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Hudson River Almanac August 28-September 6, 2004

OVERVIEW

The real essence of the Hudson River Almanac and other natural history journals, epitomized by the writings of Muir, Burroughs, Thoreau, and Abbey, is observers connecting with their subject. This week we read of Fran Martino and the tracks of an eagle, the river enveloping the soul of Betty Boomer as she swims across the Hudson, and the Big Dipper filling the Adirondack Mountain sky over Lia and Davis Natzle's heads as they sleep under the stars.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/31 - Stuyvesant, HRM 127: My canoe partner and I watched an immature bald eagle as it stood near a flat rock at the water's edge enjoying a meal. After it flew away, we paddled to the rock where we enjoyed seeing the imprint of its tail feathers and feet in the sand. It felt pretty special to put my hand against the footprint marking where an eagle had just stood.
- Fran Martino

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/28 - New York Bight: Over the last several months Yegal Gelb and New York City Audubon have been monitoring the herons of the Harbor. One of the sites was Hoffman Island, 1.5 miles south of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which we watched from the South Beach boardwalk on Staten Island. Among the species nesting on the island were black-crowned night herons, great egrets, and snowy egrets. As an end-of-season event, all of the monitors went out for an evening boat ride tonight around both Hoffman and nearby Swineburne Islands. For those of us who had seen only one side of Hoffman all season, it was like visiting the far side of the moon. We were surprised to see that many egrets were still roosting there at night. At Swinburne we were blown away by the numbers of roosting cormorants. Hundreds of them covered the shoreline! All of this speaks well for the cleanup of New York Harbor and the estuary. These birds have returned because of these efforts, most of them spurred by the Clean Water Act. Observing the birds this summer has been an uplifting experience and has committed us even more to teach about and protect the waters of New York City.
- Regina McCarthy

8/30 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: This morning there were two pileated woodpeckers working over a dead tulip tree on a ridgeline overlooking the river. Their rat-a-tat-tat hammering was extremely loud, as was their vocalizing. They shadowed each other around the tree for an hour, responding to each other's queries and movements as though they were a pair. I cannot recall seeing two pileateds together like that for so long.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[It is not uncommon to see pileated, or other woodpeckers, in pairs or groups throughout the year. The birds you saw could have been siblings, parent and young, or two adults. The family groups seem to stay together for some time after the young fledge. Also, adult pairs (in some species) perform pair bonding "rituals" after as well as before the breeding season. Rich Anderson, National Audubon]

8/31 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This morning we had quite the gully-washer - 1.67" of rain, bringing the total since yesterday to 1.95". I can't wait to see what the river looks like later today and tomorrow as it all runs off. I've seen just three monarch butterflies this summer, plus one monarch caterpillar in my garden. We did have a red-spotted purple butterfly last week, which took us forever to identify - it's a new one for us. Mushrooms and amphibians are loving all the rain.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/1 - Saratoga County, HRM 177: It was a coming-attractions day for fall - a sapphire blue sky and cool air along the river - but rather unremarkable otherwise: a black duck here and a Canada goose or two there. Most notable were an estimated 8-10 monarchs per hour fluttering past on a medium strength northwest breeze.
- Tom Lake

9/1 - Highland, HRM 77: The recent rains are sure making the mushrooms sprout. While picking tomatoes from our garden, we spied a giant puffball that had sprouted just outside the fence. It measured about 12 inches across.
- Erin Murphy, Tim Murphy

9/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34: A raptorous day! First there were three osprey hunting near the Croton River railroad trestle, then a kestrel hunting on the landfill. The permanent guard-duty red-tailed hawk was at her regular station in the huge dead locust at the edge of the upper oak grove. As I was puzzling over a willow flycatcher on the edge of the landfill, an adult bald eagle flushed from right overhead, the first I had seen here since March. For a finale, as I left the park, there was an immature northern harrier rocking along the crest of the landfill.
- Christopher Letts

9/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As predicted, the river and streams were up at least a foot, maybe more, due to the heavy rain. On a trail walk yesterday I encountered a new and nifty fungus: velvety earth tongue, a bizarre fungus that looks exactly like a black tongue sticking up out of the ground (or in this case, many black tongues). It was easy enough to identify, unlike all the LBMs (little brown mushrooms) that resemble one another. Although frost was forecast, we did not have any last night. Instead, lots of fog.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/2 - North Creek, HRM 257: The Hudson was high and swift following drenching rain. We tried to swim a few strokes, but the current was far too strong, even for the adults. This stretch of river is normally full of cobbles and boulders and slow water this time of year, but few rocks were visible. In North River (HRM 263) we took a train ride with Adirondack Railroad naturalist Daisy Kelley. Daisy had the conductor stop the train so we could get off and hike to a beaver dam between the railroad and the river. It was an unusual two-tiered dam holding back the cascade of a very small stream. Behind it were acres of standing water and a beautiful stick lodge. We returned to camp and built a fire by the river. The Big Dipper filled the sky over our heads. As we slept, a little unnamed tributary bubbled past through the woods down to the Hudson. We thought it was raining, but it was just the splashing of the brook.
- Fran Dunwell, Davis Natzle, Lia Natzle, and Wes Natzle

