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Hudson River Almanac March 12 - March 20, 2008

OVERVIEW

As the vernal equinox arrived we began year fifteen of the Hudson River Almanac, a natural history journal that seeks to capture the spirit, magic, and science of the Hudson River watershed from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to the sea. A formidable goal. We do not capture it all, but then no one journal could. To try would be to underestimate the breadth of the subject. If we can document those moments that define the seasons, we will have done a good and interesting job.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/12 - Breakneck Ridge, HRM 56: I love Breakneck and the Hudson Highlands this time of year. At sunset, Storm King throws its shadow on Mount Taurus. From on top we were able to look down on both black and turkey vultures soaring.
- Scott Craven, Anthony Stern


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/12 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Today I heard the other sounds a common crow makes. The usual call we all know is a harsh "caw," but there is also a variety of rattles, coos, and clear notes. The sounds I heard were so interesting and attractive that I found it impossible to imagine they came from the crow sitting on the roof, except that the bird showed specific body movement coordinated with each different sound. The Cornell sound track doesn't do justice to the charming non-caw sounds. They have cured me of thinking of crows as the avian equivalent of horn-honking urban drivers. Would that Canada geese (they returned en masse this week.) also had a redemptive melodious aspect.
- Nancy P. Durr

3/12 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The English have long practiced the art of beach-bird sitting. They pick a winter beach, don every bit of wool they can find, and watch the ocean for hours. It's the opposite of ripping around the countryside missing things. I beach-sat for half an hour at lunchtime today and lucked on to a parade of 80 northern gannets gliding north 50-100 yards offshore in their favorite weather condition: winds of more than 15 mph. They made the less numerous herring gulls look clumsy. Then, a flock of shorebirds, probably sanderlings, also heading northward. Lastly, about 30 brant, reminding me just how fast waterfowl can fly. They were also going north up the beach. They usually do not make their migratory push until late May. Two red-eared, empty handed surf fishermen walked off the beach - no striped bass yet.
- Dery Bennett

3/13 - Knox, Albany County: Canada geese were setting up nesting territories, though our 15-acre freshwater pond remained nearly 100% ice-covered.
- Dave Nelson

3/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: As the waxing quarter moon strayed in and out of high cirrus clouds I was reminded that spring was right around the corner. I saw my first robin, a harbinger of spring for me. Upon the setting of the moon, Canada geese, on their trip northward, awkwardly settled into the nearby wetlands.
- Jasper Fox

3/13 - East Fishkill, HRM 64: Throughout the winter we have had one or two common redpolls at our feeder every few days, along with the goldfinches. Yesterday there were a dozen redpolls at once, leaving no room on the thistle feeder for the goldfinches. Then today there were 20, so many that a few had to resort to other seeds from the other feeder and even dropped seeds on the ground. They were swooping in and out of the yard on and off all day. Will there be even more tomorrow or were these on their way north to their breeding territory?
- Carolyn Plage

3/13 - Beacon, HRM 61: The winter is over on Long Dock. Today I caught a channel catfish, 3.75 lb, 22" long, a healthy, robust fish. It looks like one of the larger male catfish I catch here from time to time.
- Bill Greene

3/14 - Albany, HRM 145: I heard a song sparrow singing this afternoon, the first I've heard this spring.
- Dave Nelson

3/14 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: All day I had seen the signs, geese and ducks pairing off in the marshes, crows flying overhead with large twigs, cardinals calling from high in the trees, but this evening was the kicker. As I went out to close the garage door, there it was, the sweet sound of spring: peepers!
- Susan Maresca

3/14 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: My first chipmunk of the spring emerged and found some nourishment at the base of the bird feeder.
- Nancy P. Durr

3/14 - Staten Island, New York City: This is increasingly the island of wonderful mysteries to me. I've always loved it, but as I grow to know it better, I find myself consulting old maps, making new naturalist acquaintances and friends. Today Ray Matarazzo of the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences and I took a walk through an unlikely looking ballfield, and found a beautiful natural grassland after trudging through endless mugwort. In the grassland we found Spiranthes orchids just leafing out after a winter dormancy, a red-tailed hawk, 5 woodcock (who scared us each five times), a very early nymphalid butterfly, perhaps a question mark, solitary bees, and the topper, a dead common shrew who had died on the sandy path between sites.
- Dave Taft

3/15 - Minerva, HRM 284: I tapped a couple of fine maple trees today and got maybe a half gallon of sap. Said sap froze the next day and has been quite solid since. It was 14 degrees F at my house today and there is still 2-3 feet of really heavy snow on the ground.
- Mike Corey

3/15 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: We had a fox sparrow at the feeder today. We do not see them often but, if we do, it is usually in March.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

3/15 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: Early this morning I watched a large "dog" go from behind my house down to the stream on the Springside Landscape Restoration site. It was grayish, had a beautiful bushy tail with a black tip and black at the base. Plenty of white-tailed deer take that route. The squirrels were all 20' up in the trees scolding. The coyote trotted along with a most beautiful, easy, rhythmic grace.
- Anne P. Strain

3/15 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Two red-tailed hawks were doing a soaring, mostly effortless, skillful ballet across a 100 degree arc of the sky today. It was an avian version of pair-figure skating. They moved with vertical changes using the thermals, sometimes far apart, sometimes close, and in three dimensions but without a lift from a partner, just the shared thermals.
- Nancy P. Durr

