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Hudson River Almanac November 14-November 19, 2004

OVERVIEW

Despite a week of warmer-than-normal weather, you can feel the stage being set for winter. Bald eagles are setting up their territories, winter ducks are starting to arrive, and far fewer woodchucks are roaming the roads.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/19 - Town of Ulster, HRM 93: A great blue heron was hunting this afternoon on the median strip of the NYS Thruway just north of the Kingston exit. This is not the first time I've seen one in such a setting in this vicinity. There was no water apparent, but perhaps like the Thruway's many red-tailed hawks and other raptors, the great blue has learned that there's plenty of small rodents on median strips where four-footed predators fear to tread.
- Steve Stanne

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: The sun was dropping fast, and the warmest, most sheltered place nearby was the tide flat near the Croton-Harmon parking lot. A dozen black ducks and a dozen green-winged teal were snorkeling supper from the viscous film over the flats. An immature cattle egret was hunkered down in the shallows and not showing much ambition. I suspect that it was the same bird I spotted a week ago, and did not have much confidence that it would find a way to safer haven before the cold did it in.
- Christopher Letts

11/15 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The outer flats were raucous this morning, with hundreds of Canada geese, hundreds of mallards and black ducks, scores of bufflehead and coot coming and going seemingly at random. There were no eagles in sight - no gunners either. My best guess, a lot of recent arrivals concentrated by cooling waters and air temperatures further north.
- Christopher Letts, George Hatzmann

11/17 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: There was nothing notable occurring on the river, just the usual scores of frenetic gulls. However, I spotted a dark-phase rough-legged hawk perched in a riverside cottonwood. It was an extraordinary looking raptor, with a striking coloration that I'm not used to seeing in its relatives.
- Tom Lake

11/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Mike Tracy saw four otters on Lily Pad Pond, a Hudson River tributary west of Newcomb. I'm still waiting to see multiple otters at one time. I keep hearing stories from folks who've watched family groups playing in and out of the water. I figure I'll see them about the same time I see my first moose.
- Ellen Rathbone

11/18 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The flock of coot had grown to about 100 birds. Interestingly, all of them so far have stayed on the Hudson side of the railroad bridge. In the past they have congregated on the Croton River side. The immature cattle egret is still wandering the mud flats and the rafts of winter ducks are approaching 500 birds as more arrive daily. This is a far cry from notes I made 20 years ago. Robert Boyle had visited the point with a class of Vassar College students. The visit was remarkable for several reasons. First, I was able to catch and show Bob the first naked goby he'd ever seen. Then, one of his students found a four-pounder cannonball in the mud, perhaps one fired during the Revolutionary War in the confrontation between the British sloop-of-war Vulture and patriot forces on Teller's Point. That conflict cost Major Andre his ride back to Manhattan, with the plans of West Point smuggled in his boot toe. He was captured and hanged as a spy. The third memorable occurrence that day was the sighting of a huge raft of scaup, that we estimated at 4,500 ducks. Where are they now? Perhaps they became part of the increased population of scaup on the Great Lakes, short-stopped by a food bonanza in the form of a plethora of zebra mussels. In fact, that might be an explanation of why the ducks are all outside rather than inside the railroad bridge. In a rare downriver appearance, zebra mussels were found on all hard surfaces around Croton Point this year. Apparently the dearth of salt allowed this incursion. Eat hearty, ducks!
- Christopher Letts

11/19 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It was a gorgeous autumn day, air temperature in the low 60s, as I hiked along the river, checking - from a distance - some of the favorite day perches of our wintering eagles. As I looked up at one of the favorite spring time day perches of the adult pair from our eagle nest (NY62) there was Mama looking back at me. She was in the crown of a tall black locust overlooking the river and I could see her blue leg band, N42. It took them a couple of years, but in recent years (2003-2004) they have hung around all winter. A huge freighter, the Cynthia Harmony, registered in Manila, Philippines, was heading downriver. I cannot recall ever seeing a ship on the Hudson with that registry before. A single ruddy duck was on the water - pretty unusual to see just one, and a bit early to be seeing any. The wake from the freighter had the tiny duck bouncing around like a ping-pong ball.
- Tom Lake

11/19 - Yonkers, HRM 18: At the Beczak Environmental Education Center today, the river's salinity was 8.9 ppt, and the water temperature was 50°F.
- Cynthia Fowx

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