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Hudson River Almanac November 13 - November 20, 2006

OVERVIEW

The late autumn flights of geese have begun in earnest. They seem to draw the winter weather with them as they pass. As to the winter landscape, it is also beginning to take form, with coyotes and eagles and common mergansers.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

Last week (11/9) Ed Speath commented in the Hudson River Almanac on the possibility that he had encountered a silver-haired bat. Phyllis Marsteller, of Rhinebeck (HRM 88) had this to say: "One spring, a year and a half ago, a bat that looked like a silver-haired clung to the siding of my house for a day. It found a spot a foot below a wide eave, facing east, and it clung there while it slept. I assumed it was migrating. According to Peterson's Field Guide to Mammals, the silver-haired bat is solitary and 'probably migrates south in winter.' Maybe both Ed and I saw a silver-haired bat at different times of the year."

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/13 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: I managed to get in a couple of hours of fishing despite the rain. As I was reeling in my line to check if my dough bait had "melted" off, it felt as though my line was snagged. I reeled in a bit more and felt what I suspected was another channel catfish on the line. But this was a stronger pull and it turned out to be a 12 lb. carp. After a nice battle I pulled it ashore and removed the hook with my needlenose pliers. I held it up to a passing Metro-North commuter train and then swung it back into the river.
- Glen Heinsohn

11/13 - George's Island, HRM 39: It is not usual to have bald eagles appear here before the middle of December, but there they were, 3 adults on the Dogan Point hillside winter perches.
- Christopher Letts

11/13 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: It's not quite like having a trogon land on your shoulder, but around here and at this time of year, five species of woodpeckers in the yard in a single day is worth noting. Downies and redbellies we get every day, year around. Hairys are much scarcer, and over the years I've felt that they are preferred targets for Cooper's hawks - most of ours do not last out the winter. Pileated cackles and a couple of overflights made cleaning out the front garden much more pleasant, and as I fussed in the kitchen, a yellow-bellied sapsucker paid a long visit to a suet feeder. Walking down to get the mail, I thought I heard a flicker. Oh, I wanted it to be a woodpecker grand slam but I couldn't be sure.
- Christopher Letts

11/13 - Croton River, HRM 34: I spotted 2 adult bald eagles perched along the river. These were probably the local mated pair. It's finally true: if you live near the Hudson, and know how and where to look, an eagle a day will help keep the blues away.
- Christopher Letts

11/14 - Farmer's Landing, Dutchess County, HRM 67: There is a line of tall black locusts that overlook the mouth of the tidal Wappinger. These are favorite winter perches for bald eagles, most often wintering birds that arrive in mid-December. Yet today, there was an adult there, watching the tide rise. I could not read the blue band on her leg but given the size of the bird and the location, I guessed it was the female (N42) from the local breeding pair in nest NY62.
- Tom Lake

11/14 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: This has been a spectacular wild mushroom season with abundant harvests and half a dozen of our favorite kinds. Today I spotted three maples all loaded with prime oyster mushrooms. I sharpened my knife and put the step ladder in the truck and went to the store. By the time I finished slicing and climbing, an hour later, I had two 5 gallon buckets filled with the best of the best - lovely little caps, clean and fresh. A winter's supply, for omelets and soups and stews.
- Christopher Letts

11/14 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Surely the bulk of fall migrants had passed through, but today the Point was rich in birds. I saw half a dozen flocks of cedar waxwings. From the tip of the Point back past the swimming pool, no fewer than 500 waxwings were feeding among the vines, taking their time but always moving south and west. Some robins were mixed in, and small flocks of red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds were moving through. There were also warblers, mostly palm and yellow-rumped, and lots of them. On Croton Bay, the number of common mergansers increases daily.
- Christopher Letts

[Common mergansers: In the world of phenology, common mergansers are one of those species whose presence portends future events. In this case, in the lower Hudson Valley, their late fall arrival from northern breeding grounds comes just before the arrival of wintering bald eagles. Since they are a favorite eagle prey, the connection is pretty clear. The drake merganser is among the most strikingly beautiful of waterfowl. The hen, with her fly-away red feathered head, always reminds me of the Bride of Frankenstein. Common mergansers will be here by the thousands, in rafts large and small, from now until early March when the reverse will occur, as they depart for points north just ahead of the wintering eagles. Tom Lake.]

11/15 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: I was waiting for yet another busload of kids for a program at this wonderful old structure, the Kingsland Point or North Tarrytown Lighthouse. The Coast Guard buoy tender Kathleen Wheeler passed on her way upriver. A two-foot high wake rolled toward the line of rocks that buffer the lighthouse against ice and logs. As it broke, a purple sandpiper scuttled up to a higher, drier position. It was no more than a few feet from me, seemingly unafraid. I spent a pleasant half hour watching the little bird as it foraged, pecking at cracks and fissures in the wet rocks. Even at that distance and with a good binocular to hand, I could not determine what it was feeding on. Whatever it was, it was in the form of tiny tidbits. I've seen just one other purple sandpiper on the Hudson, a dozen years ago and 4 miles upriver at Scarborough Station.
- Christopher Letts

11/16 - Albany, HRM 145: The air temperature reached 71 F today, breaking the old record of 70 F.
- National Weather Service

11/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 70 F today, breaking the old record of 69 F.
- National Weather Service

