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Hudson River Almanac October 3 - October 9, 2006

OVERVIEW

The harvest moon under clear skies made this week special. Peak fall color has arrived along the upper Hudson and the number of fall foliage tour boats increases each day on the river. Large flocks of migrating Canada geese are the forerunners of the waterfowl. In the months ahead we will see brant, snow geese, mergansers, and many species of ducks.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: What a moon rise tonight! It looked large, and yellowish, kind of like an under-baked Ritz cracker. We were out for a walk as it began to come up. Out on the golf course, with the streetlights behind us, we got a good view. The moon was blinding. It was like walking toward the sun when it's low on the horizon. Everything was plunged into pitch dark, except for the glare of the moon. We had to shield our eyes. As we made our way around the greens I started to hear a coughing bark behind us - the foxes were out. We ended up hearing at least two talking to each other. They kept it up for quite a while.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: I pulled two collection traps, eel pots, from the river this morning to gather a few specimens for an elementary school program show-and-tell. The displacement, at least in this area, of bullhead catfish by channel catfish seems to continue: 6 small channel cats, not a single bullhead. Aesthetically, I cannot complain - the channel catfish is a handsome individual. Each pot held a single American eel, each approximately 30" long with black backs, stark white underneath. Presumably females, these were in the silver eel phase, on their way to spawn in the Sargasso Sea. At this stage, having reached maturity, they cease to eat, so I could not reconcile why they were in the pot with the shad carcass I used as bait.
- Tom Lake

10/3 - Nyack Beach State Park HRM 31: Monarchs were passing at the rate of 35 per hour. The trees were full of songbirds moving steadily south, and above the rim of the Palisades cliffs a steady procession of raptors flew: merlins, sharp-shinned, Cooper's, broad-winged and red-tailed hawks, as well as turkey vultures. In the water things were not as lively. This has been a noticeably flat autumn for beach seining. A few white perch, tiny striped bass, and silversides came up in the net. The bright spot was a pair of "doublers," blue crabs in the act of mating. The female, with a dome-shaped tail denoting full maturity, had shed her shell. Her new shell was almost hard to the touch, or "buckram," in the waterman's vernacular, but the male still cradled her in his walking legs in a protective embrace. They were returned to the river still together.
- Christopher Letts

10/4 - Bullville, Town of Crawford, Orange County, HRM 61.5: At dawn the fog was so thick you could not see the ground 50' away; cool droplets fell against my face like a soft rain. I was in a field just above the Dwaar Kill, but in the white, cottony air, the stream was invisible. All was quiet: no sights, no sounds. Within 100' of where I stood were two dense concentration of quartzite flakes. Someone had been here, 500 years ago, maybe 5,000 years ago, making stone tools from pebbles and cobbles that had been tumbled, rounded and smoothed by the rushing waters of a melting glacier at the end of the Ice Age, 18,000 years ago. Some of the flakes may have been hide scrapers, others knives, even a few projectile points. These were Stone Age relics and part of our Hudson Valley heritage.
- Tom Lake

10/4 - Newburgh, HRM 61.4: I spotted several brown bats this morning near the public library on Grand Street. I could see several little brown bats flying through the intervening space over the walks and the small lawn in approach to the library. Perhaps by day the bats inhabit the nearby historic but unoccupied Dutch Reformed Church. The crumbling building has no visible belfry, but the structure has a myriad number of other hiding places for these small mammals.
- Ed Spaeth

10/4 - Fishkill, HRM 61: The lilac shrub just outside our kitchen door was full of activity this morning. Several chickadees and ruby-crowned kinglets were busy foraging for insects up and down the branches, over and under the leaves, and in the crannies of some of the larger lilac limbs. Occasionally the kinglets would dart out into the airspace for insects like a flycatcher. From my vantage point, I occasionally could see clearly the red crown of one male kinglet.
- Ed Spaeth

10/4 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Hot and humid, but who could complain about one last summery day? Everybody was flying: vireos and warblers and flycatchers, mixed flocks of blackbirds, phalanxes of robins, platoons of blue jays. Monarchs were flying even before the sun came up. Kestrels and a merlin were hunting over the landfill.
- Christopher Letts

10/5 - Beacon, HRM 61: Seven hours of fishing at Long Dock today produced just a single 17" channel catfish. The channel cats were active for a brief spurt in late morning. A few carp crashed the surface, but I couldn't get a bite. Blue crabs were also active as I kept losing bait to them. I spotted a foot-long fish swimming along the shore with a body marked with by bars. At first I thought it might be a yellow perch, but settled on it being a smallmouth bass.
- Bill Greene

10/5 - Fishkill, HRM 61: In late morning, in the Russian olive bushes near the forest edge, a magnolia warbler and some ruby-crowned kinglets were busily darting in and out of the leafy shrubs foraging for insects. In late afternoon, while busy gardening in my yard, a few more ruby-crowned kinglets and a Wilson's warbler were gleaning insects from the red maple tree leaves and branches just overhead. In evening, from our kitchen window, we saw a male eastern bluebird alight on our shepherd's hook which holds feeders busily frequented by titmice, chickadees and nuthatches. The bluebird was unperturbed by the activity, but soon flew off possibly migrating to points south. We have not had a bluebird visit our yard since the summer of 2004 when a pair of bluebirds attempted to nest in one of our birdhouses.
- Ed Spaeth

