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Hudson River Almanac May 9 - May 15, 2005

OVERVIEW

Aldo Leopold described the male Baltimore oriole's color "a burst of fire." They are back to breed, and if you have not yet spotted one, take the time to go looking. They favor edges of fields and forests, and overgrown brambles and bushes. As they move through the trees they truly appear to be a flash of orange fire. This is the time of the spring when the green canopy grows denser, hiding songbirds and forcing one to listen to tapes of their calls. Our spring warblers are peaking in both numbers and diversity; this is the best time to find one you have never seen before.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/13 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Papa had arrived with breakfast just after first light and now, several hours later, the nest was calm again. Mama was relaxing in the top of a dead tamarack only 20' away. The eaglet was wandering around the nest, continuing its quest of discovery. It was growing fast, and today looked every bit of six weeks old. One of the joys of watching a baby eagle is seeing the innocence with which it views the world. This may not have been the nestling's first robin, but when one landed near the edge of the nest, the young eagle tilted its head sideways, like a puppy, contemplating this new creature.
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/9 - Albany, HRM 145: Lori Lasch caught a 44¾" long striped bass, weighing 36.6 lb., on a chunk of American shad.
- Tom Gentalen

5/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard black-throated green warblers calling this morning while Rynda McCray and I were collecting mulch for the gardens at the Adirondack Park Visitors Information Center. Our forsythia is now at peak.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/10 - Putnam Valley, HRM 53: It was dawn, twilight, as I looked out over Fahnestock State Park. A sun pillar announced the rising sun. It was better than any photograph I've ever seen. John Day, in The Book of Clouds, describes them as "usually seen at sunrise or sunset, as the angle of a low sun creates these magnificent effects. The shafts or pillars of bright white light stretch from the ground to the sky above. They are caused by light reflecting from horizontal surfaces of hexagonal ice plates." They are among the various optical effects of sunlight interacting with different atmospheric conditions; other examples are rainbows, halos, glories, and sun dogs. This pillar stretched upwards about 30-40° from the horizon; it was narrow and better defined at the base, somewhat more wide and diffuse at the top. Oblivious barn swallows were busy in the foreground swooping after insects - feasting on shad flies, I hope.
- N.P. Durr

5/10 - Hawthorne, HRM 23: A lone gobbler was strutting his stuff this morning on the shoulder of the highway between the Saw Mill River and the Saw Mill River Parkway in Westchester County. He was oblivious to the hundreds of commuters whistling past, as they were to him. He was focused on a single hen who was even closer to the traffic. I guess they figured it was a safe spot, as wild turkey season is open for 21 more days.
- Peter Fanelli

5/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Hummingbirds are traditionally at the Adirondack Visitor Interpretive Center by May 10. We had our feeders out yesterday, but not a single hummer put in an appearance.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/11 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: I was watching Mama when I noticed a dark shape toward the back of the nest. It was flapping its wings like crazy. How big can a five-week-old nestling be? It almost looked like it was ready to take off.
- Mary Borrelli

5/11 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Baltimore orioles and yellow warblers swarmed the foliage here; I saw dozens of each this morning. White-crowned and white-throated sparrows were foraging in flocks, looking as though they were loading up on food before an imminent departure for points north. A worm-eating warbler sang so close to me that I could almost have reached out and touched it.
- Christopher Letts

5/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: After two days in the 80s, we were back to snow today. There were flakes in the air and a very chilly wind. Brrrrr! These fluctuations cannot be good for the plants and animals. I saw my first dragonfly last evening. It was zipping around the little vernal pool near the 8th tee of the golf course. It's probably frozen stiff on a twig somewhere this morning. Hummingbirds have been reported at two locations in Newcomb, though we still haven't seen one at the Visitors Interpretive Center. They are probably chilled as well, perched somewhere until they get a little sunshine on them.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/12 - Minerva, HRM 284: Shadbush was peak in Minerva. I had spotted some blossoms three days ago. The wood frogs are done after leaving several substantial egg masses in a few small watered spots in the swamp behind our house. The peepers are still going. The bloodroots are fading, and the red trillium flower buds are close to opening. Not many insects of note; I think the cool weather is holding them back. Our attic brown bats seem to know this. They are not yet back, and are late in arriving by about a week.
- Mike Corey