11/16 - Newburgh, HRM 61: A half dozen small, compact flocks of ducks came in low under the gray sky and set down in river. Only one was close enough to identify - eight ruddy ducks. These small flights were all diving ducks, migrating south, and appeared like squadrons of planes, coming in under the radar.
- Tom Lake

11/16 - Beaver Dam Brook, Town of Montgomery, HRM 59: Atypical for mid-November, the 72 F air temperature had me working in shirtsleeves. We were beginning a cultural resource survey of a 40-acre farm along Beaver Dam Brook, a tributary of the Wallkill, looking for evidence of the original Hudson Valley residents. In the days before woodstoves, I'm sure they would have appreciated such a fine, warm, late autumn day. On the ground we recovered a gorgeous stone spear point that dated, stylistically, to about 3,000 years ago. Of even more interest was the fact that the stone used in manufacture was a type called Western Onondaga chert, most of which comes from quarries in western New York, near Buffalo.
- Tom Lake

[Dating of Indian artifacts is tricky business. For projectile points ("arrowheads") we often rely on the accuracy of radiocarbon dating of similar artifacts elsewhere to arrive at a plausible date for what we have found. Tom Lake.]

11/16 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: It had been months since my last coyote sighting here. Today, a pair of walkers with 2 huge dogs (running off leash, against park rules) were about 50 yards in front of me. I watched as a coyote popped out of cover after they had passed. It began to trot down the trail toward me, looking over its shoulder at the group. When it turned back and focused on me, it almost turned a somersault in its haste to disappear back into the brush.
- Christopher Letts

11/17 - Beacon, HRM 61: After yesterday's tremendous rain and winds it was not surprising to see the river looking rather wild, murky, and turbid. But it was a surprise to see a turtle basking in the 64 F sun at the edge of a trail side pool along the Beacon to Denning's Point River Walk. However, the wise turtle slipped into the pool before we could get close enough to determine anything special about its markings and identify it. The best we could do: about 8" long, dark greenish-black, and not a snapping turtle. Along the trail we found a lone spotted knapweed blooming and a fresh little bouquet of New York aster.
- Tina Cianciulli, Jackie (Guide Dog-in-Training), Carolyn Plage, Chance Plage

11/18 - Beaver Dam Brook, Town of Montgomery, HRM 59: This would be one of several "flight days" with winds stiff to strong from the north and west. Looking up at the sky once in a while was a nice balance from looking down at the ground all day, searching for clues to the past. Before noon, 4 flights of geese had gone over, all of them huge checkmarks in the sky. The first one was snow geese, the last three Canada geese. On the ground we found a small spear point whose style suggested that it was about 5,000 years old. It was made of beautiful soft, gray chert that had come from a quarry 35 miles to the southwest. - Tom Lake, Beth Selig

11/19 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: I hope this nice, warm weather continues, and the fishing with it. Today, with my usual dough bait of flour, water, cornmeal and vanilla extract, I hooked and landed, by my measure, a "monster" carp. It was over 20 lb.
- Glen Heinsohn

11/19 - Beaver Dam Brook, Town of Montgomery, HRM 59: Another flight day with a half-dozen flocks of geese. Some of these were smaller and passed lower overhead. One flight was snow geese; all the others were Canadas. On the ground we found a small stone dart point that we guessed to be about 4,000 years old. Across three days, we had uncovered evidence that Native Americans had hunted these fields, probably forested at that time, between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago.
- Tom Lake, Beth Selig

11/19 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: While getting gas today, I witnessed a favorite fall spectacle: a perfectly shaped, but leafless, maple tree, with every branch, every twig, "leafed" with starlings. Black against the overcast sky, they twittered, chattered, fidgeted, fluttered, making a lovely racket.
- Robin Fox

11/19 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A bleak morning, dark and chilly, and not much to see in the way of wildlife. I wasn't all that happy with the products of a ninety minute walk, until a flock of bluebirds spiraled down and landed on the path in front of me. Smile!
- Christopher Letts

11/20 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: I spotted a bluebird at the Staatsburg Historic Site this afternoon. I thought they would be gone by now. There are several bluebird houses on the site but I could not determine if the bird was a summer resident, a winter resident, or a transient. They are so pretty - I wish we saw them more often. Hopefully an unexpected bad winter won't hurt them.
- Diane Fanelli

11/20 - Beaver Dam Brook, Town of Montgomery, HRM 59: The ratio of snow geese to Canada geese continued today: we had 4 flights of Canadas, one of snows. A northern harrier rose out of the phragmites along Beaver Dam Brook and made a slow glide over the field in the face of a stiff, cold northwest wind. The hawk dipped and darted, teetered and swayed a few times, showing off its incredible dexterity while it hunted. In late afternoon, as the light was failing, a Cooper's hawk slipped out of the woods and cruised as silently as an owl, along the edge of the treeline sending a flock of doves away in a panic.
- Tom Lake, Beth Selig

11/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Walking around the base of the landfill, I got that "I'm being watched" tingle. A hundred yards upslope sat 2 coyotes, bookends, staring at me. When I stopped and hoisted the binocular the smaller of the two faded into the brush. Its back was almost a fox-red, fading to almost blonde on the flanks. The other was a huge animal, patchy gray and brown, perhaps the most impressive coyote I've ever seen. Both animals were pictures of vitality, with the full thick glossy winter pelt. The second animal finally trotted away down the berm, in no hurry at all. These were not the coyote I encountered a few days ago. That one was smaller and almost uniform light gray all over.
- Christopher Letts

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