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Hudson River Almanac October 20 - October 31, 2007

OVERVIEW


We stretched this week a bit to include some entries that typify the season: raptor and songbird migrations, the first snow south of the High Peaks, and a collection of stories of people enjoying the beauty of autumn.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/28 - Prattsville, Greene County, HRM 122: While walking on a country road, my wife and I spotted what looked like an injured kitten in the roadway. It turned out to be a small (6" high), mottled gray owl with one wing a little twisted and one eye squinting. Its good eye was large, clear, and beautiful. Its feathers were as soft as a kitten's fur. Peterson's Guide confirmed that it was a screech owl. Apparently it had been struck or sideswiped by a car. She moved it to the side of the road, but when the bird hadn't moved five hours later, we called the NYSDEC. They referred us to Barbara Runyan, a trained wildlife rehabilitator in Tannersville. I put the bird in a leaf-filled box for transport; as I lifted it, it did not threaten me with its fierce-looking beak, but it gripped my forefinger very tightly with its strong claws. Barbara took care of the owl for five days, treating it with steroids and antibiotics. It ate several frozen mice. Barbara, her family, my wife and I, and an interested neighbor were all present at twilight today when we took the owl back to where we had found it (they mate for life) and let it go. It was a delight to all of us to be able to watch up close and help this beautiful wild creature.
- Walter Havighurst

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/20 - Manhattan, HRM 0: It was a rather slow day for our annual migration day walk at the Battery Park Conservancy. Despite the continued warm weather, several birds were noted, most probably the result of the north winds howling past for the first time this fall. Sightings included palm and myrtle warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets. It was a great day for fish migration too at the park's annual "Go Fish" day, concurrent with the bird walk. Some of the fish taken were on display: several snapper bluefish, striped bass, and blackfish [tautog] milled about in an aerated tank for all to see. An oyster toadfish sulked on the all too clear bottom, probably searching for a can to swim into.
- Dave Taft

[Common names for Hudson River fishes include colorful colloquial examples, like fat sleeper, madtom, sawbelly, peanut bunker, and Lafayette: In northern New Jersey, at the southern end of the watershed, oyster toads are known as oyster crackers and sally growlers. Dery Bennett.]

10/21 - Staten Island, New York Harbor: NBC's weather report was being taped with live performers and real civil war cannons at Fort Wadsworth to help commemorate the 200th anniversary of General Wadsworth's birth. At the overlook, named after the good general, the cameras didn't miss much of the sunrise but they missed a great deal of the nature. A nice migration passed over the lower harbor in the early morning light, including blue jays, kinglets, common yellowthroats, myrtle warblers, and a huge great blue heron. Just as they filmed the band "Stout" performing at 9:00 AM, a peregrine made a wonderful sweep close behind the band's shoulders. All on camera, for no one to appreciate.
- Dave Taft

10/22 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We had beautiful weather and a crisp wind to boot. Ranger Bruce Lane and I hiked up to the hawk watch overlook at Sandy Hook to put a period on the all-day meeting we'd just left. It only took a few minutes to find our first hawk, a sharp-shinned, that coasted low over the tree tops as if it was swimming through the leaves. The raptor was flying slower than what seemed possible to maintain air speed, literally skimming the leaf tips in search of songbirds. The hawk was completely oblivious to us until it coasted below eye level to the overlook. I could see the surprise in its eyes as it quickly veered up and back only to continue the hunt, heading in a different direction.
- Dave Taft

10/23 - New York Harbor: Wildlife Trust's New York Bioscape Initiative project on double-crested cormorants continued this year. Our team color-banded 240 cormorants (fledglings) in the New York Harbor this field season. Most of the birds were banded on Swinburne Island, off the coast of Staten Island. Thirty-seven were banded on Muscoot Reservoir in Westchester County. During the past two field seasons we have banded a total of 438 birds in the New York Harbor region. Our color code, an orange band with black alpha-numerics, is letter-number-number. If you see these or any color-banded cormorants in this area, please e-mail elbin@wildlifetrust.org and let me know where and when you saw them. Thank you.
- Susan Elbin

10/24 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Lately, I've heard reports from visitors of a black swan hanging out in the cove north of the lighthouse. I was skeptical. Today I saw it fly past with a half-dozen white mute swans. It was indeed black, black with white wings. Later, I had a better look while it was swimming in the cove. With it wings folded, it appears completely black. The "white wings" were the underside seen when flying. It keeps its neck straight, not curved like a mute swan, and it has a reddish bill with a distinctive white mark near the tip.
- Patrick Landewe, Keeper, Saugerties Lighthouse

[This was a black swan, also called the Australian black swan, native to that country, and no doubt an escapee from captivity. Tom Lake. This may be the black swan that had been hanging out on the Mohawk River at Cohoes. Rich Guthrie.]

