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Hudson River Almanac December 19 - December 25, 2006

OVERVIEW

The winter solstice arrived, but unless you lived in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks you could barely notice. The Capital Region around Albany is experiencing one of the most snow-less Decembers ever. What little ice there has been has not lasted. Wintering bald eagles along the lower Hudson are scarce and winter ducks have, thus far, been few.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/21 - Battenkill, HRM 188: It was a beautiful solstice day: sunny, breezy and 45°F. There were 23 wild turkeys walking up the back field as I left home in Cambridge, all with day-glow purple and blue heads in the bright sun.

- Doug Reed

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As I type this, very large snowflakes are drifting along on a steady breeze, falling at a pretty good clip. The ground is starting to look white again.

- Ellen Rathbone

12/19 - Lattintown Brook, Marlboro, HRM 68.5: A half dozen hen common mergansers swam transects across the convergence of South Lattintown and Lattintown Brooks just a few hundred feet from the Hudson. A few of them were "trolling with their eyes," a fairly common behavior with loons but only the second time I have ever seen it from mergansers. In the dropping tide, the water was getting fairly shallow, making the pickings easy for the mergansers. From work I've done here in years past, I knew the creek had a healthy population of golden shiners.

- Tom Lake

["Trolling with their eyes" is behavior that is usually associated with loons. The birds peer beneath the surface looking for fish as they slowly swim along before beginning their dive (see John McPhee's "The Survival of the Bark Canoe"). Tom Lake.]

12/19 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Red ants on the cider jug on the back porch, crane flies on the screen door, noctuid moths in orbit around the front porch light, and green tips of spring bulbs breaking through the mulch. Everywhere in driveways and walkways, the sticky splatter of maple sap dripping from broken twigs. And winter is just three days away?

- Christopher Letts

12/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The sun was out, the sky was mostly blue. We had a lovely sunrise this morning, kissing the clouds and making them blush pink. A little downy woodpecker had decided to try feeding at the tube feeder of sunflower seeds I have outside my office window at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. He seems a nervous sort, flinching when the chickadees come in to check him out and grab a seed for themselves.

- Ellen Rathbone

12/20 - Furnace Woods to Croton Point, HRM 38-35: Several times this season I've seen 5 of the 6 woodpecker species I've come to expect around here. Today it happened again: during a morning walk at Croton Point, I saw downy, red-bellied, and common flickers. Back at the homestead, a pileated scolded me while I split wood, and a hairy appeared at the suet feeder. Now I needed a sapsucker, but where was it? I'm used to seeing it, mostly on the suet feeder, several times a day. Light was waning when I spotted a dark shape on the feeder - could it be? Yes! Sapsucker, and a woodpecker grand slam. I felt like popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly.

- Christopher Letts

12/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: It was the evening of the winter solstice and the sun had just dipped below the horizon. A great blue heron was transformed into a great black heron, a Rorschach image, as its silhouette slowly stalked the tide pools looking for killifish. The new moon tide was only halfway out and yet this backwater had been nearly drained to mudflats. In three hours winter would arrive.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

12/21 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The snow goose continues to feed on the grassy flat between the park office and the main parking lot. When Canada geese are present, it stays in their midst, but I've seen it by itself several times. It can fly, but not well. As I watched its solitary grazing this morning, I noticed two coyotes little more than 100 yards upslope, mousing: stalking, pouncing, poking their noses into grass clumps. Good - one more thing to worry about.

- Christopher Letts

12/22 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: Two white heads glowed like neons in the soft gray light of a drizzly day. For the past two weeks a wintering adult bald eagle was perched on the hillside almost every day, particularly at low tide. Now it was joined by a second, probably its mate.

- Brandon Leyba, Belinda Sedillo, Tom Lake

[Bald eagle adult pairs usually arrive and depart wintering locations separately. It is thought that males arrive first and depart first. This may be done as a survival strategy so that an accident would not befall them both in migration. Whether heading to a familiar nest at the breeding grounds or a favorite feeding perch in the wintering territory, their travel is ordinarily a singular trip, but the destination is mutual. Pete Nye.]