5/12 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: Our first hummingbird showed up today at the feeder, on the same date as 2003.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

5/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We had our first ruby-throated hummingbirds of the season today. We spotted a brilliant male at our nectar feeder, which we've been filling for weeks in anticipation of their arrival. Within a half hour, there was a second one, vying for the same prime real estate, and quite the aerial battle ensued. We bought a second nectar feeder and now all is right in the backyard.
- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart

5/12 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The creek had warmed enough to trigger carp spawning. Along a mile reach of tidewater, it seemed like cement blocks were dropping out of the sky. There were small explosions here and there as the 10-15 lb. carp rushed into the shallows to consummate their goal. A nervous troop of fuzzy goslings, traveling single file behind Mom, snaked their way between the eruptions.
- Tom Lake

[In the early 1980s, video footage purported to show "Champ," Lake Champlain's version of the Loch Ness Monster, was given to C.L. Smith, curator of fishes at the American Museum of Natural History, for his evaluation. Champ is described as a large reptilian animal that some believe to be a descendant of the extinct ichthyosaur. After a painstakingly careful, frame-by-frame analysis, Dr. Smith concluded that the footage showed scores of common carp, spawning. The fish created such a commotion, swimming and leaping over each other across the water, that the result looked like the undulating neck of a 50' long sea creature. - Tom Lake]

5/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34: As I rounded the base of the tidemarsh fill, a white-tailed deer began moving up slope and away from me. I caught a glimpse of a second animal behind it, and when they came into view again, I realized that it was a coyote. They continued to the top of the landfill, perhaps 50' between them. Both kept an eye on me but were unconcerned about each other. As I continued my walk the coyote paced me, out of sight most of the time but popping up to get a look. I encouraged the game of hide and seek with outlandish calls and yodels. This went on for five minutes, then the dog decided it had better things to do on a fine May day.
- Christopher Letts

5/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This morning I was looking out on the Hudson from my house, situated about 100' above the river, when I saw a large dark shape about 100' off shore. I thought it was too early in the season for vegetation. I got my binoculars and could see that the dark area, 60' long and 20' wide, was made up of many small fish, right at the surface, moving upriver. In the bright light they looked like little mirrors, shimmering in the sun. This was a large school of small fish moving upriver. Herring?
- Jim Pratt, Marion McEvoy

[Although we will never know for sure, this schooling behavior is reminiscent of Atlantic menhaden, a type of marine herring. In the last decade, young-of-the-year menhaden have been found in summer as far upriver as Troy. Adults are not uncommon during dry stretches of late spring, summer and fall, as far upriver as New Hamburg (HRM 67.5). - Tom Lake]

5/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A very late frost had whitened the low lying grasslands. The blue jay migration was strong and flocks continually streamed over my head, perhaps 600 birds. They seemed to create a partial vacuum. Small flocks of Baltimore orioles and cedar waxwings rode in on the trailing edge of the blue jay flocks.
- Christopher Letts

5/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Scores of blue jays were going tree-to-tree, heading upriver. Their racket was deafening. A few were carrying nesting material. Added to the chatter were the first green frogs we've heard.
- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake

5/14 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The nestling took a nap, down in the nest out of sight, from late morning through early afternoon. Mama perched on a cross limb above the nest all the while. Papa brought a fish at dinnertime, left, and then brought another one a half hour later (a catfish this time). Mama and the nestling fed on their own fish. The nestling had no trouble lifting what appeared to be a one pound white catfish in its beak, shaking it. This is one big baby bird.
- Tom Lake

5/14 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: Another occasional visitor stopped by today. A snowy egret has been stalking the hapless killifish that live in a catch basin for a mall where dozens of people walk by every hour. Eight brant were dabbling over a partially sunken barge today. They always seem to be on their way to somewhere else.
- Terry Milligan

