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Hudson River Almanac March 25 - March 31, 2008

OVERVIEW

One of the thrills of Hudson Valley birding is to come upon a field of migrating snow geese. They are seen much more often as a high-flying white checkmark against the blue sky as they head south in autumn or north in springtime to Arctic breeding grounds. As uncommon as this is, we had two such sightings this week. The first glass eels, a rather ephemeral juvenile form of the American eel, arrived in the river's tributaries. This is the next chapter in their mysterious life history that began six months ago in the mid-Atlantic, a mile below the surface, or so we think.

HIGHLIGHT OF A PREVIOUS WEEK

3/23 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: I spotted a river otter swimming in the mouth of the Esopus Creek this morning. Its swift and undulating motions were unmistakable. After swimming at the surface for awhile, it dove and reemerged near our dock, swimming along the bulkhead. An hour later, I noticed a ripple in the water along the bulkhead and went to investigate. While I waited for what I hoped was the otter to reemerge, I noticed a bald eagle perched in a tree on the other side of the creek. Add to the scene red-winged blackbirds flying from the marsh to visit our bird feeder, 4 mute swans milling about in the mouth of the creek, and a dozen swallows skimming the water's surface. Eventually, the river otter reappeared, stuck its head up out of the water, looked around, and dove back under.
- Patrick Landewe

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/25 - Saugerties Vly, HRM 104: I encountered our first-of-season Compton tortoiseshell butterflies flying in sunshine in an overgrown red cedar-shrub field adjacent to deciduous woodlands in extreme northern Ulster County, 250 yards south of the Greene County line. I was checking the field for woodcock when I heard one "peenting" nearby at the unlikely hour of 2:15 PM on a sunny afternoon. There was also a very cooperative Wilson's snipe foraging on one of the beaver dams, obligingly posing for a photo, and a male northern harrier ("gray ghost") hunting the cattail beds out in the marsh.
- Steve M. Chorvas

3/25 - Highlands Lakes State Park, HRM 60: I saw my first turtles of the season today, 2 painted turtles basking on logs, enjoying the afternoon sun, in an old farm pond in Orange County. I was so surprised, since it seemed so chilly still; I had to get my binoculars just to be sure!
- Laura Heady

3/25 - Staten Island, New York City: Even though these would be a ho-hum sighting anywhere else, I just cannot get enough of the turkey vultures that greet me almost daily as I enter Ft. Wadsworth. It could be simply a bad omen, but it's hard to see it that way as they glide by so buoyantly.
- Dave Taft

3/26 - Northern Saugerties Township, HRM 102: I spotted another eastern comma in northern Ulster County today, this time in my yard. This particular butterfly spent more time basking in the sunlight, allowing me to get off a few photos. Though the photos reveal some minor wear to the tip of one hind wing, this individual was in remarkably good shape for one that flew last fall, then spent the last several months hibernating in a crevice.
- Steve M. Chorvas

3/27 - Kinderhook, HRM 128: I spotted some hooded mergansers, a bufflehead, and hundreds of common mergansers in Kinderhook Lake. An immature bald eagle flew across the lake and started to extend its legs into the water when several ring-billed gulls chased it off. I watched a flock of a few hundred snow geese fly over the top of our hill.
- Cris Winters

3/27 - Stockport Flats, HRM 122: As I scouted along the Hudson I stopped at Stockport Flats. There were many mallards in the shallow water between the bare mud beds of the dormant yellow water lily and the arrow arum. Wood ducks could be heard and seen. Song sparrows were singing away, reminding me of marsh wrens.
- Cris Winter

3/27 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: Catherine O'Reilly and her Bard College students have been monitoring an eel fyke net that was set in the mouth of the Saw Kill 12 days ago. Today they caught their first glass eel of the spring.
- Bob Schmidt

[Freshwater eels have survived global cataclysms for millions of year but now some populations appear to be diminishing, even disappearing, worldwide and no one knows why. While American eels are considered freshwater fish, they are born at sea and many of them spend much of their lives in tidewater. Each spring, millions of immature eels ascend tidewater from the sea along the entire coast of North America. Their near lack of pigment has earned them the name "glass eel." This is a particularly vulnerable time and little is known about this period in their life history. Our annual research in Hudson River tributaries is designed to understand some facets of the life of American eels. It is difficult to protect them as a species when you know so little about them. Tom Lake.]

3/27 - Newburgh, HRM 61: The sky was overcast but the temperature was a mild 48 degrees F as a gentle breeze ruffled the waters of a secluded wooded pond near Stewart Airport. A census of waterfowl in this pond revealed 2 Canada geese, several mallards, 4 hooded mergansers and a pair of northern pintails. On the nearby grassy slope were several robins, while a fox sparrow foraged near to the shelter of a fence row.
- Ed Spaeth

3/28 - Minerva, HRM 284: Peepers in full voice? Salamanders rutting and frisking in vernal pools? Butterflies on the wing? Where? I noted these occurrences in the latest Almanac. However, in Minerva we were still looking at close to three feet of snow on the ground in the open, seven feet under the eves. The best we could do was a very confused-looking killdeer on an ice-covered parking lot a few houses away. The killdeer was bright with spring plumage, but looked very lost. Our maple taps thawed today; the sap is hesitant, but sweet.
- Mike Corey

