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Hudson River Almanac January 8 - January 14, 2008

OVERVIEW

A week of spring-like air temperatures, the designation of a New York State butterfly, and having the sun rise a minute earlier for the first time since mid-June, did little to blunt the notice that a third Chinese mitten crab had been recovered, this time at Danskammer Point.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/9 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Three of the satellite tags that we attached to adult Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River last summer have popped off and are transmitting data in e-mail form to my computer. The tags were programmed to store data (water temperature, depth, and light intensity to estimate geo-location later in the data analysis) every 15 minutes and pop off on December 15, 2007. Each day the tag transmits data until the battery dies or all the data is transmitted. We have the locations where the tags surfaced, which give us a very broad idea of where each fish was when the tag popped off. One is in the Chesapeake Bay on the eastern shore, another in the ocean near the eastern shore of Maryland, and one is offshore, in the middle of the Atlantic. Presumably it became detached from the fish prematurely and floated away.
- Amanda Higgs, Mark Dufour

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: In 59 degree weather, I snowshoed the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center's Sucker Brook Trail to put up some ski signs. I was surprised to find beaver tracks, trails, and chews around and under one of the bridges. This is where one usually expects to see otter signs this time of year, not beaver. But there was no mistaking the footprints and the browse marks. The lack of any slides also provided a good clue that it wasn't otter. There was also a set of mink tracks, but they were older. The water was high, rushing out the Little Sucker Brook and into the Rich Lake Outlet at a level I hadn't seen in a long while. You'd think it was April or May! I even heard a chickadee doing its spring-time call.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/8 - Albany, HRM 145: The air temperature reached 60 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 63 degrees F today, also a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/8 - Town of Cortlandt, Westchester County, HRM 43: The sky was still black but I could tell it was extremely foggy since the lights in the parking lot were like huge fuzzy gauzes. Even at this pre-dawn hour, the air was 55 degrees F as I stood at the edge of Loundsbury Pond, an impoundment of Dickey Brook, a Hudson River tributary. Stepping out onto a frozen lake in total foggy darkness can be eerie, maybe adventurous, even foolhardy. On the rare occasions when this occurs, it reminds me of the scene from Dr. Zhivago where the Red Army charges across a frozen lake on horseback to rout the Bolsheviks. No Bolsheviks today, but hopefully strong ice. Ten feet out I drilled a hole - just over 4" of black ice - plenty safe. However, after a day of springlike weather, it would not be safe by dusk.
While they had been around the pond for the last month or more, today was the first time that a flock of 30 Canada geese began pairing up, a prelude to nesting. In a few instances there were three, sorting things out, generally two males posturing and jousting. At least a dozen bluebirds in the bushes serenaded us. Fish? Yes, a few managed to break the tranquility but not so many that we unable to enjoy the rest of the show.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

[We tend to mention bluebirds frequently in the Almanac because they have not always been such a prominent feature of the winter landscape in Hudson Valley. Their increased presence may be another example of a general softening of our winter weather. Tom Lake.]

1/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: I took a walk at lunch time at Vassar Farm to search for the northern shrike that had recently been spotted by some Waterman Bird Club birders. I never found it, but on the way back had a fly-over by 2 snow buntings.
- Bill Lenhart

1/8 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: We counted 5 pairs of hooded mergansers in the old clay pit, a remnant of the brick industry of long ago. Across the road, out on the Hudson, a huge raft of common mergansers stretched a mile from Dogan Point north to Verplanck. We estimated that there may have been as many as 500 ducks.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

1/8 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: I flicked on the patio floodlights and watched raccoons, opossums and skunks mooch for bird seed. Leaving the light on for ten minutes started a nocturnal entomology program as a medley of cold-tolerant night-flying insects sought the light. January thaw?
- Christopher Letts

1/8 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 64 degrees F, one degree Fahrenheit shy of the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/9 - Albany, HRM 145: The air temperature reached 62 degrees F, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 62 degrees F today, tying the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/9 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 64 degrees F, tying the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/10 - Albany, HRM 145: It was announced today that, thanks to 35,000 state-wide student voters, grades 3, 4, and 5, who participated in a contest to name a New York butterfly, the red- spotted purple/white admiral butterfly will be the official New York State butterfly. Legislation will now be introduced in both houses designating the red-spotted purple/white admiral as the official New York State Butterfly. Once the legislation passes and is signed by the governor, the butterfly will join the list of official state flora and fauna including the rose as the state flower, the sugar maple as the state tree and the bluebird as the state bird. This contest was a huge success because our students had fun while learning. They should be proud of the fact that they exercised their right to vote and, as a result, impacted legislation and made a difference in New York State.
- Aileen Gunther, New York State Assemblywoman

[The red-spotted purple/white admiral butterfly belongs to the family of brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae) and can be seen statewide. These are two forms of one species, although as with many taxonomic designations there is debate between "lumpers" and "splitters." Some scientists see minute variations as a reason to split or differentiate, while others see enough similarity in the same features to lump life forms into the same species. The red-spotted form is more common in the southern part of the state; the white form is more common in northern areas. The best evidence for the closeness of their relationship is the fact that the forms interbreed where their ranges overlap. Tom Lake.]

