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Hudson River Almanac September 26 - October 2, 2006

OVERVIEW

There is something soothing about most autumn days. The intense heat of summer has abated; the intense cold of winter has yet to arrive. The muted colors of fall foliage, monarch butterflies, and migrating raptors in the lowering angle of the sun add to the feeling. This week all of the above took center stage in the Hudson Valley.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/27 - Croton River, HRM 34: On September 15, Christopher Letts collected a fish in his killie pot in Croton Marsh that he had never seen before. Today he caught two more. These small (50 mm) greenish-yellow, nondescript fish seemed to us like a cross between a darter and a sculpin, but were neither. After some microscope work using dichotomous keys, we settled on our best guess before giving them to Bob Schmidt for the real answer: they were fat sleepers!
- Tom Lake

[Fat sleepers (Dormitator maculatus) may be among the least known of our 212 Hudson River fishes. The sleepers are so called due to their rather inactive manner. Their genus name comes from the Latin dormio, meaning to sleep. C. Lavett Smith refers to them as a stray into the estuary, being much more common in Central America and the Caribbean. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/26 - Beacon, HRM 61: High on a hill overlooking Beacon and the shimmering Hudson, I watched a kettle of 18 turkey vultures float overhead on the warm breezes, working their way southwestward. Their large shadows eerily repeated their movements on the land below. A red-tailed hawk, also in the kettle, could be heard calling. The vultures would climb one thermal and then drift so effortlessly to another. An interesting moment came when a large C5 military plane on its straight line approach to Stewart Airport in Newburgh flew right through the kettle. The large wingspans of the birds seemed suddenly rather small. A dozen monarchs were also heading the same way.
- Ed Spaeth

9/26 - Staten Island, New York Harbor, Upper Bay: Mixed in with dozens of monarchs and about 50 dragonflies (darners, saddlebags, and others less familiar) an osprey hunted for fish. Perhaps it was just beginning its long migration south along the coast of New York City. The Verrazano Bridge at Fort Wadsworth framed the busy natural scene beautifully with Brooklyn as a backdrop.
- Dave Taft

9/27 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 68: Sitting at the traffic light at Market Street and Route 9, I noticed no fewer than 8 monarchs fluttering their way through this very busy intersection. I felt certain there were more that I missed. I don't know if they travel in groups or not, but these seemed too close together to be a coincidence. I'm always afraid for them when I see them crossing roads, especially knowing the long and arduous journey lying ahead of them. I made sure to wish these winged works of art safe travel to their destination.
- Donna Lenhart

9/27 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: I counted 6 delightful monarch butterflies fluttering by the window of my midtown office, nine stories above the East River at 42nd Street and 1st Avenue near the United Nations.
- Daniel Kricheff

9/28 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: This was a typical foggy morning in autumn. I could not make out the midriver Diamond Reef buoy and I heard far more gulls than I could see. The pots and traps in the river produced the educational focus for today's programs: eels, catfish, pumpkinseed sunfish. Channel catfish still dominated with no sign of white catfish or any bullheads.
- Tom Lake

9/28 - Croton Point, HRM 35: We stood by the river with a class of 2nd graders from Brookside Elementary in Ossining as flock after flock of blue jays streamed past. A migrating pine warbler perched on a willow limb long enough for us to identify it. We counted 40 monarchs in 10 minutes, an exercise we had to abandon or we'd never get to pull the net. In one long haul through the remnant beds of curly pondweed, wild celery, and water milfoil, we caught a mix of pipefish, mummichogs, and young-of-the-year white perch, striped bass, and blue crabs. The river was 69°F; salinity was 4.0 ppt.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

9/28 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Five days ago at daybreak, I was using a pushnet to collect shrimp, pipefish, and other organisms for a river program in New Jersey later in the day. I was startled to hear a loud report, more of a crash than a splash, about 50 yards offshore in approximately 6' of water. A few minutes later I was fortunate to be looking up when a 3 ½' sturgeon cleared the water by a couple of feet, and there was that sound again. Today, after the class of 2nd graders from Ossining had left, Tom Lake and I heard the same splash again. I was reminded of a time fifteen years ago when a seining crew of researchers from SUNY Stony Brook captured a 40" shortnose sturgeon in just about the same spot. The fish jumped once more, with the same sound on reentry, but our eyes were on the migrating hordes of blue jays and monarchs, and we missed seeing it.
- Christopher Letts

9/28 - Battery Park, Manhattan, HRM 0: It was a banner day for watching migrating monarch butterflies and dragonflies at the southern tip of Manhattan. On an early morning run today, we watched a few dozen monarchs pushing southward along the river's edge and then out into New York Harbor. With so far still to fly and fighting a steady headwind, they just powered along in plain sight of all, a reminder that their aposematic coloration and the cardiac glycosides sequestered from the milkweed they eat help keep potential predators at bay. Later in the day, five miles uptown near the Museum of Natural History, the procession continued with monarchs and green darners winging their way down the avenues. While taxis and buses waited at red lights, bright orange and green migrants whizzed right overhead.
- Sacha Spector

[The cardiac glycosides make the monarchs distasteful to birds, which after trying a monarch or two, learn to associate the colors of the butterfly with the bad taste and avoid making meals of them. Aposematic means warning. Steve Stanne.]