10/25 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5: As the Dutch Apple cruise ship passed near here today, we spotted a pair of adult bald eagles in the top of a hardwood tree, sharing a limb, very close together. We have seen them there before and have labeled this the "happy tree."
- Pat Van Alstyne

10/25 - Columbia County, HRM 120: This was the ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new "Access for All" trail at the Greenport Conservation Area. The one-mile accessible trail meanders through open fields, forests, and cedar groves to catch magnificent views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. The event was highlighted by a visit from a red-tailed hawk. The hawk had watched the workers on the trail for the past months and today he came to show off, perching in a nearby tree and flashing his red tail. Quite a few of the observers, 3 of whom were in wheelchairs, had never seen a red-tailed hawk.
- Arlene Brown

10/25 - Staten Island, New York City: Getting ready for the annual Fort Wadsworth park Halloween event, we observed a pair of actual holiday "horrors," the cutest little horrors you could imagine. A pair of big brown bats clung motionless from the brick ceiling of one of the old forts. Lorraine Conti, Diane Wulff, and I headed back later with cameras, a step ladder and some photographic images. As best as we can tell, our bats were a pair of big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus).
- Dave Taft

10/25 - Queens, New York City: As I entered the daily Belt Parkway traffic jam on this rainy day, I noted a large accipiter scare up a bunch of songbirds just beyond the entrance ramp. The hawk seemed half hearted though, and flew southbound continuing over Howard Beach to Jamaica Bay. It had that large head and long tail of a Cooper's hawk.
- Dave Taft

10/26 - Staten Island, New York City: On this rainy day, we had a dog walker and his big friendly labrador retriever, a mother and young child holding an umbrella, and 25 adult wild turkeys all walking east on Seaview Avenue. I may never get used to this.
- Dave Taft

10/26 - Brooklyn, New York City: It was misty, wet and cool - finally some fall weather to talk about. A huge red-tailed hawk with nice, dark belly-band sat perched on a light post on the east bound Belt Parkway near Bay Ridge looking wet and bedraggled, but no less impressive.
- Dave Taft

10/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Following an inch-plus of rain, the Hudson River is almost at spring levels. This morning Toby Rathbone and I went walking in a snow squall, the first snow of the season. There was enough to make the roofs, as well as the leaves in the ditches along the road white, and coat the front of my poncho.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/27 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The rain stopped and the sun came out after we had 2.15" of rain in 24-hours. The ground was so thirsty that most tributaries did not even turn color. In April, Hunter's Brook would have inundated the flood plain. Today it was not even running hard.
- Tom Lake

10/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I've been hearing evening grosbeaks over the last couple of days and yesterday I saw a snow bunting. There are even reports of Bohemian waxwings north of here in Willsboro. Winter birds.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/29 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: There is an adage about estuaries that no one moment will ever happen again, that every minute of every hour is unique. Given all of the factors that go into a "moment," it seems mathematically logical. Twenty-five years ago today a moment occurred that, as far as I know, has never been repeated. I was drift fishing in the ebb current of the warm-water outflow from the Danskammer Power Generating Facility when a large school of small herring erupted from the water. Something was chasing them. At almost the same time a dozen foot-long silvery flashes appeared and one hit my lure. The fish was an acrobat, leaping from the water, swapping ends, before splashing back. The hook pulled free but then another one struck. This one leaped boat side and landed on the gunnel, teetering there for a few seconds before flopping into the boat. The rest of them dispersed never to be seen again, and I've been looking for 25 years. This was a school of ladyfish (Elops saurus), a tropical relative of the tarpon. Tropical marine strays, aided by the Gulf Stream and warming inshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic, are not uncommon in the Hudson. We fairly regularly see jacks, like permit, moonfish, lookdowns, and crevalles. On rare occasions we catch grouper, snapper, bonefish, and small barracuda. Ladyfish, however, have managed to remain a fleeting memory.
- Tom Lake

