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Hudson River Almanac October 17-October 26, 2004

OVERVIEW

Peak fall color arrived in the lower river valley this week and with it came another pulse of migrating birds and fish. From the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to the tip of Manhattan, the splendor of autumn made the Hudson River Valley a special place to be.

HIGHLIGHT FROM THE PREVIOUS WEEK

10/12 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: With some enthusiastic high school seniors from River Dell Regional Senior High School, we sampled the river at Englewood. In late afternoon, the tide had just turned to flood and we measured the salinity at 8.6 ppt. The water temperature was 64°F. We caught two young-of-the-year striped bass (65, 110 mm), a white perch (160 mm), one flounder (60 mm) that may have been a windowpane, a few small blue crabs (10-15 mm), and some shore shrimp.
- Terry Milligan

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/17 - Jamaica Bay, New York Bight: The wading bird migration was at its peak at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Queens. We counted over 25 common egrets, 4 snowy egrets, 3 tricolor herons and, to top it off, an American bittern. The bittern flew out from the pond edge and low over the trail, disappearing into the yellow seed stalks of the Spartina marsh, but not without first showing off its mustache marks and dark wing tips.
- Dave Taft, National Park Service

10/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: On our Monday evening tour of the greens and fairways of the golf course we watched a barred owl fly across the second fairway, over the green, and then off into the distance. I did my "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-alllll" imitation of its call. Maybe it was the wrong time of year for the owl to be interested, or it was focused on finding a mouse, or my call was simply laughable - anyway, it ignored me. A few moments later we came across a lingering woodcock that took off from the overlook and headed towards the High Peaks.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

10/18 - Englewood, HRM 13.5: We caught several Atlantic menhaden (2"-8"), some of which were young-of-the-year, in our seine today.
- Christopher Letts

10/19 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: At the Columbia-Greene County Community College Field Station this morning I spotted a group of common loons, eight of them, riding the down tide. Right behind were 25 greater scaup.
- Jon Powell

10/19 - Catskill, HRM 113: It was a gray, gloomy day at Historic Catskill Point, but the diffuse light made the woods glow in a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, and oranges. A small flock of two dozen brant came down to feed on the lawn at the mouth of Catskill Creek. These small geese migrate from nesting areas around Hudson Bay to winter on Mid-Atlantic tidewater.
- Tom Lake

10/19 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: I saw my first bald eagle of the season today. Jack Callaghan and I were on an ambulance call near the seaplane base in Verplanck when Jack spotted an adult bald eagle skimming the water, flying in a southerly direction. Although it was somewhat misty and hazy, the white head was unmistakable.
- Bob Ferguson

10/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Sitting in my truck, sipping hot tea, I watched two harriers jockey for position in the predawn gloom. As I tightened my boot laces for a morning hike, an immature bald eagle soared low over the bathing beach. A Cooper's hawk appeared and began to harass the bigger bird, making contact on at least one dive. The eagle slanted away to the east, disappearing over the oak tops with the Cooper's in hot pursuit. A minute later, I watched a large flock of cowbirds pouring out of the oak grove and over my head. The Cooper's reappeared, this time in hot pursuit of the cowbirds. Lively times.
- Christopher Letts

10/20 - Manhattan, HRM 0: We had an interesting morning birding at the Battery Park City Conservancy along the southern tip of the world's busiest city. It never ceases to amaze me what birds fly through such a heavily developed area. The species list hardly describes the fun: double-crested cormorant, wood thrush, hermit thrush, yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, golden-crowned kinglet, white-throated sparrow, savannah sparrow, English house sparrow, house finch, starling, chickadee, brant geese (75), mourning dove, laughing gull, herring gull, ring-billed gull, junco, mockingbird, pigeon, and blue jay. Steve Kuegel, a resident of Battery Park City, accurately pointed out the very dark savannah sparrow, generally thought to be a northern variety. The Almanac has been filled with reports of hundreds of blue jays moving south this fall; that seemed to cease in mid October. They had made it as far as Manhattan on October 16. We watched one flock of about 75 blue jays stream eastbound out of the Wagner Park section of Battery Park City. On this walk, and others this fall, we also saw many palm warblers and goldfinches.
- Dave Taft, NPS

