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Hudson River Almanac July 6-12, 2004

OVERVIEW

The seasonal rhythms of wildlife often seem contradictory to what we perceive as winter, spring, summer, and fall. When we are shoveling our driveways in January and February, it's indisputably winter, but migratory shad and herring in Mid-Atlantic ocean waters are waking up to spring and heading toward their natal rivers. Their biological clocks are triggered by lengthening daylight. Now, Rich Guthrie reminds us, just as we are becoming acclimated to the joys of summer, migratory birds - sensing the lessening daylight and other cues - are beginning their fall migration.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/9 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: The very first signs of fall migration have appeared on the Hudson. Ring-billed gulls are passing through - adults that leave their nesting areas just as soon as their offspring are fledged. The numbers are still low, about 5-6 at a time, but they will increase as summer goes on. Sandpipers are also showing up here; they too depart as the young are emancipated. Spotted sandpipers, killdeer, and upland sandpipers will congregate in extra-family groups at favorable habitats for their kind. The territorial barriers are coming down; they will be more tolerant of others of their species nearby. By mid-July, the migration will have begun in earnest up and down the Atlantic Coast and inland waterways such as the Hudson River. The first wave will be the adults. Later, the young will follow, unguided, to their wintering areas, some as far away as Patagonia, Argentina. Now is the time that birders watch out for very rare vagrants such as the wood sandpiper that showed up in Westchester County and the broad-billed sandpiper at Jamaica Bay a few years ago. Both individuals probably came from Siberia, having followed some flock the wrong way east, then south. Each year there are a few such reports of mega-rarities somewhere along the Eastern Flyway. As I like to say: "Expect the unexpected."
- Rich Guthrie

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/6 - Hudson River Estuary: We've been busy chasing sonic-tagged Atlantic sturgeon since they were released. Here is a brief update: Hatchery Fish: These fish are covering a lot of water. The distance moved between re-sightings is much more than that of wild fish and there is no particular direction to the movement. A ten mile journey downriver one week is likely to be followed by a trip several miles upriver the following week.
- Release #1: Fifteen hatchery-raised fish were released at Norrie Point (RM 87) on May 19. By the following week, nearly all of the fish had moved ten or more miles to the south. They are now spread from the lower Tappan Zee (RM 18) to Kingston (RM 92). Thirteen of the fifteen fish in this release have been located in recent weeks, three of these in the lower Tappan Zee. One was fast approaching Hastings on Hudson (RM 21.5) on June 14 but has not been relocated since.
- Release #2: Ten more hatchery fish were released at Ulster Landing Park (RM 95) north of Kingston on June 22. These fish were also eager to explore the river. Three of the ten have not been located since the week of release. Two were found this week near West Point (RM 51); they had made a 44 mile trip since their liberation just over a week ago. The remaining five fish are pretty evenly distributed between the Wappinger Creek (RM 67.5) and Staatsburg (RM 85).
Wild Fish: Nine wild sonic-tagged Atlantic sturgeon were captured and released in Haverstraw Bay during the week of April 26. In late April and May, most were found in the upper reaches of Haverstraw Bay, particularly in the deep water by Stony Point (RM 40). By late May and June most had moved into the Hudson Highlands between Jones Point (RM 42) and just north of Con Hook (RM 49). During the week of June 28, seven of the nine wild sturgeon were still around, and an eighth had been located the week before. This week also saw the most southerly excursion of any of the wild fish - one found near Hastings on Hudson (RM 21.5). This fish was approaching the submersible hydrophones we have deployed to monitor the emigration of sonic-tagged sturgeon. We intend to check data recorded by the hydrophones to see if any of the fish we have not located recently have left the river.
- Gregg Kenney, NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit

7/6 - Navesink, NJ, New York Bight: From Twin Lights, gulls glided overhead and ships made their way under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, easing their way through the Ambrose Channel. The air for this July day was crystal clear except for residual smoke from a mattress factory fire wafting eastward high above Brooklyn. With binoculars we could even get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in the upper bay as sunlight glistened off its torch.
- Ed Spaeth

7/7 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I was fishing for bass in the tidewater creek when, almost out of nowhere, an immature bald eagle swooped down not 50 feet from my boat, and scattered a brood of 8-10 mallard ducklings.
- Joe Essenger

[From a detailed description of this bird, it may have been the female (Y57) of the newly fledged pair from nest NY62, still learning about putting some stealth in her hunt.]

