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Hudson River Almanac June 6 - June 13, 2005

OVERVIEW

Turtles - wood turtles, painted turtles, snapping turtles, and others - are making their presence known as they head to and from nesting areas. While it is always a good idea to give wildlife a break and brake when driving, turtles usually require a full stop. The frenetic pace of spring is slowing and gives us time to reflect on the hardships facing many of the animals with which we share the world: piping plovers, laughing gulls, new eaglets, diamondback terrapins, and even black bears.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/12 - Breezy Point, New York Bight: I spent an afternoon walking on this southwestern most part of Queens. Piping plovers were nesting; while most of the adults were still sitting on eggs, two chicks and a pair of adults were busily feeding in the wrack line. Their quick-paced antics forced me to reckon with the hardship of their lives. For all their spriteliness, they live on the edge of extinction, facing miles and miles of migration, fewer nesting beaches, pollution, and development. Predators have already made off with one or two chicks this season. Tracks in the sand tell many tales, and those of ghost crabs, rats, raccoons, and gulls scrawl across the landscape like the words of a familiar story. Several fishermen reported sightings of sharks snacking on menhaden today. No one debated the reliability of the claims, but there was much subtle discussion over which shark species were involved.
- Dave Taft

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This evening, while strolling down Santanoni Drive toward the Hudson, Toby Rathbone and I encountered two wood turtles crossing the road. I assisted them in their travels (just in case reckless drivers were to follow), but ten minutes later one was headed across once more. I removed her again, but she probably didn't stay put. This made me wonder if the dates were close to last year. I looked up my records and found that it was May 31 that I reported seeing them. Sarsaparilla is starting to bloom, as is baneberry.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/6 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: Painted turtles are on the move. This evening, I assisted my first of the season in crossing the road. She hissed at me as I handled her. A little further down the road was the season's first shattered turtle, so I was glad I'd moved the first one, even if she resented me for it.
- Liz LoGuidice

6/6 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Midge Taub was unhappy. He had time to chat because his outboard was in the shop for repairs. His fishing partners, Gino Garner and George Hatzmann, were catching bluefish to 10 lb. in the bay. George had also caught a 26 lb. striped bass on a chunk of bunker. The summer of plenty was approaching, blue crabs were everywhere, and you could almost smell the tang of salt in the air. Salinity on the boat ramp was 4.0 ppt.
- Tom Lake

["Bunker" comes from mossbunker, another name for the Atlantic menhaden, a species of herring.]

6/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Blackflies continue to feast in the hazy Adirondacks, now joined by minute blood-sucking no-see-ums. The good news is that dragonflies are now patrolling in squadrons and seem to be making a dent in the voracious fly populations. A small group of us went star gazing with Charlotte Demers on the Newcomb golf course. It was dark enough by 10:00 PM and, as the stars began to emerge, the scopes found their bearings and began searching the sky. We saw the planet Jupiter and 3 of its 63 moons. Saturn and Venus were setting. As for stars, Vega and Spica were out, Scorpius rose, and Antares put in an appearance. We gazed at star clusters, saw a few "shooting stars," and discovered that fireflies were out and coyotes were in full voice.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/7 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. I paddled my old route to introduce a newcomer to the river in a borrowed kayak, watching a common bluet damselfly dancing in the air over the water.
- Fran Martino

6/7 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Day 62. Last night we had a fierce electrical storm that dropped 0.41" of rain in less than an hour. In the instant following a loud clap of thunder there was an explosion not far away as a transformer went. Power dropped. In the midst of all the turmoil, in the top of a wildly swaying white pine, the eaglet again proved its resiliency. Today she eluded my visual search from mid-morning until late afternoon. It was hot and humid and she was no doubt hunkered down in a shady corner of the nest. At 5:00 PM Mama arrived with a large white catfish. For the next hour they stood side-by-side in the nest and feasted.
- Tom Lake

