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Hudson River Almanac October 3 - October 9, 2007

OVERVIEW

Everyone has their own favorite symbol of autumn, from fall foliage to frost on the pumpkin. But for many Almanac contributors, it is the song from on high - the call of migrating Canada and snow geese - that authenticates the season.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/6 - Albany County, HRM 137: Cathy Smith and I frequently canoe on the river and this was like most other days. We saw 3 bald eagles (2 immatures and one adult), a few osprey, and a northern harrier. However, a mile north of the I90-I87 New York Thruway Bridge we spotted a seal. Paddling fairly close, we watched it devour what appeared to be a 3-5 lb. carp. The seal would go under water and then resurface and take a good look at us. The seal looked healthy and large, about 3-4' long, 150 lb., and did not exhibit any signs of injury or stress. It was interesting because the seal, we guessed a harbor seal, appeared to be interested in us too.
- Rich Buckey

[Three miles south, and one month earlier, another seal was sighted by Richard Olson and Kelly Olson. This could have been the same animal (see 9/7 Schodack Landing, HRM 134). Tom Lake.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The fall colors are glorious! It must be the sunny days and cool nights that have counter-balanced the drought effects. There are lots of reds this year, and the oranges are starting to come in quite nicely too.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/3 - Boreas River, HRM 294, to The Glen, HRM 245: How dry has it been? Route 28N crosses the Boreas River between Newcomb and Minerva. Even though there is a fairly new beaver dam on the north side of the bridge that may be aiding the situation, the river on the south side of the bridge was so low that the gravel bottom was exposed in several places. Where Route 28N crosses the Hudson River at North Creek [HRM 257], one can pretty much walk across and not get wet much above the ankles. Downstream from The Glen, through the Ice Meadows to Warrensburg, gravel bottom is exposed in many places, spots that are usually covered by several feet of water. There are spots where you could cross and you probably wouldn't even have to take off your shoes to keep them dry.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/3 - Nyack Beach State Park, HRM 31: A different-looking shrimp was in the seine today after we hauled through the wild celery beds. It was big, 4" long head to tail (minus antennae), had protruding eyes, and was far larger than the sand and shore shrimp we usually catch. This was a brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) a true commercial ocean shrimp. They can grow to nearly twice this size. The last time we caught one was September 19, 2000 [Hudson River Almanac, Volume VII], 17 miles downriver at Englewood, NJ.
- Christopher Letts

10/3 - Jamaica Bay, Queens, NY: We arrived on Ruffle Bar, an island in Jamaica Bay, just after dawn to capture some of its beauty on film for PBS. We were not disappointed. Swaths of yellow seaside goldenrod clouded the few inches above the cool red flower heads of little blue stem grass. Behind them, groundsel shrubs attracted dozens of monarchs to rest and feed. As we filmed, a pair of marsh hawks [harriers] skimmed over the grasses. And at our feet, an entire story unfolded in the sand. Following a set of raccoon prints I found one hole, then another, and another until finally, as if honing in like radar, the raccoon hit pay dirt: a fresh set of still soft diamond back terrapin eggs which had been predated just hours before. Raccoons used to be a rare commodity on the islands of Jamaica Bay. I left wondering if that status was changing.
- Dave Taft

10/4 - Haverstraw Bay-Tappan Zee, HRM 39-34: Our "Saharan summer" continued with air temperatures running 15 degrees F above average: The salt front continued to push north; warnings of low New York City reservoir levels were appearing; and parks were banning open fires.
- Christopher Letts

[On this date, the U.S. Geological Survey placed the salt front at HRM 78, a bit north of the old railroad bridge across the Hudson at Poughkeepsie.]

