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Hudson River Almanac March 28 - April 2, 2005

OVERVIEW

As spring blooms all around us and wildlife seems to frolic at every turn, many exuberant, well-meaning people like to get "close" to nature. We have to temper our enthusiasm and remember that much of nature does not want us to get close. Binoculars are an eagle's best friend. You can watch a school of herring spawn without casting your shadow over them. You can listen to birdsong without climbing trees and whacking the bushes to view the singers. Let it happen all around and allow wildlife to be wild.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/26 - Hannacrois, HRM 138.5: Claudia the dog and I took a twilight walk in the back fields. Sensing something that I could not see, she ran into the forest and returned proudly carrying a deer leg in her mouth. The leg, devoid of flesh but still held together by tendons, was complete, hoof and all. She had found and carried this leg on a walk a week earlier before abandoning it. Now, remembering her prize, she retrieved it. I heard a much anticipated sound, the whir of a lovelorn woodcock's wings. This funny bird of spring fields had returned and was performing its beguiling flight. We headed toward home, Claudia with her deer leg, and I scanning the skies to glimpse the woodcock's dance. As one bird began its descent, the sound of its wings seemed close by as it spiraled down to earth. I thought it had landed - then it flew past me, quite close and at eye level. I watched it land and utter its characteristic "meep." We finished our walk surrounded by the sounds of courting woodcock.
- Liz LoGuidice

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/24 - Sandy Hook, NJ: One of the ospreys returned today to its nest on the bay side of Sandy Hook. We trust its mate is not far behind. Yesterday was a northeaster - 30 knot winds, 35°F, rain. I guess the bird was hunkered down nearby till today. Smart bird.
- Dery Bennett, Pam Carlsen

Osprey Return to Sandy Hook, New Jersey
2000 3/16
1991 3/19, 2001 3/19
1989 3/21, 1990 3/21
1995 3/22, 2004 3/22
1999 3/24, 2003 3/24, 2005 3/24
1988 3/25, 1992 3/25, 1998 3/25, 2002 3/25
1997 3/27
1996 3/28
1994 3/29
1993 3/30

3/28 - Cornwall, HRM 57: We are enjoying the arrival of spring at the Museum of the Hudson Highlands: a flock of 12 ring-necked ducks visited our pond for a few days; tree swallows were back; wood frogs and peepers were calling loudly each evening; and 32 snow geese graced our front fields with a passing visit.
- Ann Szigethy

3/29 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: After 4" of rain overnight, I knew the river would offer something of interest. I had to walk in on Ferry Road since the Stuyvesant Fire Department was pumping out a flooded basement at one of the houses there. When I reached the cove, I thought someone had installed a dock. Then I realized it was a dock that broke loose in the storm and drifted up or down river until it found its way here. The 8' x 20' wooden floating dock was set upon blue 55 gallon plastic drums, complete with cleats and a hose connection. I got some help from Ranger Chris DiCintio to tether the dock to a tree. We thought if it is unclaimed, we'd have a great enhancement to our Nutten Hook canoe and kayak launch!
- Fran Martino

3/29 -Town of Esopus, HRM 87: Coltsfoot was in bloom.
- William Drakert

3/29 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: We had over 2.26" of rain and Hunter's Brook was high and raging. At low tide it was above the usual high tide mark. I tied a stout lifeline onto a tree on the shore above my net and worked my way out. The water (39°F) was over the top of my waders. The current was incredibly strong, so strong that I could not lift the net completely off its re-bar supports. The re-bar was bent seaward as well. The net rose slowly but I could feel that it would rip and tear had I kept on tugging. This was the first time in three springs that stream conditions kept me from checking the net for glass eels.
- Tom Lake

3/29 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: This morning a golden eagle dropped out of nowhere at the mouth of Indian Brook, just missing some mallards by inches. The ducks flew off in a wild panic. The eagle perched in a small tree in the tide marsh, but then moved to a tall snag overlooking the brook. It didn't see me, perhaps still distracted from missing a good meal. But I could see it clearly. It was a young bird, no leg bands, golden head dripping wet from all the rain. It left after a minute and flew down the wooded shoreline of the marsh. After another minute, my heart and stomach switched back to their original positions.
- Eric Lind

