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Hudson River Almanac July 10 - July 17, 2007

OVERVIEW

As we approach mid-summer, the face of the watershed from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks 320 miles to the Lower Bay of New York Harbor takes on a certain sameness. At the headwaters of the Hudson, monarch caterpillars now feasting on milkweed will be flying south along the estuary in two months; the many fledgling songbirds filling our trees will be heading south even sooner. It may be summer, but the wildlife has an eye toward fall.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/11 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: A few days ago, as we investigated an unusually loud racket at the suet feeder, we spotted a red-bellied woodpecker pulling out gobs of suet and stuffing it into the gaping mouth of a clamoring juvenile clinging to the bottom of the feeder. The juvenile seemed to get the hang of using the feeder by itself within a day. Now we are seeing the lesson repeated a few days later with what we assume is a nest-mate. While watching the lessons unfold, we noticed smaller woodpeckers and nuthatches queued up around the yard waiting their turn, and 2 male hummingbirds clashing over their feeder. It looks like time to add more feeders!
- Susan Maresca, Amanda Maresca, Tito Maresca, Thomas Maresca

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/10 - Hamlet of Purling, Town of Cairo, Greene County HRM 120: Overnight storms swept across the Catskills. My rain gauge was 7" full this morning. A short distance to the northeast, storm damage reports from the Capital District included toppled trees and power outages to 40,000 people.
- Larry Biegel

7/10 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We were eel tagging today and caught 32, all moderately large to actually large. We saw one "silvering" eel, an individual that had been tagged as a "yellow" eel below the dam on the Saw Kill in fall 2005. It had gone up our eel ladder in 2006 (tagged at yet another location), and then moved back downstream at some point, but when is a guess. The eel was white on the belly and had an enlarged eye, but did not have the grayish color dorsally that a true silver eel would have. The other yellow eels we tagged were all greater than 240 mm (9.5"), so they may be residents that are not moving much.
- Bob Schmidt

[Biologists believe that eels begin life in the deep abyss of the Mid-Atlantic, probably near the Sargasso Sea, and start their journey toward land as willow-leaf shaped leptocephali. Following genetic cues we have yet to fully understand, they use the Gulf Stream to disperse into the Americas, Europe, and the Mediterranean. As they arrive on the continental shelf they transform into un-pigmented "glass" eels. They appear in the Hudson River 1-2 months later. At this point they are about 50-60 mm long. A month after entering the estuary, they begin to gain pigmentation, eventually becoming fully-pigmented elvers. Within a couple of years their color changes from brown to yellow-green, a phase known as the "yellow" eel. They are now near adult size but are still sexually immature. As some point, the eel's genetic code triggers a "silver" eel stage, the onset of sexual maturity. For males this may occur in 10-15 years; for females 15-25 years. Their pectoral fins enlarge, their abdomen becomes silvery-white, and their eyes enlarge (and may become blue). This stage lasts as long as it takes to swim seaward to the spawning grounds in the Mid-Atlantic. Bob Schmidt.

We have captured silver eels in the lower Hudson in late fall at what might be termed their jumping off point just before hitting salt water. Their eyes are huge. These eels always remind me of a vehicle about to head into a dark tunnel as they put on their headlights (eels spawn at a depth in the Atlantic where no ambient light penetrates). Tom Lake.]

7/10 - West Park, HRM 82: The four hatchling phoebes are beginning to grow, although their eyes are still closed. At first, we were amazed by the constant supply of food provided by mom; it seemed like she was continually returning with food. But with closer observation, we discovered there were 2 adults feeding the babies. Probably dad returning to help fill those hungry mouths (see West Park, 7/6).
- Ann Murray, Mike Murray

7/10 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: While enjoying a walk along the pond at Eleanor Roosevelt's Val-Kill in Hyde Park, I was startled by a rush of water as a beautiful pied-billed grebe raced across the pond. It was a rare treat to see her, but I was thrilled by another surprise as 3 fuzzy chicks emerged from the cattails and chased after her. I stood for a moment after they were gone and enjoyed the 3 tiny trails they left behind through the duckweed on the surface of the pond.
- Ann Murray

7/10 - New Paltz, HRM 78: The Huguenot Path footbridge across an oxbow lake - now a marsh - of the Wallkill River has always been a popular viewpoint for folks strolling through the Harcourt Sanctuary or along Huguenot Street. Recently, this site has become a veritable Times Square. After nightfall, dozens of visitors have been walking out on the bridge to take in a spectacular light show provided by thousands and thousands of fireflies, blinking away undimmed by street lights. In place of a soundtrack of traffic, the show's sound effects include the voices of bullfrogs and green frogs solo and in chorus. There's even just the right hint of raffishness in the splashes and croaks from the water below, suggesting events amorous and predatory in the shadowy marsh.
- Steve Stanne

7/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was a bear of a day, 92 degrees in the shade. I had found some shade on a walk along the river to drink some water and take a break. I spotted a big yellow bird flitting around a mass of grape vines on a nearby tree-of-heaven. At first I thought it was a female Baltimore oriole but after getting binoculars on it for 15 seconds I could see that it was a female orchard oriole, the far less common oriole of our area.
- Tom Lake

