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Hudson River Almanac July 19 - July 25, 2005

OVERVIEW

Mid-summer brings reminders of some of the Hudson River Valley's more impressive fauna. Bald eagles seem to appear out of thin air; there is the wonderful anticipation of grazing black bears as berry crops ripen in the Catskills and the Adirondack High Peaks; and - as the river warms - the incidence of leaping sturgeon, some 6-8' long, increases in the Hudson Highlands.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/20 - West Point, HRM 47: Dave Black of the West Point Safety Office called today. A big timber rattlesnake was spotted right where cadets were training on the West Point Military Reservation. The snake didn't want to be bothered, so Chris Pray and Mary Zupan from my office went out and picked it up. When they called to tell me how big the snake was, I had them bring the snake back to the office. We had tracked this snake with a radio transmitter in 1996 (transmitter since lost). It was 50" then and now was 54½" long, weighing just over 4 lb. The rattlesnake is at least 20 years old, which is amazing. The best part, however, is that the troops called us and the snake wasn't harmed. My researcher Randy Stechert turned him loose on July 22 near where he was caught, which is the same general area where we caught him in 1996. It is rare to see timber rattlesnakes this big and this old. Cars kill quite a few. Collectors deplete populations and uncaring humans often kill any snake they come across.
- Jim Beemer

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/19 - Newcomb, HRM The overnight air was 57°F. What a relief!
- Ellen Rathbone

7/19 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Fishing with 30 high school students from Manhattan just before an amazing lightning storm hit at 3:30 PM, we caught a young largemouth bass in the seine, as well as two American eels, forty Atlantic silversides, a blue crab, two hogchokers, ten mud crabs, three sand shrimp, two mummichogs, one shore shrimp, forty striped bass, five striped searobins, and three white perch. The water temperature was 83°F and the salinity was 8.8 ppt.
- Jennifer Mokos

7/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: On this morning's Rich Lake Paddle we saw an immature bald eagle fly over. It was only about 20-30 feet overhead - a nice view. That was very exciting since we don't see them that often up here. We also had a loon and a great blue heron, but the eagle was the highlight.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/20 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I keep a few eel pots in the river much of the time, un-baited and open until I need fish for education programs. I pulled a couple today for repairs and each contained a half-dozen blue crabs and three or four channel catfish, content with sharing the cozy confines of the eel pot.
- Tom Lake

7/20 - Manhattan, HRM 1: As an honor for one of New York City's great outdoor educators, the "Sam Holmes" was christened as a brand new New York City Water Taxi. On a two hour tour from South Street Seaport through the lower harbor, we watched common terns dive for fish, and laughing gulls glide quietly by. Mickey Cohen, Regina McCarthy, and I looked up just after passing under the Brooklyn Bridge to watch a pair of great blue herons flying high over the scene. Mickey commented that they were too high to get the full picture of their long legs dragging behind, but we were all satisfied watching their slow, rowing wingbeat in the brilliant sunset.
- Dave Taft

7/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The river was a warm 81°F. Tonight, after a "soft front" had passed through with a little spritzer of a shower, I heard my first katydids of the season. Sublime.
- John Mylod

7/21 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 41-35: We sailed the Hudson River sloop Clearwater into Haverstraw Bay from Verplanck in search of sturgeon to wow our crew and passengers alike. The morning trawl left us disappointed, but we went back down for our afternoon sail figuring the second time would be the charm. As luck would have it, we were delighted to catch a 32" shortnose sturgeon! It was beautiful and just as impressive as those I've seen before. After sharing this magnificent fish and teachable moment with the passengers and crew I released the fish back into Haverstraw Bay. During dinner on the quarter deck near Con Hook, eight miles upriver on our transit to West Point, I happened to glance over the rail on the port side just in time to see the largest Atlantic sturgeon I have ever seen leap out of the water. Although I did not see the entire length of the fish I estimated it must have been 6' long. What a day!
- Jeannine Cahill

[Jumping sturgeon: This area of the Hudson Highlands is at the lower end of a reach, from West Point south to Bear Mountain, that is thought to be a summer nursery for Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. Tom Lake Among the many unusual traits exhibited by sturgeon is their propensity for jumping clear out of the water. Similar to the breaching behavior common to large marine mammals, sturgeon have been observed to leap several feet out of the water and then hit the water with a large and loud splash. There are at least two historic accounts of sturgeon leaping out of the water only to land in a passing rowboat. Scientists are unsure about the exact reason(s) sturgeon engage in this behavior, although a couple of theories are popular. It may be a useful means of ridding the fish of unwanted external parasites. Another theory holds that sturgeon emerge from the surface to gulp air. Laboratory experiments by Dave Secor at the University of Maryland exposed juvenile Atlantic sturgeon to varying levels of dissolved oxygen in laboratory holding tanks. He observed that the sturgeon that were exposed to lowered levels of dissolved oxygen often came to the surface and gulped air. Nancy Haley]

7/21 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 41: From the Hudson River sloop Clearwater in Haverstraw Bay, we measured the river temperature at 84°F.
- Steve Stanne

7/21 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Another gang of kids and adults this evening for our Family Night seining. We pulled a seine in a cove on the bay side of Sandy Hook and landed the usual bunch of 1-2" silversides and 1-3" young-of-the-year "snapper" bluefish. The best fish were three new species for the summer: six northern sennet, a mullet, and two small menhaden ("penny bunker"). The juveniles had moved into the estuary right on time. It was an extra high tide and soupy 78°F water. The requisite black skimmer arrived just before dusk to do its own kind of fishing.
- Dery Bennett

