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Hudson River Almanac October 21 - 28, 2003

OVERVIEW

This was a wet week in the midst of a very wet autumn. The seaward rush of fresh water continued to push the salt front downriver. (Check its location day-to-day on the U.S. Geological Survey's Hudson River salt front website http://ny.usgs.gov/htdocs/dialer_plots/saltfront.html ) The usual fall mix of marine fishes in the lower estuary were nowhere to be found. The fiery autumn colors arrived but in many places were quickly extinguished by the wind and rain.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/24 - Little Stony Point, Cold Spring, HRM 55: Dutch sloop captains called the gap between Storm King and Breakneck Ridge the "Worragut" or "Wey-Gat" meaning Wind Gate. Northwest winds would grow fierce as they were funneled between the peaks. The wind blasting through the gap today whipped a flock of 20 brant south over the river, adding to the already considerable flight speed of these small geese. On the sheltered south side of Little Stony Point, a late palm warbler searched hopefully for insects in the understory before following the brant.
- Steve Stanne

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/21 - Esopus Meadows, Town of Esopus, HRM 87: The first of two sweeps with a 30' beach seine netted over 300 spottail shiners, along with dozens of white perch, two young-of-the-year striped bass, a single young-of-the-year river herring, and two golden shiners. There may have been more, but we were hurriedly counting and scooping handfuls of spottails back into the river as quickly as possible to avoid mortality. The second haul was dominated by different species: about 60 banded killifish and 15-20 pumpkinseed sunfish. There were also a few more spottails, one each of young-of-the-year striped bass and river herring, and a single crayfish.
- Beth Waterman, Barbara Kendall, Fran Dunwell, Steve Stanne

10/21 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: On the way to Cohotate Preserve this morning I was surprised to see a common crow and a drake and hen mallard hanging out together on the side of the road. The crow flew out of my way and the mallards waddled away. But after I passed, they all re-grouped - a strange sight. With river-focused school programs ended for the season at Cohotate, I pulled my eel pot put of the river and was reminded that we kept catching the same eel over and over this fall. We could recognize her because of her battle scars - a cut on her head and a chunk taken out of her dorsal fin!
- Liz LoGuidice

10/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: There were about seven dozen market-sized blue crabs in my last lift today. With all of the rain, everything is very muddy. There's lots of sediment in the water and it cakes on the traps as well as the bait - a real mess. I also had 15-20 white catfish and channel catfish in a lift of 80 pots. The river is 57°F, up two degrees in two days. Strong winds today made the last trip one of the hardest: there were three to four foot waves for most of the day, and lots of white caps.
- John Mylod

10/23 - George's Island, Montrose, HRM 39: Dogan Point extends several hundred yards out into Haverstraw Bay from this Westchester County park. At its tip is a huge black oak we call the "eagle tree." The almost horizontal branches face south, great for raptors looking for fish and waterfowl or a respite from the north wind. The oak and several nearby trees have hosted as many as 50 bald eagles over the past few winters. Autumn leaves still hide most of the favored perching branches, but this morning one limb was devoid of fall color and sporting a winter visage: an adult bald eagle, many weeks earlier than I can ever recall. Does this portend a hard winter to come, or is it just more evidence that every month is becoming an "eagle month" on the Hudson?
- Christopher Letts

10/24 - Ulster Landing, Town of Ulster, HRM 98: In a curious maneuver, the Coast Guard buoy tender "Katherine Walker" eased over to the east edge of the channel and slowed to a stop. I soon understood why. The Barrytown Reach here is very narrow and only 35 feet deep at low tide. A huge freighter, the "Alfios I," registered in Monrovia, was coming up the river at a fast clip, filling up the channel and dwarfing the Coast Guard vessel. As it passed, water near shore was sucked out into the channel, only to return in an incredible surge moments later. Unlike the rollers that come ashore after a tug and barge pass, this was a three-foot wall of water that moved up the river, inundating the tide flats and chasing two hundred Canada geese into the air. In seconds the inlet where I stood went from low tide to high tide and then settled back to its previous level, minus a bit of shoreline here and there.
- Tom Lake

10/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 64: There were many kinds of sparrows at DEC's Stony Kill Farm today, including immature white-crowned sparrow, field sparrow, and swamp sparrow. But the bird of the day was a rough-legged hawk that flew past several times, once with the resident red-tailed hawk chasing it. Later the crows ganged up on it. This is the first October record for the Waterman Bird Club as far as I can tell, and farther south in the county than we usually see them. I haven't seen a rough-legged in a few years and this light morph bird gave us a great look!
- Barbara Michelin

[The rough-legged hawk nests on the tundra far to our north, and prefers similar open fields and marshes when visiting the Hudson Valley in winter. There are two color forms: a dark morph nearly all dark brown or black and a lighter morph with light brown head and upperparts. Both have large patches of white at the base of the tail feathers and primary wing feathers, making them a striking sight in flight.]

10/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: I use eel pots to provide live animals for river education programs. Lured with bait into these three-foot long cylindrical wire traps, fish cannot find their way back out. From late summer through early autumn, I catch scores of American eels, channel catfish, white catfish, brown bullheads, various sunfish, crawfish, blue crabs, and, once in a while, the delightful and ephemeral yellow bullhead. Today was one of my lucky days. It may have been the shad racks (shad without their fillets) that I used for bait. This 8" yellow bullhead was the color of lemon chiffon when it popped out of the trap into my bucket. When the water warmed a bit, it turned more to a mustard yellow - still a striking fish. School children will oooh and ahhh over it for a few days, and then the bullhead will go back, maybe with a story to tell other fish.
- Tom Lake

10/27 - Catskill Point, Catskill, HRM 113: With binoculars I could see out into the lee of Catskill Point where I spotted a lone brant bobbing in the water in the midst of two dozen gulls. Later on at the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary a mile further south I watched a large flock of blackbirds that included both red-wings and - notably - rusty blackbirds.
- Larry Federman

10/27 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: It simply poured all day. I sat in my office and watched six turkeys and a white tailed deer on the lawn, eating as if it were a lovely day while being drenched in the deluge.
- Liz LoGuidice

10/28 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: A day of heavy rain (1.52") had turned the river a muddy brown. I've stopped baiting my crab traps and will begin pulling them out in the coming days - hopefully on brisk November afternoons with a late sun, lots of cumulus clouds and waves of geese charting their courses along the river. - John Mylod

10/29 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: Another day of downpours. The intermittent streams were near bankful and very turbid.
- Liz LoGuidice

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