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Hudson River Almanac October 31 - November 6, 2005

OVERVIEW

We are reminded this week that the natural history of the Hudson Valley is forever intertwined with mystery and mythology. While it is always comforting to deal in facts, the unknown has its allure. Autumn, Halloween, fall colors, the lengthening shadows of the season, all provide a context in which we can allow our minds to wander.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/5 - Gardiner, HRM 75: I am pretty sure we had two cranes fly over our house this morning. I do not know of any bird that is that long with such a huge wingspan. They were dark, with their heads and necks held out. These had the same flying pattern as sandhill cranes I have seen elsewhere.
- Rebecca Johnson

[Sandhill cranes have an impressive 6-7 foot wingspan. They breed in summer from the prairies of central Canada north to the Arctic tundra. In fall they migrate south through the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River valley to Texas and coastal areas. Strong nor'easters have, on occasion, drawn Midwest-migrating waterfowl, such as white pelicans and sandhill cranes, to the Hudson Valley and the Atlantic Coast. In December 2003, we had two sightings of sandhill cranes moving down the Hudson Valley (see 12/7 and 12/9, 2003, E-Almanac 2003 archives). Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/31 - Cold Spring HRM 54: While biking by the dock to view the Highlands, West Point, Cro' Nest and Storm King, strange wisps of mist twirled just above the river surface scattering gulls, cormorants, and a lone crow. One wisp settled on the Crow's actual nest. It seemed to take on a form of a pirate waving trespassers away from a hidden treasure. Another gathered in the dark valley south of Storm King and gave of cackles of dry lightning. Still, another, wisp went off Little Stony Point, looking like that poor sailor who lost his head in 1866, as described in "Sloops on the Hudson," the book that moved Pete Seeger and others to launch the Clearwater. Finally, the crow called my attention near World's End. There, with a sugar loaf cap and trumpet, was some explanation of these weird foggy shapes. Dwerg the master imp of Donderberg, chief spirit of the Highlands, grimaced. Hope you had a Happy Halloween on the Hudson too!
- Jonathan Kruk

10/31 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: The last seining program of the season, and such perfect weather. Almost 1,000 young-of-the-year river herring and menhaden made up the bulk of our catch. A dozen moon jellyfish to 6" in diameter, and several gallons of comb jellies, made the net heavy and hard to handle. Three monarchs wafted past as the students and I discussed our catch. The tiniest hint of salt could be detected, perhaps 3.0 ppt.
- Christopher Letts

11/1 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I was typing at my computer this morning, in my office, in my house, when a bird landed on the keyboard. It was a Carolina wren that had flown through an open door three rooms away. I managed to carefully get my hands around the bird, walk to the open door, and release it. It is amazing how accurate your identification can be with a bird in hand. The only thing it did not do was sing - tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea.
- Tom Lake

11/1 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The new moon, a high tide, and a stiff southerly breeze had the river over its banks and into the flood plain in some areas. The watershed was still draining from the wettest October on record, adding to the effect. The river was 48°F.
- Tom Lake

11/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: For the past week a torrent of songbirds has poured in at the northeast end and out at the southwest end of Croton Point. If anything, there was a heightened flow today with flocks of red-winged blackbirds, brown cowbirds, grackles, blue jays and robins. From ground to canopy tops, the whole place pulsed with bird activity. Vesper sparrows, snow buntings, and pipits thronged the face of the landfill, and hordes of warblers, sparrows, phoebes, kinglets made the brush and tree tops come alive. Of the four venerable Underhill yew trees near the south point, just one bore fruit this year, but a stupendous amount. I had been seeing flocks of cedar waxwings all along my walk this morning, and was delighted to find them there ahead of me when I reached the yew. The scarlet of the myriad berries, and scores of waxwings feeding, made a splendid sight.
- Christopher Letts

11/2 - Garrison, HRM 52: I've been seeing both golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets foraging in Constitution Marsh recently. Some green-winged teal and a couple of pintail, along with black ducks, mallards, wood ducks are in the marsh as well. Two peregrine falcons zoomed by, terrifying the waterfowl, kingfishers and ring-billed gulls.
- Eric Lind

11/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: At least 800 cedar waxwings passed over my head, moving south and west this morning. Bird of many species were circling high, catching the thermal over the tip of the point, and lining out for the Rockland County shore two miles away. The first buffleheads bobbed in the lee of the point, a male and a female, with a common loon in the background.
- Christopher Letts

11/2 - Croton River, HRM 34: I was up the Croton River on a great day. The river was really full, coming over the top of the spillway up at the dam. The combination of the heavy flow, the clarity of the water, and the brightly colored leaves suspended in the stream allowed you to peer into deep holes and see the patterns created by all the currents and eddies that were swirling around.
- Scott Craven

