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Hudson River Almanac November 1 - November 6, 2006


11/1 - Looking through the Almanac, it becomes apparent that late spring and early fall are the most dynamic seasons on the Hudson. Summer has its attractions and winter has its bald eagles, but seasons in flux with wildlife migrations and climate change seem to make every day an adventure, a sensory overload. November is one of those in-between periods when the river catches its breath, the world slows down, fall migrations taper off, and we find time to clean the lenses on our binoculars. November reminds me of an intermission between halves of a Broadway show.


11/1 - Cortlandt Manor, HRM 37.5: We were making a decision about what dinner was going to be when George Hatzman tapped on the door with his boot toe. His hands were full - two 3-foot plus bluefish, almost 30 lb. all told. While I filleted and trimmed them in the backyard he slumped on the stone wall, all done in, and told the story of a great day of fishing. The Boyz at the Bridge have had a banner year with bluefish. And it keeps getting better. George and others battled blues over 12 lb. all day long. They had to switch to 75 lb. steel leaders - the blues were chomping through the 40 lb. leaders they ordinarily use. No one in the gang ever remembers blues so big and so plentiful. The skinned and trimmed fillets cooked up beautifully, firm and white and delicious over a bed of rice. We'll enjoy the cheeks tonight. They are disc-shaped and the size of pork chops when they come from fish this size, the absolute best part. For the rest of the catch, I'll have to fire up my smoker.
- Christopher Letts


11/1 - Delmar, HRM 143: Al Breisch, Jeff Werner, our intern at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, and I released some two-year-old wood turtles into the Vlomankill. We had let some go in July; those jumped right in and swam out into a pool. Today was a nice day, but it had been cool and rainy and the water was high and murky (the water temperature was 47 F). Some of the turtles just sat on the sand, checking things out. Then one jumped in, swam out, made a quick U-turn, came right back and looked up at us as if to say "What is this?" These turtles had been raised in captivity for release but had never been outdoors. We left them to go look for others from the July release. When we came back, this batch had all gone in. It was too muddy to see others that may have been out there.
- Dee Strnisa

11/1 - Hathaway's Glen, HRM 63: For the first time since spring, the water coming out of Hathaway's Glen Brook was warmer (53 F) than the river. The Hudson, cooled in part by meltwater from snowfall in the watershed, was a cool 52 F. (This reversal occurred on November 3 in 2005.) In what has been a common theme of autumn seining, there were few if any seaward migrants, and no young-of-the-year (YOY) river herring or shad. The net filled with resident freshwater species such as tessellated darters, spottail shiners, YOY bluegills, and banded killifish.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Tessellated darters are small perch, generally 2-4 inches long, related to yellow perch and walleye. They are one of the finest examples of camouflage, blending into the brown, mottled sandy substrate they frequent. They lie motionless on the bottom, propped on their pelvic fins until potential food comes by, such as insect larvae, small fish, or shrimp. Then, in a short, quick movement, they "dart" out and capture their prey. Tom Lake.]

11/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was a bluebird day, balmy and mild, and bluebirds were what we had all day long. There must have been hundreds, and the air was filled with their sweet "dearly, dearly" notes. Thousands of other songbirds were feeding their way south and west toward the departure point at the tip of Croton Point. Flocks of mixed blackbirds, robins and cedar waxwings alternately fed and flew, some so high they could barely be seen with binoculars. The underbrush was loaded with sparrows, warblers, kinglets, more winter wrens and a nice look at an always-favorite of mine, a brown creeper. I have not seen a single monarch in twelve days, as if someone had thrown a switch and turned off the migration.
- Christopher Letts

11/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: What a difference a day makes. From balmy, sweet, picnic weather yesterday, to blustery, cold rain and slicing northeast winds today. The birds were not in a picnic mood; they were laying the miles down. In little more than an hour, I counted 16 flocks of cedar waxwings and the sky was etched with blackbirds, robins, and blue jays looking to spend the night someplace a lot warmer.
- Christopher Letts

