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Hudson River Almanac July 1 - July 8, 2006

OVERVIEW

Where would we be without bluebirds? I liken them to a nice cold glass of water that quenches thirst and soothes nerves. Does it seem like there are more bluebirds around in recent years, or are people simply doing a better job sharing their stories? There are times, however, when we need a stimulus to get us moving. I liken a male Baltimore oriole to a good, strong cup of coffee, a flash of red-orange to jump-start the senses.

HIGHLIGHT OF A PREVIOUS WEEK

7/8 - Dutchess Junction, HRM 60: I was driving north on Route 9D this morning when a bobcat crossed the highway. I stopped. From the other side it seemed to be enticing its kitten to follow. The kitten, apparently spooked by my stopped car, wouldn't join its parent on the opposite side, so I drove on hoping that would facilitate a mother and child reunion. (See the Almanac, Denning's Point, June 29.)
- Tinya Seeger

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/1 - Albany, HRM 145: Our water year (or hydrologic year) runs from October 1 to September 30. As of today, Albany was running a water surplus of 15.33" going back to October 2005, the 2nd wettest month on record. June 2006 was the 7th wettest month on record at 8.74".
- Jason Gough, Meteorologist

7/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I had a cuckoo in my cherry tree this evening. I had just finished mowing the front lawn and was sitting on a rock by the garden, cooling off and fending off the thousands of blackflies that were making up for the last couple days of rain. A bird winged its way across the yard into the tree. In a flash the following thoughts went through my mind. What was that? It wasn't a mourning dove; not quite right for merlin or sharp-shinned; colors wrong for a mockingbird; what is it? I walked around the tree, trying to get a better look, but the silly thing kept hopping from branch to branch. I finally went in for my binoculars and bird book but, of course, when I got back out it was gone. Cuckoo came to mind so I looked it up and I think that is what it was. Black or yellow-billed, I couldn't say. And while cuckoos are not unheard of in the Adirondacks, in my mind it is still an unusual bird and rather exciting.
- Ellen Rathbone

[Breeding Bird Atlas maps for both cuckoos suggest that they are less common in the Adirondacks than elsewhere in New York. Cuckoos have been more in evidence this year with gypsy moth and forest tent caterpillar outbreaks in the Hudson Valley. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Birds of North America Online, cuckoo nesting is correlated with such outbreaks. Unlike most birds, cuckoos eagerly eat these caterpillars, sometimes consuming 10-15 per minute. Stomachs of individual cuckoos may contain more than 100 large caterpillars or several hundred of the smaller species. The bristly spines of these hairy caterpillars pierce the cuckoo's stomach lining, giving it a furry coating. When the mass obstructs digestion, the entire stomach lining is sloughed off and regurgitated as a pellet. Steve Stanne.]

7/2 - Beacon to Denning's Point, HRM 61-60: In anticipation of resuming my fishing, I walked the Riverside Trail from Beacon Station to Denning's Point. I was happy to note that my frequent fishing focus, carp, had penetrated the hundreds of yards of water chestnut that covers the entire bay in a thick blanket. Small pods of carp were spawning in the 25-30' margin of clear water lying between the shoreline and the water chestnut.
- Bill Greene

7/2 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: This should be the apogee of the curve of population density for the fiddler crabs in their mall catch basin "Shangri-La" but things don't seem to be going so well. The density of holes in the mud is definitely lower than it usually is at this time of year. A few years ago they appeared to be wiped out and it was proposed that this drastic decline may have been caused by lack of sufficient salinity due to greater than usual rainfall. Later developments seemed to cast doubt on this hypothesis but I just looked at the salt front on the Hudson and it is only 14 miles above New York Bay. This is the farthest south that I have seen it and it revives the lack of salinity explanation for the fiddler crab's difficulties. There are no outlying colonies visible in their usual sites. These often form when times are good (high density of colonies in the catch basin that seems to be their ideal site).One other oddity: I have seen a single canvasback hanging around the area for a week or so. What is it doing here this time of year? At first I thought it was sick or injured but that does not seem to be the case. In nearly seven years of looking I have never seen a canvasback here past February.
- Terry Milligan

7/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: All of the summer flowers were in bloom: chicory, white sweet clover, bedstraw, brown-eyed Susans, rose mallow, and others. One of my nest boxes on the golf course is now bluebirdless. I'm hoping they fledged; it's about the right timing. Something has now stuffed that box with coarse twigs, maybe a wren. Same with the squirrels in another box: babies gone, coarse twigs filling it up. My second box with bluebirds has 3-4 nestlings, all with feathers coming in nicely, including tufted "eyebrows." They will probably fledge soon. The final box with bluebirds still has four eggs. Mama flew out as I approached to check on them. As for my bluebirds at home, they are quite vocal. My very fat cat, Idefix, sits below the box staring at it transfixed as the babies chirp inside. They should be fledging in a week or so.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/3 - Stockport Creek, HRM 121.5: After heavy rains, I paddled my kayak to the confluence of Kinderhook Creek and Stockport Creek. I usually cannot make it through the backwater channel at low tide, but after that much rain, there was plenty of water. A leafy stem of jewelweed served as my Secchi disc; the leaves disappeared into the turbid, roily water after being plunged only 5".
- Fran Martino

