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Hudson River Almanac February 27 - March 4, 2008

OVERVIEW

As we near the vernal equinox and the end of winter, spring is slowly creeping up through the watershed. Flocks of male red-winged blackbirds, robins, and grackles are returning to the lower valley, while in the High Peaks we are still seeing 40" of snow and -30 degree F air temperatures.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/27 - Putnam County, HRM 53: I was delighted to see the tracks of a very large fisher (a male, I assumed) in the snow in my yard today. Perhaps it was looking for my "dependents," a plethora of gray squirrels that live in the large, ancient maples and vacuum the seed I put down for the ground feeding birds. Fishers, like ravens, are becoming more widespread down here - I never saw either when I was a kid. Maybe its connected to the increase in coyotes. Great horned and barred owls have been other recent voices in the night.
- Ralph Odell

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: When I got home last evening I donned my snowshoes and headed out to check the fence line for more deer damage. So far there doesn't seem to be anything new, but then the snow is deep enough for them to just about walk right over the top of the fence (5' fence with 3' of snow). As I was checking for deer damage to the trees, I saw something that made me chuckle: I followed the trail of a deer that had stepped over the fence to where it ended at a collection of stalks, the now-headless remains of last year's sunflowers. It had decapitated the plants and left naught behind but the bare stalks. Not a seed nor crumb to be seen. I think it inhaled the heads in one gulp. The seeds that were still in the heads were undeveloped, which is why the birds were not eating them, but I guess that a desperate deer will eat almost anything. Probably a welcome change from cedar! After it ate the heads, it went back over the fence and disappeared.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/27 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: I think this must be a tough year on the white-tailed deer herd. With all the snow, they are coming down to suburbia and eating all the shrubs! The lawns are full of tracks. We looked out last night and the deer were feeding on our shrubbery and our neighbor's dogwood.
- Bill Drakert

2/27 - South Staten Island, New York City: Ray Matarazzo, Richard Lynch and I were searching for an answer to a riddle that we began to guess at this past fall. Spiranthes orchids are complex enough to begin with, but the hints come at odd times of the year. The flower stalks we stared at this past late September had no leaves, just the very last flowers at the tip of a spike or two. So today, at the tail end of February, we began poking through the dry grasses and poor soils of south Staten Island, thinking that if we found some leaves at this point in the year, we'd be very close to an answer. We found many rosettes of egg shaped, beautiful green leaves. But after consulting myriad field guides, technical works, Victorian writings of the period, and New York State Botanist Chuck Sheviak, it turns out that Spiranthes lacera is our answer. A nice plant to add to my personal list, and a wonderful addition to our knowledge of the flora of New York City. Still, for me, the riddle will continue until this summer's bloom season; I need to get a good view of the flower spike completely encircled by these tiny blooms. In my experience, natural riddles aren't quickly answered.
- Dave Taft

2/27 - Sandy Hook, NJ: One of the joys, and challenges, of wildlife watching is trying to figure out, often fruitlessly, what is really happening. We have had a large gathering of thousands of greater scaup in Spermaceti Cove on the bay side of the Hook, observable from a warm pickup truck parked by the side of a road. What they seem to be up to is totally random flying: a carnival of jumping off the water in waves into the wind, wheeling downwind (except when they don't), landing in the midst of an existing raft, or building a new one that starts as a mass but becomes a string. Then, batches are airborne again, this time maybe a longer flight before landing. At any one time, there can be 1000 heading north, 500 wheeling, and a separate 200 landing to the south, all within the space of a football field. It is, at once, inspiring and mystical. We'll miss them when they head north with spring.
- Dery Bennett

