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Hudson River Almanac May 8 - May 15, 2006

OVERVIEW

For many of us, one of the special treats of springtime is to be awakened by birdsong. For true birders, I'm sure it is not difficult to lie there and distinguish among the myriad of songs and identify the singers. For the rest of us, we can hear the cardinals and the robins, and maybe one or two others. Of course the mockingbirds are out there as well, just playing with our minds.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The last two mornings, Toby Rathbone and I have scared up a snowshoe hare. It may have been the same animal both days since it was in the exact same spot. The hare was mostly brown above, but its feet were still white.
- Ellen Rathbone

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/8 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Today the carp began their prolonged spawning shenanigans that will extend into July - leaping, boiling, mad rushes into shoal waters. Up on the landfill, a large flock of bobolinks had assembled, riding the weed stalks, flashing spring colors, swirling high into the sky to broadcast their sweet bubbling song.
- Christopher Letts

5/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Each spring we are the last to see it: today the serviceberry, or shadbush, was officially in bloom.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/9 - Green Island, HRM 153: The drought was evident as water was coming over only the center span of the Federal Dam. The river was as clear as I've ever seen it in spring. I joined 20 other anglers along a stretch of rocky beach. Most were fishing for American shad but were not unhappy when any of a half-dozen other species hit their lures: white perch, smallmouth bass, blueback herring, striped bass, carp, gizzard shad.. A pack of double-crested cormorants were out in the deepwater current marauding like a pack of wolves, diving into schools of blueback herring then rising to the surface to swallow their catch. About halfway into the flood tide, the shad began to take our lures. It was not uncommon to see several fish on at one time, leaping, swapping ends, then making their long, strong run. The river was 59°F.
- Tom Lake, Warren Wilson

The Federal Dam at Troy is the end of the road, the present terminus of the American shad spawning reach. Before a dam was built in Troy in the 19th century, some shad used to ascend the Hudson, get above the fall line rapids at Troy (river mile 154), reach the Battenkill (river mile 188), and travel east into Vermont to spawn. Not many people consider a rod and reel when they think of American shad. Since Colonial times, shad had been the province of commercial fishermen. In the last 25 years however, they have slowly become a darling species, albeit for only about four weeks, of a select number of dedicated anglers looking for a world class fishing experience in the Hudson River.

American shad are the largest herring in North America. They spend most of their lives in the sea but, as adults, return to their natal waters each spring to spawn. For the first 85 miles of their journey up the Hudson each April and May, American shad show no inclination to strike lures. In fact there is evidence to suggest that shad do not feed at all on their spawning runs, perhaps going as long as a month or more with little or no food. Once they reach their spawning grounds, a 65 mile reach from about Esopus Meadows north to Troy, their attitude changes and they will strike small, brightly colored or flashy lure. This change in behavior hints at territoriality, defensiveness, perhaps annoyance as motives.

The season is a short one, beginning in mid-April and pretty much over by mid-May. Water clarity is important. American shad hit lures on sight. If we have had a windy day, or recent rains and strong tides have created turbidity, you can cast all day and probably not elicit a strike. If they cannot see it, they won't hit it. The traditional lure is the shad dart, a quarter-to-half ounce lead-head jig, adorned with a small sprig of bucktail. Red, white, and yellow shad darts are very popular used with 6-8 lb. monofilament and a medium spinning outfit. Some fishermen swear by one color or the other and will tell tales of its superiority. If you fish often enough, however, you will quickly discover that shad may totally ignore all your calculations and hit at any time, dawn to dusk, at any location, or maybe not at all.
- Tom Lake

5/10 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: The eaglet loomed large in the scope, perched on the rim of the nest watching the show. The local pair of red-tailed hawks had come to visit, a springtime ritual. The breeding redtails have had a nest a few hundred yards to the east, up on a hill, for several years. They instinctively feel that the eagle's nest and soaring range is a bit too close for comfort. Several times each spring they come to deliver a message: For a half hour the pair of redtails soared over the tall white pine as the eagle pair crisscrossed the space above their nest. Every minute or so one of the redtails would dive-bomb one of the eagles and there would be a flash of talons. It was a symphony of redtail k-i-r-r-r's and the eagles' clicks and chortles.
- Tom Lake

5/10 - Georges Island, HRM 39: The young Dows Lane School birders were very focused, excited about each new call or sighting. Luck was with us as a strong wave of songbirds was moving through: scarlet tanagers, warblers of several species, and a tree full of orioles - I counted at least 4 males in an old apple tree. For me, the last was the best: Floating off the boat launch was a common loon, just taking it easy. I recorded 38 species in our hour together and the kids saw and heard perhaps half that many, a full plate for them from their after-program comments.
- Christopher Letts

5/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There was a nest of baby squirrels in one of our nest boxes on the golf course. I opened the side to check and found the box stuffed with grasses and twigs. Something was moving, as though the nest itself was breathing in and out. I gently prodded with a twig and found a little almost-furry back and two tiny legs. Then Mom started to chatter at me so I closed the box back up and left them in peace.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/11 - Minerva, HRM 284: The blackflies have been swarming, but blessedly they have done little biting. I've had a couple of nibbles, but the real stuff hasn't come yet. It may be too dry. Our bats are back, coincidentally appearing about a week ago, right on schedule with the blackflies.
- Mike Corey