11/3 - Dansakmmer Point, HRM 66.5: A strong south wind, more like a summer wind, was gusting to 40 mph, and it had the river rolling and gulls chasing whitecaps. We were checking out a new bald eagle feeding and day perch built earlier in the autumn by Dynegy Corporation at Danskammer Point. It consists of a 45' telephone pole, driven 6' into the ground. Near the top, at 39', centered on the pole, is a 12' long red cedar cross section, 3-5" in diameter. The perch is 84' from the river. Our hope is that in another month, when wintering bald eagles arrive, they will find this perch, situated 30' from the river's edge, to be a convenient vantage from which to watch the river, bring forage for feeding, and just loaf around on a sunny winter's day. Video cameras trained on the perch will record its usage.
- Sure Tokle, Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

11/3 - Hathaway's Glen Brook, HRM 63: The brook tumbled down the wooded, shady hillside with burning bush and red maples adding brilliant color. In the deep clear pools of high tide we could see no fish. The water was 52°F and the Hudson, several hundred feet away, was 48°. This was a role reversal from late summer and early autumn when Hathaway's Glen Brook was 12°-16°F cooler than the river, providing a respite for fishes. Now the brook emptied warm, local uplands, while the Hudson drained snow melt from the northern watershed.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

11/3 - Beacon, HRM 61: There was a ferocious southwest wind blowing all day, but with a rising tide and wind in your face, it sometimes blows the food and fish inshore. I was glad I stuck it out because I caught the biggest channel catfish I've ever seen in the Hudson River: 8 lb.11 oz, 28" in length, with a 16" girth. I also caught two carp weighing 12 lb and 7 lb. All of the fish took exactly the same corn kernel, bread and dough combo bait, and all fish were released.
- Bill Greene

11/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Tree swallows in November! Hard to imagine, but there they were, and so was "just one more" monarch butterfly. A sharp-shinned hawk exhibited illusions of grandeur when it took on two kiting red-tailed hawks at the same time. A stream of flocked birds extended from one end of Croton Point to the other - robins, cowbirds, and no fewer than 29 discrete flights of cedar waxwings, over 800 of these attractive birds. The slightest kiss of the first frost left a thin layer of ice on vehicle roofs but killed nothing. Amazingly, even our garden basil, generally gone by September's end, was still green and healthy.
- Christopher Letts

11/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Not too much going on here, though. We had some very nice, mild weather over the weekend...almost up to the 60s! Even with air temperatures at Newcomb near 60°, the High Peaks were still white with snow. Our leaves were still hanging on tenaciously, but I can see trunks through my office window now, rather than just a wall of leaves.
- Ellen Rathbone

11/4 - Hudson River Estuary: If you have the time, please take a few minutes to fill out my on-line survey about the current and past status and range of the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin). I am especially interested in terrapin distribution in and around the Hudson River, but if you have ever seen terrapins in the wild and/or have experience in salt marshes anywhere in the eastern United States, you have useful information. Also please spread news about the survey far and wide to anyone else who might be able to fill it out. The survey can be found at www.people.hofstra.edu/terrapin
- Dr. Russell Burke, Department of Biology, Hofstra University

11/4 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I counted about 40 species of birds on my walk this morning, including two flocks of cedar waxwings, maybe 125 birds. Through the binoculars I could see that the ratio of adults to immatures was about 2 to 3: mom, dad, and 3 surviving offspring.
- Christopher Letts

11/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: Winter waterfowl are becoming more plentiful in the Croton estuary. Several dozen green-winged teal had joined the coot and buffleheads, and a single black duck last week had become 20. The Boyz at the Bridge counted 4 bald eagles this morning, all adults.
- Christopher Letts

11/5 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: 70° degrees in November? No wonder red-winged blackbirds were flying north! Hundreds flew overhead for almost ten minutes. The sky was dotted with them, and as I leaned back in my kayak to watch, they reminded me of the little black seeds inside a kiwi.
- Fran Martino

11/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 75°F today, tying the record high for the date set in 1948.
- National Weather Service

11/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: It is a rare November night when you can take a walk in shirt sleeves. The air was in the low 60s, we could hear Canada geese moving southeast in the darkness, and Mars was a brilliant red point of light overhead.
- Tom Lake, Abbey Lake

11/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are seeing lots of juncos and goldfinches. Evening grosbeaks are about, and as I sat in my Adirondack chair watching the bird feeders and reading, the feeders were inundated with grackles. Blue jays are enjoying the peanuts I put out; they find them very quickly after I restock. I'm still holding out on the suet, especially with the weather being so mild. I'm sure more than one bear is still lurking about.
- Ellen Rathbone

11/6 - Minerva, HRM 284: I had the pleasure of walking around in the woods for 3 hours this morning and early afternoon. I was checking the condition of the town's snowshoe trails. It was beautiful weather for early November: sunny, 62°F, with a light breeze. I did not see or hear much in terms of critters, although there was deer sign aplenty. The weather of the day turned crazy during evening - an amazing display of light-up-the-night lightning, heavy-duty crashing thunder, and pouring rain. It has been a peculiar fall.
- Mike Corey

11/6 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I was watching the lazy flight of a red-tailed hawk when a blur passed by not far away. Peregrine falcons are a bird that, in flight, you often identify as much by their zip, as you do their silhouette. The sun disappeared under heavy clouds and by late evening we had the pyrotechnics of a summer thunderstorm - strobes of lightning and booming thunder - that left about a quarter of an inch of rain in a half hour.
- Tom Lake

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