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Hudson River Almanac May 29 - June 5, 2005


The hallmark of Hudson Valley summers - hazy, hot, humid weather - was previewed this week. Maybe it will curtail the blackflies. This is a time in the year when you can see the contrast from one end of the watershed to the other. To the far north, the final vestiges of spring are still apparent. To the far south, the warm, salty air of summer is blowing onshore.


6/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As Toby Rathbone and I were walking the golf course we came across a cluster of tiger swallowtails puddling in the mud next to a little stream. (They showed up last week and we have seen them all along the highways.) There were nine of them, and at first I thought they might all be dead. But as Toby checked out the grasses and other vegetation, I snuck up on the butterflies. Like a puff of wind blowing the seeds off a dandelion, they fluttered up and away, circling all around. Although there were only nine, in flight it seemed like many more. It was surreal, like a scene from a movie. Within a minute of our departure, the butterflies returned to their puddling.
- Ellen Rathbone

[Soon after emerging from their chrysalises, males of some species of butterflies gather in groups on wet mud or sand to imbibe water rich in salts - a behavior called puddling. It's thought that salt intake may have a role in reproduction or in regulating body temperature.]


5/29 - Bashbish Brook, HRM 104: I visited Bashbish Brook in Columbia County, a tributary of the Roeliff Jansen's Kill, looking for larval slimy sculpin, a small stream fish. The second rock I lifted had a batch of sculpin eggs attached. Slimy sculpin glue their eggs to the underside of flat rocks in fast water and then males guard them. I didn't see the male associated with this batch of eggs, but they are usually jet black with an orange band in the dorsal fin.
- Bob Schmidt

5/30 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Arriving near the mouth of the tidal Pocantico just after 9:00 PM, we were about to set plankton nets to catch fish larvae when I saw a small "bat" fly past us. The bat landed on some shrubs, which isn't bat behavior. I was able to get close enough to see that the animal was, in fact, a cecropia moth. I rarely see these big moths (they can get to be palm-sized) in the Hudson Valley.
- Bob Schmidt, Tom Coote

5/31 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: This was the tenth consecutive day with measurable precipitation. To say "rain" would be overstatement; a few of those days saw trace amounts. It was also the last day for our spring glass eel monitoring. One of the features we track is their conversion from being nearly transparent as they leave the sea to fully pigmented after time in the estuary. By now almost all of them are dark; there is little left to learn. Today I caught three, two of which were black as midnight.
- Tom Lake

5/31 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was near low tide at the mouth of the Croton River. The bay along the north side of the marsh was a boiling cauldron of carp - acres of roiling water. Adjectives, adverbs, and analogies do a poor job of creating a picture, of communicating the incredible energy, of scores of spawning carp. In the back of the bay, along the MetroNorth commuter parking lot, there were large tide pools with clouds of killies moving in the shallows, dimpling the surface - mummichogs and banded killifish feasting on insect larvae.
- Tom Lake

5/31 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 27: When we began our fish research season on the tidal Pocantico in early April , the steep banks along the creek were open with minimal low vegetation. Now they were a forest of Japanese knotweed, eight to ten feet high.
- Tom Lake

[Japanese knotweed, an alien species native to Japan, China, and Korea, was introduced in the late 19th century as an ornamental. It is one of the most persistent invasive plants along the estuary, being very successful in disturbed urban areas, roadsides, and many stream corridors. It is very hard to reduce or remove without using herbicides. I am very interested in anyone's observations of animal activity in Japanese knotweed stands.- Erik Kiviat]

6/1 - Town of Athens, HRM117: Working indoors on a lovely day at Brandow Point, I happened to look up from my computer and saw movement out the window. Sauntering up the path from the river was a fox. I was able to track it for quite a distance by moving from window to window. The black legs and white tip of the tail convinced me that it was a red fox, but its coloration was quite variable, with bits of black and brown mixed in with the red. I watched it walk across a long stretch of lawn, stopping occasionally to look and listen. It approached the road, but to my relief, abruptly turned and headed back to the river.
- Liz LoGiudice

6/1 - Town of Milton, HRM 73: While setting the final buoys of a bait net this morning, I caught a flash of wing and water out of the corner of my eye. No more than 200' away an immature bald eagle was struggling to get airborne with an 18" striped bass in its talons. Upon making landfall with its meal, the eagle set down next to the railroad tracks, just north of Buttermilk Falls on the Hudson's west shore. It was hard to tend a drift net and keep track of the bird, but it was equally difficult to turn away. Through binoculars I could see the eagle had clamped the fish onto a ballast stone with one foot and was tearing into the underside of the fish with its large beak. Before long, a highballing northbound freight train caused the eagle to take flight. It dropped the fish and flew north over the train into the forest.

