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Hudson River Almanac February 6 - February 11, 2007

OVERVIEW

The winter show of ice and eagles began this week. It is sometimes said that we feature eagles a bit too much. But they never fail to thrill even those who see them day in and day out. And for those who are seeing their first, the experience is immeasurable. For many of us, eagles and their antics are the measure by which we define this season.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/8 - Rhinebeck, HRM 92: I had seen a couple of robins in my yard, but was unprepared for the invasion. A new crabapple tree, laden with one-inch frozen apples, was suddenly swarming with birds. I counted 27-30 robins, literally covering the small tree, which they proceeded to pick bare of fruit in a couple of hours. They ate nothing from either of my bird feeders, and were gone as quickly as they'd arrived.

- Joanne Engle

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard a couple of evening grosbeaks on my walk this morning. Looking back at a January 21 entry, I think a bit of explanation about snowshoe hares would be helpful. The snowshoe is not a rabbit but a hare, also known as the varying hare. Locals may call them "rabbits," but hares and rabbits are different animals. Much of the difference is the state in which they are born. Hares, as babies, are known as leverets and are more precocial (born furred and off and running within a couple of days). Rabbits (a.k.a. "bunnies") are essentially born hairless, blind, and totally helpless. Rabbits freeze when startled; hares may freeze, but then take off to get away. Hares have much larger back feet than rabbits - "snowshoe" being a colloquial reference to their big hind feet - and their fur turns white in winter as a seasonal adaptation. We do not have rabbits in Newcomb and the central area of the Adirondacks,but you can find cottontails further south in the Adirondack Park and around the periphery.

- Ellen Rathbone

[For those who would like to learn about and explore the Adirondack wilderness, there is no better place to begin than at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center in Newcomb. Visit their website for program information http://www.adkvic.org/index.html. Tom Lake.]

2/6 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The watershed was locking up in ice. At dawn the air temperature was +7°F, but the light breeze lowered the windchill to -9°F. Barely bearable. The tidal Wappinger was frozen over except for a narrow ribbon of open water crowded with mergansers and gulls. Within an hour, however, as the ice grew, the ribbon had become a series of disconnected pools.

- Tom Lake

2/6 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: A tour of the new Baxtertown parcel of the Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center revealed skunk cabbage beginning to push up out of the snow and ice in a wetland. One plant even had the flower open.

- Reba Wynn Laks, Julia Preston-Fulton

2/6 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: What a wonderful lunch I had today with bald eagles. Two adults and an immature were perched on the south side of the point. They were undaunted by the high winds and the constant noise from trains passing by. One adult kept knocking the other from the branches and the immature continually took off, flew over the river, and returned to the tree. Finally the immature came back to its perch with a fish, at which point one of the adult harassed it until it dropped the fish to the rocks below. Two pesky crows were waiting beneath and they got the goods. Before I left, a second immature joined the three birds in the trees.

- Dianne Picciano

2/7 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: I try to get out each day, even if it is cold. In my brief walk today I heard a tufted titmouse singing. Dare we hope?

- Bill Drakert

2/7 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 42.5: We were having lunch in a restaurant between Indian Point and Charles Point. The large picture window making up one wall of the restaurant served as an indoor observation post for a bald eagle show. During the main course, we were treated to an adult eagle in the sky. By the time dessert was served, we had seen four eagles, three adults and an immature, swooping over and diving towards the water. The river and Dunderberg Mountain provided a scenic backdrop for all the action.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/7 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: The river was iced over near the shore and the western sky was a clear blue, interspersed with tufts of white clouds. In early afternoon we spotted a beautiful adult eagle sunning itself on a branch high in a tree. Facing down river, the sunlight made its white head glow. We took our spotting scope out just in time to get a close-up view before another adult swooped down and nudged the first one off its perch. Both of them took off and flew directly over us, providing a wonderful show with their antics. They kept buzzing each another, courtship rituals, as they flew off to the south.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/7 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I gazed sleepily out my bedroom window this morning and saw a large clump of snow high on a bare oak limb. The "clump" shook itself, turned its head and became a very large, puffed-up red-tailed hawk. I rushed for my binoculars and watched the bird as it scanned. With amazing speed, the hawk went from a "bird statue" into a dive. After a short tussle in the bush, the hawk perched on another branch with breakfast.

