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Hudson River Almanac January 20 - 29, 2006

OVERVIEW

We had a river mystery at Esopus Meadows this week. An answer may never be found and maybe it's better that way. One of the intriguing aspects of an estuary is that it is open to the sea, increasing the possibilities when such mysteries occur. Teaching along the river is frequently like emceeing a magic show. What will appear next? Marine mammals, fish from the tropics, white pelicans, or whatever else a fertile imagination can conjure. Enjoying the river always includes much anticipation coupled with a healthy dose of reality, and that is what keeps us connected.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/22 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: I was paddling with some friends near the Vanderbilt Mansion when we noticed lots of splashing in the water between the mansion and the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse. As we paddled closer I realized that it was large fish. They were splashing all around our kayaks, not leaping out of the water, but rising and breaking the surface. I never saw a whole fish, as they never jumped clean out of the water, but I'd guess they were about 2' long. I couldn't tell what shape or color they were. As I paddled back toward Vanderburgh Cove, I saw and heard them all over, a hundred or more, coming to the surface and splashing back down. I'd see a back and a fin, but I couldn't get close enough to get a good look.
- Wes Ostertag

[This is a wintering location for thousands of shortnose sturgeon. The relative size and number of fish suggests shortnose, but the cold winter water (35°F) gives us pause. Hudson River fisheries biologists expect that sturgeon spend the winter snug on the bottom, not carousing at the surface. While the possibilities might include marine mammals, such as harbor porpoises, or fish like carp or gizzard shad, the identity of these animals remains a mystery. Tom Lake]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/20 - Fishkill Creek, HRM 60: Our second day of observation was not as productive as day one but still produced some sightings. At least 11 eagles were recorded, both adults and immatures. Most of the activity was birds flying to and from Dennings Point. A dead tree on Hammond Point, just south of our observation post, was heavily used by perching birds. An immature hunted mergansers in mid-river before returning to the west shore to perch.
- Martin McGuire

1/20 - Philipstown, HRM 55: Two bluebirds flitted in and out of one of the bluebird nesting boxes up on East Mountain Road, all the while being harassed by other birds, among them a mockingbird. They then treated us to bluebird "music" from the top of the barn.
- Erika Carlino, Connie Bakall, Connie Mayer-Bakall

1/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: It was a busy wildlife weekend on Wappinger Creek. Two female and three male common mergansers silently glided past; an immature Cooper's hawk broke the reverie and caught and feasted on a starling; a common crow captured and carried off a small bird that we were unable to identify; and - due to the unusually mild temperatures - not only are the pussy willows blooming with the first silvery tufts of the season, but the lily-of-the-valley patch had dozens of little plants showing 1" above the ground. The topper, though, was our first-ever sighting of an Oregon junco (first-year female) at our ground feeder. Meanwhile, the flock of resident wild turkeys has mushroomed to 30- 35 individuals.
- Bill Lenhart, Donna Lenhart

1/23 - Cornwall, HRM 57: Since December, I've had a Carolina wren showing up at my feeder at regular times. Apparently it visits other feeders on a schedule. They are very fond of blueberry suet. There seem to be more of these great little feisty birds around this year.
- Wayne Hall

1/23 - Haverstraw, HRM 36-37: An immature and an adult bald eagle flew low over the Bowline Point power plant's cooling pond, where a dozen common mergansers dove and surfaced. A mile upriver river, near Haverstraw Park, an adult and 6 immatures perched in the big willow trees. All eventually flew off, heading across the gray, afternoon river toward Georges Island.
- Dan Wolff

1/23 - Park Slope, Brooklyn: Park Slope lies just over the cusp, on the downhill side, of the terminal moraine left by the great ice sheet of the last ice age, at an altitude of about 100'. Recently, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Asian Longhorn Beetle Inspection team asked to inspect our backyard trees for the beetle. We are within the quarantine zone in Park Slope, Brooklyn but we have no trees that are known to be hosts - we have a honey locust and a hemlock - so we passed. Our home-schooled children proudly told the inspectors what they knew about the beetle and that we have ALB temporary tattoos. Please welcome the Department of Agriculture folks when they knock.
- Brock Adler

