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Hudson River Almanac March 24 - March 31, 2007

OVERVIEW

Our winter bald eagles had all but left the lower Hudson Valley, heading for breeding territories in the Catskills, Adirondacks, Champlain and St. Lawrence river valleys, New England, and Canadian points north and east. Those still here were mated pairs, unattached adults, and immatures reduced to a third of the number that we had a month ago.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/24 Beechford, Ulster County, HRM 98: I was driving on Route 28 along a swiftly moving Esopus Creek when I spotted two black forms perched in a bare tree beside the roadway. Pulling off to get a better look, I could see that one was a black vulture, hunkered down on its perch from the chill winds and overcast skies, and on a higher branch, a raven, scolding the vulture.

- Ed Spaeth

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/24 Stockport Flats, HRM 122: I spotted three adult bald eagles out on Stockport Flats today. They could be locals, or they could be migrants heading back north.

- Mimi Brauch

3/25 Saugerties, HRM 102: This morning, two cormorants made simultaneous appearances at the Saugerties Lighthouse after a winter's absence. A double-crested cormorant swam and dove in the river channel while the other cormorant perched atop channel marker #93 at the mouth of Esopus Creek. This one had a yellow chin and white feathers on the back of its head. When it took off and flew north, I could see its white flank, a great cormorant.

- Patrick Landewe

3/25 Town of Wappinger: Patience was still the order of the day at bald eagle nest NY62. Mama sat incubating for long stretches, stoically looking out to the river. In mid-afternoon, she rose, made a couple of 360° turns, spread her wings to their full width as if to stretch, then settled back down.

- Tom Lake

3/25 Cold Spring, HRM 54: I saw my first kettle of returning vultures over Cold Spring this evening. There were a dozen birds, split evenly between black and turkey vultures.

- Stephen M. Seymour

3/26 Athens, HRM 118: Heading north into Athens, Ross Burnell and I spotted a mink crossing Route 385. It was carrying what looked like a dead mouse in its mouth as it bounded across the road.

- Liz LoGuidice.

3/26 Cheviot, HRM 106: I spotted two adult bald eagles soaring over Cheviot Landing today as well as a river otter that came nearly close enough to touch.

- Mimi Brauch

3/26 Gardiner, HRM 75: I heard and then saw a phoebe this morning singing in the brush.

- Rebecca Johnson

3/26 Fishkill, HRM 62: Fishkill Creek was swollen and fast moving this afternoon, yet, in the more placid waters of a holding pond, two hooded mergansers were busily diving while a northern pintail swam nearby. From the opposite shore of the creek, I saw a pair of wood ducks, some common mergansers, and a phoebe.

- Ed Spaeth

3/26 East Fishkill, HRM 63: At the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club meeting members reported unusually high numbers of fox sparrows visiting their yards this spring. We counted 10 in ours a week ago and continue to see them.

- Carolyn Plage

3/26 Sandy Hook, NJ: To celebrate the return of the ospreys (March 15, the earliest recorded return in the last 20 years) we had a squid and spaghetti dinner preceded by a bird count on the Hook. We spotted 71 species, above average, including a few notables: piping plover, snipe, seven raptors/vultures (Cooper's, red-tail, kestrel, black and turkey vulture, harrier, and sharp-shin), 10 waterfowl, and the mating flights of numerous woodcock at dusk (one of them an eye-level speed demon), followed by the arrival of two great horned owls. We wondered why both were off their nest. Shouldn't there be hatchlings by now? Either way it'll be another fearful season for the rabbit population. This was our 34th count in 37 years. Traditions die hard.

- Dery Bennett

3/27 Mohawk River, HRM 157: Driving on the New York State Thruway along the Mohawk River, I could see a great deal of "macro-particles" being transported downstream. This was a mix of floating pieces of ice and woody debris. I imagine this material came both from local sources and from the western Adirondacks. It was turbid, but I've seen worse; it looked like it was a combination of late snowmelt and spring freshet.

- Karin Limburg

3/27 Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Our first spring peepers peeped tonight.

- John Mylod

3/27 Gardiner, HRM 75: It was1:00 AM and I was surprised to hear the first woodcocks of the season in the hayfields behind my house. I'm accustomed to watching their courtship displays at dawn and dusk, but didn't realize they'll continue their peents and twitters throughout the night if the lighting is right.

- Laura Heady

3/27 Town of Wappinger: Nest watching, particularly bald eagles, can be many hours of sameness-one adult or the other sitting quietly, incubating-punctuated by infrequent and brief periods of activity. One of these occurred in early afternoon today when Mama swooped into the nest and stood next to Papa who was on the eggs. For a full ten seconds they rubbed beaks-I saw no exchange of food-before Papa took off and Mama settled in replacing him. As stillness returned, a Cooper's Hawk cruised past the nest, quite close, but neither the eagle nor the hawk gave recognition to the other.

- Tom Lake

3/27 Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: While I heard them an hour too late to be the first, and there were only a few of them, our spring peepers were in chorus.

