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Hudson River Almanac July 18 - July 24, 2007

OVERVIEW

The variety of observations broadens and the pace of river life seems to slow during the hazy, hot, and humid days of summer. The recent presence in the watershed of a western reef heron, native to Africa and India, reminds us once again to look carefully at flocks of birds that seem only too familiar.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/8 - New York Harbor, Lower Bay: A western reef heron, a species normally found in Africa and India, turned up with other herons and egrets in a small tidal marsh in Coney Island Creek, a tributary to the Lower New York Harbor of the Hudson River. The location is a dirty looking, neglected tidal marsh with derelict barges, construction debris, big box parking lots, and baseball fields. Although this may appear to be a very unlikely place for this species, it really isn't. The frequent regular use of this tidal wetland by numerous herons, egrets, sandpipers, terns, and even black skimmers demonstrates that these remnants of once healthy environments are important havens for stressed wildlife. There have been at least two other sightings of western reef heron in North America, the most recent in Maine and New Hampshire (may be the same bird). The reef heron may be following the pattern set by the cattle egret, also African in origin, that now nests widely in North America, including New York State.
- Rich Guthrie


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/18 - Tivoli Bays, HRM 100-99: While canoeing with a group of students in Tivoli Bays, we were overjoyed to have a gorgeous view of a an adult bald eagle. Despite the noise of the high school students, the eagle remained on its perch, calmly preening its feathers, in full view of the thrilled onlookers.
- Cornelia Tutschka, Chris Bowser, Laurie Fila

7/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 69: As I stood along the edge of a field near Hunter's Brook, a line of birds marched out from the trees in perfect order and began foraging. Guinea hens. Two dark gray birds and 4 white ones. Several young (keets) were running to keep up.
- Tom Lake

[The adult guinea hens, also called guinea fowl, were likely an escape from captivity. They are domesticated from African ancestry and are the same taxonomic order as pheasants, turkeys and other game birds. The presence of young indicates probable nesting in the wild. Tom Lake.]

7/18 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 51.3: On the morning Metro North commute to Manhattan we spotted our old friend the bald eagle at the south end of Constitution Marsh. We had not seen it in a while. The passenger in front of us on the train knew the eagle as well and told us that sometimes it was here but on the west side of the tracks.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

7/19 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Thirty high school students from the Young Women's Leadership Program at Val-Kill descended upon Norrie Point Environmental Center with a daunting mission: water chestnut removal for beach seining access. Enthusiastically, many went in the water in hiking sandals and bathing suits, while others chose wader attire. Since it was high tide, many of the woman in waders quickly learned that waders are only waterproof so far. But no hardship, wet or slimy or muddy, could deter the crews from pulling water chestnuts, rafting them to shore, loading them into overflowing wheelbarrows, and dumping them in a park trailer. At the end of the afternoon, we had 5-6 yards of water chestnut, a beautiful stretch of open water for fishing, and several tons of invasive species fun.
- Chris Bowser

7/19 - Crum Elbow, HRM 82: As a component of the interdisciplinary faculty development program "River Summer 2007" we ran a morning otter trawl from the platform of SUNY/Stony Brook's Sea Wolf, an 80' research vessel that serves as our home base for this program. When the net was emptied we were amazed at the results: 4 shortnose sturgeon, a young 24-30" Atlantic sturgeon and a young-of-the-year 5" Atlantic sturgeon were in the catch along with white catfish, brown bullhead, American eel, hogchokers, Atlantic menhaden (yoy), smallmouth bass, white perch, and a drum (possibly weakfish). The River Summer Program is operated on the Hudson River by Barnard College and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory through the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges and Universities.
- Margie Turrin, Tim Kenna, Brian Jensen, John Mylod, Dave Conover

7/19 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was an insipid morning - hazy, hot, humid. Midgie Taube was trying to catch white perch for crab bait without much success - lots of bites, the bait was being stolen, all he was getting back was the heads of his minnows. Finally he reeled in a slender silver fish, 5" long, our first "snapper" bluefish of the season. A number of cormorants had hung themselves out to dry on a log grounded in the channel. They looked like avian gargoyles. By contrast, a trim red-throated loon took a prolonged bath, splashing and preening for 15 minutes, then floating contently for as long as I stayed to watch.
- Christopher Letts

["Snapper" is one of the many colloquial names applied to bluefish of every size and age. Some of them refer to their teeth and the strength of their jaws. Young-of-the-year (yoy) blues are called "snappers"; yearlings are known as "cocktail" or "tailor" blues. Once they reach the 7-10 pound range, anglers speak of "choppers" or "slammers." Names like "alligator" and "gorilla" are reserved for the very largest and meanest of bluefish. Tom Lake.]

