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Hudson River Almanac June 27 - July 4, 2005

OVERVIEW

This has been a season for fireflies, or lightning bugs. Their flash is a recognition signal that allows the sexes to find each other. Several found their way into my bedroom last week and in the middle of the night their flashing woke me up. It was like having a flashing neon sign outside my window.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/28 - Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York Bight: Professor Holly Haff has sharp eyes. Walking the trails at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge with 18 NYU graduate students, she asked "Could that be a turtle crossing the West Pond trail?" She was only partly right; there were actually two beautiful female diamondback terrapins, walking quickly across the trail. We examined one's markings briefly and then quickly reset it in the direction it had been heading. Realizing it was back on terra firma, the turtle took one look around, and in a cloud of turtle dust, flushed every Canada goose and black duck along its path to the West Pond, an absolute sprint for a turtle.
- Dave Taft

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: White admiral butterflies were out in droves, just as tiger swallowtails were earlier. And like the swallowtails, the white admirals have been puddling. I watched a snarl of dragonflies this evening buzzing and bouncing off the blacktop on the road down to the Hudson River pumphouse. I suspect it was a female with multiple suitors. Water levels are way down. There are rocks in the river that I use as a gauge. A couple of weeks ago they were completely submerged. Now they are 3'-4' above the water. A white-tail deer crossed yesterday evening and I don't think the water got above her ankles. It's a feast or famine rain season so far this year. I have not seen many hummingbirds yet. Maybe they are all just tending their nests and keeping to themselves, and maybe last year was just a bumper crop year for hummers.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/27 - Quassaic Creek, HRM 60: Ken Kellerman, a bridge inspector for CSX, came into the DEC Region 3 office today with a dead fish he spotted floating in the water while inspecting a trestle over the tidal mouth of the Quassaic. It looked like an eel, 25" long, but its mouth was a disk filled with rows of small, sharp teeth. Instead of a flap-like gill cover, there were seven small round gill openings on each side of the fish. This was an adult sea lamprey.
- Steve Stanne

[On a evolutionary scale, sea lampreys are very old, older than sharks, skates and rays, survivors from a time when fish had no skeletal bones. They are parasitic and anadromous, swimming into fresh water to spawn. In some instances a lamprey will hitch a ride upriver, its raspy sucker mouth attached to the side of a soft-scaled fish like American shad. (It is not uncommon to catch a shad with the red, raw, circular scar from a lamprey.) In some places their parasitism causes great economic loss, particularly in the Great Lakes, where trout and salmon are major recreational species. Sea lampreys have been documented spawning from late May through June in tributaries including Stockport Creek, Catskill Creek, Kaaterskill, Roeliff Jansen's Kill, Rondout Creek, Black Creek, and Indian Brook. It is probable that other Hudson River tributaries like the Quassaic are also used. Sea lampreys use their mouth as a suction cup, attaching to cobbles in streams and moving them to form mounded, circular nests. Their scientific name, Petromyzon marinus, translates as "rock sucker from the sea." They die after spawning. The larvae (called ammocoetes) drift downstream and bury themselves in sandy or silty areas in the stream, heads out to filter small organic particles out of the water. They may remain in the ammocoete stage for 5-7 years before transforming into juveniles, developing eyes and numerous teeth in the mouth. The fish then migrate to the sea to take up their parasitic life stage. They stay at sea for several years before returning to spawn. Bob Schmidt, Tom Lake]

6/27 - West Point, HRM 52: It was hot and steamy this afternoon but it came with an unexpected reward. Bill Grohoski told me that he had seen a red-tailed hawk perched on the fence by Shea Stadium. He said the hawk dropped to the ground as he left, as if looking to feed. I drove down to have a look and possibly take some close-up photos of the 2005 Pendragon offspring. I spotted one hawk seated on the top lights on the most southeast tower. Through the binoculars, the bird looked a bit "downy" and I thought it must be Guinevere, the female chick from this year's brood. But going to the other side of the field and looking again, I could tell it was Igraine, the chicks' mother. I could hear young red-tails in the trees nearby. Lancelot was sitting on a branch 8' off the ground, being quite noisy. A blue jay and a mockingbird were harassing him - the blue jay even smacked him in the head. Lancelot had a puzzled look on his face. He was also "panting" (gular fluttering) because of the heat and humidity. While watching him, something caught my eye in the next tree: two more red-tail chicks! There HAD been three chicks this year but one managed to avoid prying eyes until now. It was another male, being noticeably smaller than the female chick, Guinevere. I decided to call this one Galahad. There were also signs that the parents Uther and Igraine were having no difficulties providing: the remains of a squirrel were below Guinevere and Galahad. What a surprise!
- Jim Beemer

