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Hudson River Almanac October 2-October 9, 2004

OVERVIEW

Fall colors reached peak in the Adirondacks and Catskills, and are slowly brightening the rest of the Hudson Valley. Recent tropical storms notwithstanding, autumn weather is usually rather stable. We had a beautiful day October 6, when teams of environmental educators and students took a "snapshot" of the estuary, collecting critters and measuring water quality at 17 sites from Albany County to Manhattan. The clear, blue-sky days with north-northwest winds have been prime flight days for songbirds, Canada and snow geese, and brant.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: For the third night in a row, I was awakened by the high, thin calls of night-flying Canada geese. Tonight's sounded a little different; there may have been a flock snow geese as well. I'm not a light sleeper but these are sounds that find a way into the subconscious; I often wonder if I can hear them without even waking up. We will be treated to these migrating high-flyers, at any time of the day or night, for the next couple of months.
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: After a dreary day of rain, today dawned with frost and then turned into a glorious autumn day. The sun is shining, the sky is clear blue, a gentle breeze is tickling the trees, and the leaf-peepers are out en masse.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/3 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Large numbers of passerines were flowing through. If the river of blue jays had slowed, the numbers of warblers, cedar waxwings and robins had increased. A very respectable 39 species of birds were sighted or heard in little more than an hour. The first juncos and white-throated sparrows had arrived. The first two flocks of migrating geese I had seen called down from a fine blue sky and, for an hour, all was right with the world.
- Christopher Letts

10/3 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Balmy weather; too hot for chest waders. The seine produced little - the tide was out too far and the net-haulers got bogged down in shin-deep mud. Even though there was no salt to taste, the haul produced a few young of the year [yoy] striped bass, silversides, and two juvenile Atlantic croakers (34-41 mm). There were also two 3" diameter moon jellyfish that look like the bottom of a clear, glass soda bottle, and feel like very stiff Jello.
- Christopher Letts

[Croakers belong to the drum family of fishes. Saltwater drum such as northern kingfish, silver perch, weakfish and spot are found in the lower estuary as yoy and juveniles. Most of them have highly specialized swim bladders that serve as sound-producing organs. This has led to the colloquial name of "drum" and, in this case, "croaker." C. Lavett Smith]

10/4 - Rondout Creek, HRM 92: Aboard the Estuary Steward for an afternoon workshop, a group of educators saw a squirrel swimming across Rondout Creek just north of the Eddyville Bridge. Most of us had never seen a squirrel swimming before - this little guy was quite far from land! We disembarked from Norrie Point in Staatsburgh and explored many aspects of the river. What a beautiful 3.5 hour journey we had! Along with learning about collecting techniques and opportunities for our students, we gained a historical perspective on what was once a vibrant, bustling port at the Rondout Creek in Kingston. We all learned so much that we can't wait to share with our students.
- Rosellen Hardt

[While it is not uncommon, this fall has seen more than its share of observations of gray squirrels swimming across tributaries, and even across the Hudson. Perhaps we have a bumper crop of squirrels, or a bumper crop of nuts that has stoked their frenetic desire to gather, or maybe the animals are simply "acting squirrely." Tom Lake]

10/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: I took advantage of an evening high tide to kayak across from Waryas Park to two coves at the foot of the Lloyd bluffs north of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. I found the southern one delightful, snug up against the bluffs, with plentiful aquatic vegetation; it would make a fine shaded sanctuary in the heat of summer. Leaving that cove, I paddled upriver, just under the railroad and barely into the northern cove, where a startled black-crowned night heron made a hasty exit from a small tree limb. In the cove at the foot of the railroad bed was a pile of 40 discarded railroad ties and a rusted 55-gallon barrel. Nevertheless, the north cove possessed beauty equal its southern counterpart. Leaving the cove I struck out for the launch, passing scores of two-inch silvery fish [yoy river herring] jumping from the water. As dusk fell near Waryas Park, I spotted an odd-looking, foot-long bent stick that appeared to be floating faster than the rest of the flotsam on the river. I paddled closer to find that one end of the stick was a furry tail, the other, leading end a small nose. The "stick" was a very tired squirrel, which had just swum a half-mile from the west side. Startled by my appearance, it changed direction and began swimming downstream. I lost sight of the little squirrel, but trust that it made its goal of terra firma on the east side.
- Jeffrey Anzevino

