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Hudson River Almanac March 9 - 15, 2004

OVERVIEW

The river was warming in fits and starts, dominated by the strengthening sun for a few days, and then hit with a slug of ice-cold meltwater. The texture of the water looked like spring. Many of the Hudson's wintering bald eagles were on their way north back to Canada. Male common mergansers were once again noticing the hens, something that escapes them all winter. Is there a more handsome duck than a male common merganser glowing in the sunlight? A forecasted winter storm slowly moving up the Atlantic Coast could put all of this on hold, but only temporarily.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/15 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: From the center of one of the eight known bald eagle nests along the tidewater Hudson, Mama poked her head up and looked at me as a strong, gusty west wind rocked the canopy of the tall white pine. For all the world it looked like she was going over the top on a Ferris wheel.
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/9 - Lake Julia, HRM 302: This small lake connects the Hudson River to Rich Lake, via Belden Pond and Harris Lake. River otters are not uncommon along this series of lakes and this morning I spotted one on Lake Julia.
- Mike Tracy

3/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We saw some northern lights tonight from the scenic overlook in town. It looked as though someone had turned on a few huge spotlights and pointed them straight up into the heavens. One was very bright; two or three others were less so. Just white, not too exciting, and they faded after a few minutes.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

3/9 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: I had a perfect view of a red-shouldered hawk as it flew over our house this morning, calling loudly. At least one blue jay here is a very gifted mimic, so I have discounted recent red-shouldered calls I've heard as the jay. This was for certain the real thing.
- Liz LoGuidice

3/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: Long before sunrise I spotted a kettle of eagles climbing a thermal staircase on the Ossining shore. Seven birds spiraled up and became specks. A like number of birds were perched along the banks of the Croton River and at the base of Croton Point. That seemed like a lot of eagles for this late in the winter.
- Christopher Letts

3/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard new bird sounds this morning, a thin whiney sound and rising "zips." Looking up, I saw a flock of cedar waxwings in the top of a Norway spruce, all facing the sun. Our red-winged blackbirds were also singing this morning. It must be the sunlight, because the air temperature was only in the teens.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While snowshoeing on the Rich Lake and Peninsula Trails with a school group this afternoon, we encountered the first snow fleas we've seen this season. Not just a few hundred at the bases of trees, but millions and millions blanketing the snow. Sadly, many were sacrificed as we snowshoed on top of them - there was no way to avoid them, no matter where we went.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/10 - Cornwall, HRM 58: As we were finishing up our second school group tour for maple sugaring, we all heard the welcome sounds of our first spring peeper. The brave little frog was back in the woods at Muskrat Pond and gave a hearty chorus for all of us.
- Ann Szigethy

3/11 - Town of West Shokan, HRM 92: I walked the dike at Ashokan Reservoir on a pleasant late winter day. The reservoir was still mostly frozen but the open water was expanding fast. The beaver ponds were still pretty much all ice. There were some hooded and common mergansers and a few geese in the open water. A raven was vocal and the crows were paired up and collecting nest material already.
- Bill Drakert

3/11 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: During a sunny afternoon saunter through forest and field at Stony Kill Farm we encountered several signs pointing to spring: a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers calling to one another; the voice of a northern flicker in the nearby woods; a plump tadpole wiggling and bouncing among the detritus on a thawing stream bottom; and a mourning cloak butterfly fluttering by, followed by a frolicking pair of unidentified - and very swift - black-spotted orange butterflies.
- Kerri Brady, Paula Monetti, Chris O'Sullivan, Rich Parisio, Carolyn Plage, Connie Taylor

3/11 - Croton River, HRM 34: Yesterday, half a dozen tree swallows were flying in the lee of the railroad bridge, very close to the water and apparently finding food with repeated dipping right at the surface. Today, the number had increased fourfold, and the birds were feeding on the exposed sandbar at low tide, sometimes touching down briefly. It was cold and blowing hard - we wonder each year how these insect eaters manage to get through the first cold weeks of March and April. In more than two hours, there was no time when at least one bald eagle was not visible in flight, and the total exceeded ten.
- Midge Taub, Gino Garner, George Hatzmann, Christopher Letts

3/11 - Manhattan, HRM 2: A flock of about 130 brant drifted calmly on the wakes at Pier 25 as four ring-billed gulls screeched and pecked at each other nearby. An hour later the entire flock (minus the gulls) was snacking on grass seed in the north meadow behind Stuyvesant High School.
- Chris Mancini

