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Hudson River Almanac April 9 - April 16, 2007

OVERVIEW

Even though strong spring storms are not uncommon, they still surprise us, particularly one as intense as this nor'easter, producing record rainfall in Manhattan and over two feet of snow in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/12 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was out in the open wetland area behind my house this evening and, despite the wind, snow, and cold, I could hear the plaintive little "peent" of a woodcock somewhere over the swamp. Sad. In a better world, this bird would no doubt be locating open ground and a mate.

- Mike Corey

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/9 - Minerva, HRM 284: Despite the overall bad maple syrup season for the commercial trade, I am pleased to report that I managed a personal record of 10 ounces of maple syrup from my two sugar maples.

- Mike Corey

4/9 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: Three days of steady and strong westerlies had pushed succeeding ebb tides lower until at midday today they bottomed out in Moodna Creek and Cornwall Bay. The creek was empty, a ribbon of muddy bottom leading into a bay of sand bars and spits. Almost every inch of sand was occupied by ring-billed gulls.

- Tom Lake

4/9 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: I spied what I thought was an eagle today right above my car. I stepped out to get a better look and noticed the white belly and black streaks around the eyes. It was a beautiful osprey, the closest I've ever been to one.

- Dianne Picciano

4/9 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The shore was lined with eager anglers, but with nary a bite in the harsh westerly chop. Up on the landfill, a new wave of kestrels was dispossessing the red-winged blackbirds of their singing perches and generally looking for trouble. It was nice to hear the southern drawl of the fish crows once again, so confiding, companionable compared to the crass common crow.

- Christopher Letts

4/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I saw a snowshoe hare today and it was all white, still, which is good considering all the snow we have. It makes me wonder if normally they would be turning brown by now.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/10 - Minerva, HRM 284: My first song sparrow of the year was singing today. A few days ago there were a few chipping sparrows around. They've all got to be wondering what is going on.

- Mike Corey

4/10 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The horned grebe I've been enjoying here for about a month was decidedly in winter plumage when first seen. Admittedly, it was not always observed in good light and often at extreme distance. And of course it may not be the same bird. But it was a thrill today to catch it in the scope just outside the railroad bridge in the bay, in brilliant morning light, and to see a fine flare of yellow breeding plumage catch the rising sun. Tree swallows by the hundreds worked the Croton estuary on both sides of the bridge. With some effort I saw a few rough-winged swallows in the mix. Early for them, I thought, but maybe not. I associate their arrival with the first catches of shad.

- Christopher Letts

4/10 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Tulips had begun to bloom in sheltered south and west facing beds. Magnolia blossoms were full blown. Just a mile away, on Croton Point, the season was not so far along. In testimony to the effect of a frigid estuary, magnolia buds were showing the tiniest bit of color and tulip greens had barely pierced the ground.

- Christopher Letts

4/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a glorious morning. Blue jays were screaming, cardinals were singing, redwings, juncos and chickadees were all in full voice. It certainly sounded like spring, it just looked like winter. There is an ominous forecast for the next few days.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/11 - Albany, HRM 145: As the sun fell behind the Albany skyline, the air took on a real chill. The river lent doubts as to the season as well, with a river temperature of 39.1°F at the USGS tide gauge in Corning Park, several degrees colder than usual for the second week of April. Double-crested cormorants were displaying their fidelity to the season, however, as several formations, precise-to-ragged Vs, passed over heading north.

- Tom Lake, Steve Comer, Mariann Mantzouris, Rich Rugenstein

4/11 - Delmar, HRM 143: For me, spring finally came to Five Rivers Environmental Education Center today. Wood frogs were calling on the Fox Den Marsh and a Canada goose was sitting on a nest. I didn't have the heart to tell them about the snowstorm that was due tonight.

- Dee Strnisa

4/11 - Cheviot, HRM 106: It was late morning, the river was two hours into the ebb, and the current was streaming across the submerged "pier" extending offshore from Cheviot Landing. Several hen common goldeneyes were diving just upstream from the pier in, I would guess, 6-8 feet of water. The interesting aspect of their behavior was the length of their dives: after measuring at least 30 dives, I discovered that every one of them was 15-16 seconds long - no more, no less. Depth of the water? Capacity of their lungs? Serendipity?

