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Hudson River Almanac October 10 - October 16, 2007

OVERVIEW

Even with our first significant snowfall in the Adirondack High Peaks, autumn continued to please and winter was staying far to the north. Nonetheless, flight days were becoming more urgent for birds and butterflies, and the unseen young-of-the-year fish migration in the river continued. For the third time in three weeks, a seal - probably a harbor seal - made its presence known.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM A RECENT WEEK

10/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Woke to frost this morning, but by afternoon it was nearly 80 degrees F and humid. This evening as Toby Rathbone and I were headed back from the pumphouse down on the Hudson, we heard a wail. At first we thought it was a loon with vocal difficulties, but then it was joined by many voices: coyotes. It sounded like there were hundreds of them just ahead of us, maybe a few hundred feet. With my very active imagination, I pictured a solid wall of coyotes blocking the road, through which we would have to pass to get home. They howled for what seemed like a good five minutes or so, but more likely was only two or three, and as quickly as they started, they stopped. We didn't see hide nor hair of any of them, so they were probably further away than they sounded, but it was eerie! It's one thing to hear them out in the woods behind the house at night, and quite another to hear them before dark, while one is outside with them.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/8 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Before dawn, this peninsula seemed about to enter a steamy, misty morning in August. The birds gave it away: blue jays by the score and robins in the hundreds were loudly discussing travel plans. Small flocks of warblers and cedar waxwings were foraging their way toward the southwest tip of the point. Before sunrise, the choppy, nasal barking of snow geese could be heard at a distance. In the space of half an hour, 6 flocks winged over, east to west, all at treetop height, and were soon lost in the haze.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: For the third evening in a row at dusk, a sharp-shinned hawk silently cruised along the backyard treeline with nary a wingbeat. And for the third day in a row, all of the normally relaxed black-capped chickadees at the feeders erupted in pandemonium.
- Tom Lake

10/10 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 51.4: We had just returned from a trip abroad and the first thing we saw from the train on our way to work this morning was the adult bald eagle huddled against the rain in a treetop in Constitution Marsh.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

10/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: In the words of Washington Irving, from a letter he wrote late in his life: "I thank God I was born on the banks of the Hudson. I think it an incalculable advantage to be born and brought up in the neighborhood of some grand and noble object in Nature - a river, a lake or a mountain. We make a friendship with it; we in a manner ally ourselves to it for life."
- Ellen Rathbone

10/11 - Kowawese, HRM 60: The new moon tides, with aid from yesterday's strong southeast wind, had piled wild celery, duckweed, pondweed, and water milfoil up on the beach. Successive high tides had left their mark with 6-9 inch-high rows of green stretched hundreds of feet down the beach. While we see leaves falling from trees in autumn and recognize how they will nurture the soil for next year, a largely unseen "falling" occurs as the river gives up the leaves of its aquatic vegetation. These will nurture the river and provide energy and nutrients for next year's "crops."
- Tom Lake

10/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After 36 hours of rain (1.35") the sun came out and the northwest wind blew, with gusts to 30 mph. At midday I heard another sound inside the wind, kind of a roar, like a delivery truck coming down the road. Our dogs got antsy and then I heard the birds, hundreds of them, blackbirds, descending on my yard: grackles, brown-headed cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and starlings. They covered the lawn and filled the trees. It was deafening. Dozens landed on my flowering dogwoods and consumed every red berry they could find. So many landed on one small tree that the branches bent nearly to the ground. I was sure it would snap. In less than 5 minutes they were gone, heading south. Geese fly a mile high on flight days while blackbirds scorch the earth.
- Tom Lake