[The Asian long-horned beetle is believed to have arrived in North America in packing material used in cargo shipments from China. Infestations of this tree-killing pest have been discovered in Brooklyn, Amityville, and Jersey City. Maples are favored by the beetle, but they have also been found in willows, elms, poplars, black locusts, horse chestnuts, and mulberries. Tom Lake]

1/24 - Kowawese, HRM 59: I took 6th graders from Vails Gate Elementary for a mile-and-a-quarter hike through the woods and along the river on the park trail. We waked through a frosty fog so thick you could not see the treetops. The air had a golden glow from the sun that tried, unsuccessfully, to burn through. The river was totally obscured; we listened more than we saw. This is the River of Words program where students hike for an hour, become suitably inspired, and then sit along the river and write poetry. For our hike we had day-old snow. Tracking was excellent: wild turkey, crow, white-tailed deer, fox, coyote, squirrel, bunny, domestic dog, and human. We followed several of the coyote trails as they snuffled in the snow, listening for moles, mice, voles, and shrews. No eagles were seen, but we heard one. The ambiance was scintillating!
- Tom Lake, Barbara Oliver

1/24 - Beacon, HRM 61: In my job, one of the more disturbing phone messages you can receive from a hiker is "I think we came upon a dead bald eagle." The scene was off the Beacon Riverside Trail just above the tide line, halfway between Dennings Point and Beacon. At midday, nearing low tide, there was a blue sky overhead but at river level a thick fog was rolling in. I was there to find a dead eagle, but the birding was otherwise superb. Bluebirds, a dozen or more, crossed my path, paused on branches long enough for me to enjoy their splendid color. Pairs of noisy white-breasted nuthatches added some sound. An immature bald eagle lifted off from the north end of Dennings Point and flew up along the shore, going past me as I froze, maybe 40 feet away. It was the only live one I saw. I found the spot, and the dead bird. It was not an eagle after all. The wings were only 20" long, half the length of an eagle's, with a total wingspan of 5'. It was a black vulture - a good ending for eagles, a bad ending for the vulture.
- Tom Lake

1/24 - Constitution Island, HRM 52: Once again this winter, on a favored perch high on a locust snag, a stately adult bald eagle overlooked West Point. On this day Chris Pray and I hear the loud call of a raven, flying low towards us then wheeling and gaining height above, all the while croaking and wonking. The Hudson River was oddly quiet as the tide ebbed. Gone was the constant groaning and grinding of the ice floes of winters past. There was no ice at all, reminiscent of '02-'03, the only other winter in memory when the river was ice free.
- Bob Kakerbeck

1/25 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: The days are growing longer so can spring be far behind? It has already arrived in some parts of the country. One of the ambassadors from those far off lands, the house finch, is proclaiming that, in his mind, spring is here! It is the beginning of springtime in Arizona and northern Mexico and the males are singing away on their home territories. Old instincts are hard to change. Locally we have the male house finches, imported and released illegally, singing away, in snow-covered New Baltimore, just as they would be if they were back "home" in warming climes.
- Rich Guthrie

[Our house finches are descended from illegally caged birds released by pet shop owners on Long Island in 1940. From Long Island, the population has expanded north to Canada, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and west into the Great Plains. There they are encountering house finches from the native western population.]

1/25 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: A pair of adult bald eagles passed over the Culinary Institute this afternoon, flying very close together, and engaging in what seemed like play.
- Byron Giff

1/26 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: About 8:00 AM we looked up to see 5 eagles circling around in a sort of low "kettle" over the mouth of the Saw Kill on Tivoli South Bay. The birds were young - all dark plumage although one had a white tail. They were soaring slowly on flat wings and occasionally one or two would veer toward another bird with no apparent motive. They drifted out of sight down the bay and returned twice for more lazy circles. The water is open and we've seen many single birds in the last week or two, but this is the first time there have been so many together in flight.
- Betsy Blair, Ann-Marie Caprioli

[Bald eagles come together like that, kind of a spur of the moment thing, especially on nice, sunny and windy days. I was trapping eagles on the Delaware River yesterday, kind of a breezy day, and as many as 5 immature bald eagles and a 4 year-old golden eagle did exactly that for 15 minutes, soaring around together, playing, mock chasing, just having fun. Pete Nye.]

