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Hudson River Almanac October 17 - October 23, 2007

OVERVIEW

The magic of autumn is often a function of the weather. Ordinarily we pass from the stability of summer into the mixed bag of fall, with wind and rain, warmth and sun, frost and flurries. This week, however, was a unseasonable string of days in the mid-to-high 70s, complete with deep blue sky, brilliant autumn leaves, and ample opportunities to enjoy the Hudson Valley.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/21 - Dutchess County: I spotted a white, shimmery, oblong-shaped mass high up in the sky. The mass began to thin into long lines, ultimately forming several Vs, one inside the other. Snow geese. They were brilliant, dazzling, and I was thrilled, having never seen them before. I always wish the flocks of Canada geese "good luck and a safe trip" when I see them, so I did the same for these beauties as well. We watched them until we could no longer see them.
- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/17 - Albany, HRM 145: The Dutch Apple is a small cruise ship (140 passengers) docked next to the U.S.S. Slater on the Albany waterfront. The seal sightings (see October 15) were between the Albany U-Haul building and the Albany Yacht Club. We saw its head bobbing out of the water and then back into the water. However, the seal has not reappeared in the last couple of days.
- Pat Van Alstyne

10/17 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I watched a solitary Canada goose flying waywardly north, honking with each and every wing-flap, reminding me of the super-effort-expressing grunts accompanying each swing of the racket during intense tennis competitions. Wild turkeys were foraging the lawns, and monarchs (as many as 6 at one time) were savoring the aster blossoms.
- Nancy P. Durr

10/17 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: The students were disappointed but I was intrigued. For the third day in a row, the bulk of the seine catch was comb jellies, gallons of them. Only a handful of tiny moon jellyfish, 3 small bay anchovies, and a single sand shrimp offered diversity. I have heard many comments this fall about the unusual clarity of the usually turbid estuary. This has been noted elsewhere with dense populations of comb jellies. And how does a hot and dry summer figure in? With the fresh-salt interface to the north of Poughkeepsie, and comb jellies half a mile up some tributaries, conditions are unusual to say the least. An opinion from a long time river observer suggested that the salt incursion had "stilled the waters," with the denser, saltier water less susceptible to the churning of bottom sediments by tide and wind. Anyone care to weigh in on this?
- Christopher Letts

[A few guesses. Lack of rain has reduced runoff and its accompanying sediment, increasing water clarity. Heavy winds have also been scarce, reducing turbulence and thus the resuspension of bottom sediments. Also, this particular week has centered around a first quarter moon and the accompanying neap tide (see note below). In this part of the Hudson, the less forceful tidal currents associated with neap tides allow stratification to occur in the estuary: denser salt water is layered below lighter, fresher water at the surface. This stratification tends to reduce the amount of sediment moving up off the bottom into the surface waters. Steve Stanne]

10/18 - Minerva, HRM 284: The swamp, the fine swamp behind our house was looking beautiful. Cattails have faded into brown as have the sedges and grasses. More open water was apparent with the aging of the water-shield and water lilies. Fall seems to be delayed this season. Tree color was past peak, but the maples, black cherry, and the amazing combination of yellow and brown on the beeches still caught the eye. Only a couple of weeks ago I was still finding monarch butterfly caterpillars on the common milkweeds along the roadside. I suspect the last batch of butterflies is lingering longer than usual, given the eerily warm weather we've been having.
- Mike Corey

10/18 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: It was hard to figure - we were heading into late October and the katydids were still "katydiding."
- Bill Drakert

10/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After a warm day, 74 degrees F, it was a night for a woods walk. Once you escape from the car horns and leafblowers, the trees and their sounds at dusk swallow you up. A small flock of Canada geese passed over as silhouettes. As their calls faded, the crickets and katydids filled in. While many night sounds can be identified, there are times when the snuffling, woofing, and scampering of small mammals are better off left as a mystery.
- Tom Lake

10/19 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The sultry south wind (74 degrees F) was blowing a near-gale, straight up the gap between Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain. The strong south wind-against-tide made for white combers crashing on the beach. This is normally the placid north end of Cornwall Bay where flocks of migrating waterfowl on their way south in autumn set down to feed and rest in the shallows. Today there a dozen or more herring and ring-billed gulls riding the waves like a roller coaster.
- Tom Lake

10/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Neap tides, all week, tend to make for unproductive seining. The students from Post Road Elementary in White Plains watched as a few comb jellies and moon jellyfish appeared as we opened the net on the beach. A yellow perch, pipefish, white perch, spottail shiner, mummichog, silversides, and a couple of four-spined sticklebacks were mixed in. We were expecting much more. The show was in the air as a dozen osprey worked the waters off Enoch's Neck. Both classes had an opportunity to see an increasingly common sight: an immature bald eagle trying to pirate fish from an osprey. Both attempts were unsuccessful. As we have seen in the lower estuary, osprey are fast learners. They have abandoned their favored exposed feeding perches and taken to the woods, hiding in the foliage as they feed.
- Christopher Letts

[Neap tides, spring tides: Tide is a vertical measurement of sea level, and tide range is the difference in height between high and low tides. Neap tides are associated with first and third quarter moons. During neap tides, the tide range is less than average - there is less difference between high and low. Spring tides, associated with new and full moons, have a greater than average tide range, with higher highs and lower lows. Spring tides generate stronger tidal currents that tend to stir up the river. And for fishermen, educators, and researchers, the river seems more active. Tom Lake.]

