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Hudson River Almanac July 25 - July 31, 2007

OVERVIEW

From one end of the watershed to the other, we had a week of surprises: moose and a "cougar" sighting in the Adirondacks, a white pelican at Saugerties, and the curlew sandpiper in Jamaica Bay (see last week's issue). The hazy lazy days of summer also bring out the tall tales of idle fisherfolk, when it is too hot to do much else.

HIGHLIGHT OF A RECENT WEEK

7/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Two visitors came into our Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center this morning and reported that they saw a mother black bear and two itty bitty cubs just beyond our driveway entrance. Two young moose were sighted a week ago on the Blue Ridge Road just south and east of here. And there was a "cougar" sighting on the same road around the same time; it was seen walking down the road with a rabbit in its mouth.
- Ellen Rathbone

[Cougar, puma, panther, catamount, or mountain lion - Felis concolor was once native to New York State but has been extirpated. In the last two decades, there have been hundreds of claimed mountain lion sightings in New York but no empirical evidence. There has been no documented proof of wild mountain lions in New York State for over 100 years. A breeding population requires a certain critical mass (see arguments for the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, Yeti). Every other form of New York State wildlife that is hard to see or rebuilding its populations, from black bears to bobcats to moose, sooner or later falls victim to either a hunter or an automobile. Why no mountain lions? There have been examples of escapes from captivity, but, as far as we know, no home-grown pumas. I have come across large bobcat paw prints in mud that would pass for a small puma. It is not impossible that one or more might show up in New York State, wandering in from Canada or northern New England as the moose has done, but, like alien encounters, it would be nice to have irrefutable evidence. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/25 - Croton Point, HRM 34: When I look at my desk calendar the phrase "high summer" is only a suggestion. Out here on the Point it takes on real meaning. This summer is speeding by and the evidence is everywhere. Down on the beach the first bright green tiderows of wild celery, uprooted by southerly breezes and destined to turn brown by mid-morning, was the first harvest of the season. Sometime in mid-September a big blow and a couple of spring tides will uproot hundreds of acres of aquatic vegetation and the shore will be piled knee deep. It is the mirror-opposite of the falling of millions of tree leaves.
- Christopher Letts

7/25 - Manhattan, HRM 2: Returning from the annual Clearwater sunset cruise to the Chelsea Waterside Park, I stopped by the new construction that will extend into the Hudson River. The park is located at the northern end of Chelsea Piers where they are now tearing down the old piers and building on old fill. I spotted 2 black-crowned night herons fishing in the shallow environment of pilings and steel beams. It was a real urban nature moment against the backdrop of party yachts and indoor soccer fields, with bagpipe music filing the air. As a 30 year resident of this neighborhood, I'm just thrilled to finally have access to our waterfront.
- Regina McCarthy

7/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The first huge blooms of rose mallow hung in the morning sun and for the first time this season I noticed that the blue jays were flocking. It will still be many weeks before they fly west across the Tappan Zee but the process has begun.
- Christopher Letts

7/27 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: We walked up Old Post Road this evening to check on the resident kestrel family. It was a beautiful evening, sunny, cool, and breezy. One of the juvenile kestrels sat on top of a telephone pole while its sibling caught the evening sun on the topmost branch of a spruce tree. One of the adults hovered nearby, hunting amid a cloud of barn swallows. When we came back 15 minutes later, one of the juveniles was feeding on top of a different pole while its sibling perched on the wire nearby. One of the adults must have delivered food while we were away.
- Linda Lund, David Lund

7/27 - Croton Point, HRM 34: When the birds and squirrels lead me to the first ripe mulberries it is still spring. The juice that stains my beard, fingers and - too often - my shirt, then ranges from pink to purple. Now the hue I sport is crimson for the wine berries. For a month my daily walk follows slightly different routes, the gray squirrels and catbirds acting as tour guides, showing me where the best fruit can be found.
- Christopher Letts

7/28 - West Park, HRM 82: Looks like we missed the fledging of the phoebes by our front door (see 7/10). We went away for the weekend and when we returned, the nest was empty and all was quiet. We are hopeful they will try for a second brood this summer.
- Ann Murray, Mike Murray

7/28 - Cold Spring, HRM 53: While riding in the shuttle bus on the causeway road to a Constitution Island garden day event, we had the pleasure of seeing 3 snowy egrets perched on a snag close to the Metro North Hudson Line railroad tracks. Brightening the shoulders of the roadway as we traveled were the blooms of purple loosestrife mingling with the large blossoms of marsh mallow.
- Ed Spaeth

7/29 - Saugerties, HRM 102: During a tour inside the Saugerties Lighthouse, someone exclaimed, "A white pelican!" Somewhat skeptical, I went to the first floor window for a look. Sure enough, a large white bird was perched on the jetty at the mouth of Esopus Creek opposite the lighthouse. Its orange bill and mouth pouch were unmistakable: American white pelican. That's a first for me in two years at the lighthouse.
- Patrick Landewe

[White pelicans breed in the upper Midwest and central Canada and winter along the Gulf Coast. They are a very rare sighting along the estuary, generally seen when blown off course either in migration or drawn here from the Great Lakes area by nor'easters. Strangely, this occurrence does not really seem to fit with either explanation. Our last white pelican sighting was in July 2005 at the mouth of Rondout Creek in Kingston. Tom Lake.]

