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Hudson River Almanac November 28 - December 2, 2006

OVERVIEW

Another week of warm air, then a strong storm and - in its wake - a full blast of winter. The numbers of bald eagles and winter waterfowl continued to increase as the tail end of the fall migration can be seen disappearing to the south.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/1 - Ossining, HRM 33: Riverfront residents of Ossining reported a waterspout this evening at about 7:45. According to the anemometer on Scarborough Light, average winds at the time were 35 knots (just over 40 mph). Wind readings at the Shattemuc Yacht Club topped out at 60 knots (just over 69 mph). An intense gust or a waterspout uprooted trees and overturned boats in dry storage. As I drove across the Snowden Avenue bridge that spans the railroad tracks, sailboat masts sprouted at odd angles; they are supposed to be standing straight. Something definitely catastrophic had happened. Ten-ton boats had been knocked flat, their sturdy metal stands twisted like paper clips. Huge docks had been tossed across the parking lot like paper plates across a fifty foot wide swath of destruction
- Jasper Fox

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/28 - Anthony's Nose, HRM 45.5: Traveling to Manhattan this morning on the Metro North commuter train we spotted our first bald eagle of the season, an adult perched in a tree on the east bank of the Hudson just south of the Bear Mountain Bridge.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

11/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The flock of coot in the lower Croton was tightly massed rather than spread out in feeding formation. A look at the canopy gave the reason: two adult bald eagles were perched in a large cottonwood, so close they almost touched. A mated pair still together after the nesting season? With the exception of a few gulls and a couple of great blue herons, the rest of the usual waterfowl had taken themselves out to breakfast somewhere else. Out on the Point, it was evident that most migrants were long gone to the south. A small flock of bluebirds, 8 snow buntings, and a single red-winged blackbird were the morning's features.
- Christopher Letts

11/29 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: This soft weather had dandelions blooming and the hills greening. Cabbage whites and sulphurs were pretending it was still September, but the end is nigh - next week will be much colder. Once again the Point was loaded with robins - where did they come from this late in the season? Dozens were feeding, even singing, along the service road on the south side of the peninsula. As I left the park, a flock of about 125 came winging in over the railroad yards. On the verge of the railroad station parking lot, a handsome red-shouldered hawk sat perched in a locust tree, watching the comings and goings of frenetic commuters, and probably hoping for a fat bagel-fed rat to pop out from under the station platform.
- Christopher Letts

11/29 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Sunrise comes a little later each day now, and with a heavy cloud bank on the eastern horizon, the wait today would be even longer. The tide was dropping and, five days after the Thanksgiving Day nor'easter, the surf was finally behaving. Tiderows of blue mussel shells, all about an inch and a half long, stretched in a line far along the beach, casualties of the storm.

The cormorants were back as well as another welcome sight: a common loon in winter colors cruising just beyond the surf. The loon stayed all day, preening all morning, fishing all afternoon, just a long cast from the beach. I also had a surf scoter with me, at about the same distance offshore, but several hundred feet north of the loon. Surf scoters are sea ducks; the males have two white patches on the top and back of their heads. When seen through binoculars, in the dim light of dawn, bobbing between swells a few hundreds yards away, they look like "double-faced" ducks. Three weeks ago the water temperature here was 53°F. Today it was 52°F, only one degree lost - a testament to a warm November. The air temperature peaked out at 58°F in mid-afternoon.

In late afternoon, nearing sunset, a fog began to roll in. First the Lower Bay of New York Harbor, with all of the offshore boats, faded in the fog bank. The jetties and the fishermen on the beach turned to ghosts, and then simply dissolved away. The gulls were there, then lost, then just their calls. The last flight of brant, about 40 birds, came out of the fog, passed by, and disappeared into the heavy haze. That was ghostly. I blended into the fog until I could not see beyond the breakers - the surf was more sound than sight - and the world had been condensed to a ten-foot circle around me.
- Tom Lake

11/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 66°F today, breaking the old record of 64°F.
- National Weather Service

11/30 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I've always enjoyed the diminutive brown creeper, and this seems to be a good year for them. At home and here, I see them daily. Robins, bluebirds, and red-winged blackbirds were present today, and both species of kinglet. A dozen or more flickers have been foraging near the swimming pool for the past few days. One must wonder how many of the birds I saw this morning will be here after the big cold front goes through this weekend.
- Christopher Letts

11/30 - Town of Harrison, HRM 27: The air temperature reached 66°F today, tying the record for the date.
- National Weather Service

11/30 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 69°F today, just missing the record for the date of 70°F.
- National Weather Service

12/1 - Catskill, HRM 113: Bald eagles along the Hudson now seem almost as plentiful as the flocks of late fall starlings. If you don't see at least 2-3 each time out, you really aren't looking. Channel catfish, less than a decade after we first started noticing them in the river, now constitute about 80% of any catfish catch. The other 20% are white catfish; brown bullheads have about disappeared. Some channel catfish are over two feet long; the biggest I've had come into the River Basin Sports shop in Catskill was 26".
- Tom Gentalen

