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Hudson River Almanac June 23 - June 30, 2006

OVERVIEW

Summer is a great season for watching the river. Shallows, marshes, and tributaries are alive with shorebirds, wading birds, and raptors, and good binoculars are invaluable for providing a close up look without having to be close up. Some river watchers use 10 x 50 binoculars; the 10 power magnification helps when viewing distant waterbirds, and the big 50 millimeter lenses are useful in gathering the dim light of dawn and dusk. However, these glasses tend to have a more restricted field of view and greater weight and size than most, and can be overkill for feeder watching and general use. For a basic introduction to binoculars, check out Binocular Basics on the website of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a project of National Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

HIGHLIGHT OF A PREVIOUS WEEK

6/21 - Fishkill, HRM 61: As I approached one of my feeders, an odd couple of birds appeared: a young cowbird standing in a seed feeder with its mouth agape and a minuscule adult chipping sparrow feeding it. It was quite comical to watch. In days to follow, I saw the strange pair a few more times.
- Ed Spaeth

[Brown-headed cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of smaller bird species when the parents are absent. The foster parents then hatch and rear the cowbird nestling. Tom Lake]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The bluebirds in my yard have hatched - I saw four very naked little birds this afternoon. I put out a bunch of mealworms that Mama bluebird found and ate with relish, while Papa bluebird continued to fly around the neighborhood in search of insects for the hungry nestlings.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A third nest box on the golf course also has bluebirds. There were four perfect blue eggs when I checked it today. Hop clover and bugloss are now blooming. Milkweed has buds. A monarch was checking out the Jupiter's beard in the butterfly garden at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/25 - Town of LaGrange, HRM 75: An F1 tornado with 150 mph winds cut a half-mile-long path, 150 yards wide, through the Town of La Grange this evening.
- National Weather Service

6/26 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We've had over an inch of rain since yesterday and it continues to rain heavily today. Our baby bluebirds were peeping up a storm yesterday afternoon when I went out to drown some mealworms for them.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/26 - Kinderhook Creek, HRM 127: My exploration of the headwaters of the Kinderhook Creek in Hancock, Massachusetts, and its course into New York State and on to the Hudson River via Stockport Creek revealed that heavy rains had caused its flow to speed by at a rapid rate. Not having a flow meter, or the orange or ping pong ball often used to calculate velocity, my only reference was a less scientific one. A family of mergansers floated by, wings a-flappin', squealing and quacking, resembling a human family vacationing at a water slide park. V1 = 4 seconds; in other words, it was whippin'. (The flow, or discharge of a stream, is the volume of water that moves past a site in a certain amount of time. Stream velocity is usually measured by timing how long it takes a floating object to travel 3 meters.)
- Fran Martino

6/26 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: While looking for killifish in Tivoli South Bay, we caught 3 blue crabs (a daily occurrence lately). One of them (3.8" carapace width), a male, had a small leech attached to its shell. We have never noticed leeches on blue crabs before although "brown leeches" have been seen on blue crabs in Florida. We are attempting to identify the leech, but success is unlikely.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt, Mallory Eckstut, Valerie Gono

6/26 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: Our Vassar College field archaeology students had their first day on a very soggy Denning's Point after 2½" of rain. We were rewarded in the morning by an osprey that came by looking for a meal but found the tide a bit too high and the water a bit too deep to catch a fish. Later, just when we were all damp to the bone, spirits sagging, and not finding much, a male Baltimore oriole came by and perched on a limb for a minute or two. It was amazing how that little burst of color in the otherwise drab forest perked us all up.
- Lucy Johnson, Jim Heron, Jessica Park, Tom Lake

In the shady bottom of an old clay pit, nestled behind a tree stump with much greenery obscuring its presence, we spotted a tiny white-tailed deer. This fawn, brown with a full set of white spots, lay motionless, its huge black eyes trained on us, long comical ears straight up, hoping to hear our intentions. We looked briefly, then left. Mama was probably not far off. This was not an abandoned fawn. It had been left in a safe place by Mama, and she would return 2-3 times a day to nurse. Before long, the fawn would be strong enough to keep up with its mother and then it would join the herd that seems to file past us each day as we are working.
- Gina Apestegui, Yesmelin Davis, Jassim Hossain, Domingas Cahango, Mody Sissoko, Tom Lake

The students found shells of five species of bivalves on the beach. Each had a story to tell:
1. Freshwater mussel, a native bivalve.
2. American oyster, harvested by Indians, now eroding out of a bench at a level that probably dates to 5,000 years ago when the river here was saltier.
3. Wedge rangia, a clam, once native, then extirpated, now reintroduced via cargo vessel ballast from Delaware Bay.
4. Zebra mussels, an alien freshwater bivalve introduced into North America in the 1980s via cargo ship ballast from Europe.
5. Hard-shelled clam, a marine bivalve, left on the beach by anglers who had been using them for striped bass bait.
- Christina Pelletier, Arthur Clark, Merlon Pinnock, Mody Sissoko, Donnette White, Tom Lake

6/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: At the moment the sun is peaking out; there is light to the west, turning the leaves a lovely lime green. Rain has been inconsistent this afternoon; that is nice after getting over 3" in three days, but we can't complain compared to all those folks who got over 7" in the last few days.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/28 - Delmar, HRM 143: I had trouble getting to work this morning over flooded roads. The ground can't take any more of this rain. I think all our animals at Five Rivers are out shopping for scuba gear. The spillways on the ponds look like miniature Niagara Horseshoe Falls, but the water looks like coffee with cream.
- Dee Strnisa

