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Hudson River Almanac September 10-September 18, 2004

OVERVIEW

The remnants of Hurricane Ivan slowly swept through our area dropping 4-6 inches of rain, further pushing the salt front toward the sea. The tributaries were roaring. Jon Powell commented that he had never seen some of the Catskill streams as high and running so fast. Those long green slicks that are drifting down the river are beds of water chestnut adorned with duckweed, aquatic vegetation uprooted by the freshet from Ivan. Autumn can be a time of extremes, from tropical storms to visits by tropical fishes. In the midst of this turbulence, a new species of fish was recorded for the Hudson River watershed.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/15 Manhattan, RM 2: In one of our fish traps today we caught what looked like a oddly proportioned porgy. After some investigation, we identified it as a sheepshead (67 mm). This is an exciting find since sheepshead, once abundant in the lower Hudson River and New York Harbor, have become extremely uncommon to rare. In fact, they are not on the Hudson River fish list. Our last report of one was a "maybe" from the Go Fish program at Battery Park almost two years ago.
- Jeremy Frenzel, Chris Mancini, Scott Wingerter

Sheepshead: These are one of three species of "porgies" (Sparidae) that occur in the Hudson River and adjacent waters, the others being the scup and the pinfish. At one time they were common enough in the New York Bight that Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn may have been named for them. With their well-developed incisor-like teeth, they feed off barnacles, mussels, and oysters encrusted on pilings, piers, jetties and wharves. This first recorded occurrence made the sheepshead species number 211 on the Hudson River list.
- Tom Lake

I have found at least one account of just how numerous sheepshead were in the Lower Bay and south shore regions in the 1800s. Jamaica Bay area farmers took time during the summer to handline them on offshore mussel banks. This was a source of income while the crops were growing. Their disappearance could be connected to the loss of oyster beds. Oysters and sheepshead are intimately connected. In this area, sheepshead are at the edge of their range and a reduced population of fish usually contracts from the edges of its range. Black drum, another oyster predator, disappeared around the same time and again, I'd guess loss of oyster reefs. But now we're seeing more and more of them lately-a few every year around Long Island.
- John Waldman

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/10 Kingston, HRM 90: Serenity and beauty abound on the Hudson's waters. The sunset's reflection on the rippled water, panning from turquoise to pink, accompanied a brief moment of silence on the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, broken only by the sound of the wind in the sails and the splash of a jumping fish.
- Daniel Kricheff

9/11 Esopus Creek, RM 90: The creek was running a foot higher than normal as a result of all the rain from the hurricanes. As a result, the 2½ mile tube trip down the creek, which usually takes over two hours, took us just over one hour. A juvenile mallard trying futilely to swim against the current changed its mind and drifted alongside my tube for a few hundred feet. Purple asters were predominant along the banks.
- Chris Mancini

9/11 Manhattan, HRM 0: 395 years ago, Henry Hudson dropped the Half Moon's anchor for the night in the Upper Bay off Manhattan Island. (See VIII:43,98 ).
- Tom Lake

9/12 Kingston, RM 90: While merging onto the New York State Thruway, we spotted a great blue heron standing on the grassy lawn you find in the middle of a looping on-ramp. It was vigorously making a meal out of what Sacha decided was a vole, but was at any rate a very large rodent.
- Chris Mancini, Sacha Botbol, Sarah Greer

9/13 Hudson Valley: I sat in a window seat looking out on the Hudson River as Amtrak headed south from Albany to Poughkeepsie. Near the Castleton Bridge, I spotted an adult bald eagle as it flew past. Further south I saw 3 more bald eagles: an adult, a third-year immature (some white was showing in the tail), and another immature. Just below the city of Hudson, along a low tide marsh, I counted 12 great egrets, several great blue herons and a few double-crested cormorants. Later I added a green heron, a belted kingfisher and ring-billed gulls to my list. What a nice way to bird along the river while riding on the train.
- Barbara Michelin

9/13 Croton Point, HRM 34: For the first time this summer we noticed schools of peanut bunker running up along the shore, breaking water, as bluefish and striped bass followed in hot pursuit. With the amount of rain we've had and the very low salinity, they have been very scarce.
- Christopher Letts, Gino Garner

"Peanut bunker" is a colloquial name given by rivermen to young-of-the-year Atlantic menhaden, a herring, and the universal food in the Tappan Zee. They are pursued by a broad range of predators from bluefish to great blue herons. In marine waters they are often referred to as "penny bunker."

9/14 Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: I was on my way to bait some pots and traps in the river when an adult wild turkey sauntered out into the road, stopped, and glanced at me. I stopped. Over the next three minutes, 29 more, a third of them juveniles, took their sweet time crossing the road. At the very end came a hustling gray squirrel carrying an enormous black walnut in its mouth. I felt like a school crossing guard.
- Tom Lake

9/15 Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: Nearly one hundred third graders from Sheafe Road Elementary School had a difficult time paying attention to the Bowdoin Park naturalists. Only a few feet away several dozen bluebirds, lit up by the bright sunlight, were flying and out of a blue spruce. They were exquisite. For a brief instant the bluebirds scattered as a larger bird landed on a branch. It was a orchard oriole, the first one I had seen since May. Below us in the river no fewer than 200 Canada geese had set down for a rest on their migration.
- Tom Lake, Mary Borrelli