7/22 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: Launching our canoe to battle through the thick water chestnut on Tivoli South Bay, we were greeted by an immature bald eagle flying by. Later we saw an adult in the distance.
- Bob Schmidt, Perry Vasta, Alec Schmidt

7/22 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I set some crab pots and picked some that I already had set. The results were meager but the season is just starting. The full moon this morning may have had an impact on the weak catch. The water temperature was 81°F.
- John Mylod

7/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a chilly 53°F tonight after an absolutely glorious day, the epitome of what an Adirondack summer's day should be. Goldenrod is just starting to bloom, and blueberries and raspberries are ripening all over. I wonder if we will start to see bears grazing soon.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/23 - Town of Saugerties, HRM102: My wife and I were sitting on our front porch this morning when an adult bald eagle came cruising overhead just above the treetops. We got a superb look: fully white head, very yellow bill, white tail, broad wingspan. The eagle lingered with only an occasional flap, gradually drifting toward the northwest, still just above treetops. I have no idea why all of a sudden after so many years we're seeing bald eagles here. The Ashokan Reservoir and the Hudson River are both three to five miles away.
- Dan Marazita, Jan Marazita

[We are seeing more bald eagles because there are more bald eagles to see. In the last eight years, the number of resident bald eagles in Ulster and Greene counties has increased ten-fold and it is not unusual to see one any time of the year. It is common for a bald eagle to travel three to five miles from night roosts or nests to day feeding areas and day perches. Tom Lake]

7/23 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Our Scenic Hudson Weekend Environmental Restoration Crew, meeting at Esopus Meadows Point Preserve, saw two bald eagles. One was an adult that landed and ate what at looked like a fish. Later, we saw another bald eagle, this one an immature, flying over the river.
- Misha Fredericks

Racel Davis chose the bald eagle as a case study of the Endangered Species Act for a Marist College environmental studies class taught by Chris Bowser. This is her poem:

I wish you could hear me out there - just once.
I'd tell you how scared we are that we might be in danger,
That we might lose our home,
Have nothing to eat or that one day we might not even exist - be extinct.
You threaten us but we don't have any way of letting you know.
Sometimes you come up with ways to help us but then decide we don't need your help anymore.
I wish you could hear me out there - just once.
We never know when we may be uprooted, killed for fun, or sold for money.
We climb, we backtrack, we swim, we fly.
We protect each other as we ramble our way home.
But we are always looking behind us rather than towards the familiar horizon
And slow nervous fires burn through our tribes until we are so scattered that we are alone.
Since there is no place large enough to contain us all
You shrug, raise up your hands and say it doesn't matter.
You are not responsible. And we roam through your wreckage - manic whirlwinds of indifference.
Wondering who will care, who will look for us, who will hear us if you can't.
And it's not just me, but all of us delicate species, including yourselves
That wish to be heard by someone
Even if it is just once.
- Racel Davis

7/24 - Green County, HRM 110: A 15-mile Catskill hike on the Rock Shelter, Mary Glen, Escarpment and Colgate Lake trails offered a variety of natural history sightings. Purple fringed orchis and common wood-sorrel were blooming within the moist woods. One plant of starflower had two dried up flowers still evident. The berries were red on true Solomon's seal and bunchberry. The seeds of the clintonia were a deep blue, bringing to mind its other name of bluebead lily. Berries were also present on false lily of the valley, or Canada mayflower. At North Point, harebell and steeplebush were blooming. Edible berries such as blueberries and red raspberries were available. (I ate some, of course.) A pair of ravens flew and called overhead. The highlight of the trip may have been the large waved sphinx moth caterpillar that was crossing the Mary Glen trail a little before the Mary Glen trail intersected with the Escarpment Trail. We ended the hike with a dip in Colgate Lake. It was a great way to spend a beautiful summer's day.
- Reba Wynn Laks, Richard Balint

7/24 - Town of Esopus, HRM87: They seem to come earlier every year: tonight I heard my first katydid.
- Bill Drakert

7/24 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Taking part in a Members Cruise aboard the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, we helped raise the sails and cast off a trawl to catch river life. We also sang some sea chanties and river songs, and made some new friends. All in all it was a great day aboard a great sloop on a great river.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

7/25 - Kaaterskill Creek, HRM 113: We were on a fishing expedition to the Beaver Kill-Kaaterskill Creek area around Asbury. As we rounded a corner on West Camp Road we stopped for a very large (4½") black rat snake on the road. We admired it and gently urged it off into the woods. These large snakes are well known from northern Ulster County.
- Bob Schmidt, Perry Vasta, Mer Mietzelfeld

7/25 - Cornwall, HRM 57: We have a hummingbird feeder set up for the little flying jewels at the Museum of the Hudson Highlands' Kenridge Farm. Last year, we had one or two ruby-throated hummingbirds. I guess they told their friends because this year we are seeing three to four at any given moment of the day! There seems to be nine altogether with three being born this spring. We fill the feeder daily - they drink about a quart a day. What a pleasure to watch these energetic little birds chatter with each other as they zip in and out for a sip.
- Joyce Conroy, Ann Szigethy

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