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Hudson River Almanac September 11 - September 18, 2006

OVERVIEW

This was a week for migrating monarch butterflies, a theme that should continue for the next few weeks. Monarch butterflies from the Hudson River watershed migrate south as much as 2,700 miles to a wintering location in a mountain forest near Mexico City. They return in large numbers to the same roosts, often to the same trees. Their wintering location is threatened by deforestation, increased agriculture and other human activity. The length of the journey far exceeds the lifetime of a monarch, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer. The last generation of the summer lives up to seven months, during which time it migrates to wintering locations. This generation does not reproduce until it leaves the following spring. How monarchs manage to return to the same wintering locale over a span of several generations is a mystery. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/12 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Here are a few lines of a poem titled September, by Helen Hunt Jackson:

The goldenrod is yellow
The corn is turning brown
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down ...

When I see the simple beauty of goldenrod blooming in my yard or elsewhere at this time of year those lines come to mind. They have been thus evoked for most of my life because a grade school teacher. Helen C. Parker required her students to memorize the poem. Although I was raised in Yonkers, a very urban setting, this poem has always helped me to appreciate the natural wonders of the autumnal season which presently holds sway here in the Hudson Valley.
- Ed Spaeth

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/11 - Croton Point, HRM 35: For two decades I've come here at the beginning of the school year to gather rocks and sticks covered with barnacles. These go into classroom aquaria as "furniture" for the other animals and for observation by the students. Apparently there was a very light set of barnacle spat this past spring. I could not find any objects with more than a few, very small, barnacles. Salinity was about 8.0 ppt, but there were long periods during the spring when salt was all but nonexistent. That could explain the lack of barnacles and platform mussels. Captain Bob Gabrielson, of Nyack, confirmed this: "There are NO BARNACLES - not on the boats, the crab traps, the dock, or on the mooring lines!"
- Christopher Letts

9/12 - Columbia County, HRM 121.5: The river offered an afternoon of watching an immature bald eagle strip bark from its perch on the limb of the cottonwood tree. This youngster was a curious enthusiast, seemingly mystified by swallows flying above its perch site, capturing insects. The eagle strained its head and neck completely upward, elongating its silhouette against the sky. Later, in the early evening, Stockport Creek offered not one, but four river otters. The first one popped up near a beaver lodge located in the backwater of the creek. As I hovered in my kayak, a trio of river otters popped out of the water, one at a time, just like a jack-in-the box. The trio took a long look at me, as I did them, and I'm still not sure who was more surprised.
- Fran Martino

9/13 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The teachers from Coman Hills Elementary in Armonk joined us today on the beach with their 2nd graders. This was the school and these were the teachers who were here on 9/11 in 2001. Today was a rainy day. The 2nd graders endured the drizzle as we hauled our seine in the shallows. Thick tiderows of uprooted wild celery marked the upper beach where they had been left last week's full moon tides. Scores of shiny silversides filled the net as we hauled it ashore. Young-of-the-year striped bass (85-90 mm) were mingled with small bluefish and penny bunker (menhaden). The river was 71° F and the salinity had dropped to 5.8 ppt.
- Christopher Letts, Elise Feder, Amy Sher, Tom Lake

[Ocean salinity, at this latitude in the Western Atlantic, is 32-35 parts-per-thousand (ppt). Throughout the year, the Hudson estuary's salinity is diluted depending upon the volume of freshwater flow from the upland watershed. In the aftermath of a prolonged storm or Adirondack snowmelt, salinity may be very low all the way south to New York Harbor's Upper Bay. However, at times of drought, you can taste salt in the water (about 3.0 ppt) 70 miles upriver. Salt water is denser than freshwater so the bottom of the river is generally saltier than the surface water.]

9/14 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Students from Armonk spotted something moving in shallow water near shore. "A crab, a crab!" was the outcry. Actually it was 2 crabs. A big male crab, or Jimmy, was cradling and carrying a female crab, or Sook. Rivermen call such a pair doublers, and it is the beginning of a protracted mating procedure. As the female nears the time of her final moult, she releases a powerful pheromone into the water. This attracts suitors, who dance and wave their claws at her. When she selects a mate, she submits to being cradled in his walking legs. The two remain coupled until she makes the final moult at which time the male deposits packets of sperm in the female. He then resumes carrying her, sometimes a few days, until her shell has hardened and she can defend herself. This late in the season, the female will not begin the production of young. Instead, in the company of thousands of other females she will ride the ebb tides until she finds deep salty water with a soft bottom, most often in New York Harbor. There she will bury in the mud, and remain until warm water returns in the spring. Only then will she break the sperm packets and fertilize her eggs.
-Christopher Letts

9/15 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: When the rain finally stopped in late afternoon, we had 4.75" in the rain gauge over the last 24 hours. The tidal Wappinger was up in the trees. I saw 4 great blue herons and one black-crowned night heron perched on limbs above the water wondering when their next meal would arrive. Makes you miss the dry autumns with crunchy leaves underfoot. None of that here. My lawn is reaching Serengetti proportions.
- Tom Lake

