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Hudson River Almanac August 27 - September 4, 2007

OVERVIEW

Frost in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks - hazy, hot, and humid along the lower estuary: there is no doubt that the seasons are changing. Wildlife - ducks, geese, raptors, and butterflies - get the message less from the weather and more from the shrinking hours of daylight.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/27 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I spotted a large, white-headed raptor flying over the museum building but lost sight of it. The bird must have circled the marina because soon I saw it flying again from a distance. It hovered midway between Esopus Island and the shore, dove completely into the water, and with some powerful flaps lifted into the air with a fish in its talons. That's when I knew I had seen an osprey.
- Pat Joel


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/27 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: A late afternoon kayak trip on a nearly still stretch of river was a perfect setting for volunteer mapping of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). While I was intently focused on my GPS, I heard a large splash behind me, and turned to see a cormorant as it emerged from the water grasping a small fish in its beak. With what seemed to be intense effort and a great amount of noise it launched itself into flight. I wondered if the fish being consumed had read the same pamphlet I had about the benefits of SAV in providing cover for juvenile fish.
- Margie Turrin

[It has often been noted by naturalists that birds such as loons and cormorants can swim underwater as well or better than they can fly through the air. Tom Lake.]

8/28 - Minerva, HRM 284: I walked out the back door to my favorite wetland area early this morning and wasn't disappointed. Our resident American bittern was there, hanging out on a floating chunk of muck. The bittern flew when I sneezed. It rose and flapped from where it was to a safer spot about a hundred yards away into the marsh. My dog and I then flushed 4 black ducks that had been lurking among the water shield and water lilies. They were passing through and would no doubt continue on their way. A pileated woodpecker loudly proclaimed its presence in the woods behind me. A kingfisher skimmed by over the water, making its rattling sound. Blooming plants at the site included narrow-leaved goldenrod, tall white aster, spotted joe-pye weed, swamp smartweed, and white water lily. It was a thoroughly beautiful day.
- Mike Corey

8/28 - Foundry Cove to Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 53-51: Last evening we spotted a pair of adult bald eagles perched in a tree on the river side of the Metro North tracks opposite West Point Foundry Preserve. Today we saw our regular eagle perched in a tree in Constitution Marsh. It had been a while since we had seen the eagles and we were beginning to wonder if we had fallen out of touch with nature.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

8/28 - Croton River, HRM 34: As August neared its end, the pulse of the river was speeding up. More and more monarchs were fluttering past, all moving south and west. Out in the Tappan Zee, a month of fishing doldrums had broken. The Boyz at the Bridge were reporting "tiderunner" bluefish, 6-8 lb., snapper blues, and cocktail blues in good numbers, and "bunker [menhaden] everywhere, all sizes, by the millions."
- Christopher Letts

["Tiderunner" is one of those colloquial names, or designations, applied to a game fish to imply strength and size. While occasionally heard in association with bluefish, striped bass, and even summer flounder, the most common usage is applied to weakfish, a gorgeous and highly prized saltwater drum, particularly when they are of "tiderunner" proportions. Tom Lake.]

8/29 - Saugerties, HRM 102: While sitting in front of the picture window in the living room, a large gray fox trotted by not more than 10' away, stopping momentarily as if to admire the orchids blooming in the window in front of me. As soon as I moved slightly the fox trotted gracefully and directly away, checking over its shoulder occasionally as it proceeded toward the public road. In the 1980s, we used to see only the smaller red fox here, then gradually both red and gray foxes. Now we haven't seen a red fox in about 3 years but have seen several gray foxes that are considerably larger than the largest red fox we've ever seen.
- Dan Marazita

8/29 - Croton River, HRM 34: In an hour this morning, I counted 16 osprey, 10 of them carrying fish, all of them large bunker.
- Christopher Letts

8/30 - Croton River, HRM 34: A red-throated loon seen here most days was here this morning at dawn, drifting at about mid-span under the Metro North railroad bridge. As I walked back to my truck, I heard a loud alarm call and turned to see that the loon had dived. Circling overhead was an adult bald eagle. Experts have told me that the return of eagles in numbers has not been good news for loons, especially common loons. Eagles are known to take both the young, flightless birds and mature loons. Until eagles learn to yodel in the dark, I'm with the loons on this one.
- Christopher Letts

