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Hudson River Almanac August 1 - August 7, 2007

OVERVIEW

This was a widely divergent week of entries spanning nearly 300 miles of watershed, from serene Adirondack settings to sea turtles in the Lower Bay of New York Harbor. Though it seems like summer to us, autumn bird migration continues to heat up.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/3 - Minerva, HRM 284: The temperature hovered at 80 degrees F near dusk as I wandered down to the swamp behind our house and sat on my favorite rock. The rain had stopped a half hour before and the mists were hanging out at the surface of the boggy mat of water-shield (Brasenia schreberi) covering the watery areas. The light was really strange, a peach color. I could hear a barred owl in the distance, and hermit thrushes called from two widely separated areas. A calling loon passed overhead and a kingfisher skimmed over the watery areas. The place had a quiet, deep summer feel, with a light breeze blowing; a few mosquitoes and dragonflies were up and around. Bullfrogs were moving around in the water. It was a good place to be.
- Mike Corey


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/1 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: During our biweekly seining on Tivoli North Bay, we picked up 5 blue crabs. Two of them were very much alive but 3 were shed exoskeletons. One of the sheds was a female. Most of the blue crabs we see this far upriver are males but in this case 20% of the observed crabs were female, albeit a small sample. We also caught 2 unusual fishes: brook silverside and Atlantic menhaden. The silverside was small (40 mm) and thus indicated successful spawning somewhere nearby. We weren't the only ones hunting fish that day - an osprey flew past us in the mouth of the bay.
- Bob Schmidt, Jennifer Goodwillie, Burton Gaiseb

[At this same location on July 10, 2004, we caught a single adult brook silverside. We caught another here in 2001. The brook silverside is a relatively recent resident in the estuary; it does not seem to do well in tidal habitats. It is much more common in the non-tidal Mohawk River. The earliest brook silverside records from the tidal Hudson are from Danskammer Point in 1991 and Roseton in 1992. Bob Schmidt.]

8/1 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum was having their summer camp's day at the river. By mid-morning the shallows had warmed up to 84 degrees F and the salinity was 4.0 ppt. We hauled our beach seine and caught 14 young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass (24-50 mm), 7 YOY alewives (50 mm), 2 Atlantic silversides, and a tessellated darter.
- Carl Heitmuller, Joyce Conroy, Pamela Golben

8/1 - Navesink River, NJ: A bunch of kids pulled small seines in the Navesink that feeds Raritan Bay behind the Sea Bright barrier spit. The water was a warm and brackish 77 degrees F and the catch much different from Sandy Hook, just a short distance north. We caught lots of killifish (banded as well as striped), YOY weakfish and bunker [menhaden], blue crabs, an adult American eel, and a few small shrimp but no Atlantic silversides that are so common at Sandy Hook. All the kids got wet and one of the blue crabs pinched and drew blood - the highlight of the morning. Nearby, an osprey flew into its platform nest with a fish for a single offspring.
- Dery Bennett

8/2 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: There was a not-so-steady monarch migration southwestward along the river in the strong breeze, a couple each hour. They have no calendars but do have the sun's bearing and day length as guides. I could sense none of the urgency they will show late next month.
- Tom Lake

8/3 - Duanesburg, Schenectady County, HRM 158: Blackbirds have been grouping up in a sure sign of impending autumn. Flocks numbering in the dozens to hundreds have been flying over our little league practices in the early evening hours of the last three days.
- Dave Nelson

8/4 - Rhinebeck, HRM 89: This past week the ruby-throated hummingbirds in my yard took to sitting on a dead branch at the top of my peach tree. Last year, they would sit on my washline in between trips to the feeder and the beebalm, but what a treat to see these tiny little greenish guys not much bigger than large dragonflies 'hanging out!'
- Joanne Engle

8/5 - Green Island, HRM 154: I was in the woods near the north point of Green Island, a half-mile north of the federal dam, heading for the shore to metal detect at low tide. As I came out of the woods I startled 2 bald eagles. The adult and a juvenile took flight from only ten feet away and flew straight away at eye level out over the river before veering off. A magnificent sight.
- Mike Magguilli

8/5 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 153: A half-hour before sunrise, large ripples in a 15 acre freshwater pond that drains into a tributary of Schoharie Creek, upstream of the Mohawk River, led me to find a family of 4 river otters romping about.
- Dave Nelson

8/5 - Town of Rhinebeck, HRM 89: An adult bald eagle flew over my house three times this evening, only 40 feet overhead, while I was sitting on my deck drinking a cup of coffee.
- John Iaccino

8/5 - Beacon, HRM 61: Even in steamy, hot weather the Hudson continues as a productive fishing resource. Another large channel catfish, 6 lb. 11 oz., 25.5" long, came up on the rocks today - weighed and released. It was the third largest I've caught at Long Dock in the last three years (2005 - 8 lb. 11 oz; 2007 - 7 lb. 6 oz). Another angler, fishing out on the end of Long Dock, caught a carp in the 15 lb. range, using a chum feeder attached to his fishing line near his hook, a method largely developed by recreational carp fishermen in Eastern Europe, and one of the most effective ways of catching carp in deeper water.
- Bill Greene

