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Hudson River Almanac May 17 - May 26, 2004

OVERVIEW

The number of bald eagle nests along the Hudson River has increased this year from 8 to 11. The NYSDEC Endangered Species Unit has already visited most of them to band this spring's eaglets. Many of the nests have two young. As May ends, carp and Atlantic sturgeon are starting to spawn, striped bass and American shad are about done, and herring have finished, except for the blueback herring streaming through the locks of the Erie Canal out into the Mohawk River. The salt front crept upriver almost to the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge on May 24 before heavy showers and the resulting runoff pushed it back down below West Point.

Note: There will no weekly Almanac next week. Instead, there will be a double issue the following week.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/24 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: A severe late afternoon thunderstorm swept across the river accompanied by heavy rain and hail the size of marbles. The tall nest tree swayed in the wind. The eaglets were hunkered down inside the nest and out of sight. Amazingly, at the height of the tempest, I could still hear eastern wood pewees off in the woods asking their plaintive question: Pewee? Pewee!
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

Hudson River Estuary: Back in the week of April 26, nine juvenile Atlantic sturgeon were netted in Haverstraw Bay (HRM 37) and given internal sonar tags. On May 12, fifteen hatchery-reared Atlantic sturgeon of Hudson River origin were released with similar tags at Norrie Point (HRM 85). DEC's Hudson River Fisheries Unit has been tracking these sturgeon to determine what habitats they use and record any differences in behavior between hatchery and wild fish. This week, six of the nine wild fish had moved north into the Hudson Highlands (HRM 43-50). The other three have not been located and may have moved out to sea. We have deployed submersible hydrophones in the lower estuary to detect tagged fish. The data from those units will tell us if the fish have headed to the ocean. All fifteen of the hatchery-reared fish moved south of Crum Elbow (HRM 82). One reached Peekskill (HRM 43), traveling 41 miles in seven days.
- Gregg Kenney, Amanda Cosman

5/17 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was hot and muggy at daybreak; the tide was low. The acres of water in the quarter-mile from the railroad bridge at Croton Bay to the Route 9 bridge were churned by carp, signaling the beginning of their protracted spawning season. This will peak in a couple of weeks but continue for almost two months. Everyone is happy: the carp doing their thing, and the hordes of white perch and eels that follow close behind the spawning fish enjoying carp caviar.
- Christopher Letts

5/18 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: I spent some time soaking a gill net today in the mouth of the Saw Kill, a tributary to Tivoli South Bay. While I waited I tossed a spinner and caught one smallmouth bass (13"), two yellow perch, and one brook trout (dinner). In the three-hour set, my gill net caught four alewives (three ripe females), four white perch, and a huge pumpkinseed (8"). Most interesting was a run of substantial yellow perch. I caught 18, the largest being 13". I'm used to seeing smaller ones, around 10", and about half of them were that small. There were two females full of eggs, but all the rest of the fish were spent.
- Bob Schmidt

5/19 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: As I broke out of the greenery along the bank of the brook, I surprised a young white-tail sniffing at the eel net. After a few seconds it clippity-clopped on down the low-tide brook to the Wappinger. An overnight new moon tide had lifted the net high on the supporting re-bar but no glass eels had entered. Our catch of glass eels in this brook is down 64% from last year.
- Tom Lake

[Spring tides of the new moon: On most coastlines of the world there are two high and two low tides each day. The day referred to is not the solar day but the lunar day, a 24-hour-and-51-minute average interval between successive moonrises. The tides are produced by gravitational and centrifugal forces generated primarily between the moon and the earth, with some refinements added by the sun.]

5/20 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Is there a second eaglet? Mom was perched on the horizontal limb over the nest. The eaglet was moving about the nest, panting - its tongue hanging out like a puppy. Between Momma and the eaglet, we saw another small brown mound of feathers. Fran Dunwell saw a second head and beak. During my time viewing the nest I counted a dozen tiger swallowtails and a couple of black swallowtails.
- Davis Natzle, Lia Natzle, Tom Lake

5/21 - Fishkill, HRM 62: A red-spotted purple butterfly seemed to be attracted to our black vinyl doormat. This black butterfly would rest, opening and closing its wings, revealing the red spots on its undersides. Later, while I was painting an iron railing, an eyed elater landed on the railing, giving an aura of cyclopean mystery to an otherwise dull, boring upkeep job.
- Ed Spaeth

5/21 - Croton Point, HRM 34: It was a misty morning on Sarah's Point. I paused in my hike when I heard "clucking" from down the embankment along the river. There were 40 brant in the shallows and along the shore, picking algae out of the rocks.
- Christopher Letts

5/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A black bear took out two of my bird feeders last night. I knew I was taking a risk leaving them up. Some day I will learn my lesson. Fortunately, it only took the feeders that were in the tree out front and did not go for the feeders out back, and therefore did not damage my oh-so-bear-proof welded wire dog fence. Guess I will be taking those feeders down tonight!
- Ellen Rathbone

5/22 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Scents and sounds of spring: multiflora rose, dame's rocket and honeysuckle fragrances were on the breeze, and out on the low-tide Wappinger there were huge splashes every fifty feet with accompanying loud smacks on the water. Carp were spawning. Bass anglers in their boats casting for largemouth did not seem impressed, but along shore other fishermen had ocean outfits designed for big fish and special dough ball recipes as bait for carp. Some of the rolling and splashing carp were 20 pounds or more.
- Tom Lake

5/22 - George Washington Bridge, HRM 11: Using clam strips, Vinnie Savastano and three pals were drifting for striped bass around the bridge. They had brought the right bait and the tide was perfect, but all they caught were skates.
- Tom Lake

[Little skates, about the size and shape of a Frisbee, favor salty ocean waters. They are not common in the lower estuary but are occasionally caught by anglers. Skates are related to sharks and rays in that they have no true bones in their skeleton, but rather a cartilaginous support system. Skates live on the bottom, where they feed on shellfish.]

