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Hudson River Almanac September 19-September 26, 2004

OVERVIEW

This was a week of diverse reports: fish, birds, butterflies, mammals, and more. Some remarked on the abundance of various creatures, while others noted species that seemed to be missing or late. It reminds us that every season is unique, with events determined by ecological factors that we may not recognize or fully understand.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/21 - Manhattan, HRM 2: One year ago today, naturalists at The River Project caught an unusual fish in one of their research traps on the south side of Pier 26. Over the next few days the 43 mm long juvenile fish was photographed close up, and from several different angles. It was judged to be a member of the snapper family, but species identification would prove to be tricky. Now, after widespread review by experts on tropical fishes, it has been determined that it was a schoolmaster, a new species for the Hudson River - number 212 on our list.
- Chris Mancini, Scott Wingerter, Jeremy Frenzel

[The schoolmaster is generally found in the warm waters of the south Atlantic and Carribean. However, eggs, larvae, and juveniles can be carried north by the Gulf Stream. While occasionally found as far north as Massachusetts, schoolmasters are rare north of the Carolinas.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/19 - Round Top, HRM 113: The honey bees have had another rough year: too much rain. Some people have collected honey but for the most part it has been a bad season.
- Jon Powell

9/19 - Ulster County, HRM 91: Approaching the turkey vulture nest cave near Onteora Lake outside of Kingston, I was startled to see just to my side, out in the open, the now full-sized "baby". Its head was black with a few whitish tufts where baby feathers had not yet fallen out, and it had white "leggings." The rest was pretty much adult coloration. It sat on an exposed branch, then flew a little distance. Good luck scavenging, little guy.
- Peter Relson

9/20 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: For the first time since Hurricane Floyd (9/16/99, when 10" of rain fell) my rain gauge overflowed, at least 6" of rain in an 18 hour period. After the torrent, osprey, herons, egrets and shorebirds simply disappeared, leaving a newly washed but very vacant world.
- Christopher Letts

9/20 - Franklin County: It was 29 oF overnight in the Adirondack Mountains at Saranac Lake, making it the coldest spot in the lower 48 states.
- National Weather Service

9/20 - West Point, HRM 52: The entire Pendragon clan of red-tailed hawks paid a visit this afternoon. I was working in my office when I heard a redtail screeching outside. I went out to the parking lot and saw two redtails soar above me, one adult and one juvenile (this spring's hatch). In a tree next to the lot sat the source of the screeching: Arthur, the male hatchling from the Shea Stadium light pole. His mother, Igraine, was perched next to him on the branch. Both took flight, landing in another oak tree 200' away. It was then I recognized the adult I had first seen as Uther, Arthur's father; he was now soaring on thermals with his two daughters Anna and Elaine. The sex of redtails can only be guessed when you have two or more individuals present for size comparisons - the females being noticeably bigger. Hatchlings reach adult size by September. It is the first time I recall raptor parents and their offspring being this close together post-fledging. There is so much we can still learn about wildlife through patient observation.
- Jim Beemer, Joe Deschenes

[The 1998 refurbishment of Shea Stadium at West Point's North Athletic Fields included placement of several light towers that were ideal nesting locations for raptors. One pair of red-tailed hawks set up shop in 1999 and produced a single male offspring who was quite vocal. Affectionately called "The Brat" at first, this male redtail continued to return and vocalize his presence in 2000 and 2001. Many West Point employees took an interest in him, monitoring and reporting his escapades. He displayed such character that the name "The Brat" did not do him justice. Kaylee Seagraves chose to call him Uther, after Uther Pendragon of Arthurian legend. In 2002, Uther chose a bride, who we named Igraine, Uther's wife in the legends. They refurbished a nest on the same light tower that Uther himself had been hatched from. We failed to note if any young were produced that year, but in 2003 the Pendragons produced a female, whom we named Morganna. In 2004, the Pendragons produced three offspring, two females and one male who was quite vocal like his father. Naturally, he was named Arthur while the two females were named Anna and Elaine, the other offspring of the Pendragons in the legend.]

9/20 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: I spotted a peregrine falcon this morning on the west tower on the Bear Mountain Bridge. There are many swirls of green on the Hudson below; I think it's all the duckweed and aquatic plants exported from marshes due to the heavy rainstorms we've had over the past month.
- Steve Seymour

9/20 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: I watched a great blue heron catch and eat a rat on my way to the Columbia-Greene County Ecology Field Station.
- Jon Powell

9/20 - Peekskill, HRM 43: We were looking out the window from the 7:40 AM Metro North Hudson Line train when we spotted an immature bald eagle soaring above the river. It was very big, brown, with broad wings.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

9/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A new wave of kestrels had arrived and as many as a dozen were visible at a time. Flocks of robins and cedar waxwings winged out over the river. Blue jays began to arrive in ever larger flocks about ten days ago. This morning many hundreds of them could be seen and heard, working their way to the south tip of the point, finding a thermal, rising, then soaring off toward the Palisades to the southwest in an almost continuous blue skein.
- Christopher Letts

