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Hudson River Almanac October 17 - October 24, 2005

OVERVIEW

The rain let up for the first part of this week. Runoff from last week's downpours worked its way down the estuary, forcing the salt front down to Hudson River Mile [HRM] 22 at Hastings-on-Hudson on 10/20 before allowing it to rebound upriver. More precipitation arrived at week's end. Elevation being key to weather this time of the year, heavy sustained rain in the lower reach of the watershed meant significant snow in the Adirondacks. River temperature continued to drop.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/19 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I emptied my eel pots today for two on-the-river programs for elementary schoolchildren. In one of the pots was a 30" "silver eel," a female American eel on her way out of the estuary to spawn in the abyss of the North Atlantic. She was black on top, stark white underneath, with a head as big around as a baseball bat and blue eyes. Her strength was immense. As I let her slip out of the pot and slither back into the river the dock trembled.
- Tom Lake

[Silver eels can be males or females, but those in fresh water are the latter. As young eels arrive at the coast after drifting from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea, females push inland into fresh water while males tend to stay in salt water. In a late 1990s study, the 600+ eels examined between the George Washington Bridge and Fort Edward were all females. Males also become silver eels as the time for the journey back to the Sargasso nears. Steve Stanne.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/17 - Catskill, HRM 112: The phrase "bird every bird" held importance. I had been seeing many dark-eyed juncos and chipping sparrows along the trail at the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, and yellow-rumped warblers in the shrubs. When a bird landed in the trail, looked around and proceeded to bob its tail before grabbing something and flying off, I realized I had just gotten a quick look at a palm warbler!
- Larry Federman

10/17 - Croton Point, HRM 34-35: The Croton River is in spate. The Hudson beaches have been scoured clean by burgeoning runoff and astronomical high tides. The action was in the air, north to south, birds by the thousands were making up for a lost migration week. Point the binoculars up at any quadrant of sky and flying shapes filled the lenses. I saw, for the first time in months, tree swallows and chimney swifts. The canopy and underbrush were filled with many species of warblers. I watched a harrier lift off with a mouse or vole, immediately pursued by another harrier, a crow, and a kestrel. A dozen kestrels flared, hovered, dove, in the sharp northwest gusts. The message was clear: make haste, get out of town. As if to underscore, a northern goshawk circled over the oak grove, and the first flock of pipits arrived.
- Christopher Letts

10/17 - Croton Point, HRM 34-35: It was 30 years ago that riverman Henry Gourdine handed me a hand-built net, a gift. It was designed for scraping softshell crabs out of the grass beds in the Hudson. The triangular net was formed from a forked ash limb, and though Henry was never satisfied with it, it was a joy to use. Shaker-like in the simple and completely functional way it was constructed, the loose, hand-knitted net flowed back from the frame. The handle was perfect in my hand, the scrapeboard angled just right to lift crabs out of the grass but glide over rocks and sticks. Henry used to say, "Bring me a better fork and I'll make you a better net." Until the time of his death, on this day eight years ago, it was a standing joke.

So this morning a strong finger poked my shoulder. As I squirmed out of sleep I could hear the words so clearly, "Why did I ever make you that net, and you asleep on the full moon dawn low tide?" I wasn't going to argue with that voice. Half an hour later found me clad in chest waders, headlamp blazing into the night, pushing Henry's net through dense beds of wild celery. In water up to my chest, long before sunrise, I enjoyed the other-worldly hour only minutes from home. Night herons glided in to roost, from some distant stalking ground. Knitting needle-sized needlefish swirled away as I pushed the net through the grass. Henry was there, and as always, good company. Generous, uncompromising, a fine craftsman, he loved his river so much he could not stand to miss a chance to share that river love with others.

The sun rose and the tide turned, and what I had to show for my efforts was three fresh crab moults and a morning that couldn't be bought, a morning on the river, a morning with Henry. He gave all who knew him mornings on the river.
- Christopher Letts

10/17 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Ten days ago the salinity on Bloomer's Beach was 50% of sea water. Today, there was no salt to the taste, less than 3.0 ppt. The massive sheet of water dumped on the watershed last week will pour past this beach for months to come. Fishermen and crabbers were catching nothing on the old stone pier. In the beach seine, we found a half a dozen small crabs, a single anchovy, a large white perch, a dozen young-of-the-year striped bass, and a single finger-sized Atlantic croaker.
- Christopher Letts

10/17 - Sandy Hook, NJ: There is a platform pole osprey nest on the bay side of Sandy Hook that consistently produces 1-2 young each year. One fledged this year and the young bird left about three weeks ago. This morning, we saw an osprey hunkered down in the nest, probably a migrant. One hopes it's not in the nest waiting to be fed. The adults are probably in Georgia by now.
- Dery Bennett

