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Hudson River Almanac April 16 - April 23, 2007

OVERVIEW

The warmth of spring arrived in the wake of last week's nor'easter. With it came the flora and fauna of the season, along with their rituals of renewal.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/22 - Breakneck Ridge, HRM 56a On Earth Day, a warm sun was shining on the Hudson Highlands and the big birds were out. By mid-morning, the rising thermals were cluttered with vultures - turkey and black. Peregrine falcons and ravens pirouetted along the rocky face of Breakneck Ridge, in and out of nesting eyries, each on its own way, no confrontations. Scores if not hundreds of hikers spread out like ants over the several knobs of Breakneck. Whenever a few faces would peek over the side, the falcons and ravens would glide into crevices out of sight. Out along the Hudson three ravens gave an extended aerial performance that seemed like courtship, except there were three of them.

- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/16 - West Point, HRM 52: The intelligence of the common crow was evident this evening. Leaving my office, I saw a crow pick up a two-inch square piece of dried out hard roll. The crow held it in its bill but could not collapse the hard bread down enough to swallow it, so the bird walked across to the other side of the road and dropped the bread into the edge of a puddle. It seemed to understand that it had to wait for the bread to soak up the water. There was no constant check to see how soggy the bread was; it just kept watch for other crows trying to steal its prize. After two minutes, the crow bent over, picked up the now softened bread, and swallowed it.

- James Beemer

4/16 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Broad and shallow bodies of water covered large areas of flat ground - playas, or as close as you can come in Westchester County. They won't last long, but for now they captured the attention of gulls, geese and ducks. A dozen pairs of gaudy wood ducks dabbled in their mirror images, and yellowlegs and killdeer patrolled the margins.

- Christopher Letts

4/17 - West Point Military Reservation, HRM 48-52: The rains these past few days turned all the brooks and streams into raging torrents. Several bridges were backing water up with their decks. The last time I saw it this bad was 1999, right after Hurricane Floyd rolled through.

- James Beemer

4/17 - Town of Wappinger: I checked under the tree today, listened for a while. Nothing. Just the wind in the branches. There were a few discarded skeletal remains from a bullhead catfish under the nest tree, probably a week or two old, maybe some of the first food brought to the nest after the eagle nestling hatched. If it hatched. However, in the two days since the storm, there has been almost no activity in the nest. It is hard not to be concerned. Pneumonia in new eagle chicks is not uncommon, and this storm with its relentless wind, rain, and dampness was made to order.

- Tom Lake

4/17 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: In the quarter century I have monitored a rain gauge here, only Hurricane Floyd, in 1999, dumped more rain. My 6" capacity gauge overflowed before the storm ended. Full-fledged streams coursed down hillsides where I have never seen water before. A rough estimate of rainfall for the past week in northern Westchester was 9.6".

- Christopher Letts

4/18 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The river's water temperature fell to 39 degrees F, being chilled by the snowmelt from the Adirondacks.

- U.S. Geological Survey

4/18 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I caught the first sight of the new moon cradling Venus tonight. Brilliant Venus was pouring light into a gray-ghostly full globe. A sliver of light, the new moon, at the bottom of the globe. Then clouds covered it all over.

- Robin Fox

4/18 - Long Pond, Town of Highlands, Orange County, HRM 50: Passing Long Pond, one of the few natural lakes in the Hudson Highlands, while heading west along Route 293 this afternoon, I saw an osprey sitting in a white pine. Knowing how big its wingspan is, I was amazed at how slender its body looked as it perched. I also knew how easily it could pick up the 1½ lb. trout we had stocked here a couple of weeks ago.

- James Beemer, West Point Natural Resources Manager

4/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard my first woodcock this evening, the twittering chirp of the wings as he did his courtship flight. At first the sound brought to mind bat calls, but it was way too loud, so it had to be a woodcock - the sounds are very similar. Now we wait for the peepers and wood frogs.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The first color showed today for both forsythia and magnolia; maybe it was the 70 degrees F, maybe the storm had stifled them somewhat. In most areas, by day's end, they had burst into bloom, both nearly 3 weeks late from 2006.

- Tom Lake

4/19 - New York Harbor, Upper Bay: A 12' long juvenile female minke whale that had wandered into the Upper Bay - and then into the Gowanus Canal two days ago - died today of unknown causes. It was speculated that the April16 nor'easter contributed to its presence.