10/4 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: The Japanese green crabs that have been here, off and on, for the last five years seem to have disappeared altogether, perhaps as a result of the freshening of ordinarily brackish water. As if to signal this absence, I caught my first white-fingered mud crab.
- Christopher Letts

[The Japanese green crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus), also known as the Asian shore crab, Japanese shore crab, and Pacific crab, probably arrived here in the ballast water of cargo ships. It is native to inshore ocean areas around China and Japan. On the East Coast, a single specimen was recorded at Townsend Inlet, Cape May County, New Jersey, in 1988; it has since spread from Massachusetts to North Carolina. In the Hudson, this crab was first identified in 1994 at Pier 26 on the lower west side of Manhattan. They were first seen at Englewood in 1999. Japanese green crabs occupy similar habitats to native mud crabs, and could possibly overwhelm and eliminate them. Tom Lake]

10/5 - Kowawese, HRM 59: While I lamented the absence of monarch butterflies, barnacles, and salt, the 4th graders from Sheafe Road Elementary were delighted to watch the rollers crash on the beach and view the northern gateway to the Highlands. The ocean "tang" was absent, but the water was 63°F, twenty degrees warmer than the air. We hauled our net across the sandy bottom, now with much less vegetation than a month ago. Our catch was dominated by blueback herring, American shad, and alewives. These yoy river herring are the little silvery fish that you see jumping out of the water in autumn as they make their way seaward. Mixed in were yoy striped bass, spottail shiners, tessellated darters, yellow perch and white perch. With the north wind pushing waves onto the beach, the inshore swash was a high energy zone that had attracted many fish, as well as scores of blue crabs, some penny-size. There were a few surprises: a few bay anchovies, present despite no salt, a half dozen postage-stamp-size hogchokers, and a small sunfish that had me scratching my head. We used a key to identify it, coming to the conclusion that it was two different fish.
- Dick Manley, Rebecca Johnson, Tom Lake, Gene Martin

[A dozen years ago in Hudson Highlands lakes, we began to catch sunfish that possessed characteristics of both bluegills and pumpkinseeds. Dr. C. Lavett Smith, then ichthyology curator of the American Museum of Natural History, told us that we were catching hybrid sunfish. The hybrids have a dark spot on the second dorsal fin (bluegill) and also have the red "ear tab" on their gill cover (pumpkinseed). Very confusing! On occasion, we have also seen redbreast sunfish in the hybrid mix.]

10/5 - Croton Point, HRM 34: A stiff northerly produced a lively chop at the usually tranquil Mother's Lap today. I got my yearly lesson - I ran the net out a few feet too far and a rowdy wave dumped a gallon of cold water down the back of my chest waders. Woof! The Ossining 3rd graders from Greenville School were delighted with the small menhaden, multitude of "bug" blue crabs, and a mix of small striped bass, white perch and mummichogs. Hundreds of sand shrimp popped like popcorn in the wads of wild celery and milfoil that the net brought in. I was enthused over 6 fourspine sticklebacks. This fish, common in the '80s, all but disappeared for a dozen years and it was a delight to have them back. The next day, with the coldest fall temperatures yet (down into the low 30s overnight), the water had chilled perhaps 8°F. The net held small striped bass and white perch, perhaps a dozen sticklebacks, some penny bunker, but where dozens of crabs scuttled yesterday, there were only 4 tiny ones, and our shrimp catch was down to a dozen. As my great-grandfather, a Michigan farmer, would remark at the first serious cold snap, "This will make folks wonder what they did with their summer wages.".
- Christopher Letts

10/6 - Ulster County HRM 106: The view was clear from Buck's Ridge, overlooking West Kill Mountain in Spruceton - a beautiful crisp, fall day. Fifteen ravens were flying and gliding in a broad circle in the not-too-far distance. They flew in our general direction and disappeared over the ridge line, but as we descended the mountain I would occasionally hear a croak or two.
- Reba Laks

10/6 - A Day in the Life of the Hudson River Estuary. Hundreds of students and teachers took to the Hudson today to create a snapshot of the estuary. They tracked the tidal cycle, analyzed water chemistry, collected fish, and recorded the passage of river shipping. All data will be shared, allowing students to compare results from the entire estuary. Some readings didn't change much over 150 miles: pH readings were all neutral to slightly basic (7.0 to 8.5), owing to limestone bedrock upriver and salt water chemistry in the lower estuary. Other measurements, notably salinity, changed markedly from upriver to downriver sites. The most ubiquitous fish species were white perch and striped bass, each noted from Stuyvesant (HRM 127) to Yonkers (HRM 18). Some highlights follow.

