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Hudson River Almanac February 28 - March 6, 2005

OVERVIEW

Harp seals continued to make the news, reminding us of the close connections between the Hudson River estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. From an even broader perspective, it reminds us that being connected to the sea opens a world of possibilities, not only for marine mammals but for fish, sea turtles, and birds that follow the course of rivers in migration.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/6 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: As I left the house this morning I noticed three birds flying overhead in a westerly direction. The first two were crows; one was cawing loudly. The third was quite dark and appeared larger than the crows. When I got a look at its underside, I could see a black belly and wings with white markings on wingtips and tail. This was no red-tail, I thought to myself, while watching the hawk pursue the crows. It managed to separate the pair of crows and chased one back to the east, passing overhead again, with the second crow in noisy pursuit. The hawk abruptly gave up and landed in the top of a nearby tree. Binoculars were of little help in identification as the hawk was silhouetted in the morning light. The crows began informing their comrades of the new raptor in the neighborhood and the hawk flew off, now scolded by a mob. Judging from the shape of its wings and coloration, I think it was a dark phase rough-legged hawk. This sighting was much better than coffee for a morning pick-me-up!
- Liz LoGuidice

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/28 - Manhattan, HRM 1: Michael Levandowsky spotted a harp seal in mid-morning on a floating dock in the south embayment at The River Project, between Piers 25 and 26. The seal showed curiosity towards visitors and reacted by lifting its head, waving its flipper, arching its body, and rolling around. I contacted Kim Durham of The Riverhead Foundation in order to assess whether the seal was healthy. She determined that the harp seal was a healthy juvenile, 12-18 months old, in a pre-molt condition, and may have found an excellent spot to go through its molt. In late afternoon the seal disappeared.
- Diana dos Santos

[This may have been one of the two harp seals spotted at Battery Park City the day before. Tom Lake]

3/1 - Round Top, HRM 113: We had 12" of snow last night into today. The trees are locked up in ice and it looks like it will be a while before our sap run starts again.
- Jon Powell

3/1 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: The 11" of new snow was made even brighter by the handful of gorgeous bluebirds that I saw foraging in a hedgerow. I can understand why they were chosen as the New York State bird.
- Tom Lake

3/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: In mid-afternoon we spotted a short-eared owl perched on one of the posts of the landfill. Flying around a short distance away was a northern harrier, swooping up and down amidst the brush.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/1 - Manhattan, HRM 1: It snowed last night. This morning I discovered that the harp seal had not left our embayment, but was now on a snow-covered dock next to the one it had occupied yesterday.
- Diana Dos Santos

[Seals love floating docks because they have a boundary all around them. To the seal it seems safer than land while molting, plus the they have easy access to water and can roll back in. Kim Durham]

3/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are now up to two feet of snow on the ground, the most recent of it very fluffy - so much so that squirrels are opting to "swim" through it, making tunnels rather than tracking across the surface.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/2 - New Hamburg to Chelsea, HRM 67-65: The wind had drifted the snow to 15" in places, so snowshoes were welcome on this two-mile trek. The east half of the river was a shelf of stationary ice; the west half, including the channel, was flowing seaward and brimming with floe ice. An immature bald eagle went along for the ride as the current carried it past Danskammer Point. Our mated bald eagle pair, from nest NY62 in southern Dutchess County, was snug in the swale between Soap Hill and Cedarcliff, facing the sun and sheltered from a cold northwest wind blowing at 20 mph. They shared a branch and very nearly the same spot - they were that close. A few hundred yards to the north, the male of the so-called "Cedarcliff" pair was on one of his familiar perches, a gnarly red oak. We have been keeping tabs on this pair since 1995 (see Farmer's Landing, 1/10). For the last two winters only the male has wintered here.
- Tom Lake

3/2 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: At sunrise, an adult bald eagle was perched in a tree behind my home. We have a stretch of old growth trees, and while we regularly have a pair of red-tailed hawks, the eagle was new. It ate a fish in the crook of a nearby tree and then flew to another to sit for a while. This was a great way to start the day.
- Casey Rasko

3/2 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: An adult bald eagle with a blue leg band was here this morning. The band was on its right leg, and we could make out the letter "E." Almost directly beneath that was the number 8. It is likely that the bottom number had another digit, but it was obscured by the fish the bird was eating.
- Eric Lind

[The blue leg band denotes a New York State bird. We are checking on the partial identification number to see if we can find a match.]

