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Hudson River Almanac September 26 - October 1, 2005

OVERVIEW

One of the hallmarks of the change from summer and fall toward the cold realities of winter is increasingly dynamic weather: wind, rain, frost, and - eventually - snow. This week we had the first snow of the season in the watershed, on the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

Queens, New York Bight: Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge: It's amazing how a small plant can escape detection in a woodland. Looking at the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge uplands, many do not see the woods for the trees. Chris Olijnyk's finding a foot-high American chestnut here is remarkable but characteristic (see Queens, 9/15). Years of mowing, pruning, examining, keying, planting, managing, and thinking went into his three seconds of recognition. What modern managers might label misspent hours - doing field work for the sake of discovery - may ultimately result in deeply personal understanding and discovery. These days we seem increasingly interested in results and are less and less inclined to pay for process. The truth is, it's a winding path to this kind of understanding. I know of no shortcut and no way to calculate its costs, or even the consequent value of its discoveries. Chris found a very small tree, but it was no small accomplishment, and the refuge is a richer place for him and his efforts.
- Dave Taft

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/26 - Newburgh, HRM 60: From its perch on an old apple tree, an American kestrel was surveying a weedy overgrown field for prey at Stewart Field. When we approached in our vehicle it took flight, displaying its beautiful colors, but after our passing, it returned once more to its perch.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

9/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The hot weather had eased a bit and the stream of migrants had increased. More than a dozen kestrels were active this morning and no fewer than 5 harriers were working the same quadrant of the landfill.
- Christopher Letts

9/26 - Nyack Beach State Park, HRM 31: The large white butterfly bush next to the parking lot was resplendent under a covering of at least 6 different species of butterflies. During the 3 hour period I was there, no fewer than a dozen monarchs were feeding on the blooms - more monarchs in one place than I saw all of last fall.
- Christopher Letts

9/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a frost tonight. I had sheets over the tomatoes and roses just before turning in last night, but the monkshood was on its own. It is really a borderline plant up here. I love it, but it doesn't bloom until early autumn, just in time to get hit with the frost.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/27 - Mid-Hudson: Yesterday we had a quarter-inch of much needed rain, the remnants of Hurricane Rita passing to our west. This morning, in its wake, a strong northwest wind was gusting to 25 mph. The morning flood tide current was being tossed back in a white spray. It was another good flight day for raptors and geese, and for this day at least monarchs were choosing the windward side of points and treelines, taking advantage of the added horsepower.
- Tom Lake

[Windward and leeward are sailing terms used to denote wind exposure: windward the side of a boat facing towards the wind, leeward the side facing away from the wind.]

9/27 - Newburgh, HTM 60: Several orange sulphur butterflies were feeding on purple asters in the upland meadows of Stewart Forest Preserve, just west of Stewart Airport.
- Ed Spaeth

9/27 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We took our 25' net out at low tide to fish for the 3rd graders from Willow Avenue School as part of the Museum of the Hudson Highlands' seining programs. Among the highlights of our catch were 3 American eels, 3 half-dollar size hogchokers, 40-50 young-of-the-year [yoy] river herring, 12 yoy striped bass, and dozens of baby blue crabs, many of which ran off the net back into the river. They ranged in size from tiny dime-size to 3" across their carapace. We also noticed many crab moults on the beach, former housing for the ones in our net. There was much wild celery on the beach and in our net as well. We had a great afternoon!
- Pam Golben, Carl Heitmuller

9/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard another flock of geese this morning. Haven't seen a hummingbird for a week and change now, so I'm guessing they have all gone through. A few butterflies linger, however, and when we have sunny warm days, they are still flitting about, fueling up on the butterfly bush and amongst the remains of my bee balm. Autumn colors are just now starting to take hold. They have been very slow in arriving. There seems to be a fair amount of orange this year, but not as much red.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/28 - LaGrange, HRM 75x: Nancy Selig still had ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting her feeder.
- Mary Borrelli

9/28 - Fishkill, HRM 61: On this gorgeously clear day, a red-tailed hawk lazily made circles above my yard while other birds were busy in their own way. A red-bellied woodpecker probed on our dogwood tree; a Philadelphia vireo gleaned insects on the sassafrass tree; a downy woodpecker probed on the cottonwood tree; and a blue jay, a robin and a mourning dove were foraging on the ground. Meanwhile, goldfinches were selecting seeds from the dry seedheads of the coneflowers.
- Ed Spaeth

9/28 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Although the zinnia flowers had few blooms left, a great spangled fritillary butterfly dutifully made the rounds of what was left of the fading blossoms.
- Ed Spaeth

9/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A wind and rain squall line hit here today but it was not as severe as areas to the south. As the day progressed, it got steadily colder.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/29 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The morning had character, like something was about to happen. We were under a tornado watch with a high wind warning. Under black, brooding clouds, rolling across the sky, the river had a leaden look. The flood tide was quartering the wind producing 3' rollers. The strong west wind was gusting to 40 mph, strong enough that the arrogant crows were flying backwards.
- Tom Lake

