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Hudson River Almanac September 13 - September 18, 2005

OVERVIEW

We have an unusual highlight this week: rainfall. It has been a dry late summer throughout the watershed, with trees and grass suffering on one hand, and saltwater creatures finding the lower Hudson more to their liking on the other. This week the salt front hovered between HRM 70 and HRM 73, a few miles south of the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Watching tropical storms track nearby, we are reminded that there have been some autumns when direct hits from these storms have pushed the salt front nearly to New York Harbor.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/14 - Mid-Hudson: We received our first measurable rain (0.23") in 16 days, a vanguard of Hurricane Ophelia.
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A ruby-throated hummingbird came by the office window this morning. It might be a subtle hint to clean the feeders. With the days back in the 80s and humid, they are probably in need.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 93°F today, breaking the record for the date of 86°F.
- National Weather Service

9/13 - Croton River, HRM 34: At dawn the air was steamy and the tide was just turning ebb; the Croton River was starting to empty into Croton Bay and the Hudson River. The hoped-for frenzied angling opportunity was not to be. Except for an occasional flurry here and there, the surface of the water was calm - no fish were feeding. It took several dozen casts to catch a couple of 10" bluefish for show-and-tell with some second graders from Ossining.
- Tom Lake, Gino Garner

9/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Osprey were abundant with up to six visible at a time. They seemed to be targeting snapper blues. A big first-year bald eagle appeared, and was keeping the osprey on their talons as it tried to pirate their catches. The osprey seemed to have little trouble ditching this bumbling youngster, dodging through tree tops when necessary.
- Christopher Letts

9/13 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I engaged in one of my favorite late summer activities today. The water off the swimming beach at Croton Point was clear to at least four feet. We pulled our seine out into beds of wild celery and pondweed, and then hauled it back toward the beach. With both ends of the seine barely on the sand and 85' of net out in the water in a graceful arc, I pulled on my snorkel and went in for look at what we had caught. An easy estimate was 1,000 fish. More than half of them were Atlantic silversides, shimmering in the morning sunlight, several schools swimming about me in absolute precision. Mixed in were nearly as many young-of-the year striped bass. The sunlight was making its golden quilted pattern on the sand. When I looked up, I could see electric blue damselflies scouting the surface. Above them, monarch and clouded sulphur butterflies passed us about once every 15 minutes. It was a kaleidoscope of color and beauty, enough to brighten up any day.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

9/13 - Croton Point, HRM 35: A class of second graders from Brookside Elementary in Ossining joined us today to sample the river at a beach we call Mother's Lap. In addition to the abundant silversides and striped bass, we dip-netted in beds of wild celery, catching dozens of shore shrimp. We tried dip-netting in beds of water milfoil and caught nothing. The leaves of the wild celery provide a buffet of algae and other food for shrimp. Most of the shore shrimp were the common Palaemonetes pugio. However, two of them were the larger and less common P. vulgaris. One 5" bluefish from our net had a distended abdomen. Upon investigation, we discovered a 3" silverside - neatly chopped in half - in its gut.

On the sandy bottom we found a glass bottle that had been in the river a while. Such containers often provide a refuge for river life. Along with the water and sediments that poured into our small dip net were white-fingered mud crabs, penny-size blue crabs, and a dozen or more young wedge rangia clams, looking very much like small pearls.

Sometimes it pays to haul a seine: Our catch of the day was a five-dollar bill, covered with algae. The water temperature was 78°F and the salinity was 6.4 ppt.
- Christopher Letts, Carrieann Sipos, Tom Lake

[Wedge rangia are a bivalve mollusk native to more southerly brackish coastal and inshore waters like Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. It is believed that they were inadvertently introduced to the lower Hudson River about 20 years ago through the ballast water of commercial vessels. They are now be found as far upriver as Newburgh. Dave Strayer]

9/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We have not had any rain since Katrina and water levels are back down to pre-Katrina levels at the pump house on the Hudson.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/14 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: I was at the Cohotate Field Station today when a pair of adult bald eagles flew over. It was a perfect introduction to a new fall season.
- Jon Powell