Watervliet, HRM 152: Spottail shiners, usually one of the most abundant fish of the river, were caught at only five sites of sixteen reporting so far, including this one.
- Heatly School, Green Island; Junior Museum, Troy

Stuyvesant Landing, HRM 127: This site reported the highest catch of spottail shiners (34). Two crayfish also showed up in their net, along with white perch, banded killifish, tessellated darters, yoy blueback herring and striped bass, and yellow perch.
- Alternative Learning Center, Chatham; Columbia County Soil & Water Conservation District

Nutten Hook, HRM 124: Another common minnow, the golden shiner, was reported only from this site. Group leaders were dismayed when a passing ship threw a huge wake that swept away some gear and data sheets; the students, all excited, couldn't wait for the next one!
- Mary E. Dardess Elementary School, Chatham; Columbia Land Conservancy

Town of Athens, HRM 116: At Cohotate Preserve, spottail shiners were the primary catch, followed by yoy alewives and American shad, banded killifish, white perch, American eels, and a smallmouth bass.
- Coxsackie Elementary & Coxsackie-Athens High School; Greene County Soil & Water Conservation District; Project WET/NYSDEC Five Rivers Environmental Education Center

Town of Ulster, HRM 97: Two blue crabs were caught at the Ulster County park, the most northerly report of this species today.
- John F. Kennedy Elementary School & Kingston High School; Ulster County Environmental Management Council; Scenic Hudson

Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: The catch at the Esopus Meadows Environmental Center included white perch, pumpkinseed, bluegill, spottail shiner, and yoy striped bass and river herring.
- Link Elementary School, New City; Clearwater

Beacon, HRM 61: The Bouchard tanker barge B #35, empty and high in the water, passed the Long Dock at 4:45 pm. Students at Nutten Hook, HRM 124, had seen the southbound B #35 pass at 11:29 am. A math question for these schoolchildren: What was the speed, in miles per hour, of the barge between the two points?
- Beacon Environmental Stabilization Team; Scenic Hudson

Newburgh, HRM 61: Students were encouraged to report sightings of creatures besides fish and other aquatic life; this was one of the only sites to report seeing a monarch butterfly today.
- Horizons on Hudson Magnet School, Newburgh; Project WET/NYSDEC Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center

Kowawese, HRM 59: Checking salinity was easy: there was none. It was no surprise that we found zebra mussels but, unlike other years, no bay barnacles. Those hungry mouths that were in the swash yesterday - blue crabs, white perch, and spottail shiners - were absent today.
- Warwick Valley High School, Warwick; Museum of the Hudson Highlands; Tom Lake

Little Stony Point, HRM 55: The salt concentration here - .047 ppt - still fell within background levels for the freshwater Hudson. The catch reflected that: smallmouth bass, striped bass, river herring, white perch, pumpkinseed, tessellated darter, and unidentified minnows.
- Wappingers Falls Junior High School; NYSDEC Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center

Bear Mountain, HRM 46: The crew of the sloop Clearwater had difficulty hauling the cod end of its otter trawl net onboard - it was bursting with over 100 white perch. Without lifting it from the water, they untied the end of the net to let most of the fish swim away.
- Cavallini Middle School, Upper Saddle River, NJ; Clearwater

Piermont Pier, HRM 25: This site wins the prize for the most species and highest number of aquatic creatures reported. As is often the case in brackish water (average salinity here was about .5 ppt), Atlantic silversides were the most common catch (365), followed by shore shrimp (149). The highlight of the catch here was a tiny baby snapping turtle.
- Pearl River High School; Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory/Hudson Basin River Watch

Yonkers, HRM 18: At the Beczak Environmental Education Center, shore shrimp were most plentiful, followed by yoy striped bass, Atlantic silversides, blue crabs, white perch, and - with the higher salinity here (2.1 ppt) - one yoy winter flounder.
- Saunders Trades & Technical High School, Yonkers; Beczak Environmental Education Center

