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Hudson River Almanac March 12 - 20, 2006

OVERVIEW

On March 20, the vernal equinox, we began our thirteenth year of the Hudson River Almanac. The Almanac is a natural history journal that seeks to capture the spirit, magic, and science of the Hudson River Valley from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to the sea. It is produced by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Hudson River Estuary Program, in partnership with hundreds of Hudson River Valley enthusiasts whose adventures, observations, and sentiments are found in its entries.

HIGHLIGHT OF A PREVIOUS WEEK

3/14 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: Because of the warm weather this month, amphibians have come out earlier than usual. After a thunderstorm downpour tonight, we headed to Ferncliff Forest near Rhinebeck to see if the yellow-spotted salamanders were on their yearly march toward their breeding grounds. Sure enough, they were. We helped at least 40 salamanders, some up to 10" long, safely cross the road toward a nearby wetland, identified by the sound of croaking wood frogs. In that bog they will mate and lay their eggs. We saw many more salamanders that did not make it across the moderately trafficked road. Most people remain unaware of this yearly occurrence.
- Dan Zinder

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/12 - Arthur Kill, Lower Bay of New York Harbor: During boat patrol late this afternoon, 3 harbor porpoises were spotted in the Arthur Kill heading south near green buoy 21 across from the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.
- Jonathan Fritz, NJ State Police, Marine Bureau

[Marine mammals: We have been getting quite a few sightings lately. Dolphins or porpoises have been sighted near Weehauken, NJ, in the Hudson River off North Cove Marina and off the West Bank near the Chapel Hill Channel. We've been unable to get photos so I am uncertain if they are common dolphins or harbor porpoises. Kim Durham, The Riverhead Foundation.]

[Harbor porpoises usually travel in groups, called pods, and tend to be wary of vessels. Adults average 5½ feet in length. They frequent inshore marine waters, occasionally ascending estuaries in search of their favorite food: herring. Their fondness for herring has earned them the colloquial name "herring hog." Harbor porpoises are known for their loud "blow" (expulsion of air through their dorsal blow-hole), described as "whoosh, whoosh, whoosh." This has earned them another nickname, the "puffing pig." Most Hudson River sightings are in the lower estuary. Tom Lake.]

3/13 - Newcomb, HRM302: As Toby Rathbone and I took a stroll this morning we heard our first robin of the year, a cardinal, and a flicker. Our yard has been attacked by greedy grubbers. It looks like someone with giant cleats stomped all over the grass. I suspect it was the red-winged blackbirds. When I got to work, a brown creeper was singing its heart out ('trees, trees, pretty little trees"). More than 100 evening grosbeaks bedecked the ground beyond the back deck, sorting through seed hulls. They took off as one when I opened the door to put out more. What a spectacular sight! The snow gauge read 4". The rains are coming down, everything just looks dirty. Snow is rotting all along the roads.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/13 - Beacon, HRM 61: Two sizeable carp crashed the surface at the south side of Long Dock, both within 100' of shore, while I was fishing this morning. It was hard to find a moment to set up my second rod because my first was almost immediately getting light hits on corn kernels and bread baits. These were small fish, I'd guess, bullheads and sunfish. However, there was no mistaking some carp were active and in reach of an easy cast. I had to quit after an hour because I was getting soaked by the rain.
- Bill Greene

3/13 - Mills-Norrie State Park, HRM 85: There's been a partial albino male red-bellied woodpecker at the Mills-Norrie Park this winter. His territory seems to be along the road into the Hoyt House. He's got a normal head, shoulders, and belly, but an all-white back and wings.
- David Lund

3/13 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: There was very little to "first light" this morning and no dawn to speak of. It was a gray, foggy, and rainy. Through a spotting scope I could see two dark silhouettes in the nest up in the white pine. One was tearing at breakfast. A hundred feet below, the march of the wild turkeys was taking place as 18 of them were on the move from their night roost to day feeding areas.
- Tom Lake