7/20 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Betty Witherel was returning from the trash bin of her condominium when she spotted her neighbor waving, clapping her hands, and making other loud noises. A black bear was right at the forest edge behind the condominium. The bear retreated to the woods.
- Ed Spaeth

7/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: A cold front came through at dawn; a northwest breeze and lower humidity were a delightful contrast to the past few days. The change made a morning walk a joy rather than an obligation. The red-winged blackbirds had begun to flock in earnest, a dozen bobolinks clung to the weed stalks at the base of the landfill, and monarch butterflies drifted about. I wondered if we would have the pleasure of another strong monarch migration this fall.
- Christopher Letts

7/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: I heard my first katydids today.
- John Mylod

7/21 - Beacon, HRM 61: The highlight of a fun-filled day fishing at Long Dock was the catch, weigh and release of a big channel catfish, 25" long, 7 lb. 6 oz. I ended up with 3 other channel catfish in the 1-3 lb. range, 3 carp all about 4 lb. each, and 2 sizable eels. This was on top of a good number of lost fish due to hook pulls and many missed bites that kept me scrambling and re-baiting my 2 rods for hours. There was so much action I had to quit an hour early, unsure if I'd even have the energy left to clean things up and pack if I continued fishing.
- Bill Greene

7/21 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Mama killdeer did her best to divert attention from her two downy chicks. The tiny balls of fluff could not have been out of the egg more than a day but they were already out of the nest. When Mama's "broken wing" act didn't seem to be working she collected the chicks and they trotted off across the grass. I'm used to seeing baby killdeer in May; this may have been a second brood.
- Christopher Letts

7/22 - Mudder Kill, HRM 97: A few minutes before 7:00 PM, as I was driving south on River Road from Barrytown to Rhinebeck, I saw a river otter on the blacktop. The otter was nice and sleek, about 3' long from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. It might not have seen my car because it's black and the headlights weren't on. When I slowed down the otter turned around and headed into the Rokeby estate. When I returned home and looked at a map of the area, I could see that the Mudder Kill runs north from Rhinebeck, more or less parallel to River Road, before turning west near Rokeby and then bending north again before entering the Hudson. Maybe it is good river otter territory.
- Phyllis Marsteller

7/22 - Croton River, HRM 34: This month has been extraordinary for the number of great blue herons sighted in the air as well as feeding. V-flights of 3-8 birds were a daily sight. Most of them were immature; I wonder if there is a new heronry in the area?
- Christopher Letts

7/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: Many reports from the Boyz at the Bridge on large schools of south-bound "baitfish." Some think young-of-the-year American shad, others think herring. No one thinks Atlantic menhaden that school differently.
- Christopher Letts

[The Boyz at the Bridge are actually an eclectic mix of both men and women whose common bond is social interaction. While they number 30-40 individuals, rarely more than 5-6 are present at any one time. Some of them are retired, but others arrive from their night jobs, extended coffee breaks, or long lunch hours to spend 5 minutes or an hour, touching base, learning the latest. The bridge is the Croton-on-Hudson railroad trestle over the mouth of the Croton River, where it meets Croton Bay. The setting is a bench at the village boat launch where canoes, kayaks and cartoppers are set into the Croton River. The dirt, sand, and gravel launch is a conduit for stories from crabbers, fishermen, paddlers, birdwatchers, and river lovers. Seasonally the air is filled with ospreys and eagles, shorebirds and wading birds, sunrises, sunsets, and storms. These, in and of themselves, provide context for the stories told and retold. Christopher Letts.]

7/23 - Queens, NY: A curlew sandpiper has been spotted over the past few days in the East Pond at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
- Joe O'Connell

[The curlew sandpiper, a shorebird that nests in Siberia, is a real rarity in the Northeast. Steve Stanne.]

7/24 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: I've jokingly referred to a local adult bald eagle as my "six o'clock eagle" that seems to appear regularly around that time. While the bells of a Coxsackie church chimed six o'clock this evening, out came the eagle. I was drifting with the tide about 40 paddle strokes north of the Nutten Hook historic ice house when the eagle flew from the west side of the river, circled my kayak, tried for a fish, and then headed back to the west side, talons empty.
- Fran Martino

7/24 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: We heard our first faint katydids today.
- Bill Drakert

7/24 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I was watching riverman Cal Greenburg haul a string of crab pots offshore. Hard to tell at 200 yards, even with good binoculars, but the traps looked full. A patch of "nervous water" caught my attention, evidence of a few thousand young-of-the-year Atlantic menhaden schooling. In several hundred square feet the surface shimmered. Every few seconds larger splashes erupted often preceded by a shower of tiny silvery fish. Snapper bluefish, all jaws and appetite, had found a school of peanut bunker. Out in the channel a similar blitz was underway, but in this case with adult menhaden to 15" being decimated by adult bluefish 10-15 lb.
- Christopher Letts

[Atlantic menhaden are a species of herring that spawns in salt to brackish water. Adults, also known regionally as mossbunker or pogies, and their young-of-the-year, also known colloquially as peanut bunker or penny bunker, are found by the millions in the estuary in summer, providing forage for bluefish, osprey, eagles and other predators. Tom Lake.]

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