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Hudson River Almanac September 19 - September 25, 2006

OVERVIEW

The autumnal equinox seems so well placed when you look around this time of the year and see raptors zooming past and butterflies fluttering along, and consider the invisible stream of fishes migrating seaward in the Hudson. While the placement is based on celestial alignments, the message it sends to wildlife is loud and clear: cooler days and longer nights are just ahead.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: More moose. A friend of mine reported seeing one just this side of Goodnow Mountain. The moose stepped into the road, stared at her, then - I'm told - stuck its head in the window of her vehicle.
- Ellen Rathbone

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/19 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 35: Each fall for more than 20 years, I've helped up to 40 classroom teachers establish Hudson River aquaria for observation and study. Staples have always been barnacle-encrusted sticks and rocks and a few robust killifish. There are no barnacles to speak of this late summer and fall, and the killie pots are coming up empty where they are usually packed with fish. What's going on? Tiny sunfish and white perch are going into tanks, along with wedge clams, but the pickings have been slim.
- Christopher Letts

9/20 - Red Hook, HRM 98: This morning, while driving east out of Red Hook on Route199, the angle of the sun was just right to glint off a field full of hoop-shaped spider webs. Hundreds of webs were suspended in the grasses, still wet with dew and shining in the sun. It looked like a field of white lollipops!
- Ginger R. Hagan

9/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Monarch migration was present everywhere. Along the south shore 3 belted kingfishers worked the trees with their familiar call. I believe that these and others have taken up residence between Teller's Point and Van Cortlandt Manor. The surprise of the day: heading up the road to the top of landfill next to the fruit barn, I spotted a healthy coyote casually walking in broad daylight. I thought it strange how unconcerned the animal seemed. However, when it became aware of my presence, the coyote quickly disappeared into the tall grass of the landfill.
- Scott Horecky

9/21 - Stockport Middle Ground, HRM 121.5-122.5: Kayaking in this area is exceptional. With a little patience, one can spot numerous adult and juvenile bald eagles, multitudes of blue herons, kingfishers and pileated woodpeckers. However, unwanted sightings of floating bottles and cans abound, especially in the thickest patches of water chestnut. Here's a suggestion. Take a small plastic grocery bag with you next time you take your boat out. Fill it with trash and bring it back. It takes just a few minutes. Every little bit helps. Don't wait for the annual organized clean-ups, though I hale their efforts. Do your part. Every time you take in the beauty of the river, take something away - trash.
- Christine Kulisek

9/21 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: Chris Olijnyk and I took an hour walk around the refuge this morning. A Louisiana waterthrush joined an immature American redstart and a common yellowthroat as they flitted through the trees at the picnic area. On the east side, we watched an osprey eating a menhaden so large that we were surprised that the bird could keep its balance on the dead poplar limb it had chosen as a feeding perch. We watched for 10 minutes and then backed down the path, not wishing to disturb the bird. Still on the east side of the refuge we saw a merlin veer off, perhaps changing its mind about chasing a peregrine that appeared just seconds later. Five grey tree frogs were warming themselves in a crevice we always check, and a garter snake slithered through one of the best Spiranthes blooms I've seen in recent years.
- Dave Taft

9/21 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Ten days ago we netted about 100 unfamiliar looking young-of-the-year herring on the Raritan Bay side of Sandy Hook. They had a long, filamentous last dorsal ray reminiscent of a gizzard shad. After some microscope work, it was determined that they were threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense), a relative of the gizzard shad. These fish are known primarily from the freshwater reach of coastal estuarine systems, so finding them at Sandy Hook was a surprise.
- Dery Bennett, Tom Lake

9/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are getting low on monarchs. I saw one flapping across the road today. Our visiting photographer reported that the butterfly bush in our butterfly garden had about 10 monarchs on it yesterday morning - nothing like it was a month ago. And I think the hummers have moved on, too.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/22 - Mid-Hudson Valley: When the precise moment of the autumnal equinox occurs in daylight, you can almost convince yourself that a switch has been thrown and the air will not feel the same until next March. This year, however, autumn came at 11:03 PM, and all that magic was lost under the black sky of the new moon.
- Tom Lake

9/22 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Having just passed some goldenrod in my yard and noting a sweet fragrance, I placed my nose closer to the flowers for a better whiff of the aroma. As I did so, I noticed that a small, black caterpillar with yellow and orange stripes was hidden on the plant. This was a young brown hooded owlet moth caterpillar (Cucullia convexipennis). It was still there some four hours later.
- Ed Spaeth

9/22 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: The tides dictated that I meet my school groups here all week, and it has been interesting. Seining results have been disappointing - none of the usual late-summer anomalies: no flatfish, kingfish, spot, or weakfish. But it has been a flight week for songbirds, raptors, and butterflies. For us, it was "eyes to the sky." All week we enjoyed eagles, osprey, broad-winged, red-tailed, Cooper's, and sharp-shinned hawks, turkey vultures, ravens, and merlins. The catch of the day today was made by a retired angler on the stone pier at the north end of the park. He was kind enough to save a croaker, a foot-long ling (red hake), and a northern puffer as teaching specimens.
- Christopher Letts

[Flight days are easy to recognize: Choose almost any day from late August through late October, add in a northwest to northeast wind, and you have one. The flight is primarily that of migrating birds and butterflies. With conservation of energy a foremost priority, they can get a boost from the breeze and cover ground while saving calories. Tom Lake.]

