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Hudson River Almanac October 24 - October 31, 2006

OVERVIEW

Each spring and fall we experience a few weeks of stark contrast in the Hudson watershed. The elevation of the High Peaks has already brought "December snow" while in the lower estuary we still feel "September warmth." Southbound fish and bird migrations have eased; winter birds from juncos to diving ducks and winter fish such as Atlantic tomcod have arrived.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/28 - Bullville, Town of Crawford, Orange County, HRM 61.5: A coastal nor'easter roaring past brought sustained winds of 20 mph with gusts to 50. The sky was black as night except where it was as gray as lead. A huge flock of cedar waxwings filled the trees along the Dwaar Kill, hanging on as the saplings and branches bent nearly double in the face of the southeast wind. We would see 1.36" of rain along the Hudson; here, twenty miles inland, over twice as much would fall.
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/24 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Early this morning we got ready to wet the seine at low tide - the tide has no regard for convenience. The shoreline was dead quiet - no wind, no birdsong, no lapping of wavelets, nothing. From upriver came a sound like the wind, only at a higher pitch. Within seconds almost every branch of every tree was filled with noisy cedar waxwings. Hundreds of them. It was like they dropped from the sky. In ten minutes they were all gone and it was quiet again. Our netting was anti-climatic. We caught many young-of-the-year (YOY) fish: striped bass (55-65 mm), a few American shad (115 mm), tessellated darters, bluegills, and some adult spottail shiners. Once again, conspicuous by their absence were YOY river herring. This did not necessarily indicate they were not there. It simply meant they were not in the places where we usually look for them in the fall. The river was 54 F.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/24 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The grassy fields of this sand spit area were alive with the sights and sounds of white-throated sparrows. It is what serious birders call a "fallout," when migrating birds, in this case riding the strong northwest winds we've been having for the past few days, drop out of the sky by the thousands to rest and feed before the next part of their journey. There were some thrushes and juncos scattered in but it was mostly white-throats. They might stay for a day or so. This happens throughout the fall - it could be robins, kinglets, or blue jays. But the brant, almost always here by Columbus Day, are laggards so far.
- Dery Bennett

10/25 - Hathaway's Glen, HRM 63: As we were preparing to sample the river with our seine, a flock of drab yellow warblers came through the trees along the shore. They were much too quick for me to identify. I had my binoculars handy but no field guide. With vague wing bars and eye stripes, and their frenetic branch-hopping, I would have needed a bird-in-hand to figure them out. Less than a minute later a kestrel came through. That may have accounted for their flighty behavior. We were still searching for river herring but, as has been the case this fall, we found none. In fact we caught no migratory fish at all. The bag in the net held YOY bluegills and a large number of tessellated darters. These little perch ranged from YOY to adults. The river was 55 F. Hathaway's Brook, passing under the railroad trestle after its tumble down the fall line, was 48 F.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/25 - Beacon, HRM 61: From Long Dock I could see carp jumping and splashing on and off for eight hours today. I caught and released 2 of them, one 13½ lb., the other 10 lb. 14oz. A 20" channel catfish also took my bait. Maybe the nicest discovery for myself, and others who sport fish in the Hudson, is the significant niche carp and the channel cats have filled.
- Bill Greene

10/25 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Darkness was swiftly falling as we traveled past Downing Park. We spotted several hundred crows congregating in the trees of the park and the neighboring areas. In past years, I had noted that crows and blackbirds tended to form a winter roost near Powellton Country Club. (See Hudson River Almanac, January 20, 2006.)
- Ed Spaeth

10/26 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There was some snow on the ground, just a dusting when I got up this morning. But woodcocks are still around. Toby Rathbone and I scare up at least one every evening on our walks. I'd think they would've moved on by now, but apparently not.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/26 - Englewood, HRM 13.5: When we opened the seine today it was like a slot machine jackpot as all the silver came popping out: 700 bay anchovies of all sizes, 2 dozen YOY river herring, practically the first I had seen this year, twice as many YOY menhaden, about as many silversides, and several yearling striped bass.
- Christopher Letts

