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Hudson River Almanac November 1-November 8, 2004

OVERVIEW

As late autumn blends into early winter, I wonder if our contributors will find the river any less interesting. This is the time after the magical colors of fall, the migration of butterflies, most birds, and fishes, and before the onset of snowstorms and bald eagles. Yet all it takes is the time and inclination to look, to see mink swimming in an icy Adirondack stream, to the notice the arrival of winter constellations in the night sky, and to hear the quiet footsteps of a bobcat. Enjoying the natural history of the Hudson Valley is never out of season.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/2 - Annsville Creek Estuary, HRM 43.5: Riverman John Mylod called from Poughkeepsie with an offer of 2 dozen blue crabs, the last of the season. With the dual purpose of securing teaching specimens and having one more feed of crabs, off we went. As we rounded the Annsville Circle on Route 9, we were stunned by an armada of mute swans. It reminded us of the Severn Estuary in England, where loyal swan lovers drop baked goods off an ancient bridge to several hundred tame swans. On the return trip we paused to count and came up with 80+ swans, no juveniles to be seen.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/1 - Chattam, HRM 125: I spotted a dark-morph rough-legged hawk in a farm field off Route 21B in Columbia County. There was a northern harrier in the same field.
- David M. Diaz

11/3 - Round Top, HRM 113: I was out bow hunting this afternoon and had a bobcat walk by at about 30 yards. It was so quiet. It is hard to put in words how nice it was. They are one of those things that I just will not shoot and I don't see how anyone would.
- Jon Powell

11/3 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: There has been a strong flow of songbirds for several days, with many flocks of robins and cowbirds, waxwings and redwings, some flying high, some foraging, always moving south and west. Eastern meadowlarks have returned to brighten the sere slopes of the landfill.
- Christopher Letts

11/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a dark and dismal day. The hands of the clock seemed to be glued in place at the Adirondack Park Visitor Information Center, so I decided to walk the Sucker Brook Trail. I had just started across the upper bridge (Rich Lake Outlet) when I heard a ker-PLOP! upstream. I looked over the railing and saw ripples where something splashed and a stream of very fine bubbles about a foot below the water's surface. I followed the bubbles with my eyes and - pop goes the weasel - there was a mink. It looked like a furry brown snake undulating across the surface. It climbed out on the rocks, shook all over, just like a dog, looked up at me and then dashed under the bridge. I waited, but no mink appeared from either side. I walked halfway across, looked again. Nothing. Then movement caught my eye - it was peeking up from under the rocks piled at the base of the bridge support. It blinked and vanished. Reappeared, looked at me, and disappeared again. I watched and waited, looked to both sides. Nothing. After a couple of minutes, I again saw movement under a rock. There was the little pointy brown face, neck craned around to watch me. It blinked and withdrew. This was repeated several times. I finally moved so I was right above the rock and could see the mink's little nose. Then it started to rain. Actually, it started to ice - chunks of ice falling like rain. The mink completely withdrew into its tunnel and, after waiting a few minutes, I decided the mink had the right idea, so I headed back. What a great way to spruce up an otherwise miserable day!
- Ellen Rathbone

11/4 - Round Top, HRM 113: We had a hard frost - 22°F.
- Jon Powell

11/4 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The first flocks of snow birds - snow buntings - had arrived, and the dozen birds made a cheery sight as they leapfrogged to stay ahead of me, making jump flights of a dozen feet at a time. A rough-legged hawk, several harriers, and red-tails all hunted over the landfill. As I drove home to Furnace Woods, an adult bald eagle was overhead just for a second, carried north by the 40 mph winds.
- Christopher Letts

11/5 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: This evening I spotted Orion, my favorite constellation, leaping over the eastern horizon, ushering in the cold months of winter!
- Liz LoGuidice

