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Hudson River Almanac January 1 - January 7, 2008

OVERVIEW

The harbor seal is a typical winter visitor in the estuary. Perhaps here far more frequently than we realize, seals become more visible when they haul out on ice floes. This highlight from last week is included here since their presence is noteworthy and is a wonderful reminder of the Hudson's connection to the sea.


HIGHLIGHT FROM A PAST WEEK

12/31 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: I spotted a harbor seal in the river in the same general location where we saw the snowy owl last winter. Maybe it will invite the snowy to come back for a encore.
- Joan Coffey

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/1 - George's Island, HRM 39: We held our 23rd Annual New Year's Day program at George's Island, usually an epicenter of eagle activity. Participants over the years have numbered 25 - 900. We were on the low end of that range this time, but the eagles provided a show: 5 immatures on Dogan Point, alternately perching and preening, then jousting in the air, showing off their immense wingspan. One of the five looked like someone had poured a can of white paint down the chocolate-colored feathers on its back. Scientists call this a "white extreme." While the eagles played acrobat, an immature Cooper's hawk perched in a mulberry tree just a stone's throw away, providing some contrast.
- Yvonne Lynn, Andra Sramek, Christopher Letts, Joel Epstein, Tammy Epstein, Max Epstein, Ava Epstein Jasper Epstein, Tom Lake

[Ornithologist Peter Dunne calls these birds "white extreme," a color phase fitting some three year-old bald eagles. It's been described as an eagle wearing a white cape. As immature eagles approach adulthood, their plumage eclipses from mostly brown, to mottled brown-and-white, to a showy-white display with some brown (white extreme), to the final white head and tail of the adult. Tom Lake]

1/1 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The American Littoral Society's 30th annual New Year's Day beach walk to the tip of the Hook drew 80 hardy hikers and 3 dogs for the cloudy, rainy start of the 3-mile round trip. Again we tried and failed to communicate with our New York members across the eight miles of water to Breezy Point on Long Island. This time we started with the 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke and Mentos candies, a 20-foot geyser experiment. Result: six inches of brown foam. Home-made "rockets" (match heads wrapped in aluminum foil, heated by a butane lighter) also failed. Finally, a store-bought sparkler atop a 15-foot pole produced a clear result: weak capgun-like pops at the end of its ignition flushed hundreds of gulls off the beach a quarter of a mile to the south. The gulls had congregated there to feast on surf clams tossed ashore by recent nor'easters. Except for a solitary mockingbird in the dunes, this was the extent of wildlife sightings.
- Dery Bennett

1/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A New Year's Day storm had passed and the morning dawned sunny and bright. We garnered almost 5" of new snow, bringing the total to about 27" on the ground. The sun had a huge halo around it, extending quite a distance, about two hand spans.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/2 - Red Hook, HRM 96.5: I snowshoed out at Poets' Walk as far as the Overlook Pavilion, which seems to be at the highest point in the park. There were lots of fresh tracks from cross-country skiers, hikers, and snowshoers, as well as white-tailed deer tracks. There was no ice on the river, at least the section I could see, and the water was a dark slate gray. While I was looking at the river, an adult bald eagle flew past, headed south, flying low below the roadway level of the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge.
- Phyllis Marsteller

[Poets' Walk is off River Road in Red Hook, just north of the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. Mown and gravel pathways lead to 120 acres of fields, forest, and spectacular river views. Walls of foliage and stone evoke outdoor "rooms" that reflect the 1849 aims of landscape architect Hans Jacob Ehlers. Scenic Hudson.]

1/2 - Queens, New York City: The pigeons seemed none too pleased with the red-tailed hawk that swept across Yellowstone Boulevard in Kew Gardens this morning. For its part, I've never seen one so mellow, coasting along over the homes and trees, but then, I'm not looking at the scene with a pigeon's eye view. Later this same morning, on the "Raptor Parkway" (Belt Parkway) in Brooklyn, another red-tail circled high over the landfills, hunting.
- Dave Taft

1/3 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: We had single digits (+7 degrees F) at dawn today, as cold as it has been this winter. The new ice on the river had that frozen, super-cooled saltwater look. The windchill was -9 degrees F.
- Tom Lake

1/3 - George's Island, HRM 39: Today we were rewarded with our first bald eagle sightings of the season. The inlet was heavily crusted with ice as we arrived in early afternoon. We spotted an adult eagle on Dogan Point, quite well hidden amid the branches. Another adult soon joined it and they both flew off around the point upriver toward Verplanck.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/3 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: The scene at Oscawana, not much more than a half-mile downriver, was quite different. There was no ice on the river and the water shone silver in the waning afternoon sunlight. Out on a long limb over the point was an adult eagle, basking in the sun on its south-facing perch.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/3 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: We came looking for owls and, happily, 2 short-eared owls were perched on poles on the landfill. They seemed so tame - were we the first humans to ever approach them? - as we walked within fifty yards of them on the service road . They paid us no attention and we left them to their mousing. A pair of adult bald eagles was perched side-by-side in a big locust. We watched a female harrier skirt the dump and head out over the marsh. Down on the south side service road, as many as 800 waterfowl were under the lee of the Point: common mergansers, ruddy ducks, bufflehead, blacks, mallards, and a flock of wary lesser scaup.
- Christopher Letts, George Hatzmann

