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Hudson River Almanac September 19 - September 25, 2005

OVERVIEW

Autumn arrived and, with it migrants - falcons, ospreys, warblers, monarch butterflies, and the first high-flyer flocks of Canada and snow geese. There will be many, many more in the next two months, skeins and staggered V's, some as white as snow, against a background of deep blue. These are long distance travelers, mostly from Quebec, Ontario, and points north and east - tens of thousands making their time-honored migration south to winter in the tidewater areas of Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/19 - Grandview-on-Hudson, HRM 25.5: After Betsy Blair of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve finished a lecture, Margarita Zavalia Bunge came up to tell her about the dead "shark," nearly 3' long, that had washed ashore nearby, and offered to take Betsy to see it. Betsy brought the fish to staff at DEC's Hudson River Fisheries Unit, who confirmed that it was a shortnose sturgeon. They also found a tag implanted in spring 1995, near the I-90 bridge that crosses the Hudson at Selkirk, 110 miles upriver. In those 10 years the fish had only grown 5"! Given the location and season when tagged, the fish was probably spawning and thus had to be at least 7 years old at that time. So this fish was at least 17 years old when it washed up in Grandview. We have some very long-lived fish in the Hudson River and need to make decisions that affect their survival very carefully because once old fish are gone, it is very difficult and takes a very long time to get them back.
- Gregg Kenney, NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/19 - Dennings Point, HRM 60: As I was sitting at the point watching about 50 carp, mouths wide open feeding on algae and duckweed in the shallows, an adult bald eagle swooped down no more than 20 feet in front of me, grabbed a 14" fish, and flew to a nearby tree to feast.
- Rebecca Johnson

9/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: There was just enough predawn light to show a row of kestrels, perched on well markers up on the landfill. Five was the count, and that is as many as I have seen at once this fall. Half an hour later I was looking at a flock of mixed blackbirds that numbered close to a thousand. The birds burst into the air, forming a compact ball that exploded as a merlin blasted through its center. The falcon made three passes in what I thought was a pretty half-hearted effort. An hour after that, I was back at the Croton Railroad Bridge, chatting with the morning crowd of coffee drinkers, when a peregrine came in over the tracks, coursed the length of Inbuckie Cove, and disappeared up the Croton River. A falcon grand-slam!
- Christopher Letts

9/19 - Queens, New York Bight: Rangers John Zuzworsky, Chris Olijnyk and I spent about a half-hour corralling samples of an unusual mayfly emergence today at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I have seen small numbers of this mayfly species before at the refuge, but today's sheer numbers made us all pause. Literally thousands of insects were flying up and down in a classic pattern. With no local trout stream, the scene seemed completely out of place. A few catbirds and cedar waxwings were all that we noted feeding on the insects. I'm going to have to break out the technical keys to find this one.
- Dave Taft

9/19 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: The night migration of birds over Manhattan is picking up. A high of approximately 1400 birds were counted from the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building on one evening in early September from dusk until midnight. On September 17-18, about 200 migrants were counted from dusk until midnight on each night. Northwest to northeast winds bring the most night migrants, and peregrine falcons can be seen chasing them. From mid-September until mid-October both the number and diversity of species will peak.
- Robert DeCandido

9/20 - Croton River, HRM 34: Long before daybreak I was standing by the railroad bridge tossing small lures, looking for snapper blues and hickory shad. The background music was nice - off in the darkness, herons croaked, killdeer called, geese and ducks gossiped. A huge form flapped overhead and there was just enough light to see the white head and tail. An even larger form followed a few minutes later: the first-year eagle that showed up about three weeks ago. It landed on the edge of the mudflats and became featureless in the gloom.
- Christopher Letts

9/20 - Brooklyn, New York Bight: Rangers Kathy Krause and Bill Parker stood with me in front of an old butterfly bush at Floyd Bennett Field and marveled at 25 monarchs circling its remaining flowers. Male bumblebees mixed with worker females and one young queen. Reaching over, Kathy quickly grabbed a bee - a trick I enjoy every year in the early fall. It gets a rise from nearly everyone watching, and Kathy is none the worse for it, as the drones have no stingers. Not as good at the identification, I usually leave the males to their business.
- Dave Taft

9/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was in the balmy mid-50s this morning on the traditional first day of autumn. As we headed out on our stroll, we were accompanied by the equally traditional autumnal call of Canada geese flying in V-formation overhead, headed in a generally southerly direction. It was the first flock I've seen this season, and a welcome sight; with early morning sun guilding their bellies, the geese looked like bulging pewter pitchers with black wings and necks attached.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

9/21 - Beacon, HRM 61: On an early morning low tide, the river - not yet warmed by the midday sun - was 74°F. The salinity was 2.0 parts per thousand (ppt). The water felt refreshing as we hauled our net over the sand, rock, and clay bottom. While young-of-the-year striped bass (65-85 mm) were present in large numbers, even more numerous were the baby American shad (85-90 mm). The bane of the seine: hundreds of water chestnut seeds - with their hooks and spikes clinging to every mesh, it took longer to clear the net than it did to fish. Several monarchs launched out from the beach heading south into the face of a stiff southerly. After fluttering in place for several minutes, they seemed content to seek the shelter of shoreline cottonwoods and wait for a better breeze. As we were leaving, Rebecca Johnson spotted a small bird scooting under the low branches of a mulberry tree. It gave us a brief glimpse before flying up into the leaves and out of sight - a gorgeous black-and-white warbler
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

