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Hudson River Almanac September 25-October 2, 2004

OVERVIEW

The autumn blues have nothing to do with music; they are the sapphire skies, the air filled with blue jays and bluebirds, the water with bluefish and blue crabs, and more great blue herons passing through than we have seen in recent years. There is so much to observe with creatures getting ready for, or migrating away from, winter. We will not see this much activity over, on, and under the water until next April.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/30 Town of Athens, HRM 116: There were patches of blue sky above the eastern shore, but only one way to describe the river valley today: waterlogged. According to my calculations, it should have been high tide around 4:00 PM, but the tide tables don't mean much when we've had so much rain. At 6:00 PM, the water was higher than I've ever seen it at the Cohotate Preserve. Old bulkheads surrounding the ice house foundation were flooded, and water surrounded trees that usually stand high and dry. The water threatens to encroach upon the ice house site, an area that has not been under water, to my knowledge, in the past four years. Approaching the water's edge, I spooked a great blue heron, which flew gracefully downriver. I surveyed the scene, and then turned to leave, whereupon an immature bald eagle with distinct white patches on the ventral side of its wings flew silently overhead.
- Liz LoGuidice

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/25 - Stockport Creek, HRM 121.5: Me and my new kayak wandered about Stockport Creek where I came upon a slow motion great blue heron patiently waiting for a meal. Its sudden loud and familiar "rok-rok" call was not meant for me as an intruder, but for the acorn that fell from an overhanging branch of an oak and hit the bird squarely on the head.
- Fran Martino

9/25 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: Two black-crowned night-herons have been nightly visitors this week on the pilings of the Alpine Boat Basin. They have been joined by jumping fish and swimming blue crabs, visible with the aid of a flashlight.
- Daniel Kricheff

9/27 - New Hamburg, HRM 68: One of the joys of autumn is the heavy early morning fog. Today the air was cool, the river warm, and visibility nil. I hauled my eel pots for today's classes and found no eels. In their place were a few channel catfish, one 19" long, a real bruiser.
- Tom Lake

9/27 - Ossining, HRM 33: Heading home on Metro North out of Grand Central Station, we spotted a great blue heron in flight. These birds look marvelous, like something out of Jurassic Park. A short distance north we saw a common loon out on the river, reminding us of camping trips on Adirondack lakes.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

9/27 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: I was awakened by a loud cry at 2:30 AM. I stepped out onto the porch to hear more clearly. Crickets and katydids were singing by the light of a near-full moon, and then the cry came again - a short-eared owl, just across the road. It did not seem the right time or place for this bird, but there it was.
- Christopher Letts

9/27 - Yonkers, HRM 18: We are having a great hawk watch season at Lenoir Preserve this year. Our count is now well over two thousand raptors, and climbing. In the past week we have also spotted over 6,000 migrating blue jays moving across the Hudson. More important, we are getting many first-time visitors to the site. This allows local folks to learn about the raptor migration along the Hudson. They are often amazed that this is occurring in their urban community. A few get caught up in the activity and become birders. While monitoring the raptor flight today, we were treated to two special sightings: a red-headed woodpecker migrating south and a cloudless sulphur butterfly heading north!
- Joe O'Connell, Ellen O'Connell

9/27 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: We had some storm surge from tropical storm Jeanne, but we were able to get the seine in the water for Elisabeth Morrow School students. The river was still warm at 69°F, but with all of the rain, the salinity was low at 7.5 ppt. A year ago at this time the salinity was 12.2; in 2002 it was 18.4. On both occasions we caught salt water creatures such as weakfish, kingfish, permit, comb jellies, and moon jellyfish. Today our catch was dominated by sand shrimp and penny-size blue crabs. There were also some silversides, a few striped bass, white perch, bay anchovies, and a large hogchoker (146 mm). We set two shrimp pots baited with Friskies Ocean Buffet cat food and caught three dozen shore shrimp. One of the students caught a 9" bluefish on a nightcrawler. The backdrop to our autumn programs here always includes the aerial acrobatics of osprey. We counted no fewer than seven coursing the river and shoreline, watching the anglers on the pier to see if any tossed-back rejects might float long enough to grab.
- Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

