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Hudson River Almanac September 12 - September 18, 2007

OVERVIEW

Indian summer, that spell of warm weather after the first frost, visited the upper Hudson while the estuary enjoyed an extension of summer. We are reaching the peak of the raptor migration season, and it has not disappointed. The "invisible migration" continues as well, as millions of young-of-the-year [YOY] fish move seaward under the waves.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/12 - Shaupeneak Ridge, Town of Esopus, HRM 87: Chickadee conversations change tone when a raptor is around - fewer "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" calls and more simple "dee-dee-dee's" with a querulous quality to them. Hearing such calls today, I left the trail to investigate and was rewarded with a quick glimpse of large wings, followed by a clear view of a barred owl, hunched over and staring at me with those intense dark eyes. When I gave my best imitation of a barred owl's call, my "Who's" elicited a "What!?" response - the owl doing a double-take by standing up straight on its perch and throwing its head back. After a few more hoots from me, the owl uttered an apparently dismissive "Who-ah," turned its back, and flew off.
- Steve Stanne


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/12 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: Following yesterday's deluge, a cool northwest wind swept over the hilltop where we were working. It was quite a flight day for butterflies. Monarchs and little coppers were moving across the fields of goldenrod, each at their own level. The larger monarchs were traveling eye-high (mine), and with a tailwind gusting to 20 mph were crossing an acre of ground without a wing beat. The little coppers moved more slowly, flower to flower, knee-high. In between were dozens yellow and orange sulphurs, white cabbage butterflies, and squadrons of dragonflies.
- Tom Lake

[While flight days occur during both spring and fall migration, they are most often recognized in autumn following the passage of a cold front. Brisk northerly winds provide a tailwind boost to migrating birds and butterflies. With conservation of energy a foremost priority, they are able to cover long distances with a minimum expenditure of calories. Tom Lake.]

9/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a whole passel of monarchs on our ironweed today. Butterflies love this late summer blooming, dark purple native wildflower I highly recommend it to gardeners.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/13 - Quiet Cove, Poughkeepsie, HRM 77: It was a great evening at Quiet Cove with Cornelia Tutschka's Marist College class. Several hauls of our seine produced a dozen river herring, a tessellated darter, and an exquisite male blue crab moult. We enjoyed a brief visit by an osprey and the view of the Catskills at sunset, nicely framed in Crum Elbow. Quiet Cove is a great place to seine with access on all but the highest tides and a firm, gently sloping bottom on the north side of the park.
- Chris Bowser, Cornelia Tutschka

9/13 - Haverstraw Bay, Westchester County: Margaret Eberle was just going for a leisurely walk along the river but as she glanced down at the pebbles and cobbles along the shore she spotted what looked to her like an Indian "arrowhead." The projectile point (spear point) was what archaeologists call a Sylvan Side - notched, meticulously chipped from gray chert, probably dating to about 4,000 years ago, and at least two millennia before bow and arrow technology came to the Hudson Valley. The artisan who made this spear point was an ancestor of those who greeted Henry Hudson in 1609. These were Algonquian speakers, related to the Lenape, Munsee, and Wappinger people who lived in the area around Haverstraw Bay.
- Tom Lake

9/14 - Hoosic River, HRM 172: As I walked along Water Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a college town, I noted the aptly named Green River, a tributary to the Hoosic. This shallow running, rocky, green-tinged stream makes a sharp bend with a deepening pool as it courses alongside a wooded public park. Some college students were wading or swimming in its cool, tree-shaded waters, testament to the fact that this stream is now free of raw sewage that was prevalent as late as the 1960s.
- Ed Spaeth

9/14 - Norrie Point Environmental Center, HRM 85: Just after low tide I pulled a few short seines with teachers and students from the Poughkeepsie Day School. Within the dense haul of water chestnut and water milfoil was a cornucopia of small and juvenile fish: 40 sunfish (mostly pumpkinseeds), 15 banded killifish, 6 largemouth bass, and a handful of tessellated darters. The prizes of the day were a 4" goldfish and a 3-4" elver. Oddly, this slightly transparent young eel had still not developed the full brown coloration we usually see with eels that size. Water temperature was 75 degrees F.
- Chris Bowser

9/14 - Beacon, HRM 61: Landed 3 small carp in the 3 lb. range at Long Dock today, along with a channel catfish and a golden shiner. My experience suggests that the smaller carp show up later in the season, in September and October. They bite actively and are expert at stealing bait. When large amounts of loose vegetation float in the water, the material tends to collect on your line, dragging the sinker loose, into rocks, and obscuring the bait. The answer is to either resign yourself to constant clearing of your line, and catching an occasional fish, or to skip the middle hours of the tides when the current is running strongest.
- Bill Greene

