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Hudson River Almanac July 12 - July 18, 2005

OVERVIEW

There are times of year when the transition from sea level to the High Peaks is barely noticeable. However, in mid-summer, the lower estuary becomes a sultry, salty inland sea while the Adirondacks experience cool nights. This is typically a time of year when the world seems to slow down. Most breeding birds and spawning fish have finished their work, and the air and water are now filling with this year's progeny. After a frenetic spring, it is as though the river valley and its wildlife are taking a break.

HIGHLIGHT FROM A PREVIOUS WEEK

6/6 - Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, HRM 118.5: Regina Walther's and Aimee Johnson's third, fourth, and fifth grade students from Mountain Road School in New Lebanon visited the Hudson City Light, also known as the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse. They traveled out in "Little Spirit", a pontoon boat provided by Hudson Cruises. Through binoculars, they saw osprey, great blue heron, bald eagles, Canada geese, and wood ducks.
- Fran Martino

We met Emily Brunner who lived in the lighthouse from 1930 to 1936. Her father used to ring the bell every 15 seconds when there was fog. She told us how her mother made her put on her rain slicker and hat and sit outside in a thunder and lightning storm. After that, she and her four brothers were never afraid of thunderstorms again. We had a tour of the lighthouse, counting 42 stairs as we climbed to the top.
- Skylar Wisswaesser, Odell Bouchard, Kevin Feathers, Miller Fina

Splash, splash
The waves do crash
on the lighthouse walls.
Ding, ding, goes the bell.
We need to make sure
They don't lose their way.
- Kyle Johnson

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: Just after lunch, I was with our summer camp kids in front of the Natural History Center when an immature bald eagle flew over. There is a good chance that it was the female June fledgling from a nest not far away.
- Mary Borrelli

7/12 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Archie Edgar walked to the outside docks at the New Hamburg Yacht Club for a clear cast of a small silver spinner. On his second cast he hooked and landed a foot-long hickory shad!
- Lawson Edgar

[Hickory shad, a rather large herring, are seasonally common in the New York Bight. Their presence in the Hudson, however, is more sporadic. In the southern part of their range, Delaware Bay to North Carolina, they are anadromous like American shad in that they ascend tidal rivers to spawn in freshwater. Their life history in the Hudson estuary is largely unknown but appears to be connected to population abundance in the New York Bight and subsequent overflow into the lower Hudson. Occasionally a few adult hickory shad will be found in spring, mixed among migrating American shad. More typically, however, they appear in late summer and fall along with schools of yoy bluefish ("snapper blues"). Tom Lake]

7/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: During the early to mid 1990s, upwards of 150 pairs of cliff swallows hung their vase-shaped mud nests under the eaves of the old Underhill horse barn and fruit warehouse buildings on Croton Point. They were always a treat to see and hear, and then they vanished for no apparent reason. This year a small colony of about a dozen pairs has re-occupied the east side of the fruit warehouse. May they prosper and be fruitful.
- Christopher Letts

7/12 - Croton River, HRM 34: There is no doubt about when this year's crop of great blue herons went out on their own. Until now, the occasional bird seen here and there has been in adult plumage. Beginning a couple of days ago, more than a dozen immature birds arrived to stalk the sandbars and mud flats. For the past three days a common loon in breeding plumage has been foraging in the lower Croton River. The bird exhibits very tame behavior, sometimes surfacing within 50' of the human admirers on shore. Midge Taube and I were exchanging observations of loons eating blue crabs when the bird surfaced 20 yards out with a small crab in its bill. It proceeded to swallow the crab without apparent difficulty.
- Christopher Letts

7/12 - Jamaica Bay, New York Bight: Osprey have had a banner year at Gateway National Recreation Area. This morning, on one nesting platform in the beautiful north marsh of the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, four young birds jostled for space as they tested their wings. A little south of this gorgeous marshland nest a young pair were victims of the tight osprey real estate market. With all the marsh platforms and bell buoys taken, this pair began building a nest on a telephone pole along Cross Bay Boulevard last year. They returned to successfully raise two young this season. The view is not as good, with cars zipping along the boulevard, but the fishing must be. As I watched, the female returned to the nest with the catch of the day. I can't help thinking about the story of country mouse and city mouse, and just how rare these birds were when I started working at the park.
- Dave Taft

