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Hudson River Almanac August 15 - August 21, 2007

OVERVIEW

This week's journal is a real mixture of flora and fauna, flowers and fish, birds and bears. Many of these seemingly disconnected entries, taken as an extended record rather than individually, define the season by reaffirming its natural aspects.


HIGHLIGHT FROM A PREVIOUS WEEK

8/13 - Manhattan, HRM 11: After a wonderful Snapshot Day training on the Harlem River at Swindler Cove, filled with mummichogs, Atlantic silversides, striped bass and blue crabs, a handful of us decided to test our nets in the Hudson River on our way home. Inspired by memories of inshore lizardfish from last year, we tried our nets at Fort Washington Park. Our hauls were not disappointing as we pulled in a beautifully marked northern kingfish, plus a sampling of aggressive snapper blues, small stripers, winter flounder, white perch, Atlantic silversides, northern pipefish, blue crabs, shore shrimp, comb jellies and hydromedusae jellyfish. Satisfied with our catch, we began our walk back only to encounter a live oyster washed up on the shore. Another memorable seining experience at Fort Washington!
- Margie Turrin, Beth Roessler, Obed Fulcar, Chris Bowser, Steve Stanne

[Oysters flourished in the Hudson River for at least 6,000 years. However, a combination of overharvesting, pollution, changing land use resulting in increased turbidity, and habitat loss led to their demise. As the impacts of these factors lessen, there are signs of oyster recovery.
On Snapshot Day, a.k.a. A Day in the Life of the Hudson River Estuary, school classes and environmental education centers sample the tidal Hudson from New York Harbor to Troy. The fifth annual Snapshot Day will be held on October 2 this year. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The Adirondacks are still pretty parched. Just 0.02" of rain overnight, continuing the lack of rainfall. We had just over 6.5" of rain in June and July, several inches less than usual.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/15 - Kingston, HRM 92: Our Forsyth Nature Center's Junior Naturalist Program drew 15 6th and 7th grade students to seine at Kingston Point Beach. For the first time in three years of seining at the point, we collected 3 hogchokers, a fish with two eyes on the same side of its head! They each measured about an inch long. After years of fish identification, we finally got to go to a new page in Clearwater's Dichotomous Key.
- Julie Noble, Steve Noble

8/15 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Pizza dough can make excellent bait. Today I caught a 10 lb. carp on a piece and later caught a 6 lb. channel catfish. While I was fishing, a few other fellas around me were catching blue crabs.
- Glen Heinsohn

8/16 - Green Island, HRM 153: Not all journal entries require wildlife, sunrises, or sunsets. Middle of the night can be sufficient. At 10:00 PM the river just below the federal dam was at high tide, leaving very little beach. I sat on a big rock at the edge of the woods, listening. The river, the trees, the sky blended - all darkly quiet. A breeze began that grew into a wind that had the cottonwoods sighing. The river lapped against the rip-rap along the shore and crickets chirped in the woods. The warm smells of late summer were all around. Soon the sky to the northwest lit up as the wind racing through the cottonwoods increased their sound to a symphony. The pyrotechnics of a cold front's lightning and thunder storm put on a show. One flash overlapped the next and the woods became silhouetted against the horizon. Then came heavy rain and all other sounds were lost. I thought of lyrics from a John Denver song, "You fill up my senses, like a night in a forest."
- Tom Lake

8/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: For the second time in a week a small red fox tore across my yard heading from cover to cover and finally disappearing into a huge cavern of holes that my golden retriever had excavated. This was dawn - the previous occurrence was at dusk. I wondered, again, if this was one of the 4 kits (see June 5, Town of Wappinger) produced by a pair of red foxes in woods in back of my neighbor's home.
- Tom Lake

[Red foxes, whenever I see them, always surprise me by how small they look. They are small, weighing 10-15 lb, bodies 20-25" long. Most red fox pups are born mid-March through April, wean in 2-3 months, and leave their parents by September, at which point they are adult size. Pete Nye.]

8/17 - Beacon, HRM 61: While walking along the Riverside Trail at dusk, we watched about 30 chimney swifts doing their fancy aerobatics in pursuit of the evening's crop of flying insects.
- Ed Spaeth, Tom Lewis Jr.

8/17 - Queens, NY: Beginning last week, we started finding hatchling diamondback terrapins in our drift fences at Ruler's Bar Hassock at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. We also began finding dead hatchlings in the nesting areas. This is about a week earlier than they emerged last year. We know from previous work that they hatch in the nest and wait around from a few days to much longer - sometimes over the winter - before emerging, so we get a fall pulse and a spring pulse in our fences. The dead hatchlings appear to have been victims of Norway rats that are common in the area. Finding these hatchlings is clear evidence that at least some moms got their nests past the raccoons.
- Russell Burke, Hofstra University

8/18 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: We saw an adult bald eagle from the deck today. That is not a usual sighting for us. The usual sightings now, as the fall migration gathers, are lots of ruby-throated hummingbirds!
- Bill Drakert

8/18 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Is there such a thing as a "flock" of hummingbirds? At times, there are as many as 5 little birds sitting, well apart from each other, along the wire fence which protects our flower garden from the deer. They sit flicking their tongues, twitching their bodies, and scratching at their backs with their tiny feet, like a dog. Then they rise to careen toward the feeders. Much of their time is spent sparring with each other, They fly in great arcs, swooping over the flowers making a surprising racket for creatures so small!

