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Hudson River Almanac June 18 - June 26, 2005

OVERVIEW

We record natural history moments from a personal perspective so as to not forget the sights and sounds of our glimpses of Hudson Valley wildness. The orange flash of an oriole, the blue "eyes" of a moth, a black vulture on its "throne," the stare of a baby bald eagle, a sweetgum lit by fireflies, or the sunset on the solstice - are all parts of our story.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/22 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: My three-year-old daughter Grace was the first to notice the muskrat swimming alongside the waterfront park where dozens of people were enjoying an evening jazz concert. We followed the animal as it rounded a bend in the shoreline, purposefully gliding toward a rocky embankment, its wet brown head held just above the water and feet paddling furiously. When it disappeared from view, Grace called out "Come back muskrat!" Guess it wasn't a jazz fan.
- Denise Woodin, Grace Woodin

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/18 - Croton Point, HRM 35: At the end of a beautiful day at the Clearwater Revival, Debbie Morrison and I took in the last of the bands and watched the sun set over the Hudson. Just when we'd thought we'd seen the last flame orange of the day, two birds came flying toward us - a pair of male Baltimore orioles.
- Dave Taft

6/19 - Minerva, HRM 284: I heard our resident American bittern in the swamp behind our house today, making that "bad plumbing" sound. The rain has extended the season of peepers, bullfrogs, green frogs, and grey treefrogs. Black-and-white warblers and brown creepers are still singing.
- Mike Corey

6/20 - Ulster County: I was driving south on the New York State Thruway this morning and at mile marker 100 spotted a red-tailed hawk perched on the guardrail between the north and southbound lanes, watching the morning rush-hour traffic. I frequently drive this stretch from Kingston to Albany and almost never fail to see a red-tailed hawk.
- Molly Shubert

6/20 - Rondout Creek, HRM 91: Blessed with sunny weather and a revealing low tide, we kayaked the tidal Rondout from the lighthouse upstream several miles to the Eddyville Dam. Reed and cattail stands along the way were scattered with flashes of late yellow flag iris and the epaulets of red-winged blackbirds. One feisty redwing chased a turkey vulture across the creek. An eagle sighting was confirmed by Captain Steve, "The Tugboat Man," preparing dinner in his pilot-house. Just south of the route 9W bridge we explored some rotting barges, one of which was covered by an unusual amount of sticks - a beaver lodge built into one of the decaying hulks - a nice convergence of the work of two of the Hudson's most engineering-minded species: human and rodent. The marshes behind the barges and marina also contained muskrats and a number of golden-scaled carp splashing in the shallows. Further on, in the marshes behind Gumaer Island, we spotted a belted kingfisher, blue heron, and a green heron, all fishing. The receding tide left shallow rivulets and isolated water holes in the sand flats. One-inch juvenile largemouth bass tried to navigate the rivulets, while juvenile tessellated darters seemed to be the only fish species present in the stranded pools. At the Eddyville Dam we watched a great blue heron, in the shadow of the old railroad bridge, catch small silvery-white fish in five of six tries. Ducking behind some wreckage along Island Dock, we came upon five turkey vultures hunched near the base of a sycamore tree. About 12' up the tree, directly over the turkey vultures, was a single black vulture. Not all was idyllic, however. We noticed quite a bit of foamy algae drifting down the creek, and the local quarry effluent left a distinctly grey cloud where it hit the creek. Still, the overwhelming impression was that the Rondout is an incredibly rich tidal tributary, and we were absolutely happy to see it.
- Chris Bowser, Jeff Anzevino

6/21 - Gardiner, HRM 73: We always go up to the Shawangunk Mountains on the night of the summer solstice to watch the sunset. As the sun was disappearing over the mountains, a whip-poor-will started calling in the distance.
- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

