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Hudson River Almanac March 17 - March 24, 2007

OVERVIEW

With the vernal equinox on March 20, we began our 14th year of the Hudson River Almanac, a natural history journal seeking to capture the spirit, magic, and science of the Hudson River Valley from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to the sea.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/20 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: On this first day of spring, I looked out my kitchen window to see my first robin of the season. It was perched high in the branches of a small tree, safely above several inches of un-springlike snow and ice. Seeing this harbinger of the earth's awakening made me feel optimistic for the green and warmth that is sure to come soon.

- Denise Woodin

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The storm left us with only 10" of snow, and today it is bright and sunny with nothing but blue, blue sky overhead. A lovely morning.

- Ellen Rathbone

3/17 - Minerva, HRM 284: Our first indication of spring after the storm: a flock of red-winged blackbirds settled in the trees next to our house.

- Mike Corey

3/17 - Tivoli Bays, HRM 99.5: We had an amazing day of snowshoeing around the Bard College campus the morning after the St. Patty's day "snow massacre." We happened upon fox dens, kamikaze squirrel dives, weasel and muskrat tracks, and birds gone wild. While investigating a tree that a downy woodpecker had been chewing on near a beaver den, several hundred yards down the Cruger Island causeway, a river otter splashed out of the water and onto the ice. It stared us down for half a minute and then ducked back under.

- Dan Zinder

3/17 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: After the heavy snow (14") the birds were really hungry today. In addition to the normal cast of characters, it was a good day for sparrows scrounging for seeds on our deck: a tree sparrow, a song sparrow, a white-throated sparrow, and - a special treat - 3 fox sparrows.

- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

3/17 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: This morning I watched what may have been a gray fox trot around our garden fence, make its way across our backyard into our neighbor's yard, and then disappear across the snow. It had black boots and its coat was gray to white. Over the whole weekend our neighborhood was visited by not a flock but a swarm of hundreds of robins, flitting about endlessly from tree to tree and bush to bush.

- Doug Maass

3/17 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The day after a light snow, it was easy to follow fox tracks around our office, across a grassy field, down the stairs to the cellar door, back up and onto the back porch, over to the trash cans, back down on the ground, and off to its next inspection. There is a "fox problem" on Sandy Hook, one of the few beaches in New Jersey where the endangered piping plover nests. This is a federal park, one committed to protecting the plover. Foxes eat plover. Plovers are wonderful birds but the sight of a fox still charms me. Mixed emotions.

- Dery Bennett

3/18 - Albany, HRM 145: I was cross country skiing on the Hudson-Mohawk Bike Path this afternoon a half mile north of the I-90 Bridge, almost across from the sewage treatment plant in Troy. A bald eagle swooped down from the trees and flew across the river. It was enormous, a large wing span, black with white on its tail and head. This was my first bald eagle here.

- Anne-Marie Sheehan

3/18 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: The Hudson River had lapsed back to winter - from a river shedding its icy cover to a frozen, jumbled white expanse shoreline to shoreline.

- Tom Lake

3/18 - Oscawana Island, 38.5: This afternoon we saw 4 adult and 3 juvenile bald eagles hanging out on the south side of the island. Another immature was out on an ice floe. As we were leaving the overlook, we spotted a killdeer.

- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

3/18 - George's Island, HRM 39: Snow from the recent storm covered the ground, but the sky was bright and sunny. One immature eagle was perched and 2 others were flying in tandem, interacting over Dogan Point. The best show, however, was on a large ice floe that drifted past, carrying 8 eagles. They played 'leapfrog'' with one another and seemed to be enjoying life in the late afternoon light. Behind them were smaller ice floes with individual eagles on them. Since you could hardly see the ice, these birds looked as though they were walking on water. The parade continued as more and more ice floes floated south, and we saw well over 25 eagles in all, both adults and immatures.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/18 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: In a white world with glare coming off the crust of yesterday's snowstorm, the approaching bird almost seemed of trick a light and shadow. A male harrier passed close overhead, and I turned to admire it. As it disappeared over the tree canopy, a second male harrier flew over me, and disappeared on the flight path of the first. A special treat.

