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Hudson River Almanac February 13 - February 20, 2008

OVERVIEW

This was a week of record warmth one day and bitter cold the next. The week also had its usual smattering of interesting wildlife behavior, but perhaps the most impressive moment was the total lunar eclipse. This is an infrequent celestial event that stresses our ability to put into words what we believe our eyes can see, and is probably best left to the poets.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Red fox are leaving all sorts of signs around, especially urine postings. I had a group of 5th graders last week and we followed one set of fox tracks to where they met up with a second set of fox tracks. They had a fox "encounter." Then they parted and went their separate ways. We've also seen where foxes have been hunting, i.e., pounce, scrabble, crunch, slurp.
- Ellen Rathbone


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The forest sparkled like crystal in the first glow of sunshine that crept over the hills from the east. It had turned bitter cold overnight, following 2.5" inches of snow, ice, and rain in the preceding 24 hours, and the resulting rime ice covered every twig and branchlet. A resounding crack like a rifle shot echoed through the trees as a branch of a white pine snapped under the weight of the ice. I stood stone still and watched a herd of white-tails high-stepping through the woods, breaking their way through the crusty snow. Despite the social upheaval of school closings, delays, plowing, and shoveling, it was nice being out in the woods in a real winter landscape that has been largely absent this season.
- Tom Lake

2/13 - Fishkill, HRM 61: 5:00 AM On this dark, damp and fog-shrouded morning, the freezing rain gave a definite crunch to the snow cover. The unsalted trackless road surface was a sheer sheet of ice. As I checked the bird feeders I noted a set of animal tracks in the snow. Although, the rain had destroyed the general impression the paws had made, they were oval in shape, spaced about a foot apart, with about a 4 inch straddle. Later, in the daylight, I was able to distinguish some impression of foot pads and claws and could tell the animal's general direction going from the woods, under a black walnut tree and near some fir trees, and then emerge from my yard and cross the road to my neighbor's yard. From these clues, I suspect a red fox, or perhaps a gray fox that I've seen on earlier occasions, made a transit of my yard on its nightly rounds.
- Ed Spaeth

2/14 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 62: The advance and retreat of glaciers in the Hudson Valley, carrying great loads of stone and debris, occurred more than 18,000 years ago, but you can get a feel for how they functioned even today. This is the time of the season when large parking lots have a mountain of snow that has been pushed to the side by plows after each storm event. As the warming sun of late February melts the ice, a collection of accumulated dirt and detritus is left behind, growing more concentrated every day, mimicking ancient glacial features in the Hudson Valley.
- Tom Lake

2/14 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Valentine's Day, and the day after the storm, dawned bright and beautiful. We drove past Ogilvie's Pond looking for the resident great blue heron when a medium sized bird almost flew into our windshield with a red-tailed hawk in hot pursuit! They were so close that we instinctively ducked inside the car!
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/14 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: We stopped at the Oscawana overlook, always worth the effort in winter. As we scanned the brilliant, blue sky, an adult bald eagle came circling over the treetops. After a short while it settled down on the point on a limb of a hardwood. We watched it through our spotting scope as it preened and kept an eye on the river. Once in a while it would stare over at us, a quarter-mile away. It's very exciting to see an eagle in the scope and realize that it is looking back at you.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Another very cold night: -15 degrees F.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/15 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 69. Drivers stopping for wildlife: it is always heartening when it happens, but unfortunately it doesn't always happen. White-tailed deer make us sweat when they zoom across just before or just after we pass, but wild turkeys are a show worth stopping to watch. Traffic heading both ways on Sheafe Road came to a halt for several minutes, with nary a toot or angry shout. Close to two dozen wild turkeys crossed the road in their practiced fashion, a hierarchy of young and old, guardians and the flock, many wisely looking both ways. The collective behavior of both humans and the birds had a way of restoring hope in an otherwise bleak winter.
- Tom Lake

2/15 - Staten Island, New York City: I counted 23 wild turkeys running along the fence at Seaview Avenue. In contrast, I spotted the remains of a young muskrat that didn't quite make it across Hylan Boulevard at the entrance to Great Kills Park.
- Dave Taft

2/15 - Brooklyn, New York City: The sun is setting later and later each day, and as I left the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at Bay Ridge on Route 278, a sharp-shinned hawk made good use of the sun's last rays, hunting the road shoulder and catching the light in the most remarkable way.
- Dave Taft

