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Hudson River Almanac May 22 - May 29, 2006

OVERVIEW

The week began with snow and ended with humidity and temperatures in the 80s in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks - a perfect definition of the vagaries of springtime. Nesting songbirds, wandering young black bears, and bald eagles catching food for their soon-to-fledge nestlings were all part of our late spring riverscape.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/27 - Rhinecliff, HRM 92: I was invited to join the crew of the Mystic Whaler as a guest educator for their annual Memorial Day weekend sails, this year out of Rhinecliff. Only a few minutes off the dock, the captain spotted a magnificent bald eagle coming in close just south of Sleightsburgh Spit. The raptor hovered in a headwind, then plunged into the shallow water and emerged with a long, glistening eel that trailed like a kite tail. Both species were the perfect counterpoints for later discussion: eagles for their steady success in the valley, and eels for their troubling decline.
- Chris Bowser

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had no frost last night, but it did snow fairly well today. I awoke to snow, it snowed while Toby Rathbone and I had our morning walk, and it snowed for a bit after I got to work. It was mostly in the air, nothing stuck to the ground, at least not down here in the lowlands. I suspect the High Peaks have a different story to tell. We are all eager for some sunshine and warmth.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/22 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I collected 3 glass eels and 2 elvers for an environmental event and left them together in the same bucket overnight. The next day, when I tried to show the glass eels to the events' attendees I found that they were no longer in the tank. I asked eel expert Bob Schmidt about this and he explained that some regional surveys suggest that up to 50% of the mortality rates of glass eels are a result of predation from larger eels.
- Dan Zinder

5/24 - Vloman Kill, HRM Selkirk, HRM 138: A semi-sultry day sent me scurrying from the office in late afternoon to fish for stripers at Henry Hudson Park. A stiff northerly wind was making whitecaps and boating nearly impossible. The lone fisherman coming off the water reported no large blips on his sonar and a difficult time while out. I moved to the south end of the park where the Vloman Kill enters the river. A worm fished on the bottom was taken by a fish I'd never seen before, a freshwater drum, sometimes called a "sheepshead." They are not native in the Hudson and relatively uncommon.
- Ed Clegg

[Freshwater drum probably arrived here in the last 20 years through the New York State canal system and Mohawk River connecting the Hudson River with the Great Lakes. Freshwater drum love mollusks and in the Great Lakes are known to consume large quantities of zebra mussels. They have been showing up in crab pots, in shad gill nets, and on anglers' lines, mostly north of the Hudson Highlands. An exception was May 2004: Ryan Barrella was striper fishing at Croton Point (HRM 34) when an 18½ lb. freshwater drum took his bait, a Hudson River record. The New York State angling record is 24 lb. 7 oz., caught in Ganargua Creek in 1995. Tom Lake.]

5/24 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: Tomorrow is banding day for the eaglets so I visited the nest today to observe their routine. Lately they have not had one. I saw neither nestlings nor the adult pair. Very quiet. In the warm 75°F air, they were probably down in the shade, out of sight. Even though we know that bald eagles are very resilient birds, we still tend to worry when we think they are vulnerable - facing thunderstorms, hailstorms, high winds, bitter cold windchills, and irresponsible human behavior - and especially when they are tending nestlings. I found two adult primaries (flight feathers) under the nest today.
- Tom Lake

5/24 - Nyack, HRM 27: It was 10:15 PM, and a black bear was wandering around the boat storage lot at the Nyack Boat Club while the sailors were congregating on the patio after night races on the Hudson. Orangeburg police arrived, told everyone to go inside, and chased the bear off the property.
- Karl Coplan

5/24 - Tivoli, HRM 100: During our canoe trip in Tivoli North Bay we spotted one, then 2, then finally 3 osprey, all circling low in search of prey. As we approached the railroad embankment, we saw a crow harassing the osprey, perhaps trying to protect a nearby nest. One of the osprey alighted on a pole for a short time and watched us just as intently as we were watching it. We were also treated to a beaver sighting in the bay, complete with a characteristic tail slap on the water as it dove to avoid us.
- Laurie Fila, Rebecca Johnson

5/24 - Fishkill, HRM 61: I was just sitting in my yard this evening enjoying the glorious day while talking on the phone. Mourning doves were high in the black walnut trees and a Baltimore oriole, an indigo bunting, a rose-breasted grosbeak, a male scarlet tanager and an eastern kingbird flew over. The latter was a first ever for my yard. The day before we had heard the Baltimore oriole singing so he is here in my neighborhood to stay.
- Ed Spaeth

5/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a glorious day! Sunshine, blue sky, air temperature in the 70's. If it weren't for the blackflies, it would be almost a perfect day. To top off the fine weather, we had some "firsts" for the season: two tiger swallowtails flying and 2 jack-in-the-pulpits blooming. Sarsparilla may pop this weekend, and I'm predicting Canada mayflower will be open next week.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/25 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: While paddling at the mouth of Esopus Creek, I took the shortcut from the channel to the adjacent wetlands, crossing over the top of the jetty that is submerged at high tide. Looking down into the water to make sure the kayak cleared any underwater obstacles, I noticed what at first appeared to be the top of a wooden piling. It turned out to be a big, muddy snapping turtle, a foot or more in width, and at least a foot and a half long from nose to tail. Its head was as big as my fist. Motionless at first, it soon disappeared into the deep.
- Patrick Landewe

