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Hudson River Almanac September 4 - September 11, 2006

OVERVIEW

September 11, 2001, continues to remind us of how fragile life can be. Yet while the towers burned, shad and herring swam past on their way to the sea. We mourn. Nature endures.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/8 - Croton River, HRM 34: We are fortunate to have a deck front seat on the ever-changing Croton River, north of the Quaker Bridge and south of the Croton Dam. Our newest neighbor is a cormorant, relentlessly diving for prey. I have seen relatives of these birds in Hong Kong harbor with wooden rings around their necks and leashes attached to their feet. Fishermen use them to catch fish. This is the first cormorant that I have seen in 30 years on this reach of the Croton River. For the last two years, a large great blue heron has taken residence in the shallow waters of the far shore. It helped itself to one of our koi, spearing the fish through with its long beak. We promptly netted over the pond to protect the others. I sense it is a female because she has built a substantial nest of mud and twigs. I have not, however, seen a mate or signs that she is a single mother. The shadow of her huge wing span is majestic as she glides mere inches above the river's surface. She is a bird for all seasons. Icicles literally form around her spindly legs as she waits, immobile, for her next meal. I know she loves the river as much as I do in all its seasons. I have mixed feelings about our prehistoric-looking neighbor; a killer with the elegance and grace of a ballerina, she has become a part of the waterscape and it would not be the same without her.
- Sandy Plotkin

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/4 - Manhattan, HRM 6: As I sat in my kitchen this morning on the 18th floor of a building on 86th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues, drinking tea and reading the newspaper, something caught my eye. There he was, perched on the terrace railing, not 10' from my window. It was Pale Male, at least I think it was him - if not, certainly one of his grown offspring. My kitchen looks out toward one side of my terrace and I took great care to notice and write down everything about him without moving for fear of scaring him off. He sat there for 5 minutes and then flew off. Over the summer, toward sunset on several days, I've noticed either this red-tailed hawk or another floating in the "valley" between our building and one further along the block. For those of you living in the country, this is probably pretty small potatoes; for me it was a great thrill!
- Barbara Buff

9/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Not only are the leaves continuing to change their suits, but today I saw our friends the "flying fuzzyballs" - woolly alder aphids. Male hummingbirds have been absent now for a week or two but the females continue to visit the feeders and flowers. My tomatoes are ripening so fast that I cannot keep ahead of the slugs who also want to nosh on them. Monarchs still flit about, while their caterpillars keep munching away.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/5 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: Kayaking northbound close to shore I spotted sneezeweed nodding its droopy flower petals in the breeze. I've read that the leaves were dried and used to make snuff to stimulate a sneezing frenzy to rid the body of evil spirits. Further north, I used my paddle to scoop a baby snapping turtle from the water. It rode on the bow of my kayak for a while posed like a masthead, then dove back into the river swimming with even more determination.
- Fran Martino

9/5 - Yorktown Heights; After breakfast, we were startled by a long-legged intruder at our tiny backyard fish pond. We later discovered that this great blue heron had devoured the last 3 of our 6" gold fish as well as several resident frogs. The great blue stood about 4' tall, without a noticeable crest, as it paced around the yard before awkwardly flying off.
- Ray Gunther

9/6 - Waterford, HRM 158.5: The Mohawk River just west of Lock 6 on the Erie Canal was 73°F today, a one degree drop in 5 days. Monarchs coursed the beach in ones and twos, heading southeast. A huge flock of gulls took to the air as an immature bald eagle flew right through them without missing a wing beat.
- Tom Lake

9/6 - Green Island; HRM 152: A little more than 6 miles downriver, at the head of tide, the Hudson was 69°F, two degrees cooler than 5 days ago. The estuary is receiving its cold water from the Adirondacks rather than the Mohawk. More monarchs were heading south along the river, or maybe they were the same ones I had counted several hours earlier along the Erie Canal.