- Robin Fox

2/7 - Rockland Lake, HRM 33: In a bizarre winter, yet another odd sighting. The lake was half frozen, half open, but nearly devoid of waterfowl. We counted 19 mute swans and maybe a dozen common mergansers. Where were the gadwall and the northern shovelers we usually see here in winter? In the sky to the east we spotted six large birds with great wing spans heading our way. Eagles? I could not ever recall seeing more than two in flight in what could be considered "together." The gangly, loping wing beats told us what they were: six great blue herons, almost in formation, heading toward the open water at Congers Lake a mile to the west. We could not recall ever seeing that many great blues in one flight before either.

- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

2/7 - Piermont, HRM 25: At least half a dozen kind people had given me a heads-up on the visiting snowy owl: where seen and what it was eating (coot snatched from the river, along with squirrels and rats). The bird eluded me today but I was satisfied to feast my eyes on 150 canvasbacks just 30 yards from shore, snoozing in the sun or diving for breakfast.

- Christopher Letts

2/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We were holding at 8" of snow, perfectly fine for the 50 schoolchildren I took tracking and snowshoeing.

- Ellen Rathbone

2/8 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: After a week of unrelenting sub-freezing temperatures, the river looked frozen bank-to-bank. In the days before the use of Coast Guard ice breakers (pre-WWII), people could walk on the river, ice skate, even drive their automobiles. In midday a barge and tug passed Diamond Reef heading downriver; to the south another barge and tug passed under the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge heading upriver. They passed, port to port, off Danskammer Point. The northbound tug, pushing a full barge (probably loaded with home heating oil), moved far to the east side; the southbound tug, pulling an empty barge, favored the west side. With the ice now churned up in the channel, the local pair of adult bald eagles began to soar in circles above the wake of the tugs, looking for fish. Because it was that time of the year, the two birds could not help but work in a few wing-touches, talon-grabs, and shadow glides as they hunted.

- Tom Lake

2/8 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: The eagles put on a show today right in front of my office at Dynegy. Three immatures and two adults fought over a fish on the same piece of ice. One bird's band was blue (a New York State banded eagle). I have recently counted at least 20 eagles; this morning we had nine in one tree. The eagles are showing up in our WEBCAM.

- Sue Tokle

[A real-time video transmission of a bald eagle day perch along the shore at Danskammer Point can be viewed from the website: http://www.dnegeneration.com/

2/8 - West Point, HRM 51: Sunrise came over the Hudson Highlands at Breakneck Ridge at 7:30 today. It had been a clear night. Ice covered a good proportion of the river; patches of open water resembled islands in the field of crushed ice. In the early afternoon I spotted two bald eagles soaring over the river. One was being chased by a crow. As the sun proceeded along its route, the afternoon light changed from a hard shine on the eastern Highlands, to Arctic blue on the ice floes. The late-day sun shifted its reflectance away from the ice and lit up the sky with pink. How amazing to think that five hours away, in the eastern wake of Lake Ontario, our state is receiving record amounts of lake-effect snow, up to12 feet deep.

- Karin Limburg

2/8 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: At 8:00 AM we had seven eagles (four adults, three immatures) circling and swooping overhead near the river. The first traces of ice from upriver are appearing. This morning there was a long swath of mushy ice floating past; fifteen minutes later it was gone.

- Pat Korn

2/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: In mid-afternoon we went in search of eagles at the mouth of the Croton River. We were unsuccessful but our trip wasn't in vain. The inlet was almost completely frozen but still provided haven for an array of waterfowl: a female common merganser, a mute swan, mallards, a parade of four Canada geese swimming one behind the other, and at least 75 gulls. But, the best show of all was three male buffleheads, dipping and diving for fish, their bodies illuminated by the afternoon sun.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/10 - George's Island, HRM 39: My husband and I visited George's Island looking for eagles. We found them, eight birds across the inlet on Dogan Point. Among them was an adult pair and an immature perched close together in a tree top with another pair of adults perched down and to the side. There was a single adult sitting away from everyone along with another an adult and immature pair. Much to our disappointment, a hiker walked beneath them causing them to fly off. But they had put on a show for us, at times 2-5 of them flying around together.