10/19 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: I received a phone call from Leslie Day at Elisabeth Morrow Elementary in Englewood. Her question was what do we feed an oyster toadfish and a flounder? Her students had caught them in the river on simple gear and hoped to observe them in school. We resolved that the flatfish was a windowpane flounder, a left-eyed flounder also known as "day-lighter." Both names come from the fact that if one holds them up to the light, they are translucent. What a good pairing of saltwater-brackish water fish to study! What to feed them? My suggestions: small live prey, slivers of clam, lean fish, fresh, and raw shrimp on the end of a "teasing wire" manipulated to make the food appear alive.
- Christopher Letts

[Oyster toadfish are a handsome fish with strong sharp teeth that they use to crush shellfish. They are a good indicator of salinity and are quite common in the salty and brackish waters of New York Harbor. Bones of oyster toadfish, buffered from the acidic soil by oyster shells dating to 4,000 years ago, have been found by archaeologists at Dogan Point, river mile 39 in Westchester County. It is believed that the river was saltier in prehistoric times and certainly supported a robust population of oysters, one of many items in the diet of the oyster toad. Tom Lake.]

10/19 - Jamaica Bay, Queens, NY: We are still seeing newly-emerged terrapin hatchlings in our drift fences at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (see August 17, Queens, NY) and are also re-capturing previously caught hatchlings, even hatchlings that emerged weeks ago are still wandering around on land.
- Russell Burke, Department of Biology, Hofstra University

10/20 - Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: Three weeks after our field work concluded we took one last walk over the hilltop and ridge line that has become a mystery to us. It appears that people visited this high ground over the Wallkill River repeatedly for at least 2,000 years, possibly in pursuit of game herds ranging from elk to white-tailed deer. Then, about 3,000 years ago, they stopped coming, or at least they stopped dropping tools, re-sharpening points, and making camp. Interpreting human behavior so far in the past is like looking through a keyhole at the Grand Canyon. The breeze from the south was a warm 75 degrees F, the red maples were exquisite against the blue sky, and we wondered why this idyllic location had fallen out of favor.
- Tom Lake

10/20 - Fishkill, HRM 61: In mid-afternoon, a pileated woodpecker emerged from my woodlot, flew across the yard and over my house, and disappeared in a southeasterly direction.
- Ed Spaeth

10/21 - Albany, HRM 145: Today, the Dutch Apple cruise ship with 50 passengers sighted an odd white raptor by the Patroon Island Bridge across the Hudson. The bird flew and acted like a hawk, and had the right size for a red-tailed. A birder on board believed it was a white or albino red tailed hawk. The bird truly was beautiful!
- Pat Van Alstyne

10/21 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I watched a male marsh hawk hunting from a pear tree in the orchard. In a two-minute observation in late afternoon, he wheeled, tipped-tilted, hovered low hunting over a nearby weedy field. He had a beautiful dorsal surface, blueish, battleship grey with lighter areas, especially underneath, white rump, and very dark wing-tips.
- Nancy P. Durr

[Roger Tory Peterson calls the male northern harrier "pale male"; birders often refer to them as the "ghost" bird. Watching one glide over a tidemarsh in the faint light of dawn or dusk, it is easy to see why. Tom Lake.]

10/21 - Town of Wallkill, HRM 67: On another warm autumn day (75 degrees F) it seemed like we had achieved peak fall color along the Wallkill River. But a closer look revealed how arbitrary that can be. It was peak for the various species of maple, Virginia creeper, and poison ivy. Other hardwoods still kept their green. Growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 1960s, I seem to remember that October was the month we had to deal with raking leaves. Now that may have shifted to November.
- Tom Lake

10/21 - Croton River, HRM 34: The Boyz at the Bridge are in their glory. They are catching bluefish to 17 lb, striped bass of all sizes, and hickory shad in the lower Croton River and out in Croton Bay. Blue crabs are still potting, full and sweet from the cooling waters. The immature red-throated loon that has been around since mid-July, has been straying dangerously close to hooks and lures as it cherry-picks 6" menhaden from the throngs that follow the tidal currents in the lower Croton.
- Christopher Letts

10/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 79 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

10/22 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Glancing out our back door, I spotted movement about a nest box long abandoned since August. With a closer look I noted a pair of bluebirds conducting an inspection. The bright orange-red leaves of the sassafras tree served as a perfect backdrop to the bluebirds' own orange-red breasts. The birds stayed ever so briefly and then off they flew to the west.
- Ed Spaeth

10/22 - Nyack Beach State Park, HRM 31: Water temperature and salinity had both dropped a dozen points in the past month. I guessed the salinity at about 6.0 ppt. However, the water was still warm enough that we caught 2 soft-shelled, recently moulted, blue crabs. Above us, the leaves had only begun to turn. Our net brought in a tangle of wild celery hopping with shore shrimp and pipefish. On the way out, we noticed that the butterfly bush in the parking lot swarmed with monarchs and other butterflies. It may as well have been September 22.
- Christopher Letts

10/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I spoke with a guide who had taken a couple of hikers up in the High Peaks and she said there was still 3" of snow up there. The larches have begun turning gold, adding a bit of a splash to the landscape. The rain and wind removed many of the remaining leaves. Autumn is grinding to an end here.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 79 degrees F again today, once more a record.
- National Weather Service

10/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This made six days in a row with air temperatures greater than 74 degrees, including two record highs. Waterfowl migration, although just beginning, was still impressive. Several Vs of Canada geese and at least one of snow geese passed over. At the high altitude they were flying, winds may have been more favorable. Down here they were warm, sultry, and from the southwest. Ducks and geese will continue to fly south well into winter when the frigid north winds will give them a boost.
- Tom Lake

10/23 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A gentle breeze was blowing on this glorious autumn day. Just above the golden leaves of our black walnut tree a monarch butterfly was winging its way southward with nary a stop for nectar from the waning zinnias in our flower bed.
- Ed Spaeth


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