Upon arrival, I thought I saw a tight, precise line of small white buoys strung out just below the federal dam. Binoculars showed that it was a line of ring-billed gulls. They were picking off small fish. This was the estuarine "welcoming committee" to young-of-the-year (yoy) blueback herring that had spawned upriver or in the Mohawk. Low tide exposed a small mid-river sandbar. On it was an odd mixture of 5 birds: 2 gulls, 2 cormorants, and an immature bald eagle.
- Tom Lake

9/7 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: My neighbor and I were kayaking off Bowdoin Park on the channel side of a huge patch of water chestnut. We noticed what looked like boiling water, upsurges that moved as soon as we got near. We stayed quiet and were rewarded with flashes of silver, 50 or so in a patch, that turned in precise unison as they sensed our presence. Their backs were mud brown which made them nearly impossible to see once they sank down a few inches. A handful of gulls were floating in the vicinity but didn't appear to be having any luck. Several large fish jumped nearby. Hatches of herring going out to sea?
- Mary Lulu Lamping

[From late summer through early fall, the tidewater Hudson is filled with huge schools of yoy herring. These are alewives, blueback herring, and American shad - small, slender, silvery fish that look very much alike. We notice them mostly when they are making a commotion on the surface of the river, particularly on calm evenings when the water is glassy smooth and they look like handfuls of shiny new dimes tossed in the water. Tom Lake.]

9/7 - Stony Point, HRM 40: Northbound on the Palisades Parkway this evening, I spotted a southbound flock of nighthawks, about 15 or so, diving and wheeling 100' above the road near Stony Point.
- Steve Seymour

9/7 - Manhattan HRM 11.5: The Hudson River in Manhattan has few beaches where one can haul a seine net. We had gotten wind of at least one in Fort Washington Park just a short distance south of the little red lighthouse and the great gray bridge, and decided to explore. At low tide on this bright and sunny afternoon we made five hauls with a 30' seine at two sites in the park. The catch was amazing. Along with the ubiquitous Atlantic silversides, striped bass, and blue crabs (dozens and dozens of these, in all sizes), we found 3 inshore lizardfish (the largest about 6" long), 2 striped sea robins, a 5" long northern kingfish, a very small (45 mm) black sea bass, 3 northern pipefish, a winter flounder, several snapper bluefish, a bunch of white perch, and one goby (species uncertain).
- Steve Stanne, Margie Turrin

[Inshore lizardfish look like striped and mottled cigars, grow to 18", and favor the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic. They are voracious predators that lurk in sandy shallows, burrowing in the bottom to ambush passing prey. Larval lizardfish are frequently carried into the estuary on summer flood tide currents. Juveniles are occasionally found in late summer and fall in brackish water as far upriver as Croton Point (HRM 35). Tom Lake.]

9/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A bull moose was sighted recently between here and Long Lake. This morning, during our stroll in the fog, we stirred up a family of crows feeding on a lawn. One started making quite a ruckus, and I looked up to see a small forest raptor in hot pursuit of the crow. It was probably a Cooper's hawk and it was right on top of that crow! Crow and hawk flew around the yard, across the street, and back in a big circle, finally crossing the street again with the crow landing in a tree. The hawk flew on. I'm not sure if the hawk was seriously after a meal or if it was just having fun. After all, the crow was as big or bigger than the hawk! A great way to start the day, for me, at least; the crow probably could've done without the excitement.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

9/8 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A bright dash of yellow-and-black flitted about high in the trees. Was it a goldfinch? No, this lovely little bird was a black-throated green warbler foraging in my fir trees and then flitting over to my white pines. Three years ago on September 16, I noted another black-throated green warbler foraging in my pines on its migration south.
- Ed Spaeth

9/8 - Town of Philipstown, HRM 57: In late afternoon an adult bald eagle flew down to the surface of the river just south of Bannerman's Island. An osprey was flying above the eagle. Fishing buddies? For once it seemed as though the eagle fetched its own fish out of the river, not stealing one from the osprey.
- Wayne Hall

9/8 - Manhattan, HRM 2: Chelsea is actually one of the greener places in Manhattan. Still, one has to be ever alert to see any signs or wildlife. The house finches in my courtyard, London Terrace Gardens, have bounced back nicely after almost disappearing a few years ago due to house finch disease. Starting last year I began to hear a blue jay in the early morning. I noticed it disappeared during the summer. Probably goes north for better food source. I woke up this week to hear its return. Fall is on its way.
- Regina McCarthy

