Hudson River Almanac May 22 - May 28, 2007
Sometimes the "Highlight of the Week" is more of an expression of the season than a profound sighting. May is a month of sights and sounds, vivid colors and sweet perfumes in the air. These form the context for the black bears, blackflies, and human adventures.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
5/22 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: This time of the year it is well worth the climb to the top of the Croton Point landfill just to hear the bobolinks sing. I heard, I saw, I basked in the glory of acres of party-colored phlox. On the descent, another reward in the form of an indigo bunting and an orchard oriole, both perched in the same small tree.
- Christopher Letts
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
5/22 - Round Lake-Anthony Kill, Saratoga County, HRM 170: An impressive great blue heron rookery was fully occupied with all 21 nests being tended by the adults. The scene gave an array of silhouettes: herons standing upright facing north, south, east and west; some were bent over feeding their young; another was sitting; all were safe.
- Fran Martino
5/22 - Catskill Creek, HRM 113: The woods were alive along the water. Birdsongs were just tripping over each other. The chorus of wood thrushes sounded like a flute choir. Fifteen years ago I was working with my pulaski along a fire break broadening a dirt perimeter helping to contain a forest fire, hoping to stay ahead of the small patches of orange that leaped from tree to tree. I was reminded of that day as I watched small patches of orange flit along, branch to branch, tree to tree, Baltimore orioles, flashing flame orange in the sunlight. Aldo Leopold described the oriole's flash as "like a burst of fire."
- Tom Lake
5/22 - Sandy Hook, NJ: With no rain for several days, it was time to visit puddles; they are good bird collectors. One very shallow 200' square puddle in the middle of about 4 acres of blacktop parking lot served as a watering hole for a pair of standing Canada geese, a pair of floating mallards just past prime breeding plumage, and 3 handsomely feathered laughing gulls. To complete the scene, a common grackle flew in for a drink.
- Dery Bennett
5/23 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I saw my first osprey of the season at the Saugerties Lighthouse. For me, this is incredibly late to be seeing the first of the season along the Hudson. In years past, during the herring run, I'd be seeing dozens or more along almost any stretch of the river. A friend, canoeing between New Baltimore and Coxsackie, counted more than a hundred one year. Not this year. And, it's been a trend over the last few years.
- Rich Guthrie
5/23 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: On a beautiful insect-free day, air temperature 76 degrees F, I walked along the wooded Top Cottage Trail on the grounds of Vallkill, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Park. Phlox and wild geranium were abloom beside the trail. A barred owl was heard calling, but not seen. A northern waterthrush was bobbing along beside the woodland stream that courses through the site. Farther along, in a pool of the same stream, a tufted titmouse bathed in its cool waters. Other birds seen included, Canada geese, blue jay, robins, eastern bluebird, gray catbird, barn swallows, red-winged blackbird, and common grackle.
- Ed Spaeth
5/23 - Kowawese, HRM 59: With help from two dozen 3rd and 4th graders from Newburgh's Sacred Heart school, we made just one pass with our 30' beach seine but still managed to catch three kinds of fish: 5 spottail shiners, 2 white perch, and 5 American eels, all about 10" long. This Hudson River education program was sponsored by the Museum of the Hudson Highlands.
- Carl Heitmuller
5/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: Killdeer and semipalmated plovers joined some of the "peep" sandpipers on the mudflats where 3 great blue herons stalked the shallows. Osprey wheeled overhead and an adult bald eagle surveyed all from a perch on a mud-bound railroad tie. I had to feel sorry for all the Metro North commuters being hurried into the city on such a May day.
- Christopher Letts
5/23 - Staten Island, New York Harbor: Two migrants sadly lay under the large window of the visitor center building at Fort Wadsworth: a magnolia warbler and a common yellowthroat, two birds that won't be returning south this fall or, for that matter, breeding in the north either. Still, it is a rare privilege to hold these colorful birds in my hand. Perhaps I'll get the chance to do a quick watercolor. And perhaps I'll see what can be done with this window.
