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Hudson River Almanac January 29 - February 5, 2007

OVERVIEW

Another bitter cold week with true winter weather, except for snowfall. The snowy owl continued to find a comfort zone at Piermont, hanging out on the skeletons of old barges and pilings, catching small mammals and even some coot. A covering of ice crept down the Hudson through the Highlands, pushing before it our winter eagles.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/4 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: A big white head stuck straight up from the center of the nest (NY62). It was Mama. I watched from a blind 300 feet away where the windchill was zero; 95 feet up in that tree, it had to be much colder. As we watched, a larger-than-life adult eagle flew past us, thirty feet away, talons clutching new twigs for the nest. It was Papa making his contribution to spring renovations.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/29 - Gardiner, HRM 75: This winter has been a bumper year for the bluebirds at our heated bird bath; there is no snow and the ground is frozen. My camera sees them closer than I do and shows the most amazing variety of expressions. It's hard not to add captions, such as "the bluebird board meeting." They all swoop in as a group, 6 in all, and line up along the bird bath facing the house.

- Anne Allbright Smith

1/29 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Along the river we found two eagle feathers (one a white tail feather, which was nice) as well as a couple of nice beaver sticks. With no snow, tracking was not possible. A dusting overnight would have been very nice! Then we came upon a white-tailed deer carcass. It had a strong smell but I was pleased that most of the kids did not say "Ugh, gross!" This deer had a tale to tell and the kids figured it out very quickly. Just aft of the left front leg was a gaping 3" hole. Deer slug. The animal had not been dead for very long, and deer season had been over for a while. This deer was the illegal kill of a poacher. Finally, 2-3 kids figured out the real story: the antlers had been sawed off. Perhaps someone is very proud to possess the antlers of this deer, and is telling stories of great heroism and unbelievable marksmanship. The real story is that the deer's life ended to satisfy a selfish, self-aggrandizing human. The message was not lost on the kids. It was a bitter cold morning, 18°F at dawn, with a windchill of 0°F. The two classes of 6th graders from Vails Gate Elementary were engaged in winter tracking and bird watching, taking in the sights and sounds of the season along the Hudson.

- Tom Lake, Barbara Oliver, Floydiena Sampson, Eric Buxton

1/30 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: On this cold, mid-afternoon ice covered most of the Wappinger Creek estuary east of the New Hamburg railroad bridge. We were surprised to see a great blue heron standing serenely on the ice in the middle of the creek, bringing new meaning to the word isolated. After a while it slip-slided a bit in taking off, then flew with grace and ease to another spot on the ice closer to the bridge. Despite the cloud cover, the day was bright enough so that the heron's regal profile was beautifully duplicated in its reflection on the ice.

- Ed Spaeth

1/31 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: Significant ice appeared on this reach of the river today, leading me to suspect there was even more upriver. Four adult eagles were gliding upriver on ice floes at midday. By evening's last light, as the ice ebbed downriver, they were gone. Migrants.

- Tom Lake

1/31 - Staten Island, New York Harbor: As I walked through Fort Wadsworth to get some air after a meeting, a sharp-shinned hawk banked in front of the Verrazano Bridge and followed almost the same trajectory as the bridge's graceful cable supports. The sunlight hit the hawk full force just seconds before it swooped below the walls of Fort Tompkins, flushing 3 pigeons from their roosts, perhaps 4, but I never went in to check.

- Dave Taft

2/1 - Tompkin's Cove, HRM 42: Something we usually see in early to mid-January was underway this week: an influx of bald eagles from points north and east. Successive Arctic cold fronts were limiting their options and now they were heading for the open water of the estuary. It was nearing high tide and across the river on Indian Point, 4 adult eagles were lined up, perfectly spaced, the length of a football field apart, waiting for low tide and the dinner bell.

- Tom Lake

2/1 - Bowline Point, HRM 37: Fifty staff and clients from Camp Venture had gathered at the town park at Bowline Point to hear about bald eagles. And, as eagles often seem to do for those of us who tell their story, four birds showed up to help. Less than a quarter mile upriver, across the shallow bay at Bowline, a pair of adult eagles shared not only the same cottonwood, the same branch, but nearly the same spot on the limb. It was now February and these two were telling us, by their behavior, that they were a mated pair. Over a period of an hour, they left their perch three times to shadow-fly and do wing touches and pirouettes in the sky. A pair of immatures was flying around as well, their chocolate bodies sprinkled with white, providing a nice contrast with the adults. It was high tide and the birds seemed to be just hanging out until the river dropped, the bay got shallow, and dinner options appeared. When we left, the adults were back on their perch, all snuggled up, looking like a single large bird.

- Mary Felesy, George Homehmann, Ken Freeman, Tom Lake

2/2 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A Coast Guard ice cutter came through this morning and broke up the ice between Norrie Point and Esopus Island. A few minutes after the ship moved on, ten common mergansers showed up and began feeding quite successfully in the shallows just off the back deck of the Environmental Center. Several ring-billed gulls and a great black-backed gull arrived, all taking advantage of the newly-exposed open water. Within half an hour, 15 more mergansers had joined the group. After feeding, some of the mergansers climbed onto the ice, allowing an unusually clear view of their coloration and body shape. Further out, I spotted a bald eagle perched atop a tree at the north end of Esopus Island. I've seen 1-2 eagles almost every day in that area, either on the island itself or on the ice just north of there.

