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Hudson River Almanac October 16 - October 23, 2006

OVERVIEW

Again this week, it was difficult to get beyond the monarchs. Just when you think their migration will taper off, a brisk northwest wind funnels them down the valley. So far, they've outnumbered the geese. Our annual Day in the Life of the Hudson River Estuary event - an opportunity for students and professionals to collectively take the pulse of the estuary from Troy to Breezy Point - occurred under clearing skies and warm temperatures. However, snow in the High Peaks, frost on our pumpkins, and shortening daylight all remind us of the looming change in the seasons.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/9 - Garrison, HRM 52:We were canoeing up a side channel just before dusk on Columbus Day when we spotted two bobcats, an adult and a kitten, on a tree trunk that had fallen into the water in the northwest corner of Constitution Marsh. Earlier we had seen many ducks quacking and flying off just beyond them, although a great blue heron in the same area remained standing. We did not know if the ducks saw us or the bobcats, although the bobcats were much closer. The spotted kitten, half the size of the adult, walked past the adult very slowly and into the woods. It might not have seen us. The adult saw us and sat down to watch for several minutes. Likewise, we sat motionless in our canoe. The adult finally stood up and walked slowly into the woods. There was no significant interaction between the two except that they were together and ended up walking away in the same direction

- Judith Rose, Stephen Rose

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/8 - North Germantown, HRM 109: My wife, Robin, and I kayaked from the North Germantown boat launch up to the Roeliff Jansen Kill and back, covering perhaps 3 miles on a bright sunny afternoon. We saw the expected: many Vs of Canada geese, a pair of bald eagles, a great blue heron, a few ducks, many gulls. On the marshy west shore there were many hunting blinds, newly refurbished, but no hunters. Heading south against both the current and the wind, we spotted a monarch butterfly also headed south. We paddled in perfect stroke with the butterfly for a few minutes, wishing there were some way to keep the kayak moving briskly while getting out my camera. After a while, the stiff headwind dropped a bit and the monarch started to pull ahead as we tried in vain to keep up. The whole time the monarch flew straight and level, perhaps 6' above the choppy water, headed down river, keeping just west of the shipping channel.

- Kaare Christian

10/10 - Beacon, HRM 61: I landed and released a huge carp at Long Dock today: 17 lb. 3 oz., 33" long, 21" girth. They were pretty active from noon to 5:00 PM with their aerial displays. One of them cleared the water by two feet and executed a double jack-knife flip before dropping back into the water. There were also 2 nice channel catfish, each 21" long, caught and released.

- Bill Greene

10/10 - Croton River, HRM 34: I had come to set a killifish trap but I stayed to watch the migrating hordes. Birds were flying, raptors and songbirds as well as an occasional flight of Canada geese. The big story was the monarchs. They drifted by in twos and threes and in patches of a dozen or more. They were riding thermals, barely spots in the blue sky above, as well as right on the deck, and every place in between. We had 325 butterfly flutterbyes per hour at midday!

- Christopher Letts

10/11 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: The singularly uneventful seining season goes on: not much in the net, not much in the traps. The catch runs largely to silversides and juvenile white perch on this beach, with juvenile blue crabs beginning to show up in larger numbers this week. Not a fluke or flounder or weakfish this season, and only one small hogchoker and a single croaker. The kids are still electrified by fish in the net, but I have known more interesting seasons, and inwardly groan when the shapes in the net are the same old cast of characters. Monarchs flew at the rate of about 10 per hour on a windy, chilly day.

- Christopher Letts

10/12 - Hudson River Estuary: Over 1,300 students along the tidewater Hudson and New York Harbor came to the riverside to sample, collect and measure aquatic life, water quality, salinity and physical properties of the water and the surrounding environment. Student groups were matched with environmental partners to explore the estuary from Breezy Point in Rockaway, Queens, to the federal dam at Troy. Horseshoe crabs and silversides caught at the mouth of the harbor turned to sunfish and spottail shiners by HRM 59. The largest catch of the day was 365 mummichogs [killifish] at Inwood Hill at the mouth of the Harlem River (HRM 14). A surprise in the day's catch was the large number of blue crabs netted upriver, 12 at Ulster Landing (HRM 97), 12 at Saugerties (HRM 102), 24 at Cohotate Preserve (HRM 116), and even one at Stuyvesant Landing (HRM 127). While the fish and water quality was an expected item on the returned data sheets, the large number of sites noting migrating monarch butterflies was an unexpected treasure. To see the results of this ecological snapshot, visit http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/edu/k12/snapshotday/

- Margie Turrin

10/12 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: We could not have selected better weather for our Snapshot Day sampling: partial sunshine, low 70s, southerly breeze, and the river at 65°F. Added to the gorgeous ambiance of the Hudson Highlands, the setting was perfect. After an overnight storm that dropped 1.48" of rain, the salinity was nearly zero. Eighth graders from Wappinger Falls Junior High helped us haul the 85-foot-long seine to see what fish were home today. It was a modest catch, dominated by young-of-the-year (YOY) striped bass (75 mm), banded killifish, and white perch. The only positive surprises were a single bay anchovy and 2 young American shad (95 mm). A negative surprise, or at least a continuing mystery, was the total absence of YOY river herring - baby bluebacks and alewives. It will be interesting to note in four years, 2010, when this year-class returns to spawn, if we see a thin springtime run of adults.

- Jessica Roth, John Chalous, Alissa Perrault, Rich Parisio, Tom Lake

10/12 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I used a pushnet in the thinning beds of wild celery, to not much avail: one grass shrimp, one tiny blue crab. In a livelier year, the net would have pulsed with shrimp of all sizes, blue crabs, pipefish, and elvers. Monarchs flew at about 10 per hour, making hard work of it against the southwest breeze.