8/31 - Amsterdam, HRM 168: I got up at 4:00 AM, expecting it to be dark outside, but was a little surprised when the sky was still black at 5:00 AM. Later, driving along the Mohawk River just east of Amsterdam, I saw the V of a flock of geese flying southeast. That clinched it and I had to face it: I didn't want to admit that summer was really over.
- Dee Strnisa

8/31 - Saugerties, HRM 102: While walking down by our wetland pond, I spooked a family of 5 wood ducks. Mom and dad took to low flight toward the back of the pond and the young struggled to follow, the third literally running on the water wings flapping and webs slapping at the water's surface and on the many pond lilies while trying unsuccessfully to get airborne. Within 40' it suddenly and instantly vanished under the water making no sound at all. I watched for 10 minutes and neither saw it surface nor spotted any disturbance in the water. I wondered if it had been a large snapping turtle, but I can't understand how it could so quickly and stealthily snatch this duckling in full run with no apparent struggle or subsequent disturbance in the water.
- Dan Marazita

[Ducks have an unfortunate option in their freeze-or-flight response of diving and not resurfacing. In an apparent fear response, they will grab onto vegetation on the bottom and stay there, to their demise. Although it is uncommon, I've seen mallards do this, black ducks, and even once a canvasback. Tom Lake.]

8/31 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34-25: Fishing has been picking up day by day. Blue crabs are larger and plentiful. Bob Gabrielson reports that a few good striped bass have been taken just below the Tappan Zee Bridge, as well as quite a few scup, or "porgies," a more familiar colloquial name for this saltwater panfish.
- Christopher Letts

8/31 - Brooklyn, New York City: As we crossed crossed Ocean Avenue, after a dinner on Avenue U, I noted 2 birds quickly whipping westbound. In the dim light I assumed "more rock pigeons." But as one veered and darted oddly, I looked more carefully to see that they were a pair of nighthawks. Perhaps they were disturbed off the old gravel roofs of one of the local apartment buildings, or hunting some invisible insect hatch over Ocean Avenue. Whatever they were up to, they were flying low, a rarity in my experience with these birds.
- Dave Taft

9/1 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Frost tonight, but I'm prepared this time and got the garden covered. Tomatoes are just starting to ripen, so I wanted to be sure I didn't lose any. I'm predicting a great ripening of tomatoes.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/1 - Columbia County, HRM 103: On the east side of Woods Road that corners Route 6, there are almost always reliable deer sightings. Today I passed what looked to be a partial albino in the herd. It was not a spotted fawn, but rather mottled, like a brown-and-white Holstein.
- Mimi Brauch

9/1 - Westchester, HRM 26: No matter when I travel the Hutchinson River Parkway this year, I find osprey using the snag off in the marsh below the entrance to Route 95. Today there were 2 birds, one intently working over a fish.
- Dave Taft

9/2 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: When I was biking on this lovely day, I spotted 8 vultures circling low overhead (waiting for me to go?). Two of them were black vultures, the first time I have ever seen black vultures near the house.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

[Black vultures have, in the last decade or two, extended their range northward. The 1980 edition of Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds shows their range as barely extending into southern New Jersey. Now they are relatively common in our area, even in winter. While not exclusively, they do tend to seek out their own kind. There is a spot that I fish in the dead of winter (no pun intended) where, as dawn comes, you can often see 12-15 black vultures lined up in a deadfall (no pun here, either) waiting for the air to warm (most of the turkey vultures are already airborne). But there they are, fussing around, shuffling for space, eager to get the day going, anxious that the thermals are not yet sufficient, looking like a convocation of undertakers.
Tom Lake.]