10/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: I heard and then saw a pileated woodpecker, one of my favorites, on my morning walk on the Croton Gorge Trail along the Croton River.
- Jane Shumsky

10/4 - Staten Island, New York Harbor Upper Bay: We were continuing our filming for PBS and, within minutes of beginning the shoot at the Fort Wadsworth overlook near the Verrazano Narrows, the first osprey flew overhead. Within minutes another 2 coasted unhurriedly past. Below these, a steady stream of monarchs made their way south, highlighting the urgency of the migration season, and the differences in the two species' migratory strategies. At 5:00 PM, a very different type of bird flew past, a modern "osprey": a strange gray, two propped military plane, its propellers angled up like a helicopter's, cleared the bridge and flew up into the lower harbor. A reminder that the United Nations was in session, and of the turbulent times in which we live.
- Dave Taft

10/4 - Croton Point, HRM 35: On an idyllic autumn day, 4th graders from Greenville Elementary in Edgemont, Westchester County, helped us sample the river's inshore shallows. The water was a tepid 73 degrees as "bathing suit season" continued. The salinity was relatively high (9.8 ppt ) and we expected to see predominantly brackish water and marine animals. While we were initially surprised that the catch reflected more of a freshwater mix, with tessellated darters and spottail shiners, we recognized that the total catch had representatives from the entire estuary. There were brackish water silversides, pipefish, fourspine sticklebacks, mud crabs, and shore shrimp (several were gravid), migrating young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass, and those that can live nearly anywhere, white perch, hogchokers, and blue crabs.
- Pat Barry, Pat Kuschman, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

10/5 - Hathaway's Glen, HRM 63: A stiff south wind had convinced the monarchs that this was not a good day to fly, so dozens of them were settled on the beach at the edges of small tide-puddles, nearly underfoot as we tromped around. I heard a faint call of high-flyer geese but could not pick them out of the sky. We hauled the seine though the shallow bay where the water was an amazing 76 degrees F. That was 4-5 degrees warmer than it has been in previous years at this time. Yet, 100 feet away, the water coming out of Hathaway's Glen Brook was only 65 degrees F. Tidal tributaries with a short run to the gradient of the fall line are generally cooler than the river and provide a shady haven for aquatic life in the warm water months. It is not uncommon to find these tributaries 10-15 degrees F cooler during the warmest days of summer. The tidepools just inside the train trestle in the shade of the box elders had clouds of banded killifish.
The largest percentage of our catch was, by far, YOY blueback herring. There was a single YOY American shad, a gorgeous little fish almost 4" long, and we were quick to release it. There were plenty of YOY striped bass ranging in size from 2"-4". The salinity was 2.8 ppt, the highest I've ever recorded there, so we were not surprised when we caught a half-dozen YOY Atlantic menhaden, 2.5" to 4.5" long. One of them had only half a tail and we knew what that meant. In the next haul we had a half-dozen 6.5" snapper bluefish.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/5 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We were still swamped with "peanut bunker" [YOY menhaden] on Sandy Hook's bay side. On my way from work in the evening, I spotted half a dozen cars pulled off the road at crazy angles, blinkers on, door wide open and fishermen standing on top of a stone wall casting. When in doubt, join the crowd. It turned out that a bunch of marauding 5 lb. bluefish had pushed a school of bunker up against the rocks and was having a feast. Two casts with a surface popper yielded 10 lb. of bluefish, so I changed to a hook-less popper that the blues could swipe at without getting hurt, kind of like Sandy Hook Bay "volleyball." The water temperature felt about 70 degrees F; when it drops, the blues will leave.
- Dery Bennett

10/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 85 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

10/6 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 60: The air temperature reached 86 degrees F today, tying the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

