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Hudson River Almanac March 14 - March 28, 2005

OVERVIEW

On March 20, at 7:33 AM, spring arrived and the Hudson River Almanac's twelfth year began. The Almanac started on the vernal equinox of 1994 and has been an ongoing forum for capturing defining moments of the seasons on the Hudson ever since. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of Hudson River Valley enthusiasts whose adventures, observations, and sentiments have been found in its entries.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PAST TWO WEEKS

3/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 72: We were at the IBM dock at 7:30 when we noticed something on the ice not far offshore. After some thought and discussion, we realized that it was a small (three feet long), healthy looking, grayish immature harbor seal. From the dock it was only 60' offshore on an ice floe, drifting downriver on the ebb current. What a sight to see in the wild, and right here!
- Peter Cunningham

3/22 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Our black bear, out of hibernation, is back; we've had three visits in the past week. Last night the bear moved through and "gathered" all of the neighborhood bird feeders. It even snatched the feeder hanging right outside our ground-level family room. We were unable to get photos of the animal, but my wife, Mary Lou, took some of its tracks in the snow this morning.
- Dave Lindemann

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/14 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The Eurasian green-winged teal that has been seen several times in the Yonkers area, most recently on the Bronx River, does not have the typical white shoulder crescents. It has a distinct horizontal white lateral line plus the thin white trim around the green mask on the face. It seems to be bonding with one of the female [American] green-winged teal!
- Joe O'Connell

THE FROZEN RIVER
I can hear the ice crack
as the water pulls back
on the frozen river.
The river speaks to me,
moaning and groaning,
as the water pours into the sea.
- Kathryn Wiley, Vails Gate School, New Windsor

3/15 - Sawkill, HRM 98.5: My eel fyke net went in today. There were still some chunks of ice grounded on the mud of Tivoli South Bay. Hopefully they will bounce off my net. I looked for signs of spring but came up with very little. I did see a vulture circling overhead and heard a kingfisher near the mouth of the Saw Kill. However, I have heard kingfishers all winter in the Berkshires and I no longer consider vultures as migratory. I guess the only sign of spring was me putting in the net!
- Bob Schmidt

3/15 - Bardonia, HRM 31: At 5:15 AM, 20 minutes before first light, I was pleasantly notified of the arrival of spring with the telltale "paint" of the timberdoodle. The woodcock are in, drowning out the morning whistle of the cardinal.
- Joel Epstein

[Timberdoodle is a colloquial name for the American woodcock. The fascinating courtship display of the male woodcock is a sure sign of spring.]

3/15 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: Spring was really in the air at Stony Kill Farm today. As we walked from the Manor House to the barn area we saw snowdrops blooming, the sheep grazing on now snow-free portions of the pasture, two woodchucks out of hiding, swollen buds on trees, bluebirds checking out the neighborhood, and - down at the pond - Muskrat Susie and Muskrat Sam swimming about in the open water near the edge of the pond.
- Carolyn Plage, Sue Patton

3/15 - Sprout Brook, HRM 43.5: This tiny pond has begun to shed its ice. This morning it was almost gaudy with waterfowl spangling the newly appeared black water. Wood ducks, hooded mergansers, black ducks and ring-necked ducks made a captivating picture.
- Christopher Letts

3/16 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: Today the 140' U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker Catherine Walker headed upriver past Poughkeepsie, replacing the winter buoys. These buoys allow ice to slip over and around them more easily than is the case with the buoys used in spring, summer, and fall.
- Tom Lake

3/16 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: Today was ice-out in the small pond below our house just above Oscawana Marsh. Sixteen hooded mergansers dropped in to sample the new open water, pushing the five local mallards aside.
- David Klotzle

3/16 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The snow was receding at a glacial pace. While gathering sap I watched where I put my feet. The wood's floor was thickly dotted with patches of blooming snowdrops and clumps of emerging skunk cabbage and daffodils. Overhead flew a stream of robins, redwings, and grackles, all headed north. Today for the first time this season that ethereal call came from high above and I squinted to find the early flocks of northbound geese. There will be more snow, and ice, and fierce winds, but today, in the sun, spring was waiting in the wings.
- Christopher Letts

