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Hudson River Almanac September 4 - September 11, 2007

OVERVIEW

This was the sixth anniversary of 9-11. It has always been appropriate to reflect on that tragic day in the Almanac since, in the context of natural history, we are a part of the living landscape, and the site and the events of that day clearly connect to the river.


HIGHLIGHT OF A RECENT WEEK

August: Adirondack High Peaks, Essex County: The Adirondack Loj, in view of Mount Marcy and some of the other High Peaks, had a large poster detailing their project to reestablish Bicknell's thrush habitat. Later, walking along the adjacent Heart Lake, I began to see speckled breasted, thrush-like birds, moving in that very distinctive thrush-like way. A check of the field guides convinced me that these were, in fact, Bicknell's rather than the more common gray-cheeked thrush. The habitat restoration project seemed to be working.
- Robin Fox

[Bicknell's thrush (Catharus bicknelli) is one of eastern North America's most rare, at-risk migratory songbirds, believed to number no more than 50,000 individuals across its restricted and highly fragmented breeding range. The species is a habitat specialist, nesting in the U.S. only in fir-dominated mountain forests, generally above 2,800 feet in elevation. In New York State, this thrush nests only on Catskills peaks and in the Adirondacks. Chris Rimmer, Conservation Biology Department, Vermont Institute of Natural Science; Steve Stanne.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: After ten days of camping in the Adirondacks, I came home to find that no one had filled the hummingbird feeders. Although there are still plenty of flowers for them, there was only one immature drinking from the refreshed feeders. I guess I have to be satisfied with the memory of the riot of hummingbirds at our feeders earlier in the summer.
- Robin Fox

9/4 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Like a splintered foremast, the big black oak rides the prow of the bluff overlooking the park entrance. The perennial perch of the resident red-tailed hawks, in August and September it is preempted by osprey who use it as a feeding platform. Possession is hotly contested, and a feeding osprey may be challenged several times an hour. The perched birds are rarely dispossessed; perhaps a bird in flight with a pound of still flapping menhaden isn't to be taken seriously.
- Christopher Letts

9/4 - Staten Island, New York City: There are woodlands in New York City that by means of some strange magic have escaped over 300 years of development. Richard Lynch and I explored one today in the south of Staten Island. Old oaks, natural hybrids of willow oak and several other species, shaded a creek of great beauty. Scouring rushes lined sections of the creek and ferns sprouted densely from the forest floor. Nestled on a low mound, rattlesnake plantain, a woodland orchid with wildly variegated leaves, crept through the shade. As the forest tapered off into a dry meadow, another orchid, slender ladies tresses (Spiranthes gracilis) was just completing its bloom season - the last few flowers still open above the fertilized seed capsules. Nodding ladies tresses (Spiranthes cernua) had not yet begun to bloom, but its spikes shot up among the tall grasses. Grape ferns and butterfly weed, bush clovers and sedges of all sorts surrounded us. When we reached the edge of the wood, where a major highway overpass streaked incongruously overhead, we turned back to the woods and headed for our cars just as the sun was setting. Two deer greeted us, a doe and her fawn, bounding across the parking lot into the woods just as we emerged. These were my first in New York City, and though I've seen their tracks often enough, it was hard to control my excitement. I've seen the effect deer have on woodlands without predators, but still they remained to me powerful signs that the natural world can and will return given half a chance.
- Dave Taft

9/5 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: There were the usual turkey vultures soaring on a north wind along the ridge near my house this morning and there was also a broad-winged hawk, an early starter on the migration flight to come.
- Bill Drakert

9/5 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Another wave of kestrels arrived, more than 2 dozen this time, though counting kestrels is a bit like trying to count minnows in a bait pail. There were hardly enough perches to go around: it was a kestrel air show. To keep things lively, a merlin was working the marsh edge. And what's this, perched in a mulberry at the junction of marsh and parking lot at the railroad station? An immature peregrine. It was a "Falcon Grand Slam!"
- Christopher Letts

9/5 - Tappan Zee, HRM 27: This morning we watched 4 bald eagles circling over the river between Sleepy Hollow and Upper Nyack. Three of them were immatures and the fourth, an adult, was successful in its fishing, flying with its catch to a perch along the river near Sleepy Hollow.
- Doug Maas, Diane Maas