10/5 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: A cold front had passed overnight and in its wake we had sustained north winds at 30, gusting to 40 mph. Christopher Letts and I were sitting at a picnic table waiting for our two classes of 5th graders from Elisabeth Morrow Elementary to arrive when an osprey dropped from the sky. It stood next to a London plane tree 15' away, one foot clamped on a struggling 10" menhaden. The bird had failed in trying to fly against the wind - the fish created too much drag. Up along the Palisades, we counted four other osprey in view at the same time, three of which were carrying fish with the wind at their backs. Out on the river a small flock of brant, small geese, flew toward the sea. Farther north over Mount Tallman, we counted a dozen turkey vultures enjoying the lift. The north wind pushed white-capped rollers that crested over the breakwater and into the flood plain. Our net stayed dry today. The river was 67°F and the salinity was 9.3 ppt.
- Sanda Cohen, Jackie Riley, Phyllis Grossman, Leslie Day, Tom Lake

10/5 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: I spotted 3 falcons, 2 peregrines and a merlin, this morning even before I got out of my car at the refuge. I'm guessing that the hawks noticed the strong cold front last night and are on the move.
- Dave Taft

10/6 - Town of Montgomery, Orange County, HRM 62: I enjoyed an odd sight this morning in rural Orange County. A farm pond, no more than 2 acres in size, was jam-packed to overflowing with Canada geese. They may have flown all night and were now resting. Out in the middle, among the much larger geese, was a single, immature double-crested cormorant. It looked lost and considerably out of place. Was it happenstance, or had the cormorant chosen the geese as flying companions.
- Tom Lake

10/6 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: After two days of strong northerlies, the river seemed too thick to navigate and too thin to cultivate. The seine delivered almost 200 lb. of detritus, mostly this autumn's crop of macerated leaves. A few white perch and a couple dozen small blue crabs made up the catch. Out on the river, a sight I've come to expect with this weather at this time of the year: flock after flock of brant passed by, well out in the stream and more than 50' off the surface of the river. I remember riverman Cal Greenburg telling me long ago, "The will not lift; they fly right on the deck. They even fly under bridges rather than lifting over them."
- Christopher Letts

10/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I put my canoe on Lake Harris today and paddled across and into the Hudson River. As I began, at the boat launch, I saw a common loon, full black-and-white breeding plumage, beak stuttering as it yodeled. It was accompanied by two juveniles. They both kept silent, but all three took turns diving and swimming. I paddled around for a bit until one of the youngsters finally decided I was a threat and disappeared entirely. I left them and headed down the lake to the river. Along the way I counted 3 monarchs fluttering their way across the lake.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/7 - Westchester County, HRM 15: Three wild turkey grazed alongside the Sprain Brook Parkway in the most suburban of settings. They were almost upstaged by the doe grazing nearby. We see more and more wild turkeys these days, even in Manhattan. I've recently heard that a small herd of deer have taken up residence in Queens and in Staten Island. I look forward to crossing King's Highway with the rest of the herd someday soon.
- Dave Taft

10/7 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Last night's harvest moon, the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox, was magnificent. I hated to leave it and go inside, but it was early to bed with a early morning rise ahead of me. Still, I woke up twice in the night, at 10:30 and 2:30 AM, to the sound of geese flying by the light of the moon.
- Tom Lake

10/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: We've been seeing some incredible fog here at dawn for the last several days: Jack-the-Ripper London fog. The nights have been very clear and the full moon has been spectacular. Even after the nighttime flights, in the soup of dawn today I heard several more flocks of geese going over, flying on instruments, no doubt.
- Tom Lake

10/8 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67: This was full moon plus one day and the midday high tide was one of the highest of the year. The moon was not only full, but it was unusually close to the Earth. That pull drew the ocean tides even higher, spilling into the estuary and up Wappinger Creek in early afternoon. The great blue herons had to relinquish their usual perches for low-lying tree limbs.
- Tom Lake

10/9 - Beacon, HRM 61: The fishing got a little better today at Long Dock: I caught a 4 lb. carp and a 17" channel catfish.
- Bill Greene

10/9 - Putnam Valley, HRM 45: The height of fall found me hiking through glorious fall leaves near Peekskill Hollow Brook. I flushed an adult sharp-shinned hawk that disappeared around a river bend. I noticed two oddities: a pair of skunk cabbages flowering in mid-October, and a helleborine orchid first putting out a flower spike. I could not account for these late flowers. Perhaps weather conditions inspired the plants; perhaps some other factor; perhaps it is a wise thing for a species to occasionally do a "test run," to find out if flowering late is a good idea or, as is often the case, a waste of resources. Four years ago, while taking a break from birding along this same trail, I noticed a spotted coralroot orchid flowering. In four years of checking I've never seen it again.
- Dave Taft

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