9/14 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A strong south wind pushed heavy rollers up on the beach, leaving tiderows of uprooted wild celery stretched along the sand, marking the last high tide. Seining was not simple in the choppy surf but we managed to make a couple of short hauls, getting drenched in the process, though the warm river (74 degrees F) made it refreshing. Our catch was almost entirely YOY herring from opposite ends of the watershed. Atlantic menhaden (60-130 mm), born in the salt, had moved upriver from the sea; blueback herring (57-64 mm), born in the far reaches of the Mohawk River in central New York, had migrated south. The salinity was about 3.0 ppt, just shy of 10% seawater.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth, Tony Gooler

9/15 - Hoosic River, HRM 172: Despite the rain, a flock of wild turkeys - a few toms, several hens and 8 poults - calmly foraged among the grasses along the entrance roadway to Bennington College, in North Bennington, Vermont, just uphill from the Hudson-bound waters of the Walloomsac River.
- Ed Spaeth

9/15 - Wilton, Saratoga County, HRM 197: From my observations, 3 bird species seemed to be extending their range northward, spotted for the first time in my neighborhood: Carolina wren, northern mockingbird, and red-bellied woodpecker. Climate change?
- Tom McIntyre

9/15 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: We hosted a group of 30 educators in training for the October 2 Snapshot Day (A Day in the Life of the River). First thing in the chilly morning we spotted an osprey flying past with a fish, and a larger pair of wings closing fast! The fish-hawk dropped its prize and the harassing bald eagle snatched it with one taloned foot in mid-air. Throughout the day, we caught Atlantic silversides and a snapper bluefish on the windward side of the pier. Alongside weekend watermen angling for bigger prizes, our eel pots and fish traps on the leeward side caught several dozen more silversides, a few plump female mummichogs, a 5" striped bass, and a score of small hydromedusa jellyfish. From the marsh reeds and invertebrates, through the prey and predator fishes, to the eagles and anglers, the educators were able to weave a firsthand food web of the tidewater Hudson.
- Chris Bowser, Steve Stanne, Margie Turrin, Beth Roessler

[Windward and leeward are often used to provide color and accuracy to the description of a location or condition under which a sighting is made. These are sailing terms used to denote wind exposure: windward being in the face of the wind, leeward meaning sheltered, as in the lee of a point. Tom Lake.]

9/15 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: The Palisades Nature Association had come to the beach to watch us haul our nets, but it was difficult to ignore the aerial show. We spotted an osprey fishing in the river directly under the George Washington Bridge. After a successful dive, the bird flew up along the river carrying a fish (presumably a menhaden) passing directly above us. As it passed over, it made a momentary adjustment, releasing the fish from its talons, then grabbing it again with a more secure grip, all without missing a wingbeat. Osprey along the Palisades have learned to take their catches into the trees to feed. Revealing their prize in the open only invites bald eagle piracy. At one time we had 7 osprey whirling overhead with a total of 10-12 in view. The seining, almost an afterthought, included bay anchovies, silversides, hogchokers, YOY striped bass, a 3" winter flounder, and two dozen mixed male and female quarter-sized blue crabs. The salinity was over half the strength of seawater at 17.0 ppt and the water temperature was a comfortable 73 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, Nancy Slowik, Christopher Letts

9/16 - Fishkill, HRM 61: As the sun was setting 2 cardinals were still at my feeders: a female cardinal still feeding a not quite independent fledgling, undoubtedly an offspring of a very late brood.
- Ed Spaeth

9/16 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: Archaeologists are like time detectives. They are given clues to the past, evidence ranging from bones to stones to charcoal and pollen, and from these theories stories evolve. This hilltop overlooking the Wallkill is half the size of a football field and seems to have had two distinct habitation areas, one on the north end and one on the south end. The north end dates to about 5,000 years ago, the south end to about 4,000 years ago. Probably two different people. At moments like this we wonder if one was group was ancestral to the other? Did they speak the same language? It can be difficult visualizing the Hudson Valley of 5,000 years ago. While much of the flora and fauna were similar, the forests were dominated by American chestnut and native people hunted American elk in the Mid-Hudson Valley.
- Tom Lake