3/29 - Montrose, HRM 39: I spotted two black vultures cavorting above Crugers Station Road south of the Veterans Hospital in Montrose.
- Jim Grefig

3/29 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: When winter clings, as it did this year, the brief season of overlap takes on a special richness. And so, we have kestrels while the long-eared and short-eared owls are still with us. Wood ducks are back while we can still enjoy buffleheads and ruddy ducks. Phoebes and fox sparrows are encountered with white-throated sparrows and juncos. The first of the red maples are in bloom while the last of the witch hazel still has flowers.
- Christopher Letts

3/30 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The flood was still cresting in Hunter's Brook - the creek was high and running hard. At low tide this morning, where water level ordinarily would be ankle deep, the creek was shoulder high on a six-footer. I managed to inundate my second pair of chest waders in two days. Even with the lifeline to lean on, our research net was immovable. The water temperature had risen slightly to 40°F, which might indicate that much of the snow and ice in this tributary's watershed had melted.
- Tom Lake

3/30 - The rain and runoff pushed the salt front south 20 miles in twenty four hours, from HRM 57.5 just south of Newburgh yesterday to HRM 37.8 in Haverstraw Bay today.
- U.S. Geological Survey

3/30 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: While watching three of Stony Kill Farm's week old lambs gambol about the pasture, first time out and about, a mourning cloak butterfly fluttered by. Further south on Route 9D, a large patch of coltsfoot was fully in bloom.
- Carolyn Plage, Kirstin Burke, Jim Herrington

3/30 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The sap pails, covers, and spiles were removed from the maple trees a week ago, but a few of the tap holes continue to dribble a little. The breeze evaporates the sap and concentrates it, and the sweet stuff around the hole convenes the ants and moths. Today I watched a red squirrel follow my trail through the woods from tree to tree. It licked the sap from the hole, and washed down insect snacks.
- Christopher Letts

3/30 - New York Harbor: At 5:15 PM, a NJ State Police Marine Bureau boat patrol spotted a harbor porpoise just off the Maersk Sealand Terminal, in Newark Bay, northwest of the Bayonne Bridge.
- Jonathan Fritz

3/31 - Town of Ashokan, HRM 92: This was my first trip to Ashokan Reservoir in a while and I was surprised that water was barely trickling over the dam. I had expected a major waterfall. The reservoir and beaver ponds were partly frozen but opening fast. There were waterfowl: common loon, horned grebe, bufflehead, scaup, ringed-neck ducks, common mergansers, and red-breasted mergansers. One Canada goose was already on its nest. I didn't see any eagles but there were bluebirds and turkeys along the road. Any day you see a bluebird can't be bad.
- William Drakert

3/31 - Hudson Estuary. Atlantic sturgeon update: The hatchery fish released into the Hudson River last year appear to be slowly leaving the estuary. Eight of the twenty-five fish tagged with sonic tags have recently been observed between mid-Manhattan (RM 5) and Haverstraw Bay (RM 39). Four have not been observed since November, seven have not been observed since October, one has not been seen since August, and one has been missing since May.
A few of our sturgeon have been adventurous. Mulva (tag #16709) hatched in 1995 and was released at Kingston on 6/22/04. We followed this fish from Kingston to upper Newburgh Bay over the course of about a month. Mulva (sex actually unknown) then spent the summer in upper Newburgh Bay, observed eight times there during the summer and early fall. In September and October we found her three times in the Hudson Highlands, each time a few miles downstream of the last location. She was observed about to enter Haverstraw Bay in early October; after that, nothing. However, we just got a report that she was recaptured on 1/26/05 near Matapeake, Maryland, deep in Chesapeake Bay, by a drift gill netter, and released alive.
Two other hatchery fish with external tags but no sonic tags have also turned up. A sturgeon released in Kingston on 6/22 was caught by a hook and line fisherman near the George Washington Bridge on 12/29. The second, released in Haverstraw Bay 9/22, was recaptured in an anchored gillnet in the Chesapeake Bay on 12/3.
- Gregg Kenney

