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Hudson River Almanac August 8 - August 14, 2007

OVERVIEW

In a summer free so far of tropical storms, a tornado hit Brooklyn for the first time in 118 years! It is not easy to call that a highlight, but it is historically noteworthy. Hudson River blue crabs from the Tappan Zee are at a seasonal peak, and river herring seem to have had a successful spring spawning season. Higher numbers of young-of-the-year [YOY] are being collected in single seine hauls than were encountered all of last summer and fall. If the striped bass do not eat them, there may be an impressive spring run of adult herring in four years.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/8 - New York City: A tornado watch was posted for New York City from Staten Island northeastward through Brooklyn into Queens. High winds and heavy rain followed with some areas getting up to 3.5" (LaGuardia Airport received a record 2.5"). A tornado rated at EF2 (winds 111-135 mph) touched down in Brooklyn, the first tornado there since 1889. Across the three boroughs, 217 trees were uprooted.
- National Weather Service


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/8 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The Boyz at the Bridge say the bluefish blitz is over for now; they blame recent rains for chasing the salt out of the bay (Tappan Zee). At the Tappan Zee Bridge, crabber Bob Gabrielson confirmed that he saw just one "cocktail" blue.
- Christopher Letts

[See the July 19 sidebar for the range of colloquial names for bluefish. Most of the names refer to their teeth and jaws. "Cocktail" is about the only exception. These are medium sized blues, larger than snappers, smaller than slammers, weighing 2-3 pounds. Those who praise the culinary qualities of bluefish believe that this size is the most flavorful - a good-size fillet without the stronger flavor of larger bluefish. Tom Lake.]

8/9 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: The swallows and swifts are really streaming down the river corridor now. I watch a steady flow of them throughout the day; barn, tree and bank swallows are the most numerous. I haven't seen any rough-winged swallows or purple martins. They may already be gone by now.
- Rich Guthrie

[Some contributors have commented that the Hudson River Almanac is often about, even features, birds. In response, I would say that birds are the single, easiest type of fauna for the average person to encounter and write about; they are just about always doing something interesting. People love them. They link the water to the land (eagles, waterfowl, etc.). Birds are the thread that connects the seasons, signaling the changes, the anomalies, even the health of our community. When we see abundance or scarcity of certain species, it can signal something positive or negative. Birds are often featured because they are important; they speak to us in many ways that fish, frogs, flowers, trees and butterflies cannot. Tom Lake.]

8/9 - Nyack, HRM 28: The blue crab season is peaking. All of the crabs are either jumbos or #1 Jimmies. Very few tossbacks. A few porgies (scup) have been showing up as bycatch, as well as some summer flounder.
- Bob Gabrielson

[Blue crab size as carapace width, point to point: jumbos - the biggest and the best of the catch, the prime market crab (7"+); #1 jimmies - the next largest crab and most commonly caught size (6"+); #2 - smaller but marketable; the minimum market size (5-5½"); tossbacks - less than 5". Tom Lake.]

8/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: A strong overnight storm continued into daylight; after 18 hours, we had 1.85" of rain. It seemed odd, but maybe I had simply hadn't noticed before: during the hardest of the drenching rain, two ruby-throated hummingbirds were lustily drinking from our feeders, seemingly unaffected.
- Tom Lake

[Hummers in the rain: they must have felt a need to replenish their energy resources. Watch where they go to after feeding. They likely head for some sheltered spot to digest their meal. Then back again. Rich Guthrie.]

8/10 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: This has been a great year for growing tomatoes in this area. I wanted a little something special for dinner, so I got a dozen big blue crabs from crabber Bob Gabrielson. It took awhile to pick all the meat, but I finished with one and a quarter pounds of crab. We grow Brandywine, a fine-flavored large tomato, and I picked the two largest, almost a pound each, hollowed them out and stuffed them with blue crab. Topped with a spicy mustard and mayo dressing, necklaced with jumbo crab claws, they made a nice presentation. We enjoyed the fruits of summer, served chilled on a sticky Hudson Valley evening.
- Christopher Letts

8/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Pearly everlasting was blooming now, as were the white and purple asters. Dandelions and hawkweed were putting out a second bloom. I have at least 6 hummingbirds, perhaps as many as 10, zooming all over and making so much noise. Their chirping, displaying, intimidating, even attacking each other, makes it seem like there are many more.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/11 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: The YOY herring are jumping out of the water in big numbers. On a quiet evening this looks like a light rain shower with all the dimples and ripples. I used to think they were only evading predators, but have since found out that they may be chasing insect hatches as well. I did this by tying a piece of tissue on a string and dangling it right above the water. Voila! There they were leaping after the "fly".
- Rich Guthrie

8/12 - Diamond Reef, HRM 67.5: At midday, in the midst of an otherwise calm river, the reef was boiling. The strong new moon ebb tide racing across the rocks just a few feet below the surface was creating 6" waves and whitecaps. The upwellings churned YOY herring and shad to the surface where they leaped and scattered in silvery showers as predators, probably small striped bass, pursued.
- Tom Lake

[Our fisheries crew has seen the upwellings. It's like watching gulls working in Long Island Sound where there are schools of bluefish underneath. There was a mass of silver fish (herring) pushed up by the current and being chased. One day the tide was flooding so fast there were standing waves near the reef. Amanda Higgs, NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit.