9/6 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I spotted a pigeon hawk [merlin] today in same area that I noted one during this month 4 years ago.
- Nancy P. Durr

[In early editions of his landmark "A Field Guide to the Birds," the late ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson referred to our 3 common falcons as the sparrow hawk, pigeon hawk, and duck hawk, but expressed his preference for the long-used British names for these raptors: kestrel, merlin, and peregrine, respectively. These latter names have become the appellations of choice over the years. The older common names suggested the falcon's preferred prey size, with each of the falcons being more than capable of handling their namesake. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

9/6 - Croton River, HRM 34: When dawn and low tides are coincident, this is such an excellent place to be. The red-throated loon seems most active then, diving for breakfast. The immature bald eagle from a nearby nest likes to fish Inbuckie Bay and rest on a sandbar or old railroad tie. A full 2 dozen great blue herons have been present this season, an impressive sight. Fish of all sizes splash and flash and leap. Osprey are everywhere. This year, minnow traps are coming up full of not just tiny fish, shrimp and crabs, but fistfuls of marble-sized moon jellyfish.
- Christopher Letts

9/7 - Minerva, HRM 284: I helped a painted turtle cross Route 28N just east of Minerva at the Moxam Pond wetland. It was a little guy, complete with two leeches. I removed the leeches and released the turtle in the water on the other side of the road. My good deed for the day.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/7 - Schodack Landing, HRM 134: After enjoying a day boating on the Hudson, we were returning to Coeymans Landing where we had launched. As we pulled over to see Schodack Island State Park, we saw what appeared to be a good-sized log slowly submerge. However, we both agreed it was not a log. After a short while, the object surfaced taking several big breaths before submerging again. We were pretty sure it was a seal, probably a harbor seal. At one point it surfaced with a small fish in its mouth. We watched it surface and dive several times, once very close to the boat. The face looked that of a very large Labrador retriever without the ears.
- Richard Olson, Kelly Olson

[The list of Hudson River marine mammals is lengthy, and includes seals, dolphins, porpoises, and even a one-time visit from a manatee in summer 2006. Among the seals, we've recorded gray, harbor, hooded and harp seals in the estuary. However, the overwhelming majority of seal sightings, perhaps as high as 95%, are harbor seals. Tom Lake.]

9/7 - Croton River: This time of year, the morning gang assembles close to sunrise. The Boyz at the Bridge hunker down on the Liar's Bench and the coffee klatch begins. Boats launch or return, people leave to go to work, and the cast of characters and subjects of discussion change minute by minute. A more disparate group would be difficult to find: the common denominator is the Hudson River. I reflect on some other, similar places I have known: Piermont Pier, Verplanck's Landing, Englewood and Alpine Boat Basins, Green Island below the Troy Dam, the crowd that fishes from the Fairway Market parking lot in Upper Manhattan, and the loyal minion that finds river access at the waterfront in Yonkers. So important, these little Shangri-Las, where all mingle to celebrate with every race and many tongues. The magic is in the sociability of sharing everything from bait to history to advice on fishing, politics, your investments, your leaky garage or pickup truck bed.
- Christopher Letts

9/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 91 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

9/8 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: It was another scorcher, a day when the heat and humidity made being in the sun inadvisable. We sought shelter in the dense shade along Gunpowder Creek, more accurately a brook and a tributary to the Wallkill River. Three white-tailed deer stood in a shallow pool cooling off and trusting that we were no threat. The air temperature reached 87 degrees F in mid-afternoon, tying the record high for the date (National Weather Service).
- Tom Lake

9/8 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Just 3 kestrels to be seen this morning; the others are probably hunting the south Jersey sod farms by now. In their stead, 5 harriers, all females or immatures, rocked and dipped over the landfill.
- Christopher Letts

9/8 - Tappan Zee, HRM 33: Midge Taube reported catching "baby sea robins, about 5" long." We don't see this fish here every year but they are not uncommon at the end of a hot, dry summer season. After catching jellyfish in a minnow trap in the Croton River, sea robins out in the mainstream are almost to be expected. Who could guess what else is swimming or crawling around out there? Surprises!
- Christopher Letts