- Cathleen Greenan

2/10 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: The river was freezing farther out each day. We drove to the overlook in mid-afternoon and, without the aid of binoculars, spotted an immature bald eagle in one of the trees on the point. It was facing downriver, seemingly oblivious to the crow perched several branches above, shouting raucously into the clear afternoon.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/10 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I was headed to Croton Point for an early morning walk when I spotted a large raptor circling above the road. It looked unlike a red-tail. I found a wide shoulder and pulled over to get a better look. It was an adult northern goshawk, and here came another, flap-flap-glide, flap-flap-glide. Both birds disappeared into the wooded heights above Croton.

- Christopher Letts

2/10 - Hudson Canyon, New York Bight: As a volunteer leader, I joined three dozen intrepid birders venturing out before dawn on a mid-winter 45 mile voyage along the Hudson Canyon to the fringes of the continental shelf. We were there for seabirds, particularly those species that come down into New York waters to spend the winter far offshore. The destination was the warmer waters brought in by Gulf Stream eddies where they collide with the upwellings from the Hudson Canyon. We left amidst stiff northwest winds and freezing sea spray and arrived some six hours later to find much milder and calmer seas which, in contrast, felt downright tropical. We saw many species of interest. In a careful and organized count, we estimated over 9,000 dovekies, starling-sized seabirds that Paul Guris described as "fluffy little black and white nerf footballs in flight." Many dovekies come down each winter from their breeding grounds in the high cliffs of Arctic Greenland. We also had smashing looks at hundreds of northern gannets, huge black-and-white birds known for their spectacular plunge dives from incredible heights. Being in their element, we had close up looks at their lemon yellow head, blue-and-black bill, and striking eye pattern. In addition to the dovekie and gannets, we saw other notable winter birds of the North Atlantic, including the northern counterparts of penguins, the murres and razorbills. At a group of fishing trawlers, we saw many gulls of several kinds including the lesser black-backed gull out of Europe, three Iceland gulls, and hundreds of the more familiar species. Not limited to birds, we also had nice close visits by fin whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and a harbor seal.

- Rich Guthrie

[The Hudson Canyon, carved into the sea floor by ice age meltwaters, extends southeastward 450 miles from the mouth of the Hudson River to the edge of the continental shelf. Nearly a mile deep in places, it has been described by geologists as an underseas Grand Canyon. Tom Lake.]

2/11 - Rosendale, HRM 84: I was looking out my skylight this morning at a sycamore along the Rondout, and there was an adult bald eagle perched up high. It stayed there for over an hour and I was amazed at its beauty. That sycamore lights up in the late morning sunlight.

- Jesse Jasper

2/11 - Peekskill, HRM 44: Despite the cold, for the past week or so I have awakened to the song of a cardinal. Was it staking out its territory already in anticipation of spring?

- Carol Capobianco

2/11 - China Pier, HRM 43: We were surprised to see the extent of the river ice since there was only minimal ice a few miles south. We counted 13 eagles on a big ice floe, more than we have seen at any one time this season. There were at least four adults among them, all flapping their wings and playing leapfrog on the ice. Out in Peekskill Bay, two adults stood like statues with Camp Smith behind them. Another immature stood by itself on the ice off Charles Point Marina.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/11-12 Manhattan, HRM 5: One year ago today we experienced the Blizzard of '06. Manhattan had a record 26.9" of snow.

- Tom Lake

2/11 - Sandy Hook, NJ: It was windy, cold, and crystal clear. There were ten of us on the annual American Littoral Society winter waterfowl walk, timed for the freeze when ice concentrates ducks in small bodies of open water so we can get an up close look. The cold snap came at just the right time. On coastal freshwater ponds and the open ocean, we scored: mute swan, American wigeon, mallard, black duck, gadwall, ruddy duck, northern shoveler, hooded merganser, red-breasted merganser, coot, Canada goose, brant, greater scaup, redhead duck, green-winged teal, ring-necked duck, common and red-throated loon, and black scoter. One observer believed that we saw a razorbill near the loons, but we voted it only a probable. We spotted one seal, diving for up to four minutes, with five-second surface breaths in between. Raritan Bay was choked with ice and some ice floes had made it out into the ocean. On land we spotted robins, blue jays, mockingbirds, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, fish crow and common crow, northern harrier, and turkey vulture.

- Dery Bennett

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