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Hudson River Almanac October 10-October 18, 2004

OVERVIEW

There is snow in the High Peaks, the Catskills are glowing with autumn color, and the steady stream of southbound birds continues. This is the season that makes poets of us all, and with this issue the E-Almanac marks its first full year of publishing online observations - poetic and otherwise - of the estuary, the surrounding landscape, and the flora and fauna that enliven it. Thanks to all who have contributed; we look forward to receiving more of your reports in the coming year. We also welcome comments or suggestions you may have about the E-Almanac. Send them to compiler Tom Lake at trlake7@aol.com or to Hudson River Estuary Program interpretive specialist Steve Stanne at spstanne@gw.dec.state.ny.us .

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/10 Catskill, HRM 113: My Japanese green crabs, collected two days ago, were on display today at the annual Catskill Ginseng Festival when Dominick and Jeanne Amorosso stopped by. They both affirmed that they had collected one recently at Stony Point, 27 miles upriver from Englewood. It was inadvertent - Dominick had hooked and retrieved a piece of asphalt, and found the crab clinging to the rubble. A new possibility arises: these marine to brackish water animals not only can survive during long periods in fresh water, but may well be traveling up the estuary. They are well equipped to feed on small mollusks and I have to wonder what might happen if they overlap the downriver range of the zebra mussel. It just might be an instance of two wrongs making a right, and that is a rare bird, biologically speaking.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/10 - Catskill Mountains, HRM 102: Headed up the Rip Van Winkle trail (Rt.23A) into the northern Catskills, the foliage in [Kaaterskill] clove made it feel as though we were in a tunnel of gold.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

10/10 - Queens, New York Bight: The Rockaways at Fort Tilden stretch out - thin as a pencil - across the ocean, pointing the way south. Along this barrier beach, migration was in full swing. I climbed to Battery Harris' observation platform with fellow park ranger Bill Parker to see what was flying through. We met up with Steve Walter, George Daidone and Ian Resnick, naturalists and members of the Queens County Bird Club. In no more than an hour's time we saw a merlin, 8 kestrels, 3 sharp-shinned hawks and 3 Cooper's hawks. We also counted 65 tree swallows, a red-bellied woodpecker, 60 black skimmers, 4 flickers, several cormorants and countless dragonflies. We all agreed that it was not a bad count for an hour at the end of the work day.
- Dave Taft

10/10 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: For the last month, I have been catching a few hickory shad in the net I use to catch fish for my crab pots. These relatives of the American shad range in size from 11½ -13½ ".
- John Mylod

10/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Looking out my office window, I was blinded by the yellow-orange (almost pumpkinish) glow of the sugar maples which, until this weekend, have been steadfastly green. Many trees on the hillsides have lost their leaves, and the reds of early autumn have faded, but now the yellows are coming into their own. Overall, colors are more subdued than in past years - none of the glorious flourescent oranges and yellows - but, as some visitors from Texas said to me yesterday, it is still lovely. Small skeins of geese have been passing; I saw one batch of 20 flying over quite high this morning. Now that they have polished off all the mountain ash berries, the robins and cedar waxwings are few and far between. The little "sputzies,"whatever we like to call the small birds that are too swift to identify, remain numerous, scaring up from the ground in small groups and dashing to the nearest trees and shrubs. It will soon be time to put out the bird feeders. With cool days and cooler nights, autumn is starting on the downward slope towards winter.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/11 - Hyde Park, HRM 83: This was a major flight day, when strong winds come out of the north/northwest and give migratory birds a tailwind boost. From the lawn of the Vanderbilt estate we looked up into the bright blue sky. Although invisible to the naked eye, with Polarized sunglasses we could make out thin, wavering white threads several thousand feet high. No sounds. Through binoculars we made them out to be hundreds of snow geese, white bodies against the blue, black wing tips in contrast. In a half hour we counted six of these formations heading south. At a much lower level, an adult bald eagle was making circles in the sky, drifting southward, accompanied by a single pestering crow.
- Belinda Sedillo, Christopher Lake, Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