- Tom Lake

4/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Early this morning the air temperature dropped to 22°F, a record low for the date.

- National Weather Service

4/11 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Employing a traditional drift gillnet, John Myod caught his first American shad of the season.

[Commercial fishing gear for American shad is divided into two categories: fixed and non-fixed. In the shallower areas of the river, where nets would become hung on the bottom if not fixed in place, gill nets must be anchored or attached to stakes. In areas of deep water, where anchoring would be impractical or impossible, nets are drifted with the current. Tom Lake.]

4/11 - West Point, HRM 52: I was beginning to get a little worried about the Pendragon red-tail hawks. I saw no activity at any of the light towers at Shea Stadium, so I knew this year's nesting season would be unfruitful. But, outside my office at mid-afternoon, I heard the sharp piercing cry and saw Igraine soaring on the thermals along Crows Nest Mountain, searching for food. A second bird caught my eye, an immature red-tail from last year's brood. Not sure which one it was but I would guess it was the male Cu Culhainne. Female hawks, I've noticed, appear to start looking for their own territories sooner than the males. They may remain in their natal area for a second year as I witnessed with Morganna (2003), Elaine (2004)and Guinevere (2005). However, once they are mature and ready to start their own families, they need to locate to another site with ample food resources.

- James Beemer

4/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a white, white world. Heavy, wet snow was clinging to every tree, branch and twig. Rather pretty, but we are ready for grass and daffodils now. Yesterday I noticed that the birds had opted to ignore the seed feeders, going instead for the new grass, no doubt looking for insects. This morning, however, they were back at the feeders with a vengeance, and at all of the places where I've sprinkled seed on the ground.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/12 - Catskill, HRM 113: Several anglers have caught rudd, up to 13" and 14 oz., in Catskill Creek this year, mostly on worms, but they will also take small flashy lures.

- Tom Gentalen

[Rudd are large minnows, native to Europe, introduced in Columbia County probably in the late 1920s. They are known primarily from the Roeliff Jansen Kill watershed (HRM 111), with a spawning population in Robinson Pond near Copake in Columbia County. While closely resembling a golden shiner, they grow much larger. Their most distinguishing characteristic is the blood-red color of their fins. Brassy to silvery sides have earned them the colloquial name of "pearl roach." John R. Greeley collected four specimens in the Roeliff Jansen Kill in his 1936 faunal survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed (Greeley 1937:94). Tom Lake.]

4/12 - Storm King Mountain, HRM 57: As I was driving south to West Point along Route 218 (Storm King Highway), I looked out to the river and there was a black vulture just hovering on a thermal. As the bird glanced my way, I could almost sense a chuckle: another creature hurrying along instead of just enjoying the world around it.

- Jim Beemer

4/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As I was driving into Newcomb, I noticed that the road-killed deer I had driven around earlier was now off the road on the shoulder. As I approached, a cluster of crows and ravens flew up from the carcass. Behind them a large bird labored into the air: an immature bald eagle. The eagle, probably a 4 year-old, was starting to get its white head and tail feathers.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/13 - Town of Wappinger: There was a reversal of roles this morning in bald eagle nest NY62. Papa was nestling-sitting while Mama delivered breakfast just after 8:00 AM. After leaving the fish, she took off on a downdraft for the river, gliding a quarter mile without a single wing beat.

- Tom Lake

4/13 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Several days of brisk northwest winds had produced a modest blowout tide. It was two hours after low water and the tide was still going dropping. Our first glass eels had arrived in the brook overnight, nearly a month later than last spring.

- Tom Lake

[Glass eels are one of the juvenile life stages of the American eel. They arrive by the millions in the estuary each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the Sargasso Sea area where they are born. "Glass eel" is a colloquial name, owing to their lack of pigment and near transparency. They are returning to the estuaries of their ancestors along the east coast of North America. In anywhere from 12-30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea where they will spawn once and then die. Tom Lake.]

