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Hudson River Almanac March 16 - 22, 2004

OVERVIEW

In the predawn hours of March 20, spring arrived across the Hudson Valley. As usual, it looked and felt different in various places along the river. At the lower elevations, there were migrating songbirds and eagles, anglers casting for striped bass, and skunk cabbage and crocus poking up shoots. In the High Peaks, it was still snow, ice, and frosty breath. With relatively little precipitation to show from the few storms that passed our way, the salt front is still well upriver in the Hudson Highlands.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/20 - Schuylerville to Fort Edward, HRM 186-202: If you were up early on the equinox you would have seen the sun shining brightly at dawn, lighting up the dark, cold waters of the Hudson, but it soon became overcast, cool, and windy. All day long flocks of Canada geese flew from the river to local corn fields. From Schuylervile to Fort Edward, the air was filled with their wild music that never ceases to awe. On the evening of the equinox the constellations appeared clear and brilliant. I stood in the cold and dark with my eyes turned skyward and my ears tuned to the wild barks, yapping, and eerie howls of the local coyote packs. I was not the only one welcoming spring.
- John DeLisle

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/17 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: We have about eight inches of snow here, but I don't really mind. I had put the snowshoes away for the season, but here's another chance to wear them.
- Liz LoGuidice

3/17 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Early in this season's eel study, I was checking some nets in this small tidal tributary in the Wappinger Creek system, just over a mile upstream from the Hudson. The wind and snow had produced a morning "whiteout" and left five inches along the creek. It was bone-chilling cold. Over three days the water temperature dropped from 44 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake

[The life history of the American eel is poorly understood. Federal and state fish managers would like to know more about its critical habitats. The glass eel life stage is particularly puzzling. This juvenile form, about three inches long and transparent, enters the estuary from the sea each spring in incredible numbers. This study in the Wappinger system, and a related effort 31 miles upriver in the Saw Kill, will hopefully answer some of our questions about eels' life in the watershed. More in future Almanac issues.]

3/18 - Saratoga County, HRM 200-196: Driving along the Hudson on West River Road heading to Fort Edward, I spotted a large, dark bird winging its way north over the east bank of the river - an immature bald eagle. I kept pace with the eagle as it flew across the Hudson to the west bank where it harassed a second immature eagle perched on a limb overhanging the road. As I approached both took off and headed north.
- John DeLisle

3/18 - Newburgh, HRM 60: A recent storm had once again covered the ground at Stewart Airport in snow. Nevertheless, spring migration was underway. Along the road in a small grassy area two eastern meadowlarks were foraging. - Ed Spaeth

3/18 - Tappan Zee, HRM 27: Anglers are buying my bait and going out and catching striped bass off the Nyack waterfront and under the Tappan Zee Bridge. So far none of them are huge (the largest are 28") but it is a slow, steady pick. With the water being so cold, their take of the bait is barely noticeable. A couple of anglers have caught red hake, also called "ling," up to a foot long.
- Bobby Gabrielson Sr.

[Striped bass regulations in the Hudson River: Above the George Washington Bridge the season runs from March 16 to November 30 and striped bass must be 18" total length to keep. In the Marine District below the bridge, the season runs from April 15 to December 15, with a 28" minimum length for keepers. A limit of one fish per angler per day applies throughout.]

3/19 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: I had a profound whiff of spring this morning: at 7:00 AM, the maple tree outside of our house was filled with male red-winged black birds. They were tee-weeing away to beat the band, without a female in sight!
- Liz LoGuidice

3/19 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: A dozen male bluebirds murmured "dearly, dearly" and, as Robert Frost once wrote, they "out-blued the sky." An hour later I crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge in a whiteout.
- Christopher Letts

3/20 - High Peaks, HRM 310: My annual upper Hudson spring trek started at 6:00 AM in the rosy haze of dawn, not a breath of wind, 20°F, new moon, sound of red-winged blackbirds, and one lone raven taking off from the top of a maple on the knoll. Clouds moved in by 8:30 when I left Cambridge (HRM 176) for Newcomb and the trail up to Wallface at Indian Pass. It was 27°F and snowing by the time I got to the Henderson Lake lean-to. There were no signs of wildlife until I noticed a weasel loping down the trail toward me. I said hello and the animal disappeared down the bank of Indian Pass Brook. Several minutes later a small black-nosed face appeared in the crack between the sill and floor board, looking for a handout. I back tracked it for the next half mile to another lean-to, but lost the sign as I climbed up the pass. On the way back down I saw a large beaver roll down the bank and disappear into an open patch of Indian Pass Brook, just above Henderson Lake. A great first day of spring with a spectacular and very short sight of Wallface cliff streaming spindrift in a driving snowstorm filled with natural silence, the rarest of natural resources.
- Doug Reed

[From the description, this appears to have been a least weasel, not surprisingly one of the smaller weasels of the Adirondack High Peaks.]