10/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was another picture perfect autumn day. Toby Rathbone and I came across a batch of moose tracks on the golf course this afternoon. We still haven't seen the animal. Colleague Rynda McCray reports that there is snow up on Giant Mountain, one of the High Peaks.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/12 - Town of Rhinebeck, HRM 90: In only a half hour at Burger Hill I counted over 300 migrating Canada geese, 3 sharp-shinned hawks, a Cooper's hawk, 6 red-tailed hawks, and 40 robins. I had to get to work so I missed whatever else came through after 9:00 AM.
- David M. Diaz

10/12 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: More than 50 vultures came in to roost about 6:00 PM. Some were at treetop level, some at several hundred feet, coasting in from the north and west.
- Steve Seymour

10/13 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The world was green on the start of Columbus Day weekend. By the end, the colors of autumn had arrived. The wind was a boisterous 25 mph on the ground. What was it aloft, where I could see flock after flock of geese passing above the 1,000' level? The wind was northeast, the geese were headed northwest and flying hard, yet the net movement was due west. The Vs of geese looked like they were skidding sideways across the sky.
- Christopher Letts

10/14 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Warblers, flycatchers, thrushes and others were leaving the point at a great rate today. In not-so-much of a hurry came the winter crowd: white-throated sparrows, juncos, tree sparrows, and a large flocks of pipits.
- Christopher Letts

10/14 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Today we twice dragged our seine in the rain at the Beczak Center and caught 6 small Atlantic croakers, 6 Atlantic silversides, 9 blue crabs, 2 yoy herring, a moon jellyfish, 15 shore shrimp, 23 striped bass, a winter flounder and 3 white perch. The salinity was 12.0 ppt.
- Cynthia Fowx

[Last week's Almanac commented on the lack of marine creatures in the lower estuary due to freshwater runoff associated with the most recent tropical storm. As that runoff dwindled, the salt front responded very quickly, and with it creatures of saltier waters. According to U.S. Geological Survey data (available at http://ny.water.usgs.gov/projects/dialer_plots/saltfront.html ), between October 3 and October 14 the front moved from HRM 31 (between the Tappan Zee Bridge and Croton Point) to about HRM 66 (north of the Beacon/Newburgh Bridge).]

10/14 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: I faced 20 Ossining school children and teachers across a row of picnic tables. One after another I was exhibiting river animals, some of which we had just caught. Holding a large blue crab, a show-stopper, I became aware that attention was focused behind me. I turned to see a hawk on the ground 50' away. It was leaping into the air, footing something on the ground, leaping again. This went on for several long minutes. The bird, an immature red-tailed hawk, was practicing with a stick the size of a corncob. It would flip the stick with its beak, pounce and "catch" the stick over and over - the "dance of the redtail." The day before I had seen it footing a chipmunk on the same spot. A group of people at a picnic table close by watched. The bird seemed unafraid, almost tame. People approached within 25' to snap pictures. They related that the day before the hawk had cornered and killed a mallard under one of the picnic tables. On this day, the bird tired of catching the same stick and flew to a low limb of a sycamore that overhung our picnic tables. It looked us over, preened, then finally flew into the woods. Attention returned to the big crab I was holding.
- Christopher Letts

[Footing is a term used to describe the way in which many raptors capture and kill prey. While they pluck, tear and consume with their hooked beaks, they use their strong talons to capture and subdue their prey.]