3/17 - Ramshorn Creek, HRM 112.2: It was midday at the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary parking lot when I heard some commotion and rustling in the adjacent spruces. Expecting to see crows, you can imagine my surprise when a second year bald eagle flew out! It circled over my head several times before heading off toward the river. In addition to this one, we saw three other immatures.
- Larry Federman

3/17 - West Shokan, HRM 92: In the valley of the Bushkill, snowdrops were blooming in the laundry yard. Out in untamed nature, mats of thyme-leaved veronica had turned green in a spring-fed pond, and on the south-facing cliffs of Little Mountain clumps of Pennsylvania sedge were sending out green shoots.
- John Bierhorst

3/17 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: Robins have been showing up to roost here at dusk continuously this winter. Now, with the snow melting, they are on the lawn. The snowdrops were all out, and the first crocuses were showing yellow.
- Bill Drakert

3/17 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: I finally saw the red-winged blackbird that I'd heard calling. Their call reminds me of an old cartoonish clock, coming unsprung, and somehow seems appropriate for the season.
- Dan Shapley

3/17 - Englewood, HRM 13.5: Jonathan Fritz, New Jersey State Police Marine Bureau, was patrolling the Hudson at Edgewater at midday when he spotted at least three harbor porpoises (two of them side-by-side) swimming in the river. He watched them for 90 minutes and they were still there when he left.
- Kim Durham

3/18 - Gardiner, HRM 73: I saw my first garter snake today, sunning between some rocks.
- Rebecca Johnson

3/18 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The tidewater beaver lodge was still there, though seemingly abandoned (see 2/10). It has been quite flattened by the burden of snow and ice. After four days of an empty net, the first stream life of the season appeared today: Gammarus. These amphipods, also called scuds or sideswimmers, are tiny crustaceans and one of the most common forms of river life. The water temperature rose 4°F since yesterday to 37°.
- Tom Lake

3/18 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: I had never seen a syrup season like this one. The trees were telling me that it was over, even though the snow lies thick on south slopes, the lake is still ice covered, and most of the frost is still in the ground. I tapped six weeks ago, and there were long periods during those six weeks when frigid weather precluded any kind of sap run at all. The trees that ran first in the season have begun to dry up, while the late-season trees are producing well. This year, I made more syrup with ice than with fire. By carefully removing, draining and discarding the ice from my buckets and sap reservoirs, I was able to get more than halfway to syrup without lighting a match, a tour-de-force in the world of maple syrup. At any rate, I'm pleased to have had another season; even more pleased that there will be enough final product to share with family and friends through the year to come.
- Christopher Letts

3/18 - Weehauken NJ, New York Upper Bay: The Riverhead Foundation received reports of porpoise sightings off North Cove Marina in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. They were described as being three to four feet long and dark. Their behavior, non-playful, even shying away from boats, seems consistent with porpoise.
- Kim Durham

3/19 - Long Lake, High Peaks: High Peaks Audubon led a bird walk along the south branch of the Northville-Lake Placid trail near Long Lake. We didn't see many birds, but heard quite a few: boreal and black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, crows, ravens, blue jays, golden-crowned kinglets, goldfinches, pine siskins, pileated and black-backed woodpeckers. And we saw tracks of forest regulars: fisher, deer, snowshoe hare, mouse, squirrel, and fox.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/19 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: I awoke to a chorus of red-winged blackbirds. What a wonderful sound after a long winter. I also heard a red-shouldered hawk and wondered if it could be a blue jay, a very gifted mimic. We have had one around here that does a red-shouldered hawk. But then the hawk came into view, so I am certain they are back for the season. The snowdrops are in bloom. The sunny spot where they came up was blanketed with snow yesterday, but today, lo and behold, it was carpeted with blooms.
- Liz LoGuidice