5/22 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: The sloop Clearwater has been pulling up hundreds of juvenile Atlantic tomcod in its otter trawl on a daily basis near 79th Street Boat Basin. While the number of individuals has been showing a steady decline, their size has been steadily increasing. Most have been in the 13.0 to 38.0 mm range (half inch to inch and a half). These small tomcod are young-of-the-year, born this past winter in the estuary. I have only seen one or two adults, one a foot long!
- Daniel Kricheff

5/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had 1.08" of rain overnight. Today there many tiger swallowtails and a few black swallowtails on the move. I heard a veery singing this morning as well as some wood thrushes.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/23 - Stony Creek, HRM 100.5: I set my herring net in the mouth of this tributary to Tivoli North Bay on an incoming tide, as I do every spring at about this time, to track the alewife run. Stony Creek had changed since last year. Two very large trees fell across the creek years ago; this winter both broke in the center and the ends now slanted down into the water, perhaps forming a new barrier to migratory fishes. I netted a 16½" largemouth bass that had a severe hook scar on its lower jaw. I wonder if every bass in the Hudson has been caught at least once? A little later the net yielded a 14" largemouth. Both bass had scraped the skin from the lower lobe of the caudal (tail) fin, which I took as an indication that they had built nests and spawned. I wandered up the creek above the broken trees and spotted several hundred smallmouth bass "black fry" in one of the pools. These are young that have left the nest and reached the stage where they can swim on their own. Under the microscope, these fry have very large black polka dots all over them. From a distance they look jet black, hence the name. I also saw several dozen white sucker fry hovering around the edges of the group of smallmouths. Both of these fishes migrate into the mouth of Stony Creek to spawn and clearly passed the broken trees; I need not worry about fish access to this tributary. After three hours, I had caught no alewives. This should be the height of the spring run; in the past I have caught 50-60 fish in 15 minutes at this spot at this time of year. Is this observation an anomaly or did the alewife runs in the Hudson crash this year?
- Bob Schmidt

5/23 - Fort Lee, NJ, HRM 11.5: During our 18th annual shad bake at Ross Dock, the shoreline rip-rap bristled with fishing rods as scores of anglers fished for whatever would take their bait. Throughout the day we saw white perch, white catfish and American eels caught with regularity. There were two surprises: a dozen tomcod (to 9") and the half-dozen oyster toadfish (to 11") caught by Lewis Hodge, Raymond Schaman, and Brian Moran. As we were wrapping up, an immature bald eagle came gliding down along the Palisades. Using a south breeze for lift, it barely had to flap its wings as it did a few dipsy-dos, rollovers and tight spirals, before continuing up and over the rim.
- Andra Sramek, Christopher Letts

[Oyster toadfish are small fish with a narrow body, big head and mouth, and enlarged pectoral fins for maneuvering on the river bottom. Their color is a swirl of browns and off-whites that makes them practically invisible in their habitat. They have strong sharp teeth for crushing shellfish. They are a good indicator of salinity and are common in the salt water of the New York Bight. Bones of oyster toadfish dating to 4,000 years ago have been found by archaeologists at Dogan Point (HRM 39.5). It is believed that salt moved further upriver in prehistoric times, and the estuary certainly supported a robust oyster population, prime forage for the oyster toad.]

5/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: After1.78" of rain overnight it is very wet here. We have waterfalls in the woods that I have never seen or heard before. Pink lady's-slipper is blooming, as is foamflower, starflower, and Canada mayflower. Bunchberry and yellow Clintonia is just starting. It's cool and humid today, a good day to be an eft or a frog ... or a mosquito. I haven't seen many efts so far this year - a total of two to date.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/25 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Banding day. Pete Nye of DEC's Endangered Species Unit climbed up and, reaching the nest at the top of the tree, called down, "We've got two giants up here!" He was afraid that one or both might jump to escape so Steve Lawrence and I assumed "catch the eaglet" duty. The nest had been enlarged both horizontally (8 feet wide) as well as vertically (8-10 inches deeper) from last year. There was a new section on the river-facing side that served as an out-of-view spot for one of the eaglets. Halfway through the banding procedure the adults showed up. This was the third year of banding at their nest so they may have remembered Pete's previous visits. They flew around the nest tree, vocalizing in ways familiar and unfamiliar; I can only imagine what they were calling us. A red-tailed hawk joined the ensemble with its familiar k-i-r-r-r-r-r-r. Its nest was likely nearby and it felt threatened as well. As for the eaglets, one was a male (blue band Y56 on its left leg), the other a female (blue band Y57 on right leg). They were big for seven weeks old; Pete wondered if they may have hatched a little earlier, maybe April 1, and we just missed the first food delivery. Given their size and energy, they might fledge in two weeks.
- Tom Lake

5/26 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: At first (meager) light, it was drizzling. Papa was perched on the tippy top of a dead tamarack twenty feet from the nest. Mama had just delivered a fish and was now circling over my head delivering a series of clicks, grunts, and squeaks. From my blind I could see the two eaglets finishing breakfast. They seemed no worse for their banding.
- Tom Lake

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