9/3 - North River, HRM 263:We hiked up Camp Hill, just above the Epworth Methodist Camp. It was a clear day with an excellent view of the distant ski slopes at Gore and the Riverside bridge below. The woods were full of mushrooms of every size and description: red, yellow, brown, white, lilac, orange, polka-dotted and pink. The most interesting ones were a cluster of little yellow ones that looked like a tiny bunch of bananas (possibly Clavaria inaequalis) and some tiny dark green buttons with bright yellow stems. There were a variety of red-colored mushrooms. One kind had a skinny white stem and prominent white gills. This kind often had white polka-dots against the red background - places where chunks had been bitten out.
- Fran Dunwell, Davis Natzle, Lia Natzle, and Wes Natzle

9/4 - Tahawus, HRM 310: After a long drive up a dirt road, we began to hope that the car wouldn't have a flat tire or run out of oil or blow up, because it was clear that cell phones weren't going to do any good. We were far from "civilization." Imagine our surprise then when we got to the Upper Works trailhead and saw what looked like Grand Central Station. The lot was so full of cars there was no place to park. From the trailhead, we hiked to Henderson Lake; it's just below the lake's outlet that maps give the name Hudson River to the waters gathered from the High Peaks.
- Fran Dunwell, Davis Natzle, Lia Natzle, and Wes Natzle

9/4 - Inbukie, HRM 33: No fewer than four osprey were putting on quite a show in the backwaters of the Croton River. They flew overhead, squeaking, fish in their talons. In the way they hunt, osprey are the closest thing we have to a brown pelican. I watched them hover and twirl over a patch of river, with stops and starts and deliberations on the likelihood that the fish in their sights would still be there at the bottom of a dive. Once convinced, an osprey stalls in flight, tips up it tail, and falls straight down like it has been shot. I've seen them on occasion make in-decent corrections - a twist or half-spin - before hitting the water like a block of cement with a huge splash. Then up they rise with fish in talons ... or maybe not. I've seen an osprey dive into a school of menhaden, emerge with a heavy fish, and then drag it off barely over the water while the gnashing teeth of bluefish nip at its toes.
- Tom Lake

9/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: Herons and egrets were scarce this morning, but there were lots of shorebirds: killdeer, a dozen semipalmated sandpipers, and a like number of lesser yellowlegs. The inshore shallows were carpeted with killifish (mummichogs). A new deadfall had drifted in; now stuck out in the middle of the Croton River, it was adorned with cormorants. There were a few more in the water as well. I cast a quarter-ounce silver spoon with no luck, but twice a cormorant came up 100 feet away with a snapper blue crossways in its bill. The water was a toasty 73°F, but there was no detectable salt.
- Tom Lake

9/4 - Yonkers, HRM 18: I was closing the park at the Beczak Environmental Education Center when a green heron in our marsh caught my eye. This bird was so unfazed by my presence that - as I used my cell phone to call Cynthia Fowx to come take a look - it wandered ever so comfortably towards me. Our marsh is beginning to attract herons as well as many shorebirds. Watching the heron snatch killifish from the tidepool almost overshadowed the two osprey carrying big fish that I spotted earlier today.
- Niall Cytryn

9/5 - Newburgh-Beacon, HRM 61.5: The Great Newburgh-to-Beacon River Swim, in support of Pete Seeger's River Pool, was originally scheduled for August 15, but threatening weather forced a postponement until today. The water was perfect (73°F), and we had 60 swimmers ages 13-78 ready to make the one mile swim. I had great company, my friend in a kayak and two others in a canoe. I did not stop to drink since I got enough as I swam. Only once did I question if I would make it, and that was near the Beacon side, swimming against the current. I did a Tarzan yell once my feet hit the bottom. We celebrated at Beacon's Riverfront Park. All those who made the day possible, living treasures of the living river, those forever river lovers, came to its edge today to support us, handing out hot corn on the cob, cool drinks, sweet potato pie, and watermelon. The Hudson has taken care of me and brought me a lifetime of sweet moments.
- Betty Boomer

9/6 - Tahawus, HRM 310: We had a moose sighting today down on County Route 2 - a very large male with a very large rack. I've seen bunchberry re-blooming during the last week. I have no explanation for it, but it is kind of nice to see.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/6 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I watched an immature bald eagle in the Saugerties Lighthouse Cove for over an hour. It perched in the treetops on the north side of the spit and, intermittently went on hunting runs: in the cove, out by the edge of the Hudson's shipping channel, in Esopus Creek, and in the bay just south of the creek. It made several attempts to catch fish; a few were aborted before reaching the water and two came up empty. On one occasion a black-backed gull intercepted it but after a talon-flashing maneuver by the eagle, the gull decided it would go sit on the rock island at the head of the cove with the other gulls.
- Dan Marazita

9/6 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: The green herons are out at Esopus Meadows. In the morning, three of them stood watch on an old fallen tree at the mouth of the Klyne Esopus Kill. Occasionally one would shuffle a few steps along a branch, prompting its companions to do the same, a few steps at a time. Later in the day one of the crow-sized herons was slowly stalking the water's edge at low tide. The heron's motto: stalk slow, strike fast. I always seem to see more green herons in the late summer and early fall. Are we seeing an abundance of new birds born that spring? Is there a migratory pattern at work here? Are they more visible hunting certain fish as the water chestnuts decay? Am I just biased in favor of small herons in September? While I was thinking about this, a large fish leapt and splashed forty feet from shore. Too sleek for a carp. Shortnose sturgeon? A great day by the river.
- Chris Bowser

9/6 - Garrison, HRM 52: I spotted a bald eagle, three snowy egrets, and a few species of herons at Constitution Marsh Sanctuary. Cardinal flower was in bloom. I looked for the late Jim Rod's muskrats but only saw one ripple. It still reminded me of him. What a perfect Labor Day.
- Betty Boomer

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