3/2 - Peekskill, HRM 43: The wind howled and the snow flew and my eagle count was 20 for the morning. But there was floe ice here on Peekskill Bay, and a dozen eagles were lined up on it or flying over it. An impressive amount of interaction took place in the 20 minutes I watched. There were flareups of some kind, with 7-8 birds coming up off the ice, mixing it up, and then settling down for a spell. Two immature birds were practicing their hunting by stooping on fishing cormorants, though I did not see anything that looked like a close call for the fishing birds. All in all, this was about as good as it gets this late in the winter season.
- Christopher Letts

3/2 - Manhattan, HRM 1: This morning the harp seal was still lying around on the floating dock.
- Diana Dos Santos

3/3 - Ice Meadows, HRM 244: The Hudson River south of The Glen this morning was thoroughly buried under the bizarre frazil ice except for a very few narrow areas where fast-moving waters were visible. With continued cold weather, the frazil ice will build in thickness, finally towering 8-9' above the water's surface come mid-March. The expanse of snow-covered ice was beautiful, quiet, and barren-looking, and I tried to picture the river rushing southward beneath the ice.
- Mike Corey

3/3 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: While driving below the village of Wappinger Falls in early afternoon I saw two immature bald eagles soaring two tree heights above Wappinger Creek. It was quite a treat! The ebb tide had lowered the creek, bringing fish closer to the surface and making them an easier lunch for hungry eagles. There were also a few groups of common mergansers swimming about.
- Bud De Nicola

3/3 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I noticed today that the furry little catkins on the pussy willow had finally emerged - a harbinger of spring that goes back to my childhood.
- Tom Lake

3/3 - Garrison, HRM 53: There it was, perched on my bluebird box at the cutting garden, a female bluebird just sitting in the cold sunshine!
- Andra Sramek

3/3 - Bear Mountain Bridge, HRM 46: This morning we could not spot any bald eagles on our train to Manhattan until we reached the Bear Mountain Bridge, where two adult eagles flew low in the sky to the south. A little farther downriver we saw two immatures in the sky as well.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

3/3 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: Driving south toward Croton, two amazing white-headed adult bald eagles glided right over my car. They were low, low! Then I saw four immatures in Annsville Creek perched on a big stump pecking away at something. It was low tide. As I continued on, headed south on Route 9, I spotted a fifth immature riding the thermals.
- Andra Sramek

3/5 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: It was a lovely day, the best of the winter. Snowshoeing in the wet, heavy snow, I came upon a set of tracks of an animal that had bounded through the snow. Since the tracks were not new, I could not tell if they were fox or bobcat. A bit later on my walk, I watched a fox run across a field. Excitedly approaching its tracks, I was able to confirm that the previous tracks had probably been created by a fox moving quickly through the deep snow.
- Liz LoGuidice

3/5 - Gardiner, HRM 73: Two red-shouldered hawks flew around our yard calling to each other for about two hours this morning.
- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

3/5 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: I had been watching Mama eagle for over an hour from my spruce blind 350' from the nest. She was fussing around, never seeming to be pleased with the lay of the branches. At 3:30, she stood in the center of the nest, facing west, motionless. At 3:38 she raised her tail nearly vertical and then sat down. Was this the start of incubation?
- Tom Lake

3/5 - Brooklyn, New York Bight: Two harp seals hauled out on the beach at Coney Island. These may be the same two that were at Battery Park City on 2/27. The New York City Urban Park Rangers cordoned off the area to provide privacy and security for the seals.
- Warner Johnston, Sara Hobel

3/6 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5:The sap buckets had clanked tinnily in the winds, virtually empty for three weeks. The snow was still deep on the ground. But when I walked out the door this morning, there was the first crocus bloom of the spring, proudly purple in the warm chimney-corner on the south side of the house. As I admired it, a first flock of grackles creaked and clucked overhead. Surely there will be a run of sap today.
- Christopher Letts

3/6 - Staten Island, New York Lower Bay: In the late afternoon at the tidal inlet to the Crooke's Point Marina in Great Kills Park, I watched a raft of seven long-tailed ducks (formerly known as oldsquaw) diving for over an hour. The three drakes and four hens were still in winter plumage. The sky was cloudless and the sun was low so the lighting was perfect.
- Scott Jackson Wiley

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