- Christopher Letts

3/19 - Minerva, HRM 284: There's presently three feet of snow on the ground, in various sedimentary rock-like layers, yet the chickadees are singing their spring song and the evening grosbeaks are getting frisky.

- Mike Corey

3/19 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: Three dozen Rondout Valley High School students stood rock still as we watched two bald eagles perched along the shore, one adult, one immature. The birds had one eye on the river and the other on us. We did our very best to present a non-threatening presence. Our guess was that these were birds in migration, heading north. A second adult was perched nearby. She appeared to be the female from the nest across the river (NY62). I had checked earlier and Papa was incubating. Our first killdeer foraged across the fields before us as we walked.

- Lisa Jury, Sue Tokle, Tom Lake

3/19 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Four white-tailed deer, standing in a field of the old Boyce Thompson estate, gazed eyeball to eyeball with motorists stopped at the traffic light at Executive Boulevard and North Broadway. The leader seemed to be trying to decide when best to cross. I wondered if the recent snow and ice storm had forced the deer out into such an open spot. The Journal News reported an increase in deer-car accidents on the Saw Mill and Hutchinson River Parkway after the storm.

- Bob Walters

3/20 - Town of Wappinger: The vernal equinox passed and it was now two hours into spring. Already the air was 20°F, heading down to the low teens - another cold night. The barest waxing crescent moon hung in the west. One of the adults was on the eagle nest, probably Mama, and the other was roosting in a tall white pine a few hundred feet away. I could hear soft chortles from time to time. It was difficult to tell if they were communicating as I could barely hear them from close by.

- Tom Lake

3/20 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 51.4: From our Metro North commuter train car this morning we saw the two adult bald eagles that we always seem to find at the south end of Constitution Marsh. One always seems to be facing forward while the other is often in profile. We would have thought they would have migrated north by now but maybe they are a local breeding pair. Regardless, we have enjoyed their company all winter long.

- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

3/20 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was cold enough, and the snow crust thick enough, so that we were not only standing on the crust, but our vehicles were parked on it without breaking through. None the less, the tree swallows were swooping in search of food. A dozen killdeer foraged on the tide flats, and a horned grebe dove with the buffleheads. The treat of the morning: a flock of 4 great blue herons passed over, headed northeast and flying in V formation.

- Christopher Letts

3/20 - Manhattan, HRM 2.6: Three blocks from the Hudson River is a housing complex called Penn South, between 8th-9th avenues and West 23rd-28th streets. Their plantings are wonderful and have supported a good number of robins, white-throated sparrows, mockingbirds, and an occasional woodpecker. I hear blue jays but rarely see them. Today I spied a woodcock in the underbrush. I followed it around the building and it did not seem injured. When I returned a few days later it was gone. Perhaps it just needed a rest on its flight north.

- Regina McCarthy

3/20 - Jamaica Bay, Queens: Kathy Krause and I were trying to meet in a room that was just too full of windows to accomplish much. Our first osprey sighting of the season sailed across several of the windows, heading eastbound across Cross Bay Boulevard, where the bird wheeled and dipped over a thawing East Pond at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The meeting was momentarily adjourned.

- Dave Taft

3/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: As I was watching the river, scanning the ice floes for eagles, a tawny blur raced past in my peripheral vision. I looked in time to see a peregrine falcon cruising away toward the old railroad bridge over the Hudson.

- Tom Lake

3/21 - Town of Wappinger: One or both adults were busily incubating on the eagle nest (NY62) as they have been for three weeks. At the same time, we have also watched them occasionally bring new material, twigs and small branches, to the nest, interesting behavior that we had not seen before.