10/20 - Brooklyn, New York Bight: Meeting at Floyd Bennett Field to discuss an ongoing Grasslands Restoration Project, John Zuzworsky and I, with the National Park Service, and Mike Feller, Timothy Wenskus, and Adam Thornbrough of New York City Parks Natural Resource Group, stared at each other, pulling together clues. Long bill, white eye stripe, pointy wings - no doubt about it, we'd just flushed a snipe at the edge of the grasslands project.
- Dave Taft, NPS

10/21 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A mob of crows was hurrahing an unseen target as I began to circle the base of the landfill. A minute later I was able to discern a large raptor perched on one of the monitoring well markers. It seemed early for a rough-legged hawk, but there it was. As I returned an hour later, I saw it again, this time hovering over the fields in typical rough-legged hunting behavior.
- Christopher Letts

10/22 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: It was cool and breezy and the light was dim as I left the truck for my walk. As I neared the model airplane flying field I caught a movement on the edge of a puddle. It turned out to be a bluebird, and scanning the surrounding area I found a dozen bluebirds, scattered like bright nuggets on the green grass. The rest of the morning was robins, robins, robins everywhere. Chasing one another, tut-tutting from every bush, singing from tree tops as if it were May rather than October.
- Christopher Letts

10/23 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I picked 38 pots today and had 4 dozen market-size blue crabs along with a half dozen catfish. Two were channel cats, the rest white cats. Heavy ones, too, about 24" long, jumping around. They head for structure this time of year, I suppose, because their presence is more common in October than in any other month. The water temperature was 59°F.
- John Mylod

10/23 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: There seemed to be almost as many birders as birds, and everyone was in fine spirits. In every encounter there was yet another excited report: "Purple finches!" "Clay-colored sparrows!" "Dickcissel!" I ended up with 45 species for two hours, the most memorable being a pair of brant lazing in the sun on the side of the landfill. They flushed and headed toward Croton Bay. Out of nowhere a merlin appeared and made three screaming dives on the little geese.
- Christopher Letts

10/24 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Rodent Rendezvous: For the past six weeks or so the river migration of gray squirrels has been under way, not as heavy as the migration in the early '90s, but constant. Something causes squirrels to start swimming across the river, usually east to west although I have seen then going in the other direction as well. But these may have been individuals that decided part way across that the journey was more than they were up for. One of the scullers of the Mid Hudson Rowing Association stopped her workout one morning and allowed a pretty tired squirrel to climb on to the stern of her boat to catch a breather while she angled toward shore. Twenty feet from terra firma the squirrel jumped back into the river, made a beeline for land, scampered up the rocks and kept running. There are theories that competition for habitat and food supplies causes these squirrels to look for greener grass on the other side of the river, but I have not seen a definitive explanation for this fall phenomenon.
- John Mylod

10/24 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: When bird feeder season begins, it takes the chickadees and titmice just minutes to find the food. And within a couple of days, the resident Cooper's hawks know it as well. This morning I heard the thumps on the window that signal a hawk has arrived. The panicked small birds usually bounce off and make their escape. This morning I found two yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a juvenile and an adult male, that had suffered fatal collisions with the window. No sign of the hawk.
- Christopher Letts.

10/26 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: We stopped at DEC's Stony Kill Farm and noticed several people with binoculars and cameras by the pond. About 80 Canada geese floated on the water, but they were focused on one bird - it was the size of a Canada goose with black and gray markings, orange-pink feet and bill, and white patches around the eyes and bill. The breast and belly were grayish-white and not speckled. The consensus was that it was a hybrid between a greater white-fronted goose and a snow goose - it resembled the illustration in the Sibley bird guide. One of my co-workers had heard that what was thought to be a white-fronted goose had been seen in Dutchess County over the past few days. We'd be interested in hearing of any other observations and identifications.
- Steve Seymour, Sarah Seymour

10/26 - Dutchess Junction, HRM 60: Heading toward Beacon, I could see two turkey vultures feeding on a roadkill racoon in my lane on Route 9D. They were very intent so I slowed to a crawl as one took off and lumbered across the road. Inching ahead slowly, I anticipated the second one flying away as well. Instead it took two wing beats and hopped up on the hood of my pickup truck, a foot from the windshield. It was only there for three seconds but that was long enough; all I could think of was a ghoulish trick-or-treater.
- Tom Lake

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