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Hudson River Almanac November 21 - November 27, 2006

OVERVIEW

A Thanksgiving Day nor'easter swept through the Hudson Valley, leaving us wet and the river extra high and roily. In what has become almost a late-autumn tradition, an rare stray hummingbird was seen in Yonkers at the Lenoir Wildlife Sanctuary butterfly garden.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was dark and dreary as Toby Rathbone and I headed out for an early morning walk. When we rounded the corner at the intersection of our street, we looked up and there were the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, their eastern faces gloriously lit up by the rising sun. Newcomb was under a low lid of dark clouds, but to the north, at the edge of the clouds, the sky was blue and the mountains resplendent, dusted with snow and bathed in a golden glow. It was a vision of hope and a world full of potential.

- Ellen Rathbone

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Tonight we had our first clear sky in many days. Toby Rathbone and I headed out in late evening and it was so nice to see the stars again. It was like greeting old friends who've been out of town for far too long. The sky was laid out above like a bowl marked with pin-holes. As always, the Big Dipper was most prominent, but the other constellations said hello as well, and even the Milky Way had an arm swept across the heavens. We lingered for a while at the Newcomb Scenic Overlook just watching the stars in silence. I feel sorry for city-folks who never have the chance to see the millions and millions of stars that are out there. Even here our viewing is decreased by the street lights. But if we really wanted to blot them out, it would be just a short walk down to the fifth fairway on the golf course to get away from it all.

- Ellen Rathbone

11/21 - Beaver Dam Brook, Town of Montgomery, HRM 59: 3 The brisk and cold wind shifted to the northeast today. Maybe that is why we only counted 3 flights of geese. All were Canadas. The female northern harrier was back today and she provided a major distraction to our work. On and off we glanced over to see her hunting a small two-acre wetland between our field and Beaver Dam Brook. Finally, we had to stop and take a 30 minute break to watch the aerial acrobatics. There are few performances in nature that combine the grace, elegance, and flying precision of a harrier hunting a wetland or a grassland. The marsh hawk's white rump patch glowed in the bright sunshine of mid-afternoon. She bounced along, buoyantly, methodically listening for the sound of prey, occasionally dropping down and disappearing into the high grass below, only to spring up and resume her hunt moments later.

- Tom Lake, Beth Selig

11/21 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Songbird migration had slowed dramatically over the past fortnight. The big flocks had gone through but stragglers and late migrants were present today: a few robins, several catbirds, a small flock of snow buntings, a dozen fox sparrows (one of them even sang), some yellow-rumped warblers, a hermit thrush, and some kinglets. I was pleased with 37 species on my morning walk. By the time I finished, shortly after 10:00 AM, cabbage white and sulphur butterflies were flying up on the landfill. The forecast is for air temperatures in the teens tonight, our coldest weather yet. That will change the landscape.

- Christopher Letts

11/22 - Wappinger Lake, HRM 68: There was a heavy frost on everything at dawn. Soon the lake temperature will lower to a point where a cold night will bring skim ice. The morning sun reflected off a dozen common mergansers - winter visitors, and the first I've seen there this season.

- Tom Lake

11/22 - Beacon, HRM 61: Two carp, one 10 lb. 11 oz., 28" long, and the other 17," were caught and released at Long Dock today. A 10" brown bullhead also managed to get caught. Two other sizeable carp were hooked, fought, and lost in rocks. While carp were not jumping today, they were definitely prowling for food on the bottom.

- Bill Greene

11/22 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I spotted several flocks of high-fliers this morning in the thin, cold light of dawn. I've looked in vain for brant and shorebirds. The "horn of plenty" is plenty empty. Croton Point is always a mix-and-match kind of thing: so privileged to see the exodus, the influx, but so empty when it's all over. There may have been a common loon in the lower Croton River this morning and possibly a goldeneye off Teller's Point as well. But they were just a bit too far for my 8-power binoculars. It's time to get the spotting scope in the truck.

- Christopher Letts

11/23 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: Stubborn as the two of us are, we stuck to our plans to have our Thanksgiving dinner out on the river in our kayaks, despite the cold, rain and wind. This would not be the sun, clear skies and 50°F temperature of just a few days before. We let the wind and waves take our boats south from Tivoli into the North Bay, found a calm spot tucked into the reeds and cattails facing the Catskills. We surprised a lone great blue heron, seemingly the only other living creature out there on such a dreary day. Then it happened, as it always does, no matter the weather: we were quieted, speechless, except for my usual "It's so very beautiful." We love this river.

- Carol Lewis, Michael Lonergan

11/23 - Beacon, HRM 61:At noon on Thanksgiving Day, there was no sign of the broad beach on the south side of Long Dock. Despite a northeast wind, gusting to 25 mph, high tide had covered the beach, climbed over the protective rip-rap, and inundated the flood plain behind. Some of the energy might have been tidal surge from a passing coastal storm that was hitting the valley as a nor'easter. In a driving rain (0.75"), the brush and treeline were alive with a flurry of small brown birds. The soft song of the white-throated sparrow gave them away.