Manhattan, HRM 6: The Hudson's Manhattan shoreline doesn't offer beaches for seining. Here at the 79th Boat Basin, a fish trap caught a tautog (blackfish), a fish common around reefs, piers, and other structures in New York's coastal waters.
- Metropolitan Montessori School, Manhattan; New York City Soil & Water Conservation District/Hudson Basin River Watch

Manhattan, HRM 4: New York Harbor was once notorious for its pollution. Today, dissolved oxygen measurements at the Christopher Street Pier ranged from 6 to 7 milligrams per liter, a level healthy enough to support a wide range of aquatic life.
- P.S. 3, Manhattan; New York City Soil & Water Conservation District

Manhattan, HRM 2: As expected, salinity readings at Pier 26 in Manhattan, the southernmost sampling site, were the highest reported - 8.3 ppt.
- Brooklyn New School; White Plains High School; The River Project

10/7 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: We were checking our eel pots when a northern harrier flew over, heading upriver with the sun radiating off its white rump patch. The pots were empty but a 20" channel cat had become entangled in one of the pot warps. We freed the fish and it shot away under the pier.
- Christopher Lake, Tom Lake

10/7 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 62: Golden-crowned kinglets seemed to be everywhere on Fishkill Ridge. I spotted a northern harrier, 2 sharp-shinned hawks, and 2 palm warblers. A Cooper's hawk whipped by while I was eating a quick lunch up on Bald Hill.
- David M. Diaz

10/7 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: While enjoying a river cruise on this balmy, blue sky day we observed two monarch butterflies flying southward on their long, long journey to Mexico.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

10/7 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Eleven days ago I heard a short-eared owl calling near my house. This morning, the call of a long-eared owl awakened me. This time the owl was not accompanied by katydids and crickets - that warm weather had gone for the season. Neither of these owls is common here, and so I was delighted. But, in the interim, I've also heard great horned and barred owls. On a night seining program at Croton Point, we heard a screech owl (see October 1). Are others experiencing a greater "owl presence" this season?
- Christopher Letts

10/7 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The stream of blue jays has slowed to a drip while numbers of robins and cedar waxwings have increased. Near the park swimming pool I found myself in front of an advancing wave of passerines, and sat down at a picnic table to watch. Several species of warblers, kinglets, robins and cedar waxwings moved toward and then past me. A flock of waxwings found a holly tree a few feet from me and I enjoyed being at arm's length from the busy birds. Two juvenile waxwings were playing "pass the berry," moving around the tree and passing holly berries back and forth. That turned into a beak wrestling match that lasted ten seconds, until one wrested the berry away and swallowed it.
- Christopher Letts

10/7 - Nyack Beach State Park, HRM 31: At the south end of the parking lot stands a six-foot-high butterfly bush. I did not remember seeing it before this fall. On it were more monarchs than I'd seen all season, perhaps 15, feeding and flitting in the warm, calm sunlight. The park ranger told me that it had been planted as a memorial by a woman last year, when it was little more than a foot high. I wished she could have had our experience today.
- Christopher Letts

10/7 - Jamaica Bay, New York Bight: My friend, Regina McCarthy, awaits their return eagerly each fall to the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Queens. I'll send her an e-mail to give her the news: a single, anxious-looking brant was flying circles around the refuge's West Pond, as if looking for its flock. In just a week or two, flocks of brant, numbering in the hundreds, will carpet Jamaica Bay and its grassy edges. As a harbinger, while mid-span on the Whitestone Bridge today, I spotted a flock of 20 brant winging westward toward the city.
- Dave Taft

10/9 Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: As addicted as I am to the estuary, it's always fascinating to explore the diversity of land-lubbing habitats just a few hundred yards from the river. Today at the Esopus Meadows Point Park, the leaf litter and fallen logs, still moist from abundant rain, were host to dozens of species of mushrooms, puffballs, and molds of all shapes and sizes. A careful look under just one log revealed a loose assemblage of spotted, red-backed, and lined salamanders. These critters got me thinking about another amphibian, so I started paying more attention to the path. Sure enough, 15 minutes later I spotted a bright red eft marching along. These "wandering teenagers" - a life stage of the red-spotted newt - are small but bold.
- Chris Bowser

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