Bees of all sizes and colors have found the hummingbird feeders as well. You'd think that a tiny, shiny, buzzing bird, with its tail fanned out in display, brandishing a "sword" would scare away an insect. But, the bees win. They hang in clusters on the feeders. The hummingbirds sit, waiting untill dusk when the bees leave. Then they dash up into the evening air for flying bugs and a long drink at a feeder. There is so much traffic at our feeders that they need filling twice a day. I hope today's wonderful cool wind isn't what we've come to call the "hummingbird wind," signaling the change of seasons and, magically so, the hummingbirds' departure.
- Robin Fox

[Yellow jackets can be a problem for hummingbird feeders. Here is an option that seems to work, at least to some degree, for me. Take a half-gallon basin or bowl, put a few pebbles or a handful of gravel in the bottom, mix up and add 12 oz. of a sweet solution of sugar water, and place the container at least 50' away from your feeders. Keep in mind pets and people who might be around when you select a spot. Usually, the yellow jackets will find the basin much easier to negotiate than the closed up feeders and will over time, favor it. Each time you replenish your feeder, pour the old nectar into the basin. Tom Lake.]

8/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We're seeing many monarch butterfly caterpillars, a bumper crop year.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/19 - Albany to Stuyvesant, HRM 145-127: At 9:30 AM on a sunny Sunday birds were flying, gulls were in search of food, and cormorants were perched on the boat dock waiting for a snack. I was out with my fishing rod in hopes of catching a channel catfish. White perch attacked my line as I moved across to the Rensselaer side of the river. As I stopped under a shaded Dunn Memorial Bridge, with the perfect view of the capital city skyline, a bald eagle soared overhead. I fished down river to Stuyvesant still in search of that one great fish that never came.
- Tom Hogan

8/19 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: With the cool air temperatures last night and the shortening days, the highbush blueberries had started their sharp turn to crimson this morning. Most of my summer-camping barn swallows have departed; perhaps only the few last-to-fledge with their less-than-full-length tails are still here. The goldfinches and house finches are busy enjoying the garden's feast of ripening seedheads such as Russian sage, cosmos, coreopsis, and various coneflowers.
- Nancy P. Durr

8/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I do not have any pumpkins, so I cannot report if we actually had frost on the pumpkin last night, but it was awfully close. One Newcomb resident stopped by to say that it was 30 degrees F at her house at 5:00 AM and she had frost on her roof! The Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center thermometer registered a low of 38 degrees F, but Mike Tracey said it was 36 degrees F when he got here at 7:00 AM. Pretty chilly for August 20. Lots of maples are beginning to turn color.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/20 - Gay's Point, Columbia County, HRM 122.5: I access this area of the Hudson River Islands State Park the only way one can, by boat - kayak, to be exact. Today I found a cardinal flower that was taller than my 5' 2" stature.
- Fran Martino

8/20 - Esopus Creek, Ulster County, HRM 105: Within a reach of Esopus Creek no longer than 75', I counted 7 full-grown great blue herons feeding.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

8/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: For a couple of days now we have had cool north-northwest breezes. If this were next month, we'd call them "flight days" for migrants. And yet, maybe they were. In an hour walk along the river, looking for gull and tern activity, I counted 11 monarchs, and I was not really looking for them.
- Tom Lake

8/20 - Orange County, HRM 56: While traveling south on the New York Thruway this morning, crossing Moodna Creek just north of Mountainville, we spotted a kettle of 15 turkey vultures.
- Ed Spaeth, Merrill Spaeth, Tom Lewis Jr.

8/20 - Staten Island, New York Harbor: Ryan Bello and his father Pete were fishing off the bulkhead of Great Kills Harbor. It was raining as I stopped to see how they were doing. Very well, it seemed, despite the rain. While Ryan effectively cast a popper to hidden packs of snapper blues, Pete and I compared notes. He handed me a fishing rod so I felt compelled to fish. Pete told me he'd had good success with Sabiki rigs, a chain of small lures I've only used in winter fishing for herring [Atlantic]. His success continued. Between us, in ten minutes time, we landed a good sized snapper and 3 juvenile weakfish. He called Ryan over to try and he quickly got the hang of it. In no time Ryan caught something I've never seen taken on hook and line: a 3" Atlantic silverside. I wanted to see if the fish had smashed the latest state hook and line record, but Ryan would hear nothing of it, and quickly baited a hook and bobber rig with the still wriggling fish!
- Dave Taft

8/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby Rathbone and I scared up a young bear tonight. We were cruising up from the golf course when we heard the rustling and cracking of branches in the woods ahead of us. We looked up in time to see the south end of a bear bolting across the entry road and into the woods on the other side. As we waited, we saw the limbs of a big white pine start to bounce around and, sure enough, the bear had gone up the tree. From where we were, it looked like a cub, which made me wonder if the rear end I saw was an adult and this was her cub. We decided that the wise thing to do was to detour around and come down from the other side to see if we could get a better view of things. The bear was still up the tree, very well hidden, and looking like a shadow. It was probably a yearling based on size. I got to enjoy it for a bit but our presence was stressing. It jumped out of the tree and bolted through the vegetation. It was a nice sighting - not a moose, but still nice.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/21 - Wells, Hamilton County, HRM 231: Loons used to be somewhat common around Lake Algonquin. Over the years, however, power boat traffic increased to the point where the loons left. They are intolerant of loud sounds and human intrusion. Recently, a decrease in Adirondack rainfall has significantly lowered this reach of the Sacandaga River, making it less appealing to boaters. As the boat traffic has decreased, the loons are back, at least one breeding pair. At dawn and dusk, we can hear their tremolos, wails and yodeling.
- Audrey Pless

8/21 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: I was on a hilltop overlooking the Wallkill River. It was raining hard, the air was cool, and I could smell wood smoke. Someone, not far away, had a wood stove going - an ancient fragrance. Native Americans used this spot for several thousand years as a seasonal hunting camp. I wondered if this would have been a working day for those people as well. Or, like archaeologists when heavy rains come, did they put down the tools and find warm, dry cover?
- Tom Lake

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