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Hudson River Almanac January 28 - February 4, 2008

OVERVIEW

While bald eagles tend to dominate our winter entries, this week we hear about a wide variety of wildlife, from one end of the watershed to the other. Some will tug at your heartstrings while others make you want to pull your hair out!

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/30 - West Point, HRM 52: After a rainy morning, the skies cleared up beautifully for the afternoon. I stepped out my office door and heard a musical croaking sound overhead. I looked up and saw a pair of ravens soaring southwest along the thermals on Crow's Nest mountain. They were engaging in ritual pair bonding and just having a fun afternoon, the way ravens often do when soaring along.
- Jim Beemer

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/28 - Montrose, HRM 40: Today was such a spectacular, sunny day that we took a long walk along the riverfront at the Veteran's Hospital in Montrose. The water was glistening like diamonds in the sunlight. Not a barge, plane or train could be seen or heard. As we made our way over the metal walkways, the only sounds that could be heard were the water gently lapping up against the rocks and the rustling of the remaining oak leaves in the trees. It made us wonder what it must have been like here thousands of years ago. No ice was present anywhere and coyote tracks could be seen in the sand along the little beach area. About 50 Canada Geese were foraging near the old clubhouse and a lone immature bald eagle passed overhead, probably on his way north to Dogan Point.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

1/29 - Queens, New York City: Red-tailed hawks seemed to be everywhere. This morning, turning from Woodhaven Boulevard at Broad Channel onto the westbound Belt Parkway, one of the largest red-tails I've ever seen perched gloomily on one of the light poles of the off ramp. In the damp mist, I could just make out that he was looking at me as I negotiated the entrance ramp.
- Dave Taft

1/30 Dickey Brook, Town of Cortlandt, HRM 43: About once a decade beaver appear in this watershed and attempt to settle along a chain of three small lakes upland into Blue Mountain Park. When their cuttings have come to the notice of park management, the beavers have gotten the bum's rush. That is until the most recent wave of immigrants arrived last year. For whatever reason, they have been allowed to remain, and to carry on with their building trade. I took advantage of the most recent cold snap to walk the shores of the middle and lower ponds on several inches of clear, new ice. Several hundred trees had been downed, from saplings to stout trees 18" at the base. A dam, about 100' feet in length, had blocked a feeder stream in the lower lake creating a new pond of several acres . Two small islands have been pretty well denuded and two bank lodges were seen. I resolved to come back on a summer evening to meet the engineers and wondered anew at the presence of these wildlife communities less than a mile from the center of Peekskill.
I had a pleasant walk suspended above the pond bottom by 6" of crystal ice, over patterns of leaves and twigs and snail trails, sunken logs, rocks untouched, unmoved, since the retreat of the last glacier. I was unprepared for the brown hump protruding above the ice several hundred feet from the dam. It was a good-sized beaver, several years old, over 40 lb. weight, more than three feet long. I puzzled over it for a long while. All four paws were visible. No evidence of traps, snares or arrows. What happened? This seemed to be a well-fleshed animal with many years yet to live, but a life that had ended here. I thought of the axe in my truck but let it pass. Ward Stone, DEC Wildlife Pathologist, already has more work than any single person should have to deal with. So I left it, suspended in ice. On my way back to the parking lot I decided it was pretty likely that down under one of those lodges was a new generation of beavers, little kits that would be rippling the surface when I came back for a warm-weather visit.
- Christopher Letts

1/31 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 51.4: From our Metro North train along our morning commute to Manhattan, we spotted two bald eagles flying high over Constitution Marsh with their magnificent wing spans stretched out in full view. A short while later and several miles down river at Annsville (HRM 43.5), we counted three bald eagles on the ice: two adult, one immature, on the east side of the tracks just north of Peekskill.
- Mike Boyajian and Jeri Wagner

1/31 - Brooklyn, New York City: Looking out toward Staten Island from Bay Ridge, the grassy field along the shore was covered with gulls of every stripe, ring-billed, black-back, herring, perhaps ???? By contrast, in the water behind the field, thousands of greater scaup in grand sweeping swirls spread out like chocolate sprinkles on the tidal currents of the lower harbor.
- Dave Taft

2/1 - New Baltimore, HRM 132: Stephen Seymour's 1/28 comment on fewer wild turkeys this winter may be correct, but our flock in the Hannacrois Creek Preserve seems to be doing well this winter.
- Jean Bush

[These observations often apply only to localized areas. In my area, Town of Wappinger, the wild turkey population seems to have been halved in the last year, while at the same time the coyote population has doubled. Coincidence? Maybe. Tom Lake.]

2/1 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: Despite the freezing rain this afternoon, we ventured out along the river. At Oscawana Point, the sky and river melted into one gray, misty backdrop for the adult bald eagle perched high on a branch over the river. It seemed oblivious to the inclement conditions, probably waiting to catch a meal in the churning waters. As we passed Ogilvie's Pond, we were thrilled to observe the antics of at least 10 hooded mergansers, the black-and-white markings of the males were a stark contrast to the murky pond. Gliding along the water, diving and popping up again a few feet away, they, too, seemed to be enjoying the rainy day.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/1 - Staten Island, New York City: On a dark rainy day, rangers Bill Parker, Alison Luchnik, and Diane Wulff joined me to see if the bats we'd observed earlier this season in one of Fort Wadsworth historic bunkers were still "hanging around." Thinking they must have moved on, we penetrated deeper into the gloomy fort, searching several of the other likely-looking alcoves without success until, on our way back out, Bill looked hard at our original site, and found one bat, deeply ensconced in some of the brick work. With that sight image in mind, Alison quickly located another, and finally, I found a third. From what we could judge a few months ago, these are big brown bats. However, one does seem a tad larger than the others, with a somewhat paler snout. I will bring a step ladder the next time we visit.
- Dave Taft