9/14 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The leaves were coloring, withering, drooping, dropping as the torrid, droughty weather continued. A pronounced sweetish smell was in the air, the aroma of toasted vegetation. Swallows were long gone and chimney swifts were migrating through. The stream of flickers, robins, and blue jays continue to thicken, the flow always to the south and west. Some summer flounder and dozens of weakfish were being caught by anglers fishing mainly for bluefish. Snapper blues have doubled their size in the past month and now average 10", all of them packed with the abundant silversides this year has provided.
- Christopher Letts

9/15 - Newcomb, HRH 302: I saw the black-backed three-toed woodpecker again (see 7/17, Newcomb) at the golf course this evening. I always tend to be just beneath him when I hear the soft knocking on the tree. We still have a few hummingbirds around.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/15 - Rensselaer to Hudson, HRM 145-118: While transiting the 27 miles from Rensselaer to Hudson aboard the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, I spotted eight bald eagles (four adults and four immatures), three great blue herons, 20 or so double crested cormorants, and a great egret, all within a few hours.
- Michael Morris

9/15 - Queens, New York Bight: An excited e-mail from Ranger Chris Olijnyk had me driving to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in a pouring rain. Doused completely in less than a few seconds, Chris and I reached the north garden where the surprising new discovery was made. In the tangle of underbrush was what seemed like a seedling American chestnut. Though we are still completing the fine work of keying out the plant, all indications point to this identification. Considering the limited number of seeds American chestnuts produce these days, it is hard to imagine finding one at Jamaica Bay, or for that matter, the seed finding suitable soil here. Meanwhile, the sudden outburst of heavy rain after a month of drought caused trees to fall, and several sink holes to open along the West Pond trail. Chris immediately set to work filling holes and I made calls to find the whereabouts of our chain saw.
- Dave Taft

9/16 - Kingston, HRM 92: Making our way south to Poughkeepsie on the sloop Clearwater, we dropped our net and trawled for 20 minutes along the flats just north of Kingston. The green channel waters were a contrast to the murky brown of the river near Rensselaer, and so was our catch. We ended up with 145 white perch, 11 hogchokers, 71 channel catfish, 8 golden shiners, 3 bullheads, 2 blue crabs and an American eel.
- Michael Morris

9/16 - Croton River, HRM 34: We were loitering at water's edge, just puttering around. I heard a series of loud calls, pronounced "Wheeps!" like a great crested flycatcher on steroids. Overhead fluttered a slender bird, perhaps 16" long. Some exotic shorebird, dove, or raptor? Nothing I'd seen here before, I was sure of that. As it crossed the Croton River toward Ossining, the sun shone on it - it was pure white, some sort of parrot or cockatiel. An escapee, no doubt. It disappeared into the shrubbery on the south side of the Croton River.
- Christopher Letts

9/16 - Englewood, NY, HRM 13.5: The numbers of cast-off crab shells have been on the increase the past couple of days as we neared the full moon. There were two such moults in the seine today, both 7" males. And, happy day, the real live crabs were in the same net, a pair of 8"+ softshells. The kids from Yonkers had a hard time accepting that the big softies had popped out of the smaller shells only an hour before, but there was the evidence. Also in the net, more than 1,000 small moon jellyfish, a 10" weakfish, hogchokers, and a tiny winter flounder. The crab moults went back to Yonkers with the kids; the softshells came home with me.
- Christopher Letts

9/17 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: A ruby-throated hummingbird briefly visited our feeder today, the last visit of the season. This is the latest date we have seen a hummingbird at our feeder in the last seven years.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

Last Hummingbirds Sightings of the Year
Year 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999
Last seen 9/17 ND 9/9 9/3 9/12 9/8 9/8