11/2 - Nyack Beach State Park HRM 31: The two months of school seining programs ended for me today pretty much as it had begun, with a whimper. I don't imagine the students and teachers noticed the difference, but it was night-and-day for me: There was almost no barnacle spat set this year; killifish were down by 95%, in the pots and in the net; YOY shad and herring were no-shows; and eels were smaller and fewer.
- Christopher Letts

[Seines are frequently mentioned in Almanac observations. Seine is a French word, from the Latin sagëna, which means a fishing net designed to hang vertically in the water, the ends of which are drawn together to enclose fish. A seine is a net with a float seamline on top, a lead seamline on the bottom, and tight meshes in between, usually made of multifilament nylon. Seines in the Almanac range in length from 50-250 feet long, 4-6 feet deep, mesh size of ¼ - 2½ inches, depending upon application, and are used primarily by researchers, educators and bait dealers. The longer nets may be set and hauled by a boat and crew. New York State residents can use a seine in the Hudson River, not to exceed 36 square feet in area, to catch bait for their own personal use. Use of larger seines requires a License to Collect and Possess from the NYSDEC Special Licenses Unit. Tom Lake.]

11/2 - Hackensack River, New York Harbor: My Aquatic Ecology classes have been investigating Cooper's Pond in Bergenfield, New Jersey, for 4 years, using several different sizes and styles of fish traps, putting out 4-7 traps each visit. Cooper's Pond is drained by Herschfeld's Brook, a tributary of the Hackensack River and New York Harbor. Until this year, we had encountered only 2 channel catfish while capturing many brown bullheads. Today we visited Cooper's Pond for the first time this year. In our largest traps we found at least a dozen brown bullheads, some nearly 14" long, as well as 7 channel catfish, 8-12"long. The native bullhead population is increasing but so are the non-native channel catfish. The pond is created by a dam that has a ramp-like spillway with a slope of roughly 45 . Would channel catfish be able to propel themselves up such a ramp and to reach the pond, or has some fisherman caught a few in the Hudson River and brought them here?
- Terry Milligan

11/3 - East Fishkill, HRM 61: Driving home this evening, I spotted at least 75 turkey vultures soaring over an apple orchard. The scene was quite "Hitchcockesque!" They may have been heading to a night roost. Although I looked, I could not see any black vultures amongst them.
- Connie Mayer-Bakall

11/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was a cold morning with a sharp north wind. I counted 15 flocks of cedar waxwings in a little more than one hour and skeins of songbirds webbed the sky non-stop. It is a pretty good day when a starling is the 25th species you see and a crow is number 35. This was a spectacular day - 47 species of birds by noon. Among them were winter and Carolina wrens, many sparrows, warblers, kinglets, a goshawk, bald eagle, Cooper's, sharp-shinned, and red-tailed hawks. Out on Croton Bay, the waterfowl were close inshore, under the winds screaming off the southwest point. Among them were canvasbacks, scaup, black ducks, 500 ruddy ducks, hooded mergansers, 4 pied-billed grebes, 50 mute swans, 200 coot, a small flock of brant, and hundreds of mallards.
- Christopher Letts

11/3 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The fall seining program season ends when the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable and the animals fail to show. All pots, traps and collection devices came out of the river today and from now until spring, binoculars and spotting scopes will do all of the capturing. When the warm-water season serves us with pleasant surprises, it justly deserves its accolades. But when the season disappoints, that too should be mentioned. In this reach of the river, the numbers of American eels has sharply declined. There also appear to be fewer brown and yellow bullheads and white catfish, while channel catfish seem to be increasing. This impression is mostly anecdotal - what we see in our nets, pots, and traps - without hard data. From what we have observed of channel catfish, they appear to occupy a more generalized niche in the river and, as such, may be out-competing bullheads for critical resources such as habitat and forage.
- Tom Lake