6/27 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: I spotted a phantom crane fly early this morning not far from the tidal Indian Brook at the Constitution Marsh Sanctuary. It was flying vertically with splayed black and white banded legs, looking both beautiful and unusual.
- Eric Lind

[Phantom crane flies are very rare around tidal wetlands along the Hudson River. They are much more common in fens and fen meadows in eastern Dutchess County, northwest Connecticut, and New Jersey. The first time I saw one I was a teenager and I was so impressed (after I got over thinking I'd seen a fairy) that I made a sketch and sent it to the American Museum of Natural History, asking what it was. I'm not much of a draughtsman, so it speaks to the distinctiveness of the adult insect that someone was able to identify it from my sketch and description. Erik Kiviat]

6/28 - Westerlo, HRM 136: I thought about Alfred Hitchcock today after having a close encounter with some barn swallows. Each spring barn swallows arrive in early May and some take up housekeeping in our horse barn, which is fine. The birds mind their own business and eat a lot of insects. This week, the baby birds were out of the nest and learning to fly, or at least trying. Entering the horse barn two days ago I saw a baby swallow on the ground in the aisle way. As soon as I walked in, I was dive-bombed by the adults. I ducked into one of the horse stalls where I saw another baby swallow on the floor. Fearing it would get stepped on by Honey, my husband's horse, I gently urged it into the aisle way. The adults grew even more frantic. I went about my business feeding the horse, while the adults dove and chirped at me. The two baby swallows just sat there. Last night, one of the baby swallows was still in the barn, but had managed to flutter up on top of some hay bales. When I walked by it fluttered its wings and the adults showed up, loudly flying around my head, coming much too close. This morning all the swallows were flying. I guess it's safe to go back to the horse barn.
- Hetty Jo Brumbach

6/28 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: I teach a class called "Self, Nature and History" at Marist College. Tonight's class could have been be titled "Hudson River Marshes Up Close and Personal." The 15-student class was treated to a canoe trip through the Tivoli North Bay marsh, hosted by Laurie Fila and Dan Miller of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Our destination was Magdalen Island, but along the way we stopped to talk about invasive species, the various nutrient budgets of the marsh, and changes to the marsh from railroad embankments to phragmites colonization. Once on Magdalen Island, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the Catskills that would have had Thomas Cole scrambling for vermillion and azure. The paddle back was attended by flights of swallows and the songs of swamp sparrows, marsh wrens, and even some enthusiastic students.
- Chris Bowser

6/28 - Shawangunks, HRM 81: Our Minnewaska Birding Group, which began with three of us last March, has grown to about a dozen regulars. Today we were birding in the Jenny Lane area when we looked down and saw, not far away, a huge black bear in the middle of the trail. He looked us over, including my dog who was sitting quietly, and we gazed speechlessly at him. Then he walked on into the woods. No one had a camera because it was raining. Later we spotted a black-billed cuckoo. We've had them before but never like this: that bird did not budge. It just sat there for the whole time that we watched, which was a good while. In fact, we were the first to leave.
- Anne A. Smith

6/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We got some rain yesterday: 0.88". It was one of those storms where it would come down in buckets, hard and heavy, for about 2-3 minutes, then let up. As a result, most of it became run-off, but what did soak in was greatly appreciated by the local vegetation! The spreading dogbane burst into bloom over night, and the black-eyed susans should be opening today, too. Milkweed opened yesterday.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/29 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: This morning we spotted the baby bald eagle on the ground under a hemlock tree not far from the nest. One of the adults had brought a fish for it, and stood nearby and watched it feed.
- Bruce Pung, Rosalie Pung

