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Hudson River Almanac September 19 - September 26, 2007

OVERVIEW

More tales of migration, both in the air and under the waves. This week also marks Henry Hudson's northernmost penetration of the river 398 years ago, against a backdrop of human occupation that disappears into the deep time of the Hudson River valley's past.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/23 - Town of Knox, HRM 153: Our river otter family now numbers 3, where it had numbered 4 earlier this summer. We often see a great blue heron hunting in concert with the otters, the heron working the shoreline of the 15-acre upland pond, while the otters chase fish in the shallow water nearby. I presume the presence of one makes for more efficient hunting by the others, and vice versa. While this kind of predatory cooperation doesn't surprise me, it does remind me of oceanic gulls feeding near surfacing whales and the like.
Today, my son and I made an interesting discovery. While one otter coursed through the sedges and wetland plants along the pond edge, two others lay in wait for the frogs that were thus driven from their hiding places. While I could see the white undersides of the food items being consumed by the waterborne otters, it was my son Josh who, with eyes much younger than mine, identified the unmistakable forms of frog legs and feet. Otters are incredibly proficient predators, but considering their seemingly incessant activity and concomitant metabolism, I suppose that in order to survive, they would have to be.
- Dave Nelson

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/19 - Navesink River: A 10:00 PM walk yielded 3 night sounds: a katydid that had set up shop on the same tree branch for 3 weeks (as usual, I couldn't find it with a flashlight); crickets chirping slowly because it was a cool night; and off in the distance, a screech owl - misnamed, I remind myself, when its call is heard. What is it that makes an owl call so wonderful?
- Dery Bennett

9/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our leaves were really changing. What was barely 10% a week ago was now looking more like 80% starting to turn.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/20 - Hudson River Watershed: People have told me that they believe the blue Hudson River watershed signs with the sturgeon silhouette are an indication that sturgeon are, in fact, in the brooks, streams, and creeks. This is generally not true, given what we know of the big water preference of sturgeon. The signs are a reminder, helping us define the ecological connection between the estuary leading to the sea, and the spiderweb of tributaries and surrounding uplands that are connected via watercourses and drainages. The generic sturgeon logo is emblematic, two species of fish that have come to be associated, along with shad and striped bass, with the Hudson River estuary.
- Tom Lake

9/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35: It was an amazing sight for a busload of little kids from White Plains: a seine with more than a thousand fish in its belly. Except for a snapper bluefish, a 6" mummichog, and a pretty sunfish, there was nothing in the net but young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass. After a quick check, I sank the seamline by standing on it and the young bass swam free.
- Christopher Letts

9/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: A red-breasted nuthatch showed up at our feeders a week ago and has been hanging around ever since. The last few mornings before sunrise, we've heard a barred owl calling.
- Bill Lenhart, Donna Lenhart

9/21 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught a 3 lb. channel cat and a small 2 lb. carp at Long Dock. Larger carp were jumping from time to time, but were apparently not feeding. There were large schools of small baitfish, groups extending 25 feet or more, moving about the bay with individual fish occasionally breaking the surface.
- Bill Greene

[It is likely that these schools of "baitfish" were YOY menhaden, also known to anglers as "penny bunker." It is not uncommon in late summer and early fall to have large numbers of these saltwater herring move upriver as the water becomes brackish. Tom Lake.]

9/21 - Haverstraw Bay-Tappan Zee, HRM 44-31: During this 26 mile drive a monarch was in sight almost every bit of the round trip. At Hook Mountain Park a tall white-flowered butterfly bush was well decorated with dozens of monarchs and scores of other butterflies.
- Christopher Letts

9/22 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A strong south wind funneling upriver through the Hudson Highlands, between Breakneck and Storm King, was blowing directly onshore. The 4 tiderows of wild celery and duckweed marked each of the last 4 high tides. Half a dozen crab moults were in the tideline as well; there will be more to come next week with the full moon. Through binoculars I watched an immature eagle on a low tide deadfall in Cornwall Bay. Each time a wave broke over the log, the eagle would lift a foot. That seemed very fastidious for a bald eagle.
- Tom Lake

9/23 - Fishkill, HRM 61: For several mornings this past week when I retrieved my morning newspaper, I had the pleasure of viewing the planet Venus as the bright, shining star on the eastern horizon just over the ridge behind my house. Today, on the autumnal equinox, it was supposedly at its brightest. Just barely, with binoculars, one could discern that it was in a crescent phase.
- Ed Spaeth

9/23 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Autumn arrived on the flood tide just before sunrise. The final surge up on the sand left a neat tiderow of uprooted wild celery stretching the entire length of the beach. It was now 8 hours later, and several dozen eager adults and children were holding clumps of the wild celery, having learned that it was an important food item for migratory waterfowl. This was a program of the 8th annual Hudson River Valley Ramble and we had gathered on the beach at Kowawese to sample the river. An osprey wheeled low overhead as we fed our 85-foot seine off the sand into the shallows. Several hauls netted 500 fish of 10 different species, and while none were surprising, they all had a story to tell: bay anchovies, Atlantic silversides, and sand shrimp hinted at some salt in the water; YOY blueback herring were migrating seaward from faraway reaches of the Mohawk River; YOY Atlantic menhaden, a herring born at sea, had migrated upriver for reasons that are not well known; and YOY striped bass, in a variety of sizes, gave testimony to their extended spawning season. The river temperature was 74 degrees F, and the salinity was 3.2 parts per thousand [ppt].
- Tom Lake, Dick Manley

9/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This is an event and a date that has been creeping later and later. But today may have been the last visit by a ruby-throated hummingbird (2 females) to the feeders.
- Tom Lake