5/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Woodcock were using my yard for their evening displays: lots of peenting all around the neighborhood, and spiraling flights above. I had at least two individuals land in my yard, strut their stuff and peent for the ladies. No ladies in sight, however.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/15 - Town of Athens, HRM 115-114: While fishing on the Hudson yesterday, we drifted to within 25 yards of an adult bald eagle perched in a tree just south of the Cohotate Preserve. We also spotted a juvenile bald eagle, lots of cormorants, osprey, ducks, geese, and many, many great blue herons. Today we saw a total of four common loons, adults and juveniles. The loons were swimming just north of Dutchman's Landing in Catskill. We also heard and then saw closely a peregrine falcon. I think it is nesting under the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. We did not get a single bite either day but the bird watching was pretty special.
- Bob Beyfuss

5/15 - Catskill, HRM 113: My daughter Sara was home from college and she joined me to fish on the most perfect morning - no wind, no boats. We were on the water at 5:30 AM and as we set the gill net a big flock of brant came through headed north. As the morning progressed, there were more flocks, six in all. We also saw a common loon and three bald eagles. In three short drifts we caught 90 shad. The roe is still looking good but it won't for much longer. The river temperature was 57°F and the market is getting weak.
- Jon Powell

[By the time the river warms to 60°F, most shad are in the spawning reach between Kingston and Troy (HRM 91-153), and their roe becomes too ripe and soft to be sold. - Tom Lake]

5/15 - North Germantown, HRM 109: Mark Adamski caught a 44½" striped bass, weighing 36.6 lb., on a live river herring on the Germantown Flats.
- Tom Gentalen

5/15 - Peters Kill, HRM 78: While hiking along the Peters Kill in Minnewaska State Park, I came upon a very vocal broad-winged hawk perched in the trees not far from the stream. A pileated woodpecker called from the opposite side. Prairie warblers could be seen and heard throughout my hike. Within several yards of either side of the stream painted trillium were in bloom, and on some of the rock outcroppings, in small pockets of soil, wild columbine was blooming.
- Christopher Kuhlow

5/15 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Overnight we had our first measurable precipitation in 12 days. Our reward was a good crop of blackflies. True to their colloquial name, "no-see-ums," they are merely irritating as they fly around your head, but the next day you have itchy bumps all over.
- Tom Lake

5/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Birds were everywhere this morning, more than 50 species in a two hour walk and not enough time to puzzle out the warblers high in the canopy. At the Croton River boat launch, high water had left a rich trove of materials. A flock of yellowlegs pecked and poked along the tiny beach for half an hour. At that stage of the tide, it was about the only game in town. An immature black-crowned night heron glided in and observed from a pier on the railroad bridge.
- Christopher Letts

5/15 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 27: In the diffused light of dawn, the peaceful shimmering pool below the mill dam on the Pocantico River was idyllic. A mile from the Hudson, and only a stone's throw from the Old Dutch Church, it was a scene out of Washington Irving. Once a week we set research nets in the Pocantico to assess the fish population; I was there to haul them out and document the catch before heading upriver to our shad bake at Croton Point. However, approaching the nets I knew I was going to be late for the shad bake. This was the "Jurassic Park moment" that I dread each spring. Once the tributaries warm to the mid-50s, huge reptilian beasts visit our nets in the middle of the night. As I looked out at our gear, I counted three snapping turtles, nearly the size of trash can covers, and they were dining on our data! I waded out to do battle, trying to retrieve the fish each of the three had crossways in their mouths. It was a mess, mud wrestling with giant snapping turtles, keeping their heads underwater as I freed the mesh and got back enough of what they were eating to make an identification. All were white suckers. (I counted my fingers afterwards.) With the nets removed, the fish identified, measured and released, the turtles disappeared into the bottom of the pool. As I left, hauling the gear back to my truck, the land of make-believe was once again safe from reality.
- Tom Lake

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