2/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a beautiful morning, sunny and bright, blue sky, a perfect day for forest tracking with some junior and senior high school students from Crown Point. We hiked a mile along the Sucker Brook trail. Not much was moving, likely due the recent snow and cold, but we did see a mink trail, several mouse trails, and a great otter trail. There were slides all over the place, 2 x 2 lope tracks within the slides, or where the otter just pushed itself along with its back feet, and loops and circles. I suspect it was having a good time. But we saw no fox, and no squirrel. That's got to be a first; we almost always have squirrel tracks.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/28 - New Baltimore HRM 131.5: After reading about the golden eagle sightings in the Almanac, I felt I had to relate mine, even though it occurred last fall. It is not uncommon to see bald eagles, both adults and immatures, in the area around New Baltimore, so when I spotted the great bird on a hillock of a local field I pulled over to park and observe it for some time. It was busy eating and acted as if I was insignificant. The color, the size, the strength. the very primordial nature, made quite an impression.
- Kelly Halloran

2/28 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Shortly after our 7:19 AM Metro North train from Croton Harmon to Grand Central left the station, we began to see eagles in Croton Bay. There were 8-10 birds and all less than 50 yards from the train. An adult standing on the shoreline alerted us. Then we noticed more of them in the air, including a pair grasping talons and circling, then another flying parallel to the train. As we continued south, more eagles, a mix of adults and immatures, came into view. We were so excited that no one was keeping count of how many there were. As the train accelerated, the birds rapidly faded from view. The entire sighting lasted only about 30 seconds, but it provided an exhilarating beginning to the day and a topic of conversation for the remainder of the trip.
- Hugh McLean

2/28 - Inbuckie Bay, HRM 33.5: As our Metro North train car passed just south of Croton-Harmon this morning, we counted 4 bald eagles on the ice to the east of the tracks.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

2/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our weather station at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center registered a low of -27 degrees F overnight. Our maintenance man, Mike Tracy, had -29 degrees at his thermometer at 11:00 PM. Either way, that's close enough to -30 in my book to say "dang, that's cold!"
- Ellen Rathbone

2/29 - Glens Falls, HRM 208: An overnight air temperature of -18 degrees F was recorded.
- National Weather Service

2/29 - Albany, HRM 145: The air temperature fell to 0 degrees F overnight, tying the record low for the date.
- National Weather Service

2/29 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: Just before the snow started, we had 8 white-tailed deer in the yard and they stayed well into the evening. For all the talk of winter finches the only "star" bird we have had is a Carolina wren, a neat little bird. Snow or not, spring must be coming. There was a big flock of robins down the street, over 1100 birds!
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

2/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: An air temperature of +3 degrees F was recorded overnight, tying the record low for the date.
- National Weather Service

2/29 - New Hamburg: The river at dawn sat very still. The tide was full and there was scarcely any current. The air temperature was +4 degrees, warm by north country measures, but it hurt to breathe. Fortunately for my face, there was no wind. A broad plume of steam had risen from the Danskammer power generating facility across the river, its form frozen in the sky. The tidal Wappinger looked like it was smouldering with steam lifting off the warmer-than-the-air water. A hundred Canada geese that had set down for the night were beginning to fidget, waking to the first light of day.
- Tom Lake

2/29 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The most frequent visitors at our feeders this winter have been goldfinches, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, a cardinal pair, a downy woodpecker pair, blue jays, juncos, red-breasted nuthatches, house finches, and various sparrows. Our harmonious feeding ground was suddenly invaded today by a flock of 30 starlings. They swooped in, chased all the other birds away, and boldly took command of all the feeders under our olive tree. Even the squirrels scattered as this gang made their attack. After engaging in a quick meal of suet, seeds and peanuts, they took off, departing just as quickly as they had appeared.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/1 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: In recent days, I have heard red-winged blackbirds calling in the wetlands near the Saugerties Lighthouse. This morning, I noticed one scratching for seed below the bird-feeder. Male red-winged blackbirds arrive early to claim territory before females show up for breeding season. This sighting seemed especially early so I checked my lighthouse keeper logbook. Last year, I heard the first red-wings on March 12th.This year they are apparently a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.
- Patrick Landewe