9/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35: It was raining when the 4th graders from Greenville School got off the bus, and it was raining when they left, but I did not hear even hear a murmur of complaint - we soldiered on. The seine came in loaded with about 300 fish of 8 species, and a pair of doubling crabs that looked just like the pair observed yesterday. They were transferred to a large viewing tank, and for an hour we watched them move about, the male chivalrously carrying his dream girl throughout all the commotion and disturbance. At the end of the program we tipped the tank back into the river, and enjoyed watching them disappear into the wild celery. The other notable catch was a 20" Atlantic needlefish, an amazing sight for the students. It was in the net only because it had run the tip of its long, tooth-studded jaws through the mesh of the net and could not extricate itself. This one became a specimen fish, and hundreds of students and teachers will have a good, close up look at this interesting fish next spring.
- Christopher Letts

9/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our hummers are back! I cleaned my feeders and put in new food last week, and today I had hummingbirds zipping in for a nip of nectar and humming all about the yard. I suspect they aren't "my" birds; those have probably moved south already. These are probably migrants from further north, stopping by for free eats and a rest. I think of my yard as a birdie B&B. On another note, there continue to be many moose sightings this late summer between Newcomb and Long Lake.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/16 - Ulster County, HRM 95: This afternoon we counted scores of monarch butterflies in the Catskill Forest Preserve flying south and east down along Route 28 between Boiceville and Mount Tremper. It was like a flying river of black and orange.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

9/16 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: The Wicker's Creek oyster festival began as many river program do, with a seine haul to see who was home in the Hudson. As the net was beached scores of silvery young-of-the-year bay anchovies popped out of the net, squeezing through the eighth-inch mesh like popcorn. In the folds of the seine we also found a half-dozen young-of-the-year winter flounder (30-75 mm). The river was 73°F and the salinity was 7.8 ppt. A soft but steady north breeze made this a flight day for monarchs. Across three hours we counted 3 dozen. A big freighter passed us heading upriver, the Carlotta, registered in Istanbul. It carried the impressive blood red Turkish flag with crescent moon and star. As it passed it sent breakers crashing up on the beach.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Bob Walters, Tom Morrison

9/17 - Esopus Island, HRM 85: Passengers on the Rip Van Winkle excursion vessel from Kingston were treated to a long look at an adult bald eagle watching us from along the Hudson near Esopus Island.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

9/17 - Kowawese, HRM 59: At the designated start time for our Hudson River Valley Ramble program on the beach at Kowawese, we had only 9 people. But as soon as the seine came ashore the number swelled and by program's end we had at least 39. While the diversity and numbers of fish we collected were only average, the day was perfect. The expected young-of-the-year striped bass and white perch were there, as were a few largemouth bass and bluegills. A 10" American eel had us hopping to get it into a small aquarium. A dozen or more small blue crabs were present, most of them being males. The highlight of the half-dozen hauls we made was a pair of hogchokers, one palm-size, the other no bigger than a postage-stamp (15 mm). Conspicuous by their absence were young-of-the-year shad and river herring: Maybe it was too early in the season; maybe the water had been too warm for them inshore. The shallows had warmed to 75°F, and there was not a trace of salt.
- Dick Manley, Alan Zollner, Rebecca Zollner, Tom Lake

9/18 - Delmar, HRM 143: A pea-soup fog burned off to a bright sunny day with perfect temperatures around 70°F. Wendy Suozzo and I went out to check our ponds at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center for school classes this fall. As we neared our small (less than an acre) Sunfish Pond we didn't need to put a net in the water to know it would be really productive sampling for the students: A belted kingfisher flew up to a dead tree, a green-backed heron stalked along a downed tree in the water and a startled great blue heron took off. The pond is surrounded by trees so the heron went up with neck outstretched and long legs dangling. As it got above the trees it settled into its more distinctive shape with legs tucked up and head and neck in an S shape.
- Dee Strnisa

9/18 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 62: The Muddykill is a small, sluggish stream that enters the Wallkill River at a spot that must have been a popular stopover for prehistoric people. A substantial archaeological site encompasses the confluence. We were taking a tour of the area discussing the logistics for a new town park. A slight northeast breeze was enough to make it a day for soaring; we counted no fewer than a dozen turkey vultures and several red-tailed hawks. During our walk a migrating Cooper's hawk and a kestrel zoomed past and by noon we had counted at least 15 monarchs.
- Shawn Dell Joyce, Michael Joyce, Chuck Thomas, Jeannette Stoller, Bob Santo, Joe Devine, Tom Lake

9/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The alarm clock said 10:16 PM. For the first time at night in this late summer-nearly fall season, I could hear the far away and high in the sky faint calls of migrating Canada geese, high flyers traveling by the scant light of a third quarter moon.
- Tom Lake

9/18 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Two days ago the late afternoon sun was warm, bees and butterflies circled, flowers glowed, and a flock of female ruby-throated hummingbirds buzzed the feeders, and each other. They fed, swooped, sat on the wire fence which encloses the garden, shaking their glittering feathers, then fed again. The air was a-hum and busy. Then yesterday, and today, I watched for them. The hummingbirds were gone.
- Robin Fox

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