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Hudson River Almanac December 13 - December 17, 2007

OVERVIEW

Two nor'easters hit the Hudson Valley this week; their intensity varied regionally but together they created winter conditions throughout the valley. From geese to eagles to winter waterfowl, the rush is on. We also added, in a rather odd manner, a new species to our Hudson River fish fauna list. Dave Taft made the astute observation that it was not unlike uncovering a long-forgotten mummy in a Cairo museum.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/17 - Indian Point, HRM 42: In 1979, we were running down all possible "new" and undocumented Hudson River fish species, focusing primarily on power plant consultants' collections. This was advance legwork that contributed to C. Lavett Smith's book The Inland Fishes of New York State (1985). We heard a rumor that a power company consultant had recovered and identified a juvenile mackerel scad, a new species for the river, from the Indian Point cooling water intake screens. We investigated but no one could locate the specimen. We opted, rightfully so, to leave it off the Hudson River fish fauna list - no body, no record.
- Tom Lake

Last week, I came across a specimen in a jar in the New York State Museum fish collection. It was labeled "mackerel scad, 82 mm, young-of-the-year, collected July 19, 1979, river mile 42 [Indian Point]." The missing fish from 28 years ago. When Kathy Schmidt went to sketch the scad, I took a closer look and discovered that it was, in fact, a round scad (Decapterus punctatus).
- Bob Schmidt

[Both round scad and mackerel scad are small marine fishes that belong to the jack family (Carangidae). According to C. Lavett Smith's Field Guide to Tropical Marine Fishes, scad are most often found in southern temperate and tropical seas, occasionally straying northward in the Gulf Stream to New England. The round scad becomes fish species number 214 for the Hudson River and its watershed. Tom Lake.]

Hudson River Jacks:
- crevalle jack (Caranx hippos, Linnaeus, 1766)
- round scad (Decapterus punctatus, Cuvier, 1829)
- Atlantic moonfish (Selene setapinnis, Mitchill, 1815)
- lookdown (Selene vomer, Linnaeus, 1758)
- permit (Trachinotus falcatus, Linnaeus, 1758)

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The storm left us with 8" of heavy and wet snow.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/13 Saratoga County, HRM 196: While the radio played "Though the weather outside was frightful..." my wife and I didn't stick around for the fire "delightful." Instead, we went for a delightful winter drive in my pickup truck. We took our time along the Hudson in Saratoga County, not so much because of the snowy road conditions, but to enjoy the river and the winter storm. I was surprised to see all the "slush flats" floating down stream. There wasn't much open water and not a merganser nor mallard to be seen. Our area received about 10" of snow with a little mix of rain and sleet.
- John DeLisle

12/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The most impressive nor'easter of the season (autumn, still) left a foot of snow. There were scores of dark humps on the snowy ice along the two-mile stretch of Wappinger Creek tidewater where Canada geese had set down and then hunkered down to wait out the storm.
- Tom Lake

12/14 - West Hurley, HRM 92: By the time the storm ended, we had over a foot of snow. I heard an unfamiliar chirping and looked outside my kitchen window to see a beautiful tan-brown puff ball of a bird sitting on the yew bush, continuously singing out with a steady "cheep, cheep, cheep." It looked more like a hand-made Christmas tree ornament then a real wild bird. It could easily fit in the palm of one's hand. I've seen these birds rarely here. Perhaps it was a wren looking for its partner or other wrens?
- Ray Spiegel

[My guess is that the bird was a Carolina wren. This species is a lovely warm brown in color, with a white line over its eye. They do call loudly, clearly, and repeatedly. They hang around houses, and will visit feeders for suet. As is suggested by its name, this wren is a southern species that has been spreading northward through the Hudson Valley in the past 10-20 years. It's thought that the lessening severity of our winters has allowed these birds to expand their range. Steve Stanne.]

