the trail from the Garrison train station in mid-afternoon, we crossed an ice-free babbling brook known as Arden Creek. It was here that we saw several bluebirds, a robin, a cardinal and several chickadees busy feasting on insects or whatever was in the boughs of a tall hemlock. Later we saw several dark-eyed juncos in the same location feeding on trail side weed seeds.
- Ed Spaeth, Merrill Spaeth

1/8 - Peekskill, HRM 43: I'm continually impressed by the unusual number of songbirds wintering this season. Out on the pretty thin ice this morning I watched a small flock of red-winged blackbirds cluck their way over my head, followed shortly by about 30 bluebirds. The bluebirds alighted in the crown of a black willow and for quite some time serenaded the frozen pond with their calls.
- Christopher Letts

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