3/20 - Saugerties, HRM 102:
The wind is whipping up the river
A cold wind over thawing banks
The water grey-green and white
Frothy pearls with brief luster
Mountain-caps on swells
Pulling it all to the estuary
Past the delicate pine fronds
Rooted for now, rising, falling
Suspended and still.
- Leslie Zucker

3/20 - Town of West Shokan, HRM 92: The equinox arrived with temperatures in the teens and three inches of snow still on the ground. But the first spring flowers were already in bloom, at least on trees: quaking aspen and stiff willow.
- John Bierhorst, Jane Byers Bierhorst

3/20 - New Paltz, HRM 78: It started to rain so we decided to see if this would be the night when salamanders migrated to their vernal pool. Sure enough, a few brave souls decided it was time, and we helped about a dozen beautiful spotted salamanders and one spring peeper cross the road.
- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

3/20 - Fishkill, HRM 62: I drove along the perimeter road of the defunct Dutchess Mall in the dark of night on the equinox . An unexpected surprise flew up and zig-zagged ahead in my headlights - a Wilson's snipe. It landed on a grassy patch a short distance ahead, wagged its little red tail and squatted as my vehicle slowly approached. I stopped but kept the headlights beamed on it. The snipe gradually relaxed and began probing in the grasses bordering the road and the small feeder stream to Clove Creek.
- Ed Spaeth

3/20 - Haverstraw Bay to the Tappan Zee, HRM 38.5-24.5: Anglers were scattered across the 14 river miles from Oscawana to Irvington; most were likely fishing for striped bass, their surf rods sticking up like antennas, the butts of which were jammed into rocky crevices of the shoreline rip-rap. The spring tide of the new moon had filled the river with wood and plastics, floated off the beaches. Waves of grackles were moving up the river from one stand of trees to the next. Scores of common mergansers dotted the river, along with buffleheads and ruddy ducks. However, not a single bald eagle could be found. The Canadian birds were on their way north and the residents were on their nests.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Hook Mountain Park, HRM 31: It was 6:30 AM. The puddles on the path didn't know it was spring: they were frozen. The flat, still river gave off its own chill, even under a rising sun. But the buffleheads knew. A dozen of them dove and surfaced: little black and white submarines. The males faced off, bobbing their crested heads in aggressive display. It's mating time. It's spring.
- Dan Wolff

3/21 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97: Walking along Ulster Landing Road, I spotted skunk cabbage poking their heads above ground, a sure sign of spring.
- Peg Duke

3/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: John Mylod reported that the Hudson River was 37°F this morning. Contrast this to Hunter's Brook, which was several degrees warmer. With no frost in the ground, the tributary water is running over warm earth. The colder river is receiving Adirondack and Catskill snowmelt.

3/22 - Eves Point, HRM 104.5: It was a cold and blustery late afternoon, 28º F, just south of West Camp. I was surprised to see 200 herring gulls and 28 goldeneyes spread out over an area west of the shipping channel. The gulls were mostly inactive; there were some short relocation flights and occasional aerial surveillance, but little feeding activity on this ebbing tide. The goldeneyes, closer to the western shore, were mostly paired up and feeding occasionally. But best of all were three common loons. One was diving, for up to a minute or more. Its plumage was starting to show the blocky breeding pattern. The other two, still in winter plumage, stayed together and made only an occasional brief dive.
- Dan Marazita

3/22 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The cold was harsh, the wind stinging, and I made haste to the sheltered south side of the peninsula this morning. I was richly rewarded and in a little more than an hour recorded 44 species of birds. A hundred tree swallows were clustered like fruit on a small locust tree, and many scores of robins and redwings foraged in the thickets. The first phoebe and catbird of the spring appeared. A dozen red-breasted nuthatches and even more ruby-crowned and golden-crowned-kinglets gave a little concert and delighted me with their spry foragings hardly an arm's length away. A raft of ducks close under the point fragmented as an immature bald eagle passed overhead. It seemed that every bird on the point was with me down in the sunny calm near the wine cellars. All except a female harrier, rocking across the top of the landfill - cold work on this blustery morning.
- Christopher Letts

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