12/14 - New Paltz, HRM 78: A flock of 40 snow geese flew south over the house this morning. I guess they finally got the message that winter is here.
- Steve Stanne

12/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The morning dawned with a blue sky; the nor'easter had moved away. In rapid succession, three V's of high-flyer Canada geese came over, each more of a checkmark than a V with individual birds exchanging places along the line. Their formations often remind me of a volleyball team players rotating between points.
- Tom Lake

12/14 - Staten Island, New York City: The "End of the Earth" storm predicted by yesterday's weather casters turned out to be a thin glaze of slushy snow that made driving unpleasant, but hardly stirred the mixed flocks of cowbirds, starlings, grackles and red-winged blackbirds off their grassy verges.
- Dave Taft

12/15 - Village of New Paltz, HRM 78: Birds are often said to be able to predict storms. It certainly seemed that way this morning as we walked snowy floodplain fields, doing part of the Lake Mohonk Christmas Bird Count. Within a 90 minute period, we counted 5 northern harriers headed south over this one small patch of the Wallkill River Valley, and throughout the day, the calls of southbound skeins of Canada geese drifted down from increasingly cloudy skies. We bid Godspeed to the belted kingfisher that also passed overhead, and worried about the gorgeous adult red-shouldered hawk and a bright yellow-rumped warbler that seemed inclined to weather the storm in patches of wetland nearby.
- Christine Guarino, Steve Stanne

12/15 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: With a foot of new snow in the uplands, the tidewater Wappinger was frozen bank-to-bank, no open water, mostly a slushy snow over thin ice. But it was strong enough to hold 50-60 Canada geese that had landed for a rest on their journey. Within the group, on the edge, was a single snow goose. While this is uncommon, it is not a rare occurrence. They are related. For a variety of reasons a goose may lose contact with its original flock, although I cannot recall ever seeing a Canada in a flock of snow geese. A good analogy might be a goldfish hanging out with a school of carp. Uncommon, but not unheard of.
- Tom Lake

12/15 - Croton River, HRM 34: The usual Saturday morning gathering of the Boyz at the Bridge was under way. Comments were made about the frequent close, low flights of juvenile bald eagles, occurring about every 15 minutes. There are days when the eagles are ignored by other birds - this was not one of them. Every overflight panicked gulls, geese and 100+ ducks. At one point, 3 of the eagles were engaged in various types of interactive flying, just above the water and on the inside of the railroad bridge. The interaction lasted more than 5 minutes and the eagles seemed to have interest only in one another. This was not reassuring to the waterfowl; they continued to flee as the big birds approached.
- Christopher Letts

12/15 - Sandy Hook, NJ: With a storm front due tonight, it was time for a quick area bird sweep in woods and on bays. In the woods, there were a few chickadees and a flock of about 50 robins that hadn't been there for at least a month. The theory is that our local robins are long gone south and these are Canadians. There seems to be plenty of berries around to see them through. On a nearly empty Shrewsbury River, there were 2 eared grebes near a boat landing, period.
- Dery Bennett

12/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Eight inches of snow fell last night, giving us a total of 19 on the ground by sunup.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/16 - Sandy Hook, NJ: As the storm front came howling through we had northeast winds and plenty of coastal flooding. Up the Shrewsbury River, near where the 2 grebes were yesterday, a flock of about 50 ruddy ducks was tucked into a safe lee.
- Dery Bennett

12/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The snow gauge outside my window at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center now reads about 24" on the ground. It's amazing, though, how two feet of snow feels a lot like three feet when one has to walk through or shovel it.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/17 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: It was quite cold this afternoon and the wind was strong. This cold snap certainly appeared to make our local eagles very active and draw in some new ones. The acrobatics over the river were spectacular: An immature appeared to be shadowing an adult for some time, following the adult's every move until each became tired and stopped on a limb hanging over the water. Shortly after I saw an immature on another limb enjoying some fresh fish. All the while a small contingent of buffleheads and common mergansers was tending to daily routine on the river. Not a bad way to spend a short break from work.
- Eric Shaw

12/17 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: Another real low tide this morning, and two adult eagles were sitting on the ice in Annsville Bay; as one picked at something the other stood patiently behind it. An immature swooped down to join the brunch. The adult that was feeding looked up and vocalized at the immature. The immature thought better of landing and decided to wait its turn in one of the trees by the entrance to Camp Smith. I guess as far as eagles are concerned, two's company, three's a crowd.
- Scott Craven

[We've seen this quite a few times, where adult eagles, especially if they are females, will "hiss at the kids" and give them second thoughts. There are exceptions, however, and much of this supposition comes from interpreting behavior. On occasion we will see a 4 year-old female, not quite yet an adult, with raging hormones, bully an adult male and take his meal away. No male bald eagle, adult or otherwise, cares to tangle with a 4 year-old female. Tom Lake.]

12/17 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The winds were gusting up to 40 mph and had moved to the northwest, the air temperature was right around freezing, and Raritan Bay was pretty well blown out. Waterfowl, mostly brant and black ducks, were hunkered down. Thus, three days of wildly variable coastal weather were handled with avian aplomb.
- Dery Bennett

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