9/16 - Croton Point Park: HRM 34.5: Walking through the park on a beautiful day, we spotted at least 6 kestrels. What an aerial display, hovering and fluttering, then diving down for a snack. As we were looking for kestrels we also spotted a bald eagle and a few osprey off in the distance, circling over the river. As we were returning to our car, we spotted a hawk-like bird flying very low across the tall grass, a northern harrier, brownish with a white rump. All-in-all it was a wonderful day with birds of prey.
- Eric Shaw, Ken Shaw, Nancy Dunn

9/16 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The first big push of broad-winged hawks moved through the area today. At Lenoir Nature Preserve in Yonkers, we had a count of more than 1,700 broad-wings for the day. Most of them came through between 10:00 AM and noon. The big push should come this week sometime but it depends on so many factors that it is difficult to forecast with any accuracy.
- Joe O'Connell

[Hawk migration counts from Lenoir Preserve and other sites can be found at http://www.hawkcount.org/ .]

9/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a killer frost over night; the ground was white this morning. The sunflowers were looking pretty sad. The native bee balm, a lovely lavender color, however, was still going strong (this is another clue that native plants are adapted to our weather).
- Ellen Rathbone

9/17 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The raptors were gone, the point was empty. All the high pressure and northerly winds must have been a big bright green light for them. As I first circled, then crossed over the landfill, I saw but one raptor, a kestrel, as it came in from the north over Haverstraw Bay. The pretty male kestrel made a perfunctory pass over the grassy hill and kept right on going. I wanted to know if he kept right on, to the southwest tip of the point and out over the Tappan Zee. Certainly the bird had passed up what seems to be the number one attraction for foraging and resting on this peninsula: not a monarch to be seen.
- Christopher Letts

9/17 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: There was plenty of avian action, all aloft, in fact all above the rim of the Palisades. There were many osprey, sharp-shinned, broad-winged, and red-tailed hawks, with several confrontations among the latter. Resident birds tangling with migrants? As I scanned from hundreds of feet below, bits of bright confetti drifted along the rim of the escarpment as dozens of monarchs joined in celebrating the gift of a great tailwind.
- Christopher Letts

9/17 - Fort Lee, NJ, HRM 11: A hundred yards south of Hazard's Ramp is a small sandy beach. My little dog was barking at the lapping waves when I noticed a large horseshoe crab in the shallows. It blended in with the gray boulders at wading depth and I could not immediately tell if it was alive or dead. I worked the crab ashore and noticed some very slight movement. Reasoning that the horseshoe crab would be better off in the water, I pushed it back in. The creature seemed to hold its own in the time before I left. I had never before seen a horseshoe crab in the Hudson.
- Katherine Mikel

9/17 - Raritan Bay, NJ, New York Bight: This has been a summer of peanut bunker almost choking the bay and its creek mouths. Typically, there were a few fish kills probably related to high water temperature, heavy plankton blooms, low dissolved oxygen, and the propensity for bunker to travel in huge, dense schools to the point when they use up all the oxygen, suffocate, rot, take more oxygen out of the water and thus feed a vicious cycle. A few days ago there was a kill of an estimated 250,000 peanut bunker in the lower reaches of Matawan Creek that feeds into western Raritan Bay. I visited the carnage today, a stinking mess of rotted bunker, satiated gulls, and discolored, brackish water. Floating on the surface were what looked like scattered phragmites or spartina seeds. On closer examination, they turned out to be maggots (about 10 per square foot of water surface), swimming in circles. Some herring gulls swam among them, picking off a few here and there.
- Dery Bennett

["Peanut bunker" is a colloquial name from marine waters for YOY Atlantic menhaden, a herring, and a universal food along the mid-Atlantic coast. They are pursued by a broad range of predators from bluefish to great blue herons. In the Hudson River estuary, rivermen also call them "penny bunker." Tom Lake.]

9/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The birds and bears have pretty much stripped all the choke and pin cherries off the shrubs, and the honeysuckle bushes are looking rather barren as well. Between the robins and the cedar waxwings, there isn't much fruit left on the honeysuckles next to my house. The feral apple trees are still going strong, though, and that's despite the nightly forays of the black bears.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/18 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: In two years we will celebrate the September 1609 arrival of Henry Hudson, marking 400 years of Western culture in the Hudson Valley. Today we held two spear points in our hands that had just shown up in one of our excavation screens. The two styles, a Susquehanna and a Vosburg, suggested that native people had visited the south end of this hilltop, overlooking the Wallkill River, off and on for 2,500 years. For us, this air of antiquity created a perspective for the deep time of the Hudson River Valley.
- Tom Lake, Kris Mierisch, Tom Wilson, Jeanette LeClair

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