6/21 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Day 76, the summer solstice. Four days of fruitless searching and endless checking of an empty nest ended as the female fledgling returned at midday. For the first three days after she left the nest in the midst of a severe storm, I traveled along the river listening for boisterous crows and jays. This morning, sadly, I began to investigate the local turkey vultures. Then, just after noon, she and Mama arrived back in the white pine 100' to the west of the nest. (Last year, the male and female fledglings returned after three days.) The eaglet perched facing my blind, blue band (P63) clearly visible on her left leg. Papa joined them and took over while Mama went out and hunted. For a half hour the eaglet kept up a near continuous stream of whines and plaintive chortles. Papa, perched 10' away, turned his back. A great crested flycatcher landed on a branch just a few feet from the eaglet and she began to complain to the flycatcher. Finally Mama came back with a fish for the eaglet, and Papa left for the river.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

6/21 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: On the solstice, several great blue herons were wading in the water chestnut-filled bay at Denning's Point.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

6/22 - Minerva, HRM 284: The blackfly season here never really got rolling. Most of May was so cool they were set back. Even the bats were very late in arriving this spring. By the time June came around with its heat, the little beggars had much of their life cycle screwed up. Even the mosquitoes have not been bad.
- Mike Corey

6/22 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: We maintain eel pots and other collection devices in the river to catch specimens for education programs. Like the public library, we "sign out" the animals, use them for show-and-tell, and then return them to the river, usually the same day. While the presence of eels has declined in recent years, the number and size of channel catfish have increased. Today I had two channel cats, each 14" long, as well as two eels, just perfect for an eel race.
- Tom Lake

6/22 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The adults and the fledgling were out soaring over the river. Her education on how to be an eagle had begun.
- Tom Lake

6/22 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was overcast, threatening rain, and the tide was low at Madam Brett Park for 14 members of the Waterman Bird Club. From the boardwalk we spotted a beaver in Fishkill Creek. Just above the Tioranda Bridge we saw a great blue heron downing a fish for breakfast. As we started along the trail a brief rain shower arrived. We heard several birds singing: Baltimore orioles, eastern wood pewees, warbling vireos, catbirds and cardinals. At the cove, where the creek meets the river, marsh wrens were singing, black-capped chickadees and downy woodpeckers were busy feeding their young, and a green heron flew past. We spotted two first year orchard orioles - the bird(s) of the day. A total of 47 species of birds were seen or heard along the trails.
- Barbara Michelin

6/22 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: After the trails of Madam Brett Park we drove to Denning's Point and walked the new Long Dock trail. Catbirds seemed to be everywhere. A Carolina wren and a house wren sang and popped out of the bushes. Several American redstarts, a black-and-white warbler, a blue-winged warbler, and a pair of indigo buntings made our day. At the end of the walk we watched a double-crested cormorant out in the river fishing for its lunch. Along the Long Dock trail, 39 species of birds were seen or heard.
- Barbara Michelin

6/22 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The overnight full moon tide had pushed a debris line far up on the beach. Down to the waterline the sand had been smoothed by the following ebb. We were in the middle of the three highest tides of the year to date. In a refreshing light rain we seined for a group of Hudson River watershed managers and caught resident fishes such as white perch and banded killifish, including some of the first yoy killifish (11-12 mm). Half of the small blue crabs we caught were soft shell, recently molted and within a day of becoming hard shell. Blue crabs, as crustaceans, have an exoskeleton and must shed their shell from time to time to accommodate a growing body. The new shell takes one to two days to harden depending upon water temperature - the warmer the water, the quicker it will harden. While they are soft, crabs are extremely vulnerable to predation, unable to use their crushing claws. It was surprising that several of the blue crabs we caught were females. At this time of the year, most female blue crabs are in the lower and saltier reach of the estuary.
- Dick Manley, Rebecca Johnson, Steve Stanne, Tom Lake

[The acronym yoy is shorthand for young-of-the-year, the term aptly describing the multitude of recently hatched aquatic fauna found in the Hudson River each spring, summer, and fall. The progeny of tomcod, shad, river herring, striped bass, white perch, blue crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, and many others, are present by the tens of millions.]

