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Hudson River Almanac February 19 - February 26, 2007

OVERVIEW

This week winter met spring, as returning flocks of blackbirds swept upriver against the backdrop of an ice-choked Hudson. A rare ivory gull sighting at Piermont only enhanced the already spectacular presence of the snowy owl, resident there since early January.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/25 - Piermont, HRM 25: We spotted an ivory gull just north of Flywheel Park on the shore of the Hudson River. It feasted on a ruddy duck carcass discarded by the snowy owl that has been here since January 7. At dusk the bird seemed to be preparing to spend the night on a small ice floe.

- Drew Ciganek

[Snowy owls could handle ruddy ducks as prey. There are photos of the Piermont snowy owl carrying a coot, similar in size to a ruddy. I imagine ruddies are a little faster in flight than coot, but these owls are known to catch birds on the wing. Steve Stanne.]

[We had an ivory gull at Staten Island many years ago. They really are striking. For months afterward, I was checking every flock of gulls I'd encounter loafing at the park but never saw another. Dave Taft, National Park Service.]

[Ivory gulls, according to Roger Tory Peterson, are High Arctic, circumpolar birds. They winter near the Gulf of St. Lawrence, only occasionally reaching New England and rarely our area. When it comes to gulls, most folks see congregations of gulls on the river numbering dozens to scores and more and simply call them sea gulls. Even the naturalists among us may take just a quick look and assume they are the common ring-billed gulls, with maybe a greater black-backed or herring gull mixed in. But curious birders take the time to really look, and they frequently find that our gull population is pretty diverse. In 13 years of the Almanac, we have recorded 11 species of gulls along the tidewater Hudson: black-headed, Bonaparte's, Franklin's, glaucous, greater black-backed, laughing, lesser black-backed, herring, Iceland, ivory, and ring-billed. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/19 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: Amid the clucking of 14 wild turkeys that pay a visit most mornings to the area behind my house where the bird feeder is located, I heard, off in the distance, the telltale "squeegee" sound of my first red-winged blackbird of the year. This wonderful sound of the coming spring stirs the blood and triggers the needed and now hurried preparations for shad season which, in the Poughkeepsie reach of the Hudson, will arrive in about six weeks.

- John Mylod

2/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While it has been a few years since I last saw an actual otter, I do see otter tracks and trails every winter. I had a great group of folks in to learn tracking today and, while the variety of tracks was limited in our deep snow - tons of squirrels, some mink, and mice - it still took us the better part of two hours to go one mile. And then we saw the otter tracks. First we glimpsed them in the distance, across the ice and snow upstream of the bridge crossing the outlet of Rich Lake. But as we continued up the trail a short distance, we saw where the otters had been traveling from the pond near Route 28N, down the hill and into the outlet. Their trough plowed through the snow until it reached the boardwalk, and then they went "underground," tunneling through the snow to pop up about 10' away, continuing down to the water. I'm always tickled pink when I see otter tracks, especially when they are close enough to touch!

- Ellen Rathbone

2/20 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: Our Hudson Valley was now a winter wonderland after last week's snowfall. The river was frozen solid and quiet as a mouse. Only a few gulls and crows were about. From the Norrie Point Research Center I spotted an adult bald eagle perched across the river. The Staatsburg Picnic Area is inaccessible to vehicles, so it was a beautiful walk through the woods and snow down to the river. At midday, there were 2 adults, probably a mated pair, perched across the way. A Coast Guard icebreaker (109) came through heading northbound.

- Dave Lindemann

2/20 - China Pier, HRM 43: Philosophers often debate questions like "How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?" This afternoon, as I watched a rather small ice floe drift past sporting 19 bald eagles, 18 of them immatures, I wondered "How many eagles can you fit on an ice floe?"

- Tom Lake

2/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: There were 2 Carolina wrens at my feeder today; one gave a short song: tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea.

- Anne P. Strain

2/21 - Fishkill, HRM 61: As last week's snow began to soften, we were able to see animal tracks more readily. This morning, I found evidence that an opossum had meandered through my yard sometime in the night, with its distinctive tracks crossing the open space, skirting a flower bed, then a low rock wall. It lingered awhile under my bird feeders but then proceeded to cross the road to my neighbor's property.

- Ed Spaeth

2/21 - George's Island, HRM 39: Today's bright sun and relatively warm temperatures lured me onto the river with my kayak. There was considerable open water inshore, free of ice. Further out though, were groups of moving floes, some made up of large slabs of ice thrown together after being cut up by the ice breaking boats. Approaching one of the floes, I counted 4 immature bald eagles, watching the water.

- Stephen Butterfass

2/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: The Carolina wrens were back at my feeder today; one was singing quite lustily. Down by the river, at the foot of Main Street, among a flock of 30 Canada geese, one had an orange collar. The white letters read 1-5-M (or W) 0. If any Almanac readers know, I'd be very interested to discover the details of this tagged goose.

- Anne P. Strain

2/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard the saw-whet owl "tooting" again tonight, this time along the margins of the golf course. I think we are getting saw-whets this winter instead of our regulars, e.g., grosbeaks, redpolls, purple finches, etc. A fair trade off in my opinion.