3/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are enjoying a mini-blizzard as I write this. I blame it on the 40 snow geese I saw flying low overhead this morning when I got to work. And the tulips and daffodils have the nerve to be up about 2" along the edge of my house.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/14 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The was day one of year four for the glass eel study in Hunter's Brook, a little tributary of a tributary in the Wappinger system, just over a mile from the Hudson. We set the net on the night of the full moon with limited expectations. Results in recent years have not been promising. At low tide the water was very shallow and the pebbles and cobbles were Kelly green from new algal growth. Traveling over them was like walking on greased cannonballs. After pounding 6 steel rods of re-bar into the rocky streambed, and setting the fyke net, I was ready for a nap. The water was a chilly 34°F.
- Tom Lake

[American eel monitoring: Populations of freshwater eels seem to be diminishing worldwide and no one knows why. American eels are born at sea before spending much of their lives in brackish tidewater and in freshwater ponds, lakes, and streams. Each spring, millions of immature eels ascend tidewater from the sea. This occurs along the entire coast of North America south into the Gulf of Mexico. Their near lack of pigment has earned them the name "glass eel." This is a particularly vulnerable time in their lives, about which little is known. In anywhere from 12-30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea where they will spawn once and then die. The research on Hunter's Brook, as well as a similar effort on the Saw Kill, 31 miles upriver, is part of a watershed-wide program connected to a national effort at understanding the many facets and components of the life of American eels. It is difficult to protect a species when you know so little about it. Tom Lake.]

3/15 - Esopus, HRM 87: At Black Creek Forest Preserve in Esopus, I found wood frog eggs in one of the vernal pools. I also spotted an eastern phoebe.
- Michael S. Batcher

3/15 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5 My daughter, Sierra, and I were enjoying a late afternoon walk on the Sierra Trail at Stony Kill Farm. It was breezy and air temperatures were falling through the 40s. As we ended our walk in the last light of day, we were sure that we heard the first few spring peepers of the season. It was not a full chorus, but several individual voices, just a few.
- Steve Schwartz

3/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34-35: Robins had taken over; hundreds foraged from one end of the Point to the other. A flock of 32 killdeer swept overhead, a fine sight against the dawn sky. On the Croton River I watched the dozen green-winged teals that have overwintered here, and saw a flock of about 50 more drop in a hundred yards away. After half an hour, there was no sign the two flocks would mingle. The ruddy ducks and the scaup in the lee of the Point were massed by species, as were the canvasbacks off the bathing beach.
- Christopher Letts

3/15 - Breezy Point, Queens: One of the harbingers of spring for beach strollers, birders, and naturalists at Breezy Point - the eastern side of the gateway to the Hudson River estuary - is the return of the piping plover. Today we saw our first. These wading birds are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act. Their numbers have declined in recent years due to beach disturbance, so known nesting areas are protected during breeding season.
- Dave Taft

3/16 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: At 7:00 AM, nearing low tide, it was 20°F. This was a morning for immature bald eagles with 8 sightings. Three of them spent the morning in and around Denning's Point, fishing the tide flats. One of them was successful. It caught a catfish and brought it back to the Point, joining another immature. Unfortunately, two men with an unleashed dog flushed the pair and they had to fly south to Hammond's Point. After the disturbance, no eagles were sighted for at least an hour. During the wintering season for bald eagles, Denning's Point is closed to hikers. No Trespassing signs are posted, but obviously, and blatantly, ignored.
- Marty McGuire

3/17 - Minerva, HRM 284: It's 25°F at the moment, but I'm hearing red-winged blackbirds in the trees all over the place. They arrived six days ago, always a treat, and a time that I try to keep track of. Evening grosbeaks have also been very active - their voices are unmistakable.
- Mike Corey

3/17 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: A pair of mallards had apparently found my eel net to be a cozy place to spend the night. At low tide the creek was very shallow, the current was minimal and they were snugged up inside the 12' wide wings and under the collapsing top of the net. I cleared my throat, made a few splashing sounds, but they were not about to leave. Finally I had ask them gently, as I walked slowly toward the net. After a minute of fussing they both sprung straight up into the canopy of box elders over the creek.
- Tom Lake