5/11 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: The darkening sky and a brisk east wind was portending a storm. Both adults had been spending much time around the nest. This afternoon Papa was on duty. As has been his habit, he came and checked me out as I was setting up to watch the nest from a blind, 395 feet from the white pine. He circled low over my head three times, banking in widening arcs, chirping and chortling, before flying back to a perch in a dead tamarack next to the nest. I still see just one eaglet. The fate of the second one is a mystery.
- Tom Lake

5/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I have not seen hide nor hair (nor feather) of the bluebirds since last week. The female took a twig into the nest box, but since this rain, neither male or female has appeared. I'm hoping they are still going to use the box and are just laying low for now. We've had two more moose sightings in the last couple of days.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/12 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: At 3:30 AM, wind gusts to 30 mph had the nest tree swaying. The rain was driving in waves and thunder rolled in the distance. At each flash of lightening, the dark profile of the nest was visible, then dark again. I could see no birds, hear no voices, and did not linger long. A hundred feet above me Mama was helping the eaglet through the night. In the context of its life, however, this night would not be the worst it would face.
- Tom Lake

5/12 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: Shortly after dawn the rain stopped. Well over an inch had fallen. A wet, scraggly eaglet poked its head up from the bottom of the nest. Both adults were gone, out to the river, looking for low tide breakfast opportunities.
- Tom Lake

5/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby Rathbone and I were up early and we heard wood thrushes singing. It is my all-time favorite birdsong and I have not heard it for ages. In the Adirondacks we get mostly hermit thrushes. They are nice, but just aren't the same. Painted trillium are blooming, and the chokecherries have also started to flower. I suspect it is the rain.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/13 - Wallkill, HRM 69: We had many migrant songbirds pass through here this week. The highlight was a Wilson's warbler and a magnolia warbler. Others included a yellow-billed cuckoo, wood thrush, yellow warbler, and black-throated green warbler.
- Rebecca Johnson

5/13 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The spring "glass eel" season has about run its course. The streams are low, the flow is slow, and water temperature is rising. From 30 baby American eels a day two months ago, to a peak of 70 per day one month ago, we are now seeing 1-2 eels a day. Their pigmentation has increased from transparency to translucency to where they now look like small black threads swimming in the bucket. The rate of increase in pigmentation, an adaptation to the inland waters of the estuary, is one of the primary types of information we are collecting.
- Tom Lake

5/13 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: On my way to a plant sale at the Stony Kill Environmental Center, I saw an eastern bluebird on a fence near a blue bird box.
- Jeri Wagner

5/14 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Ed Weber, a loyal volunteer for Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, and I spent most of the day doing miscellaneous chores inside the building. The interior walls were almost ready for plastering. On the trip to the lighthouse from the marina at Norrie Point, we saw an adult bald eagle fly across the river with a dip to the water to pick up something, perhaps a herring. Because of the cool weather and overcast skies, there weren't many pleasure craft on the river, but there were many, many people along the shore and in small fishing boats trying to catch a record-size striped bass.
- Phyllis Marsteller

5/14 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: Shortly after seeing 2 nestlings on May 5 (one much smaller than the other), but then just one for over a week, I was sure the smaller one had died. On Mother's Day morning there was still only one. In late afternoon, Mama came in from the river with a large herring and landed in the nest. There was the "King Eaglet" ready for dinner. Then, popping up from down in the corner of the nest, was the second eaglet. We still have 2 nestlings, but there appears to be a pecking order.
- Tom Lake, Carolyn Rounds, Phil Rounds

5/14 - East Fishkill, HRM 65: Yesterday my husband, Ed Connelly, helped a box turtle safely cross the road in the Town of Beekman. Today I did the same for a spotted turtle in East Fishkill. We hadn't seen a spotted turtle in many years This one must have traveled quite a distance north out of the wetlands to cross the road. Dame's rocket is already in bloom. I hung my Mother's Day present of a fuchsia and right on time a male hummingbird came to sip. He'd probably already been savoring the nectar of columbine along the rocky ledges of Carpenter Road but he found the fushia in less than an hour.
- Carolyn Plage

5/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: There is a day in mid-May, and another in early October, when the sky seems to belong to the chimney swifts. For all that we see three species of swallows dipping and swirling over the water, scores at a time, the swifts all but made them disappear. I estimated several hundred were in view at a time, a sight worth spending some time on.
- Christopher Letts

5/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard an ovenbird this morning in the lull between showers. The morning chorus was in full voice as I came in to work: wood thrush, black-throated green warbler, robins, vireos, and many, many others that I could not identify. This evening we heard peepers galore down in the forest behind my house.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I have been seeing an adult bald eagle about once a week. Of course the question that rattles around in my head is, what are you doing here? And, are you alone? The bird seems to spend its time in the Ossining-Croton area, sitting on the tide flats in the Croton River at low tide, flying over Croton Point, and in the Ossining area when the tide is up. This morning I saw it making low, flat circles over the landfill on the Point, half a dozen passes. It disappeared from view, reappeared with a Canada gosling, and then disappeared over the wooded Ossining shore. The Canada young appeared about two weeks ago and have been gorging on the lush grass, quadrupling their size and apparently making them worthwhile prey for the eagle. The puzzler remains: was the eagle dining alone, or sharing?
- Christopher Letts

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