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Hudson River Almanac April 28 - May 5 , 2004

OVERVIEW

One of the goals of the Hudson River Almanac since it began on March 20, 1994, has been to document events that are out of the ordinary. We use the term "normal" to describe the baseline by which we measure such things as the onset of spring. If we have learned nothing else in the last ten years, it is that normal is just the average, and there's lots of variation from year to year. This spring our migrations seem a step out of sync with bioindicators such as flower blooms and rising water temperatures. Are the shad late, or are they not coming? Is this an indication of declining fish stocks, or just timing that doesn't jibe with our preconceptions of what is normal?

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/27 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: One of the larger roes that I caught today in my shad net had a small sea lamprey (278 mm; about 11 inches) attached. It fell off into my boat as I hauled the shad aboard.
- John Mylod

[Sea lampreys are anadromous - adults live in the sea but return to freshwater to spawn. Spawning has been documented from late May through June in Catskill Creek, Stockport Creek, Roeliff Jansen's Kill, and Black Creek. Lampreys sometimes hitch a ride upriver attached to American shad, getting both transportation and nourishment. On an evolutionary scale, lampreys are very old, older than sharks, skates and rays, survivors from a time when fish had no skeletal bones. They also have no jaws and use their mouth as a suction cup to move pebbles and cobbles to build nests. Their Latin name, Petromyzon marinus, means rock-sucker from the sea. While not a problem in the Hudson, their parasitism can cause great economic loss, particularly in the Great Lakes, where trout and salmon are major recreational species. Robert Schmidt]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/28 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: We saw marsh marigold blooming on our bird walk this morning at the Rams Horn.
- Liz LoGiudice

4/28 - Beacon, HRM 62: The flowering dogwood was in bloom.
- Tom Lake

4/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Two birders stopped by today to tell us that they had spotted nine red-necked grebes on Harris Lake. They also had watched loons in their mating dance. Our forsythia are starting to pop leaves, but no flowers yet. We had some snow yesterday, but it's supposed to be warmer today, so I remain hopeful.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/29 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Despite dour looks from my neighbors, I cannot bring myself to mow my lawn. Maybe it's the fact that it's 90% white and purple violets in bloom.
- Tom Lake

4/30 - Newcomb,. HRM 302: Walking at Camp Santanoni, we rescued a chilled red eft from the middle of the road. Our first of the season. We also heard a black-throated green warbler.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

4/30 - Minerva, HRM 284: Our forsythia were in full bloom. Behind the house, the spring peepers were still going to town and now were sharing both aquatic and air space with a few frisky toads. I heard a solitary vireo and my first white-throated sparrow. Red trillium and blue cohosh were in bloom, but there was no intense marsh marigold yellow along the swamp feeder stream. A couple of days ago Sue Corey heard an American bittern in the marsh. That "plumbing" sound the bird makes is amazing and absolutely unmistakable.
- Mike Corey

4/30 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: The wild strawberry were in bloom and, in the woods, Indian strawberry as well. I heard my first catbird and also the song of the wood thrush, arguably the most lovely sound of summer.
- Liz LoGuidice

4/30 - West Shokan, HRM 91: Where Winchell's Brook flows through Broadhead Meadows the false hellebore shoots and the fronds of the cinnamon fern were a foot high. A freshly dead fisher, probably a road kill, lay near the ferns. No shadbush left; it reached its peak here about ten days ago and was already beginning to fade at the start of the week.
- John Bierhorst, Jane Byers Bierhorst

4/30 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: At dawn, the brightening horizon silhouetted activity in the nest. Mama was finishing up her breakfast, a small fish. Rising slowly from inside, teetering over to the edge of the nest with all the grace of Godzilla over the Tokyo skyline, was the three-week-old eaglet - my first look. It was fluffy, gangly, the size of a chicken, and looked to be in awe of all it surveyed.
- Tom Lake

