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Hudson River Almanac January 16 - January 21, 2007

OVERVIEW

It is amazing how a little dusting of snow, a little floe ice on the river, and a few bald eagles can liven up the landscape. It was a week for interesting birds, providing glimpses of strays from far and not so far away.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST WEEK

1/13 - Rhinecliff, HRM 92: On our Waterman Bird Club annual winter waterfowl count today, we spotted a pair of white-winged scoters, the first ever on the count, just north of the train station in Rhinecliff. These marine ducks are fairly rare on the Hudson, particularly this far inland.

- Barbara Butler, Mona Payton, Carena Pooth, John Balint, Rodney Johnson.

1/14 - Dutchess Junction, HRM 60: Toshi and Pete Seeger's beautiful Japanese flowering quince bush was just blooming its heart out today, loaded with flowers, in the middle of January!

- Andra Sramek

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Today dawned chilly (8°F). The trees were all ice and looking very pretty in the morning sun. An Arctic blast was on its way, sub-zero with -20°F windchills. The goldfinches were feeding like mad, hogging the feeders from the chickadees and juncos.

- Ellen Rathbone

1/16 - Sandy Hook, NJ: A long-billed murrelet showed up in the Sandy Hook surf this morning, a first ever for New Jersey. Word of such a sighting gets around quickly, and cars spun into parking lots, disgorging spotting scope-equipped birders. What they saw was a speck of a bird about the size of a pigeon diving and bobbing about 200 yards offshore. Murrelets make it to the Atlantic coast sporadically. This one drew a crowd.

- Dery Bennett

[The long-billed murrelet is a small ocean bird, about 10" long on average. David Sibley calls it a "rare visitor from Siberia to open ocean and, very rarely, inland lakes." This murrelet has occurred on the east coast and inland as well - one on the St. Lawrence River at Massena a few years ago and another at Cayuga Lake. This bird may have occurred more often in northeastern North America but is really tiny and can be overlooked or mistaken for a dovekie or guillemot. Rich Guthrie.]

1/17 - Ulster County: Six field parties totaling 17 observers participated in Ulster County's contribution to the annual New York State Winter Waterfowl Count, a state-wide survey of significant waterfowl habitat. They recorded a total of 14 species and 4,552 individual birds. Virtually all bodies of water were 100% open; moving streams and creeks were at average levels and flowing moderately in their channels. We exceeded last year's diversity by one species, but numbers of individuals fell considerably short of the 7,094 recorded in 2006. Highlights included a double-crested cormorant, 11 wood ducks, 2 American wigeon, 61 American black ducks, 10 ring-necked ducks, 19 hooded mergansers, 2 red-breasted mergansers, and 12 horned grebes. The cormorant and ring-necked ducks are very unusual for Ulster County at this time of the year. The extent of open water also likely contributed to the absence of bald eagles during the count. A red-shouldered hawk was spotted in Glenerie. The best sighting of the day goes to Mark DeDea's coyote swimming across Esopus Creek in the Town of Ulster.

- Steve M. Chorvas

1/17 - Dutchess County, HRM 67-59: It has been a few weeks since I have seen any eagles from the Metro North train to Manhattan. It is still too dark at 6:47 AM to see anything. Today, however, I took the 7:10 AM out of Poughkeepsie and spotted two eagles perched over the river. The first was just south of New Hamburg station and the second was a little north of Bannerman's Island. Both were adults. I have not seen eagles this scarce, except in the summer, since I began watching them 3 years ago. They provide my morning entertainment on the train.

- Malcolm A. Castro

1/17 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We found a dead great horned owl on a grassy field this morning, near a three-story building and 25 yards from a little-used road. The body was in excellent shape except for a bashed-in eye. Road kill or flew into a window? It weighed 3 lb.14 oz., 38" wingspan, 20" long head to tail. Extra sharp talons and beak and rough tan pads on the feet for extra grips. We could see those special featherettes on the back of the primaries that dampen the wing sounds when the owl dives on prey. It was a beautiful, terrifying bird - I'm relieved not to be a rabbit (or skunk or feral cat). We laid the bird out on the Littoral Society's office kitchen table, looked at it and felt bad. Great horned owls nest here on Sandy Hook; they should be on eggs in February. If this bird was one of a local nesting pair, its mate better hook up again pretty soon.