10/30 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released my biggest carp of 2007 at Long Dock, 14 lb 3 oz, 29" long , 30" girth. Besides that one, there were 3 others in the 3 lb. range and a couple of 2 lb channel catfish. Another fisherman lost a much larger channel catfish as the hook pulled out.
- Bill Greene

10/30 - Liberty State Park, NJ: I was looking under the rocks at low tide today at Liberty State Park and found 3-5 small crabs under most of them in a certain zone of the jetty. They were dark in color and were on dry land under the rocks after the tide had receded.
- Steve Cherry

[These were Asian shore crabs, sometimes called the Japanese green crab, Japanese shore crab, and Pacific crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus), an alien species that probably arrived in the United states in the ballast of cargo ships. It is native to the inshore ocean areas around China and Japan. On the East Coast, a single specimen was recorded at Townsend Inlet, Cape May County, New Jersey in 1988, and it has since spread from Massachusetts to North Carolina. This crab was first identified in the Hudson River in the summer of 1994 by Miguel Padilla at Pier 26 on the lower west side of Manhattan. The Asian shore crab favors rocky intertidal areas and occupies similar habitats to native mud crabs. Adults can grow to 42 mm carapace width. Tom Lake.]

10/31 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 51.4: Passing by on the Metro North commuter train this morning, we saw 2 bald eagles in a tree in the south end of Constitution Marsh for the first time since winter. One was an adult, the other immature.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

10/31 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The water was warmer (62 degrees F) than the air (50 degrees) as 22 second-graders from Brookside Elementary in Ossining arrived to help me sample the river. Before we could put our net in the water, I heard a familiar cry. I had the students focus on the seawall not more 75-feet away. An osprey dropped out of the sky, snatched a menhaden out of the water, and then took it out to a bare limb in the top of an oak on Enoch's Neck a few hundred feet away. We hustled down to the beach and watched in full view as the osprey ate its breakfast. After that show, hauling the seine seemed less interesting. Still we managed to net spottail shiners, young-of-the-year striped bass, fourspine sticklebacks, silversides, bay anchovies, one huge mummichog, and a dozen shore shrimp. The salinity was 5.6 ppt.
Finally we split the class into two groups for an "eel race." Since left-handed/right-handed and brown eyes/blue eyes did not make for equal teams, we had to fall back on boys/girls. Each group got their eel and, since racing eels come without names, they each took a few moments to choose one. The boys chose Spike (why is it the girls never choose Spike?). And the girls chose Hannah. The buckets were poised, we counted to 3, and over they went. In a sleek and slippery move, Hannah tore off down the beach while Spike seemed to be saying, "Huh? Where am I?" Less than 10 seconds later, amidst wild and crazy cheering from all, Hannah slid into the swash a full eel-body length ahead of the rallying Spike. The girls were delirious, the boys were disappointed, but the eels were finally free.
- Rachelle Furlan, Lisa Rudley, Tom Lake

[The Eel Race is a non-wagering event. The first requirement is a beach, preferably with a gentle slope to the water. Two 5-gallon buckets, a quarter-full of water, are lined up a short distance apart about 15' from the water's edge. One large American eel is placed in each. A group of eel fans, preferably eager elementary school students, are assigned to each entry in the race. Competing groups can be boys/girls, teachers/students, blue eyes/brown eyes, or any other meaningful dichotomy. Eels are usually given honorary names like Eelie, Slimy, Snakey, or Fred, which makes it much easier to root. Each group picks a bucket-tipper, someone who is calm under pressure, or perhaps simply volunteered by talking without raising their hand. At the chosen moment, with the bucket-tippers at the ready behind each, a signal is given and the buckets are tipped over. The actual "race," particularly its length, is a product of several factors such as distance to travel, gradient of the beach, wetness of the sand, wind velocity, barometric pressure, enthusiasm of the cheering fans, and the individual eel's competitive nature. With luck, and about ten seconds, there will be a winner. Tom Lake.]

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