- Tom Lake

11/23 - Yonkers, HRM 18: A hummingbird of the genus Selasphorus was spotted on Thanksgiving morning by Ed Higgins at the Lenoir Wildlife Sanctuary in Yonkers. The bird was in the butterfly garden near the pineapple sage that is still in bloom. The bird was actively feeding at a hummingbird feeder despite the cold rain. This is the third selasphorus in five years to visit this site. Michael Bochnik, Kelly Jewel and I ran over before turkey dinner to try to identify the bird. It was a female, still at Lenoir, and being very cooperative. Although not yet confirmed, it seems to be a rufous hummingbird.

- Joe O'Connell

[Stray western hummingbirds have become almost a late-autumn tradition in lower Westchester and Manhattan. November 2002 was a particularly busy time (see Hudson River Almanac, Volume IX). A rufous hummingbird was at Lenoir Wildlife Sanctuary for most of the month. Another rufous hummingbird was spotted in Central Park and a calliope hummingbird was seen at the tip of Manhattan. Western species of hummingbirds are rare east of the Rockies, though there have been more records in the eastern U.S. in recent years. Tom Lake.]

11/24 - Kingston, HRM 92: Paddling on the Hudson River I spotted an adult bald eagle soaring overhead. Later, as I paddled up the Rondout, I saw it again, perched on a tree growing from the pedestal for the former lighthouse. I'm pretty sure it was shredding and eating a fish. However, I did not go close enough to be certain, concerned that I'd frighten it off.

- Wes Ostertag

11/24 - Sandy Hook, NJ: By dawn, the Thanksgiving Day nor'easter was churning away to the northeast. A pair of long-tailed ducks were heading up into the Lower Bay of New York Harbor and 6 white-winged scoters were flying south along the beach. In the wake of the storm, however, it was as though someone had thrown a switch - a complete absence of hunting cormorants and gannets gave testimony to the lack of fish. But the storm left no doubt that it had been here: a summer's accumulation of shell was buried in the sand; the thigh-deep swales behind the beach from three weeks ago had been leveled; and the storm surge had 15-foot combers in the surf. It was easy to see how the beach migrates during a strong storm and to understand the cumulative effects of the rock jetties along the coast: The sand migrates one way, but there is little or nothing coming the other way to replenish it. Four hundred years ago, before people began to try their hand at controlling the sea, our Atlantic Coast beaches must have been incredibly dynamic.

- Tom Lake

11/25 - Town of Pleasant Valley, HRM 84: Stepping out of my car in Salt Point on a fine sunny morning, I glanced at my bluebird box by the driveway where I could see 3 bluebirds chattering. It was nice to see the crisp blue of the male. As I watched, a female house sparrow came into the mix and started stirring things up. It seemed that the house sparrow wanted to get into the bluebird box house but the bluebirds were resisting and some amazing mid-air acrobatics ensued. The confrontation continued to a nearby tree and within seconds, birds of all kinds showed up in the nearby trees to see the ruckus: bluebirds, juncos, blue jays, chickadees, goldfinches, house finches, a flicker, a nuthatch, and a wren. They all added to the chatter as if they were cheering for their favorites.

- Tad Herman

11/25 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was a one-carp-day at Long Dock: 8 lb., 26" long. There were two other hits, fast and hard, taking the bait, and that usually indicates small carp in the 2-3 lb. range. The fish were sloshing about at the start of the flood tide from 8:00-11:00 AM, then went into a lull until mid-afternoon, then showed at the surface again as the tide began dropping.

- Bill Greene

11/25 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Dawn is often a time of relative calm, but today a strong north wind had billows of sea foam the size of basketballs scooting across the beach. The only birds in sight were ring-billed and great black-backed gulls. Ten minutes from sunrise several long skeins of brant rose from the back bays, crossed the sand and headed south. Small groups of long-tailed ducks followed. A scattering of buffleheads remained in the bays and several pairs of hooded mergansers were in the tidal creeks.

- Tom Lake

11/26 - Henry Hudson Park, Town of Bethlehem, HRM 138: This was my first time kayaking from this NYSDEC boat launch site and, in less than five minutes, I was within sight of an adult bald eagle perched across the channel on the east side of the river. Later, up the Vlomankill, 3 white-tail does slogged their way through the muck crossing the creek at low tide. Their legs and underbellies were covered in dark brown mud, making them look two-toned.

- Fran Martino

11/27 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: There was something different about paddling my kayak on the river on this warm late November day. The fluidness of the water seemed almost thick, and the river glistened with a satin sheen. My kayak paddle felt like the legs of a water strider "walking" on top of the surface of the water.

- Fran Martino

11/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: This was not a typical late November day as the air temperature reached 62°F, four degrees shy of the record for the date. I spotted three painted turtles, a female and two males, sunning themselves on two separate logs in the tidal basin behind the railroad tracks at Bowdoin Park.

- Tom Lake

11/27 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: With my binoculars I was watching six hen common mergansers splashing around in the rising tide; in the background of the same view an adult great blue heron watched from a deadfall along the shore. As I focused, a brown blur crossed my field of view. I looked up just as a six-point buck white-tail deer was disappearing into the brush not more than 20 feet away.

- Tom Lake

11/27 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: On the first day of a 5-day run of well above average daytime air temperatures for late November, it was 64°F.

- National Weather Service

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