Hudson River Almanac November 14 - November 21, 2005
Record-breaking warmth throughout the Hudson Valley was just a tease, a last gasp for autumn. As reports of fish diminish, those of birds increase, from migrating tundra swans to eastern towhees to snow geese, and it appears that eastern bluebirds will be around to brighten up our winter landscape.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
11/18 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Have you ever seen or heard of a white coyote? Twice now I have seen a strange looking animal on Route 299, heading west near New Paltz. It was as big as a coyote, but very light, with black on the face. I have seen it foraging on roadkill, and one night just off in the field, almost like a "ghost coyote."
- Rebecca Johnson
[Eastern coyotes come in varied colors. While most tend to be a yellowish-tan or grizzled-grayish mixture, we have seem them as blonde as a golden retriever and as black as a German shepherd. Some may be reddish as well, representing the range of color variability for the species. Tom Lake]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
11/14 - Beacon, HRM 61: In the first two hours of the midday ebb tide at Long Dock I caught and released 2 channel catfish, 17" and 19". A carp would occasionally jump or splash, but I couldn't entice one into biting.
- Bill Greene
11/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a wet and dreary day, rainy and dark, but no snow or sleet (there was granular snow in low areas along the road at 7:00 AM). A winter weather advisory was forecast, but that has not panned out. The birds emptied the feeders by noon.
- Ellen Rathbone
11/15 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: The halo around the nearly full moon last night presaged today's rain. The impressive ring of light, maybe the brightest I've ever seen, prompted much discussion around the dinner table. I think it's worth mentioning that this meteorological phenomenon is caused by moonlight refracting through ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, which may indicate the imminent arrival of a warm front, often within 24 hours.
- Patrick Landewe
11/15 - George's Island to Croton Point, HRM 39-35: The evening was warm, the river was smooth and calm, perfect for a night time kayak paddle. I was hoping to test a new head lamp. Night on the Hudson is always a special treat. You are truly alone and can pretend that the river is your own private space. On the way back to George's Island, with minimal illumination from the shore, familiar landmarks become hazy, indistinct shapes and the headlamp is no match for the dark.
- Stephen Butterfass
11/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: For the past three days I've had the pleasure of watching brown creepers. Every few years we seem to entertain half a dozen of these gentle little charmers, and it looks like we might be enjoying them this winter season. Bluebirds have been around in numbers for almost a week and, though I've never known them to winter here, perhaps this year will be the one.
- Christopher Letts
11/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a roller coaster day weather wise. The air temperature reached into the 60s today with a very warm south wind. We had worms on the pavement. Later, as a cold front came through, the temperature plunged and it poured rain with high winds.
- Ellen Rathbone
11/16 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Taking a break from planting trees at the Esopus Meadows Point Preserve, I stopped to watch a winter wren foraging. My knees ached as I tried to hold still enough to watch it closely. It hopped through the holes in the rip-rap on shore before finding some tasty grubs at the base of an ash tree. Just as I thought to myself how my bird sightings have become more rare and more cherished since spring, a warm breeze blew in a motley crew all at once as if to prove me wrong: a chickadee, a titmouse, 3 goldfinches in winter plumage, and a brown creeper. As I returned to work, I looked up to see a flock of 6 cedar waxwings stoically surveying the scene from high above. It felt comforting to have them watching over me.
- Michael Morris
11/16 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: At first I didn't believe my ears, but as rain began to patter the fallen leaves this morning at Locust Grove, I heard the unmistakable chirp of spring peepers. The unusual warmth also inspired some summer insects to try one last song. It was a truly odd chorus: wan, out-of-season and ghost-like.
- Dan Shapley
11/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: At 6:30 this morning, the air felt like the Everglades, a real tropical and humid 65°F . According to the local office of the National Weather Service, the temperature reached 72°F today, breaking the old record of 71°F.
- Tom Lake
11/16 - Garrison, HRM 52: Rich Anderson spotted 3 fox sparrows and the first tree sparrow of the season in the grass below our feeders, searching for errant bits of millet and sunflower, at the Constitution Marsh Sanctuary. Later in the day, Eric Lind saw an immature bald eagle flying along the railroad tracks, between Constitution Marsh and Constitution Island. While bringing in the floating dock, they spotted an American pipit flying over the south cove of the marsh.
- Tom Lake
11/16 - Town of Minisink, HRM 42: A prehistoric cultural assessment of some rural pastureland had me atop an 800' hill overlooking the headwaters of the Wallkill River. Facing southeast I could see extensive wetlands and farm fields with dirt as black as a new moon midnight. It was mid-November, yet the air was 71°F. Along a game trail, I found a large, finely-flaked spearpoint that may date to the time of the first people in this area, about 11,000 years ago. The view then might have looked similar, but with more swampland, remnants of a drained glacial lake. And it would have included mammoths, mastodonts, elk-moose, peccary, giant beaver and other magnificent animals that have long been extinct. Down on the Wallkill, hundreds of Canada geese took off and headed southwest, darkening the sky, blending with black storm clouds. It was time to pay for the tropical air; within an hour a howling thunderstorm struck with high winds and driving rain, dropping over an inch in less than an hour.
- Tom Lake
11/16 Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: I was struck by Ed Spaeth's 11/14 towhee note, since I saw an eastern towhee scrabbling about on the ground in the brushy area near my bird feeder the next day. The following day my husband saw the bird on the ground beneath the forsythia bushes. No sightings since. It's the first time we've seen a towhee in Hastings-on-Hudson.