11/5 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: With the autumn education season ending, it was time to remove collection pots and traps and free all of the fish that had made so many schoolchildren's eyes widen with wonder. The few eels I found were more than happy to leave. One of them took a chunk of shad with it as it left the pot. Again this week, I had another gorgeous yellow bullhead (241 mm) who had found the snug confines of the fish trap and the abundance of cut bait much to its liking.
- Tom Lake

11/5 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Another year of school seining programs came to an end on a day with blustery northwest winds gusting to 40 mph, water churned to chocolate, surf spraying up and over the seawall, and 2' waves looking for a chance to flood our chest waders. Along with elementary school students from Brookville in Ossining and Coman Hills in Armonk, we were pleasantly surprised by the catch: almost 100 adult white perch, many young of the year [yoy] striped bass, spottail shiners (110 mm), yoy American shad and alewives, a couple of American eels and brown bullheads - 12 species in all. If the windchill (30s) was not enough to remind us of the coming season, we caught a fat Atlantic tomcod (150 mm), a winter spawner in the river. The return of salinity was marked by the presence of four dozen shore shrimp (one shed its shell) and the submerged branches of a fallen oak that had a healthy colony of platform mussels and bay barnacles. The water was 49.6°F, and the salinity 6.0 ppt.
- Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

[Also in the catch were six yearling alewives (103-119 mm). Their presence in the river and tributaries in small numbers from time to time has prompted some biologists to speculate about a possible "landlocked" population of river herring, as it contradicts the general belief that young-of-the-year alewives exit the estuary in autumn and do not return for several years.]

11/6 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The steady stream of blackbirds, cowbirds, and robins had slowed to a trickle this morning. The dark rough-legged hawk was still on its beat, giving me hope that it might spend the winter. The action was in the Croton marsh where two dozen black ducks had arrived. Slurping through the ooze on the tide flats were a dozen green-winged teal, attended by a greater yellowlegs. Farther out, a cattle egret poked along the water's edge.
- Christopher Letts

Autumn Seining Summary: This cool, extra wet season has found freshwater sunfish as far south as Englewood, NJ (HRM 13.5), and zebra mussels on the rocks at Croton Point (HRM 35). More often than not the water had no measurable salt. Our visiting "funny fish" from southern coastal waters were few in number, and left early during the hurricane month of September. After an absence of many years, fourspine sticklebacks made a strong comeback. As many as a dozen a day were seen, after a series of years when 1-2 would mark the season's total. One highlight was a half dozen hogchokers seined at the end of September. They were in short supply this season, so we hoarded them to allow as many people as possible to enjoy this curious little fish. But the time came for the nets to be dried and the holding tanks emptied. Then at the last minute came a call from Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium in Suffolk County. They were looking for tiny hogchokers to use in an aquarium display. We're proud that these Hudson River estuary soles will provide a learning experience so far from home.
- Christopher Letts

11/8 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I pulled 20 pots today to collect some crabs for an education program and to start getting the pots in for the winter. The water temp was 54°F. Along with about two dozen market size crabs were eight smaller crabs, a white sucker, two brown bullheads, a yellow perch, a white perch, a white catfish, and one sunfish. The river was very beautiful and had calmed down to flat water by the time I was picking the last of the pots. A light drizzle started as I rode the flood back to the boat ramp. Along the MetroNorth right-of-way south of Poughkeepsie, bittersweet was crowning many scrub trees and bushes. Its red-orange berries reflected as a Rorschach image on the black water.
- John Mylod

11/8 - Kowawese, HRM 59: There are many way to compare one year to the next. Since we find ourselves in the river much of the fall, hauling nets, holding fish, and getting wet, water temperature becomes a most useful measure. Each year we note the water temperature at Kowawese on November 8 if, for no other reason then to know when it is time to don the waders and stow the bathing suit.
- Tom Lake

1997 51°F
1998 52°F
1999 52°F
2000 52°F
2001 56°F
2002 47°F
2003 58°F
2004 49°F

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