10/6 - Englewood, NJ to Quassaic Creek, HRM 13-60: The Fisheries Science Practicum class from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) traveled from Syracuse to the Hudson Valley to sample different parts of the estuary.
At 8:30 AM we were on the beach in the mid-falling tide at Englewood amidst dense fog. The Hudson looked like a vast sea until the fog began to burn off and we could see the mouth of the Harlem River and Inwood Park across from us. We hauled our seine and caught a good variety of estuarine species, including bay anchovy, menhaden, silversides, winter flounder, striped bass, and white perch. Aside from the white perch, everything was a juvenile. We also collected blue crabs, shore shrimp, and a zillion comb jellies. The water was about 70 degrees F. The George Washington Bridge was just starting to peek out from the fog as we departed.
Our next site was 47 miles upriver at Newburgh. We electro-fished Quassaic Creek, where our primary quarry was the American eel, and we found them in good quantity. Many of the students are from central New York where eels have been extirpated, so they had never seen them up close. In additions to eels, we collected a beautiful black crappie and more blue crabs. The biggest surprise was coming upon a moderately large school of YOY alewives as well as several YOY striped bass. I've never caught either of these within tributaries of the Hudson, but given the drought, I suspect that Hudson River water intrudes farther than it does under wetter conditions and that the fish didn't "know" they were in a tributary.
Finally, we dropped down a mile to Kowawese Unique Area on the north end of Cornwall Bay. Our seine came up with an abundance of YOY blueback herring, a couple of American shad, striped bass, blue crabs, white perch, spottail shiner, tessellated darters, and a small hogchoker. A few bay anchovies and silversides let us know that the water had a bit of salt in it (2.9 ppt by conductivity meter, 3.2 ppt by titration kit). The day was stunning, the fish were great, and the students loved the Hudson.
- Karin Limburg, Brandy Brown, Aaron Edwards, Jason Garritt, Jennifer LaRose, Peter Malaty, Lee Raza, Steve Tyszko

10/6 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: Monarch butterflies were plentiful on the Montauk daisies and competing with honey bees and even bumble bees this late in the season.
- Jim Grefig

10/7 - North Lake, HRM 112: High flyers indeed. We were already at 2600', perched on Sunset Rock overlooking North and South Lakes in the Catskill Mountains, when an undulating V of about 60 snow geese passed high overhead - sparkling white jewels glinting in a deep blue sky, their cries drifting faintly down to us from what must have been almost a mile above sea level.
- Steve Stanne, Cara Lee

10/7 - Beacon, HRM 61: On the River Walk trail from Beacon to Denning's Point, it seemed like a midsummer's day except for the leaves now showing their fall colors, though somewhat less brilliantly than other autumns. The tide was low in the cove at Denning's Point and at least 9 great blue herons were busy fishing. We watched as one closest to us caught 2 small fish rapidly in succession. Perched in a tree on the shoreline was an immature osprey. Birder Tully McElrath told us he had seen that one, and 2 others at the same spot over the last few days.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly

10/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 89 degrees F today, eclipsing the old record high for the date by 9 degrees.
- National Weather Service

10/8 - Kowawese, HRM 59: This was another autumn steamer. The 90 degrees F air had the feel of summer. Looking through my binoculars south into Cornwall Bay, I could see an immature bald eagle perched on a deadfall grounded on a sandbar at low tide. Through the quarter-mile of haze, streams of monarchs kept crossing my line of sight.
- Tom Lake

10/8 - Raritan Bay, NJ: It was 85 degrees F degrees and humid along the Navesink River. Although late in the season, it was warm enough to deliver one loud katydid after dark. At dusk, a mockingbird delivered a passable blue jay call, as well as a cardinal call that was still a work in progress. The gang at the bait store agrees that we will get a cold winter as a payback for this October summer.
- Dery Bennett

10/9 - Montgomery County, HRM 168: A cold front dropped temperatures from near 80 degrees F to the 50s this morning. Along the Mohawk River I spotted 3 Vs of geese heading for warmer climes.
- Dee Strnisa

10/9 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: It was near low tide at dusk and with no school programs for a few days I pulled out my pots and traps, cleaned out the old bait, and left them open to avoid inadvertent collecting. High overhead I could see several faint black lines, staggered like threads against the clouds. These were geese heading south and, since I could barely see them, I could only imagine that I could almost hear their soft calls.
- Tom Lake

10/9 - Raritan Bay, NJ: I heard of an 18-pound bluefish caught in the Navesink River near Red Bank. Probably chasing "peanut bunker." I'd have been terrified of a blue that size. I've talked to a number of old timers around here and they agree that the "peanuts" are more numerous than they can ever remember. In fact, some say they didn't even hear the word peanut applied to young bunker [young-of-the-year menhaden] until 5-10 years ago. There are so many dead ones in Raritan Bay, in particular Atlantic Highlands harbor, that the whole body of water stinks. Actually, it's not that bad. I sort of like it. Ashes to ashes.
- Dery Bennett

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