1/3 - Staten Island, New York City: Heading to meet with the district ranger at Great Kills Park, I was distracted by a large flock of birds. They turned out to be 100 or more tree swallows! I could not believe my eyes; the thermometer in the car registered 15 degrees F. My mind stretched to think where the nearest flying insect might be, and even for a bird as adept as a swallow, Virginia seemed a long commute. I understand these birds switch their diet to berries in the colder months, but it has always struck me as a survival strategy, not a preference. In any case, these birds seemed happy enough.
- Dave Taft

1/4 - Troy to Stockport, HRM 153-122: With the leaves off of the trees, eagle nests have become quite visible. I find myself glancing towards the river every chance I have, hoping to find previously undiscovered nests. I can confidently say that I know of seven from Troy down to Stockport. It has now become a game in our family, instead of looking for VW bugs on the Thruway or deer in a pasture, we now look for eagles and nests!
- Pat Van Alstyne

1/4 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A south wind suggests kind, moderate weather. Not today! With a 15 mile fetch across the mostly ice-sheathed Tappan Zee, the wind cut as much as yesterday's northerlies. A dark phase rough-legged hawk, dark enough to be a turkey vulture, lofted over the landfill and skirted the edge of the woods. In the wind-tossed pines on the south side of the Point, I was able to locate 3 wintering long-eared owls. They were so deeply buried in the deepest nest of pine boughs, I wondered if they were even aware of a frigid wind outside their snuggery.
- Christopher Letts

1/4 - Staten Island, New York City: Staten Island is a naturalist's heaven. William T. Davis knew this a hundred years ago, but I'm slow on the uptake. Here are highlights from a drive from Fort Wadsworth (Verrazano Narrows) to Great Kills (midway down the east coast of the Island): At Sand Lane and Father Cappodano Boulevard, an adult red-tailed hawk sailed northbound. With my binoculars poised I watched from behind a red light. I could easily make out the deliberate gaze of a hunting hawk. The pigeons and starlings could see this too and got scarce fast. At Seaview Hospital off Father Cappodano Boulevard, 8 wild turkeys were strutting their stuff, having survived the holiday season. At Great Kills Park, 3 robins called from the treeline along the shore front. Two mockingbirds picked perches high in the cedars. Sixty-four (I counted them) horned larks flew past and landed on the playground lawn. What spectacular beauties these birds are, bedecked with yellow and black faces. At Hylan Boulevard and New Dorp Lane, I spotted a mysterious raptor. It was very large for an accipiter, but with the lovely rusty barred breast of a mature Cooper's hawk. I pondered this one for quite awhile, the bird was gliding, not flapping, with fairly rounded wing tips, but awfully large for a Cooper's. I am tempted to call it an immature marsh hawk, but I must admit, I wouldn't be 100% certain.
- Dave Taft

[The description, including the colorful breast, fits an adult red-shouldered hawk. Like the red-tail, the red-shoulder is a member of the group of raptors called buteos. They are mostly medium to large sized hawks, stockier than accipiters, and their flight is usually more deliberate. In northern parts of its range, including New York, the red-shoulder migrates south and is not common in winter. However, a number have been noted in recent weeks in the Hudson Valley. Steve Stanne.]

1/5 - High Peaks, HRM 311: After summiting Algonquin Peak (5,114 feet), near the origin of the Hudson River, we stopped in the saddle between Algonquin and Wright Peak to eat. It was a balmy 20 degrees F but the wind was gusting to 60 mph. As we sat there we noticed a marten circling around us in the snow. He never got close but he had a keen interest in what we were doing. I assume he was hoping we were going to drop some crumbs on the ground.
- Scott Craven, Josh Freidman, Theran Fisher

[The marten (Martes americana), also know as the American marten, is often mistakenly called the pine marten (Martes martes), which is native to northern Europe. While both are medium-sized members of the weasel family, they are two distinct species. The American marten originally occupied the forests of Canada, Alaska and the northern United States, but extensive trapping and deforestation took their toll. By the early 1900s, the marten's presence in New York State had shrunk to just the central-most portion of the Adirondack Park. In 1936, martens were protected from trapping in New York in order to help them recover. Forty-two years later, a limited trapping season was reopened within the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Martens now occupy over 5,000 square miles of territory within the Adirondack Park, appearing in a variety of forested habitats where they feast on a wide range of forest foods (red squirrels are high on the list of preferred meals). Although primarily a carnivore, the marten takes advantage of almost any food it can find, including berries. Rumor has it they are especially fond of grape jelly. If you are out in the Adirondack forests, especially in winter, and you see a reddish packet of energy about the size of a small house cat darting through the woods, then you have been lucky to see the marten. Ellen Rathbone, Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Center.]