9/21 - Beacon, HRM 61: Rarely do I have a witness to my fish-catching, let alone 25 of them. Just as I hooked, and was in the process of fighting and landing a 10 lb. carp, 25 schoolchildren on a field trip to the river from South Avenue School turned up in the company of teachers and volunteers. The youngsters quickly arranged themselves in rows and wrote the word "carp" on their papers as one of their day's observations.
- Bill Greene

9/21 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The river temperature was 78°F this morning, several degrees warmer than this time last year. While the water had not cooled in a week, the salinity had risen slightly to 7.2 ppt. We hauled our net from the bathing beach several times with the same result: many hundreds of dazzling Atlantic silversides, and almost as many young-of-the-year striped bass. The broad sandy beach was a runway for butterflies. Dozens of various sulphurs and monarchs drifted by, quartering the south wind. Our monarch count for the day: 24.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Many of the monarch butterflies in the northeast make an annual 2,000-3,000 mile autumn migration to the fir forests of the Sierra Madre cordillera in central Mexico. As many as 30 million monarchs from all over North America congregate there for 4-5 months each winter in small areas totaling not more than fifty acres. Tom Lake]

9/21 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Out in Croton Bay, no fewer than four osprey were soaring in broad circles 150-200 feet off the water. When they spotted prey they would stop and hover in place until certain of their target. Then, with a half turn, they would tilt their tails up, their heads down, fold their wings, and drop - splash! - then up again with a small bluefish or bunker in their talons. They were not always successful. The deep water of high tide made their prey elusive. As I watched, I could see in their dive a petroglyph along the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, carved by the ancestors of the Hopi 1,000 years ago. That image was of an osprey in a dive, tail up, head down, wings folded. These acrobatic hunters have delighted us for millennia. A few hundred yards away, perched in a tall oak on Croton Point were two pirates. A pair of adult bald eagles were waiting for their opportunity to steal a meal.
- Tom Lake, Jack Hoy

[Most of autumn's osprey in the Hudson Valley are travelers from breeding areas along the Great Lakes and coastal New England. Female osprey begin to migrate back south in July, males begin in August. Most have left by late September. They will fly south, covering as much as 235 miles a day to wintering locations as far south as Brazil, Venezuela, and Columbia, in South America. This journey may total 4500-5800 miles. Pete Nye]

Autumnal Equinox

9/22 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: While the tide started filling Hannacrois Creek this afternoon, we strolled its shoreline from Route 144 to its mouth at the Hudson River. About half-way down, I spotted a brown furry back slide in the water, probably a beaver. A few feet further on we saw a den hole in the north bank. Still later, while traversing a downed tree, Cless almost stepped on the flat tail extending from a submerged beaver before it swam away under the water. We were surprised that there were no warning "slaps" from either animal. An immature bald eagle flew upstream toward us, and then headed out toward the Hudson.
- Jean Bush, Cless Bush

9/22 - Lattintown Creek, HRM 68.5: It was a good flight day for migrants; a warm west wind was gusting to 30 mph. At 88°F, it was unseasonably hot, 2°F shy of the record for the date. A red-tail zoomed along the river at tree-top level down the railroad tracks, followed by a Cooper's hawk, then another Cooper's, and three turkey vultures, swaying more than zooming. Monarchs were steady at about one every ten minutes. Autumn arrived at 6:23 PM.
- Tom Lake

9/22 - Beacon, HRM 61: The total of a day's fishing: 4 carp, 1 channel catfish. I weighed and measured the largest carp before releasing it: 9 lb., 26½" long, 18" girth. The other 3 carp were 16-17", young fish, bright and shiny. I only encounter Hudson River carp this size, in any numbers, in the early fall. I had to settle for a smaller audience than yesterday. Today it was the craftsmen working on the Long Dock area and bulkhead improvements.
- Bill Greene

9/22 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The Boyz at the Bridge were excited. Some of the biggest bluefish they've seen for years are feeding off Croton Point. Blues to 15 lb. have been landed, and tackle-busters have been doing just that. Stories of broken wire leaders, spooled reels, straightened hooks mix with the morning coffee down at the Croton Railroad Bridge.
- Christopher Letts

[The Boyz at the Bridge are actually an eclectic mix of both men and women whose common bond is social interaction. While they number 30-40 individuals, rarely more than 5-6 are present at any one time. Some are retired, but others arrive from their night jobs, extended coffee breaks, or long lunch hours to spend 5 minutes or an hour, touching base, learning the latest. The Bridge is the railroad trestle over the mouth of the Croton River, where it meets Croton Bay. The setting is a bench at the village boat launch where canoes, kayaks and cartoppers are set into the Croton River. The dirt, sand, and gravel launch is a conduit for stories from crabbers, anglers, paddlers, birdwatchers, and river lovers. Seasonally the air is filled with ospreys and eagles, shorebirds and wading birds, sunrises, sunsets, and storms. These, in and of themselves, provide context for the stories told and retold. Tom Lake]

