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Hudson River Almanac May 15 - May 21, 2006

OVERVIEW

If you are able to be up and about just before dawn this time of the year, you might want to emulate one of Aldo Leopold's favorite activities. In his classic natural history volume "A Sand County Almanac," Leopold writes of stepping from his cabin door in Wisconsin just before dawn, with coffee pot and notebook in hand, and sitting on a bench facing the morning star. As first light appeared, he recorded the order of awakening songbirds: field sparrow, robin, oriole, indigo bunting, wren, grosbeak, thrasher, yellow warbler, bluebird, vireo, towhee, and cardinal, all "explode into song" and now "all is bedlam!" - Tom Lake

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/18 - Pocantico River, HRM 28: We were doing some seining and finding very few fish, but we did catch a small blue crab (<2" carapace width). This seems to be early in the year for small crabs in freshwater. We also saw a cattle egret posing on a snag. The bird regurgitated its last meal, four mummichogs, a very graphic example of the importance of this fish in cycling marsh nutrients up the food chain.
- Bob Schmidt, Tom Coote

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/15 - Tivoli Bays, HRM 100.5-98.5: I was fishing a herring gill net in Stony Creek and the Saw Kill in my usual mid-May monitoring of the runs. I have caught a moderate number of alewife this year as opposed to almost nothing the previous two years. Two of the alewife in Stony Creek had puncture wounds in the back behind the head. I assume seeing a great blue heron flying off just before I pulled the net was a coincidence? A one pound smallmouth bass I caught on a spinner had symmetrical punctures - mostly healed - on either side of its nape just behind the head. Could an osprey or eagle have tried to grab this fish and lost it? An 18" largemouth bass in my net had a hook scar in the corner of its lower jaw. Hudson River fish get beaten up - they have to be tough.
- Bob Schmidt

5/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A merlin, like the black hull of a corsair, stripped the other birds from the sky. Bobolinks, redwings, mourning doves all left off displaying and laid low for the fifteen minutes the falcon coursed the margins of the landfill.
- Christopher Letts

5/16 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: It was raining steadily so the two classes of schoolchildren were crammed under the park pavilion trying to stay out of each other's way. The program was fish morphology - "Funny Fish" to the kids. The noise level was high, but not so high that I could miss the brant. Flock after flock streamed past, chuckling and cackling, flying low over the river. I saw just a few hundreds of what I know to be a migration of many thousands of these little geese. Riverman Cal Greenberg recalls almost unbroken lines of brant flocks passing over for hours at a time. Sometime in mid-October, it will be played in rewind, as the fall migration follows the Hudson south to saltwater.
- Christopher Letts

5/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Mr. Bluebird was back this morning and seemed to be passing something into the next box, so I'm hoping they are established. However, I could hear an over zealous weed-whacker warming up next door. I suspect that's what drove the birds away last year. We'll keep our fingers crossed.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/17 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We were sampling larval fish drift in the Saw Kill after dark. We noticed two fireflies blinking in the trees across the river. This seemed a little early in the year for them.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

5/17 - Nyack, HRM 27: Bobby Gabrielson was grumbling and mumbling, as he sorted through two huge coolers of mossbunker (Atlantic menhaden). These were huge mossbunker; the one I came away with measured 16", the size of a buck shad. The object of his quest were, of course, closer to the bottom than the top: an 8 lb. bluefish and a 3 lb. weakfish. "Show these to the kids and let them tell you what they think of the Hudson!" I will, Bobby, I will; 200 school kids, their parents and teachers, will get the opportunity next week thanks to your generosity.
- Christopher Letts

5/18 - Northumberland-HRM 161: Coming down the Fort Miller Road along the Hudson River just before the Route 4 bridge I spotted the unmistakable crest of a pileated woodpecker. I stopped and we sat and watched it briefly before a second and then a third pileated came into view. All 3 stayed close together, moving in short hops south along the river bank, tree to tree. Their activity flushed out a great blue heron.
- John Guyer

5/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The birdsong began at 4:30 AM. It has been starting earlier each morning. Robins start the chorus, quickly joined by cardinals, titmice, orioles, veery, and others.
- Tom Lake

5/18 - Anthony's Nose, HRM 46: Driving home yesterday I saw two pairs of ravens soaring off the southwest face of Anthony's Nose, near the Bear Mountain Bridge. This is the first time I've seen more than two at a time. I always thought there was one nesting pair, but I had no idea about the other two. One pair mirrored the other, attitude of wings, legs, and the way they turned. They definitely appeared to be paired up and they remained that way.
- Scott Craven

5/19 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: One of the signs of the waning spring season is the appearance of dame's rocket along the river and its tributaries. This non-native wildflower comes in white, pink, violet, and purple. Its wonderfully sweet fragrance accompanies me in late May as I make early morning checks of pots, traps, nets and other education and research collection gear.
- Tom Lake

5/19 - Pocantico River, HRM 28: We were setting nets, looking for migratory fishes. The river was high and cold due to the incessant rain. We caught very little, but one notable exception was an 17½" (45 cm) female koi. This fish was a uniform rusty color but the head was blackish with red mottlings. I could not find a koi variety that matched this color on the Internet. Perhaps this was a result of an unauthorized mating in the watershed. Koi get into the Hudson either by escaping from private ponds or, more likely in my opinion, deliberately release by pond owners.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt

[The koi, also known as sanke, is a domesticated variety of the common carp. They are sold in pet shops for private ponds. When these ponds overflow, or owners tire of caring for them, they can end up in the Hudson River where they live long and grow large. Tom Lake.]

5/20 - Catskill Creek, HRM 113: From late April through early May, a few anglers have been catching rudd in the tidewater reach of Catskill Creek. The most recent was taken on a Mepps spinner.
- Tom Gentalen

[Rudd are large minnows, native to Europe, introduced in Columbia County probably in the late 1920s. They are known primarily from the Roeliff Jansenkill watershed (HRM 111), with a spawning population in Robinson Pond near Copake in Columbia County. Closely resembling a golden shiner, they grow much larger. Their most distinguishing characteristic is their blood-red fins. Brassy to silvery colored sides have earned them the colloquial name of "pearl roach." John R. Greeley collected four specimens in the Roeliff Jansenkill in his 1936 faunal survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed (Greeley 1937:94). Tom Lake.]

5/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Once again I have lost a nesting bluebird pair. I feel especially terrible this year because there was an egg in the nest. When I came home after work today I saw that the weed whacking next door had indeed whacked away right next to the nest boxes. It seems bluebirds have a heightened sensitivity to weed whackers. I did not see any sign of a bluebird afterwards; the nest and egg have been abandoned. I'm planning on relocating the box, but chickadees have been checking out the one on the backside of the one the bluebirds were using, and have started a nest there, so I figure I will wait. Snow is in the forecast for tonight. I'm hoping only up high in the mountains, but I'd rather have some snow than a hard frost.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/21 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: We had a beautiful sighting in our yard today. First I heard the distinctive call. Then my partner called me to come to the backyard where we were amazed with the beauty and size of an a pileated woodpecker.
- Marguerite Meara

5/21 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 38: I've been keeping an eye on the salt front, as I like to do when dry weather gives way to deluges. On May 12, the U.S. Geological Survey located the front at HRM 71 in the Town of Poughkeepsie, unusually far up the estuary for mid-May. The rain since has pushed it south - down to HRM 38 today.
- Steve Stanne

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