10/12 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Our Family Nights this summer, when we took kids out to pull a seine and dig in the mud in a cove on the bayside of Sandy Hook to sample the productivity of estuarine waters, produced a wide variety of animals. Included were 13 species of fish: Atlantic menhaden ("peanut bunker"), striped killifish, mummichog, Atlantic silverside, bluefish, weakfish, tautog, sea robin, northern pipefish, Atlantic needlefish, northern kingfish, winter flounder, and windowpane flounder; 8 species of Crustacea: Atlantic blue crab, Asian shore crab, European green crab, hermit crab, fiddler crab, calico crab, shore shrimp, and sand shrimp; 7 mollusks: mud snail, oyster drill, common slipper shell, surf clam, quahog, blue mussel, and ribbed mussel; and a few miscellaneous types: horseshoe crab, comb jelly, and sea nettle.
- Dery Bennett

10/13 - Yonkers, HRM 18: At the confluence of the Sawmill River and the Hudson, my eye was attracted to the unusual gyrations of a cormorant 100' north of the City of Yonkers Recreation Pier. The cormorant was doing some amazing neck stretching and bobbing movements. I watched with interest as what appeared to be a flatfish, maybe a hogchoker, was choked up and appeared in the bird's beak. The cormorant almost dropped the fish, but made some adjustments, and then back down the gullet it went. This happened 4-5 times before the bird got it down permanently. They seem to be able to expand their throat. Afterwards, the cormorant pulled itself out on a rock in the Sawmill and went into its traditional wing-drying position, seeming none the worse for wear for what would have been a Heimlich maneuver episode for a person
- Bob Walters

10/13 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Right on schedule, 25 brant appeared on the bay side of Sandy Hook today. They left here Memorial Day weekend, bred in the Arctic, and now are back for the winter. They were the crowning touch to early morning surf fishing on the ocean side of the hook: an 8 lb. blue and a false albacore on light tackle (not me, the other fishermen!). Winds from the northwest brought 40 degree temperatures overnight.
- Dery Bennett

10/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The Adirondack High Peaks were white this morning. We had a very hard frost but none of the predicted snow landed in Newcomb. Geese have been winging their way southward in droves, but woodcock are still around. Flowers are giving a last gasp before they die: dandelions are blooming and going to seed, clovers are blossoming here and there, and yesterday I saw a mullein with a couple blooms still clinging to its top. The milkweed pods are finally swelling to full size and are very, very green. Autumn is here: cold rainy days, leaves dropping like lead weights, and a chill in the air that presages snow.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: With their deafening call, the blackbirds came through again at dawn, like arboreal primates winging through the trees in waves. It was difficult to estimate their numbers. These were mostly grackles, but the others were there too. After several minutes, they were gone.
- Tom Lake

10/14 - Beacon, HRM 61: The fishing tally at Long Dock was 3 carp in the 3-4 lb. range, 3 golden shiners, and a bullhead. All were all released. I got many bites, but I'm sure most of them were from golden shiners. I spotted no carp rolling or jumping for the 7 hours I was there, but the smaller ones were feeding on the bottom.
- Bill Greene

10/14 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: The north wind blowing through the trees made so much noise that you could not hear bird calls. Combined with the river crashing up on the rocks, high-flyer skeins of geese could be seen but not heard. As I walked along the inside bay at high-tide a loud "quark" from very near startled me. It was a black-crowned night heron, camouflaged in a mulberry tree, having decided that I ventured too close. The bay, in the lee of the point, was dimpled nearly all the way across. These were schools of herring, either bluebacks or menhaden, and the gulls were having a feast diving and picking them off the surface. A dozen or more double-crested cormorants were diving on them as well. The feast was so intense that several of the cormorants were staying in the water beyond their allotted "buoyancy time"; all you could see was their snakey heads. A great number of songbirds were migrating through the point, taking advantage of the wind. One warbler gave me adequate time to gather field marks, a rare occasion, and I decided that it was an immature black-throated blue warbler. As I left the base of the point near dusk, another flocks of songbirds settled down all around me, along a fence, in the shrubs, on the trees. Forty bluebirds.
- Tom Lake

[Flight days are easy to recognize: Choose almost any day from late August through late October, add in a northwest to northeast wind, and you have one. The flight is primarily that of migrating birds and butterflies. With conservation of energy a foremost priority, any time they can get a boost from the breeze they can cover ground and save calories. Tom Lake.]

