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Hudson River Almanac March 5 - 12, 2006

OVERVIEW

Stories of red-winged blackbirds, woodchucks, migrating geese, nesting raptors and early flowers remind us of the impending season change.

HIGHLIGHT OF A PREVIOUS WEEK

3/11 - Columbia County, HRM 113: At Olana State Historic Park on an evening Owl Prowl, we noticed a hillside aglow with soft greenish phosphorescence. My thought was that we were looking at a cluster of glow worms. The glowing organisms were separate glows of light, looking like a small city at night as seen from an airplane. They were soft and somewhat diffused sources of greenish (like fireflies') light. There was no apparent movement. After a while they all seemed to extinguish. They were up on a steep slope, deciduous woods, mostly oaks, and not accessible for any of us to get a closer look. I had serious doubts about seeing glow worms out and about on a March night. So I did a bit of fact digging and asking. I've learned that what we saw was more likely phosphorescent fungus on a rotting log. I've seen the daytime pattern of this fungus - it looks like a pale blue hue on dead wood - but I've never seen the glowing aspect at night. Some in the group heard the soft tones of a distant northern saw-whet owl. The vocalization was very short, and the owl became silent before the rest of the group could pick up on it.
- Rich Guthrie

[Glow worms: There are several organisms called "glow worms" - the most familiar is the larval firefly. The other familiar one is the fat little glowworm seen just laying in woodland detritus. When you pick them up, they move very slowly and begin to extinguish their glow. The glowing ones are the females that remain in a larval-like form through adulthood. They are voracious predators, feeding on centipedes, slugs, and other small invertebrates. The males are a flying form which doesn't glow. Rich Guthrie]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/5 - Bonticou Crag, HRM 83: On an amazingly clear day from the top of Bonticou Crag at Mohonk Preserve, we watched several black vultures fly past, headed south along the cliffs. We had truly magnificent views of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley on this crystal clear day. A few ago, on a hike across Millbrook Mountain on the way out to Gertrude's Nose, we came across 3 black vultures sitting at the side of the clifftop trail. We were less than 50 feet away when we noticed them and sat for a bit waiting for the last one to take off. Black vultures seem less shy than the turkey vultures we normally encounter. They are so beautiful to watch from the top of the cliffs as they glide along, often at eye level.
- Henry Atterbury, Chip Nippert, Denise Vitale, Scott Craven

3/7 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: There they were in the sheltered chimney corner soaking up the sun: one yellow, one purple, the first crocus of the season. After a surfeit of summer blooms I sometimes wonder why I'm crawling around in the cold November flower beds stuffing bulbs into the earth. Half a year later, hungry for something that is not winter, tiny flashes of bright bloom give the answer.
- Christopher Letts

3/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Well, I'll be! There was a purple finch at my office window feeder at the Adirondack Visitor Information Center this morning. It is the first one I've seen all winter. And here it is raining, sleeting and hailing.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/9 - Catskill, HRM 113: I spotted a neck-collared Canada goose in the bay just north of Dutchmen's Landing in Catskill. The collar was orange with white letters, the number H1J7, and there was a silver band on the left leg. I'd be very interested to learn of the history of this goose.
- Larry Federman

3/9 - Bald Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: In the drizzly first light I peered through my binoculars at the north side of the nest. I saw a white head, a prominent yellow beak, and two glaring eyes looking my way. Even though I was several hundred feet away, I had no doubt that Papa saw me. I was pretty sure that it was Papa incubating. (Last year they began incubating on March 5.) This is a view that we have only until the leaves arrive in April, after which viewing the nest becomes a bit more problematic.
- Tom Lake

[Mama and Papa: In our observations of this nest, which we will now refer to by its NYSDEC designation NY62, we try to differentiate between the adult male and female. Most of the time we can do this, but it is not 100%. In a breeding pair, the female will usually be noticeably larger. Individual behavior becomes diagnostic as well, especially after watching them for seven seasons. Mama is usually the one that spends the night in the nest and incubates about 75% of the time; Papa helps. Early on with this pair, Papa had a small brown blaze on his forehead; in another season he was missing a primary feather. This helped us attribute certain behavior to each of them. We couple all of that with a recognition of subtle differences and attitudes, letting us know they are individuals. Tom Lake.]