5/25 - Rondout Creek, HRM 92: Steve and Julie Noble of the Forsyth Nature Center and I kayaked Rondout Creek from Kingston's Strand to Gumaer Island. We hiked around the island a bit, looking at the huge old sycamores and silver maples. At one point, Julie noticed a strange "ball" hanging in a shrub. It turned out to be a honeybee swarm, several thousand bees clustered tightly around a queen bee, all of them on the move to a new hive site. We had inadvertently gotten very close, but the bees made no defensive moves. In my New England lexicon, it was "wicked awesome!"
- Chris Bowser

5/25 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 73.5: In late afternoon, while walking along the wooded trails of Locust Grove historic site, I spotted a male northern cardinal "caterpillar catching." It would fly up from a branch of a tree to the underside of the leaves on the branch above, fluttering its wings all the while in its attempts to capture caterpillars on the leaves' undersides. Several other birds were also seen in the hushed quiet of this woodland: veery, female scarlet tanager, rough-winged swallows, an eastern phoebe, gray catbirds and several American robins.
- Ed Spaeth

5/26 - Shawangunks, HRM 77: While hiking from Sam's Point to Verkeerderkill Falls I saw an abundance of birds: great-crested flycatcher, black-capped chickadee, yellow-rumped warbler, common yellowthroat, 3 black-and-white warblers and a very brightly colored male scarlet tanager. I also heard several individuals each of veery, ovenbird and eastern wood-pewee. The most numerous birds along the trail were the prairie warblers and towhees that were impossible to count. Birds were not the only animals to be heard as gray tree frogs were calling near the falls. Among some of the flowers that were in bloom along the trail were rhodora, starflower and painted trillium. More observations could have been made but an approaching thunderstorm caused me to beat a hasty retreat back to my car.
- Chris Kuhlow

5/25 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: Papa was overhead dueling with one of the local redtails; Mama was in the sanctuary pine chortling to the cheeps of the eaglets in the nest 200 feet away. Mary Borrelli found 2 bullhead catfish skeletons under the nest tree. Steve Joule climbed the 91 feet to the nest and discovered two female eaglets, both about 8 weeks old. Given their age, we have to adjust our estimate for egg lay and hatch back a week to March 1 and April 2. Our inexact science of personal observation just became even more unreliable. The chicks were big and active; one stepped out of the nest onto a branch, out of reach. Banding would be problematic. To force the issue might have resulted in one or both falling. Steve took photos and assessed their health but this year they just won't have bands. Both eaglets were about the same size. One had appeared larger than the other because the nest is tilted. When observed through a spotting scope from several hundred feet away, one seemed to be standing in a hole.
- Tom Lake, Dan Shapley

5/26 - Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: At first light, looking northeast, I could see two dark silhouettes. The wayward eaglet was back inside the nest. The adults were not around. They have recently been roosting elsewhere.
- Tom Lake

5/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This evening I noticed that the wild blueberries were in bloom. Our apple trees are also flowering. It will be a bountiful fruit season if every flower produces.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/27 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: Spadderdock was blooming in the mud flats and yellow flag was blossoming along the trail.
- Patrick Landewe

5/27 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I saw a large number of bobolinks in the overgrown field adjacent to the Ulster County Fairgrounds parking lot this morning. It was only the second time I've seen bobolinks outside of the Shawangunk Grasslands. There must have been at least 5-6 pairs. I was sad to see a sign calling this meadow the "Field of Dreams," future home of a mega-sports complex. I also heard a black-billed cuckoo in my yard today. What a strange, incessant sound it made.
- Sharon Gambino

5/27 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: In a half hour, 0.6" of driving rain had turned the brook into a muddy torrent. The "glass eels" are dark enough now that I need a headlamp to find them against the black netting.
- Tom Lake

5/27 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 37: Many of the trail ways in the Hudson Highlands Gateway Park are uneven, so while hiking through it requires that one keep a close watch on your footing. Such was the case this afternoon while traveling an embankment when, to our surprise, we happened upon a 6' black rat snake in the middle of the trail. Although harmless, it was well fed and looked intimidating as it slowly slithered its way into leaves off the trail.
- Scott Horecky, Kathleen Sutherland

5/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a high of 81°F in the shade today, and very humid. Still, there was good news: the bluebirds seem to be back! They've been singing up a storm, and have been in and out of not only the nest box where they previously laid an egg, but also the one on the backside in which chickadees had started a nest. I also saw a tree swallow winging around the yard and I suspect it might have usurped the nest box by the apple trees in which another pair of chickadees had a nest and several eggs.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/29 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: They say every visit to the Hudson River is different, as the ever changing tide presents a new vision. Some things never change, though, and I was happy to see a lonesome golden club still surviving. I discovered this single plant while kayaking at low tide a couple of years ago. There it stood, upright and as strong as ever.
- Fran Martino

5/29 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: Double-crested cormorants are nesting (2 nests) atop the steel structure of channel marker "96" at Green Flats north of the lighthouse.
- Patrick Landewe

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