10/14 - Sandy Hook, NJ: It was mid-afternoon and I was watching grassy field where a killdeer was singing. Along came a sharp-shined hawk, breezing down a treeline, heading south but always ready to grab lunch on the fly. The killdeer went silent.
- Dery Bennett

10/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While driving to Tupper Lake after work I saw a cloud that defied belief. It was in the shape of a Canada goose, and it was flying south. It was complete with the belly bulging, the head and neck stretched out in front, and the wing in the upward, forward-moving position. It was so realistic in shape that I couldn't take my eyes off it.
- Ellen Rathbone

[In pre-Columbian times, people might have interpreted this as an omen of a hard winter to come, i.e., migrating geese being chased by Arctic wind and storms. Tom Lake.]

10/15 - Albany, HRM 145: I have been seeing "something" from the deck of the Dutch Apple cruise boat on occasion during the past couple of weeks. I thought that it might be a seal, but I didn't want to say anything to the captain fearing that he would tease me! But I'm not imagining things. I really have seen a seal. Repeatedly!
- Pat Van Alstyne

[For other sightings of what may be the same seal, over an 11 mile reach, see 9/7 Schodack Landing, HRM 134, and 10/6 Albany County, HRM 137. Tom Lake.]

10/15 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: In a way, it was beautiful, almost magical. The seine came in loaded with 20 gallons of comb jellies and tiny moon jellyfish, looking every bit like the glass bottom of a soda bottle. Hundreds of tiny bay anchovies were sparkling in the diaphanous mass. Other fish, shrimp, and crabs were conspicuously absent. I scooped a handful of comb jellies into a viewing tank and dumped the rest back.
- Christopher Letts

[Comb jellies (Ctenophora) are often mistaken for jellyfish but differ in that they have no tentacles and do not sting. Like true jellyfish, comb jellies are translucent, gelatinous, fragile, and essentially planktonic, drifting at the whim of the wind and current. They are walnut-sized, often occur in swarms, and are common in estuarine shallows. They normally occur in the lower, brackish reach of the Hudson in late summer and fall. For a real treat, gently scoop a few from a net with a wet, cupped hand. Place them into a small glass aquarium, and gently rock the water. Their rhythmic, symmetrical, and altogether graceful movements are enchanting. The common Hudson River species is Beroe's comb jelly (Beroe cucumis).
Moon jellyfish appear as young medusae in the lower estuary in late summer and early fall. In contrast to comb jellies, these are true jellyfish. Moon jellyfish are plankton feeders. They have several hundred fringed tentacles and their umbrella serves as a sticky collector of both phytoplankton and zooplankton. Adult moon jellyfish, with a pinkish umbrella up to 10" across, are most commonly associated with ocean beaches. They are frequently stranded at the high-tide line and, while non-stinging, have startled many a beach walker who happened to step on one. Tom Lake.]

10/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: What a glorious day this has turned out to be! We began chilly, in the 30s, but now the sun was and not a cloud to be seen - a Windex-blue sky, with brilliant sunshine, making the leaves seem unreal in their autumn colors. Even the dullest were spectacular, especially against the sky.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: There are still a fair number of monarchs drifting past. At this time of the year, I always feel as though they are tempting fate, leisurely flying south one step ahead of the first killing frost. Some of them looked tattered and so it might not matter, they may have reached their end in any case. Others look bright, beautiful, and full of bravado.
- Tom Lake

10/16 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: By now we should have reached peak color and been subject to at least one killing frost. Instead, most of the foliage is more green than any other color and tomatoes continue to ripen in the garden. There is no frost in the near future and blue crabs are still potting. Is this a fluke, or the future?
- Christopher Letts

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