10/15 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: As I stood waving good-bye to our last school group of the fall season at Cohotate Preserve, I heard one single katydid calling from the woods. What a mournful autumn sound - a lone summer insect calling out as winter approaches.
- Liz LoGiudice

10/15 - Round Top, HRM 113: Bow season opened today. Sitting in my tree stand I was treated to the sounds of the awakening day. First the good morning (good night?) calls of barred owls, then the honking of a flight of geese, the loud and raucous calls of pileated woodpeckers leaving their tree hole, and coyotes yapping and howling for no real reason except to say good morning. There were a hundred other sounds and the great smell of fall woods. No, I did not get a deer. But, as my dad always said about hunting and fishing, it's not the getting but the going. Happy fall.
- Jon Powell

10/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35: For the past four mornings a couple of greater yellowlegs have breakfasted on the beach. I wonder what the attraction might be?
- Christopher Letts

10/16 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: In mid-afternoon the tide was heading seaward and a strong southwest wind was pushing over whitecaps. A check of my eel pots found no eels, but in one there were three channel catfish, 20-23" long. Looking at the throat of an eel pot, the opening through which the fish swims to reach the bait, you have to wonder how a catfish with a head that broad ever made it through.
- Tom Lake

10/16 - Anthony's Nose, HRM 46: I joined 6 other Waterman Bird Club members to do a hawk watch. While hiking up the trail a pair of hermit thrushes perched on lower limbs for good views. Near the top we found another small pocket of birds that included a brown creeper, white-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees. As we arrived at the top an immature bald eagle flew over to start our count. The wind was from the southwest at 10-20 mph. Most of the hawks were seen coming from the east over the ridge flying to the west. We counted 21 sharp-shinned hawks, 9 Cooper's hawks, 3 immature bald eagles, 3 red-tailed hawks, 2 red-shouldered hawks, 1 male northern harrier, 1 merlin, 1 American kestrel, 10 black vultures, 10-15 turkey vultures, 1 common raven and 30+ blue jays. On our hike back to our cars we added to our list a black-throated green warbler, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets and tufted titmice. It was a cold morning but well worth the hike.
- Barbara Michelin

10/17 - Nyack, HRM 28: Our blue crab season in the Tappan Zee has ended. We're taking our pots out, cleaning them, and putting them away until next summer. We did not catch an unusually high number of crabs this year, but they were the largest I have ever seen from the Hudson River. Ordinarily we can fit 85-90 crabs in a bushel; this summer we were lucky if we could fit 72.
- Bob Gabrielson Sr.

10/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The High Peaks were white this morning, so there is snow in the Hudson watershed. I wonder how long it will take for it to reach downstream? It dawned a lovely day, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and there is a golden glow to the forest. You have to love that early morning light! It is cool, however, only in the 30s.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/18 - Storm King, HRM 57: The mountain was as black as coal at 7:20 AM, except for the summit where the fall foliage was illuminated by the morning sun like a burning ember.
- Michael Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

10/18 - Hudson River Estuary: Here is the update on sonic tagged Atlantic sturgeon movements for August through mid October (see June 22 for project details). Tracking frequency was reduced from weekly to biweekly in mid-August. We tracked from at least Hastings-on-Hudson to Poughkeepsie during each sampling week, with periodic treks as far south as the George Washington Bridge and as far north as Saugerties [91 miles]. In general, both hatchery and wild fish moved about less during August, and more in September and October.
Wild Fish: 7 out of 9 fish were found last week; all wild fish have been located in the last month. They are currently distributed from Dobbs Ferry to Newburgh [38 miles]. Most moved into the Hudson Highlands or southern Newburgh Bay during the summer months. Four out of the nine tagged fish have moved back into Haverstraw Bay.
Hatchery Fish: 19 out of 25 hatchery fish were located in the last month. These sturgeon are now distributed from Yonkers to Poughkeepsie [57 miles]. During the summer months hatchery fish were distributed from Hastings-on-Hudson to Kingston [68 miles]. Since mid-September, all but two of the regularly observed fish have moved downriver (7 moved less than 1 km, 13 moved over 10 km). Two fish (Elaine 2641 and Susan Mitchke 2645) have not been observed since 27 May; these were the two oldest of the hatchery fish, and we suspect they may have headed out to sea.
These updates are anecdotal; we intend to more rigorously analyze data later this winter to compare the habitat selection and seasonal movements of wild and hatchery raised sonic tagged Atlantic sturgeon in the estuary.
- Gregg Kenney

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