- Tom Lake

[Minkes are one of the most widespread of baleen whales, found worldwide in the Northern Hemisphere in latitudes between tropical and Arctic waters. Adults can grow to 32', weigh 10 tons, and may live to be 50 years old. In addition to krill, they also feed on schools of small fish such as the herring that are presently migrating along the northeast Atlantic coast to spawn in estuaries. To report a sighting of a healthy, sick, alive or dead marine mammal or sea turtle, contact Kimberly Durham, Director/Biologist, Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation's Rescue Program Emergency 24-hour Stranding Hotline: (631) 369-829. For more information: http://www.riverheadfoundation.org/

4/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby Rathbone and I were hanging out in the yard when the coyotes started yipping and howling. We never expect to hear them at 4:00 PM, when the sun is out and the day is still going. Caught us both off guard and caught our attention.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/20 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: With the Wappinger retreating within its banks, some semblance of April normalcy had returned. Given a rather sudden warming of the water (51 degrees F), for the first time this spring carp were preforming their pre-spawn spring pirouettes, breaching the surface and dancing on their tails before falling back. The beaver signs I had seen last week along Hunter's Brook were increasing and this evening I met the makers, two young beaver out in the creek, swimming in opposite directions.

- Tom Lake

4/20 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I got another chance this evening to look through high-powered binoculars at Venus and the moon. Venus had dropped below the new moon, that had become more of a crescent. I could see the unlit part of the moon clearly, the craters, the scars dimly lit by the crescent. It made me think of how poet William Butler Yeats described this phenomena , "... the new moon with the old moon in its arms."

- Robin Fox

4/21 - Greene County, HRM 110: Our group couldn't have planned a better outing at this time of the year: a sunny, warm, spring day, hiking up the Blackhead Range in the Northern Catskill Mountains, a foot of spring snow, melting icicles and the sight and sound of water flowing everywhere. We all saw a flurry of mourning cloak butterflies making shadows against the snow.

- Richard Balint

4/21 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: As I was untangling my eel fyke today, clearing it of debris brought down to Tivoli South Bay by the big storm, I noticed something red swimming and grabbed it - a redback salamander. I occasionally see redbacks in water on stream margins, but this is certainly the first time I found one out in tidal water. I guess the very high water over the past week washed this one out and deposited it in the bay.

- Bob Schmidt

4/21 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Today's warm, sunny weather brought wood turtles out to bask along the stream bank of their habitat; we found some new ones and saw some old friends. We were glad to see them in their usual haunts. We were worried they might have been washed away with the floods of last week.

- Jude Holdsworth, Matt Harris

4/21 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Although we were now five days past the storm, the ebb tide current in Hunter's Brook was still torrential. It was so strong that, during the night, a heavy, sodden mattress being carried downstream flattened the eel net, squashed it like a bug. No eels today. The water temperature had nearly reached 50 degrees F; the neoprene gloves can be put away until fall.

- Tom Lake

4/21 - Town of Wappinger: In the five days since the storm, I had visited the spruce blind to monitor the eagle nest (NY62) each day, twice a day. Until noon today, I had not seen any movement or indication that the adults were still around. My growing concern was that whatever eggs or nestling were there, had died in the storm. Today at noon, however, there was Mama standing in the middle of the nest tearing a fish apart. The fact that she was eating in the nest was, I thought, a good sign.

- Tom Lake

4/21 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: We were having lunch on the back porch when we both heard the buzzing hum of a hummingbird. We heard it only once, but did not see it. So today, Earth Day, I hung out a couple of full hummingbird feeders just in case. No sightings yet, but soon, I am sure.

- Robin Fox, Jasper Fox

4/21 - Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 22: For the third spring now, a mourning cloak butterfly has established its territory in my front yard. I was sitting on the grass today when one flew directly at me and circled my head several times. I put out my hand and the mourning cloak landed on my palm. It stayed there for nearly a minute as I gazed at its tattered, folded wings. Then it flew off into the bushes.

- Barbara Morrow

4/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As I was closing the Adirondack Parks Visitors Interpretive Center, I noticed that coltsfoot was blooming under the edge of the building. That's the first I've seen in Newcomb this spring. Later, from my yard, I spotted our first pair of bluebirds. I tried to wave them to my yard and my waiting nest boxes, but they were much more interested in pursuing insects and each other. What a great Earth Day treat!

- Ellen Rathbone

4/22 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Since the big rain last weekend I've been checking some areas where round-lobed hepatica blooms every year. The maroon and green leaves were looking fresh but not a trace of a bloom. My last check was yesterday afternoon. Today, blue and white blooming hepaticas were everywhere! What a difference a day makes, especially an 80 degrees F day. Lots of immature trout lilies too, but none blooming.