1/10 - Hudson Valley: Today was the 30th annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census in New York State, the day when we try to count all the eagles in all of the major state flyways, wintering, roosting, and congregation areas. A recent surge of true winter weather had driven many wintering birds south from Canada, points north and east. Our expectations were pretty high.
- Tom Lake

1/10 - Albany to Westchester County, HRM 145-35: Our helicopter flight down the Hudson as part of the annual NYSDEC Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census found no ice whatsoever on the river for our entire route. From the air, our eagle count was 42 (27 adults and 15 immatures).
- Scott VanArsdale, Doug Traudt, Dave Bowden, Bob Hanrahan, Pete Nye

1/10 - Lattintown Brook to Iona Island, HRM 69-44. This 25-mile reach of the estuary is the annual trek I take to count eagles. Much depends on the weather, visibility, ice on the river, and the whim of the birds - in 2001, I counted 52; in 2002 I had only 5. Today was relatively warm with no ice on the Hudson. The wooded highlands along the river were a rich brown, no snow, promising to make identification of immature eagles a real challenge. Birders are good at developing a sight image, but good camouflage defeats the best of us. From first light to noon, traveling north to south, both sides of the river, I counted 13 birds, 10 adults and 3 immatures. Twice I spotted two adults perched close together, most likely mated pairs, probably from Hudson Valley nests.
- Tom Lake

1/10 - Northern Westchester County, HRM 33-44: Even though I know I missed a bunch - some of the immatures I spotted only because they roused or I saw them land - I had at least one eagle at every stop. I ended up with 28, the final one soaring over the Annsville Circle just north of Peekskill. On this same route a few days earlier, with some ice on the river, I counted 49.
- Christopher Letts

1/11 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Midnight thunder, in January - it was odd enough to wake me up. A cold front swept over the Mid-Hudson Valley bringing torrential rain. It seemed to make more than just me a bit anxious as I could hear a coyote yelp between each thunder clap.
- Tom Lake

1/11 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: Another juvenile Chinese mitten crab, a male, was found on the impingement screen at the Danskammer Point Power Generating Facility. Two legs were missing but the crab was still alive. This was the third mitten crab collected in the estuary in last 7 months (see 6/3 Nyack; 10/29 Cold Spring). This specimen was sent to the Marine Invasions Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland for analysis.
- Mark DuFour

[The three mitten crabs recovered thus far include an adult male, an immature male, and an immature female. If you encounter a mitten crab in New York State, please notify Leslie Surprenant, NYSDEC Invasive Species Management Coordinator (518) 402-8980, (ljsurpre@gw.dec.state.ny.us), and Carin D. Ferrante, Smithsonian Mitten Crab Coordinator (ferrantec@si.edu). Do not release them live! If you take photos, make certain that you take both dorsal and ventral views so we can determine its sex. Leslie Surprenant.]

1/11 - Brooklyn, New York City: A 50 degree day in mid-January and a foggy morning made my drive pleasant, if supernatural. At the Erskine Street exit I spotted a red-tailed hawk, too large for the tree, perched on a small planted oak. Like an oversized Christmas ornament, the bird dragged down the branch tip and with it the top part of the whole young oak. Each small shift of the breeze made him do a comical little shuffle. Sadly, for the first time in recorded history, the Belt Parkway was moving and I whisked past the bird all too fast.
- Dave Taft

1/11 - Sandy Hook, NJ: After a couple of 65 degree days, we were back in the 40s. Hundreds of starlings lined the telephone wires this morning on Sandy Hook, an argument against buried wires. Later, on a still ocean, there was a single red-throated loon fishing offshore as well as one human surf fisherman on the beach. No action for either. After a long absence, a flock of cedar waxwings, maybe 40, filled a hackberry tree.
- Dery Bennett

1/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: I went back to Vassar Farm this morning to once again search for the reported northern shrike. I finally spotted it, just adjacent to the Field Station. It was very active for the next hour, flying from perch to ground and perch again. Some blue jays seemed to be inquisitively following it although there were no hostile interaction between them. Some of the smaller songbirds seemed rather irate about its presence.
- Bill Lenhart

1/12 - Beacon, HRM 61: A chill north wind kept air temperatures in the low 40s and a heavy chop on the river for our walk along the Hudson from Denning's Point to Long Dock. While we saw no eagles, and nary a duck, we did spot 2 robins, 2 golden-crowned kinglets, and a lone dandelion in bloom. Easily enough to brighten our walk.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly, Chance Plage