9/2 - Putnam County, HRM 58: Traveling up the Taconic Parkway, my wife Debbie and I were treated to the usual panoply of wildlife sightings. The highlights included 3 osprey in flight, the mandatory red-tailed hawks watching from lamp posts and tree branches, and at least a dozen turkey vultures sunning themselves in the early morning light on a group of mid-parkway snags. The color of autumn leaves were starting to become visible.
- Dave Taft

9/2 - Tarrytown, HRM 27: As soon as I arrived at my spot near the Tappan Zee Bridge, I started catching crabs and fish. It was one of the best days I've had in a long time. I was surprised when I caught a few sea robins since I had never seen them in the river before. By the end of the day I had caught sea robins, white perch, and snapper blues. It was also a very good day for blue crabs; there were a few people crabbing with me and we all caught our fill. I hadn't caught so many things in one day in my entire life. We also saw many monarchs flying all around and gliding gently on the river breeze. It seems like it's a good year for them.
- Mike Adamovic

[Sea robins derive their name from large pectoral fins that resemble the wings of a bird. While they are primarily fish of salt water, young-of-the-year and even adults are not uncommon in the lower estuary as summer and fall visitors. On rare occasions they will stray northward into the Hudson Highlands. Most of the sea robins caught in the river are striped sea robins, although the less common northern sea robin is also taken by anglers and researchers. Tom Lake.]

9/2 - Sparkill Creek, HRM 24.5: One of the functions of a natural history almanac is to record change over time. In spring 2004, Larry Vail, myself and a small group doing a biodiversity assessment traveled into a marsh area of the Joe Clarke Rail Trail in Sparkill and found a lovely cattail marsh flattened by all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) abuse. In fall 2004 we returned to find the marsh recovering but dusted with a representation of mile-a-minute vine. Annually we have visited to weed and assess, and this year we sadly record that the mile-a-minute has gained a stranglehold on much of the marsh and is well represented in solid patches along the trail The same fate seems to be true of much of the open space in the Hudson River watershed in Rockland County.
- Margie Turrin

9/3 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: For those who envision archaeology as a treasure hunt in the style of Indiana Jones, I will confess that it is not. Often days, weeks, even months will pass without anything significant being unearthed that gives us greater insight into the Hudson Valley in antiquity. For those who are easily bored, pick another profession. Being afield in nice weather often dulls the edge of tedium. Today, the open fields covering a hilltop over the Wallkill River were aglow in with yellow of goldenrods as well as a dozen other autumn wildflowers. While white cabbage, alfalfa, clouded sulphur and monarch butterflies were common, the ones that caught my eye most often were the little coppers. It seemed like dozens were crossing the field at a time.
- Tom Lake

9/3 - Staten Island, New York City: The Swamp White Oak Forest is a sad story in the natural history of New York City. It was once the lovely home of Moravian Creek, much touted by early Staten Island naturalists. It also may well have been one of the last trout streams in New York City. What remains of the woods is far drier, the creek having been buried in the name of suburbia decades ago. Still, just a few of the rare swamp white oaks (Quercus bicolor) remain, now standing among new plants better suited to drier conditions. The "Swampless White Oak Forest," as I call it among friends, still has a few surprises though. I noted some of the largest box elders I've ever seen in an area that had certainly been under water this spring. I also noted some other plants including an American elm, and several sour gums. Down closer the ground, dodders flowered, and asters were just beginning to bloom.
- Dave Taft

9/4 - Fourmile Point, Greene County, HRM 121: We did our best two weeks ago to seine this rocky beach with pitiful results (see 8/22). If we have been fishing for dinner, we'd have gone hungry. However, we did find a stem fragment of kaolin (white clay) smoking pipe eroding from the shoreline. Almost 50 years ago, anthropologist Lewis Binford devised a process, though not a precise method, of dating clay pipes relative to their bore diameter. The Fourmile Point pipe stem had a 5/64" bore diameter. Accordingly, there is a 72% chance that the pipe was of English manufacture, dating 1710-1750, a 20% chance of it being English-American, 1750-1800, and a 12% chance that it was Dutch-English, 1680-1710.
- Tom Lake, Barry Keegan

[Tobacco made its way from America to Europe in the early-mid 16th century and kaolin (clay) pipes became fashionable in England by the 1570s. Kaolin pipe stems grew longer over time and the diameter of the bore became necessarily narrower. Tom Lake.]

9/4 - Milan, HRM 90: For the last two mornings, between 4:00-5:00 AM, 2 barred owls have come a calling. These two have a lot to say and call to one another constantly for almost an hour. I've never heard owls call for that long.
- Marty Otter

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