- Barbara Morrow
11/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: One day after balmy air temperatures, it was snowing. I spotted 2 snow buntings flitting about.
- Ellen Rathbone
11/17 - Town of Minisink, HRM 42: A cold front rumbled through overnight dropping 1.12" of rain. Yesterday I worked in a t-shirt in record-breaking warmth; today the morning windchills, in the low 20s, were numbing. I had came upon black bear scat several times in previous days, and today I saw the bear, as it tore off into the woods.
- Tom Lake
11/17 - Wallkill River, HRM 41: At the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, among hundreds of Canada geese, I counted 6 hooded mergansers, 3 hens and 3 drakes.
- Tom Lake
11/18 - Liberty Marsh, HRM 41: This is a marsh restoration project of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and others, dedicated in October 2005. Hundreds of noisy Canada geese were spread across several areas of the marsh. Here and there you could see small groups of ducks, among which were 6 gadwalls and 6 green-winged teal. A pair of northern harriers worked the marsh, hovering, stooping, disappearing into the marsh grass, then rising and continuing on.
- Tom Lake
11/19 - Greenport Conservation Area, HRM 119: I cannot decide which was the best part of today, the 6:30 AM sighting of a coyote not more than 35 yards away from where I sat leaning against a tree, or the evening flyover of 12 tundra swans, calling out as they headed west across the open fields to cross the river. Three of us scrambled to be the first to call the bird hotline! What a strange voice they have.
- Fran Martino
11/19 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Having read Michael Morris' 11/9 entry on bluebirds exploring a nesting cavity, I have a similar observation. For the past two weekends, I have watched about 10 bluebirds, late morning to midday in full sun, flitting in and around some pear, peach and maple trees from which they took in the surroundings and flew to pick up insects from the ground or the branches. I have two bluebird nest boxes (not yet cleaned out) in the 8-tree orchard. One box in particular - bluebirds nested there this summer - was investigated persistently; as many as 3-4 bluebirds were within the box at one time. Several others were queued up nearby (one on the roof) awaiting a turn, sometimes not too patiently, to enter this crowded restaurant for some of the "blueplate" special. All in all, a delightful reward for not being too quick to clean out nest boxes.
- Nancy P. Durr
[We'd be interested in more details of such observations to confirm whether the birds are feeding on something in the box. Bluebirds often visit nesting boxes and cavities outside the breeding season, perhaps to check out future nesting sites or night roost possibilities. Steve Stanne]
11/19 - Liberty Marsh, HRM 41: In late afternoon, with a glaring sun in my eyes, I could still make out at least 3 snow geese among a thousand Canada geese. A few fox sparrows were around the marsh grass, and a pectoral sandpiper foraged the soggy shoreline.
- Tom Lake
11/20 - Brooklyn, New York Bight: For the last several years, I have noted a pair of merlins using three spruces and a flagpole in front of the Floyd Bennett Field park headquarters building as perches. They always arrive in the evening, always together. Kathy Krause, Diana Pollack and I watched this evening as they swept through the air, landing on one of the trees first, then shoving off for the flagpole. As the sun set, a group of agitated chickadees began scolding, never showing themselves above the leaves of the bayberry shrubs nearby.
- Dave Taft
11/21 - Croton, HRM 35.5: My cats have brought home two squirrel furs (with back feet and tail); I am sure they just found them in the nearby woods. I wonder whether the growing coyote population is contributing to the fewer squirrels that a contributor to the Almanac wrote two weeks ago?
- Betsy Tomic
11/21 - Liberty Marsh, HRM 41: Ideal birding conditions prevailed today: bright overcast, perfect light with no shadows, warm in the low 50s, and no wind. The truck put up a couple of savannah sparrows as I cut the engine. Out in the marsh I could see a gathering of white that turned out to be 8 tundra swans. Two days ago, 80 miles up the Hudson to the northeast, Fran Martino had spotted a dozen tundra swans crossing the river, heading this way. This may have been the same flock. A few days ago I thought I had seen northern shovelers but their silhouettes had disappeared behind a hummock. Today they were out where they could be seen. Between two huge congregations of Canada geese were a dozen lesser scaup. I was told that yesterday there had been hundreds of them here. As a backdrop, two harriers were conducting their own ballet in the air, hunting the brown marsh grasses.
- Tom Lake
[The name tundra swan refers to the bird's summer nesting range north of Hudson Bay in the Arctic tundra. They can usually be heard calling long before they are seen, which leads to another frequently used colloquial name, whistling swan. Sibley remarks that distant flocks sound like "baying hounds." They can be differentiated from the more common, non-native mute swan by their smaller size, black bill (mute swans have an orange bill) and a straight neck (mute swans have a lazy S-shaped neck). Tundra swans are occasional visitors to the Hudson Valley during fall and spring migrations. Tom Lake]
11/21 - Brooklyn, New York Bight: Flatbush Avenue rises slightly as it passes over the Belt Parkway in southern Brooklyn. As I merged onto southbound Flatbush, a large bird perched on a light post caught my eye. A Cooper's hawk watched the eastbound Belt intently, never flinching. Experienced at car bound birding, I counseled myself to watch the merge, not the bird. But by the time I checked my rear view mirror, the bird was nowhere to be seen and a flock of starlings was wheeling frantically.
- Dave Taft