9/22 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Blue crabs loaded the seine today, perhaps 100 of them from pinky-nail size to 8" jumbos. Northern kingfish, croakers and weakfish were caught, admired and released. Monarchs were moving through in increasing numbers. Nancy Slowik, Greenbrook Sanctuary director, logged 23 monarchs per hour last week.
- Christopher Letts

[Northern kingfish, croakers, and weakfish are members of the drum family of fishes. These and other saltwater drum, such as silver perch and spot, are often quite common in the lower estuary as young-of-the-year and juveniles. Most drums have a highly specialized swim bladders that serve as sound-producing organs. This has led to the common name of "croakers." C. Lavett Smith]

9/23 - Battenkill, HRM 188: The great egrets have been driven out by great blue herons. I've been observing pairs flying together recently for the first time, and the resident bald eagles have been chased out of town by the nesting osprey who claim the mouth of the Battenkill at the Hudson for their own. The Canada geese seem to be flying in the correct direction for a change and wild turkeys are gathering on Stark's Knob Hill in large flocks feeding off the corn fields. All the signs of autumn are afoot.
- John Guyer

9/23 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A ruby-throated hummingbird paid a very quick visit to one of our bright red hanging geraniums late this afternoon. This is quite late in the season for them.
- Ed Spaeth

9/23 - Croton Point, HRM 34: This relentless, hot, dry season wears on, the world parching as we watch. Under a fat moon this morning a dozen small birds perched roundly in an oak, to be known by a softly called "dearly." Bluebirds, and even when I can't see the blue, they make a heart jump. Red Mars lolled in the sky, a ruby spilt from the golden palette of the moon.
- Christopher Letts

9/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Mike Tracy reported that the grass in the cemetery just east of town was white with frost at 7:00 AM.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/24 - Englewood, HRM 13.5: A strong north wind, funneling down along the Palisades, had the American flag at the Boat Basin straight out, pointing to the sea. Monarchs were hustling along, finding no trouble making headway. Several osprey and a black vulture, reveling in the wind, made passes over the river. It had the makings of a blow-out tide; the ebb just did not want to end. The water had chilled to 71°F, the salinity was 12.4. Several hours earlier we had set a few shrimp and minnow pots in the river and as we studied our catch, shore shrimp and tiny blue crabs, several Carolina wrens were singing up a storm along the base of the Palisades.
- Nancy Slowik, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

[Carolina wrens have been moving northward in the past few decades and are now year-round residents in the Hudson Valley. Reforestation, mild winters and accommodation to human habitation are the likely causes of this expansion, which is graphically depicted by comparing DEC's Breeding Bird Atlas maps from 1980-85 and 2000-2004 at http://www.dec.ny.gov/cfmx/extapps/bba/ Scroll to the heading Species Distribution Maps, choose either taxonomic or alphabetical listing of species, and click on the time period desired. After selecting the wren or other species and loading the map for one time period, you can click on a direct link to that species' map for the other period, allowing comparison of breeding range data. Eric Lind, Steve Stanne.]

9/24 - Staten Island, Upper Bay, New York Harbor: At the Fort Wadsworth lighthouse re-lighting ceremony, held at the Gateway National Recreation Area's Staten Island Unit, we stood watching as a volunteer flicked the large switch that turned on the light. With this great lighting, three black crowned night herons flew past and circled back in front of the Verrazano Bridge.
- Dave Taft

9/25 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I counted 52 blue jays flocking together today. Yesterday there were 35. I wondered if this was the same group getting larger, or another passing through. Both groups were fairly silent, except for a few in the rear of the flock. Quiet blue jays!
- Susan Droege

9/25 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100: We were at the Tivoli Bay Wildlife Management Area this evening, and spotted a bull moose near the canoe launch parking area. We were lucky enough to stare in disbelief at this tall dark moose for almost a minute. As he was walking away he would turn his head and stare back at us.
- Joe Szilaski, Lori Szilaski

[There is a small population of moose in northern New York, leading to regular sightings there in the last dozen years. There are also small populations in Vermont and northern Massachusetts. Along the estuary, however, they are still very uncommon. When the first Europeans arrived in the Hudson Valley 400 years ago, moose were common in New York State. Tom Lake]

9/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was first light and I awoke to the far away sounds of geese. These were my first high-fliers of autumn, Canadas or snows, too high and too faint to tell which through the low and leaden sky.
- Tom Lake

9/25 - Queens, New York Bight: A walk through the south mall of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge with ranger John Zuzworsky and volunteer Bob Veltri flushed out dozens of monarch butterflies nectaring on groundsel tree blooms. As I absent-mindedly walked past a patch of swamp milkweed, John leaned over and bent a leaf down to reveal a very large monarch caterpillar. Though they have been sparse all summer, suddenly this fall monarchs are everywhere.
- Dave Taft

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