9/23 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I've always been intrigued by the acrobatic finesse of the great blue heron as it spears a fish, maneuvers it headfirst into its bill, and swallows it whole with apparent ease. This afternoon I witnessed the other end of the learning curve. A young great blue caught a large fish, perhaps a carp. The bird was stymied by its catch; for several minutes it stood with the fish dangling from its bill, sometimes dipping it into the water. Finally it flew off, taking the fish behind a fallen tree on the shore where I could see its head making repeated stabbing motions. It then carried the fish to a different tree in the shallows, where it resumed spearing and attempts to swallow its prey. The heron finally succeeded in downing the entire fish - looking comical with the tail fin sticking out of its bill - but then it went down too. What a relief! It was 25-30 minutes from catch to meal.
- Pat Joel

9/23 - East Fishkill, HRM 63: It was officially fall and 25 cedar waxwings flew back and forth from the cedar trees to the higher bare branches of locusts above the wetlands off Carpenter Road. It seems almost every year we see them at this time, passing through or taking advantage of a good crop of berries on the cedars. The bright purple of New England asters and paler purple of the smaller New York asters are here and there amidst a sea of goldenrod on the hill above the wetlands. Many cabbage whites and a few yellow sulphur butterflies flit about from flower to flower. On the road a woolly bear caterpillar made its way to somewhere; why do they insist upon crossing the busy roadway? Is the plantain they like to eat greener on the other side?
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly

9/23 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: It was the first full day of autumn and all of the actors were out. We counted 4-5 osprey hunting from perches along the river. In the face of a south breeze, scores of monarchs - a steady stream - made their way downriver in the lee of the basalt cliffs of the Palisades. Dozens of turkey vultures teetered in the wind and the occasional red-tailed or Cooper's hawk zoomed past. The river was a warm 70°F and the salinity a surprising 13.4 ppt. (40% of seawater salinity). Thirty-five members of the Palisades Nature Association and Greenbrook Nature Sanctuary had gathered on the beach to watch us haul our seine. The net came ashore heavy with hundreds of bay anchovies, many of them young-of-the-year [yoy]. Like tiny silver droplets, they popped out of the net and fell back into the river. We found the usual mix of small striped bass, menhaden, blue crabs, sand shrimp, and several pounds of comb jellies. The prize, however, was an 8" Atlantic croaker, a saltwater member of the drum family. We heard it croaking in the net before we saw it.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Terry Milligan, Sandy Bonardi, Alec Malyon

[Croakers are in the drum family of fishes. Saltwater drum such as northern kingfish, silver perch, weakfish and spot are often quite common in the lower estuary as yoy and juveniles. Most of them have a highly specialized swim bladders that serve as sound-producing organs. This has led to the colloquial name of "drum" and, in the case of these fish, "croaker." C. Lavett Smith.]

9/23 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: Monarch migration was in full swing. I've been watching them from Manhattan to Breezy Point and eastward. Today alone, I observed hundreds, simply driving through the park and Jamaica Bay's environs. Dragonflies are also migrating, and hunting, along the coast. I've observed mostly darners to date.
- Dave Taft

9/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The sky cleared and the sun came out in time for our ribbon-cutting on a new trail at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. On a less positive note, in the past week, just north of here, four moose were hit, 3 by cars and one by a train.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: I keep several kinds of pots and traps in the Hudson collecting aquatic specimens for school and public river programs - we borrow them, show them, return them. I visited some today to make sure all was well, freshen the bait, remove what was not needed. I was struck by the number and range in size of the channel catfish. In one pot there were a dozen, from 4" to a foot long. As the numbers of channel catfish increase, the presence of other catfish, like brown and yellow bullheads and white catfish, seem to be decreasing. The non-native channel catfish may be co-opting their ecological niche.
- Tom Lake

9/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a lovely morning - sunny, blue sky, fall colors, a chill wind - a fine autumn day. I heard a flock of geese winging overhead as I was coming to work.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/25 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Despite the threat of a thunderstorm, the day was near perfect. A single monarch fought the wind, heading south about ten feet offshore. The carp I was fishing for did not choose my dough bait, but instead channel catfish attacked it on every cast. I am a catch-and-release fisherman so I use a treble hook with the barbs turned down. I do not catch as many fish as I could, but I do less damage. The channel cats ranged from 5-16". The river was teeming with tiny fish that I guessed were herring.
- Glen Heinsohn

9/25 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.6: A cold front had passed in the night and now we were being treated to a blue-sky day with a stiff north wind, the kind that'll part your hair. High overhead I could barely make out a check-mark of migrating geese heading south. They were so high that I could not hear them above the rattling of the rigging on the sailboats in the marina. Across the river, just above the limestone escarpment, three raptors zoomed downriver with a tailwind. Butterflies were almost everywhere, the majority of them monarchs. Today would be a free ride.
- Tom Lake

9/25 - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge: An adult indigo bunting, past breeding plumage but still distinctly blue, fed on a dried seed head as Elaine Babian, Chris Olijnyk and I watched.
- Dave Taft

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