- Phyllis Lake

3/27 West Point, HRM 52: The skies above West Point were darkened and diminished this day. Uther Pendragon, the well-known red-tailed hawk that was born, lived and raised five broods of chicks with his mate Igraine on the light towers at West Point's Shea Stadium, died today. Uther had to be put down by a veterinarian after suffering a broken pelvis and nerve damage when he was hit by a car yesterday morning on the Academy's grounds. It is often difficult to judge how much of an impact an animal has on a human's spirit until the moment comes when death removes the individual from our presence. Pet owners certainly can relate but it is rare indeed when an untamed wild creature has that impact. Uther Pendragon was such an individual.

It is hoped that Igraine will find a new mate for 2008. Nesting will not occur in 2007 as both parents are needed to successfully rear a brood of red-tailed hawks to fledging. And, while the previous year's offspring sometimes have been known to assist the parents in raising the next generation, it is too rare an occurrence to be relied upon.

- James A. Beemer, West Point Natural Resources Manager

Editor's Note: This red-tailed hawk extended family has been a regular highlight of the Hudson River Almanac for the last several years (see Volumes XI through XIII, 2004-2006).

3/28 Greenport, Columbia County, HRM 122: Although the day was fair, there was a chill wind blowing as I walked the slippery and muddy path to the river. Along the way I met a man who was so elated about finding an Indian "arrowhead" by chance earlier on his own walk nearer the river that he had to show me his find, a beautiful delicately chipped three-pointed stone. After parting, I wished that I had been wise enough to advise him to seek professional advice in identifying and dating his find. I continued my walk to an overlook. The river marsh below was mostly ice-free, yet there were no waterfowl. An Amtrak train coursed its way northward along the dividing causeway between ice-free river and cove. On my return to the parking area, a great horned owl silently watched as it sat incubating its eggs high in a tree.

- Ed Spaeth

3/28 Town of Newburgh, HRM 62: The day was clear with air temperatures in the high 50s but a wooded swampy area near Orange Lake was still was covered with ice and snow. However, there were 4 great blue herons serenely sitting or standing on their nests high above the ice-bound waters.

- Ed Spaeth

3/28 Town of New Windsor, HRM 59: In a secluded and mostly ice-free pond on the Stewart Airport facility, some lesser scaup, hooded mergansers, mallards and Canada geese plied the waters, while tree swallows did aerobatics above the pond and an eastern phoebe found insects from its perch above a grassy area near the pond.

- Ed Spaeth

3/28 Garrison, HRM 51: After a busy day dashing around at work, I arrived home in the dark but could hear the first chorus of peepers greeting me. It made my day.

- Kathie Kourie

3/29 Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: I heard my first woodcock of the spring this evening.

- Liz LoGuidice

3/29 Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, HRM 96: Ed Lamon and I paddled across the river from Ryder Park this evening to see if there were any peregrine falcons near the falcon box on the east side of the bridge. Ed had seen one a few days ago but none were evident tonight. As we paddled north we saw an adult bald eagle sitting in a tree 100 yards inland. Ed called out "And there's his dinner!" A fresh, fairly large, headless striped bass was lying on a boulder at the river's edge. An hour later when we paddled back, the eagle was in the same tree but the fish was gone.

- Wes Ostertag

3/29 Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A long-eared owl was still roosting in the pines at Croton Point.

- Steve Stanne

3/29 Lake Meahagh, HRM 40.5: There was a nice mix of waterfowl on Lake Meahagh today, including dozens of ring-necked ducks, a pair of gadwall, a couple pairs of wigeons, a handful of coot, a pied-bill grebe, and a double-crested cormorant.

- Steve Stanne

3/30 Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5 It was a delightfully warm spring day with air temperatures in the low 60s. The water temperature in Hunter's Brook responded rising to 48°F (it was 35°F just a week ago). Still no sign of eels, glass eels or elvers. In year's past, when glass eels arrive late, it portends a meager run. Though I must admit, now in our 5th year of eel research, the one true trend we have noticed, is that these fish are almost totally unpredictable.

- Tom Lake

3/31 East Fishkill, HRM 63: At least 10 great blue herons were on their nests in the rookery (heronry) off the Taconic Parkway in East Fishkill. Only one had returned to the site as of last week; now at least half of the available nests looked occupied.

- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly

3/31 Sandy Hook, NJ: The 13th annual flounder tournament was held, a casual day with lots of overdressed people in row boats along the Shrewsbury River and the banks of Sandy Hook Bay braving brisk winds and cold water to catch winter flounder that have come into the estuaries from the ocean for the winter. They spawn in March and April and then go to sea. It was a good day, lots of fish, mostly spawned out females in the 1-2 lb. range. The winner was a ripe female. That weighed 3.1 pounds. I drove her home for supper. The roe alone weighed just short of a pound, so fully a third of the fish's weight was eggs. Yes, we ate both meat and roe.

- Dery Bennett

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