9/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The rain from tropical storm Jeanne began just before first light this morning. A short while earlier, I was awakened by a short-eared owl, calling less than a quarter mile away. After five minutes it stopped. Almost immediately the rains came. By 8:00 AM we had an inch. By day's end we had 2.87".
- Tom Lake

9/28 - Tappan Zee, HRM 27: From the Tappan Zee Bridge I could see half a dozen vivid green streaks on the surface of the river - great drifts of duckweed washed out of upriver backwaters and tributaries. Seven miles upriver at Croton Point, duckweed was up to 10" deep along the high tide line.
- Christopher Letts

9/28 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Where there was 7.5 ppt of salt yesterday, there was none at all today.
- Christopher Letts

9/29 - Haverstraw, HRM 36: The Hudson River population of Atlantic sturgeon was increased by 89 today as a result of a release sponsored and coordinated by the NYSDEC. A Maryland Department of Natural Resources truck arrived from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Fisheries Center hatchery in Lamar, PA, with three tanks of fish. These sturgeon, 6-10 years old, were born of Hudson River stock, reared in the hatchery, and ranged in size from 2-4 feet long. About 10 percent had been tagged so that they can be monitored in a recapture effort. Data generated will provide insight into habitat use, movement, homing instincts, and health of both wild and hatchery-raised Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson. This release was the third in a series, adding up to a total of 210 sturgeon.
[For more information, see the Environment DEC Newsletter article about the release.]
- Gregg Kenney, NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit

9/29 - Haverstraw, HRM 36: I had the opportunity to attend the sturgeon release today. It was a thrill to help the kids carry these fish and place them in the river. A few sturgeon swam between my legs and bumped up against me and my chest waders. They have such a powerful tail. All true fishermen/women give their first fish of the day a kiss. I got to kiss the one Amanda named "Raceway Nose" because its snout was bent upward. I wonder where it is now?
- Fran Martino

9/29 - Grassy Point, HRM 38.5: It is not often that you find no measurable salt in September at Grassy Point. But today the river was as fresh as Lake Tear of the Clouds. The water was 69°F and the beach was soft sand for as far out as I could wade. We hauled our 85' seine between the jetties and filled the net with silversides and striped bass. There was a surprise in the net, or maybe it was not a surprise after all: several 5" largemouth bass. A half-dozen turkey vultures played in the brisk northwest wind along the shore, and out on the river several osprey were investigating the whitecaps. One large raptor hung in the air over a patch of water for several minutes, with stops and starts, never quite able to capture what it had in sight. It gave up and flew directly towards me. I had it in my binoculars as it flew right over my head, an immature bald eagle on its way toward Stony Point and Tomkins Cove.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

9/29 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: As I emerged from the toll plaza heading east, a black vulture with silvery-white wing patches filled my windshield. It was twenty feet away but looked larger than life as it flew off ahead of me.
- Tom Lake

9/29 - Croton Point, HRM 34: For the first time that I can recall, I am finding zebra mussels on the same substrate as bay barnacles and platform mussels.
- Christopher Letts

9/29 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: We never got a net in the water today. The river was chocolate milk laden with driftwood and the waves were breaking far up on the beach. With the ground saturated for miles around, the 3½" rainfall from tropical storm Jeanne was all over-the-top, instant runoff. My class had to settle for specimens taken from the river earlier in the week.
- Christopher Letts

9/30 - Ashokan, HRM 92: At Ashokan Reservoir this morning the water was on major overflow. This is most unusual for late September. Often it is drying up at this time. The leaves are changing but still have a long way to go.
- Bill Drakert

9/30 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: It was a poor crab catch today from 60 pots - maybe one bushel of keepers. And the pots had been soaking for days. Out of the corner of my eye while picking traps I saw an immature bald eagle on the west shore just below Blue Point. The bird descended on a long glide path and grazed the top of the river, but moved on another 100 yards where it grabbed something from the water and swooped up into the forest next to the railroad tracks. I lost it in the trees. An hour later, I saw the same, or another immature bald eagle, soaring on the strong northwest wind just above the Pirate Canoe Club opposite Blue Point. In minutes it was over the county's garbage plant, and its ever widening circles took it out of sight in no time. It was quite impressive against the sidewalk slate gray sky.
- John Mylod

10/1 - Stony Point, HRM 40: Henry Hudson sailed past here 395 years ago today, on his way out of the river, having failed to find a passage to the west that would lead to the Orient.