1/5 - Red Hook, HRM 96.5: I went snowshoeing again at Poets' Walk and this time there was ice on the river north of the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. Most of it was a thin sheet and in places there were small areas of open water with reflections of houses on the west bank of the river.
- Phyllis Marsteller

1/5 - Poughkeepsie to Beacon, HRM 75-61: Enroute to Manhattan we spotted 2 bald eagles from our Metro North Train. The first was an adult flying 40-50 feet over the east shore. The bird seemed to be hunting. We were about 12 minutes south of the Poughkeepsie station. The second was an immature, also close to the east shore, but this one was down near Beacon. It was a great way to start a day trip into New York City: take the train, see eagles and the Hudson River, then enjoy a musical on Broadway!
- Pat Van Alstyne

1/5 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: It was a balmy 38 degrees F at midday and from the overlook near Oscawana Island I could not see a ripple on the river. On the scattered ice floes I counted 9 eagles, 3 adults and 6 immatures. The mountains across the river were mirrored on the water. One adult took off and headed south - such a beautiful sight!
- Dianne Picciano

1/5 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: "The tugboat guys are talking about eagles on the ice from the George Washington Bridge to Albany." That was riverman Cal Greenberg, who lives a very few feet from the Hudson and who pays attention to such things. We were talking not about eagles on ice, but about the huge first-year baby looming over our heads, 60' up in a locust tree. Our real attention was directed across the river to a favorite eagle winter perch and hunting station on the Rockland County side, where something new showed up since the oak leaves dropped last month: a huge nest in a big white oak. At the moment, it was occupied by 2 adults, contentedly feeding. The food was down in the nest and the spotting scopes were no help in determining if the birds were enjoying fish or fowl. Cal again: "They flew around that tree all summer. I've just been waiting for the leaves to drop so I could see if there was a nest."
- Christopher Letts

1/5 - Ossining to China Pier, HRM 33-43: Ice floes drawn down from upriver began to show up a few days ago and, predictably, the eagle sightings increased. Over a ten-mile reach, scanning the river from 8 different locations, I counted 49 eagles.
- Christopher Letts

1/6 - Putnam Valley, HRM 53: I was reading the newspaper in midday when a bunch of noisy crows caught my attention. I looked out my front window for several minutes as they fought over some prize, a deer carcass perhaps. Suddenly they all flew off, taking their dinner with them. I waited to see what spooked them. A beautiful bobcat snuck up to the spot where the crows had been and sniffed around. Only 10-15 feet from my window; it spotted me and took off. It was an awesome sight I'll never forget. This was my first bobcat sighting and I was pretty excited. I think it might stick around a little while anyway, my neighbor has "free range" chickens.
- Lois Erlacher

[Our bobcat (Lynx rufus) population is stable and they are not uncommon in the Hudson River Valley. However, due to their largely dusk-to-dawn nocturnal habits and wonderfully camouflaged fur, they are rarely seen. Bobcats are native to New York State as are two other cats, the mountain lion and the Canada lynx. Both of these are now extirpated although the NYSDEC attempted a lynx reintroduction in 1989 that apparently was unsuccessful. Bobcat footprints (large paws with retractable claws) are sometimes mistaken for mountain lions'. A large bobcat's (adult males average 36" inches long including a short stubby tail) paws are near the size of a small mountain lion's.]

1/6 - Hudson Highlands to Westchester County, HRM 60-35: On a night roost count of wintering bald eagles at seven different locations, we counted 73 bald eagles.
- Ed McGowan

1/7 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: I could not resist the balmy weather and decided to launch the boat and go fishing. After a couple of hours of fruitless casting with a 5" green and white soft plastic shad, I finally set the hook into my first fish for 2008. To my surprise it turned out to be a sturgeon that I accidentally snagged while retrieving the lure. It was 28" long, brownish with a round nose - a shortnose sturgeon. I had no camera with me so I had to limit myself to admiring it for a few moments before returning it to the water.
- Tony Usobiaga

1/7 - Newburgh to Raritan Bay, NJ, HRM 60-0: As of today, we have had five blue crab tag returns from the New York Harbor area. One was recovered in the Harbor, two in Raritan Bay, one near the Statue of Liberty in the Upper Bay, and one from the Ambrose Channel in the Lower Bay. All of the crabs were tagged upriver in Newburgh Bay from August to October, 2007. The crabs were recaptured in commercial crab dredges.
- Amanda Higgs, Mark Dufour

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