10/26 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We noted the arrival of the first brant of the season today, back from their Arctic breeding season. There was a flock of about 100 on the bay side of the Hook, feeding and preening. This is late for their appearance; usually it's closer to Columbus Day. Maybe they timed their arrival to mark 75 years and a day after the opening of the George Washington Bridge. Maybe they even flew down the Hudson and under the bridge before landing here. They will head back north around Memorial Day. In the meantime, we are treated to their calming soft cackle-chuckling. Clamming season opens in the nearby Navesink River November 1. It just gets better.
- Dery Bennett

10/27 - Cheviot, HRM 106: Three adult bald eagles were fishing off Cheviot this morning with much swooping and diving. After successfully catching a fish, one very large bird landed in a tree on the island and had a leisurely breakfast, while one of the other eagles sat on a lower branch of the same tree. The third adult flew across to the other side of the river where I lost sight of it. Watching these eagles made my morning! - Susan Droege

10/27 - Peekskill, HRM 43: As I was walking through the leaves on the sidewalk I almost stepped on what looked like a gray, speckled stick. I bent to look closely and the "stick" became a 7" long gray, speckled slug, fat as my thumb. My field guide identified it as a great slug, calling it a "garden pest."
- Robin Fox

10/27 - Englewood, HRM 13.5: The weather was chilling the river down and the crabs and shrimp had moved offshore. Yesterday's jackpot was repeated, except that I estimated today's catch at 2,000 fish, mainly bay anchovies with perhaps a hundred silversides and menhaden together. Osprey were still finding adult menhaden. A merlin chased a flock of small birds across from the east side and returned empty-taloned. Sharp-shinned hawks and turkey vultures were also flying today.
- Christopher Letts

10/28 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 46.5: Today the attention grabber was not the Hudson, or Anthony's Nose, Iona Island, Dunderberg Mountain, or the fall colors, but the severe wind and rain. Leaves were rising instead of falling. Out in the river I saw a large flotilla of waterfowl. There must have been 150-250 individuals in the group of ruddy ducks. These diving ducks are common late fall and winter visitors to the estuary. The weather may have grounded them for the morning and the tight grouping pattern may have provided some relative shelter from the storm.
- Greg Mercurio

10/28 - Englewood, HRM 13.5: As I waited for the school bus to arrive, I watched a dozen winter wrens probing, mouse-like, in and out of the crannies of the old stone walls that line the river bank here. With the coldest night of the season behind us, the "silver fish bonanza" seemed over. Fewer than 20 fish were in the net today. Most of them were herring, silversides, and anchovies, with a few "penny bunker" (menhaden) mixed in.
- Christopher Letts

10/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The river was almost at spring conditions as a result of all of yesterday's rain (1.5"), before it became snow. We awoke today a white, white world. Heavy wet snow. We only had 3", but Blue Mountain Lake to the north had over 10". It never ceases to amaze me how the mountains can play with the weather patterns. Now the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and puffy white clouds are racing across the heavens at breakneck speed.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/29 - Bullville, Town of Crawford, Orange County, HRM 61.5: Saturday's storm was moving away and in its wake came west winds at 30 mph, gusting to 45. There were a half-dozen turkey vultures soaring over the field we were surveying. It was interesting see one of the strong gusts take a vulture and blow it across the sky several hundred feet in a matter of seconds. For the vultures, it was probably like an amusement park. From yesterday's storm, the Wallkill River was out of its banks and the Dwaar Kill was high, clear, and moving fast. We found several pieces of notched sandstone that we tentatively identified as Indian net weights from long ago. We wondered if, on a day like this, these might have been better used as tent weights.
- Beth Selig, Tom Lake

10/29 - Beacon, HRM 61: I had been hoping for a west or south wind to blow the fish toward me as I fish on the south side of Long Dock, but today's wind was a little over the top.There was very little tidal movement today as the wind kept the ebb tide from dropping. Four channel catfish, 15"-18" long, and an 8" brown bullhead were caught and released.
- Bill Greene

10/29 - Furnace Woods, Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: For the past 2 weeks, I've seen winter wrens on every morning walk and around the yard at home. Today there were wrens on the suet feeder, wrens cleaning my eaves and poking under the siding shakes for spiders and other tidbits. This migratory movement occurs each year during the last half of October, and I always look forward to it.
- Christopher Letts

