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Hudson River Almanac November 19-November 29, 2004

OVERVIEW

Early in this period, autumn was still hanging on, providing some enjoyable warm days - most notably Thanksgiving - with near record high temperatures. But by the end, we could feel December bearing down on us, with flurries in our faces and frozen puddles underfoot. Many find the onset of winter exciting - living in an area of stark seasonal change will do that.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/25 - Soap Hill, HRM 67: It was a warm Thanksgiving Day. Just to the north in the Town of Poughkeepsie, the National Weather Service reported that the air temperature reached 65°F, a bit shy of the record high for the date, 66°F, set in 1979. Looking across the river from Farmer's Landing with my spotting scope, I found an immature bald eagle perched in a cottonwood on Soap Hill. It was busily tearing a fish apart. No turkey for this bird.
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/19 - Hudson Highlands: I launched at Foundry Cove Park at 10:30 AM. Glancing northward over my shoulder, I saw an estuary empty of boats. The current through the Hudson Highlands was moving seaward, picking up speed as it left wide, shallow Newburgh Bay and moved towards narrow and deep water at West Point. I could feel the speed as I rounded Constitution Island and paddled over the deepest parts of the Hudson at World's End (over 200 feet). Crossing to the West Point side provided even greater speed. The flag at Trophy Point hung limp. All of the boats usually berthed at West Point were off the water and up on shore, huddled against the coming winter. Just south of West Point was the first of three waterfalls - white water against gray rocks and dark barren trees - splashing down like kids having fun in a neighborhood pool, burbling into the Hudson. The docks and boats at the Highland Falls Marina were also up and away. As I headed back upriver, the Cynthia Harmony was headed in the opposite direction [see last week, 11/19 Town of Wappinger]. She was empty of cargo and riding high as a mountain, right down the middle of the channel. I was impressed with my 5.1 mph speed (measured by GPS) until I stopped paddling and noticed that the current was carrying me north at 1.2 mph.
- Walt Thompson

11/19 - Raritan Bay, New York Bight: With winter approaching, the harbors and bays of the New York Bight were cooling and wintering striped bass were arriving. Al Norton caught one today that weighed 51 pounds.

11/21 - Tappan Zee, HRM 29: White mist poured out through the Sparkill Gap in the Palisades and ringed the top of Hook Mountain. In the silence of mid-river, a loon cried. Far out in the channel, it kept diving into the still, brown water, then floating on the surface, alone. To the east, another cry. A second loon emerged from the mist and slowly made its way towards the first. They called back and forth. By dusk they were together, floating north toward the lights of Sing Sing.
- Dan Wolff

11/22 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: Around 11 PM, I stood just outside my back door in the crisp air and bright moonlight listening to three great horned owls hooting out their territorial boundaries. Their calls were another welcome sign of the coming winter.
- Liz LoGuidice

11/24 - Gardiner, HRM 73: The wet and foggy night brought out some creatures I thought were already in hibernation: frogs. I saw one green frog and thought it must be one of last to find a home for winter, but as I drove on, there were many more jumping across the road.
- Rebecca Johnson

11/24 - Kowawese to Storm King, HRM 59-57: Since mid-September, there has been at least one pair of exotic-looking geese along the river from Kowawese south to Storm King Mountain. This striking pair has a brown stripe over their head and down their neck. While we considered that these might be a type of domestic goose, there was also the possibility that they had escaped from a zoo or other captive waterfowl collection. The geese were nearly identical. Their uniform coloration and field marks suggested a single species. With hybrids or domestic geese, there can be quite a bit of variation in plumage from bird to bird. David Baker took some photos of them today at Cornwall Bay and we will try to identify them.
- Tom Lake

[With some investigation I discovered that these are swan geese (Anser cygnoides), native to central Siberia. They are a large goose with a striking, bicolored neck; the crown and back of the neck are dark brown, the front is a light beige. This far from home, we suspect that they are escapes from captivity. There is some evidence of limited breeding in Florida. David Baker, Bear Mountain League of Naturalists]

11/25 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: When I awoke at 6:30 AM, the thermometer read 62°F. The dog and I took a walk down into a swamp in the hollow. The air felt warm and almost oppressively humid, more like early September than late November. I heard a familiar, unmistakable sound - spring peepers, harbingers of winter's end before the season had even begun. On our way home, we ran into a few friends who had been out hunting this Thanksgiving morning. They reported seeing active frogs and red efts in the forest. As we spoke, a great clap of thunder startled us and I hurried to complete farm chores before the coming deluge. The rain came in a violent burst and quickly blew by, leaving cold air behind. At 11:00 am, the air was 52°F. At 1:00 PM it was 42°F, and by 9:00 PM, it had fallen to 32°F, 30 degrees colder than it had been when I awoke this morning.
- Liz LoGuidice