6/28 - Town of Saugerties, HRM 102: Late this afternoon my wife and I heard splashes and unusual sounds in front of us on our wetland pond. Not more than 10' away, we spotted a smallish adult river otter "cackling" at us from the edge of some alders. It looked at us for 10 seconds, snorted, and porpoised off and disappeared. I suspect there were 2 from the ripple patterns but only saw one. In the mid-'80s we had two very large river otters spend two weeks in the same wetland pond and the following winter we tracked one in 10" of snow but could not find its shelter.
- Dan Marazita

6/28 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: Despite all of the rain and high water, we went out sampling today and got a record number of eels in the eel ladder (10). We also caught more banded killifish in the mouth of the Saw Kill than we ever had before. Maybe we should only sample in raging floods and not go out on quiet sunny days.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt

6/28 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Kayaking early this morning along the west bank directly across from Norrie Point, I saw a dot of white. I slowly paddled closer and, with the assistance of binoculars, could see that it was an adult bald eagle. Then I spotted a second eagle, an immature, maybe not able to fly very well yet. I sat mesmerized while it perched and preened and keeping a subtle eye on me.
- Tad Herman

6/28 - Sandy Hook, NJ: About once a week this time of the year, I spend 15 minutes spying on an osprey nest. This one is a platform nest on a telephone pole on the Raritan Bay side of Sandy Hook. The nest extends about a foot beyond the platform edge and today an adult osprey was perched there. There appeared to be two young in the nest, something that became obvious when a second adult arrived with a fish and settled down inside. In an odd bit of behavior, the perched adult hopped onto the back of the fish-bearing adult for a few seconds, then hopped back off. Who said understanding bird behavior was easy? Are we sure that this is how Nikolaas Tinbergen got his start?
- Dery Bennett

[Nikolaas Tinbergen was a Dutch ornithologist who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries concerning organization of individual and social behavior patterns in animals. Tom Lake.]

6/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Finally sunshine! It was blue sky and breezy this morning. Our Interpretive Center trails are flooded, though, so we've closed them. That's a real bummer since it is finally a nice day and folks will want to go for a walk. The baby bluebirds in my yard are peeping like crazy. I put out a batch of mealworms last night for them. I'm seeing many white admirals. Our photographer, George Seymour, was telling us this morning that on part of the Sucker Brook Trail (before we closed it), if you stood still, you would be covered with the white admirals.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/29 - Balmville, HRM 63: I had two evening sightings this week of an immature bald eagle at the top of a very tall tree on Route 9W just beyond the Balmville Elementary School. What a sight!
- Audrey Hinck

6/29 - Fishkill, HRM 63: We saw another ruby-throated hummingbird by our bee balm today. This one was a female. They seem to love the bee balm as we have been seeing them for the past couple of weeks. This is the first time we have seen them at our home in Fishkill. We planted the bee balm this year so that might explain it.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

6/29 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: There were 5 Vassar College students with me as we walked down the trail to the river at Denning's Point on our way to haul a seine on the bay side of the peninsula. Bounding across the trail in front of us, not 20 feet away, came a bobcat. It emerged from the thick greenery on one side and a second later dissolved into the undergrowth on the other - a phantom, but a bobcat nonetheless. It being largely a nocturnal animal, this was a rare daytime sighting.
- Jassim Hossain, Gina Apestegui, Domingas Cahango, Laurynn Caldarola, Yesmelin Davis, Tom Lake

The students were excavating prehistoric sites on the Point and were now making the connection to the river. Could these people catch fish for food? Our first few hauls along the edge of the arrow arum netted us small fish like banded killies, tessellated darters, and spottail shiners. One would starve eating these. But as the tide crept up on the shore and the water became deeper, we surrounded a small school of 10" white perch, one of the tastiest fish in the river. As a bonus, several blue crabs were also mixed in the catch. If this were a thousand years ago, and we had been Indians with our 85-foot net, we would have dined well this evening. The water was 74°F and there was no trace of salt.
- Christina Pelletier, Arthur Clark, Merlon Pinnock, Mody Sissoko, Donnette White, Tom Lake

6/30 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The Hudson River is up. Not as "up" as I've seen it some springs, but at the Route 28N bridge, south of Newcomb, it is looking very high. It would be interesting paddling downstream and through the Hudson River Gorge. I checked down at the pump house yesterday evening and while the rocks upstream were all submerged, and the big boulder by the stairs was more than half-way underwater, the stairs still had 6 or 7 steps above the water line.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/30 - Albany HRM 145: Albany received 8.74" of rain in June, a record for the month. The previous record was 8.7" set in June 1862.
- National Weather Service

[Rainfall records for Albany go back to 1795, although the accuracy of the early years is difficult to ascertain. Jason Gough, meteorologist.]

6/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: In the sky along the river, a few hundred yards to the north, I could see a large raptor heading my way. Standing still as a tree, I watched as it approached and then passed directly above me, no more than 100 feet overhead. It was an immature bald eagle with a small eel in its talons, closely followed, but not harassed, by 3 crows. They may have been hoping for a drop.
- Tom Lake

6/30 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After seven days of rain, it finally ended. Our total was 4.14". On 6/26 the salt front was just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge; by today, runoff had pushed it 30 miles south to Yonkers.
- Tom Lake

6/30 - Manhattan, HRM 5: New York City received record rainfall for the month of June, 6.53", far above the average for the month of 3.84".
- National Weather Service

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