3/15 - Queens, New York City: Inspired by yesterday's explorations, I looked for similar sandy shoreline soils at Fort Tilden, and was rewarded with more Spiranthes rosettes (Spiranthes cernua). This is a fairly abundant species, if you know where to look. Two fine sharp-shinned hawks, courting with each other, flew overhead as I started off the trail and remained visible for what seemed like long minutes as ocean sounds ands pring scents filled the air.
- Dave Taft

3/16 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: The spring peepers were peeping this morning at Stony Kill Farm for the first time this year. I could actually count that there were only three chirping away.
- Andra Sramek

3/17 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: The sun is bright and getting higher in the sky every day. The first crocuses have appeared to join our snowdrops.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

3/18 - Town of Wappinger: This afternoon the "new" NY62 eagle nest appeared to be empty. That is a no-no for incubating birds eggs. After a while, I found the male perched on the shoulder of the "old" nest, not far away. He sat there for a while, then took off, flew right over my head, chirping, made a wide arc, and headed toward the new nest. Odd doings.
- Tom Lake

3/18 - Rockwood Hall, Westchester County, HRM 31: I could hear spring peepers while walking in Rockefeller Preserve in early afternoon. On the way back, on the same trail, I spotted a coyote.
- Joan Coffey

3/18 - Staten Island, New York City: As I was leaving Fort Wadsworth, a large turkey vulture with its typical "V" dihedral, tipped and glided over the guard booth of the park. Later, making my way up Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights, a large sharp-shinned hawk crossed Atlantic Avenue before the light allowed me to follow.
- Dave Taft

3/18 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Sometime within the past three days, the last of more than 10,000 greater scaup deserted their wintering coves on the backside of Sandy Hook and headed north toward the Arctic. This was the first time in 40 years of noticing that I have not seen a canvasback in any of the usual haunts. In general, counts of long-tail ducks, common goldeneyes, and red-breasted mergansers were low.
- Dery Bennett

3/19 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We made our way out in the pouring rain tonight to see if the spotted salamanders were making their first attempt at migrating to the vernal pools. We were only expecting to see a few, but to our surprise we helped two dozen cross the road. We hiked through the woods to see if there were any in the pools yet and found a few swimming around, as well as many newts. The best sighting of the night was a big fat Jefferson salamander that we helped cross the road.
- Rebecca Houser, Brian Houser

3/19 - Town of Wappinger: In a cold, driving rain at midday I peered through binoculars at the female in the new eagle nest. We have tentatively designated this one NY62B, after the old nest, now NY62A. It would seem that it is the same mated pair. She was facing me, albeit at 500 feet, hunkered down, looking wet and miserable. It is during March each year that we get a full appreciation of how resilient these birds are. For a month, they sit all day, all night, in what is usually frightful weather, waiting for their eggs to hatch.
- Tom Lake

3/19 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Snow drops, sweeping borders of them, were blooming, edging their way up from their winter leaf blanket. I brought a little clutch of them indoors yesterday. To my surprise, I find they have a lovely, sweet scent!
- Robin Fox

3/19 Sandy Hook, NJ: The first resident osprey of the season arrived this afternoon, called a few times, and later landed on a nearby building roof with a big, fat menhaden (i.e., bunker, pogy, fatback). The timing is just about right, though over the years their arrival date has moved up about seven days. The first osprey day is part of a springtime frenzy: St Patrick's Day, the equinox, the annual Squid and Spaghetti supper, the March 26 bird species count on the Hook, and the opening of winter flounder season.
- Dery Bennett

Osprey Return to Sandy Hook, NJ
1988 - 3/25 1998 - 3/25
1989 - 3/21 1999 - 3/24
1990 - 3/21 2000 - 3/16
1991 - 3/19 2001 - 3/19
1992 - 3/25 2002 - 3/25
1993 - 3/30 2003 - 3/24
1994 - 3/29 2004 - 3/22
1995 - 3/22 2005 - 3/24
1996 - 3/28 2006 - 3/23
1997 - 3/27 2007 - 3/23
2008 - 3/19

3/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Just so I could say I did, I got up at 00:48 this morning, walked out on my deck in light rain, and noted not a thing had changed. Just a half hour earlier a pair of coyotes had been chorusing - they really do yip-yip-yip - and I had hoped they would keep it up just so I could have something to consider. But they tossed in the towel a few minutes early. The vernal equinox had arrived, and with it began our 15th year of the Hudson River Almanac.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: With all of the rain and runoff of the past week, it has been difficult to distinguish high tide from low tide. Today the creek was out into the flood plain and two Canada geese were swimming furiously in a foot of water normally a footpath along the bank. I had to wonder if their nest was under water.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Town of Wappinger: The new, or transplanted, bald eagle nest (NY62B) is near the top of a tulip tree, or yellow poplar. It is a "soft" wood but sturdy in comparison to the white pine where their old nest still resides. On a windy day that white pine will list back and forth until you wonder how it does not snap. In the face of a strong northwest wind today, the tulip tree stood its ground. Mama still has that stoic look as she endures the rigors of incubation.
- Tom Lake

3/20 - Queens, New York City: For me, the vernal equinox has rarely coincided with the first real signs of spring. My car was covered with the shed bud scales of a neighboring calary pear as I drove off to work this morning. The rain of the last few days had clearly started the buds opening. As I parked and headed into my office, I was greeted with a busy flock of robins who were eating the proverbial "early worms" of spring. Dozens of still living earthworms littered the sidewalk, and it called to mind that the full moon of March, tomorrow, is sometimes called the "worm moon."
- Dave Taft

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