7/11 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: This morning at the Bear Mountain Dayliner dock, I spotted a group of vultures, 2 turkey vultures and 10 black vultures.
- John Voss

[The black vulture was virtually unknown in New York State only a few decades ago. It, like so many other southerners, moved northward. It is now fairly common in the lower Hudson Valley. At times they can outnumber the more familiar turkey vulture which, itself, preceded the black vultures in moving northward. I remember reading in Henry Hill Collins' book "Wildlife of North America" that you knew you were crossing the Mason-Dixon Line when you looked up and saw turkey vultures. Now, we can see them while crossing the Canadian Border. Rich Guthrie.]

7/12 - Green Flats, HRM 104: While out on the river with our kayaks we were treated to some raptor drama. An osprey with a fish flew overhead with a bald eagle in pursuit. The osprey shrieked in protest as they circled in the air. The eagle struck the osprey a few times, but could not dislodge the fish. The osprey finally pulled away and gained altitude and the eagle flew off to the far side of the river.
- Jude Holdsworth, Mike Holdsworth

7/12 - Jamaica Bay, Queens: Rangers Kathy Krause, Julia Clebsh and I headed out to track down one of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge's most elusive wildflowers, the ragged-fringed orchid (Platanthera lacera). The plant has been documented from several wet, messy meadows at the refuge and we'd recently heard rumors of a small group growing in a little visited corner of the park. We headed out with cameras and binoculars - an expeditionary force. We must have passed the spot three times when Kathy called out "Got it!" and sure enough she was standing inches from a beautifully developed plant in full bloom. As these things generally work, our eyes, now accustomed to the correct search image, located 9 flowering plants within yards of the first. Hardly the spectacle of the white, or yellow-fringed orchids, the ragged-fringed is a blue-collar relative. Still, no finer flower could grace a cool, wet woodland. All the finely cut, pale green and white finery is overwhelming at close glance. Every time I see one, I wonder at the chance evolution that created such a thing as a fringed orchid. We took the mandatory photos of ourselves and the flowers, then returned to the real job of managing a park by computer.
- Dave Taft

7/12 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The common bird around our back stoop here is the English sparrow. They nest in the eaves and feed on the crumbs we spill between the steps and the garbage cans. Today they were hanging out in a big old tulip poplar across the driveway but acting differently, flying down to the ground to peck around in the grass and then flying back up into the tree. On second look they turned out to be half a dozen cedar waxwings. I think they were feeding on insects in the grass. Along the beach there was a striper "blitz." Thirty pounders [striped bass] were chasing bunker. Anglers were getting them on pencil poppers until their arms got tired.
- Dery Bennett

7/13 - Delmar, HRM 143: Friday the 13th turned out to be a lucky day for a female wood turtle. She had been hit by a car in June and was now ready for release. She had a beautiful patterned shell almost like a Blanding's or box turtle. DEC's Al Breisch marked her and readied her for release and I took her down to the Vlomankill (the watershed she was found near). I put her on the bank in the sand and watched. She kept looking from the stream to the woods trying to decide where she should go, finally easing into the water alternating walking slowly, stopping for a time and looking back. All I could think is that she was a swimmer taking time to get used to the cold water. I left her watching small minnows diving around her shell. Have a good life, lady.
- Dee Strnisa

7/14 - Beacon, HRM 61: Today's catch and release at Long Dock was 2 carp, 2 lb., 8 lb., and a bullhead catfish. Various fishermen came and went out at the end of the pier; all seemed to make good catches of white perch. It was nice to see that when I left and vacated my spot, a couple of youngsters, enthusiastic about the chance to catch a sizeable carp, jumped in.
- Bill Greene

7/14 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The hummingbird "festival" in my garden started slowly this year. On Earth Day, a lone ruby-throated hummingbird swept into view and patrolled around and around outside a screened-in porch where, in warm weather, flowers and hummingbird feeders hang. There were no flowering baskets that cool April day, just hummingbird memories. Now in the full, warm days of summer, the hummingbirds are in high hum. I can't tell one from the other, but at times there are, I think, at least 5 little jewels zooming at each other, back and forth, flowers, to feeder, to flowers, to each other, to flowers, to perch. A wonderful show.
- Robin Fox

7/15 - Ulster County, HRM 78: Early this morning while hiking the Shongum Path on the Mohonk Preserve, I could see that there was a lot of animal activity along the trail including a multitude of birds. Among these were black-throated green warblers, eastern wood pewees, white-breasted nuthatches, red-eyed vireos, ravens, crows, a singing wood thrush, and a solitary worm-eating warbler. I also noticed Indian pipe growing in several clusters at the base of hemlock trees. A small wood frog hopped around in a dry stream bed. However, the biggest surprise was that of a black bear emerging from a group of shrubs just up the trail behind me. The bear didn't seem to notice me and continued checking under rocks and logs for breakfast. It eventually moved on to greener pastures.
- Chris Kuhlow