- Dery Bennett

1/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our goldfinches galore were still pigging out at the feeder. They are just now discovering the suet as well, so the chickadees can't even find some sanctuary clinging to the bottom of the suet cage. Our purple finches are very "runty" this winter. The females usually look like large sparrows, but this year they are about the size of goldfinches. The males, too, are small. Speculation is that either they are juveniles or they are all runts. PBS came calling to film us tracking on the trails at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. We found tons of squirrel tracks, lots of mink, some old pine marten tracks, grouse, songbirds, and a spot where a deer walked down the trail and skidded on the ice underneath.

- Ellen Rathbone

1/18 - Barrytown, HRM 97: On this cold and frosty morning, I spotted what appeared to be a large black cat limping along the ice of the frozen Mudderkill. Picking up my field glasses for a better view, I saw it had a thick mantle of gray fur that got progressively darker along the body. It seemed bigger than a pine marten and didn't have its cat-like ears or long slender body. The head seemed a bit smaller for the rest of the body and the face seemed more bear-like to me, with small tight ears. The size was about as large as a big house cat. It paused briefly to observe the activity at my bird feeder, then ambled on upstream past the old milk pond and was quickly gone, leaving me to conclude that it was a fisher.

- John Sperr

[Based on the description I'd lean towards fisher as well. Otters have a real solid, sturdy tail, while fishers' tails look like they are having a bad hair day. Mink are smaller and skinnier than most people think. Pine martens tend to be more reddish, not dark and grizzled. The cat-like body, the bear-like head says fisher. The fisher on display at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center is huge, originally a 19 lb. animal. My cat, Idefix, weighs 19.3 lb. Most fishers are not that big, but certainly a large male could be significant, and have big feet, too. I've seen very large fisher tracks around here, although one must take into account the furriness of feet in winter. Ellen Rathbone.]

1/18 - Tivoli, HRM 98: I was driving north on Route 9G in late afternoon near Bard College when I was startled to see 2 adult bald eagles over the roadway at a height of a tractor-trailer body. They were locking talons and paying no attention to their surroundings, dangerously close to the oncoming traffic. I was deeply relieved to see them separate and fly on towards the roadside meadow. To my surprise, a third adult was trailing them at about 20' and also flying very low.

- Susan Droege

1/18 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Snow fell today, albeit flurries, at most a dusting to an inch. This was the latest date for first snowfall in Poughkeepsie since at least 1928. The previous latest date was January 13.

- Northeast Regional Climate Center

1/18 - Beacon, HRM 61: As the old song says, "On a clear day you can see forever." This morning was one of those days. I walked the path in Gateway Park to the base and then climbed up the stairway that zigzags alongside the abandoned incline railway on Mount Beacon. My ascent stopped at the uppermost platform of this stairway (450' elevation) and above many trees. This afforded a grand view of Beacon below, westward to the Hudson River, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, City of Newburgh and beyond to Stewart Air Control Tower and Shawangunk Ridge. On my return through the tree-lined path, I encountered bluebirds, white-breasted nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, goldfinches and a downy woodpecker.

- Ed Spaeth

1/18 - Beacon, HRM 61: Fishkill Creek was flowing in mighty torrents as it spilled over the Tioranda dam, swiftly passing the crumbling piers of the old bridge, and then more placid on its way through the marsh and its blending with the Hudson River. Ice had formed along the edges of the stream even at the falls. Thin surface ice had formed in the quiet coves, but in the open waters of the stream common mergansers were diving for food. I followed the Madam Brett trail and encountered white-throated sparrows, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, a downy woodpecker, a northern mockingbird and eastern bluebirds flitting back and forth or foraging for the remaining berries still suspended on the bare vines.

- Ed Spaeth

1/18 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: Light snow began falling this evening, the first of the season. At 11:00 PM we heard the unmistakable call of a great horned owl somewhere outside. It seemed to be coming from a large pine in our front yard. The owl's calls were accentuated by the snow covering that seemed to make the night extra peaceful and quiet. The next morning we searched for pellets around the tree but found none.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: As I looked out the window today I was surprised by an unusual sight. A red squirrel was rapidly circling and climbing the trunk of a large Norway spruce, followed closely by a Cooper's hawk. The hawk was also rapidly circling the trunk, wings flapping, right on the squirrel's tail, banking, gliding and somehow avoiding the many branches. The lucky little red squirrel managed to escape, no easy feat with a talented raptor in pursuit.

- Donna Lenhart

1/19 - China Pier, HRM 43: We stood facing a 30 mph north wind roaring down through the Hudson Highlands, funneled between Dunderberg Mountain and Anthony's Nose. The windchill was below zero. We guessed that this was, finally, a flight day for eagles. We had seen 6 over the last hour, 3 of which appeared to be new birds on the block.

- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

1/19 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was the morning after the season's first snowfall. An inch crunched underfoot as we met 30 members of the Palisades Nature Association for their 8th annual bald eagle survey. Eight drake and hen buffleheads were fishing the channel of the Croton River. The local pair of adult eagles were on station: the female perched in an oak a short distance up the Croton River, the male perched several hundred feet away in a cottonwood overlooking the bay on the south side of Croton Point. The tide was high and these birds were just loafing, waiting for the water to drop and bring into sharper focus all of the eels, catfish, striped bass, and gizzard shad that linger in Croton Bay. An immature eagle flew low overhead. We guessed that it was one of the two eaglets fledged in June from the resident nest (NY124). Then a new bird arrived, white head, but a brown tail, a new adult that had not quite eclipsed into full adult plumage.

- Pat Levins, Ken Levins, Nancy Slowik, Alec Malyon, Sandy Bonardi, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

1/19 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The cold snap finally pushed in some winter ducks, including one batch of about 500 greater scaup in a tight raft on the bay side of Sandy Hook. Scattered in with them were buffleheads and a few red-breasted mergansers.

- Dery Bennett

1/20 - Town of Wappinger: It was nearing dusk at the end of a cold, blustery winter's day. A hundred feet high in a white pine, Mama, the adult female of the local bald eagle pair, sat in her nest (NY62) facing the sunset. She may have been doing some early spring renovating.

- Tom Lake

1/20 - Piermont, HRM 25: The snowy owl was somewhat obscured, perched on a sunken barge on the south side of the peninsula in the lee of the fierce biting wind (26, gusts to 39 mph) soaking in the waning rays of the sun. As I watched, the owl flew up and off to nearby mudflats, landing briefly before flying closer to shore and a low rock jetty. As it flew over a raft of ducks you could hear their cries of alarm. Another birder had watched the owl pursue and capture rats, rabbits, and even ruddy ducks. He also watched the bird swimming or at least afloat in the water. A passing family inquired as to what I was seeing. Handing off my binoculars to them, they enjoyed viewing this northern rarity as well. The bird literally glowed in the bright sunshine.

- Ed Spaeth

1/20 - Manhattan, HRM 8: In late morning the air was very cold. Steady gusts of wind were battering the grocery shoppers and errand runners around West 103rd Street and Broadway, many of whom were wrapped in warm headgear and leaning into the north wind as they scurried to and fro. Over the din of traffic and street noise, the sound of repetitive screeching from some sort of jay, about 8 stories above my head, caught my attention. I looked up just in time to see a red-tailed hawk being pummeled from above by an intrepid, unidentified bird, about the size of a jay. In an evasive maneuver, the hawk swung around the corner at 106th Street, heading toward the park, with the jay in tow. Then a whole flock of pigeons took flight from the buildings nearby and headed after the pair, as if to get in on the action, or at least to get a better look at the fray.

- Christine Kulisek

1/21 - Town of Ulster, HRM 97: There are finally some ice sheets floating on the river and at the edges. It is nice to see it and hear it.

- Peg Duke

1/21 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: After two days and two nights of very strong north winds, the tide went out, and out, and out. At dawn, this tidal tributary had emptied, leaving extensive mud flats covered with what looked like window glass, a thin sheet of clear ice. Some of this ice will soon float away on the tide, coalesce, and form floe ice on the Hudson.

- Tom Lake

1/21 - Beacon, HRM 61: On a cold (27°F) gray day, a common merganser flew into the cove south of Long Dock, but no eagles were in sight. Many ring-billed gulls and a couple of greater black-backed gulls were standing about out in the river on ice that didn't appear to be going anywhere. The sounds of the ice were the highlight of our walk, with loud cracking and banging increased by the wake of a barge and tug that passed by. Next to the Beacon-Newburgh ferry dock, what at first we thought was the twittering of birds, proved to be the crinkling and tinkling of the ice. A symphony by ice. On the north side of the dock, out of the push and shove of the river's movements, the ice appeared as a mosaic with each piece very gently bumping into the next.

- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly

1/21 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: We saw our second eagle of the season this morning, an adult headed north over the river from the direction of Steamboat Dock.

- Pat Korn

1/21 - George's Island, HRM 39: From the parking lot at George's Island Park at midday, we spotted an immature bald eagle perched just to the north on Dogan's Point. Right below, 30 Canada geese floated near the river bank, hardly disturbing the smooth surface of the water.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

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