- Dave Taft
5/24 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: We were tending a herring net in the mouth of the Saw Kill in late evening and noticed a large number of water measurers walking on the stream surface along the shore. These are bugs (insects) of the family Hydrometridae, that we often see on the surface of water chestnut plants in Tivoli South Bay. They overwinter as adults under rocks and logs along the margins of the bay.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt, Alec Schmidt
5/24 - Staten Island, New York Harbor: It was 6:30 AM outside the Coast Guard gym at Fort Wadsworth and I could clearly hear the piercing call of a Baltimore oriole - probably the same oriole that has been calling nearby for at least two weeks. Somehow today I could not seem to find him in the newly foliated oaks. A friendly "Coastie" dumping his trash came over and asked what I was seeing. At that moment a beautiful male oriole flew out to a sunny limb and let out his loudest call. "Wow," was the Coastie's response. "Oriole!" was mine.
- Dave Taft
5/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Today was nightmarishly like mid-summer: hazy, hot, and humid, with no air movement. It was 88 degrees F until a late day breeze finally kicked in. We saw our first tiger swallowtail of the season. The bluebirds seem to have taken up residence in the box on the backside of the one they used last year. And the swallows are happily making a family in my apple "orchard" box.
- Ellen Rathbone
5/25 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: It is always a joy to watch the spring parade of blooms of our Hudson Valley trees. The locusts were really outdoing themselves. Some are so heavily laden with blooms that they appear all white with the green leaves barely visible. Driving by the Locust Grove historic site in Poughkeepsie, it is easy to see how it got its name.
- Carolyn Plage
5/25 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The American eel research season began in mid-March with the roaring sound of rushing water as the ice and snowmelt of late winter filled this small tributary to its banks. There were days when, in order to check the nets, we had to don a harness tied to a stout hardwood and rappel into the creek while bracing against the strong current. Now, just over 2 months later, the creek is quiet and the deafening sounds are all birdsong, chorus frogs, and swarms of mosquitoes and blackflies.
- Tom Lake
5/26 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: We were back this afternoon tending our herring net in the mouth of the Saw Kill and found that the water measurers seen two days ago were now back hiding under rocks. They must migrate at night to the water and return to hiding in the daytime.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt, Alec Schmidt
5/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 72: Halfway through 3-mile walk among a dirt road at Vassar Farm a swarm of tiger swallowtails emerged from the brush along the side of the road. I counted 14, as well as 2 mourning cloaks. Looking down in the high grass from where they had taken flight, I saw a series of small puddles, in the shade, and suspect they were getting a drink on a hot (88 degrees F) day.
- Tom Lake
5/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: A juvenile black bear made a dash across the Vassar College campus. This may have been the same bear that had been in the area for the last 2 weeks (see Town of Poughkeepsie, 5/11).
- Tom Lake
5/27 Newcomb, HRM 302: It was raining and cool but the blackflies were pretty intense. My arms look like I have chicken pox. I was in Tupper Lake yesterday and noticed their lack of blackflies, only to come home and be swarmed by them. We think of Newcomb as the "Heart of Blackfly Country." The theory is that we have so many little streams with fast moving cold water that it is perfect for blackfly breeding.
- Ellen Rathbone
5/27 - Rondout Creek, High Falls, HRM 91: I have been itching to follow my ears through the thick woods to the water and that opportunity came today for Stephanie Guinan and me. We smelled dames rocket, dodged poison ivy, and screeched as a wild turkey burst out from under the flowering black caps. We carefully picked our footing over mounds of driftwood, now high and dry, and arrived at the sparkling water's edge. The smoothly-scoured bedrock of Rondout Creek held many pools of tadpoles. Would they beat the late spring drought and find their legs to freedom? I went into a pool - sticky heat, bramble scratches, and tick worries all temporarily swept downstream. Under shallow rushing water we spotted something alive, its flattened duck-like head held fast to the rock while its body swayed gently like ribbon in the wind. It struggled to maintain its position but then settled, hanging on against the current. I slid my hands under its eel-like body but this was no eel. I admired the mottled black, gray, orange coloring - perfect camouflage - along its 17" length. It had two connected dorsal fins, bulging eyes, and 6 gill openings providing dissolved oxygen as they widened and contracted. Then we found another, with white markings along the back - skin battered in the struggle to swim upstream and spawn. These were sea lampreys, a male and a female.