10/17 - Mid-Hudson: At 6:30 PM the full moon popped up. Close on the eastern horizon, it was a large, light orange globe. Several flocks of Canada geese were active, flying away from the river, heading inland for the night. As hard as I tried, I could not make any of them fly across the face of that brilliant moon.
- Tom Lake

10/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: For a couple of years now, I have been enchanted in the early autumn by the sudden appearance of small blue-white bits of fluff that seem to randomly drift on the air. At first I only saw them in my yard, but then last year I also saw them in the woods at the Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Center. Upon closer examination, they turned out to be small insects. My first journal entry about them reads:

October 9, 2003: Weird little bugs were in the air today. While sitting on a rock in my field, these little fluffy bugs appeared. Total length: maybe 10 mm. Light blue fluff on head and thorax; back and top of abdomen bare; long white fluff off sides of abdomen, extending beyond end of abdomen; 4 transparent wings with black veins. They flew in a rather vertical attitude, body lifted vertically, rather than held horizontally. The overall impression was of a light pale blue bit of fluff flying along.

This year they made an appearance on the Northern New York Birders e-mail list. Someone else was wondering what they were (her children called them "snowflake bugs"). The answer came from Brian McAllister, who identified them as woolly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus). These insects cluster on maples and alders, but do not seem to be harmful (unlike the woolly adelgids). They are also called the maple blight aphid, because they form dense white woolly masses on the leaves and twigs of the silver (and, occasionally, red) maple, its primary host. The aphids on the trees are wingless, plump, gray, and concealed beneath their own dense, white waxy strands. They feed on sap from the maple trees from the time of bud-break until late June. The winged adults, some with abdomens covered in white fluffy wax, are produced in the colonies. These winged migrants readily fly when disturbed and create the illusion of tiny masses of cotton floating through the air as they leave maple trees and fly to alders where they will establish new colonies on the secondary host. They require both maples and alders to complete their life cycle.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/18 - Englewood BB It was a classic October day, warm with a breeze, sky the finest cerulean. The park was loaded with warblers and even a few monarch butterflies fluttered by. The contents of the beach seine looked something like a slot machine jackpot: silver everywhere with young-of-the-year bay anchovies, blueback herring, American shad, gizzard shad, and Atlantic silversides. I held up a palm-sized crevalle jack, an exotic beauty better known from the tropics. The fish responded with an audible series of loud, deep, grunts. The kids were enthralled. As the children and parents helped to spread the net to dry, I spotted a tiny and unusual fish zigzagging across the surface. I dropped the net, plunged in after it, and amazingly, caught it in my hand. Burnished gold, banded with distinct black bars, I again heard and felt a series of grunting sounds. At 46 mm long, it was the smallest crevalle jack I had ever seen.
- Christopher Letts

10/19 Beacon, HRM 61: This was the biggest carp I had ever caught in the Hudson River! It was 18½ lb., 34" long, with a 22" girth. I caught one other, about 4 lb., as well as four channel catfish. The fish were active right through the building and ebbing tides. All were released. I saw one other fisherman in a boat drift-fishing while casting and jigging artificial lures along the drop-off to the main channel. I'd guess he was interested in striped bass.
- Bill Greene

10/19 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Second graders from Brookside Elementary in Ossining were amazed at the hundreds of tiny, clear spherical shapes in our net. These were moon jellyfish the consistency of small plastic pearls. Through the transparent jellyfish we could see three types of young-of-the-year herring: Atlantic menhaden (ocean herring, 63-96 mm), gizzard shad (freshwater herring, 102-140 mm), and blueback herring (anadromous, 71-73 mm). The water temperature was 63°F; the salinity was nearly non-existent at 2.0 ppt. Every so often a monarch would catch our eye, eight in all, and the trees were brimming with yellow-rumped warblers.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

[Young moon jellyfish appear in the lower estuary in late summer and early fall. In contrast to comb jellies, these are true jellyfish. They have several hundred fringed tentacles and their umbrella serves as a sticky collector of both phytoplankton and zooplankton. Adult moon jellyfish, with a pinkish umbrella up to 10" across, are most commonly associated with ocean beaches. They are frequently stranded at the high-tide line, and have startled many a beach walker who happened to step on one. Tom Lake.]