- Dan Marazita

4/22 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: An osprey hovered over my yard today - they're back. This is always a sign of spring, a glorious example of wildlife, so beautiful with its broad white wing-span and familiar cry.

- Peg Duke

4/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 72: We went to bid farewell to an old family home this evening. As we sat on the terrace at dusk we counted 4 red-tailed hawks circling overhead, watched a kestrel hover, and saw a Cooper's hawk fly from tree to tree. Not far away, a barred owl hooted. As we were leaving, at sunset, the Cooper's hawk gave chase to a few crows that were gathering near the branch where it perched. Though I live in the country, I have never seen such a diversity of raptors in one place nor so many resident birds at one time. It was a wonderful farewell.

- Fran Dunwell, Wes Natzle

4/22 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: In midday we had the first genuine "low" tide since the storm, where you could see the fall line in Hunter's Brook as it ascended eastward. The current had slowed from a torrent to swift. The eels were there, 11 glass eels and a dozen elvers.

- Tom Lake

4/22 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63: We were glancing out the car's moon roof when we saw two birds soaring high in the sky. As we watched them we noticed their white heads and white tails - bald eagles. It was so nice to see them, especially on earth day.

- Julia Preston-Fulton

4/22 - Harriman State Park, Rockland County, HRM 41: It was a beautiful sunshine-filled Earth Day atop the Black Mountain Ridge over Silvermine Lake in Harriman State Park Our campsite was roofed with blossoming red maples and, at night, a glowing crescent moon chasing Venus. With no sign of leaves on the trees or groundcover, the landscape was stark and rocky. As we walked along the tumbling streams, the tawny-tailed hermit thrushes hopped among the rocks and sang their echoing tunes, while the goldfinches and robins flitted about. The only traces of green were occasional pitch pines on the rocky hillsides, some prickly rose-like bushes leafing out along the creek, and a couple of frogs that eluded capture.

- Jason Novak, Leah Oscar, Amber Allen, Solomon Latham

4/22 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: This was was one of those times when the stripers would hit anything you tossed their way. It was nearing low tide in Croton Bay at mid-morning. I was using a plug and the guy next to me was hooking up with a fly rod. The bass all ran about 22", and were a lot of fun.

- Scott Craven

4/22 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: The fiddler crab colony in the Edgewater Mall catch basin is struggling to maintain its tenuous foothold. Last fall it was reduced dramatically, perhaps due to heavy rainfall. Before the recent deluge, there were about 100 holes visible (compared to 1000s in its peak). After the nor'easter, there are still a few holes but we will have to wait to see what other weather events spring will bring.

- Terry Milligan

4/23 - Gardiner, HRM 70: What a great day for birding. We saw and heard our first yellow warbler of the season.

- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

4/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Although the air temperature reached 87 degrees F in parts of the county today, the official temperature was 85 degrees F, just one degree shy of the record for the date.

- National Weather Service

4/23 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Nearly a week after the storm, the current had lessened and water clarity had returned. In the heat of an 85 degree F day, it seemed as though spring had arrived and then left. The runoff from the nor'easter had carved a 3 foot-deep channel in what had been a pretty flat run upstream of my nets. That channel (25 x 15 feet) was filled with schools of (spawning) alewives. I had not seen alewives in Hunter's Brook in the last 3 years.

- Tom Lake

4/23 - Town of Wappinger: Both adults were in the eagle nest but I could not tell if they were tending any young. As I stood rock-still under the tree looking up, Mama took off to the river, her wings filling the sky. She never looked more impressive. This nest is still an enigma.

- Tom Lake

4/23 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 84 degrees F today, one degree shy of the record for the date.

- National Weather Service

4/23 - Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York City: This was the first truly sunny, warm day for quite some time. Kathy Krause and I took a break to walk in the north garden of the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of an early warbler or two. Luck took a different form. Two garter snakes, disturbed from casual weekday sunning, slid off the trail into the north garden. Also a cabbage white butterfly and a spring azure were flying low over the muddy grass. On the open trail we could hear osprey calling from the nearest nests, a platform in the south marsh, and a relatively new one on a telephone pole along Crossbay Boulevard.

- Dave Taft

4/23 - Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn, New York City: Driving along the Belt Parkway, near the Canarsie Pier exit, I spotted my first group of glossy ibises. Seven individuals angled gracefully toward a blue Jamaica Bay. A real spring sign for me.

- Dave Taft

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