3/17 - Beacon, HRM 61: Birds were in abundance this morning at Long Dock and along the Riverfront Trail. Among the crows, hawks, robins, and sparrows were at least 3 killdeer pecking at and running through the grassy mudflats.
- Josie Gray

3/18 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: It was another in a series of chilly morning visits (22°F) to the eel net. An immature bald eagle was perched in the tip of a sycamore, 100' away, just barely feeling the first warming rays of day. Its yellowing bill and white back announced that it was nearing adulthood. I looked but could see no leg bands. Hunter's Brook was 36°F, numbing cold to the bare hands necessary for feeling your way through a black, small mesh net for tiny creatures. The end of the net and knots were exposed to the air, frozen hard. After 15 minutes of warming, the knots came off, the net opened, and 29 glass eels greeted me. A real bonanza, and totally unexpected. From three days of no eels to matching the highest one-day total caught all last spring (and then just once in 72 days of sampling), I felt like the circus had come to town.
- Tom Lake

3/18 - Arthur Kill, Lower Bay of New York Harbor: In late afternoon, we had another harbor porpoise sighting, just one, on the Arthur Kill between Perth Amboy and Staten Island.
- Jonathan Fritz, NJ State Police, Marine Bureau

3/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Snow, wind and cold - it seems like it's been all three for the last week or so. The crowd of evening grosbeaks is squawking away beyond my office window. There is a rumor of fresh bear tracks out in the Goodnow Flow.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/19 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Last week we had a flock of 35 male red-winged blackbirds with only a few females. Today there were 60 females accompanied by just 5 males.
- Nancy P Durr

[Male red-winged blackbirds return first in late winter and early spring to establish their breeding territories. Females usually arrive a few weeks later, once most of the fuss has subsided. Tom Lake.]

3/19 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This morning, only hours away from the Equinox, my early azalea was covered with fat buds. Some of them were already showing pink, tiny pink tongues testing the air for spring. Then, clouds covered the sun, the wind blew, and big flakes of snow sat on top of those brave, little buds.
- Robin Fox

3/20 - Snook Kill, HRM 198: Swimming among the several dozen hen and drake common mergansers was a single common loon already in classic breeding plumage.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Thompson Island Pool, HRM 192.5-191.5: Sunrise came at 6:00 but the pool was cloaked in icy shadows. The air was 13°F, the wind 25 mph out of the northwest, making the windchill feel about -20°F. Along this one-mile reach of the river were thousands of Canada geese, having spent the night tightly packed. Hundreds more were taking to the air, headed north. The number of geese and the volume of honking were lifetime highs. I looked but did not see a single snow goose. In previous years, this pool has been packed with snow geese. Along the edges were groups of black ducks, goldeneyes, ring-necked ducks, hooded mergansers, and mallards. From the High Peaks to the Harbor, the river was essentially free of ice.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Green Island, HRM 153: I stood along the river at the head of tide as spring arrived. A bitter cold north wind made it feel anything but springlike. There were no eagles, no waterfowl, and even the gulls were huddled up on the shore. I picked up a few fist-sized pebbles of jet black Normanskill chert that had eroded from the shale outcroppings. In addition to being a prime fishing spot, this had probably been a quarry for Native Americans. I wondered if they recognized this day each year when equal parts of daylight and darkness gave promise to spring.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34.5: Spring came and left while I waited for the Amtrak from Manhattan. I had lots of company, the best of which was a flock of stunting fish crows, reveling in the blustery winds, showing off their aerobatics with enthusiasm. This windy, cold spell has lasted for a couple of weeks now, with the Tappan Zee piled high with chocolate whitecaps and leaving frustrated early-season striped bass anglers shorebound. Three bald eagles circled overhead, one an adult by the white head and tail.
- Christopher Letts

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