8/6 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 153: We spotted 3 green herons flying southwest today. While we often see green herons along the waterways and wetland complexes in the Heldebergs, seeing 3 of them together was interesting. A family group, perhaps?
- Dave Nelson

8/6 - Diamond Reef, HRM 67.5: Beginning July 26, the DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit started catching Atlantic sturgeon in our gill nets in 70-95' of water off Diamond Reef near New Hamburg. In the next week we caught 6 males and one female. The males were all about 65" long, the female was 88". This was a new spot that the tracking crew found by using sonic tagged fish (there was a congregation of 3 sonic tagged fish here). We're wondering if the presence of the female might indicate a new spawning area.
- Amanda Higgs, NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Fisheries Unit

[Diamond Reef has a long and storied past. Here is a cryptic description from "The Angler's Guide and Tourists Gazetteer of 1885," compiled and edited by William C. Harris (p.142):

"New Hamburgh reef [Diamond Reef] is on the Hudson one eighth [mile offshore]: white perch and striped bass, the first being most abundant; shrimp, worms, live bait used. July, August, and September best; hotels $1.50 per day; guides at moderate cost; boats $1 per day. The above reef is celebrated for its white perch fishing, and late August sport is had in catching snappers [young bluefish up to one quarter pound] on the surface with minnow bait."

Diamond Reef can be a light tackle angler's delight. During certain stages of the tide there are eddies and upwellings that seem to swirl small fish to the surface. Jigging and casting shiny lures when a spring ebb tide is ripping, the current falling off the reef, can be incredible. It is common in late summer to see huge schools of YOY herring being herded by YOY and immature striped bass (infrequently adults) and YOY bluefish. The gull activity at those times, dipping and diving, is a sight to behold. Not infrequently the activity draws common terns from downriver. On some occasions you may encounter small schools of adult hickory shad chasing herring. There have been times when our commercial shad gillnet became hung down on the edge of the reef and we recovered very old oyster valves, leading us to wonder if there may have been an oyster reef there in antiquity. Of course, they could simply be discarded valves from fisherman using oysters as bait in 1885! Tom Lake.]

8/7 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: For the second summer red-shouldered hawks have nested on my Wappinger Creek-side property. Lately, the newly fledged offspring have been swooping over the wetlands making their loud "kee-yeear" calls. They are so loud that the resident great blue herons leave the scene voicing their own stressful sounds.
- Victoria Powell

[Young hawks just out of the nest can be quite vocal. And being youngsters, they play around a lot. These are likely nest mates tussling, calling back and forth to parents or each other. Rich Guthrie.]

8/7 - Staten Island, New York Harbor: Colin O'Neill of The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation recovered a dead Kemp's ridley sea turtle July 20 on the shore of Crooke's Point, Oakwood Beach, Great Kills County Park. A necropsy performed today determined that the turtle was an immature female measuring 13" (carapace length) and weighing 11.5 lb. Blue crab remains were found in its stomach. Cause of death is unknown. There was no indication of a boat strike but fishery interaction could not be ruled out. This is the fourth dead sea turtle from Staten Island during July. The other 3 were loggerheads. Our program generally responds to 30-40 dead sea turtles per year. Loggerhead recoveries are, for the most part, a result of fishery bycatch. The Kemp's ridley as well as the loggerhead are classified as endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1978.
- Kimberly Durham, Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation

[While young, sub-adult Kemp's ridley sea turtles have been documented using Long Island Sound as 2-3 year-olds, until 1995 there was no indication that they, or any other sea turtles, ventured into the lower Hudson estuary. By late August 1995, there had been no rain for three weeks; the salinity at Yonkers (river mile 18) had risen to 16.4 ppt, half the strength of sea water. For most of the summer, the estuary was like a big pot of salty soup simmering on the stove. With the increased salinity came an unusual influx of comb jellies and jellyfish, and with them a predator. On August 25, Buddy Long was trolling for bluefish near Spuyten Duyvil (HRM 14) when he came upon an injured Kemp's Ridley floating on the surface that had suffered a cracked carapace. It had likely been struck by a boat prop. Tom Lake.]

In Archie Carr's 1967 book "The Windward Road," he speaks of these sea turtles and their wanderings: "Where the Florida Current picks up its supply of [Kemp's] ridleys is not known, for reasons that I shall reveal presently; but there can be little doubt that it is the northward sweep of this current just off the eastern shore that accounts for the occurrence in North Carolina and New York Harbor and Martha's Vineyard. Little as we know about ridleys, we can be sure that they are not born in those places. They are carried there."

8/7 - Sandy Hook, NJ: A half-dozen dry adults and 14 wet kids pulled seine nets in Horseshoe Cove, a Tuesday evening ritual in summer. Except for the usual mass of silversides, it was a varied bag: 2 Atlantic needlefish, a dozen 4" snapper blues, some killifish, a northern pipefish, one each YOY menhaden and northern kingfish, and an assortment of crabs: blue crabs, lady crabs, and mud crabs. Digging in the mud and sand, we found quahog clams, fiddler crabs, and mud snails. Only two kids bled: a snapper blue got one, a lady crab the other. Both kids were proud. At dusk, there was screeching overhead as two ospreys put on a vocal, aerial show.
- Dery Bennett

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