10/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was 34°F here this morning and there was snow in the mountains. There are many robins and flickers around this fall. Maybe I am only aware of them this year, but it seems to me that the numbers are higher than usual. I've been taking my chances with the bears by putting seed in the bird feeders. The birds are all very pleased by my largesse, but I know I am working the odds here. I have refrained from putting out suet, knowing that will just be an open door for the bears. Tonight I saw my first bear of the season, a young one crossing the road. It was the height of a large dog but the long legs and the galumphing gait were dead give-aways.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/20 - Peebles Island, HRM 158: The surrounding hardwoods were approaching peak color. A light north wind was bringing migrants down river on several levels: along the shrub-line were large flocks of juncos; several hundred feet overhead were red-tailed hawks and Cooper's hawks; and above them was an immature bald eagle, making small circles in the sky, allowing itself to drift south.
- Tom Lake

10/20 - Green Island, HRM 153.4: Yesterday, 140 miles downriver at the bottom of the estuary, the water temperature was 63°F. Today, the water flowing over the dam like a spring freshet was 54°F. Winter in the Adirondacks was bringing a chill to the lower Hudson. I tossed a small lure out into the shallows to see who was home and had follows from a dozen or more 5" smallmouth bass, the progeny of the adults we caught and released here in the spring.
- Tom Lake

10/20 - Croton River, As I waited for my minnow trap to fill with mummichogs and small sunfish for tomorrow's school program, I passed the time watching a pair of red-throated loons fishing just outside the railroad bridge. Nearby was a flock of 15 coots.
- Christopher Letts

10/20 - Yonkers, HRM 18: On this beautiful autumn day with the trees on the Palisades changing colors, two tourists from Austria stopped by the Beczak Environmental Education Center on their way to Manhattan to catch the Queen Elizabeth II home. They had been traveling from Boston, through upstate New York, and back to Manhattan, and decided to drive south along the river. They were happy to be able to actually touch the river they had admired from their car.
- Kathleen Savolt

10/21 - Round Top, HRM 113: We had our first frost this morning as the air temperature fell to 29°F. It felt good. We still have a lot of green, but this might change things. We saw a fisher in the woods yesterday; this was the second sighting of what is probably the same fisher, in the last two weeks.
- Jon Powell

10/21 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I saw an "ivory-bill" today. But alas, it was only a coot, with its pale bill.
- Tom Lake

10/22 - Johnsburg, HRM 248: The National Weather Service reported 7" of wet snow in parts of Warren County.

10/22 - Battery Park, HRM 0: On our bird walk at Battery Park City we noticed a real fallout from all the rains and winds we've had. Birds were all over: brown creepers, so many kinglets you could trip on them, lots of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a flock of brant and a flock of some unidentified shorebirds.
- Dave Taft

10/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Pack your mukluks and don your longjohns; winter is here. I woke to 2" of snow this morning. It looked nice until I realized that it was very heavy and wet. My apple trees were prostrate with the weight of it, as were all the other saplings I put in this year. My 10' tall larch was bent to the ground. The deciduous trees that insisted on keeping their leaves this late into the season were very sorry for that decision. The honeysuckle along the property line were bent to the ground, bending the fence under the weight of their now-split limbs. I like snow, but not when it weighs as much as gold. There were many reports of trees down.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/23 - Town of Wappinger, HR67: We had another inch-and-a-quarter of rain overnight. The sun came out this morning and the color returned. We are near peak. In the Adirondacks, 150 miles north, it is well past. I wonder about the mix of hardwoods. I do not think we have the same forests as when I was young. I seem to remember more vivid reds and yellows of sugar maples.
- Tom Lake

10/23 - Queens, New York Bight: This morning at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge we had a red-bellied woodpecker and blue jays, both rare for the refuge since we do not have huge old hardwoods. We also saw kinglets, a palm warbler, a merlin and several sharp-shinned hawks.
- Dave Taft

10/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I may have seen more moose tracks this morning down behind the scenic overlook at the east end of Newcomb. Toby Rathbone and I were checking out tracks in the snow and spotted large moose-shaped semi-tracks. It looked like the snow had fallen on the tracks and then sank into them as it melted, leaving a grassy outline of the outer edge of the track. If it had been a moose, it had been through the area two days ago.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/24 - Beacon, HRM 61: Two more big carp today, 14½ and 15 lb., caught and released from Long Dock. For tackle I use 15 lb. test line, a 3 oz. sinker, and a size 4 hook bait-holder hook with a couple of corn kernels pushed up onto the hook shank. I then put a piece of fresh bread squeezed flat on the bend of the hook (like a little pancake). I mold a piece of dough the size of a lima bean, flavored with strawberry gelatin mix, on the line resting on the eye of the hook. Carp are supposed to like strawberry flavor.
- Bill Greene

10/24 - Croton Point, HRM 35: We had another group of second graders from Brookside Elementary in Ossining, this time on the beach. Joining them was their pen-pal class, second graders from Coman Hill Elementary in Armonk. Our catch was surprising. Even the vegetation long gone from the shallows, we caught a dozen fourspine sticklebacks. These fish seem to be making a resurgence in this reach of the river. Five years ago we rarely saw them. Their numbers may fluctuate based on more than just the presence of their preferred habitat, dense vegetation. An immature bald eagle zoomed past on its way south. The river was 55°F and there was no detectable salinity.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

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