1/12 - Peekskill to Croton Point, HRM 45-34: Today was our first eagle-watching day of the winter. While we didn't see a great number, we did see five adults and one immature between Peekskill and Croton Point. The highlight was an adult perched at Verplanck that seemed to be posing for photographs. In our travels we also saw a belted kingfisher, a great blue heron, and 2 long-eared owls at Croton Point. Not bad for a comfortably warm day.
- Malcolm Castro, Rudy Castro

1/13 - Middle Ground Flats, Hudson, HRM 118: My little red kayak shared the river with only one other vessel, the Veronica Evelyn, being gently coaxed north by the tug Cheyenne. I looped the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, then the island where a white-tailed deer bounded the short distance from the west side of the island to the east. About 150 Canada geese greeted my return to the east side of the island with loud honks. They put themselves into a formation that looked like a connect-the-dots picture of a basking shark's gaping mouth and large dorsal fin. I watched the sun set with two immature bald eagles perched on the island - maybe they were eyeing the one lone merganser riding the incoming tide.
- Fran Martino

1/13 - Pine Plains, HRM 96: While exploring back roads around Stissing Mountain, looking for one less traveled, a quiet place to hike, we watched a red-shouldered hawk hunting around a deserted pasture. He flew from tree to tree as we approached, but never left the area. I noticed mouse and mole trails under the melted snow.
- Joanne Engle

1/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: I went back to Vassar Farms today for some shrike photos. The bird was pretty accommodating as it sat for long periods of time at the tops of trees within the creek bottom. At times it vocalized, and once broke out into song. A few waves of goldfinches were pulled in by it, some flying at its head. After watching for 45 minutes, I started back to the parking lot, leaving the shrike behind. As I walked into a clearing, I saw a solitary bird in a maple tree. It was another northern shrike! I watched this adult for 5 minutes. At one point it flew into heavy shrubbery to the side of the road and emerged with prey in its feet. I could not tell what it caught as it flew along the shrub edge and then back into it.
- Bill Lenhart

1/13 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: The eagles are back! And how do I know? I have been noticing large white splatters on our paved driveway and absent mindedly wondered who came and dropped white paint while we were at work. The culprit may have been discovered. Sunday my sister saw an immature sitting in the very tall tulip tree, on a branch that reaches out over our driveway. This time it left a white splat calling card on the roof of my car - I assume this means good luck! Over the five winters that we have been in this house we have had many sightings of eagles perched in the surrounding trees. Because we sit high above the river on the site of Revolutionary Fort Lafayette, the birds have great views up, down, and across the river.
- Pat Korn

1/13 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: It was an inauspicious start to our public bald eagle program. Fifty-three of us stood around at George's Island - fifty people with expectant looks; three naturalists with anxious looks. There was not an eagle in sight. We all caravanned a mile north to Verplanck and that made all the difference. A hundred common mergansers took flight from inside Green's Cove, launching into their bullet-like profile as they sped away out to the river. All this because an immature bald eagle was looping around the cove. Within minutes we had eagle flybys, several heading upriver to a join a "kettle" of eagles circling over Indian Point. We counted 8-10 and likely missed that many more. Feeding time. Across the river in the shadow of the Stony Point Light, we counted another 8-10 eagles as they soared, interacted, and faded in and out behind the treeline. What began as bird-less event had blossomed into a memorable time for all.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek

1/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The snow storm left us with just over 4" of fluff, bringing us back up to 15" on the ground. Everything is white once more. A cloud of common redpolls, 20-30 of them, descended upon my window feeder, all vying for the two feeding ports. Apparently they were oblivious to the multiple bird feeders just around the corner, or maybe the three red squirrels were too intimidating. As quickly as they appeared, though, they vanished - one moment it was a swarm, the next, not a bird to be seen anywhere. I wondered if a sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk flew by.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/14 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Gulls here sometimes "tend" diving birds. They hang around while the divers - ducks or cormorants - bring up an edible. Then they freeload. Today a black-backed gull and a double-crested cormorant got in a tug of war over a fairly large fish that the cormorant worked for, but the gull wanted. There was much flapping and yanking with no obvious winner
- Dery Bennett

1/14 - Navesink River, NJ: The Oceanic Bridge is a low slung span across the Navesink between Middletown and Rumson and a favorite roosting place for winter starlings. It's best to start watching about half an hour before dark. They gather on the bridge railings and then drop down under the bridge to settle on the girders. Here they whistle, squeak, and squawk, as if to exchange news and reassure each other that they are safe from the peregrine falcon that often perches on a light standard above them.
- Dery Bennett

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