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Hudson River Almanac January 14 - January 21, 2008

OVERVIEW

There is something nice about knowing there is a marine mammal, in this case a harbor seal, out in the river. They are just uncommon enough to make them very special. They appear and disappear (two more sightings this week, 25 miles and 4 days apart), like Houdinis, popping up when least expected, head like a basketball with whiskers, and with an appetite for all the seafood the river produces.

HIGHLIGHT FROM LAST WEEK

1/15 - Sandy Hook, NJ: A patch of lawn attracted about 60 brant pulling grass. Periodically one would assume the "attack position," head down and forward, and chase a nearby brant. Then peace would descend, followed by more attacks and more truces. There seemed to be no pattern for this activity, nor clearly obvious bullies or wimps. Add it to the long list of animal behavior we don't understand.
- Dery Bennett

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/14 - Staten Island, New York City: It is finally adding up for me. "Pale Male" may have been the celebrity messenger, but there must be a population explosion of red-tailed hawks in New York City. I seem to see them everywhere I travel along the south shore of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Today, some friends and I walked out into the Fort Wadsworth parking lot to see a large adult red-tail perched in a poplar and staring straight at us. Two blue jays were already scolding him, and I suppose we were the final indignity. With a labored haul, he lifted off the tree and landed in an old oak, this time facing out into the harbor. The jays continued their torment and he continued to move from tree to tree until the jays tired of the game. For a hawk, my agonizing commute along the coast of Brooklyn and Queens is a five-minute flight. I can't help wondering if I'm seeing 2 birds in a large range, or many birds variously distributed. Whatever the cause, these hawks are welcome addition.
- Dave Taft

1/15 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Faced with glare and distance, you often need a spotting scope to clearly see birds when looking across the river to Rockland County. With the late afternoon sun behind it, a bald eagle was clearly defined against the purplish sky. So intent were we on seeing this bird that we failed to notice a large immature in a tree right behind us. A gentleman driving by stopped and told us that it had been perched there all day. We also saw an eagle flying high over the river, heading south.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/15 - West Point, HRM 52.5: A seal was spotted and photographed at noontime today close to shore off the North Dock. The photo strongly suggested that this was the same light-colored harbor seal that was seen hauled out at Piermont on New Year's Eve, having traveled 27 miles upriver in two weeks (see 12/31, Piermont Pier).
- Jim Beemer

1/16 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: You can tell when you are around a birder. You never seem to have their undivided attention. They are continually being distracted by sights and sounds that no one else seems to notice or hear. And so it was as we tried to have a conversation along the bank of the tidal Fall Kill as night-roosting crows began to assemble, raptors whizzed about, and songbirds anxiously flitted. But we were both rapt when a half a dozen pigeons bolted from the eaves of a brick building and a peregrine falcon came cruising around the corner of the Mid-Hudson Children's Museum. The pigeons escaped, our conversation ended, and we went our separate ways still tuned in to that other frequency.
- Tom Lake, Chris Bowser

1/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Winter came back as we recorded -5 degrees F overnight.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/17 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 51.4: From our early morning Metro North commuter train traveling along the edge of Constitution Marsh, we spotted an adult bald eagle in a tree. Illuminated in the blueish hue of the morning light, its white head was clearly visible.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

1/17 - Rockland County, HRM 33: On a gray day, traversing the causeway from New City to Congers, I spotted a cluster of bald eagles (one adult, 3 immatures) hunkered down on the ice on Lake DeForest, the man-made reservoir on the Hackensack River. It does not take them too many wing beats to be over Rockland Lake and on to the Hudson. Lake DeForest is a regular haunt for our wintering friends.
- Joel Epstein

1/18 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 145: This morning a northern cardinal was singing its unmistakable spring song. Titmice were beginning to sing as well.
- Dave Nelson

1/18 - Newburgh, HRM 62.5: Traveling south on 9W late this afternoon, I noticed numerous crows in trees on both sides of the highway. Turning onto Interstate 84, I saw several thousand more perched in trees on both sides of the road with still many hundreds more flying overhead. As I left that stunning scene, perfectly scripted for a notable Hitchcock movie, and headed east across the gray ice-free Hudson, I noted the subdued pink of the eastern sky above the snow covered mountains, looking much like sugar cakes sprinkled with chocolate. My rearview mirror revealed an even more glorious multi-hued vermilion sky to the west. It was a beautiful ending to a day replete with all manner of weather, starting with rain, snow and finally warm sun.
- Ed Spaeth

1/18 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 51.4: As our early morning Metro North commuter train sped along the edge of Constitution Marsh, we were treated to a special sight of 3 bald eagles perched in a tree, braced against the icy precipitation - one was an adult, another immature, and the third, in shadows, was indeterminate.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

1/18 - Verplanck to George's Island, HRM 40-39: It was the morning after two inches of heavy snow-slop. Twenty members of the Palisades Nature Association joined us for their 9th annual Hudson River bald eagle tour. Over the next 90 minutes we counted 5 adult birds and 12 immatures. While we would never admit that eagles might become commonplace, it was a special moment at George's Island when four black vultures appeared close overhead, twirling in a mini-kettle, ebony black against a turquoise sky.
- Nancy Slowik, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