Fooling the gulls: This has become such ingrained gull behavior that I have seen days when a strong wind against tide, producing similar breaking whitecaps, has had scores of gulls dipping and diving as if the tiny mangled bodies of herring were riding the wavelets. Tom Lake]

8/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: Summer sounds recall summers past and this was a classic hot summer's afternoon. The locust chatter had me reminiscing as I walked along the river on my way to visit a site that our Dutchess Community College field archaeology class had excavated in the spring. This is a narrow bench, overlooking the river, that shrinks through erosion every time it rains. A heavy thunderstorm can excavate several millimeters of soil off the surface and send it slowly sliding down to the water's edge 30' below. I walked the edge looking to see what had been unearthed since April, like the peeling back the pages of time. In the first few feet I came upon a red slate knife and a small gray chert scraper. These were utilitarian tools, used by people across the entire Hudson Valley Stone Age - 12,000 years - and impossible to accurately date. However, potsherds and projectile point styles recovered here can be dated and have led us to suspect Algonquian people fishing and camping here about 2,000 years ago. Back to reminiscing, of a sort: I could imagine a warm August afternoon two millennia ago, Indians sitting on this bench, chipping out small stone tools, watching their trot lines baited with chunks of eel extending out into the water, expecting crabs and catfish for dinner.
- Tom Lake

8/14 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The first glimmer of dawn silhouetted the fire tower across the river on South Mount Beacon. The tide was at nearly full ebb, lowered even more by the spring tides of the new moon. The water was warmer (76 degrees F) than the air and it felt good. We made a few short hauls with our seine and caught nothing unusual except for the numbers: each catch came ashore shimmering and shaking with no fewer than 500 YOY blueback herring. The herring catch was so impressive that we counted a sample, what we felt was 10%, and then extrapolated for a guesstimate on the total for each haul. They were all 45-60 mm long with an average of about 53.0 (2 inches). Mixed in were YOY American shad, Atlantic menhaden, striped bass, white perch, a few silversides, and a lovely little "Sally" crab, a three month-old female blue crab. The salinity, 3.0 ppt., was just about detectable to the tongue.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

8/14 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: There is always much anticipation and intrigue when it comes time to lift collection equipment that has been set in the river overnight. It is not unlike opening presents, hauling the wire traps and pots up out of the dark water, never knowing what might be inside. This set had been made to capture some fish and shellfish for a public education program 40 miles down river. The animals are trapped, used for show-and-tell in aquaria, then released afterwards. No need to keep an inventory on hand; the river generally provides as needed. Today there were the usual: eels, crabs, and a gorgeous little 7" channel catfish, in contrasting light and dark gray, all speckles, whiskers and grace as it swam in the small tank I had set up. Since I was heading south into brackish water I decided that this little freshwater gem would not be shared. I tipped the tank and over the side and back into the river it went.
- Tom Lake

8/14 - Nyack, HRM 28: This was the 15th annual blue crabfest and the first in memory that was not held on a hazy, hot, humid summer evening. Nearly 350 people were each given one of Bob Garielson's steamed Hudson River blue crabs, freshly caught from the Tappan Zee, along with half an ear of corn and a slice of watermelon. For those who had never tackled one, we had an ongoing clinic on how to dismantle a blue crab. At dawn, 31 miles upriver at Kowawese, the salinity has been a little less than 10% seawater. In the Tappan Zee, only 40 miles from the open ocean, the salinity was 11.0 ppt, nearly a third the strength of seawater.
- Clarice Guttman, Warn Turner, Tom Lake

[Ocean salinity, at this latitude in the Western Atlantic, is 32-35 parts per thousand (ppt). Throughout the year, the Hudson estuary's salinity is diluted depending upon the volume of freshwater flow from the upland watershed as well as the vagaries of wind, tide, and current. In the aftermath of a prolonged storm or Adirondack snowmelt, salinity may be very low all the way south to New York Harbor's Upper Bay. However, at times of drought, the leading edge of dilute seawater - the salt front - can reach seventy-five miles upriver. Salt water is denser than freshwater so the bottom of the river is generally saltier than the surface water. Tom Lake.]

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