- Ellen Rathbone

2/22 - Fishkill, HRM 61: As I passed the numerous snow mounds lining my walk and driveway this morning, it appeared that someone had liberally sprinkled the snow with a good dose of black pepper. Closer inspection revealed that this "black pepper" was certainly alive and would occasionally jump. These snow fleas, or springtails, occur on top of snow cover on sunny days and help to recycle organic matter by feeding on decaying plant matter.

- Ed Spaeth

2/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 77: Steve Ledrich and T.J. Hackett, our recycling team at the Culinary Institute, saw "the biggest eagle they've ever seen" this morning on the edge of our campus which overlooks the Hudson River. It was a full-grown adult, and seemed to be simply enjoying the weather. They watched it for five minutes before it soared out of sight.

- Andra Sramek

2/22 - Fish Island, HRM 44.5: From our Metro North commuter train to Manhattan this morning, we saw a group of bald eagles, both adult and immature, on the ice south of the Bear Mountain Bridge. At Crawbuckie (HRM 33.5) the show continued: we spotted 3 more eagles, 2 of them adults, out on the ice of Croton Bay.

- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

2/22 - Queens, New York City: Crossing Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, I heard the familiar bubbling calls of brant (geese). I looked up just in time to see 25 of the birds winging northbound, swept up in the warm south wind of a strangely mild day. Spring so soon? I can only hope. Down on earth I'm still hopping over icy, gray mounds of frozen slush.

- Dave Taft

2/22 - Brooklyn, New York City: Passing a bird at 60 mph doesn't help with identifications. I knew it was a Canada goose grazing on the exit ramp of the Belt Parkway near Erskine Street, but who knows what the number of the yellow tag was around its neck?

- Dave Taft

2/23 - Round Top, HRM 113: Our maple sap season has not started; it has been too cold up here.

- Jon Powell

2/23 - Anthony's Nose, HRM 45.5: In late morning the ebb tide was ripping down the river, pushed by a ferocious north wind. Ice floes were streaming under the Bear Mountain Bridge at an amazing clip. Two of them had bald eagles aboard for the ride. Like most birds, eagles practice conservation of energy, especially in winter. They need to keep their "furnace" stoked and calories become precious. Wintering eagles on the Hudson have, for as long as there has been eagles and ice floes, used them as a means of transportation, like moving walkways at airports. The drifting ice takes them past potential opportunities for fish and waterfowl with minimal energy expenditure. And once food has been secured, the floes offer a measure of security.

- Tom Lake

2/23 - Staten Island, New York City: Tom O'Connell, Kathy Garafolo, Jackie Duhon and I escaped the Great Kills Park office today and walked a long stretch of the blue dot trail along a small un-named creek. Flocks of robins, several starlings, white throated sparrows, budding poplars and cherries were all the highlights until we spotted a red-tailed hawk at the edge of a clearing in an old cherry. The bird lifted off suddenly, and we immediately heard the sound of a great horned owl in the distance. It never called again, and we never saw the bird, but Jackie tells me she's encountered him in that area several times recently.

- Dave Taft

2/24 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: Like a line in the sand, there was a midday demarcation of ice across the river at the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. To the north, shoreline-to-shoreline ice, extending at least 40 miles upriver, and probably all the way to Troy. To the south, all the way to the Highlands, there was little ice in the channel, and what ice there was, drifted along in small floes.

- Tom Lake

2/24 - Esopus Creek, HRM 102: The tidewater Esopus Creek was frozen solid and ice anglers were loading up on yellow perch. But we decided to try our luck above the dam in the village of Saugerties, a stretch of Esopus Creek that we knew held good numbers of a variety of panfish. Across 5 hours of casual jigging through 25" of ice, we managed to land several dozen black crappie and bluegills. None were tackle busters, but that mattered not for 4 year-old Thomas and 6 year-old Ryan Marchese. For each of them, these 10" golden beauties were their first fish.

- Tom Lake

2/25 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: Our first red-winged blackbird returned today. Spring cannot be far off.

- Bill Drakert

2/25 - George's Island, HRM 39: With the prospect of a snowstorm tomorrow, we decided to visit George's Island. We spotted an adult bald eagle perched on Dogan Point and 3 immatures, flying in and out of the trees. At one point, one of the immatures knocked another off a branch and then perched in its place. Immatures are well known for their games where they mimic adult territorial behavior. A group of buffleheads, 3 hens and 9 drakes, were diving near the shoreline, totally oblivious to the eagle activity overhead.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/26 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In a scene that usually occurs weeks from now, the trees along the river were filled with noisy grackles and other blackbirds, all heading upriver, going tree-to-tree.

- Tom Lake

2/26 - Kowawese, HRM 60:

Everything I See at the River

I am sitting on a bench looking at the river.

The river is very foggy and I cannot see far.

I can hear crows in the distance,

But I cannot see them.

I can hear the river flowing in and out,

I can smell and taste the salt in the water and in the air.

The foxes and deer and rabbits are all looking for food in the snow.

It is hard for eagles to hunt for fish.

I can't wait for spring to see more great things at the river.

- Anthony Petutis, Grade 6, Vails Gate Elementary

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