9/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We received 1.1" of rain today and one could almost imagine the earth gulping it like someone crawling out of the desert. It was a gentle day-long rain, just what we needed. There must have been a hatch of red efts; I found 2 itty-bitty ones (heads a quarter of an inch wide, bodies 2" long, over half of which was tail) trying to cross the road this morning. One was relocated to my garden; the other I just helped across the street.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/9 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I could hear red squirrels chirp-chattering to each other in the deciduous forest understory. Cottontail rabbits seemed to be in abundance this summer; their strong preference for tender basal leaves of Japanese anemones has not been a treat for me. A common nighthawk has been a noisy presence here most of late summer; I heard its early peenting at 6:30 this evening.
- Nancy P. Durr

9/10 - Beacon, HRM 61: Since 2004 I have been doing volunteer work at the north end of Beacon's Riverfront Park where there is a large bed of water chestnut that usually die off in mid-September. This year was dramatically different. The bed was still green on August 5, the day of the cross-river swim from Newburgh to Beacon. On August 18, it had turned brown and patches of open water were visible on the outer edge. By August 22, it was all open water and the debris from the bed had drifted inshore.
Water chestnut flourishes in fresh water but is limited by salt in the Hudson River. I began to check on water chestnut beds elsewhere. Up to ten miles south of Riverfront Park, the beds had died the same week, including those at the Beacon waterfront, Long Dock, Dennings's Point, Foundry Cove, and Constitution Marsh. Checking beds 15 miles north of Beacon, between August 26 and August 29, they were dead or dying all the way to Poughkeepsie. However, at Norrie Point (river mile 85) the beds were still healthy. They were also healthy in Wappinger Creek (river mile 67.5) where the water is diluted by freshwater runoff.
The salt front in the Hudson River is continuously monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Poughkeepsie Water Treatment Plant. This year the salt front is farther north than usual. It has been north of Beacon since early July. For the past few days it has been at Poughkeepsie, river mile 76.
- Cindy Cowden

9/10 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: It was another hot summer day of digging in the ground, shoveling dirt onto a screen, and then looking for evidence of prehistoric Hudson Valley residents. This was a state-mandated cultural resource assessment of an area designated for development and are a critical part of the process to ensure that we are not destroying irreplaceable cultural resources. After days of seeing little more than a few stone flakes, two exquisite projectile points popped into view amid the dirt in the screen. These were Normanskill spear points and had come from a long-buried encampment a foot below the surface of the field.
- Samantha Browne, Tom Wilson

[Normanskill is not the name of a particular Hudson Valley Indian group. For several centuries, about 4,000 years ago, Native Americans living in the Hudson and Mohawk watersheds made projectile points and stone tools that archaeologists have stylistically-labeled as Normanskill. These people were mobile hunters and gatherers, fishers and foragers. Other than analyzing their stone tools and the various components of their campsites, we know very little of the people who made them. The style was named by former New York State Archaeologist William Ritchie after the Norman's Kill, a Hudson River tributary just south of Albany. Tom Lake.]

9/11 - Manhattan HRM 0: Today was the sixth anniversary of the fateful 9-11. It was also 398 years ago today that Henry Hudson dropped the Half Moon's anchor for the night in the Upper Bay off the south tip of Manhattan Island.
- Tom Lake

9/11 - Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, New York City: Clearing vegetation from Battery Duane, an1890s gun emplacement, I took a break to look up at the nearby Verrazano Narrows. On September 11, 2001, on a boat racing toward the actively burning twin towers, I stared at this bridge from among a crew of anxious National Park Service rangers, Coast Guard enlisted men, and volunteers. In the rain today, I mused idly, sniffing at a wet goldenrod leaf, marveling at how peaceful the horizon was, just six years later. Peripherally, a peregrine falcon veered off from the bridge and swept quickly past me, a grey-blue blur at 25'. In seconds he covered the ground from where I stood to mid-harbor. He seemed like an urgent reminder to return to some important work. There will come a time when 9-11 is as distant a memory as the fortification on which I was standing.
- Dave Taft


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