3/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We saw our first killdeer of the season this morning, a half hour before a blizzard hit. The poor bird is probably wondering if getting a good nest site was really worth it. The white-tailed deer are shedding now. A couple of weeks ago I noticed occasional clumps of deer hair, but now I'm seeing hair much more frequently.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/12 - Saratoga County, HRM 200: The waters of the Hudson were the same ash-colored hue as the thick, heavy snow clouds. More snow seemed to be the theme as far as weather went. But the local waterfowl were beginning to show signs that winter is at its end. A flock of about twenty common mergansers, mostly males, was completely involved in courtship display. With tail feathers held high, leg kicking splashes and speedy chases, the males were oblivious to the weather and had only one thing in mind: impressing the seemingly uninterested females.
- John DeLisle

3/12 - Mingo Hollow, HRM 88: The pond at Mingo Hollow was still frozen thick enough to walk on, but the air hole maintained by our beaver family over the winter was getting wider each day. A large flock of red-winged blackbirds swoops down each evening just before sunset and their noise can be deafening. Wild turkeys are becoming braver, with daily visits to glean seeds that have fallen from our bird feeders. The flow of sap in our maple trees has slowed to a drizzle, nothing like it was two weeks ago. And, a sure sign that spring is on its way, I killed my first deer tick of the season.
- Andy Bicking

3/12 - Grassy Point, HRM 38.5: There was no sign of the bald eagles that had perched in trees along this reach of Rockland shore last month, but driving back, disappointed, I saw a big bird wheeling among the pigeons over the power plant. My binoculars revealed not a bald eagle but a golden eagle.
- Dan Wolff

3/12 - Manhattan, HRM 2: We caught a 4-inch rock gunnel in our fish trap, the first "keeper" of the year at the River Project on Pier 26. It joins the four Asian shore crabs already living in the Estuarium.
- Chris Mancini

[The rock gunnel is an eel-like bottom-dwelling fish related to the tropical blennies. Uncommon, it is found in the lower, saltier end of the estuary, usually under rocks in tide pools or among wharves, pilings, and piers. It can grow to be a foot long, although most are much smaller. C.L. Smith]

3/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: After a brief glimpse a few days ago, this afternoon we got a good look at a short-eared owl flying low to the ground and then disappearing in the brush on the landfill. As we proceeded around the path we were treated to the sight of ten deer, peacefully grazing not far away. The only sound was the screech of the red-winged blackbirds. As if these were not enough, an adult bald eagle flew overhead towards Croton Bay. It was peaceful and beautiful as we watched a gorgeous sunset, hearing nothing but the birds.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/12 - Upper Bay, New York Harbor: Aboard a Normandeau Associates research vessel, we motored an hour from Haverstraw to New York's Upper Bay to look for blue crabs. Blue crabs burrow in sediment to survive northern winters; this study was implemented to determine when and where Hudson River crabs settle in for the cold months. By the time we arrived at our sampling sites a steady west wind was making travel and sampling difficult. Several shallow water dredge tows near the Statue of Liberty captured mostly small yearling blue crabs, with carapace widths of about an inch. Two deeper water tows unearthed a cornucopia of crustaceans: rock crabs, spider crabs, mud crabs, blue crabs, and grass shrimp. The wind would not relent, however, and by midday sampling was postponed until a safer time.
- Gregg Kenney, Chris Burnett, A.J. DeCelie

3/13 - Green Island, HRM 153: It sounded like spring along the river: numerous killdeer worked the shoreline and several large V's of Canada geese were flying north, far overhead. The rock and gravel shoreline at Green Island also has pebbles and cobbles of black chert that have eroded out of the shale bedrock. Fire-cracked rock, used by native peoples to cook food before the advent of pottery, is strewn along the shore and several pieces of chert appear to have been "worked." This was a place where prehistoric people could catch fish, build a fire, quarry stone for tools, and watch the seasons change.
- Tom Lake

3/13 - Town of West Shokan, HRM 92: It was cold and windy at Ashokan Reservoir. An adult bald eagle flew by and landed on the ice. We spotted a deer carcass with an adult and immature eagle on it, making a few ravens wait their turn. The unusual sighting was a woolly bear caterpillar moseying along the dike, albeit very slowly.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

3/13 - Alpine, New Jersey, HRM 18: In late morning we were at the State Line Lookout high above the Hudson over the windswept Palisade cliffs. We spotted four turkey vultures playfully enjoying the warm updrafts, after which the "buzzards" took respite from their aerobatics by resting on the cliffs.
- Bob Finley, Brett Finley, Will Finley, Ed Spaeth

3/14 - Cohoes, HRM 157: The falls at Cohoes were ice free. Snow melt from the Catskills and Adirondacks, emptying into the Mohawk River, poured over the falls. Pine siskins and snow buntings were around us, as well as bluebirds - a seasonal changing of the guard.
- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake

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