3/9 - Beacon, HRM 61: As I walked down the east end of Main Street a sharp-shinned hawk and a pigeon swooped within two feet of my head. They crashed into the side of a three-story building just a few feet from the roof. The pigeon dropped and then flew away. The hawk flew up and perched on the roof edge for a few seconds and then took off.
- Bennett Gray

3/9 - Pocantico River, HRM 28: The gritty beginnings of spring were evident as I walked along the Pocantico River this morning. Skunk cabbage was poking up through dead leaves and black muck. Wood ducks shrilled away through the trees when they flushed from backwaters, and soaring red-tails were making their territorial claims perfectly clear. On a grassy knoll was the first woodchuck I've seen this season, looking almost suspiciously plump and sleek for a beast that had not seen the light of day since October.
- Christopher Letts

3/9 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The red-tailed hawk pair, Pale Male and his mate Lola, have settled into their nest in the 12th-floor cornice above Central Park at 920 Fifth Avenue.
- Thomas J. Lueck

3/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: My yard is busy with red-winged blackbirds and the ADK Visitors Interpretive Center is inundated with evening grosbeaks.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/10 - Minerva, HRM 284: I spotted my first flock of northward bound Canada geese today just south of Minerva heading toward North Creek.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/10 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: I fancied that I heard a tell-tall "meep" as I walked in the fields this morning. I heard nothing more, however, and could not confirm that woodcocks had returned for the season. Tonight however, as I enjoyed the breeze and the full moon light, the whir of woodcock wings and the pleasant "meep" was all around me. What a welcome sign of spring!
- Liz LoGuidice

3/10 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Yesterday, during an afternoon walk on Dutchtown Road, the trees lining the creek that drains wetland WT-2 were alive with the spring territorial calls of red-winged blackbirds. While it's not unusual for redwings to return north in early March, they always seem to return to the farmers' fields and other places they can find some food, only returning to their favorite wetland when the insects actually start to emerge. I suspect they rode up on the near 70°F warm front that came up the coast and were confused to find the wetlands still mostly covered with ice. Today they were gone but the fields on John Carle Road had many redwings. How long can it be before the peepers emerge?
- Dan Marazita

3/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached a balmy 71°F, still 3° shy of the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

3/10 - East Fishkill, HRM 68: It was a busy week with wildlife sightings: My dog spotted a black bear in the wetlands north of the railroad tracks on Carpenter Road. He barked, the bear moved, and then I saw him as he lumbered back into the thicket of the swamp. Later, from this same wetlands, came the distinct sound of a few spring peepers. Today Mr. Woodchuck was up out of his hole and sitting on a brick wall surveying. He was probably disappointed to find no green grass to munch. He didn't stay up for long.
- Carolyn Plage

3/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: At intervals of less than 5 minutes, four large Vs of high-flyer Canada geese moved up the middle of the river, heading north. With a strong southerly wind gusting over 35 mph, it was a flight day for spring arrivals. Male cardinals were doing their "birdie, birdie" spring song.
- Tom Lake

3/10 - Dennings Point, HRM 60: It was 45°F with light southerly winds at first light (5:55 AM) and by 7:15 a light rain was falling. In 4½ hours I had 13 bald eagle sightings, all adults. The majority of activity was on Dennings Point. They perched at the very tip most of the time and soared out over the river. One bird was perched for 82 minutes. Three birds were seen together and I'm quite sure those 3 were around all day. One adult grabbed a 10" fish from the river and flew a mile south to Hammonds Point. A train went by and the bird flew back to Dennings to finish its meal. Thousands of Canada geese were moving north and a single eastern phoebe was spotted along the railroad tracks. The first of the season for me!
- Marty McGuire