3/19 - Manhattan, HRM 5: We had a huge surprise in Central Park. Birders found three baby screech owls huddled 25-30' up in the crotch of a tall spindly deciduous tree. The little owls were very grey, fluffy, and almost as big as Mama, who perched a few feet away on a limb. We tried to guess how old they were. They must have flown to this spot; the tree seemed too skinny to have a suitable nest cavity. If they were fledglings, they must have been at least a month old. Some people guessed that they were older, possibly two months old, because they were so big. This discovery was exciting because the screech owl, which used to be found in good numbers in Central Park, had to be reintroduced a few years ago. It was quite controversial at the time; many people doubted they could survive here. Three years ago, two owls were born. These were the first and, as far as we knew, the last births. With these new babies, it looks like the reintroduction was successful. It could also be that some wild owls have moved into the park. Whether introduced or wild, it's thrilling and amazing to see these beautiful creatures right smack in the middle of Manhattan.
- Regina Ryan

3/19 - Green Island, HRM 153: On equinox eve, the river was ice-free south of the Federal Dam at Green Island. Except for some small floes and a little inshore ice, the river was open all the way to the sea. A small raft of common goldeneyes, 20 birds, were enjoying the open water.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Ice Meadows, HRM 243: At 7:33 AM, spring arrived. (This was a much more reasonable hour than last year's 1:49 AM.) The river was stark white, totally silent, frozen bank-to-bank. I walked out on the ice, akin to being on a glacier, and listened. There were no sounds of rushing water, yet 10-12' below me the river raced seaward. There is no better place on the Hudson to sense the pulse of the river at the first moment of spring. Since 1994, this has often been the spot where - for me - the old ended and the new began.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - The Glen, HRM 245: Surging blue-black water was carving through the frazil, neatly sculpting straight sides in the canyon of ice. In places, the frazil was calving like an Arctic iceberg. Here the river was open for a span of 15-20' as it passed south toward the Ice Meadows. Then, within two miles, the river disappeared under the ice.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The sun is finally providing some warmth. Even in early morning, when the air is cold, the sunshine warms the body and soul. The buds on some of the trees and shrubs are starting to swell, only a little bit, but I do believe it has started.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/20 - Minerva, HRM 284: Signs of spring in Minerva: I drilled two sugar maple trees and, as the temperature topped 40°F, the sap dripped nicely into two separate plastic milk jugs. This is truly is a rite of spring for me. I heard the unmistakable sound of a male red-winged blackbird this morning though we still have two feet of damp snow on the ground.
- Mike Corey

3/20 - New Paltz, HRM 79: It was foggy and raining and we anticipated that the spotted salamanders would be out. Sure enough, we found them (and spring peepers) out in the road at 8:30 PM. We helped five across but some unfortunately were hit by cars. They were moving slowly because the air was cold and, being cold-blooded, so were they. The vernal pool was still frozen so the mass migration has not yet happened
- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

3/20 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was cold, wet, and dreary - not at all like spring, at least until I stepped out of my truck for a look around. Killdeer were running riot in the parking lot, yelling their heads off, and a dozen tree swallows threaded through the air, somehow finding something to eat. After a few minutes I had a bona fide first-day-of-spring grin on my face.
- Christopher Letts

3/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Today we had a purple finch, the first of the season, at the Adirondack Park Visitors Information Center feeders.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/21 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The sound was deafening but delightful: thousands of red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds tree-hopping along the tidal Wappinger Creek.
- Tom Lake

3/22 - Fishkill, HRM 62: Much snow still covered my yard, with some on my garage roof too. On the roof above the patch of snow was a red admiral butterfly basking in the warm spring sun. As the breeze increased it would flatten itself against the roof, then once again fold its wings together.
- Ed Spaeth

3/22 - Peekskill, HRM 43: Scrounging the shore today about 200 yards north of Peekskill's Riverfront Green, I noticed some strange-looking driftwood. It turned out to be a harbor seal. I tried to get a decent picture for over an hour but it kept popping up where I wasn't. The seal was grayish, and I only saw its head, which was about the size of a football, with whiskers.
- Bob Vargo