9/29 - Troy to Hudson, HRM 153-118: We boarded Riverkeeper's patrol boat in mid-morning under dark skies at the Troy Town Dock. A dozen chimney swifts struggled through high southwest winds and over the bright steel towers of the Green Island Bridge. Weather alerts were alarming. Rain squalls arrived somewhere between Troy and Albany with wind gusts reaching 40 mph. As we passed the Port of Albany, 4 ring-billed gulls were playing drop and catch with a red ball. At the Thruway Berkshire Extension bridge near Castleton-on-Hudson, we spotted a peregrine falcon nest box perched high on the western tower. As we passed south of the bridge, the weather front suddenly passed, clouds parted and the air temperature dropped. Throughout this 35 mile reach of the upper estuary we saw many permitted and non-permitted discharges, dumpings, and other unnatural debris, with running commentary between pilot and passengers about the process of reporting these kinds of insults to the Clean Water Act. From the I-90 bridge south to Hudson, passing 4 riverside towns and approximately 24 miles of thick woods and wetlands, we counted 9 bald eagles, 6 great blue herons, a red-tailed hawk and a Cooper's hawk, being harassed by crows. A spectacular sunlit rainshower hung over the Catskill mountains as we arrived at the Hudson Town Dock.
- Ric Fry, Fran Martino, Rich Guthrie, John Lipscomb, Doug Reed

9/29 - Beacon, HRM 61: On a late evening walk along the Riverfront Trail I was in awe of the brilliant vermilion tinted clouds over Newburgh as the sun set in the west. The shimmering waters of the river reflected that glow and the grace of a great blue heron above as it steadily flapped southeastward, giving added sparkle to the glowing sky. Today's high winds brought down a goodsized willow tree across the trail, making it impassable. With its fall, the willow also took down a chokecherry tree.
- Ed Spaeth

9/29 - Englewood, HRM 13.5: As has been the case for the last week or more, our seine was filled today with hundreds of silvery bay anchovies. We were about resigned to another "same old" catch when something moved in the back of the net. The something was a 15" summer flounder. What made it memorable was the "smiley face" arc that had been taken out of it back. It was an old wound that had healed, probably a gift from a bluefish.
- Christopher Letts

9/30 - High Peaks, Essex County: Charlotte Demers reported snow in the High Peaks this morning. We had a very hard frost last night, so it is not surprising that the mountain tops were white with the season's first snowfall. There are reports of a large bull moose down along the Hudson River between the Newcomb Golf Course and the Lake Harris Campground. Sadly, I was not the one making the reports.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/30 - Hannacrois Creek, HRM 132.5: My students and I, from SUNY ESF at Syracuse University, began our two day fish sampling excursion in this tidal tributary on the border of Albany and Greene counties. We netted the falling tide and caught American eels, channel catfish, redbreast and pumpkinseed sunfish, and tessellated darters. Some of the eels were "silver eels," probably heading to sea. The water temperature, at 65°F, was about 5° cooler than the Hudson.
- Karin Limburg

[Silver eel is a colloquial name given to American eels, sometimes 20-30 years old, that have undergone physical changes preparatory to spawning. They have changed from the green and yellow coloration of their "yellow eel" phase, to dark black and stark white. Their eyes become enlarged and their alimentary canals atrophy. These changes are adaptations for traveling in the deep, dark waters of the North Atlantic, developing eggs, and finally spawning. Where and how this is done is still a mystery. Tom Lake.]

9/30 - Englewood, HRM 13.5: The 5th grade classes from Elisabeth Morrow School joined us on the beach today to help us sample the river with our seine. Fifty pairs of eyes watched as we struggled to haul the big net through the shallows. They thought we were pretending. As we neared the beach, we realized that it would take all our strength to slide the seine up on the sand. It was filled with several hundred pounds of comb jellies. Trapped in the "gelatin" were hundreds of yoy bay anchovies, half as many silversides, a few bluefish, and a 4" northern kingfish. It made for an interesting mix. After a brief show-and-tell, we slid them all back to the river. Our catch of the day, an 8" oyster toadfish, was made by Kathryn Cioffi fishing a hand line. We explained that this was an enchanted prince waiting to be made whole by a kiss. None of the 5th graders obliged. The river was 70°F; the salinity 12.0 ppt.
- Christopher Letts, Tom Lake, Leslie Day

[Two varieties of small "jellyfish" appear in the lower, brackish reach of the estuary in summer and fall. Comb jellies (Ctenophora) are often mistaken for jellyfish but differ in that they have no tentacles, and lack the stinging cells of true jellyfish. The combs are bands of cilia, tiny little hairs, which propel them slowly through the water. Like true jellyfish, comb jellies are nearly transparent, fragile, and essentially planktonic, drifting at the whim of the wind and current. They are walnut-sized, often occur in swarms, and are common in estuarine shallows. The most common Hudson River species is Beroe's comb jelly (Beroe cucumis). The other blobs of jelly that we find are hydromedusas - a group of small, true jellyfish species. For a real treat, gently scoop a few from a net with a wet, cupped hand. Place them into a small glass aquarium, and gently rock the water. Their rhythmic, symmetrical, and altogether graceful movements are enchanting. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

10/1 - Kowawese, HRM 59: At first light, the air was crystal clear and 38°F, the water was 70°F, and the heavy mist coming off the Hudson made the scene reminiscent of Brigadoon. I joined Karin Limburg and her students from SUNY ESF at Syracuse University to sample the shallows with their 50' seine. Young-of-the-year fish dominated the catch, including American shad, striped bass, blueback herring, and alewives. A few silversides and Atlantic menhaden gave testimony to the mild salinity (1.37 ppt).
- Tom Lake

10/1 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: With a half ebb tide, we sampled two beaches under the Palisades, one on either side of a fishing pier. The first had a rock-strewn bottom. Here we caught many yoy bay anchovies, somewhat fewer Atlantic silversides, some striped bass, white perch, a few crabs, and numerous comb jellies. The second beach had a mud bottom, where we caught many anchovies, far fewer silversides, some striped bass, bluefish, northern kingfish, Atlantic croakers, winter flounder, and hogchokers. The salinity was 15 ppt.
- Karin Limburg

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