A half hour later, the eagle was back and this time landed on a limb of a sycamore tree. I would not have noticed right away due to working the net, but blue jays were taking loud issue with the eagle's visit and spent ten minutes diving on the bird. The eagle took flight and headed toward the area along the tracks where it had been feasting on the striper. As it flew, a red-tailed hawk buzzed the eagle from behind. The hawk started to make a second pass, but pulled out of its dive, showed its talons, and headed back into the woods where it noised off for some time.

Back on the ground and keeping a close eye on its surroundings, the eagle scavenged for some of the scraps from its earlier feed. After finding a few, it started north along the tracks, walking and hopping, its big yellow feet in sharp contrast against the brown ties and dark steel. Then it just stood on shore looking out toward the river. I was hauling back my net at this point and with the herring were a half dozen striped bass of various sizes. I wanted to say, here, come and get it, but when I looked up, the eagle was gone.
- John Mylod

6/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We have had a month of often overcast skies but little rain. Painted trillium and stinking Benjamin are blooming, as well as jack-in-the-pulpit, toothwort, and goldthread. Although I have not seen them, I suspect that the clintonia and lady's slippers will soon be blossoming. There are still violets and bellworts in bloom.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/3 - Town of Minerva, HRM 291: It was 4:30 AM and the sky was just beginning to lighten. Our EMT rescue squad was starting back after a call to an informal camping spot near the upper Hudson's Blue Ledges, an area of fast water favored by whitewater rafters. It was a two and a half mile hike along a very rough and sloppy trail through the woods. With the slow light came some intensive peeper calling and a number of bird calls and songs. Working up from a few short chirps to something louder were alder flycatcher, Swainson's thrush, black-throated blue warbler, scarlet tanager, black-throated green warbler, and several others I didn't recognize. At several points along the trail we heard at least two barred owls. The best came at 5:15 when we heard two loons calling from Huntley's Pond, with the water very still and a low mist hanging over everything. The medical crisis had eased by the time we got to the campsite, so that was a good thing. I'll always remember the experience of night trail-hiking and listening as birds stirred early with the first light.
- Mike Corey

6/3 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: We saw a mockingbird chasing a crow in the car-filled parking lot of the New Hamburg MetroNorth train station this morning. When it came back to its perch it began to make a peculiar sound. Soon we realized that it was the sound of car ignitions.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

6/4 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: The warm evening was alive with sounds. The trill of American toads was punctuated by the pluck of green frog calls and the throaty song of the bullfrog. I heard my first crickets of the season this evening. The air was alive with insects. June bugs massed at the front porch light, and the wondrous sight of fireflies blinking in the darkness has returned.
- Liz LoGuidice

6/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We may have a merlin nest in the parking area here at the Adirondack Park Visitors Information Center. Three days ago we heard continuous, plaintive calling most of the day that I suspect may have been a nestling. It is certainly in the right location; we have had merlins nest near there before. Blue-eyed grass is now blooming. The apple and cherry trees are loaded with blooms, but the petals are now starting to fall from the apples.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/5 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Day 60. It was hot and humid, 86°F. For an hour around midday, I could not be certain that the eaglet was still in the nest. Over the last couple of years, the foliage around the nest tree has thickened, obscuring the view from the blind to the south. At the same time, eaglets have been favoring the north side of the nest, making it even more difficult. After an hour, I decided to quietly creep under the nest tree and wait. After 15 minutes of catbirds and cardinals, robins and mockingbirds, I heard a soft chortle from 90 feet overhead. An hour later Mama arrived, hovered over the nest, dropped a fish, and then retreated to a day perch 100 feet away in a white pine (hungry eaglets can be feisty!). She faced southwest, spread her wings, and tried to capture some of the meager breeze to cool off.
- Tom Lake

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