6/7 - Jersey City, NJ, HRM 1: When visiting the peregrine falcon nest box yesterday, Mick Valent noticed a different prey item on one of the parapets to the east of the box: a yellow-billed cuckoo, a fresh kill. We wondered what this bird was doing in the middle of the Jersey City financial district at the beginning of June. Later Kathy Clark and Mick checked a possible new nest site in Elizabeth, NJ, another very urban area. No success with the nesting this year, but the peregrines were there. On the roof, Kathy and Mick found three yellow-billed cuckoos. Our "Peregrine-cam" in New Jersey, right on the Hudson River in Jersey City, can be seen at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/peregrinecam/
- Linn Pierson, Palisades Interstate Park

[Peregrines are typically opportunistic but tend to show prey preference depending on nesting location and surrounding habitat. This might be opportunism with the cuckoos as migration occurs. At falcon eyries I usually find concentrations of migratory species' remains corresponding to their spring migration periods. Christopher Nadareski, New York City Department of Environmental Protection]

[Yellow-billed cuckoos: This may have something to do with seasonal changes in abundance of cuckoos. They seem to be quite common this spring, so maybe more are available. Eric Lind, National Audubon]

[If you are seeing cuckoos as prey, this year in particular, and if you are having big forest tent caterpillar outbreak, as we have in Oswego County, and to a lesser degree in Albany, it could be tied to that. Cuckoos are one of a few species that are perfectly happy eating some of the hairy caterpillars on a regular basis. There could be more cuckoos around this year - I am hearing them in lots of places - or they could be more active with high caterpillar populations. That might make them more readily available for the opportunistic peregrine. Paul Novak, New York Natural Heritage Program]

6/7 - Jamaica Bay, New York Bight: New York State's only colony of laughing gulls nests under the constant roar of New York City's busiest runway at Kennedy Airport. They have been the source of much concern, laughter, frustration, study and hand wringing over many years. Hundreds of biologists, rangers, wildlife managers, aviation safety specialists, and others have worked to reach a better understanding of this gentle gull species. Today was the annual census; several of us were out to count nests on the marsh. A laughing gull's breeding plumage is as subtle as it is beautiful, its velvety black head and deep red bill set off by white eye markings. The birds are dedicated parents, flying up only long enough to allow us to pass. They return within seconds to their speckled, olive colored eggs, clearly troubled. I regret the disturbance, but it is a necessary one, to ensure that wildlife values and human safety are balanced carefully. Today, the gulls weren't the only subjects of interest. A pair of peregrine falcons had evicted the resident pair of osprey from their nesting platform on Joco Marsh. Chris Nadareski climbed the platform and banded a pair of four week-old nestlings. The osprey re-nested on a stretch of dock that washed up on the marsh. We watched them fly menhaden to their nest. Meanwhile, glossy ibises, oystercatchers, a male harrier, willets, snowy and common egrets, black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons, common terns, and a marsh wren took care of everyday business. We were just lucky enough to be watching the day's proceedings.
- Dave Taft

6/7 - Jamaica Bay, New York Bight: We saw the first terrapins bobbing up and down in the shallow water along the shoreline in the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge four days ago, so they were clearly starting to think about nesting. Today we saw our first nestlings of the year. That's about 7-10 days later than normal.
- Russell Burke, Hofstra University

[If anyone has anyone has seen diamondback terrapins elsewhere in the estuary, please contact me: biorlb@hofstra.edu]

6/8 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Day 63. It would be a very warm day - high of 92°F, 4° shy of the record for the date. From the edge of the nest the eaglet looked out to the river, but Mom and Dad were nowhere in sight. With her beak she lifted what was left of her morning meal - a fish carcass that was little more than skin and bone. She shook it. There was a message here: lunch was late.
- Tom Lake

6/8 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: We think we may have a black bear roaming the Constitution Marsh Sanctuary. We found a white sucker with its eggs smeared all over our intern's car. The body was minus the head, cleanly bitten off. We have also seen signs of grubbing along the trail.
- Connie Mayer