3/10 - Westchester County, HRM 27: The air temperature reached 72°F today, tying the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

3/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A splendiferous day, it felt like May. Sunny, warm, blue sky. The cat, the dog, and I all spent time outside. The ice on top of the Hudson River is melting but underneath it is still frozen. My gardens are all exposed now - no snow around the house for several feet. But, more snow is on the way; after all, it is only March.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/11 - Fish Creek, HRM 186: Six of us took advantage of a nice day to take a morning kayak paddle on Fish Creek, an outlet of Saratoga Lake that empties into the Hudson near Schuylerville. The paddle produced my first killdeer of the season. We also had belted kingfishers, buffleheads, green-winged teal, common mergansers, mallards, black ducks and Canada geese on the stream. This stretch of water usually stays open all winter. We don't know why, but it sure makes a nice place to get out paddling when most other waters are frozen (with cold water clothing and appropriate training, of course).
- Alan Mapes

3/11 - Shawangunks, HRM 75: It was pristine weather, warm March sunshine, blue sky, and an air temperature near 60°F. A group of us hiking on the Ridge Trail, Millbrook Mountain to Gertrude's Nose, spotted a peregrine falcon and 3 red-tailed hawks. A mourning cloak butterfly was seen up close. Returning near Millbrook Mountain, 2 ravens flew by.
- Richard Balint

3/11 - Cornwall, HRM 57: A small flock of bluebirds greet our maple sugaring visitors each morning at the Kenridge Farm site of the Museum of the Hudson Highlands. The visiting school groups enjoy hearing our red-winged blackbirds calling as they (the kids) sample our sweet harvest! And a beautiful yellow splash of winter aconite is once again cascading down the rocky slope at the Boulevard site. Feels like spring!
- Ann Murray

3/11 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I saw the swaying shadow of the backdoor bird feeder and thought, oh no, squirrels again. But it turned out to be a group of mourning doves, 5 of them, crowded on the rim of the feeder trying to balance, feed, and keep their dignity. It was a funny scene: the smaller birds - chickadees, finches, downies, sparrows - were all fluttering and chattering around in the air waiting for their turn.
- Robin Fox

3/11 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: I looked up briefly from my New York Times on the Metro North train to Manhattan, and right there on a tiny sandbar were 2 immature bald eagles disputing something on the sand with an adult bald eagle just a few feet away.
- Judy Mage

3/11 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: In spite of a few nibbles from mockingbirds and squirrels, our garden has been bejeweled all winter long by the persistent red drupes on our cranberrybush viburnum. Today, the bush was vacuumed clean by a flock of cedar waxwings. I glimpsed the last four before they vanished.
- Elizabeth T. Martin

3/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Three visitors to the Interpretive Center spotted a river otter in the Rich Lake Outlet while walking on the Sucker Brook Trail. One said they even saw where it had been feeding; a freshwater mussel shell was left behind as evidence.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/12 - New Paltz, HRM 78: All day I thought about spotted salamanders. I knew the soft rain falling would undoubtedly bring the fat ones out of the woods. About 11:00 PM I was free from other obligations and I headed to one of my favorite spots in Ulster County. There I spotted six inches of black glistening salamander determinedly wiggling toward the vernal ditch. Tomorrow I will return and check for any sausage shaped bundles of eggs left on submerged twigs. Hopefully the young will survive this spring's fickle weather.
- Betty Boomer

3/12 - Croton River, HRM 34: We have new neighbors: a colony of beavers have taken up residence in the Croton River near Black Rock. The have girdled a few large trees though their building efforts will remain invisible until the water level drops.
- Sanford "Sandy" Plotkin

3/12 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: Chris Olijnyk and I were examining the remains of a large fire which burned through acres of phragmites at Spring Creek when we noted one charred elderberry with a single red-winged blackbird sitting on it. As black as the ashes around him, the bird reared back and filled the air with his shrill prayer for spring. My first redwing of the season.
- Dave Taft

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