7/15 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: For those of us who love summertime, this was our day. The air was warm and sultry, not overly humid, with a refreshing south-southwest breeze pushing upriver from the direction of West Point. In late morning the flood tide was only halfway up yet the river, aided by the new moon, was lapping near the head of the beach. In late afternoon the summer vignette continued as a violent thunderstorm (0.37" in 30 minutes) rolled across from Crow's Nest pushing whitecaps onto the beach. By evening, the cycle of a summer day concluded with a brilliant red sunset.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[On this day in 1995, in the midst of a record heat wave, we had a different kind of summer day. Chris Lake and I were seining at Little Stony Point and the river was 83 degrees F, about as warm as it ever gets. We caught young-of-the-year Atlantic needlefish, American shad, and some blue crabs. In mid-afternoon we placed 3 thermometers in the shade on a deadfall sycamore along the beach. All 3 read 109 degrees F. Dutchess County recorded 106 degrees with a heat index of 115 degrees. Tom Lake.]

7/16 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: We worked a pop net in the water chestnut today. When you are walking through chest-high water chestnut, you get an appreciation for the diversity of insects that wander around on the surface of the plants. There were waterlily leaf beetles (that try really hard to eat water chestnut but just can't keep up), blue damselflies, water striders, ladybugs, water measurers (this year's crop look like tiny hairs with legs, and a variety of less common critters. In the pop net we caught a predaceous diving bug (Belostoma), a male carrying eggs cemented to his back by the female. The pop net is supposed to catch fishes. Fourspine sticklebacks live and breed in water chestnut but appear to have boom and bust years.This year seems to be a bust. We only caught one compared to the 40-50 we would catch in one set in boom year. The numbers suggest that goldfish had a good breeding year, however.
- Bob Schmidt, Jennifer Goodwillie, Burton Gaiseb

7/16 - Kingston, HRM 92: We led a school group at the Kingston Lighthouse today and spotted an adult bald eagle posed in a tree at the site of the previous lighthouse. Lots of great blue herons also attracted attention.
- Bill Drakert

7/16 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A male and female cardinal were at my seed feeders. The male cardinal flew to a nearby tree to feed a fledgling with its mouth agape. However, the fledgling was really a brown-headed cowbird. The female cardinal ignored the youngster and flew off presumably with seed for other nestlings, that one would hope are really northern cardinals.
- Ed Spaeth

7/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We were blessed with monarch caterpillars! I found 4 on one of my butterfly weed plants two days ago, and yesterday I found 5 more on my fancy milkweed. So, even though I cannot get regular milkweed to grow in my yard, I have great luck with these two varieties, and the monarchs are happy to use them.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/17 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: As we were canoeing to our seining stations today, we saw small groups of small fishes dimpling the surface. If this were the 1980s, we would have known that the young-of-the-year herring were in the bay. A little later we confirmed that the young herring were indeed in the bay because we caught handfuls in our seines. Young herring have been very scarce in Tivoli North Bay in recent years. In fact, we caught many blueback herring (about an inch long), a larger alewife, and several of this year's American shad, the triad of Hudson River anadromous herring. Additionally we saw our first blue crab near the canoe launch and a dead one near Magdalen Island, both males about 2.5-3" carapace width.
- Bob Schmidt, Burton Gaiseb, Jennifer Goodwillie

[Young-of-the-year aptly describes the multitude of recently hatched aquatic fauna found in the Hudson River each spring, summer, and fall. The progeny of shad, river herring, striped bass, white perch, blue crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, and many others are present by the tens of millions. So many references are made of their presence that scientists have taken to abbreviating the phrase young-of-the-year to yoy. Tom Lake.]

7/17 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: This sandy beach at the northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands is such a spectacular setting that catching fish only adds to the experience. An early morning low tide gave us a quiet, warm river (76 degrees F) perfect for seining. One haul along the beach brought in a net glistening silver in the sunlight. Over 200 yoy river herring, mostly bluebacks (46 mm), lay in the folds of the seine. We quickly gathered a few to look at in our small tank, and then eased the net back in the river with few casualties. Those that did not swim away, were destined for the claws of the many blue crabs that waited patiently in the shallows - nothing goes to waste.

A hundred feet away in a small bay sheltered from the river by a stony breakwater, the water was a toasty 79 degrees. We hauled the net here as well and when it slid up on the sand and we saw silver shining through the mesh, we knew what we had caught. As we peeled back the top seamline, however, we had a surprise. No fewer than 300 Atlantic silversides were bouncing in the seine, the first ones I had ever caught in this bay. The presence of these brackish water fish, recognizable by a beautiful silver stripe along its side, was a pretty good indicator that there was some salt in the water. When we measured we found it to be a little more than 2.0 parts-per-thousand, about 7% the strength of seawater.

As we hauled our gear off the beach and prepared to leave, a pair of ravens circled down from Mount Taurus giving us a nice look.
- Tom Lake, Grace Moon, Dylan Moon, Rose Moon, Trudy Moon, Joe Moon, Carolyn Guyer

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