7/3 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: Our Vassar students hauled the 85-foot seine, carefully skirting the ever encroaching beds of water chestnut. Dwarfed under the near solid mat of green, destined to lose the battle, were small patches native vegetation like pondweed and wild celery. A 10" brown bullhead struggled in the net and, just before we set it free, we noticed that it had a matching pair of scars, almost a band, around its mid-section. It could have been an eagle, I suppose, but I rarely see them drop a fish this small. More than likely it had been the osprey we had seen patrolling the bay a week ago. Our catch included two dozen small blue crabs, half females, all less than 4" across their carapace, and no fewer than half dozen hogchokers, quarter-sized flatfish the color of the sandy bottom. They nearly escaped detection save for the sharp eyes of the students. One haul netted 125 young-of-the-year spottail shiners, a true Hudson River fish described by former governor DeWitt Clinton in 1824. To add to the color of the catch, we caught several male banded killifish in their lavender breeding colors. The river was 71°F and the salinity was undetectable.
- Gina Apestegui, Domingas Cahango, Laurynn Caldarola, Arthur Clark, Yesmelin Davis, Jassim Hossain, Christina Pelletier, Merlon Pinnock, Mody Sissoko, Donnette White

[The male banded killifish in breeding colors is strikingly handsome. While the females are a rather drab yellowish green, the courting males have iridescent purple, blue, even lavender highlights to their bands. Everett Nack used to catch them for bait and gave them the colloquial, and appropriate, name of "blue-banded mudminnows." Tom Lake.]

7/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: I went outside at twilight for some fresh, though sultry, air. Mixed in with the firecrackers sounding in the area, a chorus of frogs and crickets chimed in whenever possible. Three bats swooped overhead while a pair of red squirrels scolded one another for prime space in a red pine behind an apple tree. Looking up at the sky, I found myself thanking aloud our founding fathers, who 230 years ago framed the Declaration of Independence which we still celebrate today. Then my gaze returned to the backyard where more than 100 fireflies twinkled on and off, up and down, seemingly everywhere. Watching the display for quite awhile, I thought, now, this is my kind of fireworks!
- Donna Lenhart

7/4 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: Having enjoyed the parade of blooms of trees over the past few months - first shadbush, then cherry, apple blossoms, horse chestnut, locust, tulip, then lovely catalpa - it was not so joyful when traversing I-84 today to see the ever invasive tree-of-heaven in full bloom and readying to spread its kind anywhere and everywhere. At Stony Kill Farm a better sight was pointed out to us by Jason Yaekel: a lone coyote was seated on the slope just west of a hayfield. As we watched, it rose and ventured into the tall grass no doubt in search of a meal of mice or rabbit.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly

7/4 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Four families of barn swallows nest in our basement stairwell (swallows have been using it for 20+ years). They are unfazed by the light in the stairwell or the dryer exhaust vent. When diving and swooping within a few feet of the garden, their air speed is enough to rustle the flower heads. These swallows had at least a dozen young, now fully fledged with much chattering at bedtime. They may have enough time for another brood. When the swallows retire, the bats take over the aerial insect harvest. Northern chafer beetles have emerged within the last week. They begin congregating in tree tops, on outer limbs, easily visible against still light sky at 8:30 PM. You can sometimes hear the buzz of a swarm. I do not notice swallows nabbing them although their time periods overlap for a little while.
- Nancy P. Durr

7/5 - Highland, HRM 75.5: The roof on my office became the launching pad for several families of wild turkey. I could see from my skylight into the trees that a large turkey had perched on a very sturdy limb. She was quickly followed by a number of chicks. They flew from my roof into the surrounding branches and made their way to her. She chased several away, and none too kindly, either. Five young were taken under her wing and the castoffs made their way to another adult who took them in. The adults faced one way on a branch, spread both wings and the young faced into the wings so only baby behinds were visible. They had this same routine last night and I watched them descend this morning onto my lawn. I could see 3 adults and 15 chicks. Once they were all aground, they strutted off into the woods eating whatever was available. They are no end of entertainment.
- Vivian Wadlin

7/5 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The carp have been elusive for the past 3 weeks but plenty of young channel catfish have taken their place, chomping on my corn and flour dough ball bait.
- Glen Heinsohn

7/6 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: It was a morning high tide and the bay was as full as it gets. The great blue herons were perched on low limbs along the bank and the single black-crowned night heron was on his perch high in a cottonwood. A pair of kingfishers chattered along the shore but made no move to fish. A half-mile south at Hammond's Point, an immature bald eagle perched. All were patiently waiting for the tide to ebb and the store to open.
- Tom Lake

7/7 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released 6 channel catfish from Long Dock today, ranging from 8" to a big one at 24½", weighing 4 lb. I thought I would have to chase away what at first appeared to be a big brown dog if it came onto the dock and went after my bait and lunch bag. On closer inspection, however, as it moved out of the higher weeds, I saw that it was a white-tailed deer, rummaging around near the end of the newly refurbished bulkhead.
- Bill Greene

7/8 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: Despite our pessimism, we were able to identify the leech we found on the blue crab (see Almanac, 6/26). It is Myzobdella lugubris, a well-known parasite of blue crabs and some fishes of the Gulf Coast. The literature lists its distribution up to Massachusetts so it is reasonable to find it on crabs in the Hudson River. Anyone who sees lots of blue crabs should check to see if they (the crabs, that is) have leeches. It would be interesting to know how common they are.
- Bob Schmidt, Malory Eckstut

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