1/18 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: It was easy for us to sense that John Muir "theology" of forests as a natural cathedrals as our group entered a dense stand of white pines in near-total silence. There was nary a whisper as we treaded lightly on pine needles in subdued light with a soft evergreen fragrance in the air to a point where we could look up and see three long-eared owls asleep in their communal roost. From our vantage, 20' below, they hardly seemed like owls: Chris Letts offered that they resembled "pineapples with feathers," and we agreed. These are nocturnal hunters that spend the daylight hours at rest. After several minutes of collective appreciation, we made a stealthy exit.
- Nancy Slowik, Tom Lake

1/18 - Hackensack Meadowlands, NJ: After many runs of wasted gas to North Germantown and Cheviot Landing, I finally found the canvasbacks. They had gone to the city! I estimated the crowd to be 150-200 at DeKorte Park, part of the Hackensack River watershed that flows into Newark Bay. There were also a few ruddy ducks, pintails, Canada geese, loads of mallards, a couple of red-tailed hawks, and a northern harrier.
- Mimi Brauch

1/19 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Our public Hudson River bald eagle programs do not draw the crowds they once did, when an eagle on the river was a novelty, but those that do show up are full of enthusiasm. Thirty-five of us took turns peering through spotting scopes at an odd-looking immature eagle perched on a snag along the periphery of Green's Cove just below Verplanck. It was mottled white and brown with nearly all of the white on its breast. Generally such splashes of white are on their back. This one looked, superficially like a giant red-tailed hawk! On its right leg was a red band. In less than an hour we counted 5 adult eagles and 3 immatures.
- Andra Sramek, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

[Blue leg bands, most commonly seen by observers along the Hudson, are on eagles that have fledged in New York State. A red leg band, as in this case, could have come from either Ontario Province in Canada, or the State of Maine. Pete Nye.]

1/19 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: I'm a locomotive engineer for Amtrak and today I spotted a harbor seal sitting on a rock in the river, just watching the train go by a short distance north of Tarrytown. I was really amazed. I didn't know there were seals in the Hudson.
- Rachel Phillips

1/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It's a beautiful morning here, sunshine, blue sky, -8 degrees F. There were still no great flocks of birds at my feeders, despite new seed and feeders.
- Ellen Rathbone.

1/20 - North Germantown, HRM 109: It seemed odd for the end of January - no ice on the river as far as you could see, save for a slushy accumulation along the shore. However, a 17 degree F air temperature, coupled with a 17 mph wind, producing a windchill of about -17 degree F, promised a change. Across the way at the edge of Inbocht Bay I spotted an adult eagle in a hardwood and wondered if it was one of the locals from a nearby nest. As I further wondered where its mate might be a large shadow passed over the ground at my feet. Looking up I had a nice view of a second adult eagle as she disappeared over the railroad tracks and into the treeline.
- Tom Lake

1/20 - Cheviot, HRM 106: At the last of the flood tide, a dozen goldeneyes, both hens and drakes, were diving on the submerged rock and earth pier that extends a quarter-mile from the eastern shore. No more than six were on the surface at one time as the rest dove on fish and shellfish. A formation of 14 male common mergansers came down the river, just off the water, in perfectly synchronized flight, glowing in the bright sunlight.
- Tom Lake

1/20 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Despite a series of frigid nights, the Esopus Creek above the dam at Saugerties was still wide open except for a few back bays where 8" of ice had formed. Yellow perch, bluegills, black crappie, and pumpkinseed were all eager to please the ice anglers. At one point all action ceased. Then a huge largemouth bass, all of 5 lb., grabbed the lure. We needed a spud to widen the hole to extract the fish. The hook on my ice jig was straightened. Largemouth bass might be big and strong, but they do not hold a candle to the grace and beauty of a crappie! Stuffing the bass back in the hole was nearly as difficult as getting it out.
- Tom Lake

1/20 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: As we passed the old clay pit on Riverview Avenue, we spotted two stately great blue herons standing on the edge of the pond waiting for breakfast to come by. As we drove down to the west end of Sixth Street, there were 3 beautiful adult bald eagles riding the thermals against the blue sky. Two juveniles were locking talons, typical of play behavior, while soaring over the frigid Hudson.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

1/21 - Hudson River: Here are a couple of observations from The Red Hook Journal, from a winter on the Hudson 140 years ago:
- Friday Morning Jan. 3, 1868: The Hudson River is said to have been once the resort of salmon in as large numbers as shad, and it is suggested that, under proper laws restraining fishermen, it might be restocked, as is now being done with the Connecticut.
- Friday Morning Jan. 10, 1868: They have had several days of good skating on the river at Tarrytown this winter, a circumstance which has not occurred before for many years.
- Maynard Ham

[The genesis of the belief that salmon were native to the river began with Henry Hudson in 1609, and was probably a case of mistaken identity. Atlantic salmon are spring spawners. Hudson and his crew would not have seen "large stores of salmon" in the river in September of 1609. He may have seen fish that were unfamiliar to him, such as striped bass or weakfish. Tom Lake.]

1/21 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: From the edge of the old clay pit at Verplanck we watched a pair of adult eagles to the south over Dogan Point. They chased one another, swooping up and down, wing touches, talon grabs, courtship behavior. It's that time of the season. The channel marker buoy just offshore and south of Steamboat Dock had it usual cormorant "gang," both double-crested and great cormorants.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

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