- Betty Boomer
[On a evolutionary scale, sea lampreys are very old, older than sharks, skates and rays, survivors from a time when fish had no skeletal bones. These lampreys are anadromous, much like shad and herring, and also parasitic. Traveling in from the sea, they sometimes attach themselves to the sides of soft-scaled fishes like American shad. With their suction cup-like mouth they hitch a ride and, at the same time, use their "toothed" disc-shaped tongue to rasp away at the fish, opening a wound and ingesting some of the host's body fluids. Sea lampreys have been documented spawning in late May through June in tributaries including Stockport Creek, Catskill Creek, Kaaterskill, Roeliff Jansen's Kill, Rondout Creek, Black Creek, and Indian Brook. It is likely that other Hudson River tributaries are also used. They attach their sucker-like mouth to rocks and move them to form mounded, circular nests. Their Latin name, Petromyzon marinus, means "rock sucker from the sea." Like Pacific salmon, sea lampreys spawn once and then die. J.R. Greeley's A Biological Survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed, conducted in 1936, reported a sea lamprey ammocoete (larva) from Rondout Creek. Tom Lake.]
5/28 - Doodletown Brook, HRM 45.5: My friends, Nancy, Melissa, Ed, and I watched a school of more than 50 small fish actively swimming in what appeared to be spawning activity in the shallow water. The bottom was very rocky, lots of pebbles, and only a few inches deep. Some of the fish were a drab brown while others were very colorful, light blue with a yellow terminal band on the tail. The dorsal fin also had a narrow white terminal band.
- Joe O'Connell
[These were spawning mummichogs. This member of the killifish family, Cyprinodontidae, is well known from Iona Marsh and Doodletown Brook - waterways it shares with a close relative, the eastern banded killifish. Both are spawning this time of the year. The males are brightly colored, from lavender to iridescent blue on the sides. One of their colloquial names is the "blue-banded mudminnow." The females are a drab brownish-green. Mummichog is probably an Algonquian word that means "fishes that go in crowds," an observation of their tendency to form large schools. Killifishes, in general, feed on insect larvae, mosquito larvae in particular. In some areas they have been used as a natural control on mosquitoes and the spread of West Nile virus. Tom Lake.]
5/28 - Edgewater, HRM 8.5: We have had monk parakeets in Edgewater for all of the 37 years that I have lived here. We presently have a colony of about 50 that have built huge nests in dead or dying trees, covered with ivy. Today I watched from my deck as 15 of them landed in a nearby locust tree, used their beaks to break off branches, and then carried them to rebuild their nests. They looked like helicopters as they flew by. I hear complaints from neighbors who cannot stand the squawking in the early morning but I enjoy having them here. What a sight it is to see them in the snow-covered evergreens in winter.
- Katherine B. Mikel
[Monk parakeets are a species of parrot native to temperate areas of South America. They can grow to be a foot long, have a 19" wingspan, and build huge apartment house nests that can rival those built by eagles. They were introduced into the U.S. 50 years ago in the pet trade; many have escaped or were intentionally released. As a temperate-zone parrot, the monk parakeet is able to adapt to winters in northern New Jersey and coastal New York. Tom Lake.]
5/28 - Hudson River Watershed: The Hudson River Otter Stewardship Program is gathering information from sightings of river otter or river otter sign (evidence of activity). If you see an otter or sign, please supply the following data and send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kenneth Blanchard, Hudson River Otter Stewardship Program
NYSDEC Hale Creek Field Station
182 Steele Avenue Extension, Gloversville, NY 12078
Sighting Location (closest landmark or address):
Adult, juvenile, or unknown age; how many of each?
Abandoned Food Scraps (Yes/No)?
Plants used for drying off (Yes/No)?
Activity (behavior): What was/were the otter doing?
Field Report (willing to visit site with us in future)?
For more information on the river otter, visit: Otters in the Hudson River Watershed on our website.