7/29 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The Boyz at the Bridge were all seated in the shade enjoying a fine breeze, getting through a hot, humid, lazy summer day by spinning yarns when they wanted to be fishing. The forecast for heavy rain, thunderstorms, and possibly other meteorological disasters changed their plans. There was lots of talk about the phenomenally clear water. You could see fish lying under the dock at the Croton Yacht Club, the bottom down 8' at Potato Rock. Midgie Taube said that if it got any clearer he was going looking for his teeth (lost overboard four years ago in 20' of water). Yesterday Midgie "loaded the stringer" with bluefish, four of them over 10 lb. each and a fifth much smaller. The stringer got chewed, broke, and left him with just the smallest fish. Charitably we chose to think that it was a rope stringer. Gino Garner related that on the same day he caught a blue with no teeth! (Teeth and bluefish are synonymous.) Alas, Gino had not kept the fish. Some serious skepticism was about to be unleashed when a light rain began to fall and everyone headed for the trucks.
- Christopher Letts

7/30 - Hudson, HRM 119: What at first appeared to be a kite stuck in a tree on an island of the Middle Ground Flats was an adult bald eagle behaving as I had never seen. Its wings were extended outward, making it seem as though they were draped over a coat hanger. Perhaps it was just catching a breeze on a sultry summer day.
- Fran Martino

[Bald eagles use several different ways to expel heat when the weather is warm. You can often see them panting like a puppy or spreading their wings like a cormorant. It is not uncommon to see an eagle standing in shallow water along the river on a particularly hot day, cooling off. Tom Lake.]

7/30 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The moon was full last evening and in response a large percentage of the blue crab population shed their shells en masse. I took advantage of the dawn low tide today to walk a couple of miles of tideline to collect the moults. Over 90% were from females (sookies or sallys). Wrapped in plastic and frozen, they will be used one at a time this fall during river life programs for school children.
- Christopher Letts

[Atlantic Blue crabs have several interesting colloquial names known mainly to rivermen and crabbers. Adult males are called ''jimmies," mature females are called "sooks," and immature females are known as "sallys." Tom Lake.]

7/31 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: We were canoeing along the shoreline of Tivoli South Bay, the only place where water chestnut was not prohibitively thick. We rounded a sharp point and surprised a fawn, still with spots, standing at the edge of the bay no more than 10' from us. The fawn left very quickly and right where it had been standing were 5 cardinal flowers in full bloom.
- Bob Schmidt, Burton Gaiseb, Jennifer Goodwillie

7/31 - Beacon, HRM 61: Caught, weighed and released my best carp of the year so far this morning, two hours into the incoming tide at Long Dock - 11 lb., 12 oz. I also caught a couple of other small carp in the 2-3 lb. range shortly before noon. The bites stopped at noon, but the carp kept on putting on a show with their jumping, teasing me into staying until mid-afternoon.
- Bill Greene

7/31 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Sometimes I think we live in the equivalent of a rain shadow. After 5 days of ballyhooed severe weather warnings, the rain gauge showed just a half-inch of precipitation. Since the April deluge [April 15-16] we have had less than 7" of rain. Only assiduous watering from rain barrels and kitchen dishpans, and hauling heavy hoses, has given us the lush garden we're enjoying.
- Christopher Letts

[Rain shadow is a geographic phenomenon affecting climate. As moisture-laden air rises to climb over mountain ranges, its temperature drops. Cool air can't hold as much water as warm air, so the moisture condenses and falls as rain or snow as it crosses the mountains. This leaves little precipitation for the regions on the other side. The west side of the Andes in Perú is a prime example. Weather systems from the east hit the mountains and drop their moisture into the Amazon basin. Areas to the west of the Andes are some of the driest deserts in the world. The same is true for the Sierra Nevadas. On the west side is the lush wine country of northern California; on the east side is the hot, arid Great Basin. Tom Lake.]

7/31 - Sandy Hook, NJ: With an audience of kids, mostly 3-5' tall, we pulled a beach seine in Raritan Bay this evening,. The water temperature was a soupy 75 degrees F. We caught lots of small silversides, a dozen 3" snapper bluefish, small killifish, small blue crabs, hermit crabs, and a few shrimp. Not much variety. We did grab a barnacled horseshoe crab for the kids to first fear and then enjoy. A couple of monarch butterflies fed on the nearby spotted knapweed. The best part is that the kids got wet and got to interact and then release the fish.
- Dery Bennett

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