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Hudson River Almanac February 11 - February 19, 2007

OVERVIEW

The first winter storm hit the Mid-Hudson Valley and the watershed continued to lock up in ice, limiting open-water options for eagles. The deep freeze also held back runoff from the watershed; in response, the salt front pushed upriver to HRM 73 near Poughkeepsie on 2/18. In the midst of this winter weather, flocks of robins and our first red-winged blackbirds arrived.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/17 - New Hamburg to Spuyten Duyvil: The highlight of our trip on Metro North was a harbor seal. As we steamed along Manitou Marsh near the Bear Mountain Bridge, we saw a medium brown and tan harbor seal floating on the surface. Just as our car passed it went head down and then submerged. It was the first one I've heard of in the river this winter.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a brisk night, -11°F. Saranac Lake had -29°F. It is quiet on the bird front: no purple finches, no common redpolls, no evening grosbeaks. Even crows and ravens are pretty scarce. Blue jays - we have lots of them.

- Ellen Rathbone

2/11 - Croton River, HRM 34: In late afternoon we spotted 5 adult bald eagles on the Croton Reservoir, flying back and forth in and out of the cove. Several immatures joined in the fun. One adult sat on a rock, its head wet and tussled from fishing.

- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

2/12 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: Stepping out the door this morning, I was struck with the sounds of birds. Despite the cold temperatures, I was greeted with the mating calls of chickadees, the drumming of woodpeckers and the nasal call of nuthatches. Walking in the fields, I watched a red-tailed hawk soaring and a white-tailed deer bounding. On my drive to work, I was transfixed by the aerial maneuvers of a raven overhead. I reminded myself to pay attention to the road, which was a good thing because soon after the raven passed, two deer ran across.

- Liz LoGiudice

2/12 - Gardiner, HRM 73: On my drive to work this morning, I was surprised to see a dead skunk alongside Route 208. I marveled at the irony: this skunk had emerged from its winter den to find a mate - the "season of love" for skunks begins in late February. While some humans may try their own perfume lures to attract a Valentine, the "double foul odor"' of the striped skunk, while clearly meant to repel, is a welcome reminder that spring is just around the corner.

- Laura Heady

2/12 - Hudson Highlands, HRM 55.5: At first light we followed the blue trail up along Cornish Brook between Mount Taurus and Breakneck Ridge. The river looked frozen over across to Storm King and Crow's Nest. The few areas of open water appeared like small swimming pools, each with a few goldeneyes or common mergansers inside. An adult and an immature bald eagle circled overhead, contemplating their options. The higher we climbed, the healthier the hemlocks looked. At the lower elevation, the hemlock wooly adelgid had killed most of them. In the swale between the granite walls we heard ravens calling, an important attraction for making the climb. The frozen pond at the end of our hike gave us dinner, bluegills and pumpkinseed sunfish. We found a white-tailed deer carcass along the edge of the wetland, stripped to tendon and bone. The inch of crunchy snow in all directions bore the paw prints of fox and coyote.

- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

2/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While we were out on our evening stroll tonight, we heard the unmistakable sound of a truck backing up: toot, toot, toot, toot, toot, toot, toot. It was a northern saw-whet owl behind a house near the Newcomb Golf Course. Based on the loudness of the toots, this bird was not far into the woods. I've only heard a saw-whet one other time, and that was out on the Peninsula here at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center.

- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

2/14 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: The snow fell relentlessly all day. It changed to sleet for a few moments in the early afternoon, then returned to pounding snow. I was amazed that a downy woodpecker clung to the suet at the bird feeder. The crow family that I feed did not show up in the morning when I tended to the livestock, as they customarily do. Instead, they showed up in the afternoon when I headed to the barnyard to check on the conditions. I could barely see 2 crows through the haze of snow, although they were sitting in a tree 50' from where I stood. I put food out for them and they hungrily swooped in.

- Liz LoGiudice

2/14 - Mid-Hudson: Fifty-five days into winter, on Valentine's Day, our first winter storm hit - a coastal storm that swept up the valley with heavy sleet, snow, and strong winds approaching blizzard strength. Soon after first light, in driving sleet, the air temperature finally reached 10°F, but with a 30 mph wind, it felt like -30°F. In midday, rolls of thunder could be heard. By the time it ended, we had 10". Areas in Greene County, 55-60 miles upriver, had 28-30".