9/8 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: While hiking with a film crew from the History Channel, I only wish I'd been a little more attentive. If I had, we'd have all seen the osprey with its catch of fresh menhaden still flapping in its claws. The bird was sitting on top of a pine snag along the West Pond trail, but it took off, calling, as we approached. Besides the spotty plumage, I'd have to say this one was a juvenile from its "less than elegant" behavior. It tried landing on a series of inappropriate things, bayberry shrubs, mulberry trees, finally landing on the very twig ends of a large red maple. The bird looked terribly uncomfortable as it alternately grasped the still writhing herring and the maple. But the lesson was learned and, still clutching its prize, the bird flew off to a far more substantial tree limb across the pond.
- Dave Taft, National Park Service

9/9 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: I live on the Hudson River just north of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. Almost daily I see a pair of adult bald eagles very close to my house. I have even seen them with a third bird.
- Tim Hurley

[I suspect these are "local" birds. There are active bald eagle nests both below and above this area; the birds could be from either. Soon winter migrants will be descending on the Hudson as well. Pete Nye.]

9/10 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Finally. After several weeks of catching only channel catfish, I caught a small carp. The bait was plain dough, made of flour, water, and oatmeal. I guessed that the fish weighed 6 lb. Crab traps are set and one lucky fellow got 22 last week. A few of the blues were huge. Chicken seems the best "blue" plate special bait.
- Glen Heinsohn

9/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: What a mob scene: An immature bald eagle perched in a riverside cottonwood had a flock of crows in a tizzy - one of them was a fish crow. The eagle seemed to ignore them and shortly the crows left. A while later a flock of blue jays came calling, equally agitated. This time eagle took off above the woods, up the hill, and out of sight. Out above the river I heard and saw my first flock of high-flyer geese, Canada geese, heading south.
- Tom Lake

9/10 - Sandy Hook, NJ: With Steve Sautner doing all the work and me reporting, we're learning to throw a cast net on the bay side of Sandy Hook. Today we nailed one lonely peanut bunker (3-5" menhaden), and almost 100 small herring, 2-4" long, that we have had a difficult time identifying. They don't have the "bunker" look. They could be blueback herring, alewives, or American shad [maybe gizzard shad?]. We're going to try to get a real fish person at the nearby National Marine Fisheries Service to help us out.
- Dery Bennett

9/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It is indeed fall - we had our first frost this morning. It was nippy, but the sun was out, the sky was blue, and all's well with the world. I'm torn between picking my grapes or leaving them for the birds, for whom I actually planted the silly things.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/11 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: High tide seemed unusually high today. The weather seemed a playback to the September 11th of 5 years ago.
- Glen Heinsohn

9/11 - Beacon, HRM 61: Strolling along the Beacon Riverside Trail between the train tracks and the Hudson River, I spotted these birds: 17 double-crested cormorants resting on the flotsam in the water; a great blue heron spooked, from its hidden locale near shore, gracefully and powerfully flying off to resume fishing elsewhere; an eastern phoebe near some pools of water; a lone starling high on a tree; 7 mourning doves and a robin set to flight by a passing Amtrak; 3 mockingbirds and 2 Connecticut warblers foraging for insects near the trail. A few butterflies were around as well, including a monarch, cabbage white, and orange sulphur.
- Ed Spaeth

9/11 - Manhattan, HRM 0: 397 years ago, Henry Hudson's crew dropped the Half Moon's anchor for the night in the Upper Bay off Manhattan Island. Five years ago, we endured the trauma of the 9/11 attacks. Here's one of the most poignant entries of the many the Almanac received.

September 11, 2001, New York Harbor, Upper Bay: What to say, and what to do when the unspeakable happens? On a boat heading back from Ellis Island, jet black plumes of smoke issued up from hell itself where the World Trade Centers once stood. They were still smoking after ten hours. The triage center I thought I'd help staff at Ellis Island went completely unused. There was no need for one - the saddest truth of all.
- Dave Taft, National Park Service

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