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Hudson River Almanac May 5 - May 11 , 2004


A week like this reminds us why spring is so special. The valley is overrun with migrating songbirds, the landscape is once again green, and the river is filling with shad, herring, striped bass, and sturgeon. Last week a NYSDEC research crew captured a 57½ pound striped bass near Esopus Meadows (HRM 87). That fish would have been a state inland waters record if caught on rod and reel.


5/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: My evening walk with Toby provided a gold star ending to an otherwise uneventful day. As we approached the pumphouse down by the Hudson River, we saw a pine marten. It apparently saw us too and scooted into the woods, but not before pausing to take another look at us over its shoulder. It was a lovely orange-red with a beautiful dark tail.
- Ellen Rathbone


5/5 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The new eaglet wobbled around the rim of the nest in a driving rainstorm unfolding its wings and giving them a good flap. At about four weeks old, it was now about a quarter the size of Mama.
- Tom Lake

5/5 - Balmville, HRM 63: At Mt. Saint Mary College's Desmond Arboretum, many trees were flowering, including eastern redbud, Carolina silverbell, and a horsechestnut. The latter's magnificent cream-colored blossoms attracted a ruby-throated hummingbird. The pinnate leaves of the American yellowwood were also beginning to emerge.
- Ed Spaeth

5/5 - Verplanck, HRM 40: Commercial fisherman Cal Greenburg caught only one roe shad in his net today, but he did get within 30 yards of what he identified as an Arctic tern. "The bill was blood-red all the way to the tip."
- Christopher Letts

[Arctic terns are extremely rare in the estuary. Hudson Valley Audubon believes that this may be the first one reported for Westchester County. Arctic terns winter in sub-Antarctic waters and summer in the Arctic, an incredible pole-to-pole journey. This Arctic tern was seen in migration. However, due to its rarity, to be an official record would require at least one more observation.]

5/5 - Manhattan, HRM 0: On a morning bird walk for the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy we located what is now a famous wild turkey, one that has been talked about in the birding community for months. It was sitting in a tree at West Thames Street and the promenade, looking as big as a dalmatian! As we were watching, a squirrel bounded up the tree unaware of the bird. It made its first right turn onto the limb where the turkey was sitting and, if ever there was one of those HUH?! expressions, it was on this squirrel's face. The turkey for its part remained calm as it craned its neck threateningly. I've never seen a squirrel hightail it out of a tree as fast.
- Dave Taft

5/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Finally, this morning, I saw a half dozen blooms on a small forsythia bush in Newcomb.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/6 - Ulster County, HRM 87: It's apple blossom time in the apple valley. The lilacs and columbine are out and everything has greened up.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

5/6 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: As we exited Springwood, the former home of Franklin Roosevelt at Hyde Park, we had a grand prospect of the park lands and Hudson River to the south. While surveying the view, we spotted five wild turkeys in the distant meadows, two red-tailed hawks riding the thermals and blue jays and northern mockingbirds flying to nearby trees.
- Marion Paskey, Alice Baker, Eileen Zipes, Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

5/6 - Garrison, HRM 52: At Constitution Marsh today the tide was quite high. The surface of the marsh was flooded and there were quite a few roosting shorebirds on floating logs. Snipe, greater yellowlegs, and spotted, least, pectoral, and white-rumped sandpipers were all lounging on separate timbers floating around or lodged in the mud. I have always found it interesting how the hard surfaces of woody debris become habitat for barnacles, mussels, mud crabs and other little aquatic invertebrates in a sea of soft muck, but I never really considered their value for loafing birds at high tide, save for some waterfowl.
- Eric Lind

5/6 - Nyack, HRM 27: We caught our first bunker today in our herring net.
- Robert Gabrielson Sr.

[Bunker, or Atlantic menhaden, are an ocean herring that spend much of their lives in estuaries. In the lower Hudson their arrival each spring is one of three bioindicators, along with blue crabs and bluefish, that portend the end of the commercial shad season.]

5/7 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The "glass eels" of April have become the "black threads" of May. Just as being invisible was a good adaptation in the open ocean, becoming pigmented in the estuary has its advantages. This color phasing is one of the physical characteristics, heretofore unknown, of the newly-arrived-from-the-sea eels that we are documenting.
- Tom Lake

5/8 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Over the past three days, at the Saugerties Lighthouse Cove, there have been 12, 18 and 25 mute swans feeding in various groupings of 2-5. Today we witnessed a pair of swans doing something very unusual. Whatever one would do, the other would immediately mimic. This included circling, inches apart, in both directions, then intertwining their necks one way, then the other. One would bob its head down low or up high, and the other would immediately do the same. This behavior went on nonstop for nearly 20 minutes until another swan approached. When it got within 15 feet the two performers faced the intruder with wings spread, swatting the water hard enough to splash water a considerable distance in the direction of the intruder. When the intruder finally turned away, one of the pair immediately held its neck straight up, its head facing forward; the other assumed the classical mute swan pose, wings cupped up behind the body with the neck laid flat on its back. I imagine we witnessed a courtship ritual but had never seen such behavior for an extended period.
- Dan Marazita, Jan Marazita