12/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 68°F today, breaking the old record of 64°F.
- National Weather Service

12/1 - East Fishkill, HRM 63: The thermometer read 64°F at 9:30AM as I picked a few sprigs of blooming forsythia. Spring peepers were calling from down in the wetlands off the Taconic Parkway. I could see a few purple flowers on the vinca vines but the brilliant red berries of our winterberry hollies are gone. Generally these berries are still on their branches well into the winter, making a beautiful sight above snow-covered ground. I suspect the thieves were the same flock of robins that a couple of weeks ago stripped all the berries from the pokeweed.
- Carolyn Plage

12/1 - Fishkill Creek, HRM 60: It was still dark, and decidedly overcast at 6:15 AM, for Day One of our winter bald eagle monitoring. This program documents bald eagle behavior and usage of a major wintering location along the estuary. From a vantage at the mouth of Fishkill Creek, there is a clear view to the west of Denning's Point, the river, and the shallow bay in between. A half-mile to the south is Hammond's Point, a favorite winter day perch for eagles. Fishkill Creek tidewater disappears to the east, upstream through the city of Beacon. Two adult eagles were present during a 30 minute mid-morning window. The first flew south from Fishkill Creek to perch on Hammond's Point. It was still there when a second bird approached from the south. The second adult flew northeast, up Fishkill Creek. A minute later, the Hammond's Point adult took off and flew south. Despite the lack of interaction, these could easily have been a mated pair. They will begin to notice one another a little more as the winter goes on and mating season approaches.
- Marty McGuire

12/1 - Town of Montgomery, Orange County, HRM 59: The air temperature reached 68°F today, breaking the old record of 64°F.
- National Weather Service

12/1 - Quaker Creek, HRM 45: The gray skies filtered an even light, giving the Black Dirt farmlands an ebony glow. The sounds of Canada geese were deafening. So many flocks were rising, in the air, and landing, that they were nearly bumping into one another. This part of Orange County, between Florida and Pine Island, is an important agricultural area, growing enormous amounts of produce in the highly organic soil. The black dirt, topsoil measured in "feet deep," originates from a Late Pleistocene swampland, and is filled with bones of extinct animals like mastodonts, ground sloths, horses, peccaries, and elk-moose.
- Tom Lake

12/1 - Liberty Marsh, HRM 41: In late afternoon the wind passed from being a strong breeze to a near gale on the Beaufort Wind Scale (30+ mph). The marsh was a busy place, filled with common pintail, green-winged teal, American wigeon, mallards and black ducks. Several large flocks of Canada geese had set down; two of them had a single snow goose mixed in. It was interesting to see how the waterfowl coped with the rising wind. There was no leeward side of the marsh - it was all windward. Like it or not, large flocks were pushed across open water into the reeds where they congregated in numbers that looked uncomfortable. Under other circumstances, I'm sure they would have chosen different arrangements. The storm, when it came just after sunset, was brief and violent, pyrotechnics all around, jagged bolts of lightning against the black sky, with sustained, strong winds, and a driving rain (0.48").
- Tom Lake

12/1 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: With the air temperature nudging 70°F, it was pleasant to dress in shorts and t-shirt and get in a few hours of late-season gardening. Until the biting began, that is. A healthy batch of blackflies may have been the culprits, although each time I reflexively swatted, there was nothing there. No-see-ums? Down in the garage in early afternoon, I was assaulted by a mosquito. In December!
- Christopher Letts

12/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This was the morning after the storm. We woke to a dusting of snow on the gardens, and a skein of geese (close to 100) flying overhead. Snow fell off and on throughout the day. Our power was off until late this afternoon. When the storm hit, it hit hard. The wind and rain were so intense that we had water coming in under the molding where the wall and ceiling meet in my living room.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/2 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I spotted 5 adult eagles from the observation deck at Norrie Point early this morning. At least three were adults, the other two may have been immatures. They were perched in large riverside trees along the river just to the south.
- Benjamin Wood

[While these may have been "local" birds - we have 16 bald eagles nests along tidewater, a few within easy flying distance of Norrie Point - a grouping of five and the time of the year suggests these may have been birds in migration. Tom Lake.]

12/2 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: What a difference a day makes! The air temperature was in the lower 40s and an even chillier wind was blowing at Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center. Heading up Farmstead Lane, we spotted a large coyote walking along next to the rows of corn stalks. It glanced our way long enough for us to see that it was a magnificent specimen with a lush fur coat ready for winter. The coyote then moved on and turned into the cover of the corn field.
- Jim Herrington, Ed Connelly, Carolyn Plage

12/2 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I saw a yellow sulfur butterfly today in the park. I was wondering if that's a late season record?
- Jane Shumsky

[Several of these were sighted in the lower Hudson Valley last week, both yellow sulfurs and cabbage whites, on those near 70°F days. These are hardy butterflies, not uncommon in late fall on warm days, but this is the first we've seen in December. They will sometimes reappear on warm days in late February. Tom Lake]

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