- Christopher Letts

10/12 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: The tide was higher than I have seen it before. While seining with students in the morning an hour after low tide, the area south of the pier that normally exposes large expanses of muddy bottom was covered in several feet of water. By 2:30 PM when we headed home it was like navigating a canal with the pier road buried under several inches of water.

- Margie Turrin

10/12 - Irvington, HRM 24.5: As part of our Snapshot Day sampling, we caught a small mullet in our seine. The Hudson River has both striped and white mullet, both uncommon. Our keys lacked information on telling the two species apart, so we were unable to determine which this one was.

- Steve Stanne

[Mullet are a family of saltwater fish found on the Atlantic Coast from New England south to the Caribbean. In the southern end of their range they spawn in the ocean and spend their lives in estuaries, inland waterways and canals. It is a common sight to see scores of mullet leaping out of the water to escape tarpon and snook. In our area, they are a summer and fall stray into brackish water. In 13 years of the Almanac, this was the 9th recorded occurrence of mullet in the estuary: 3 striped mullet, 4 white mullet, and 2 of indeterminate species. Tom Lake.]

10/13 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I was fishing along the river at the site of the old Delaval cream separator facility. This was a beautiful day with monarchs flying south. My goal of catching another carp remains elusive. In fact, all I'm catching are channel catfish. My bait is mostly flour and water that I mix in a bowl with one finger to get the right "feel" of the dough. I add oatmeal, cornmeal, cornstarch and some flavorings. Each batch comes out a little unique. I've added many flavors including strawberry Jell-O and even chocolate syrup. I will continue to fish for the "big one" but will have to remain content with the frequent channel cats for now.

- Glen Heinsohn

10/13 - Croton Point, HRM 35: It was Friday the thirteenth but the 2nd graders from Coman Hills Elementary in Armonk were too excited to notice. We walked to the river through a curtain of monarchs. With a north breeze as a tail wind, they blew at us like autumn leaves. There were far too many to count. An osprey wheeled overhead showing us the menhaden in its talons. A second surveyed the shallows off the beach, hovering, searching. Our seining was anti-climatic: we caught many small white perch and striped bass (78 mm), as well as a few pipefish, bay anchovies, spottail shiners, banded killifish, Atlantic silversides, and a small female blue crab the size of a quarter. The river was 64°F and the salinity 3.9 ppt.

- Michelle See, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

10/14 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: We had our first frost here this morning, and that seems like a normal time.

- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

10/14 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: Well, at least they're birds! Our intended bald eagle perch (see Almanac, November 3, 2005) finally has company. I've been seeing crows perched on it almost every day. The perch was built in the fall of 2005 by Dynegy Corporation as a feeding and resting perch for wintering bald eagles. It did not appear that the eagles found it last winter; they are slow to trust new things. But we have high hopes for this winter.

- Sue Tokle

10/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The radio spoke of lake effect snow warnings for Oswego, Lewis and Jefferson counties (22.6" in Buffalo yesterday), up to 6" in the higher altitudes. Overnight we had some as well; snow had collected on roofs and was still falling. Our driveway and car were coated white and I had to scrape the windshield. We went for a walk and it was, indeed, snowing, the round, granular type. By the end of our walk it was turning to flakes and soon ended. I suspect that up on the High Peaks there is actually some accumulation. By 10:00 AM, most of this morning's snow was already gone. This evening I had a bunch of bluebirds at the house. It is so nice to see them so late in the season.

- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

10/15 - Beacon, HRM 61-60: Have there ever been so many monarchs passing through our region? It was early afternoon as we walked the Riverside Trail from Denning's Point to Long Dock. We spotted individual monarchs riding on the strong breezes, then 2, 3, and 4, mostly heading south. As we neared Long Dock there were several dozens on and hovering about clumps of tiny white asters in the grassy areas along the river. We also seem to have more aster blooms than I've ever noticed before. Out on the river, 2 cormorants settled on pilings on the south side of Long Dock, undisturbed by several fishermen on the pier. All along the trail we could hear the water lapping on the shore with such force it almost sounded like we were on an ocean beach, a wonderful sound on a gorgeous day.

- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly, Chance Plage

10/15 - Kowawese, HRM 59: As far as we could see, all of the water celery that had covered the shallows this summer had been uprooted and pushed up on the beach by recent flood tides and ship's wakes. Like leaves falling off trees, the river gives up its foliage as well. The bottom was smooth, sandy, and relatively fishless. We hauled our 85-foot seine several times with little luck. The two dozen YOY striped bass and handful of spottail shiners were a poor showing compared to recent autumns. There were 2 YOY American shad (105 mm) in the net, but no river herring - no alewives, no blueback herring whatsoever. The river was 63°F.

- Jian Flores, Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/15 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: It was late afternoon at the top of the flood tide when I noticed flashes of silver at the surface of the river over a stretch of several hundred feet. I went to the end of the pier and with binoculars I could see fish hitting the surface for at least 200 yards in either direction and probably more. The school was long but seemed to be confined to a strip about 100 feet wide. I guessed they were herring, which was confirmed at the Crab House pier where fishermen were gaffing 12-14" bunker (Atlantic menhaden) with large treble hooks. Long-time fishermen said that the school was quite spread out making them harder to snag than usual. They had rarely seen one cover such a large area and in seven years of watching, I had never seen a school this big. The free bait was put to immediate use with a three-foot-long striped bass already in the large sink set up for anglers at the end of the pier.

- Terry Milligan

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