9/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Goodbye to summer. A number of rivermen I've chatted with agree that many seasonal changes and migrations seem to be taking place earlier than usual. Swifts and swallows were gone by mid August, orioles, tanagers, flycatchers gone before Labor Day. The catch-of-the-day in our seine was a brace of four-spined sticklebacks, a couple of them 3" long - about as big as they get. These green and gold fish are true charmers, as they helicopter their way around the viewing tank for the schoolchildren. Watching colorful sunfish, and the sticklebacks and shrimp, one wonders what the allure of expensive, temperamental tropical fish might be?
- Christopher Letts

9/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: According to The Weather Notebook on National Public Radio, the true definition of equinox is when day and night are each 12 hours long, as determined by sunrise and sunset. Sunrise, for example, technically occurs when the leading edge of the sun first touches the visible horizon. Due to our atmosphere, however, this seems to occur sooner than it actually does (light bending and reflecting). No doubt, the same principle applies to sunset, too. Thus, the day when daylight and nighttime are truly 12 hours each does not occur until 9/25 this year. Still, at 12:30 PM on this lovely day, autumn arrived.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/22 - Saugerties, HRM 102: The tremendous rains that tropical storm Ivan dumped on the Catskills had flushed duckweed in enormous volumes down to the Hudson. There was so much that areas around the Saugerties Lighthouse that were clean a week ago now sport "walls" of duckweed at the high tide line.
- Dan Marazita

9/22 - West Shokan, HRM 92: As the equinox arrived at 12:30 PM, the cat had just swatted a red admiral on the front porch and missed. As the butterfly fluttered off to the backyard, we followed as best we could, lost it, but discovered a grisette (Amanita fulva) just emerged in a patch of hair-cap moss (Polytrichum commune). This mushroom is edible according to the literature, but since it is one of the amanitas, a group with some highly suspicious members, we were not tempted.
- Jane Byers Bierhorst, John Bierhorst

9/22 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The river water was the color of strong tea this morning as I checked my collection traps for fish and shellfish to show-and-tell with schoolchildren. They were all empty, a very unusual circumstance this time of the year. Maybe all the aquatic wildlife was hunkered down waiting out the strong seaward freshet.
- Tom Lake

9/22 - West Point, HRM 49-52: While doing a Level 1 survey for bog turtles, Chris Pray and I saw several praying mantises moving about the wetlands, and puddles and streams had many green frogs. A pileated woodpecker looked huge as it flew over and landed in a tree. In a small stream we found several two-lined salamanders and a few spiny-cheek crayfish moving about instead of hiding beneath rocks. No bog turtles were detected, however; the water was too deep and the vegetation too thick and tall.
- James A. Beemer

9/22 - Croton Point, HRM 34: There had been a dramatic change in the avian cast of characters. A major pulse of passerines (songbirds) had arrived; the point was loaded with warblers, vireos, tanagers, and thrushes. The flickers and mourning doves had left, as well as all but one kestrel. Several northern harriers had arrived to take their place. Near the south point I was startled when a great horned owl flushed from a low limb not 30' away - a rare close look at this big bird, a year-round resident here. The permanent guard duty red-tailed hawk was at his post in a tall dead locust on the edge of the oak grove.
- Christopher Letts

9/22 - Croton Point, HRM 35: A great egret, stark white in the morning sun, watched us from a prominent rock as we hauled our seine through a bed of mixed pondweeds, water milfoil, and wild celery. We tried to avoid bothering the electric blue damselflies while enjoying the chattering and diving antics of a belted kingfish only yards away. The double class of first graders from Post Road in White Plains stood on the sand, eyes riveted to the belly of the net as we slid it onto the beach. We peeled back the net and a small plastic Sponge Bob popped out. The students quickly concluded that we had hauled our net across Bikini Bottom, where Sponge Bob Square Pants lives. The vegetation also harbored small yoy [young-of-the year] shore shrimp, some young striped bass, and baby blue crabs. While we caught quite a number of Atlantic silversides, the freshwater influence was apparent in the many banded killifish we caught. The water was 70°F and the salinity was almost undetectable (<1.0 ppt.).
- Maddalena Andrade, Wanda DeJesus, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

9/22 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The measured salinity today was 1.1 ppt, the lowest I've ever seen here.
- Cynthia Fowx

9/22 - Tappan Zee, HRM 31: At 12:30 PM, fall came to the Tappan Zee in an almost dead calm, the river brown with runoff from the remnants of hurricane Ivan, logs and other debris drifting on the ebbing tide. The runoff brought with it an intense cover of duckweed, bright green, tiny discs concentrated mostly on-shore but stretching a good quarter mile out into the river - as if the mighty Hudson were a pond. An osprey glided over the Rockland shore, and on top of Hook Mountain, a Cooper's hawk, a sharp-shinned, a red-tailed, and a peregrine falcon migrated past. A pair of ravens came by, grokking, sounded nothing like "Nevermore."
- Dan Wolff