4/1 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: The snow was almost melted from my front yard, but still covered most of the more shaded back yard. In the foothills of the Catskills, we get more snow and it stays longer than lower down by the Hudson River. Today I saw our first robin and also heard a phoebe calling. I removed the mulch and uncovered some of the flower beds next to the house. The peony shoots were beginning to pop up, but the ones in the back yard still had a layer of granulated snow covering them. I heard spring peepers in Kingston in the evening, but they were still quiet in Lake Hill.
- Reba Wynn Laks

4/1 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: In the afternoon the sun came out and the air was in the upper 50s. The nest was lit up and looked warm. Most of the time Mama was down inside but on two occasions she got up, moved around the nest, looked out to the river, and then settled back. Maybe she was looking for Papa, the relief shift.
- Tom Lake

4/1 - Breakneck Ridge, HRM 56: Henry Atterbury and I hiked up Breakneck Ridge and back down to the north. Climbing up, we could see from the flag on top that there was a stiff southerly breeze. When we reached the flag, we saw two peregrine falcons playing in the updraft created by the wind on the southern rock face. One folded its wings and dropped like a stone out of sight. A short time later it came back over from behind us and perched on a rock triangle that juts out from the first summit above the flag. Birds perch there often, as evidenced by the whitewash on the rock. The falcon's neck was puffed out - a full crop. The two peregrines stayed there the entire time. On the final summit there was a vernal pool filled with frogs.
- Scott Craven

4/1 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: I watched an osprey fishing in a heavy mist, soaring and searching. As my binoculars followed one tentative plunge toward the surface of the Tappan Zee, I spotted tiny dark shapes moving toward me, just above the surface of the bay. A stream of tree swallows flowed over the bay, lifted over the railroad, and was "home" on the waters of the Croton River. The flow lasted at least five minutes, and I estimated more than 700 birds had just arrived from the southwest side of the river. A few dozen made feeding flights but the rest clustered in the phragmites, twittering and adjusting position, finally settling in a space smaller than most dining rooms.
- Christopher Letts

4/1 - Jamaica Bay, New York Bight: We spotted a very early prothonotary warbler at the famous "water hole" located within Forest Park, Queens. It was first seen two days ago. A few miles east, on the West Pond of the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, we spotted many migrating waterfowl: American wigeon, American coot, lesser scaup, snow geese, northern shovelers, red-breasted mergansers, ruddy ducks, gadwalls, brant, Canada geese, mallards, and buffleheads. In addition, we saw oystercatchers, phoebes, black-crowned night heron, boat-tailed grackles and two ospreys on a nest.
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

4/2 - Hannacrois, HRM 138.5: Yesterday, I heard my first spring peepers of the season. Driving home in the rain today, I was horrified to see frogs crossing the road. I hate driving in the rain, because no matter how much I swerve like a drunkard to avoid the hopping frogs, I know there are salamanders that I cannot see under the car. I hope I didn't hit any!
- Liz LoGuidice

4/2 - Columbia County, HRM 119: We took a family outing in the rain to look for amphibians on the road. Two hours cruising and walking a road with little traffic produced seven species: spring peeper, wood frog, green frog, American toad, spotted salamander, Jefferson's (hybrid) salamander, and red-spotted newt (the red eft phase). This is pretty good for one evening - our record is nine species. One of the Jefferson's salamanders had three leeches attached to it. I never noticed leeches on salamanders before. A bonus sighting occurred when we stopped to move some amphibians off the road. There was an ermine (winter white phase of the long-tailed weasel) frenetically running around on the road margin. We suspect he was eating frogs.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

4/2 - New Paltz, HRM 78: It was the night of the flood. At 7:30 PM we went to see the spotted salamander migration. Dan Shapley joined us to help the salamanders cross the road. In the vernal pool hundreds of female spotted salamanders were getting ready to lay their eggs. Standing still, you could watch the salamanders slipping by your feet, wiggling into the pool. It was still early; we guessed that there would have been thousands of them later on. Making our way back up the road, we found a Jefferson's salamander and helped it cross on its way. What an amazing sight!
- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

4/2 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: After an inch of rain, the water level was at typical high tide, even though it was supposed to be dead low - strong, strong current. With lifeline and life jacket I managed to lift the net and check its contents, in the process taking a quart of water (45°F) over the top of my waders. At this time last year I had already caught five glass eels and seven elvers. Still no glass eels, but I did have one precious 3" elver today!
- Tom Lake

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