9/17 - Tompkins Cove, HRM 41: I was on my way to the Stony Point Lighthouse when I spotted an osprey just inland from the anchor monument for the Mothball Fleet. It looked strange so I stopped and found it in my binoculars. It was carrying a snapper bluefish, perfectly aligned with its body. Despite this, the osprey kept struggling for altitude, trying to get high enough to cross over Dunderberg Mountain. I wondered why it did not just perch and eat it? In the land of "tooth and claw," where energy is the currency of life, why expend it needlessly?
- Scott Craven

[The possibility of "pirates" in the area is one explanation (See 9/13, Croton Point, HRM 35). Occasionally, birders tracking migrating hawks along ridgetop flyways will see ospreys carrying fish - food for the road, perhaps. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne]

9/17 - Manhattan, HRM 0: It hardly seemed to be a likely fall migration day at Battery Park City with the bright sun and high humidity, but for some species it was. In one of the gardens near Wagner Park, approximately 35 monarch butterflies fed on the carefully pruned beds of butterfly weed, butterfly bush, and salvia. Several ruby-throated hummingbirds intermixed. No two flight patterns could be further removed, the butterflies slowly flapped and glided from flower head to flower head, while the hummers buzzed restlessly among them all. The group and I stood mesmerized for a full five minutes. There were more monarchs here than I've seen all year.
- Dave Taft

[These monarchs were "fueling up" for the dangerous next leg of their voyage, over water, heading south. Tom Lake]

9/18 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I arrived at the Hudson before first light to retrieve some fish for a morning river education program. It was still dark with just a touch of brightening to the east, and the full moon was setting over Cedarcliff. The air was cool, but no wind and it was clear. It was a sparkling start to a late summer's day. I had left two pots baited with shad and Fancy Feast in the water for four days and expected to have eels in each one. However, one pot had a single foot-long eel and the other had one 7" channel cat. That was it. Both fish came to the program with me, but we would have no writhing of eels today.
- Tom Lake

9/18 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Driving slowly by a large grassy field, I spotted three dozen Canada geese foraging. A large domestic tiger cat, half the size of the smallest goose, was slowly circling them. While he never closed the loop, his stealthful manner betrayed his visions of grandeur.
- Tom Lake

9/18 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We scheduled an early morning seining program for the sixth annual Hudson River Valley Ramble. Although I arrived an hour early, there were already four people there watching the river, anticipating the sunrise over Breakneck. The wrack line from a midnight high tide, pushed by the full moon and powered by the energy of Hurricane Ophelia's storm surge, was far up on the beach and full of wild celery, duckweed, and other flotsam. On our first haul, we caught a "doubler," a big jimmy crab and his sookie, mating. After a minute of careful show-and-tell, we released them. The spring tides associated with new and full moons seem to encourage mating and moulting among blue crabs.

"Doubler" is an appropriate description of mating blue crabs. When a female is ready to mate, she releases a "perfume" (pheromone) into the water to attract male crabs. Once she selects a male, she will make her final moult and become a softshell crab. The male then cradles the female in his walking legs and they mate. She will not become "pregnant" right away; instead, the male gives the female sperm packages which she will store until the time is right for her to fertilize her eggs. Having consummated their union, the male will continue to cradle the female (as a doubler) until her new shell hardens and she is no longer as vulnerable. This may take 24-36 hours, depending upon water temperature.

Our largest catch consisted of young-of-the-year striped bass, all 55-95 mm (2-4") long. As a backdrop to the activities in the water, monarchs went by at a rate of one every 15-20 minutes. As we walked along the beach, reconnoitering the leavings of the last tide, we came upon a long line of exotic shells. There were brightly colored tritons, turbans, top shells, whelks, augers, cones, turrets, and scallops. These were not new species of mollusk for the Hudson. Someone had dumped an aquarium that they were unable or unwilling to care for. The water did not taste brackish, but our salinity kit detected 2.0 ppt. The water temperature was 76°F.
- Tom Lake, Dick Manley, Jonathan and Denise Garofalo, Joel and Max Epstein, Steve Schwartz

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