9/22 - Manhattan, HRM 2: We pulled up a pair of mating blue crabs atop one of our fish traps today at Pier 26. We were able to get them smoothly into a tank where they continued the miracle of life from 12:15 until 4:00 PM, at which point they returned to doubling and snapping their claws at anyone who came near.
- Jeremy Frenzel, Chris Mancini, Scott Wingerter

9/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Along the river I came upon a white-tailed deer that had strange coloring. The aft-half was white - the fur was all white including its legs. The front half was natural dun deer coloring. At first I thought it was a mis-placed lawn ornament.
- Tom Lake

[These deer are called pie-bald, the result of a common mutation that causes large patches of skin to produce no pigmentation. This is not an albino, though, as the eye color remains brown. James Beemer, USMA; Eric Lind, Rich Anderson, Audubon]

9/24 - Croton Point, HRM 35: A delicious morning, calm and cool and misty. School of penny bunker [yoy menhaden] outlined the curve of the north shore. From the seawall, I could have dropped a cast net on a score of schools, they were that close to me. A spotted sandpiper made me smile and a rare Wilson's plover made me grin. It flushed from under my feet while I was goggling at the schools of bunker, and then set down only 30 feet behind me, giving me a nice, close look. A hurricane dividend, I suppose. A while later I checked the muddy pools of the soccer field and a short-billed dowitcher flushed and flew off, calling repeatedly.
- Christopher Letts

9/24 - Nyack Beach State Park, HRM 31: I was explaining to a class of Nyack 5th graders that in years past, their predecessors had counted many migrating monarch butterflies in this park. To give them their due but not interfere with the seining program, the custom was to call out 1,2,3, ....16! I explained that this year was unlike any other, and that I had yet to log a dozen monarchs in my own counting. As we headed to the beach I head a loud "ONE!" and, sure enough, there she was, a lovely perfect specimen. I was hoping for a good flight day, but one was as far as we got. We did a little better with the seine: a small school of penny bunker, a dozen striped bass and white perch, a few shore shrimp and tiny blue crabs. To the kids, it was an awe-inspiring haul. But it is all relative. They had not seen the weakfish, bluefish, kingfish, and summer flounder that came ashore here in drought summers when salt pushed far up the river.
- Christopher Letts.

9/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Autumn colors are at about 60-70%. There is lots of red this year. I heard a common loon down on the Hudson this morning.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/25 - Kowawese, HRM 59: For our second Hudson Valley Ramble seining program, the fish again far outnumbered the people. We hauled an 85' seine through low tide shallows warm enough (70°F) for a swim suit. The net came ashore bulging with fish. Slender blueback herring spilled from the seine, slipping through the mesh like quicksilver. There were so many fish that we only made a couple of hauls. Among the catch: American eels; several hundred yoy American shad (90-105 mm); several hundred yoy blueback herring (50-65 mm); 30 yoy alewives (80 mm); 90 yoy striped bass; 40 yoy white perch; as well as spottail shiners, yoy bluegills, tessellated darters, banded killifish, mummichogs, an inch-long yoy hogchoker, a dozen "bug" blue crabs (the size of pennies), and yoy Atlantic menhaden (45-50 mm). With the lack of salt, the menhaden's presence was a surprise. At the end of the program, as I stood on the beach facing a mild southerly breeze, I realized that in just over two hours, I had not seen a single monarch.
- Tom Lake, Dick Manley

9/25 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34: As we drifted at dusk with the flood tide in our sailboat, the Mabel Rose, approaching the anchorage at Black Beach, a fire horn went off in Haverstraw.. The sound of the horn set off a yip-yipping and howling of a pack of coyotes deep and unseen in the woods of Rockland Lake State Park. The near-full moon was rising over the river.
- Karl Coplan

9/25 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The steady stream of blue jays continued to flow. Stationing myself at a picnic table near the beach to observe, I estimated that about 400 jays per hour came past. Some were foraging along the way; others were dots, headed out for the western shore. I watched a young Cooper's hawk for much of the time. It made a number of attempts to catch jays and flickers without success Three crows were participating, jeering and diving until the Cooper's had had enough, and then the crows became the pursued. Down the beach five greater yellowlegs, a spotted sandpiper, and a semi-palmated plover, all in winter garb, were having some quiet time. Kestrels, sharp-shinned hawks and a harrier also passed by.
- Christopher Letts

9/26 - Minerva, HRM 284:Yesterday morning I got a pretty big thrill on my drive back from a visit to the transfer station. As I passed by the affectionately-named "Alligator Pond," a swift, low, very dark creature about three feet-long (including a fairly bushy tail) ran across the road - a fisher, beautiful and lustrous. I wondered why it was active at 10:00 AM on a sunny morning. I'm sure this weasel had its reasons.
- Mike Corey

[Fishers are our largest weasel, reaching over 40" in length. They are seen periodically in the Catskills and Adirondacks, but are uncommon in the Mid-Hudson Valley. While the name of this valuable furbearer suggests an aquatic diet, they actually much prefer porcupines.]

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