2/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby Rathbone and I were skiing the golf course this morning, another cold one. We spotted chickadees on and around one of the bluebird nest boxes. They must have been using it as a shelter from the cold and we were glad to see they had found it.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/16 - Hudson River: While the number of mitten crabs, an invasive species, recovered in the Hudson River remains at three, the total confirmed in the Mid-Atlantic region, Chesapeake Bay to the Hudson River, is now 13. The Hudson estuary recoveries have occurred in an upriver progression, June 3, October 29, and December 9, from the Tappan Zee to Danskammer Point, river miles 27-67. It is perhaps noteworthy that the only two juveniles collected to date have come from New York; no other states have reported juveniles at this time. We do not yet know whether the mitten crabs have established a self-sustaining population in the Mid Atlantic region. 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)
- Carin D. Ferrante, Smithsonian Mitten Crab Coordinator

2/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Last April, a pair of red foxes had a litter of four kits in a brush pile den 25 feet into the forest in a semi-rural backyard of a residential home. The male was a grayish-phase, almost charcoal, while the mother was the typical light reddish color. Now, after an absence of eight months, they are back, nosing around the brush pile.
- Tom Lake

[Red foxes breed from late December through the end of March, peaking January and February. Their kits are typically born in March and April. Ellen Rathbone.]

2/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: At our Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center feeders today, we had common redpolls, pine grosbeaks, a northern shrike, a blue jay, hairy woodpeckers, red-breasted nuthatch, and black-capped chickadees.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/17 - Hudson Highlands: Over the past 2-3 weeks, at least two immature golden eagles have been regularly observed flying in and among the peaks and swales of the Hudson Highlands.
- Pete Nye

2/17 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: It was quiet and just starting to rain on my afternoon walk along the Shore Trail from Alpine Boat Basin about a mile upriver to Excelsior Dock. Just before 5:00 PM I decided to take a restored path down to the abandoned dock. As I reached the bottom, I noticed two diving ducks just off the ruins of the dock. They were two male red-breasted mergansers with their crests clearly sticking out each time they surfaced from a dive. I could see the white ring around the neck and the pattern on their breasts. The tide was full and the river calm and I sat on a boulder for several minutes, watching them fish.
- Bob Rancan

2/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a high temperature today of 50 degrees F, but by midday it was already dropping back. Our lovely, spring-like weather can vanish in a heartbeat. By 4:30 PM we were back below freezing and snow flakes were in the air.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/18 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: The air temperature reached 62 degrees F today, tying the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

2/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: This is mating season for coyotes, and 3:30 AM seems to be their prime hour. Each of the last few mornings I've been awakened by their communal caterwauling.
- Tom Lake

[Coyotes typically mate January through March, peaking in February. Ellen Rathbone.]

2/18 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 65 degrees F today, surpassing the old record for the date of 62.
- National Weather Service

2/19 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: We spotted our first robin of the year on our lawn today.
- Fran Drakert, Bill Drakert

2/19 - Gardiner, HRM 75: We heard the sounds of male red-winged blackbirds today - spring is near!
- Rebecca Johnson, Brian Houser

2/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: I let our evening class at Dutchess Community College out a little early so we could see the start of the total lunar eclipse. Tonight the moon would pass through the earth's shadow, something that would not occur again until December 2010. By 8:45 PM it was underway, a dark shadow appearing at 7 o'clock on the face of the full moon. The weather forecast had cautioned some cloudiness but for us the sky was clear, starry, and only the contrail of a passing jet briefly blurred our view.
- Tom Lake

2/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: By 10:30 PM, nearing full eclipse, an orange glow - often called the "copper penny" look - had set over the moon. To me it looked like orange sherbet. At about the same time, from the north and northwest, I could hear coyotes chorusing, possibly in response to the fading light. However, given their almost nightly calls, I suspect that they hardly needed any encouragement.
- Tom Lake

2/20 - Fishkill, HRM 61: We watched the red moon with our telescope; it looked like a close up NASA image of Mars. Saturn was in a triangle with the moon and a star and we could clearly see Saturn's rings through the scope.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

2/20 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Jasper and I bundled up in coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and with a thermos of hot coffee sat in lawn chairs to watch the lunar eclipse. As the veils of haze drifted away, the clouds parted like theater curtains and the eclipse began. There was a smudgy scoop at the edge of the bright disc, then slowly a more distinct arc of darkness, and finally the magic, reddish moon in the brilliantly dark sky. There was still pale light on the western edge of the eclipsed moon when we finally gave in to the cold. When I looked again at 5:00 AM, the strange and glorious rosy-colored moon had become the brilliant and magical once-a-month miracle again.
- Robin Fox

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