4/13 - Yonkers, HRM 18: It was a beautiful warm sight to look across the river and see the Palisades reflecting the rosy red color of dawn after yesterday's soaking chilling rain. Pockets of ice and snow were still visible at the base of the cliffs.

- Bob Walters

4/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I saw and heard our first merlin of the season. It should find plenty of birds to snack on, as there are hundreds and hundreds all around!

- Ellen Rathbone

4/14 - Town of Milan, HRM 90: I have had to place a second sunflower feeder to accommodate the unusually high number of goldfinches. During the winter they were scarce - very few were being reported by other area birders as well. I've also been watching a resident red-shouldered hawk and a common egret that has been at the same pond for the last week.

- Frank Margiotta

4/14 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: I visited the mouth of the Saw Kill to check our elver fyke this evening. An empty net! I did see a large dead white sucker near the net and with a little exploration found 3 more. At least the white suckers think it's spring. Three of the dead suckers had obvious wounds on the head and nape that looked like talon marks. The fourth sucker was represented by a head and a short piece of the vertebral column, the rest was eaten. Looked to me like osprey or eagle predation.

- Bob Schmidt

4/14 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: What a confusing season - white-throated sparrows were singing and juncos were still filling the underbrush. It seemed more like mid-March than mid-April. In a driving, drenching rain I collected 7 more glass eels. The migration seems to be on. The brook was higher than usual for low tide. Was it a storm surge from the approaching nor'easter or a spring tide of the near new moon.

- Tom Lake

4/15 - Minerva, HRM 284: It was snowing heavily, a heavy, wet, snow that may add up to a foot or more by tomorrow.

- Mike Corey

4/15 - Columbia County, HRM 119: Two students and I went out tonight looking for amphibians figuring that the nor'easter might benefit somebody. I did find my first spring peeper of the season (only one!). I have not heard any calls yet this year in Columbia County. We also found one Jefferson's salamander in Hillsdale.

- Bob Schmidt, Leila Duncan, Chris Grace

4/15 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: There are several new beaver cuttings, mostly smaller trees with 4" diameters, in the woods along the brook. With a major nor'easter fast approaching, I tethered my glass eel nets to trees alongside the brook. From what is predicted, re-bar into bedrock might not be enough.

- Tom Lake

4/15 - Manhattan, HRM 5: A record 7.57" of rain fell in Central Park today - the second highest amount since 1869.

- National Weather Service

4/16 - Minerva, HRM 284: The snowfall, extremely heavy, had ended. In the end, we got a foot. I stood in the backyard last night and listened to the breaking of white pine branches followed by their fall to the ground. It was really quite neat, and creepy at the same time. No school today. Most communities are without power. Essex County just declared a snow emergency (Tupper Lake, in Northern Essex County, had 26" of snow).

- Mike Corey

4/16 - Town of Wappinger: Crouched inside a spruce blind at first light, I could see the eagle nest had weathered the storm, so far. Winds, sustained at 20, gusting to 40 mph, shook the tree. Not much was happening. Mama was again hunkered far down in the nest, nearly out of sight.

- Tom Lake

4/16 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: There is a 6-foot wall along both sides of Hunter's Brook near where it meets the tidal Wappinger. At low tide the water is only inches deep. After nearly 6" of rain, the brook creek was now over the wall and into the woods. Wappinger Creek had become a river and Hunter's Brook was nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding flood plain. The re-bar and cement blocks that held the glass eel gear were long gone. The nets were held in the torrent by the tethers from the trees.

- Tom Lake

4/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: The Croton River had gone wild! The spillway to the Croton Dam was a great white waterfall with tons of water thundering down to the basin, creating clouds of rain-like mist. Along Route 129, every little freshet had become a swiftly running stream. Water was cascading and gushing along the roadsides, pouring down rocks which just days ago were bearded with ice. Lawns have become lakes, the edges of the roads have disappeared. The Croton River flooded over its banks and several houses gave images reminiscent of New Orleans: just the roof of cars visible, houses lurching into swirling water, trees surging along.

- Robin Fox

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