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Hudson River Almanac March 19 - March 26, 2008

OVERVIEW

In a week full of eagles, harbor seals, and "monster" waterfowl migrations, we must give the amphibians their due! The first warm rains of late March launched spring peepers into song and sent frogs and salamanders on their annual journey to mate in vernal pools, wetlands, and ponds.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/19 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Driving home from a trip to Manhattan, the sight of a few salamanders crossing the road tipped me that tonight was the night. A soft drizzling rain had fallen all day and continued as I went to a local vernal pool around midnight. The pool was still covered with ice on three sides but a thin sliver of open water on one side drew my attention. That is traditionally the best spot to find salamanders and, sure enough, they were there, not in large numbers but 20-30 of them were visible. Perhaps many more were hidden below the ice. Continuing around the pond I found another shallow depression with a few inches of water and salamanders arriving enthusiastically every few minutes. Hopefully I will see larger numbers on the next rainy night as the temperature warms.
- Fran Dunwell

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/19 - Columbia County, HRM 118: Given that the calender said spring was imminent, and it was raining, we went out on a road known for amphibians. We saw and removed about 40 wood frogs and spring peepers from the road in about an hour. Good to see them again!
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt, Margot Boucher, Alec Schmidt

3/20 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I spotted a pair of redhead ducks nearly at my feet at Cheviot Landing. I looked for more among the mass of waterfowl but could not locate any. This was a monster waterfowl day with a mix of canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks, and common goldeneyes.
- Mimi Brauch

3/20 - North Germantown, HRM 109: A pair of adult bald eagles have become almost a fixture here. There may be a nest nearby.
- Mimi Brauch

3/20 - Red Hook, HRM 98: (From the Red Hook Journal, March 20, 1868) Navigation Opens! The ice in the Hudson broke up very suddenly on Monday night and on Tuesday nearly all the ice in the river was in pieces. Considerable damage was done along the shore by the breaking up of the ice and high water. When the ice moved out of the Rondout Creek, canal boats, etc., were carried down the stream, and several canal boats were sunk. Near Castleton, the water and ice covered the railroad tracks for some distance, to the depth of four feet, so that no trains were able to pass for three days. The river, is now nearly free from ice, and navigation will soon be fully open.
- Maynard Ham

3/20 - Newburgh, HRM 60: A pond at Stewart Airport in a wooded area on the north side of the airfield, now ice-free, had attracted a pair of Canada geese and at least one hooded merganser. The merganser was diving in the water. Last year around this time at this same pond I noted that a pair of hooded mergansers were active.
- Ed Spaeth

3/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The full moon came a day late, but the vagaries of the moon and the equinox are broad enough to say they coincide. A cold and relentless northwest wind blew all night and at dawn it was still bending trees. The wind plus the air temperature combined to make it feel like zero Fahrenheit. It had been another night for eagle endurance. The new nest, only half-size in comparison with the old nest, seemed to have plenty of drafty openings where patching was necessary. The ground around the tulip tree was littered with twigs and branches of all sizes, leading me to wonder if the wind was doing a little dismantling. It bears watching.
- Tom Lake

3/22 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I was checking vernal pools and a reliable pond for amphibians this afternoon (those I found were swarming with red-spotted newts and bullfrog tadpoles) when I encountered my first flying adult butterfly of the year. An eastern comma flushed from my path out to an open utility cut, flew a few yards and alighted for a decent view. The utility cut is bordered by mixed woodlands on both sides, and is located at the very northern edge of Ulster County.
- Steve M. Chorvas

3/22 - Black Creek, Ulster County, HRM 82: On a public interpretive hike at Scenic Hudson's Black Creek Preserve, I heard my first spring peepers and wood frogs calling this season. They were in two different vernal pools closer to the Hudson River than to Black Creek. A third pool in the park, Hemlock Pool, had a quite few small masses of salamander eggs clinging to branches in the water - definitely spotted salamanders and perhaps even some Jefferson's. There were several members of the "spotted crowd" hanging out nearby in the water. The male salamanders had deposited their spermatophores a few days earlier. The wonders of the vernal pools never cease to amaze!
- Susan Hereth

3/22 - Port Ewen, HRM 88: I was unhappily awake before dawn, so I took my dog to Freer Park where the glow of sunrise began to reflect in the Hudson and in the ripples of mud at the shore. An exuberant chorus of birdsong told me spring had already arrived for some creatures, despite the sub-freezing chill. It was hard to regret the lost sleep after that.
- Dan Shapley

3/22 - Gardiner, HRM 73: On a walk this morning, we spotted a Compton tortoise shell butterfly! Seems a little too early for these guys to be waking up from overwintering.
- Rebecca Houser, Brian Houser

3/22 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: After three days of steady and strong west-northwest winds, a blowout tide pretty much emptied the lower end of the tidal Wappinger. A small group of black ducks were walking around in the exposed mud flats foraging.
- Tom Lake

3/22 - Beacon, HRM 61: During an afternoon walk along the riverside trail to Denning's Point, I heard woodcock calling, but I could not see them from my vantage point near the bridge over the railroad tracks. They might very well have been right there in the leaf litter near a secluded pond or even under the railroad bridge, but they were not visible to me.
- Ed Spaeth