10/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34: This was our annual rite of autumn, the one night each year when we pay homage to the generation of Hudson River commercial fishermen who have passed, people like Henry Gourdine, Gussie Zahn, Ronnie Ingold, Everett Nack, Turk DeGroat, Ace Lent, Charlie White, Jimmy Carey, John Scardefield, and many others. These were the legendary "killers of fish,"in the days when Fulton Market in Manhattan would take every fresh shad, striped bass and sturgeon that could be netted, landed, boxed, iced down, and shipped.

Just after sundown, we lined the beach with lanterns and began to haul our 200' net (Henry's seine) out into the dark of Croton Bay. This net has two long wings, one on either side of a 15' bag where, theoretically, the fish are supposed to get caught. Hauling the outboard end off the beach, I could just make out ahead of me a small wrinkled patch of water, like someone furrowing their brow - a small school of penny bunker eluding bluefish. Slowly swinging the net in a long arc across the bay, I could feel fish bouncing off the twine and hear commotion on the top seamline as they tried to escape. In a half hour the wings were emerging, having corralled a school of gizzard shad. Releasing the fish, we estimated that we had caught no fewer than 250 nine-inch gizzard shad - likely yearlings, class of 2003.

Last to come in was the bag - a dazzling sight as it neared the beach, hundreds of 3½" penny bunker - young menhaden - shining like silver dollars in our lantern light. We dropped the top seamline and released as many as we could; those that did not swim away became instant meals for the crabs and eels in the swash. We guessed that there were between 700-800 penny bunker. In the back of the bag we found a miscellaneous group of blue crabs, American eels, striped bass, white perch, and two gorgeous palm-sized hogchokers,. All were released. We could find no salt in the water, and it was a warm 69°F. By 10:00 PM it was dark as midnight and getting cold. The program ended with final words from a screech owl in the top of tree not far away - a long series of whinnies that sounded like a paddock of ponies.

"Henry's seine" was built to exacting specifications: his own. Henry Gourdine considered this one a "toy"; he once built a 2600-foot commercial haul seine. One day, fifty years ago at Crawbuckie, Henry and his crew caught 14,000 pounds of American shad and striped bass. He was not altogether happy about the haul; it took the crew so long to weigh, box, and ice the fish that they missed the opportunity to set on the next tide.
- Christopher Letts, Tom Lake, Dick Manley

10/2 - Englewood, NY, HRM 13.5: We were with members of Greenbrook Sanctuary to fish, but the birds were the show. There were osprey at every point in the sky. One of them, paralleling the Palisades and carrying a fish in its talons, elicited an attack from a merlin. The much smaller falcon dive-bombed the osprey, which had to perform some mid-air magic to elude the assault. Several minutes later a skein of blue jays came across the river from the east. Out from the Palisades came another falcon, this time a peregrine. It made a series of long loops in the sky and, like the downside of a roller coaster, came screaming toward the water and the jays at over 100 mph. The blue jays zig-zagged across the water inches above the waves to elude the falcon. After a half dozen of these stoops the peregrine flew back to its perch. Then four ravens came out and performed some aerial acrobatics in play. When we finally got our net in the river we caught silversides, striped bass, blue crabs, and several dozen young-of-the-year bay anchovies, 30-90 mm in length, the size range pointing out their protracted spawning season. Under a dark fold in the wet net, hidden under leaves, were two shiny 5" crevalle jacks lying side-by-side. In a season of no salt, these beauties humbled us. We've learned to never underestimate the power of the estuary to surprise us. The salinity ranged from 2.8 ppt at mid-flood to 3.1 ppt at full flood tide. As we finished our program, one monarch fluttered past, reminding us that we had yet to see a dozen, altogether, this fall.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Nancy Slowik, Alec Malyon

[Jacks are tropical-looking fish that in late summer and autumn visit the lower, brackish estuary from more southerly waters. Their presence can generally be attributed to the effects of the Gulf Stream's northerly flow carrying eggs, larvae, and juvenile fish. Hudson River jacks include the crevalle jack, Atlantic moonfish, permit, and lookdown.]

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