2/2 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: As we followed the Meadow Trail at the Home of FDR National Historic Site, it descended into a small valley that was sheltered to the south by a stand of hemlock. A few inches of snow had been spared by the evergreen shade, but the only tracks we found that day were human or locomotive. Further on, the trail was partially flooded and frozen, but passable. Then Kerri pointed out what looked like a beaver dam. Sure enough, we found that the bark had been munched from the bases of a couple of nearby trees. Also, a few smaller diameter stumps emerging from the water had clearly been gnawed. We found no obvious lodge, so we chose to believe that our rodent friend simply moved on to find a cozier place. Closer to the rail tracks and a quarantined stretch of river, the rattling chatter of a belted kingfisher alerted us to his presence. He was perched in a branch, overhanging the wetland, surveying his not-so-frozen domain. The kingfisher's harsh call was a stark contrast to the delicate tinkling of the river ice just a few feet away.
- Chris O'Sullivan, Kerri Brady

2/2 - Garrison, HRM 51: We saw three adult bald eagles this morning, from our Metro North car, sitting on a sand bar. A fourth was flying high in the sky above them. Later we spotted a "monster" adult bald eagle perched in a tree in Peekskill's riverside park (HRM 43.5). It seemed so large that it looked like a St. Bernard.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

2/3 - Kingston, HRM 92: I travel from West Hurley to Wappinger Falls every Sunday. As I enter the New York Thruway there is a large circular ramp with an embankment overlooking a small rill (it's too small to be called a creek). Recently, and most days in winter and into spring, I see a large hawk with a brown head and back, pale belly, sitting on the ground halfway up the hill and, I assume, hunting. I consistently see this particular bird at the same location for several years, now, but have never observed other such hawks spend so much time on the ground. I wonder if it's a red-tail?
- Ray Spiegel

[This is not an uncommon sight along the Thruway. When you see a hawk behaving like the one you describe, it is, most of the time, a red-tailed hawk or one of its close relatives. They've captured some prey and are on the ground feeding in the grass. It is just about the only time that they are not perched in a tree or on a fence post. Tom Lake.]

2/3 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: When the Super Bowl ended around 9:45, several nearby homes had small firework displays, mostly firecrackers and noisy sky rockets (Giants fans, I supposed). Our dogs were OK with the racket that lasted 15 minutes. Then there was 15 seconds of silence; then the coyotes began. It sounded like two small packs, 6-8 or more animals, calling, squeaking, howling, their entire repertoire. The fireworks had surely agitated them and they, in turn, solicited all dogs to join in the protest. It all took nearly an hour to subside.
- Tom Lake

2/3 - George's Island, HRM 39: As I launched my kayak from George's Island in mid-afternoon, a large immature eagle flew low over the launch area toward a group with spotting scopes at the north end of the park. As I paddled south, I saw five more in flight, including one with the telltale white head and tail feathers who took off from a tree it was sitting in at Oscawana.
- Stephen Butterfuss

2/3 - Bronx, New York City: Moving along Route 95, with the "Welcome to Westchester" sign in view, a red tailed hawk flew up from the road median, carrying some sort of prey. A few miles further along, a merlin swept past unencumbered.
- Dave Taft

2/3 - Navesink River, NJ: It was a sunny, windless, 45 degree F day with a midday low tide, just right for a few hours of scratching for hard clams. There were seven of us, ranging in age from 3-77, working from four feet of water up onto dry sandbars. Results: about 200 clams, half a dozen four-inch horseshoe crabs (released carefully), a mud crab, and a sand worm. We spotted a few sand shrimp skittering on the surface, plus the usual contingent of begging herring gulls. Duck hunting season is over so there were a few relaxed brant and black ducks around.
- Dery Bennett

2/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Today began well with the sighting of a blue jay! Normally, this is not something of note, but they have been conspicuous by their absence this winter. I had not seen one for 2-3 months.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I had a great group of 5th graders today for winter tracking at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. We hit pay dirt on the trail, all sorts of tracks: fox, squirrel, mouse, grouse, long-tail weasel, marten, raccoon, possibly fisher, and a whole pack of coyotes! The coyotes were the high point. The tracks were difficult to identify at first, very large, splayed toes, but filled with snow and not well-defined, so we followed them. When we hit Rich Lake, we found a patch of yellow snow (very musky - I made everyone take a sniff), and finally distinctive canine prints. The tracks were very large, almost as big as the palm of my hand. As we continued around the trail, the coyote tracks kept crossing ours. Finally I came to the conclusion that either this animal was going around and around the peninsula on the ice, crossing over where we were walking, or we had a pack. Considering the tracks all looked the same age, and knowing that the eastern coyote demonstrates pack-like behaviors, I decided that we had multiple animals here.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/4 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: It helps to have an active imagination. As I looked out on the ice-choked river, the surface looked like a fancy restaurant with linen tablecloths. Ice floes were still drifting slowly, shoulder-to-shoulder, down river in the last of the ebb tide. I could see six eagles, a mix of adult and juveniles, perched on their "ice tables," one to a seating, all apparently feeding on fish, and all accompanied by one or two crows. Bald eagles can be surprisingly tolerant when there is, in their mind, enough to go around.
- Tom Lake

2/4 - Sandy Hook, NJ: A small-gull sized bird on a vacant osprey nest turned out to be a peregrine falcon eating a recent catch. I couldn't tell what its meal was, but there were plenty of buffleheads available in the bay.
- Dery Bennett

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