12/23 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: It was a balmy afternoon and the tide was the highest I can ever recall seeing, even after snow melt. The boat ramp was completely submerged. There seemed to be just a few feet separating the dock-walk from the water below. Over by the museum, the stairs from the concrete deck were also submerged - you could float your kayak from the concrete platform straight into the water. We spotted a single double-crested cormorant with an injured wing. It didn't dive while we watched it and at one point it rose and flapped its wings a bit. It avoided us mostly by swimming away from the dock where it had been perched. On the way out we saw a great blue heron back by the cove in front of the railroad tracks.

- Pat Joel, Bill Joel

12/23 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Three-quarters of an inch of rain fell overnight, making the world very soggy at dawn. The cooling river and the warm air contributed to an incredibly dense fog. I was unable to see the end of the dock twenty feet away. But along the river, it is not always what you can see, but what some patience will allow you to hear. Through the white, cottony air there were gulls, geese, mallards, crows, tufted titmice, chickadee, and a mockingbird doing a nice cardinal rendition.

- Tom Lake

12/23 - Beacon, HRM 61: On a late afternoon stroll down River Walk, the air was 55°F, the waters were calm, and the sky partly cloudy, but Mr. Sun shone golden as he lowered himself in the western sky and cast golden glints on the shoreline and the trees. The lighting was a perfect backdrop for one particular very large and elegant sycamore near the river's edge. As we looked up we enjoyed its natural beauty, festooned with its own holiday ornaments: hundreds of button balls as they are often called, the containers of seeds for future generations of sycamore trees. The balls all hung gilded, bathed in the light of the setting sun. As we walked back toward Denning's Point the serenity of the moment was shattered by the loud noise of a seaplane. It circled round and around, flying over the trail, south toward the cove, out over the river and the point, and around again, and again. We did not stay to find out how many times it would circle but we wondered how any eagles on Denning's Point would view this noisy bird.

- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly, Chance Plage

12/24 - New Baltimore, HRM 132: On a walk through the Hannacrois Creek Preserve my husband and I were surprised to see at least three frogs resting and swimming in the small year-round pool about halfway up the main trail from the parking lot on Route 144. What a sight! But what will be their fate considering they should have been long under the mud by now? Are there bugs to catch? Will it mess up their breeding season? It seems they are "up early," like some of the plants in our yard, because there were no sign of them during earlier observations this fall.

- Jean Bush

[Warm days will do that. Once the water gets to 33°F, just at ice-over, things will change. But the shallows on these 50°F days get warmed to a point where reptiles and amphibians can take advantage. At times like these, I remind myself that reptiles and amphibians have been at this for millions of years, and pretty much have a handle on whatever the weather can toss their way. They adapt, they endure, they survive. Tom Lake.]

12/24 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: An adult bald eagle had assumed an elegant posture on the limb of a black locust overlooking the mouth of Wappinger Creek. Though I did not see her blue leg band, this is a favorite perch for the female of the breeding pair of the local nest (NY62). In the last couple of years, she often will stop by in winter to add a few new sticks and toss a few old ones out of the nest. Today she was intently watching the low tide shallows a hundred feet below for movements of eels and catfish.

- Tom Lake

12/24 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was warm enough (51°F) for me to give it 6 hours in a vain attempt to catch carp today at Long Dock. Not a bite. I did notice, though, that the spaces between the rocks and pebbles were loaded with thousands of small shells, pinky nail size and larger, looking like zebra mussel shells. The carp may be doing a service by eating these zebra mussels. One of the fellows in our Carp Anglers group caught a carp at the Troy dam and, as he was unhooking and preparing to release it, the carp excreted a dark ball of ground-up zebra mussel shells.

- Bill Greene

12/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In most years, Christmas Day begins our ice fishing season on the higher elevation ponds. Not this year. There has not been a flake of snow in the Mid-Hudson Valley. I have several blooms on my forsythia out along the edge of the woods - an April event. I might just "unload" my pickup truck, i.e., put away the snowshoes, goggles, ski poles, snow shovel, auger, and ice fishing gear. That will surely trigger the storm of the century.

- Tom Lake

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