9/15 Westchester-Putnam, HRM 43-51: We were heading home on the 5:28 Metro-North train out of Grand Central Station. Just south of Cortlandt, and just north of Garrison, we spotted black-crowned night herons. The sun was setting and cast a golden hue over Storm King Mountain. Our vocal bird observations during the train ride got many other riders checking out the birdlife and scenery on the river.
- Mike Boyajian , Jeri Wagner

9/16 Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby Rathbone and I were taking an evening walk when we came across some pretty fresh moose tracks. We followed them out to Santanoni Drive. From there it headed down the road toward the pump house and the Hudson River Information Center. These were pretty fresh because they were in mud that was still damp. When we went back an hour later to make some plaster casts, they were starting to dry. Our trees are starting to color.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/16 Croton Point, HRM 34.5: We watched as a great blue heron choked on a foot-long white catfish, trying to get it down, but failing. I was ready to give it aid if necessary but it finally dropped the fish and flew away. Immediately, a peregrine falcon zoomed down and landed on the fish and began to nibble. Not far away, a merlin was harassing a tree full of flickers.
- Christopher Letts, Gino Garner

9/16 Croton Bay, HRM 34: Gino Garner and George Hatzmann worked their half dozen collapsible traps for most of the day in Croton Bay and managed to catch nearly a bushel of blue crabs (80).
- Christopher Letts

9/17 Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: Woolly bear caterpillars have been starting to march, in search of plantain to eat, and a winter hiding place. Unfortunately they often cross busy roads and meet their demise. Some red maples have donned their fall colors already. Only a few butterflies still flit about. The black and yellow argiopes (garden spiders) have disappeared but left behind their brown sacs on the flower stems in the perennial garden at Stony Kill Farm.
- Carolyn Plage

9/17 Beacon, HRM 61: We were on the Metro-North 7:28 AM train out of Beacon heading to Manhattan. It was cloudy and raining. A great blue heron was in the delta at Fishkill Creek; its blue and gray plumage was striking. A short time later Storm King Mountain came into view across the river, looking boldly ominous in the inclement weather. Maybe that is why it has that name.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

9/18 Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The remnants of Hurricane Ivan swept slowly through the valley. The ebb tide carried long rafts of duckweed-sprinkled water chestnut out into the Hudson, becoming long green ribbons stretching downriver, some a half mile long. The waterfowl in the creek were up on deadfalls, out of the torrent. It rained so hard that the ducks were wet. By day's end we had 4" of rain.
- Tom Lake

9/18 Fishkill, HRM 62: There was a lull in the rain of Hurricane Ivan and our lawn and trees were filled with no fewer than 40 robins foraging for berries and probing for worms. Possibly they were blown off course on their southern migration or just re-energizing to continue their southward movement.
- Ed Spaeth

9/19 Cohoes, HRM 157: It was 395 years ago that Henry Hudson's crew gave up in their attempt to find a navigable passage through the watershed to reach points west. The falls at Cohoes were particularly discouraging when it was noted in their ship's journal, "...unable to sail past the falls at Cohoes..." They had encountered the fall line in the Hudson River as well.
- Tom Lake

The fall line is the point where the elevation of the land rises above the reach of high tide.

9/19 Kowawese, HRM 59: Our Hudson Valley Ramble program was an early one at 9:00 AM. It was a good lesson that the tide does not keep convenient hours. We had more fish than people, by far. Under a warm sun and sheltered from a strong north wind in the lee of the shore, we hauled our 85' seine. Each time we slide the net up on the wet sand, we could see it bulging with small fish. Each haul had at least 300 fish, most of which were young-of-the-year shad and herring, heading to sea (American shad 90 mm; blueback herring 58 mm; alewives 87 mm). We caught ten species in all, including yoy striped bass (80 mm), white perch, and largemouth bass (78 mm). Gizzard shad have become an increasing presence in the river in the last decade. The 20 yearlings (188 mm) that we caught have become a common catch at Kowawese in the last couple of years. The river was a toasty 68°F.
- Diane McKiernan, Dick Manley, Tom Lake

River herring: In late summer and fall, we catch three types of young-of-the-year river herring, small, slender, silvery fish, in the Hudson River that look very much alike. These are alewives, blueback herring, and American shad. Unless you notice some very subtle differences, e.g., the diameter of the eye relative to the length of the nose, the depth of the body relative to the total length of the fish, the angle of the lower jaw, or the color of the stomach lining (an intrusive procedure), you would think that they are all the same species.

9/19 Newburgh, HRM 61: The wind was strafing the river from the north at 30 mph: wind against tide. The water was milk chocolate brown capped in white foam. The upriver current resisting the downriver flow was breaking up the long slicks of green that coated the river. These were rafts of water chestnut blown free from inshore shallows by the freshet brought on by the 3-6 inches of rain that had fallen in the Hudson River valley.
- Tom Lake

9/19 Croton Watershed, HRM 36: I was trying some late season trout fishing in one of the tributaries to the Croton Reservoir this morning; I hadn't even taken my first cast when a big brown shape moved through the pool, then a second and a third. It was a trio of river otters, probing under each rock and through each riffle. They continued downstream, one surfaced briefly to eat some morsel, probably a crayfish. Knowing that they don't pay much attention to size or creel limits, I found another place to fish.
- Steve Seymour

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