3/22 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: We had our second harbor seal of the season hauled out on a kayak dock off West 72nd Street. It has been here for a week (see 1/28). The seal slips off into the river, swims around, dives, and hauls back out onto the dock. It is so wonderful to see this beautiful animal. We also have a nesting pair of red-tail hawks who have built their nest in a honey locust tree along the on-ramp to the West Side Highway. The female is sitting on eggs. As the male flies in, the female leaves and he sits on the eggs.
- Leslie Day

3/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: Almost as an afterthought, I went to see if the northern shrikes were still at Vassar Farm (see 1/12 - 1/13). The one by the gate was not there; however the other by field station was still hanging around. It was still making the circuit in the riparian area, particularly fond of the big grouping of dead trees in the middle. It seemed to be flying almost leisurely. At one point, right after landing on a perch, a black bird flew nearby calling repeatedly. It was red-winged in size, but through binoculars I saw the yellow iris and no wing patches: rusty blackbird! This was a preview of something that will be taking place, many times over, a couple of months from now and hundreds of miles north.
- Bill Lenhart

3/23 - Westchester County, HRM 34: Today, finally, the spring peepers were in full chorus in Glendale Swamp.
- Mimi Rosenwald

3/23 - Croton on Hudson, HRM 35: What a beautiful way to wake up Easter morning! A pair of bluebirds were checking out the nesting box in my backyard. What a joy to watch these magnificent birds, their brightly colored feathers glistening in that first morning light, as they engaged in their yearly rituals. I keep my fingers crossed that they stick around this year...
- Leen Provost

3/23 - Sandy Hook, NJ: This morning, between the bird feeders and the back door, there was an almost perfect circle of bird feathers on the grass, marking the last seconds in the life of a mourning dove and a hearty breakfast for a raptor, probably the neighborhood sharp-shinned hawk.
- Dery Bennett

3/24 Newcomb, HRM 302: We are still sitting at 30" at the snowstick, and when I misstep off the beaten paths, I crash through into snow about mid-thigh deep. I'll be glad when it has melted. Lots of sunshine lately, but the days and nights have been cold. I've seen snow buntings, red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, grackles, and I swear I even saw a starling. They have learned that I have food. They also seem very appreciative of the water in the heated birdbath. A suggestion to those who are considering purchasing a heated birdbath: Don't get the small one! Shuck out the extra money and get the full-size birdbath. It doesn't need refilling as often, and can service many more birds at one time.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/24 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: Coltsfoot was just beginning to bloom near our house.
- Bill Drakert

3/24 - Sandy Hook, NJ: On the way into work today, I spotted five rowboats with anglers fishing for winter flounder in the Navesink River. On Sandy Hook, northern gannets seemed to be aimlessly flying close to the beach. A half-mile offshore there was a great swath of gannets sitting on the water with a few flying overhead but none diving. It looked as if they had all just finished a strenuous feed and were resting up for the next assault.
- Dery Bennett

3/24 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Traveling along the New York State Thruway on my way home from work, I saw what I first thought to be a large brown ball rolling across the highway. Then I realized it was not rolling, but was instead scurrying and dodging fast moving traffic. A muskrat, trying to reach the safety of the center median.
-Reba Wynn Laks

3/24 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: Looking out our front window, we noticed an extra large buck in our neighbor's yard. He was the size of a small pony. In the moonlight, we could see that he had very large antlers and was devouring every crocus in the yard. Then he moved on to the shrubs. Later, I could hear the clip-clop of hooves on the blacktop as a herd was scattering down the street.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

[White-tailed deer shed their antlers in late winter and then re-grow new ones during the summer and fall. Tom Lake.]

3/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The air temperature fell to -4 degrees F tonight, but the stars were amazing. I heard no coyotes this time, however. For the last two nights they were in full voice, sounding like hundreds right outside the windows.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/25 - Columbia County, HRM 125: I was driving up the Taconic Parkway when I noticed a red-winged blackbird walking across some skim ice on a small pond. He slipped twice on the slick ice, which I found humorous, but I also identified with him. I guess all of us bipedal organisms have similar problems.
- Bob Schmidt

3/26 - Town of Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: Two ice-free vernal pools, 2000 yards apart, one at 350' above sea level and the other at 516': At the lower pool, the wood frogs had moved in and spring mating was in full force: several clusters of 4-12 together and in full chorus. Frogs are quite docile and you can approach them to within a few feet and net them very easily - do not expect that in another week. Fairy shrimp were in abundance. The upper pool is a closed conifer and blueberry environment and no activity had begun as yet.
- John R. Mort

3/26 - Town of Wappinger: Although it was early morning, it was a warm sun that peeked over the trees and lit up the new eagle nest. Mama was incubating and the sun reflected from her big white head. She appears all the larger this spring as she sits in a smaller nest. The river was calm and in the absence of a cold west wind, I read her expression as serene rather that the pensive look of a few days ago.
- Tom Lake

3/26 - Annsville Bay, HRM 43.5: From the window of our car aboard the morning Metro North commuter train to Manhattan, we saw an immature bald eagle flying low over the water, its white spots clearly visible.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

3/26 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: Just when we figured the seal had left and was chasing herring up the river, it appeared again today, hauled out on the kayak dock off West 72nd Street. Kim Durham, of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, viewed a digital photo and told us this was a yearling harbor seal.
- Lelsie Day

[To report a marine mammal sighting, call the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation's 24-hour Hotline, (631) 369-9829.]

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