11/25 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The tidewater Wappinger Creek was quickly accruing its winter population of common mergansers. Along a mile stretch I counted no fewer than 60, both male and female. The drake merganser is among the most strikingly beautiful of waterfowl.
- Tom Lake

11/26 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: It was 22°F at 7:00 AM with ice forming on the water of the swamp where spring peepers were calling yesterday.
- Liz LoGuidice

11/26 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: At last light, along the river on Route 9, I drove through a canopy of crows. There were many thousands of them, organizing for their night roost. This has been a favorite area for many years. As I stopped to listen to the incessant chatter, a bright moon, one day past full, was just rising in the northeast. Its light made the crows shine like ebony.
- Tom Lake

11/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Some eagles have returned to Croton Point Park to spend the winter. Paddling my kayak into Croton Bay from the Hudson River, I could see - high over the railroad bridge that leads to the launch site - three of these magnificent birds wheeling and playing in the air currents. At times they would dive at each other, then turn and climb for another pass. All three birds had the white heads of adults.
- Stephen Butterfass

11/26 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: I had not checked on the fiddler crab colonies for about a month (see Edgewater, NJ, August 25). When I looked today I could see none! Worse, there were almost no indentations in the mud, which should appear about now and last through the winter as they have for the last five years. I wonder if the huge rains we had in late September either dropped the salinity to intolerable levels or the increased flow delivered an overwhelming amount of silt. This fiddler crab colony is in a catch basin at the edge of a mall. Next door is a golf driving range. As a result, there has been a carpet of golf balls in the bottom of the basin with fiddler crab holes in between. Today I can't see any golf balls, just smooth mud.
- Terry Milligan

11/27 - Glasco, HRM 100: We were on a grassy hillock overlooking a small stream that ran a quarter mile to the Esopus. Above us a red-tail made lazy circles in the sky. Below us the stream had been partially dammed by beaver. In their lodge we could see a few bricks that may have come from a 19th century barn not far away. The scene seemed eternal. As we excavated a small prehistoric site, we found reddened soil and fire-cracked rocks from a hearth, and a small triangular arrowhead that dated to about 1,000 years ago. We wondered if the setting had been as serene for these long ago visitors.
- Tom Lake, Frank Spada, Pat Sabol

11/27 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: It was a clear day with some clouds and temperatures in the 50s as we hiked Denning's Point. Near the end, the trail turned away from the river and into deciduous woods. We heard a caw caw behind us and looked up hoping to see a hawk. Instead a crow landed in a tree top. A moment later a northern harrier landed on a adjacent tree top. As we turned off the Denning's Point trail onto the Estuary Rail Trail we could see a red-tailed hawk soaring in the sky.
- Mike Boyajian. Jeri Wagner

11/27 - Staten Island, New York Bight: As my wife, Joni, and I drove down Seaview Avenue on Staten Island we spotted 38-40 wild turkeys. Two of the hens had jumped a fence and were out on the sidewalk. They were looking at Joni, expecting a handout, and I believe that if she'd opened her window they would have come over. This is the largest flock of turkeys that I've seen. They were predominantly hens, but with some very handsome toms in the mix.
- John Lancos

11/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Even though it isn't technically winter, to our minds winter should start in November. Of late the weather has been anything but winter-like - lots of rain and daytime temperatures in the 40s. There has been snow, but mostly just the granular type that collects in the cups of dead leaves and along the cracks and edges of driveways. The nifty thing, to me at least, is the spongy feeling the ground has: the upper surface has frozen a bit, and the air spaces below are opened from the thawing during mild days. When you step on it, it holds, but feels at any moment that it might give way. Dandelions were still blooming in my yard.
- Ellen Rathbone

11/29 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The dawn was cold and bright after a day of heavy rain (1.7") and high winds (to 40 mph). Mama was perched on the rim of her nest surveying the area. While the tree had swayed considerably in the storm, the eagle nest was secure.
- Tom Lake

11/29 - Fishkill, HRM 62: As I stood near the forest edge, a loud noise resounded a short distance away. Within an instant of this gunshot-like sound, a brown bird came coursing through the woods straight toward me at eye level at an incredible speed. At arm's length, it quickly and agilely made a turn to perch in a nearby black walnut tree, excitedly twitching its tail feathers. That brown bird, ever so close, was a sharp-shinned hawk. Breathless, I stood in amazement as it then flew away.
- Ed Spaeth

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