6/22 - Brooklyn, New York Bight: You know you work for the National Park Service when the Chief Clerk of the Maintenance Division rushes you into the women's bathroom at Floyd Bennett Field to look at a pair of Io moths. Patti VonWesterhagen excitedly examined the large yellow moths with us. I never tire of their eye-spot trick. Just gently touch their back and rather than fly off, they un-sheath their back wings to display their big baby blue eye spots . Startling for birds perhaps, but delightful for Patti and I.
- Dave Taft

[Named for a Greek maiden in mythology, the Io is one of the larger moths with a 2-3" wingspan.]

6/23 - Stockport Creek, HRM 121.5: 8:00 PM, I'm not sure which was more spectacular - sunset or moonrise. When clouds darkened the celestial display, fireflies lit up the small island at the mouth of Stockport Creek as we paddled back to reflect on tonight's incredible scene.
- Fran Martino

6/23 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: I was looking through my spotting scope at the 79 day-old bald eagle perched 390 feet away in a white pine. Through the sixty-power eyepiece, she appeared to looking at me as well. I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a young white-tail stroll past, 25 feet away. This moment said more about the desensitizing of white-tailed deer than the stealth of my blind. The young deer stripped and ate the leaves off several branches of ailanthus (tree-of-heaven) before sampling some wild grape. After dining for five minutes, it licked its back where it could reach, scratched its muzzle with its back foot, fluffed and groomed its bushy white tail, and then dissolved into the woods. When I looked back in the scope, the eagle was gone.
- Tom Lake

6/23 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The promenade along the newly spruced up Otis Park on Warburton Avenue offers lovely views of the Palisades framed by large trees growing on the slope down to the Hudson. As I admired one such view early this morning, the frame was suddenly filled by an immature bald eagle winging its way north at eye level, about 100' away.
- Steve Stanne

6/23 - Iona Island, HRM 45.5: The rocky knobs of the Palisades and Highlands can be a tough environment for plants. The soil is thin, and in dry periods there's little water to be had. So it shouldn't be too surprising that a plant one usually associates with desert environments is found here. The prickly pear cactus is in bloom now, its spine-covered pads festooned with showy bright yellow flowers.
- Steve Stanne

[The eastern prickly pear is found from southwestern Ontario south to Florida and west to Texas. In the lower Hudson Valley the prickly pear exists in a few locations, its presence being tenuous at best. It requires sunny, dry areas with sandy soils and a south-southwest exposure, often marginal habitat for other plants. The eastern prickly pear is a protected species in New York State. Just north of Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester County there is a hill called Prickly Pear. Habitat loss due to development over the last few decades destroyed the considerable number of cacti that once grew there.]

6/24 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: As darkness became complete our sweetgum sparkled, as though covered with glitter. The tree was absolutely full of fireflies.
- Phyllis Lake

6/25 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: This was our second day of 92°F air temperature - not a record but close. The female fledgling and the adults had not been back to the nest in four days, and by now probably has developed a routine that does not require a home base. In the four years that this nest has produced young, twice the fledglings have hung around the nest for a month or more, and twice they have immediately moved to the river.
- Tom Lake

6/25 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Dick Manley and I hauled our 25' beach seine for the Museum of the Hudson Highlands day camp. It was a hazy, hot and humid morning but our low-tide catch was impressive: 20 small white perch (to 4"), a spottail shiner, several golden shiners, three American eels, each about 9" long, and eight small blue crabs, each quarter-to-half-dollar size.
- Pam Golben

6/26 - Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York Bight: Ranger Chris Olijnyk, Student Conservation Association interns Jesse Dilhon and Katie Hietala, and I watched a gull-billed tern sweeping the south marsh at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. On a final pass we watched it swallow what must have been a fiddler crab. It looked like a lot of work, and took the bird at least a minute or two. I walked away grateful for knives and forks, and wondered what it would be like to swallow something very living, very hard, and very agitated. We have some evidence of gull-billed terns, just a handful, nesting in the tern colony in Jamaica Bay.
- Dave Taft

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