5/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: On a beautiful morning, wood thrush and veery filled the woods with birdsong. Our Field Archaeology students from Dutchess Community College had discovered a temporary Stone Age camp on a bench over a small stream. The camp was small, about 400 square feet. The diagnostic artifact that allowed us to date the site to about 4,000 years ago was a finely chipped stone awl of a type called Normanskill. The stream tumbles down a slope, flows past the site for several hundred yards, and then meets the Hudson River. In a long-ago May, river herring would have been plentiful in this stream, making the site an ideal stopover for a group of people following the spring run of migrating fish from the sea.
- Natli Pinnock, Michelle Weiss, Stephanie Roberg-Lopez, Tom Lake

[Normanskill is not the name of a particular Hudson Valley Indian group. For several centuries, about 4,000 years ago, Native Americans living in the Hudson and Mohawk watersheds made projectile points that archaeologists have labeled as "Normanskill." These people were hunter-gatherer-foragers. Other than analyzing their stone tools and the various components of their campsites, we know very little of the people who made them. The style was named by former New York State Archaeologist William Ritchie after the Norman's Kill, a Hudson River tributary (HRM 143.5)].

5/8 - Beacon, HRM 61: As we walked the trails in Madam Brett Park along Fishkill Creek and its estuarine marsh, we enjoyed the aerobatics of several northern rough-winged swallows. A lone osprey surveyed the marsh and a black vulture soared overhead. Meanwhile, a muskrat, with the viscous remains of motor oil on its back, found shelter in the reeds.
- Tim Murphy, Erin Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

5/8 - Doodletown Brook, HRM 45.5: This was a day to watch migrating songbirds at Doodletown, among them magnolia warblers, American redstarts, worm-eating warblers, ovenbirds, hooded warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, black-throated blue warbler, northern parulas, blue-winged warblers, common yellowthroats, magnolia warblers, black-throated green warblers, black-and-white warblers, cerulean warblers, warbling vireo, yellow-throated vireos, red-eyed vireos, wood thrush, blue-gray gnatcatchers, northern orioles, scarlet tanager, eastern phoebes, and brown thrashers, and one black-billed cuckoo. Some could be seen gathering nesting material. Others are establishing territory and singing. Overhead we spotted a sharp-shinned hawk and black vultures.
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

5/9 - Warren County, HRM 220: Shadbush was in full bloom from here south to Glens Falls.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was 5:00 PM, we had just locked the Visitors Information Center, and were headed home. I was about to say to my co-worker that ruby-throated hummingbirds should be arriving any day now when I looked up and saw a hummer fly past. I must be psychic. I made a batch of food tonight and will put out my feeders in the morning.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/10 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: Bands of blue jays were tree-topping their way north. Most resident jays were already engaged in the all-important business of producing their next generation. These gangs of marauding late-comers are probably the unemployed teenagers. They travel in loose groups of a dozen to a gross, passing quietly overhead and descending onto still active feeding stations like mine. This morning I had 25, gobbling up lots of cracked corn and sunflower seeds. The resident nesting pairs pay little attention to these passage flocks. They will feed side by side, with no particular attempts to drive the would-be-competition out. There must be some subtle signal between them that lets the residents know that the visitors will be passing on soon and do not represent a threat to their territorial integrity. As an added bonus, this morning's group included an almost all white "blue" jay. All the blue was replaced with white or almost white. The black of the face and bib remained. The wings and tail were a ghostly pale gray-white. The overall appearance was that of an exotic new species. Biologically, these aberrations are little more than a curious anomaly. To me this one was an attractive addition to my backyard bird show.
- Rich Guthrie

5/10 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The eaglet was spending a lot of time alone. It seems very precocious, very active, and may be a handful for the adults. It typically stalks the corners of the huge nest, wings stretched wide until finally running out of gas and settling down. Mama was out on the river; Papa was perched on a horizontal limb in a white pine 100 feet west of the nest tree.
- Tom Lake, Dick Lahey. Jim Pratt

5/11 - Minerva, HRM 284: Spring was coming on like gangbusters in Minerva. This was the first day that I noticed shadbush blooming in a few of the successional fields in the area. I also heard the unmistakable song of a wood thrush as well as my first black-throated green warbler, one of my favorites, and one of the easiest to tell by song (a good thing, since these birds are tough to spot in the tree tops). Two kingfishers cruised the beaver flow wetland behind the house, and the peepers were still cooking, although with less gusto than they've had over the past few weeks. Both purple and painted trillium are blooming and that means it's time for the pesky blackflies to begin to bite. Over the past couple of weeks the blackflies have been around but have not been interested in biting, until now.
- Mike Corey

5/11 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: On my travels into Poughkeepsie today I marveled at the intensity and varieties of colors we call "green." With temperatures in the 80s and all this greenery it seems more like June than mid-May. A tall handsome horsechestnut was already in full bloom, with hundreds of clusters of flowers pointing skyward. Sadly, I noticed several sycamores appeared to have already lost their first leaves, I assume due to anthracnose. Their battle with this fungus each spring must be a test of survival of the fittest among trees.
- Carolyn Plage

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