3/1 - Hudson River: As part of a study investigating PCB concentrations in edible tissues of Hudson River waterfowl, NYSDEC is looking for mallard nests from the Hudson River this spring (April and May). The plan is to collect one egg per nest for PCB analysis to better understand deposition of PCBs from the hen to the egg. We need to find mallard nests in parts of the Upper Hudson River (from Corinth to Mechanicville) and in parts of the Hudson River Estuary (from New Baltimore to Newburgh). The more eyes we have looking, the more chances we have of locating these hard to find nests. Mallard nests often consist of a small, shallow bowl of grass lined with downy feathers, usually well-hidden in whatever vegetation is nearby. Mallard hens typically lay 8-10 greenish to buff-colored eggs. However, their nests won't necessarily be on the water's edge, and nests can often be found in marsh edges, grasslands, agricultural fields, and uplands. If you stumble across a mallard nest within 0.5 miles of the Hudson River in any of the above areas, please let us know. If you have a GPS unit, get coordinates. If not, mark something nearby, so that you can easily find the nest again. Once you've found a nest, avoid returning too often, so as not to encourage the hen to abandon the nest or attract predators. With your help this study can be a success!
- Sean Madden, Biologist; ssmadden@gw.dec.state.ny.us (518) 402-8977

3/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We now have 40" at the snow stick. This morning my suspicions were confirmed as I watched a squirrel eating seed from a feeder on a feeder pole that is rigged with anti-squirrel paraphernalia. The snow is so deep that it is a simple matter for the squirrels to jump from the "ground" right to the feeder, less than 2' overhead.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/2 - Milan, HRM 90: I spotted our first male red-winged blackbird today, waiting his turn at the feeder. This seems very early.
- Marty Otter

3/2 - Shokan, HRM 92: I was traveling west on Route 28 near Shokan, admiring the bright blue sky, when I saw a large object in the top bare branches of a tree. As I approached, I was surprised to see a beautiful, adult bald eagle. I've seen them near the Ashokan Reservoir before, but never along a highway. The eagle was magnificent, gazing out toward the reservoir, seemingly oblivious to the traffic below.
- C. McCauley

3/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: Red-shouldered hawks are an uncommon sight most of the year, except perhaps during fall migration. While driving on Route 9 yesterday I was surprised to see an adult red-shouldered perched on a utility wire. I tend to associate these types of hawks with stout tree limbs. I think I saw the same hawk today, another adult red-shouldered, not more than few hundred yards to the west, perched on the top of a 40 MPH sign, about 10' off the ground, overlooking Hunter's Brook. From there the raptor had a perfect view of the shrubby flood plain and the small mammals that dwell there. I'm not sure which choice of perch was the most odd.
- Tom Lake

3/2 - Highland Mills, HRM 50: I was pleasantly surprised a half hour ago when I spotted about two dozen robins sitting in a red maple in the front yard. They seemed to be trying to soak up the sun! Now they have found the holly bushes and have begun to chow down on the red berries. I hope it's a good sign of an early spring that they're back here so soon.
- Alan Groth

3/4 - RamsHorn, HRM 112.2: Spring is certainly on its way. At my yard in Palenville, I heard a brown creeper singing its song, a song that is too large for a bird of such diminutive size. At our RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, I heard the first fish crow, and had a mixed flock of well over 2,000 blackbirds fly over in an endless stream.
- Larry Federman

3/4 - Liberty Marsh, HRM 41: Though technically still winter, this marsh near the headwaters of the Wallkill sounded like spring. The male red-winged blackbirds were deafening. Canada geese were noisily rising off the water in flocks of 40-50 birds, migrants from points north. The local geese flew here and there in mated pairs. In the even light of a gray drizzly day, the hooded mergansers were like beacons on the water. I counted at least 30, both hen and drake, before switching to wood ducks, common mergansers, coot, mallards and black ducks. As I was about to leave, the noise increased from a section of the marsh partially hidden from view. Up off the water came a huge number of snow geese, well over 200 birds, a spectacular show as they filled the sky overhead in three separate Vs, each nestled behind the open, trailing end of the one in front.
- Tom Lake

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