3/23 - Beacon, HRM 61: I counted twenty common mergansers, mostly males, in the open waters of the river beyond the new ferry dock.
- Ed Spaeth

3/24 - Mid-Hudson Valley: Heavy wet snow moved across the Hudson Valley, dropping trees and power lines and leaving 30,000 people without electrical power.
- National Weather Service

3/24 - Queens, New York Bight: On a quick trip to Big John's Pond at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the weather was overcast and still cold enough to preserve the last of yesterday's slushy, icy mess. Rangers John Zuzworsky and Chris Olijnyk peered through the holes of the bird blind with me. A pair of wood ducks circled the far end of the pond, making low squeaking calls to each other. In the center of the pond a ring-necked duck fed quietly - the first one I've seen on this tiny fresh water pond. Later, Ranger Tony Luscombe informed us that he had spotted the refuge's first piping plover of the season at West Beach.
- Dave Taft

3/24 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: When I arrived to view the nest, it appeared that there were six eagles perched up there. Six inches of wet, clumpy snow masqueraded as the white heads of adult birds. I patiently looked though the spotting scope for over an hour to see if someone was in the nest. The sides have been built so high that an adult eagle can hunker down inside unseen. Finally Mama stood up, stretched a bit, turned 180°, and sat down again, out of sight.
- Tom Lake

3/24 - Foundry Cove, HRM 53: Southbound on Metro North we saw a perched adult bald eagle, its white head and dark body in sharp contrast against the snow-draped trees. Many of the wintering eagles seem to have migrated north.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

3/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our daffodils and tulips are up about 2-3" - it seems a bit early. Lilac buds are swelling, and grass is even growing along the south edge of the yard where the sun has melted all the snow.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/25 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: One...two...three...four...five muskrats determinedly paddled against a vague ebb tide or hunched in round brown balls at the river's lip a half hour after sunrise. They were not in a cohesive group, but scattered along 100 yards of shoreline. A few of the muskrats were paddling northward, a pair of Canada geese flew by headed upriver, even a tug and barge were pushing north. OK, I got it! It really is spring!
- Chris Bowser

3/25 - Harriman, HRM 45: This morning I watched a pair of tufted titmice work their way, very systematically, along the trunk of every tree in my backyard, searching for a suitable nesting cavity. One bird came to the tree in which a family of squirrels has lived for many years. The squirrels squeeze through a small round opening about 50' up. The bird inspected the entrance for a minute before suddenly flying off. Shortly afterwards, a squirrel head appeared in the opening.
- Melissa Henneman

3/25 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: A delicious day, with the latest (we hope the last) snowfall disappearing, letting young spring flowers through. Across the road, the ice front on little Pine Lake continues to retreat, from north to south, with more open water showing every day. The best showing of waterfowl I've seen here in 20 years had me setting up a spotting scope right in my office, to watch a mixed flock of two dozen birds. Ring-necked ducks, hooded mergansers, and wood ducks were all performing, and my seat was the best in the house.
- Christopher Letts

3/25 - Croton River, HRM 34: Before 6:00 AM we were driving Quaker Bridge Road along the Croton River, marveling at the Currier & Ives scenery. The 3" of heavy wet snow had altered the mundane shapes and drab colors of March. A tangle of vines on a stump became a cat's cradle of lace, and the black water of the river was in lovely contrast to the snow-softened banks. Even the hooded mergansers and the bald eagles we saw echoed the black-and-white motif. The only color relief was in the breasts of the scores of robins foraging along the road.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

3/25 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Sam Tenadu was dip-netting killifish in the tidemarsh at the Beczak Environmental Education Center when he found a one-inch-long glass eel.
- Dan Kricheff

3/25 - East Fishkill, HRM 63: Taking a walk a few minutes after sunset we were treated to a sound that we have listened for every year but never heard: the distinct "peent" of a woodcock from a grassy field that once grew corn. The bird did not fly up in its courtship display but continued to "peent" loudly. Continuing our walk above a large swampy area we heard another sound, one that we did not recognize right away. It sounded like two blocks of wood being hit together. After some investigation we decided that it was a common snipe.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly

3/26 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Mike Tracey reported the first robin of the season here today.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/26 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: I slogged out into Tivoli South Bay to check my eel fyke this morning. The water was 38°F, pretty cold for late March. A large (15") northern hogsucker was lying on the bottom 5' from my net - only the second hogsucker I've seen in this bay, both very early in spring. I put my dip net over its nose; its head barely fit but I was able to scoop the fish up. The hogsucker made some feeble struggles and I let it go. It swam about 4' and stopped. I guess this really cold water slows them down. The fish stayed put the entire time it took me to check my empty net and was still there when I left. We know very little about hogsuckers in the Hudson; someone could do an interesting study with this species.
- Bob Schmidt

3/26 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87.5: In early afternoon, a half-mile north of the Esopus Meadows Environmental Center, Jennifer called out "Look at that!" I turned just in time to see a bald eagle flying low, barely above the trees. It had an all-white head but still some mottled white and brown feathers, a 4 year-old sub-adult. It flew higher and joined a distinctly adult eagle. They flew tight circles near each other, sometimes seemingly in tandem. One or both of them frequently made chirping "kee-kee-kee" sounds. I wondered if they'd proceed to their famous in-flight talon tango, but no such luck. Still, a great sight of raptors on the rebound.
- Chris Bowser, Jennifer Tether Bowser

3/26 - Doodletown, HRM 45.5: I saw a mourning cloak butterfly today - my first of the spring!
- Pete Salmansohn

3/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: It was a great day for an early morning walk. I tallied 40 species of birds in an hour and a half. The bird of the day was the last counted as I reached the terminus of my hike at the south end of the Point. The first osprey of the year came off Croton Bay, toting a gizzard shad, and passed right over my head before continuing on across the river. This was my earliest sighting by more than a week!
- Christopher Letts

3/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This morning, while unlocking the back door of the Adirondack Park Visitors Information Center, I glanced outside to see the retreating end of a barred owl, winging its way from the back deck into the woods, 50' away, with an escort of blue jays. It perched in a tree, its back to the building, while the jays harassed it from less than a foot away. They flew around the owl, ruffling its feathers, and haranguing it continuously until it flew off again, jays in tow. Apparently it was at the feeders again on Friday afternoon, hunting red squirrels. It seemed odd to see the owl out on a bright sunny morning. It must be having a difficult time finding food at night. The Hudson River is still frozen over. We check every evening, thinking that surely today will be the day, but so far, it remains frozen.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/27 - Breezy Point, New York Bight: Checking out the fishing access road at the park near Rockaway Inlet, Ranger Chris Olijnyk and I found a dead red-throated loon that the highest tide of last Friday's full moon had deposited along with a pile of bladder wrack. Not far away, a pair of common loons fished in the surf, bobbing and craning their necks to see underwater. Chris heard it first - unmistakable, one peep and then another - our first piping plovers of 2005, though one had been seen nearby a few days earlier. Before we left, we encountered two others.
- Dave Taft

3/28 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We had one glass eel in our fyke net this morning. Our first! The water was cold, 37°F. No hogsuckers today. The Saw Kill was very high. We went out an hour after low tide, but the water was only a few inches below the tops of our waders.
- Tanessa Hartwig, Justin Halsey

3/28 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Slowly, causing less commotion than bald eagles and osprey, our winter waterfowl are moving north. Esopus Meadows had a dozen patchy rafts of goldeneyes, buffleheads, and common mergansers, all of them donating some brilliant white to the subdued light and fog of early morning.
- Tom Lake

3/28 - New Paltz, HRM 78: In pouring rain we helped about 150 spotted salamanders and twice as many frogs cross the road tonight. At the vernal pool some male spotted salamanders were dropping their spermataphores on branches in the water. We spotted newts, wood frogs, peepers, red-backed and lead-backed salamanders, a Jefferson salamander and, best of all, a painted turtle in the pool.
- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

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