10/29 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Black-capped chickadees were flitting around in the hemlock trees outside my window. The trees, which have escaped the hemlock woolly adelgid, are heavy with tiny cones. The chickadees fly up, clutch onto a dangling cone, and, hanging upside-down, pry out seeds. Then, on another branch, right-side-up, they feast. They do this over and over; you'd think they'd get dizzy.
- Robin Fox

10/29 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Yesterday's boisterous front brought gales of wind and almost 3" of rain from the south. The evening high tide completely overwashed the bathing beach - not a stick of driftwood or a bit of flotsam was to be seen. The eye passed over and the wind then blew even harder from the north, giving us a blow-out tide by mid-morning. With winds gusting 40-50 mph, the air was filled with legions of robins, cedar waxwings, and mixed flocks of blackbirds, all leaving the Point in a steady stream. On the water, hooded and common mergansers had arrived, and the first juncos and white-throated sparrows were abundant all over the Point.
- Christopher Letts

[Blowout tides are not common. They occur most frequently following several days of strong and steady north-northwest winds that hold back the flood tide and prolong and magnify the ebb. If this happens around a new or full moon (spring tides) the result can be even more spectacular. The scenario culminates in an ebb tide that seems to go seaward forever, draining tidemarshes and inshore shallows and revealing large portions of usually unseen river bottom. Tom Lake.]

10/30 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: The tide was so low at 1:00 PM that from the south outlet of Fishkill Creek I was able to walk half way across the bay toward Denning's Point without getting my feet wet. It was just flat, moist sand, more land than water. Along the way I counted 75 tires and 5 shopping carts. I have never seen the bay so low. This was a day after the high tide flooded the train station parking lot and the road out to Riverfront Park in Beacon.

- Bob Kacur

10/30 - Croton Point, HRM 35: We watched a lone brant cruise in for a landing, paddle to the rocky shore, get out, and walk along the high and dry riprap probing for what? We could not guess. Saturday's erosive flood tide and the subsequent blowout tide of yesterday had uncovered a large oyster shell on the beach. We measured it at 7", a near giant oyster, and estimated that the Hudson had not seen such an shellfish in maybe 5,000 years. The hinge seemed to bear a mark made by a stone tool. This oyster had been dinner long ago. Later, two classes of first graders from Post Road Elementary in White Plains poised in anticipation as we hauled our seine ashore. The bag pulsed with a nice fish that turned out to be an 18" carp. There were an unusually large number of three-spine sticklebacks in the net (10). It was not so long ago, maybe 2 years, that we were lamenting their "disappearance." No longer. Tiny blue crabs we call "bugs," and a few shore shrimp made for goods stories to tell, but the fish that meant the most to us was our first tomcod of the season. These ocean migrants move into the estuary in late fall to spawn under the freshwater ice of mid-winter in a convoluted counterpoint to fish like herring, shad, striped bass, and sturgeon. The river was 52 F and the salinity barely measurable at 2.2 ppt.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Magdalena Andrade

10/30 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was the day after the wind had subsided and yet we still had a remnant blowout tide. Sand spits appeared where there had been none; sediments carried by the Croton River coupled with a ferocious current had shifted the bottom topography. I counted 2 dozen coot bobbing in the chop at the mouth of the Croton River, taking advantage of all the loosened vegetation.
- Tom Lake

10/31 - Newcomb, HRM 302: During the wee hours last night a coyote decided to serenade me from just outside my bedroom window. I woke to "bark bark bark, yeuuuuu, bark bark bark, yeuuuuu." While it must've been 100' away, it sounded like it was 10' away. Someone recently told me that coyotes don't bark. I beg to differ. This morning I spotted a black-backed woodpecker on the side of a tree in the space between two fairways on the golf course. As usual, when I encounter this bird, I hear a very soft rapping sound that suddenly registers: "Hey - I wonder if that's a black-back?" Then I look around for it.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/31 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A strong south wind coming across the five-mile reach from below Storm King pushed rollers up on the beach. We tried to seine but the net would not behave and, within minutes, both my hip boots were filled to overflowing. The fishing was marginal at best: a few white perch and spottail shiners, a small striped bass, a tessellated darter, and a young-of-the year largemouth bass (114 mm). Once again, no river herring or shad.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/31 - Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Queens: Large flocks of brant have been evident at the refuge for at least the last month. It's been a pleasure. I love listening to them in particular.
- Dave Taft

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