9/24 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I am always amazed at the number of people who tell me that the sounds of the night wake them up. That is a tuned-in connection that I did not think was common. In the early hours well before dawn, a screech owl began to call, and called every couple of minutes for about an hour. It was a long, mournful cry that would have had the superstitious among us conjuring up calamities.
- Tom Lake

9/24 - Croton Point, HRM 34-35: At our first stop at the inlet beyond the Croton train station parking lot we spotted a beautiful red-throated loon, as well as 5-6 great blue herons. Out on Croton Point we could see a male northern harrier hunting over the landfill and a kestrel keeping watch on a pole. Farther out, we had our first sighting of an osprey that appeared again out at the end of the point, circling several times before flying out over the river. A loud kingfisher took off from a tree on the beach and minutes later, we spotted a sharp-shinned hawk with its rapid wing beat heading northwest. Following a path along the marsh we came upon a flock of cedar waxwings. The osprey appeared again, this time with a fish in its talons. A flock of crows taking off noisily from a tree alerted us to an adult bald eagle sitting in a tree at the edge of the river. Just an ordinary September afternoon at Croton Point.
- Jehan Raheem, El Raheem, Helle Raheem

9/24 - Englewood, NY, HRM 13.5: Salinity continued to be high on this beach, approaching 20 ppt. Mud and leaf litter clogged the net and we had to catch everything twice: once with the net, and then by fumbling for them in the slop. This last was not without its perils. I was nipped twice by feisty blue crabs. Besides a dozen blue crabs the net held a few each of bay anchovies, silversides, hogchokers, and sand shrimp. There was a gallon or two of comb jellies and moon jellies. The moon jellies [mantle] measured up to 4", large for this place. The real surprise was a 5" lion's mane jellyfish, the first I had seen north of the George Washington Bridge. Two silver perch [a drum], a 10" bluefish, a small weakfish, and an elegant 10" kingfish completed the list. As the detritus was being dumped back into the water, a student's eye spotted yet another species. We admired the 3" winter flounder and quickly released it.
- Christopher Letts

9/24 - Fort Lee, HRM 11: I just came back from a walk that takes me right under the George Washington Bridge. In the parking lot I noticed a small dead bird with no noticeable trauma, no apparent cause of death. Then I saw another a few feet away, a beautiful tiny green warbler. The guard came out from his booth and pointed out 2 more. Not one of the birds had a mark or a missing feather; it's like they fell from the sky. New Jersey Fish and Wildlife toxicologist, Bill Stansley, said the most likely cause of death was from hitting the George Washington Bridge. He said that when they migrate they fly high and the lights from the bridge tends to disorient their flight pattern. The New Jersey Bergen County Audubon Society concurred, adding that the lights in Manhattan are the cause of many bird deaths at this time of year. She told me that if I took binoculars outside late at night and aimed them at the moon I would be able to see many birds flying south.
- Katherine Mikel

9/25 - Gardiner, HRM 78: Perhaps inspired by the almost-full Harvest Moon, the local predators made their presence known: I awoke at 4:00 AM to a pair of great horned owls exchanging vocalizations amidst a chorus of coyote yips and howls. I listened for some time before drifting back to sleep.
- Laura Heady

9/25 - Beacon, HRM 61: The catch for the day of fishing at Long Dock was 3 carp in the 4-6 lb. range, a nice 3 lb. channel catfish, a small bullhead and a golden shiner. All were released but the shiner. A crabber asked for it to use as crab bait. I was surprised to catch a channel cat since it has been a while without rain, and the river is getting salty. I'd imagine channel cats would move back up the river to avoid the salt.
- Bill Greene

[Like many species of fish in the Hudson River, channel catfish are resilient. If allowed enough time, many fish can adapt to the changing blend of fresh and salt water. Tom Lake.]

9/25 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: The "toll taker" peregrine was perched at windshield level on the north side of the Bear Mountain Bridge this morning, screaming at something.
- Stephen M. Seymour

[The "toll taker" is a euphemistic term used to describe the predatory habits of peregrine falcons on the bridges that cross the Hudson River. In the case of the Bear Mountain Bridge, the narrowest of the spans, the short flight over water is favored by migratory songbirds each autumn, but the "toll taker" ensures that it comes with a price. Tom Lake.]

9/25 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Long before the students arrived, I was immersed in watching the bird traffic along the rim of the Palisades. Kettles of broad-winged hawks and turkey vultures, lots of sharp-shinned hawks and osprey, and the resident red-tails and ravens made for as lively a morning rush hour as motorists were enjoying on the George Washington Bridge two miles south. Today the seine produced baby sea robins as long as my index finger, cute as a button. There were a few more northern kingfish, a few largish blue crabs but not much else. Can't wait for tomorrow!
- Christopher Letts

9/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: The air temperature reached 90 degrees F today, establishing a new record for the date. The previous high was 85.
- National Weather Service

9/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 69: Even though the Sheafe Road Elementary School mascot is the bluebird, very few of the students had ever seen one. On the playground this afternoon, many of them were fortunate enough to see a gorgeous eastern bluebird land and pose for ten minutes in the shrubbery.
- Phyllis Lake

9/26 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: One way to beat the heat (in mid-afternoon it reached 92 degrees F) is to work at night. Up on the hill over the Wallkill River under the full moon, the digging was done by lantern light. What we lost in speed was more than compensated by the sounds of the night, crickets, grasshoppers, and other noisemakers. Eight inches into the excavation we uncovered two spear points, neither of which had seen the light of the Harvest Moon in over 4,000 years. Even though the air temperature was in the 70s, it was impossible not to get a chill.
- Tom Lake

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