6/8 - West Point, HRM 50: It's that time of year when Yogi, Boo-Boo, Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear really start making their presence known. A year-old black bear visited the Stony Lonesome Housing Area and joined the take-out line at the individual trash receptacles. A different bear was visiting the dumpster next to the artillery range. This bear had two ear tags and was likely a two-year-old male from New Jersey trying to set up its own territory. Ah, the joys of summer.
- Jim Beemer

6/8 - Pocantico, HRM 28: After a good morning soak, it was time to haul out our nets. A small white feather rested on the top seamline of one of the gill nets. It was a nape feather of an eagle. Somewhere upstream, with the current, or possibly downstream, with the tide, an adult bald eagle had been preening. The only fish was a 28" carp whose energy more than made up for the near empty net. It was one of those big, broad, muscle-bound carp you see cruising around in clear water pools. I released the fish in 6" of water. After it thrashed around and shot away, I was covered with mud.
- Tom Lake

6/8 - Manhattan, HRM 8.5: The north end of the Fairway Market parking lot abuts 133rd Street in West Harlem. Three Canada geese and three goslings waded along on the small stony beach on the west side of the wall next to the bike path that circumnavigates Manhattan. The goslings were about the size of gulls. They were unconcerned by the cyclists, and the cyclists unaware of the birds.
- Kaare Christian

6/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I checked our bluebird nest boxes on the Newcomb Golf Course. The first one had a chickadee nest. I rousted the poor bird as I opened the box to check it. She had a clutch of four white eggs with pinkish markings. The next box, with coarse sticks, belonged to a wren; a small dark brown bird flew out as I approached. The box was completely filled with nesting materials lined with dark feathers. Nestled inside were five brown eggs. The third box had a very noisy inhabitant, a red squirrel, who was not happy that I was invading its privacy. It chittered and chattered when I opened the box. When I tapped the nesting material it finally departed, taking a flying leap from the entrance hole (I wanted to verify it was a red squirrel and not a flying squirrel). I do believe I have bluebirds in another of my nest boxes; I don't want to open it yet and disturb them since they've only recently arrived. Hawkweed and purple vetch are blooming, as well as buttercups and chickweed.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/9 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: I was paddling south in my new kayak from Nutten Hook. Near the old O. Point Brick Works, one lone golden club stood alone amidst the spatterdock as if to serve as a marker.
- Fran Martino

[Golden club is common in states to our south, but DEC's Natural Heritage Program ranks golden club as imperiled in New York. The plant is found in the freshwater tidal Hudson, sometimes as a lone specimen or two, occasionally in large beds.]

6/9 - Ramshorn Creek, HRM 112.2: Sue Powell and I went up the Ramshorn today at low tide. We had to pull the boat over the beaver dams. As I was wading around I found some live native river clams - freshwater mussels - but no zebra mussels. They do not seem to do well in the Ramshorn.
- Jon Powell

6/9 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Spring seining does not have the jaw-dropping climax of late summer and fall, when the bulging net is hauled ashore with hundreds if not thousands of young-of-the-year shad, herring, striped bass, and other small fish. Several hauls today produced only banded killifish and hogchokers. However, each haul of the net produced dozens of blue crabs from quarter size (1") to palm-size (4"), and that bodes well for the summer commercial market. The first water chestnut rosettes were showing and this spring's zebra mussels were mixed in with last summer's barnacles on rocks and deadfalls. The river was 69°F; salinity was undetectable.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Mentioned in many Almanac observations pertaining to fisheries research and education, a seine is a net with a float seamline on top, a lead seamline on the bottom, and tight meshes in between. Those referenced in the Almanac range in length from 15'-500' long, 4'-8' in depth, and mesh size from ¼"-2½" depending upon application. The word seine is French, from the Latin sagena, which means a fishing net designed to hang vertically in the water, the ends of which are drawn together to enclose the fish. New York State residents can use a seine, not to exceed 36 square feet in size, to catch bait for their own personal use. To use a larger seine requires a License to Collect and Possess (LCP) from the NYSDEC Special Licenses Unit in Albany. Tom Lake]