7/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I saw my first monarch of the season this evening. Toby Rathbone and I were out walking along the Campsite Road leading to the Lake Harris Campground for a change of pace and there was a butterfly flitting around someone's yard. I looked, and looked again, and by golly it was a monarch! After that, we had to award ourselves with soft ice cream from Scoops, a great way to top off a hot, humid and buggy evening.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/13 - North River, HRM 263: In celebration of the Great Hudson River Paddle, four of us decided to travel to the free-flowing Hudson near North River to make a day of kayaking the Upper Hudson River Gorge. We just managed to catch the tail-end of the whitewater release, which emanates from Lake Abanakee and Indian Lake into the Indian River. It quickly took us down this swift, narrow Hudson tributary, leading us into the Hudson River Gorge. There was plenty of water in the river to make for a fun day. The banks were lush with vegetation from the river's edge to as far as the eye could see. How inspiring to experience a protected wilderness corridor with no obvious human disturbance. Then, out of nowhere, we hear a loud roar barreling down the river behind us. Before we knew it, two U.S. Air Force A-10 aircraft suddenly descended, flew just overhead, quickly turned skyward, and climbed out of sight. What an experience: 14 miles of beautiful scenery and frothy whitewater, and 10 seconds of sensory overload.
- Rich Shands, Bret Gerkie, Sean O'Sullivan, Scott Cuppett

7/13 - West Point, HRM 52: I went to check on the Pendragon red-tailed hawks at the North Athletic Fields. As I arrived, I heard a high-pitched hawk cry, definitely one of this year's chicks. As I looked around the skies above the fields, I saw a juvenile redtail slowly circling above the wooded area next to the nest light towers. When I looked through the binoculars, I could see it was Guinevere, the female from this year's group of chicks. She appeared to be delighting in learning how to ride the thermals, being lifted up slowly as she circled above the trees. The cries sounded like the squeals of delight when a child is learning to ride a bicycle.
- Jim Beemer

7/13 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Learning Garden Nursery School, ten two- to five-year-olds, came to the Beczak Center for a seining demonstration in which we caught many yoy bluefish, as well as striped bass, Atlantic silversides, and two hogchokers. Also in the net, between the mud and debris, was a half-inch striped sea robin, the first of this season. That was quite the catch of the day.
- Vicky Garufi

[Sea robins derive their name from large pectoral fins that resemble the wings of a bird. While they are primarily fish of salt water, they are not uncommon as summer and fall visitors in the lower estuary. On rare occasions of elevated salinity from drought, they will stray northward into the Hudson Highlands. Tom Lake]

7/13 - Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn: It was more than the office that was stinking up the air this evening. As I opened the door, "eau de skunk" hung in the damp evening air. Skunks are not documented at the park. I excitedly, searched for what I figured would be the inevitable road kill. I found none. I guess I'll be looking for a new, black-and-white, garbage can raider in the park over the next few weeks. I hope he gives the raccoons and opossums a run for their money.
- Dave Taft

7/13 - Sandy Hook, NJ: This evening was the first of seven Family Nights when we take kids out to pull a seine and dig in the mud in a cove on the bayside of Sandy Hook. They (and their parents) get a chance to sample the productivity of estuarine waters. Here is what we found: handfuls of less-than-one-inch silversides, killifish, and one each snapper bluefish, pipefish, needlefish, spot or croaker, plus shrimp, calico, mud, spider, and hermit crabs, mud snails, slipper shells, soft and hard clams, and a sand worm. Common and least terns dived to pick off escaping silversides, and a black skimmer came along near dusk. These were wet, sandy, muddy kids with lots to handle gently, look at, and learn about. To top it all off, a calico crab pinched one youngster's finger, almost hard enough to draw blood. Not a whimper.
- Dery Bennett

7/14 - Kingston, HRM 92: A three-day teacher's conference ended this evening with a Hudson River tour aboard the Teal, out of Kingston, guided by Steve Stanne of the DEC Hudson River Estuary Program. As we left the creek I gazed out among the gulls and cormorants sitting on the jetty on the south side of the Rondout, jostling for space. One bird, large and white, stood out among the others. It was too big and bulky to be an egret or a swan. As we drew closer, the bird raised its unmistakable head. Indeed, there sat a white pelican, probably blown here by one of the recent severe storms. A rarity in the Hudson Valley, and a real treat for me, number 100 on my life list of birds.
- Melissa Henneman

[White pelicans nest in the upper Great Plains and adjoining provinces of Canada, west to the Pacific. They are rare to uncommon along the Mid-Atlantic coast as well as in the Hudson Valley. The cyclonic flow of strong storms, such as the recent tropical storms Cindy and Dennis, may draw them southeast from the Great Lakes. A white pelican was in Cornwall Bay for several days in May 1993. In May 1994 one was seen on the same jetty in Kingston and a month later two were spotted flying over Wave Hill in the Bronx. Tom Lake]

7/14 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: She was demure and beautiful, standing on the hillside bordering Constitution Marsh. Her glare told me she didn't think the same things about me. We stared at each other for a moment through a lowbush blueberry and then she was gone. Like a fool in love I went back the next morning even earlier and waited, but the bobcat never showed.
- Eric Lind