9/29 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: Just over an inch and a quarter of rain had fallen by midday. The Fall Kill was rushing to the river and where it met the head of the rising tide, no fewer than a dozen ring-billed gulls were in a frenzy. Most of their dips came up empty but occasionally one would rise with a small silvery fish in its beak. Young-of-the-year shad and river herring?
- Tom Lake

9/29 - Beacon, HRM 61: My attention was focused on a large group of gulls in the river, looking for any that might be strays, when a huge flock of starlings noisily arrived. They descended on several bushes of pokeberry, feverishly stripping the shrubs of all their purple berries.
- Tom Lake

9/29 - Croton Point, HRM 35: After Goretex and Ziploc bags, the breathable chest wader just might have been the 20th century's finest invention. Today, it was "Seining in the Rain, Just Seining in the Rain..." with a class of Ossining 2nd graders. Wet outside, dry inside, I proceeded to follow the seining with a fish-by-fish story of what we had caught, might have caught, wished we had caught: they goggled at 3' eels, 3" shrimp, rejoiced over a stick full of barnacles, and seemed oblivious to the fact that it was raining on their parade. The adults? Huddled close to the trunk of a huge willow for shelter, despite being well dressed for the weather. Ah, the loss of...insouciance? The children did not want to leave!
- Christopher Letts

9/30 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a heavy frost overnight. Our autumn has turned out to be a bit of a bust. It started off pretty well, then stalled, and is now fizzling. There are individual trees that are spectacular, but the overall color is just not there. No fluorescent oranges in the sugar maples. A few russets here and there, but mostly dull yellows and browns, and leaves falling without much change at all. We are supposedly at "peak" now. Some of the locals contend that we haven't had great fall colors since 1996 or 1997. I've seen 2 woolly bears marching across the road so far this fall, both headed south. We haven't seen a monarch or a hummingbird for 2-3 weeks, though Mike Tracy had a hummer on his porch over the weekend.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/30 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: This was the 6th anniversary of the closing of the Hyde Park mastodont site after 392 days. The extinct "elephant" that emerged from an old oxbow of the Fall Kill was estimated to have stood nearly 10' high at the shoulder and weighed almost 10,000 lb. It was the most complete skeleton of a mastodont ever unearthed in the Northeast. Because the excavation took 13 months, hundreds of students from elementary school to graduate school had the opportunity to enter a time capsule back to the Dutchess County of 11,500 years ago. The site changed our view of the valley after the last ice age. A temperate environment with deciduous trees was established earlier than previously thought. While no direct evidence linked the demise of the mastodont to the first humans in the Hudson Valley, there is little doubt that they had crossed paths during the 34 years of its life.
- Tom Lake

9/30 - Bullville, Town of Crawford, Orange County, HRM 61.5: The newly plowed 87 acres of farmland were a magnet to migrating flocks of killdeer. From grubs to grasshoppers, the birds were feasting among the cool, damp hummocks. Down along the Dwaar Kill, a great egret froze like a lawn ornament, poised, waiting for a meal to swim past.
- Tom Lake

9/30 - Ossining, HRM 33: Finally the end of "The Year Without Squirrels!" I've been hearing their chatter in the hemlocks for over a week now, and this morning a pair was frolicking at the birdbath. Where have they been or has it just been my little corner of the woods?
- Mimi Rosenwald

10/1 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: An immature (by feather color-pattern) Cooper's hawk spent about a minute surveying my garden for a potential rodent feast from the top of an umbrella pole just 20' away. Mostly hidden and within the house, I got closer, but it eventually noticed me and took off. It was a truly exceptional treat. Later, a half dozen bluebirds were back in the modest fruit-tree orchard, checking out the house used by bluebirds this summer. A homestead visit, or just checking out the still nest-littered house for tasty bugs?
- Nancy P. Durr

10/2 - Bullville, Town of Crawford, Orange County, HRM 61.5: The monarchs continue to be unbelievable. In the face of a north breeze, it seemed like there must be a treeline off in the distance giving up its orange and black leaves. A Cooper's hawk and a red-tailed dueled over the fields: the aerial maneuverability of the Cooper's pitted against the power and presence of the bigger red-tail. It was nearly all posturing and threats with little contact. The red-tail bailed out first.
- Carolyn Rounds, Phil Rounds, Tom Lake

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