- Laurie Fila

2/2 - Moodna Creekm HRM 58: At first light, the range and strength of the full moon tide was pulling ice out of Moodna Creek into Cornwall Bay, building a stage in the shallows. Scores of ring-billed gulls joined at least one bald eagle. The latter was enjoying the opportunity to perch closer to potential prey.

- Tom Lake

2/3 - Kowawese, HRM 59:

The Hudson River

The river drifts in and out,

Rocks all about,

Calm as can be.

Squirrels, deer, coyotes all running free.

The trees are motionless,

There is a lull,

Feels like winter's frosty chilly air,

Peaceful thoughts are in my head.

Waiting, longing for a change,

With nature nothing is the same.

- Julie Rolfs, Grade 6, Vails Gate Elementary

2/3 - George's Island, HRM 39: A bitter cold west-northwest wind made viewing difficult for the dozen birders who gathered to watch for eagles. Most of the ones we saw were specks in the sky. None were perched, perhaps because of the strength and direction of the wind.

- Debbie Ackerman, Ian Ackerman, Jennifer Kara, Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek, Tom Lake

2/04 - Town of Esperance, Schoharie County, HRM 153: It was a cold morning, 11°F with a windchill of -3°F. I was watching a dozen wild turkeys huddled and feeding in a tight group out my back door when I looked to the northern sky. There, glistening in the sun against the clear blue sky, soaring about, was an adult bald eagle. This was the first one I had seen in several years. It stayed around for several minutes before heading south toward Schoharie Creek. Later on, while looking out my window to the west, I spotted a northern harrier gliding over an open field looking for a meal. I have seen this harrier on several occasions just barely above the ground, flying around.

- Gary Ovitt

2/4 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: This morning my heart was filled with joy in spite of, or perhaps because of, the cold air temperatures. It was less than 20°F and there was an inch of snow on the ground, enough winter for me, I thought, as I headed out for a walk. The plethora of tracks in the snow reassured me that I share this land with a great variety of creatures. From fox and coyote to rabbit and field mouse, they all had left their mark in the white dust that passes for snow this winter. I saw deer tracks walking established paths as well as the prints of both squirrel and fox along the length of a newly fallen tree.

Still entranced by the brilliance of the cold and sunny day, I headed for the pond to go ice skating. I was amazed by the clarity of the ice along a particularly shallow area of the shore. The muck and leaf bottom of the pond shone in the sunlight. I squatted down on my skates and looked closely, hoping for some sign of life. The ice looked as if it was at least 4-6" thick. I wondered if the water had frozen clear to the muck, but the sudden movement of an aquatic insect below provided proof that there was still some water below the ice. I marveled at the ability of the aquatic animals to survive, and felt a bit like a water strider, skating upon the surface of water as life pulsed below, albeit slowly.

- Elizabeth LoGiudice

2/4 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: I looked out the parlor window after breakfast to see common mergansers diving for fish in the open water at the mouth of Esopus Creek. In a nearby treetop, a bald eagle watched the waterfowl with interest. Barely visible in a tree in the south cove, a second adult perched. Then, a third eagle appeared, an immature, circling briefly over the cove before flying downriver.

- Patrick Landewe, Lighthouse Keeper

2/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: On the heels of a 3" of snow two days ago, a mixed flock of blackbirds found us, and our feeders. Yesterday morning we hosted about 125, comprised of common grackles and brown-headed cowbirds. Our resident wild turkey flock of 25 were momentarily displaced by the ravenous invaders - the turkeys acted rather tentative with so many birds landing around them. Since the first landing yesterday morning, the flock has waxed and waned but this morning they are back at full strength complete with a cacophony of squeaks, gurgles and grunts.

- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart

2/4 - George's Island, HRM 39: Another dozen birders gathered, wrapped in down and wool, in what seemed like an ice box. A second day of strong west-northwest wind had the wintering eagles in the air or off in sheltered areas. We spotted only one, an adult that perched in the lee of Dogan Point for a half hour, giving us a nice look through our spotting scopes. Then it came off the point, dropping out of its black oak, flew past us and circled back like an old friend helping us share the magic.

- Martha Cherry, Bill Cherry, Sandy Piccone, Phyllis Stafford, Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek, Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson, Tom Lake

2/4 - Piermont, HRM 25: The snowy owl, first seen here on January 7, was still in residence at Piermont Pier.

- Alec Malyon

2/5 - Schenectady County, HRM 153: When I left this morning it was +4° F with a strong west wind and a windchill of -12°F. Snow was light, but it was blowing around enough to cut visibility to zero in some spots. I passed a group of horses standing in a barnyard for their morning outing, all wearing winter blankets and tails pointing east.

- Dee Strnisa

2/5 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: At dawn the air temperature was +5°F, the wind was gusting to 25 mph, making made the windchill -36°F. Frostbite was on the breakfast menu. I counted 4 eagles out on the ice, loosely scattered shoreline to shoreline now - 2 adults and 2 immatures. Tough hunting for them, I'm sure. There are quite a few birds upriver now and shortly they will pass us and head south to Peekskill and Haverstraw Bays.

- Tom Lake

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