5/1 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While leading a walk for a group of college students, I saw our first purple trillium, sessile-leaved bellworts, white violets and blue violets blooming. No forsythia or shadbush yet.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/1 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: While walking in the woods at Cohotate, I noticed a tiny red eft on the forest floor - the first time I've seen one this spring. After seeing that one, I realized that there were at least six of these immature eastern newts all around me. I trod very lightly and kept my eyes on the ground for the rest of my walk, loathe to step upon one of these charming creatures.
- Liz LoGuidice

5/1 - Town of Ashokan, HRM 91: We went to Ashokan to walk across the dike. The upper basin was 100% full and coming over the spillway. There were a few common loons on the water and one added a call to the scene. The cliff swallows and chimney swifts were back. We don't usually think of blue jays as migratory birds, but they are. Today was moving day - flocks of several dozen each poured by as we walked.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

5/1 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: On our walk to Sanctuary Pond at the John Burroughs Sanctuary this morning we could hear the Canada geese making a ruckus. We found the swimming geese in our binoculars and right behind them, on a rock at the water's edge, was an immature bald eagle. It did not seem to be disturbed by the honking geese, and just sat there for a while.
- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

5/1 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: In the remains of a balsam fir Christmas tree on the stone foundation of the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, a female duck had collected some soft feathers for a nest and laid eleven eggs. The duck appeared to be a mallard/black duck hybrid. It had no blue speculum, but it had white feathers where the speculum might have been. Most of its plumage was more like a black duck's, darker than a mallard's. After a wooden dock is set up at the south end of the lighthouse, she and her ducklings can live in peace. Right now, her nest is at the top of a flight of stone steps used for access. Since volunteers visit only two days each week, and they are considerate, the mother duck seems to be managing very well.
- Phyllis Marsteller

5/2 - Sleightsburg Spit, HRM 88: We walked as far out on the spit as the tide allowed. this morning. Turkey vultures were roosting at the point. The red-tailed hawk nest was occupied. Orioles were back, as were catbirds.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

5/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Lilacs were in bloom. It seems a bit early for them.
- Tom Lake

5/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was snowing this morning while I was teaching a school group. We were all rather frozen. Pussytoes were blooming, as was painted trillium along the Sucker Brook Trail. The only trees blooming are the red maples. I love their red flowers; they remind me of fireworks. Snow is expected again tonight.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/3 - Catskill, HRM 113: The shad fishing has been slow and the persistent wind has not helped matters any. The numbers of striped bass have picked up, maybe ten or so per drift.
- Jon Powell

5/3 - Mid-Hudson Valley: While the shoreline of the Hudson remained colorful, the soft white of shadbush had been replaced by the stark white of flowering dogwood.
- Tom Lake

5/4 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: It was late afternoon and the nest appeared empty. With a gusty west wind at her back, Mama flew in from the river, circling low over my head, chirping a few times, and then landed in the nest. Up popped a small brown head looking for a handout.
- Tom Lake

[While bald eagles frequently lay more than one egg - one to three is the common range - the first one to hatch will be biggest and strongest and will claim most of the food brought to the nest by the adults. If there is too much lag time before the other eggs hatch, or if food supplies are slim, often just the first to hatch will survive.]

5/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard a brown thrasher this afternoon, my first of the spring.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/5 - Catskill, HRM 113: The shad have picked up but the wind has killed my numbers. I am fishing alone and only get two drifts. Let's hope the wind stops before the market does. Violets, dogwood, lilacs, and wild strawberry are all in bloom.
- John Powell

5/5 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Ecologists frequently remind us how dynamic the estuary is. The Hudson seems static, however, in comparison with its tidewater tributaries. The Hudson may experience a daily rise or fall in water temperature of a degree or two Fahrenheit. Over the first five days of May, water temperatures in Hunter's Brook fell from 67°F to 51°F. Cold-blooded aquatic animals must be extremely resilient to occupy such habitats.
- Tom Lake

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