- Tom Lake

2/15 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: The wind blew mightily last night. By this morning, the snow had drifted to 42" in spots. Birds were actively looking for food: juncos ate seed from the surface of the snow, chickadees and woodpeckers mobbed the suet. I heard the "quark" of ravens as I shoveled, and looked up to see them flying south, silhouetted against the rising sun. Our sheep were intimidated by the sheer volume of snow. They spent the windy night in the barn and did not emerge until we brought up hay after a few hours of shoveling. When they ventured out of the barn, they sunk deeply into the snow, nearly up to their chests as they walked out to the hay feeders. Seeing their struggle really made me feel for the predicament of white-tailed deer in these sudden storms.

- Liz LoGiudice

2/15 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: Another frostbite dawn with an air temperature of +7°F and a windchill approaching -20°F. Two tightly packed rafts of lesser scaup were floating in an open lead just off New Hamburg. Their goal might have been cumulative body heat, but it was difficult to imagine in what looked like an Arctic sea.

- Tom Lake

2/15 - Anthony's Nose, HRM 45.5: I was traveling south through the Highlands this morning on Route 6/202 (the "goat path") across the river from Iona Island. It was not unusual that I spotted a raven skirting the cliffs just above the road. The odd thing, however, was that it was carrying what looked like a small rodent in its beak.

- Scott Craven

[This small mammal was likely scavenged. It was interesting that it was carrying it; normally they consume such items where they find them. This may be a token offering for its mate. Ravens may be pair bonding now as they are known to nest in the cliffs of the Hudson Highlands. Rich Guthrie.]

2/15 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: This morning we saw 13 robins in our neighbor's pine tree. They were all plumped up, probably wondering why they came back so early. I understand that some robins stay here for the winter, but these are the first we've seen this season.

- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

2/15 - Raritan Bay, NJ, New York Bight: We had our first red-winged blackbird, a male, at our feeder this morning, the day after a meaningful ice storm. He will soon be staking out his territory in the marshes nearby. During the day a big flock of robins arrived and stripped the hollies of berries in a flash.

- Pam Carlsen

2/16 - Rhinebeck, HRM 92: It if isn't eagles, it's ice. When I crossed the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge on Lincoln's birthday, four days ago, there was ice from bank-to-bank of the river, but it was thin enough to be cut by a tanker heading south. Today, the ice was definitely thicker and whiter. One section, where the channel is usually cut by the Coast Guard, looked slightly gray. It also looked as if it might be too thick for a tanker, even one riding low on the water.

- Phyllis Marsteller

2/16 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: As we approached the overlook to Oscawana in late afternoon, we could see what looked like a tree full of eagles. Upon closer look, there were 3 adults and 5 immatures perched in a south-facing oak. As we set up our spotting scope, another immature flew overhead. Two more adults were perched together at the base of the point. After a while, they went for a short flight, interacting with the other one before returning to the exact same branch on the same tree. We had seen 11 bald eagles.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/16 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: We had 50 robins in a pine tree today. They were eating holly berries in my neighbors' yard, and were flitting back and forth. They picked the tree clean and are now off to another feast somewhere.

- Dianne Picciano

2/16 - Manhattan, HRM 2.5: A bald eagle in Manhattan! I spotted a bald eagle on the ice this morning, just below Pier 45, Hudson River Park, off of the West Village neighborhood.

- Steve Ingkavet

2/17 - North Germantown, HRM 109: I awoke this morning to cold, blue skies and a brilliant snow-covered river. The channel was a darker streak about a quarter mile from shore, filled with floating ice. The passage of barges and tugs had resettled the choppy channel ice to wash off the snow, causing the darker color. Just opposite our window, on the near side of the channel, was a thinner, darker streak perhaps a dozen or two yards long. Through binoculars I was able to see a small group of Canada geese hunkered down against the wind, partly obscured by the small hills and valleys of the river's ice pack. I despaired of counting them until something caught their attention and made their heads all pop up in unison, and I quickly counted 25 long elegant necks. They stayed a few a hours, and then they were gone.

- Kaare Christian

2/17 - Beacon, HRM 61: A glorious day to tromp over the snow-covered River Walk trail. We hoped to catch sight of an eagle or two but we had to settle for the delightful sight and sound of 25-30 red, red robins flying over us as we walked south towards Denning's Point. We spent some time enjoying the sounds of the ice as well as the awesome sight of all that ice, layer propped up upon layer creating sculpture pieces of astounding beauty.

- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly

2/17 - New Hamburg to Spuyten Duyvil, HRM 67-14: On our Metro North commuter train ride from New Hamburg to Manhattan we saw 27 eagles, fewer than I would have predicted. A ride on Metro North often offers great views of eagles, but is in no way an exhaustive search and count. There are too many blocked views, as well as the limits imposed by sitting on one side of the car or the other, and difficulties seeing much of the west side of the river. The river was ice-locked south through the Highlands. Peekskill Bay had much loose ice, but the inshore shallows were fully iced through Haverstraw Bay and the Tappan Zee. By Yonkers, the ice was reduced to scattered floes and finally only a few small floes drifted under the George Washington Bridge.

As is often the case, an adult eagle was perched at the tip of Denning's Point, white head glowing in the morning sunlight. A pair of adults were perched shoulder-to-shoulder on the south, sunny side of Constitution Island, a scene repeated 20 miles downriver in a cottonwood on the south side of Croton Point. A large ice floe off Round Island held 6 immatures and one adult. A floe off Ardsley held 2 adults and 5 immatures, the last we saw on the ride to Manhattan. As the train turned along the Harlem River in the Bronx, we saw a small raft of 20-25 black ducks.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

2/17 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: I went to the overlook this afternoon. As I arrived, an immature bald eagle flew in and landed on the point. Then another flew in and perched in an adjacent tree. They stayed for a while and then left. A row of 4 Canada geese was swimming in the cove when one of the immatures returned carrying a large stick. It held the stick in its talons and flew around with it hanging vertically underneath. Once around the inlet it went and then it dropped the stick right next to the Canada geese. How do you explain this behavior?

- Dorothy Ferguson

2/17 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: This morning there was a female common merganser right outside our boat at the 79th Street Boat Basin. She was hanging out with the mallards and Canada geese who wait for breakfast each morning. At first I thought she was a resting female canvasback, as her beak was neatly tucked into her back feathers. Then she lifted her head and started to swim away and I saw she was, indeed, a common merganser, a pretty rare siting along this area of the Hudson.

- Leslie Day

2/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was another bright and sunny one, but very cold (-8°F) and very windy. We have had more than 60 visitors today. Among them was a group of 8 for a beginner's snowshoe class. We spotted mink activity along the Rich Lake outlet, squirrels between trees, and a set of fox tracks. It left tracks on top of the snow but no body prints, a mystery. The snow was so fluffy that even with my big snowshoes, I sank in over a foot (2' in some spots). While a fox doesn't weigh as much as I, neither does it have snowshoes, so I would expect it would sink more than the tracks indicated.

- Ellen Rathbone

2/18 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: Strange days are upon us. It is not often that you have a "flight day" in mid-February. Usually waterfowl are where there are going by now. But with the rather sudden onset of winter and the resulting freeze-up in the last few weeks, waterfowl are still on the move, or so it would seem. Today I saw 6 flocks of waterfowl heading south, pushed along by a strong north wind. Four were high-flyer ducks and two were geese flying south between Storm King and Mount Taurus. The ducks, huge undulating ink-blots trying to be Vs, were too high for identification. I'm guessing they were canvasbacks. I'm also guessing that the last of the open water on Lake Champlain has gone away. It was actually a sight for early December. As a counterpoint, we are experiencing the start of the spring red, red robin attack! I counted 40 in the trees and along the beach today, in a scene from late March.

- Tom Lake

[Canvasbacks sound like a good possibility. They have a distinctive flight pattern wide, flat "v's" that could form several waves - kind of like snow geese or even more like brant, but a wider pattern. Rich Guthrie.]

2/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It seems to be the time for saw-whet owls. Just as the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center was closing yesterday we had a call from a local woman who had one sitting on her plastic Santa decoration out behind her house that afternoon. Today, another local couple brought us a dead one that had flown into their back door that morning. I wonder if this snow has brought them closer to homes in search of easier prey.

- Ellen Rathbone

2/19 - Pattersonville, HRM 153: It was a windy, cold 17°F day with lots of snow. I looked out the window at the dozens of birds at my feeders and thought I saw blood on the snow. But it was the low bright sun shining on the underside of a male cardinal, reflecting his red on the snow.

- Dee Strnisa

2/19 - Town of Durham, Greene County, HRM 125: I saw a flock of snow buntings, a dozen or so in winter white, today, after waking up to -10°F and frozen pipes.

- Lawrence Biegel

2/19 - Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: Walking down Villard Avenue this morning, about a half mile east of the river and right in the midst of developed suburbia, we saw a large bird being chased by crows. It landed in a tree directly across the street. It was an adult bald eagle. We had a wonderful view of it perched on a limb and then watched it fly west.

- Susan Schwimmer, Harry Sunshine

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