7/15 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: I raised monarchs from egg to butterfly this year and released them at the Greenport Conservation Area. As I was paddling across the channel at Nutten Hook today I saw a monarch fly over. I swear it was one of mine!
- Fran Martino

7/15 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The river temperature has been above and below the 80°F mark for the last couple of weeks. This morning at 9:30 the river was back to 80°F.
- John Mylod

7/16 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34: I hauled my bait net this morning and was pleased to find, among the smaller fish, three Atlantic sturgeon between 3-4' long. None were gilled and all were released without harm. As I fished, and on the way in, sturgeon were leaping from the water every minute or so.
- George Hatzmann

7/16 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34: The sturgeon are really jumping these days, all different sizes of them. Today it looked like it was raining sturgeon.
- Midgie Taube

7/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While on our evening stroll through part of the Newcomb Golf Course, I heard a tap tap tapping in the conifers overhead. I scanned the trees and was amazed to see a black-backed woodpecker right out there where anyone who was walking by could enjoy him.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

7/17 - Croton River, HRM 34: Small schools of penny bunker circled and shimmered, erupting now and then as finger-sized snapper blues charged into them. A Lilliputian version of what October might bring, we hoped, recalling schools of bigger prey fish stalked by good-sized stripers and bluefish in years past. The haze was heavy, the atmosphere palpable, but a nice breeze came in over the water and massive dark clouds rolling in over the Palisades promised a change, if not relief, for the humidity and heat. In the preceding calm, two osprey chirped from a dead tree and half a dozen great blue herons stalked the banks. A loon foraged close under the reeds on the far bank, and two great blue herons poked through the reeds. Lesser yellowlegs, spotted and least sandpipers, and killdeer combined with the low-tide aroma of mud flats and stranded wild celery to help us believe we were on a marine shoreline.
- Christopher Letts, Midgie Taube

["Penny bunker" is a colloquial name given by rivermen to young-of-the-year Atlantic menhaden, a herring, and a universal food in the Tappan Zee. They are pursued by a broad range of predators from bluefish to great blue herons. In marine waters they are often referred to as "peanut bunker." Tom Lake]

7/18 - Fishkill, HRM 62: This evening a beautiful white moth with dark markings inadvertently flew into our kitchen. Its wingspan was nearly 3" wide. Our cat pursued it, but I quickly rescued it and released it outdoors before I realized its destructive nature. One female leopard moth tends to lay over 800 eggs and their resultant caterpillars can be invidious pests feeding on shrubbery and boring into trees. This well could be the culprit which is killing my red maples.
- Ed Spaeth

7/18 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was 80°F at 5:30 a.m. The humidity was 100%. My mood was dour as I paddled my way down to the driveway, through the broth that passed for atmosphere. Who wants to hike 5 miles in this? A chirping osprey and a family of orioles near the Croton Railroad Bridge cheered me up, and with fogged binoculars and hot and sticky at the beginning, I headed out to walk the Croton Point peninsula. Shimmering schools of small mossbunker were all that disturbed the river's surface, shattering, reforming, always moving. The only breeze was the one I generated, and walking fast was more comfortable than a slower pace. I soldiered on for an hour, experiencing the sense of well-being that comes with exercise out of doors, especially when reluctantly begun. The treat for the day was the sight of a merlin sweeping in across the marsh, then flying almost all the way around the landfill before skipping off into the woods.
- Christopher Letts

7/18 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Afternoon thunder pumpers the past two days dumped 3.75" of rain, enough to chase the salt down the river as none was discernable here today.
- Christopher Letts

[Runoff from local storms can create freshwater conditions at the mouths of the Croton River and other tributaries to the estuary. However, in the mainstem, the salt front reached HRM 60 at Newburgh on July 12 and hovered there throughout the period covered in this Almanac. Steve Stanne]

7/18 - Queens, New York Bight: It was like kindergarten at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge today as young birds were learning the ropes. Fledgling osprey seemed to be everywhere. Two immatures made their high pitched squeaky calls as they flew awkwardly from dead pine snags along the West Pond Trail. Another called from the tall Spartina grass under its nesting platform, probably the result of a too-ambitious bout of wing flapping in the nest. Two or three more were calling to their parents from deep within black willow branches too heavily leaved to afford much view of the local fishing, and definitely not a place to try to fly out of on a pair of three foot wings (adults would never have landed in those leafy boughs!). On the trail itself, a family of thrashers never could quite get out of our way. Three young and an adult ran along the gravel path in front of us for yards at a time. They flew off into the shrubs and then back onto the trail four or five times before they finally figured out how to avoid us.
- Dave Taft

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