6/9 - East Mountain, HRM 61: We awoke one morning to find that our bird feeders had been raided by a bear. The poles were bent right down to the ground and the bandit had taken off with the suet feeders. The next night the bear returned. We shined our lights on it to get a good look as it went up a tree. Over the next few days there were bear tracks and claw marks on the trees around the house. There were two bears, an adult and a yearling, foraging around the area. Any sound or disturbance sent them running for the safety of the woods. We enjoyed their brief stay, as they eventually moved on.
- Connie Mayer, Bob Bakall, Dylan Jeannotte, Esther Jeannotte

6/10 - Riparius, HRM 251: Evelyn Greene and I went orchid hunting (viewing). Like bald eagle nests, the exact location of orchids must be masked in secrecy. For orchids, this affords protection from collectors. It was hazy, hot and humid, but not too bad once on the water; there was a nice breeze. We paddled our canoes past beaver lodges and sunken logs with broken limbs sticking above the water into an expanse of blooming spadderdock. As we approached, Evelyn pointed out Arethusa orchids, which we were there to count. To me they look like large pink mouths, wide open with long fuzzy tongues sticking out. What a great way to spend an afternoon. I paddled slowly, looking for glimpses of pink, and counted 79 orchids (our day's total was 113). At one point I took on an unplanned passenger: a bullfrog leaped into the canoe and couldn't leap back out. I snagged his legs and assisted him in his escape. I heard a beaver slap in the distance, and another about 15' away. Common bladderwort was blooming, as was pitcher plant. Evelyn reported buckbeans in bloom and she thinks she saw some purple bladderwort as well. Red-winged blackbirds were nesting all around. Choruses of green and bullfrog song surrounded us. Storm clouds moved in, and shortly after we left, the heavens opened and the area got some much-needed rain.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/10 - Stockport Creek, HRM 121.5: There's something magical about 6:00 in the evening on the river. It's when snake skims across the water with only its head peeking out; when beaver crashes down the side of its lodge eager to begin the night shift; when muskrat hurries to swim out of the way; when creatures go "splash, kerplunk, and swish," as eagle sits on its perch watching the sun take its rest.
- Fran Martino

6/11 - Croton, HRM 34: On a sweltering, hot day, Debbie Morrison and I visited the New Croton Dam, where the Croton River is impounded into the Croton Reservoir. The river's cool waters sent up plumes of dense fog, forming a thick blanket below the steamy hot air, obscuring geology, biology, and botany all at once. Openings in the drifting mist revealed a fisherman, then a barn swallow, a Baltimore oriole, and one hundred or more darting dragonflies - a hypnotic, living watercolor.
- Dave Taft

6/12 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Day 66: The eaglet was in the nest, in view, all morning. She has been coping with a week of high 80s to low 90s, coupled with very high humidity. The nest is a bit more shaded this year as the surrounding trees have grown a bit. Still, when she is not hunkered down inside, she sits on the edge of the nest and pants like a puppy dog.
- Tom Lake

6/13 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 99: We put our canoe onto Tivoli South Bay for the first of the season's seining trips to monitor its fishes. Moderately large carp were rolling and splashing in the short growth of water chestnut. As we were quitting we caught a tiny (just-out-of-egg-size) snapping turtle in the tidal bay. Some snapping turtles hatch in the fall and wait in the nest until late spring to emerge. We think this turtle was playing that game.
- Bob Schmidt, Mer Mietzelfeld, Perry Vasta

6/13 - Beacon Landing, HRM 61: The inshore waters were 78°F. Even in the quick-to-warm shallows, that was quite a number (the air was 92°F). The water chestnut was starting to get a hold on the bay and I guessed that in 10 days we would not be able to haul a net there. Out deeper in the bay, among thicker water chestnut, you could see and hear the explosions of spawning carp. We made a haul and caught 18 gorgeous pumpkinseed sunfish in breeding colors - crimson, gold, and turquoise. Tropical fish have nothing on these guys! We also caught a dozen male and female banded killifish. The males were in their iridescent blue to lavender breeding colors (Everett Nack's colloquial name for them was "blue-banded mudminnow").
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

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