1/26 - Verplanck,. HRM 41: I had a black-and-white morning as I was getting ready for work. Three eagles, 2 adults and an immature, were enjoying the windy morning, swooping over the river and back and around the tall tulip tree where they often perch. After they had moved on, I saw 7 buffleheads bobbing near the entrance to Cal Greenburg's cove, and they were joined by some black-backed gulls.
- Pat Korn

1/27 - George's Island, HRM 39: Thirty members of the Palisades Nature Association arrived for their annual "eagle tour." In recent years, it has not been uncommon for us to show them, across just nine miles of river, 40-50 birds, as many as 62, on a river awash with ice floes and hills deep with snow. But on this warm and sunny day with no ice anywhere near, our hopes were not high. On one of our last stops we were rewarded with 3 adults and an immature bald eagle in the canopy tall oaks on Dogan Point. Even more interesting was the immature red-shouldered hawk that perched on a lower branch, confusing us for quite a while until we finally figured it out.
- Nancy Slowik, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

1/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was terribly spring-like today, balmy. The sun had that wonderful robust warmth that comes with spring-time, rather than the weak, watery cool sun associated with winter. It feels like daffodils could be springing up at any moment, but let's hope not. I wonder how this off-and-on mild winter affects hibernating animals. I know bats don't do well if temperatures are not just right for hibernation. And what about plants? I have a feeling I may lose many of the things I planted the last couple of years. It warms up, the snow melts; without snow cover, they aren't insulated when it drops sub-zero a day or two later. I've been shoveling snow onto the azaleas and rhododendrons along the house. They are completely exposed. Rose bushes and apple trees may not make it, either.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: In mid-morning we looked up into the evergreens along the road across from the landfill. High on the trunk of one of the trees we spotted two long-eared owls, seemingly frozen in place, with the sun shining directly on them. Near the main parking lot we found an eastern screech owl in a large cavity of a dead tree, camouflaged so well that it blended right in with the bark. There it sat, eyes closed, basking in the sunlight.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/28 - Blauvelt, HRM 28: The Hackensack River starts up in Rockland County, a low mountain away from the Hudson, and runs a parallel route beside the bigger river down to Newark Bay. In 55°F late January sunshine, 3 bald eagles flew leisurely circles over the narrow Hackensack River, 2 immatures and a brilliant, white-headed adult. Below them, hundreds of common mergansers, goldeneyes, and mallards mucked in the mostly unfrozen weeds and water.
- Dan Wolff

1/28 - Manhattan, HRM 5: We enjoyed the great weather and saw some nice birds in Central Park, most notably a red phase eastern screech owl, a fox sparrow, and a rusty blackbird.
- Christine Smith, The McCluskey family

1/28 - China Pier, HRM 43: The light tower out in Peekskill Bay had its usual complement of cormorants, a full house, both double-crested and great cormorants, taking up every conceivable perch on the structure except for one. On the very top of the light, like the ornament on the top tier of a wedding cake, was an adult bald eagle.
- Tom Lake

1/29 - George's Island, HRM 39: A dozen children from the Christodora Foundation in Manhattan were here to see their first bald eagle, an eagle in the wild, unfettered by the trappings of a zoo. A steady rain and the chilly day was a challenge, but one by one they stepped up the stool, peered into the 60-power scope, and saw the fierce countenance of an adult bald eagle peering back at them. Their eyes got as big as Moon Pies and the day was warmed by their smiles.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek

1/29 - Manhattan, HRM 11.5: I tend to see many hawks from my Washington Heights window, but this one seemed bigger than the usual red-tails. Then I saw the white head and tail and realized that it was a bald eagle. I watched for the next 15 minutes as it soared and dived in aerial acrobatics until it disappeared across the river into the Palisades.
- William Aghassi

1/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 58°F today, tying the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

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