6/30 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Saw an amazing (and somewhat disturbing) sight. I had just pulled out of my driveway to head in to work and out of the corner of my eye I saw a crow plummeting to the ground, wings folded back. I missed the "impact"but I saw the crow on the ground with something in its beak, something still alive and moving. I jumped out of the car, and ran into the yard. By then the crow was gone, but there on the ground were feathers. This crow had attacked and carted away a cedar waxwing!
- Ellen Rathbone

6/30 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: For the first time in several years of sampling fishes here, we caught some young-of-the year blueback herring. On another subject, I've never seen so many fireflies as I have this year.
- Bob Schmidt

7/1 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: It was only 6:00 PM but the sky had the look of night. A huge black cloud spanning several miles of shoreline moved across the river from west to east. Lightning bolts flashed from its belly and along the leading edge; a curtain of driving rain crept slowly eastward. Beneath the downpour the river churned, spray tossed back by a strong northeast wind. The tumult reminded me of those old movies where Godzilla was about to emerge from the sea. The edge of the thunderstorm passed overhead and the deluge cut visibility to zero. Over a third of an inch of rain (0.37) fell in 20 minutes. Flashes of lightning gave me momentary glimpses of wisps of black clouds reaching down from the sky. I felt like I was in Kansas.
- Tom Lake

7/3 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: Early this morning I took a low tide walk on the point. A flock of chimney swifts were exiting and re-entering the old incinerator stack. Two white-tail does, in company with a green heron and a black-crowned night heron, were out on the exposed flats feeding amongst the water chestnut. The mulberries were ripe and a school of carp had stationed themselves below a tree overhanging the water. As soon as a mulberry fell to the water several carp raced after it. Numerous molted blue crab shells were strewn along the tideline.
- Stephen M. Seymour

7/3 - Manhattan, HRM 4: Red-tailed hawks Pale Male and Lola did not have a successful brood this season. It is assumed that the nest built on the new platform 12 stories above Central Park at 920 Fifth Avenue was not quite big enough (see Almanac, 12/7/04.) This had been Pale Male's experience the first few nesting seasons. However, the good news is that he is likely a grandpa. Since none of his offspring are banded there is no sure way of knowing, but a male (named Pale Male Jr. by hawk fans) with the same light color variation as Pale Male is nesting on Trump Parc, bordering on West 58th Street, 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) and Central Park South. This assumed son and Charlotte, his mate, have two chicks.
- Regina McCarthy

7/4 - Shawangunks, HRM 81: My family and I were hiking in Sam's Point Preserve, part of the Shawangunk Ridge, when I practically stepped on a 5' timber rattlesnake. My foot came down within inches but the snake didn't move. Timber rattlesnakes are an endangered species in New York; they inhabit this pine barren habitat but are rarely seen. I'm not sure why it didn't move and I'm really not sure how we missed 3' worth of a very fat (3- 4 inch diameter) snake laying out in front of us, but it truly wasn't until my foot was coming down that I saw it. We watched the snake (and its rattle) slither into the bushes.
- Carol O'Biso

7/4 - Stony Point, HRM 40: A group of "Friends of Stony Point" gathered at Stony Point Lighthouse today to celebrate Independence Day with song and dance. At sunset the group moved uphill to the lighthouse with the thought in mind that we would see fireworks from various communities along the Hudson. We saw some, but the real fireworks were right at the park. The fireflies provided a show with thousands of sparkling blinking lights spread out over the hillsides throughout the trees and hedges. The view from the lighthouse is spectacular and this is a gem of a spot to see a tremendous stretch of the river. Scott Craven gave tours of the lighthouse with a great history lesson, and the fireflies provided a light show that outdid all others.
- Henry Atterbury, Denise Vitale

7/4 - Yonkers, HRM 18: I was in the park in back of the Beczak Environmental Education Center waiting for the fireworks show. In the marsh restoration area I spotted a willet. This is the first willet that I'm aware of for the City of Yonkers. Willets, a shorebird, are occasionally found in the Hudson; there are records from Westchester, Rockland and Dutchess Counties.
- Michael Bochnik

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