7/8 - Town of Durham, HRM 125: I flushed a brood of about ten "quail-size" ruffed grouse on my property. The first time the hen alerted me, but not the second time. This inspired me to mow the acre-size opening in the woods that we call "the orchard" using a sickle bar mower for the first time in three years. Three hours of this was exhausting - you do not "walk" a sickle bar mower, at least the walk-behind kind. It's more like a strenuous wrestling match, pulling it back and forth cutting half-inch to one-inch saplings.
- Larry Biegel

7/8 - Punch Brook, HRM 111: We were in Punch Brook, a small weedy tributary of the Roeliff-Jansen Kill, looking for some small stream fishes that we think might be disappearing in the Hudson Valley. We were not having much success; the water was quite deep. We did catch a number of redfin pickerel which we thought was unusual - rarely do we see them in numbers. We noticed a small mammal struggling along the edge of a bridge abutment which we ultimately corralled in our bucket. It was a hairytail mole! We don't see these guys very often. Later we did some seining upstream in the Roeliff-Jansen Kill, a mile or so southwest of Copake in Columbia County. Among other fishes, we caught a yellow bullhead. We do not remember ever seeing this species in the drainage before. When we looked it up in C. Lavett Smith's book, Inland Fishes of New York, it was not listed for any eastern tributary of the tidal Hudson River. A few weeks ago, we collected yellow bullheads in the Fallkill around Poughkeepsie.
- Bob Schmidt, Jackie Anderson, Nsikan Akpan

[A number of yellow bullheads, in and around eastern shore tributaries, have been documented in the Hudson River Almanac: October 1994 at Wappinger Creek; July 1995 at Little Stony Point; and November 2001 at Wappinger Creek. Karen Stainbrook collected yellow bullheads in both the Fishkill and Wappinger Creek in 2002 and 2003. It appears that we are in the middle of a yellow bullhead invasion in Eastern New York.- Bob Schmidt]

7/9 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 101.5: Seining as part of our annual fisheries monitoring project, we caught a single adult brook silverside. We caught another in the same program in 2001. Brook silverside is a relatively recent resident in the tidal Hudson River, but it does not seem to do well in tidal habitats. Contrast our catching two in four years compared to catching hundreds around the locks in Waterford in a single day (October 4, 2001, see VIII:50).
- Bob Schmidt, Jackie Anderson, Nsikan Akpan

7/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The "Greener Lawn" people just spent an hour inundating my neighbor's lawn with a fine, spray mist of pesticides, grub-b-gone, etc. Whatever was in the soil under the grass was now trying to get out. No sooner had the truck pulled away than a female robin flew from a nest in my sycamore to reap the rewards. In short order she came back to the nest with dinner for her second brood.
- Tom Lake

7/10 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: In midday, both immature eagles were sitting side-by-side in the nest. Here were two full size bald eagles, albeit only 13 weeks old, wondering when dinner would arrive. Baby bald eagles are notorious beggars. The adults were nowhere to be seen.
- Tom Lake

7/11 - Stockport Flats, HRM 120-124: On a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon with a mild breeze, our family canoed and kayaked 13 miles from the new Schodack Island State Park to Stockport Flats. Bald eagles and great blue herons shared the weekend river with multitudes of recreational boaters. We saw our first adult eagle flying just north of New Baltimore and a juvenile placidly sitting on a mudflat looking for treats across from Rattlesnake Island. We were rewarded near the end of our trip with three adult eagles doing acrobatics over the marsh between Stockport Middle Ground Island and Stockport Station Landing. Our two teenage boys had never seen eagles so close.
- Barbara Kendall

7/11 - New Windsor, HRM 59: With summer nature camp well underway, the staff of the Museum of the Hudson Highlands has been enjoying the opportunity to monitor the happenings at Kowawese Park on a daily basis, assisted by eager young naturalists! Crab traps, set each week since June 28, have not been very successful. However, the seining along the sandy beach has yielded spottail shiners, golden shiners, juvenile yellow perch, largemouth bass, and six blue crabs, still soft after a recent moult.
- Ann Szigethy

7/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We have baby bluebirds! There is at least one, but there are probably others. I peeked into the nest box opening last night and saw one itty-bitty little head with a large mouth attached, peeping persistently but quietly. I'm guessing they are very recently hatched. I planted a trumpet vine yesterday and I am hopeful that it will grow and be lush and will attract all the hummers in the neighborhood. Chicory has begun to bloom.
- Ellen Rathbone

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