- Rosalie Pung, Bruce Pung

3/21 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: I set my eel fykes (research nets) in Hunter's Brook this A.M. just after dawn. Ice, ice, ice. Bitter, brutal cold. That was as close to frostbite as I ever want to get. Even using neoprene gloves, it took 20 minutes to get feeling back in my fingers and then it felt like I was holding a beehive. The water was very cold (barely 34°F) and should get even colder when all the snow and ice melts in the next few days. The was day one of year five for the glass eel study in this little tributary of a tributary in the Wappinger system, just over a mile from the Hudson.

- Tom Lake

[American eel research: Populations of freshwater eels seem to be diminishing worldwide and no one knows why. American eels are born at sea but many of them spend much of their lives in inland waters. Each spring, millions of immature eels ascend tidewater from the sea, along the entire coast of North America south into the Gulf of Mexico. Their near lack of pigment has earned them the name "glass eel." This is a particularly vulnerable time in their lives and little is known about this period in their life history. The research on Hunter's Brook, as well as a similar effort on the Saw Kill, 31 miles upriver, is part of a watershed-wide program connected to a national effort at understanding the many facets and components of the life of American eels. It is difficult to protect them as a species when you know so little about them. Tom Lake.]

3/21 - Croton River, HRM 34: I was standing a short distance upriver from where the Croton meets the Hudson, watching a common loon dive repeatedly. At one point my attention was drawn overhead and there, circling over the Croton River, was my first osprey of the season, weeks earlier that I can remember seeing one last year.

- Christopher Letts

3/21 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The big flocks of Canada geese here have pretty much broken up into pairs and they are pulling grass. In among 3 pairs near the Sandy Hook Lighthouse was a single snow goose acting much like its cousins, walking, feeding, sitting. So close to the Canadas, it was easy to see the difference in size: they are less bulky. Among the geese here, it may be the only one to soon be off to the Arctic.

- Dery Bennett

3/22 - Staten Island, New York Harbor: While examining a recent 36 acre brush fire at Great Kills Park, I was struck at the sounds of spring all about. Despite the fire, spring peepers were calling everywhere. Large flocks of male red-winged blackbirds flew nervously from ailanthus to ailanthus. For a full three minutes, an adult male harrier hunted through the burn; a beautiful blue-grey, he had black, ink-dipped wing tips, almost as if he had dragged them through the ash.

- Dave Taft

3/23 - Cairo, HRM 113: I saw my first killdeer of the season today in the town park in Cairo.

- Liz LoGiudice

3/23 - Round Top, HRM 113: With the season winding down, we have managed to make 25 gallons of maple syrup this season. Killdeer have made it back and turkey vultures are again soaring overhead.

- Jon Powell

3/23 - Wappinger Lake, HRM 67.5: As the ice leaves this impoundment of Wappinger Creek, it fills up with migrating waterfowl: several small flocks of Canada geese, 50 scattered common mergansers, a half-dozen hooded mergansers, a few green-winged teal, a dozen buffleheads, and a flock of 18 of ring-necked ducks.

- Tom Lake

3/23 - Staten Island, New York Harbor: We had earthworms on the office sidewalk at Fort Wadsworth this morning, the most genuine sign of spring.

- Dave Taft

3/24 - Green Island, HRM 153: I was at Green Island just after a mid-morning high tide. The Hudson was halfway up the hill that leads down to the river. The water literally careened over the Troy Dam and crashed into the plunge pool below. It carried a creamy foam, layered over latte-colored water as it raced past, as turbid and anxious as I have ever seen it. At 34°F, it carried much meltwater from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. There were a few people there, watching the river as I was, all fishermen, none fishing. One, Eli Thomas, wondered how long it will take for the river to go down, the water temperature to go up and shad to arrive. Three weeks, I offered.

- Tom Lake

[For more information about sportfishing for American shad, read "Shad Run: Spring Fishing for Shad on the Hudson," written by Doug Stang, chief of DEC's Bureau of Fisheries and an avid angler, in the April 2007 issue of Conservationist magazine]

3/24 - Gardiner, HRM 75: We moved our first spotted salamander of the year off the road. With the first spring rains, thousands of these slimy creatures will make their annual migration to their breeding grounds.

- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

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