11/4 - Fishkill, HRM 61: In late morning, air temperatures were mild, in the 40s. Overhead a turkey vulture floated lazily across the sky on thermals while a robin foraged in a white pine with its tangle of Virginia creeper vines for berries. A hermit thrush probed about in the leaf litter beneath the pines. Not far off, a fox sparrow also was busy foraging in leaf litter at the forest edge. The usual contingents of doves, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, blue jays and cardinals were at the feeders.
- Ed Speath

11/4 - Wappinger Lake, HRM 68: Winds were calm in late afternoon. The sun shone through partly cloudy skies putting a glow on the autumn colors of the shoreline trees and a bright gleam on the waters of the lake. A dozen mute swans placidly floated about the center of the lake along with some gulls while many mallards skirted along the distant shore. In a quiet shallow cove, a great blue heron stalked its prey while a lone head-bobbing coot busily probed the waters.
- Ed Speath

11/5 - Sandy Hook, NJ: High tide had overwashed everything east of the dunes; dry sand was not easy to find. Offshore in the Lower Bay of New York Harbor several flocks of frenetic gulls were hovering and diving over dark patches of water. These were probably bluefish chasing menhaden. Elsewhere, on the edges, it looked to me like cement blocks were dropping from heaven - eruptions of spray as northern gannets dove after fish. The setting sun reflected off their ivory bullet-shaped heads. They are impressive birds and a show all by themselves. This was the evening when sunset and the full moon rise would occur within minutes of each other. Sunset was 4:30 and, even after it set, the sky to the east was an incredible swath of pastels. The full moon rose twenty minutes later. Close enough. By now the gannets were gone. The moon on the horizon was an incredible deep orange. As the sun's glow disappeared and the beach was bathed in moonlight, a school of 20-24" striped bass came past creating quite a ruckus.
- Tom Lake

[Gannets are goose-sized seabirds nearly always seen over the ocean, rarely venturing inland. They are birds of the cold North Atlantic, with breeding colonies in the far northeastern Canadian Maritimes. They dive like pelicans when feeding, and although I have seen some sloppiness, author David Sibley describes their entry as "piercing the water," with a minimum of splash, like an Olympic swimmer executing the perfect dive. Tom Lake.]

11/6 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Just before the sun peeked over the horizon at 6:30 AM, the gannets were back and their show resumed. I could see several small patches of disturbed water just beyond the breakers, a hundred feet off the beach. Numerous small fish, probably peanut bunker, were jumping, leaping, trying to escape bass or blues. Just as the rising sun turned from red to gold, another school of 20-24" striped bass came past, once again sending bait fish scurrying. The water was 53 F.
- Tom Lake

["Peanut bunker" is a colloquial name for YOY Atlantic menhaden, a herring, and a universal food in marine waters. They are pursued by a broad range of predators from bluefish to great blue herons. In the Hudson River they are also referred to as "penny bunker." Tom Lake.]

The full moon flood tide had swept over the sand and filled a narrow, thigh-deep swale behind me, like a moat between the beach and the dunes. A small, chunky (robin-size) shorebird was walking along the edge in typical shorebird fashion, pecking away at flotsam left by the latest wave. I did not recognize it. Then it plopped into the "moat" and began foraging like a gull. In fact it looked like a small gull. Occasionally it would climb out and resume its shorebird or wading bird posture. Using binoculars to record field marks and then checking the field guide, I identified it as a non-breeding red phalarope. My first, I think.
- Tom Lake

[Phalaropes breed in the Arctic, winter at sea, and are unique enough that ornithologists wonder if they should be classified as wading birds, shorebirds, or something entirely different. With lobed toes, they are equally at home wading, swimming, or just poking along like a shorebird. Their common name derives from the Greek phalaros, meaning "having a white patch," which refers to their breeding colors, a deep reddish body with a white face. Tom Lake.]

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