3/28 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: It started last night as a cool light drizzle. By midnight it had turned to a sleet/drizzle combo. And by morning the ground was covered with a layer of crunchy snow, sleet, ice and slush. Pretty, but not fun. The birds liked it though. They were lined up waiting for me to dish out cracked corn and sunflower seeds. I was soon inundated with hordes of grackles and red-winged blackbirds pushing and shoving to get to that morsel. An occasional mourning dove tried bravely to elbow in with some success. That dainty little bird has some chutzpah. It was worth the price of admission just to see the dove evade blackbird beaks now and again. Soon, though it became too much. The dove either was satisfied or discouraged enough to leave the table. White-throated and song sparrows were satisfied to feed in the sanctuary under the fir tree boughs.
- Rich Guthrie

3/28 - Tivoli, HRM 100.5: Driving east on Kidd Lane in late afternoon near Tivoli Bays, a large dark-haired creature wandered into my path. At first I thought it was a rather large skunk as it waddled across the road. As I got closer, I realized it was a very large beaver. It lumbered across the road into a clearing and then into some brush. Its size, its shining black coat, very wet and oily, and that amazing tail were an incredible and exciting sight.
- Rich Schiafo

3/28 - Columbia County, HRM 125: It was raining tonight so we went out looking for amphibians. There were few available but we did find our first spotted salamander and Jefferson's salamander of the year.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt

3/28 - Cold Spring, HRM 55: Walking along the edge of a large hayfield this morning, we realized that the "white line" in the middle of the field where the contour changed, was a flock of 60 snow geese. Within a few minutes, with much excited honking, they were joined by another one hundred or so winging in from the south. When they were spooked by a kestrel we could see that two of them were gray phase snow geese, a form also known as a blue goose.
- Ralph Odell, Leslie Heanue

3/28 - Bronx, New York City: Dave Kunstler and I were searching for rare plants in Pelham Bay when a large female harrier swept past us and made us look up. Amid dozens of robins was a monk parakeet (parrot). As we headed back out, we saw our first phoebe of the season, perched on a fence-line.
- Dave Taft

3/29 - Indian Kill, HRM 85: The NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program and National Estuarine Research Reserve, along with high school students, are studying the migration of juvenile glass eels into several Dutchess County tributaries. Today, our first glass eel was caught on the Indian Kill, which flows into the Hudson at Norrie Point. The two-inch-long eel was almost completely transparent except for its eyes and a line of small dark specks along its length. The water temperature was 47 degrees F.
- Chris Bowser

3/29 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: I was excited to see, despite continuing cold temperatures (23 degrees F this morning with a dusting of snow!) that the male goldfinches that have been coming to my feeder all winter are beginning to change from their drab olive plumage to bright yellow. A true sign of spring!
- Kathy Kraft

3/29 - Beacon, HRM 61: While walking southward along the Riverside Trail, the brisk northwest wind was at my back. On my return I was glad for layered clothing that kept the chill away. During my walk I encountered robins foraging, crows flying, red-winged blackbirds singing, cardinals and mourning doves foraging, and a pair of mallards swimming in a trackside slough. Swimming past me close to shore in Hudson was a river otter. It dove underwater briefly and then headed for the tree-lined shore. I lost sight of it, but it may have a home in a culvert or bank-side hollow.
- Ed Spaeth

3/30 - Cohoes, HRM 157: We stopped by the falls at Cohoes hoping to see an eagle or two. The falls were roaring away, plumes of mist rising upward and the chilly waters roiling with savage speed. No eagles were seen, but we did see some huge greater black-backed gulls with heavy bodies and enormous wingspans. We left the falls and were driving back through Cohoes when I looked up and saw an adult bald eagle soaring above the city! The eagle glided and soared on thermals for a good ten minutes until suddenly making a straight line for the Mohawk River. The bird flew over the old mill area and dove toward the water. I lost view because of the roof tops. The eagle had a surprising amount of speed, especially in the dive. A great show!
- Pat Van Alstyne

3/30 - Saugerties, HRM 102: On our walk along the trail leading to the Saugerties lighthouse we saw river otter scat along the boardwalk to the dock. There were also tracks and tunnels.
- Virginia Luppino

3/30 High Falls, Ulster County, HRM 85: It was a gorgeous spring day with mild temperatures in the high 40s. While walking along the old towpath of the abandoned Delaware and Hudson Canal in High Falls, we noted the emergence of skunk cabbage in the damp environs of the canal bed. For the same reason that the skunk cabbage is beginning to open, an early rising little brown bat was seeking flying insects, surprised as we were at its appearance in broad daylight. Later, as we crossed Rondout Creek in Rosendale, we saw another little brown bat flitting above the bridge and the creek.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

3/30 - Black Creek, Ulster County, HRM 82: The vernal pools were alive at the Black Creek preserve. There were a few peepers and a noisy bunch of "quackers" (wood frogs). The spotted salamanders had begun their yearly pilgrimage. You could see the spermatophores deposited by the early-arriving males. Red-spotted salamanders [newts] were also swimming around at Shaupeneak.
- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

3/30 - Columbia County, HRM 125: Many birders were discussing the "red invasion" this winter, referencing the large contingent of northern species around this year. We had 3 red-breasted nuthatches most of the winter in our feeder until they left about two weeks ago. Today another "red" appeared, a common redpoll. A number of people have been reporting redpolls, but this was the first one to visit us.
- Bob Schmidt

3/30 - Staten Island, New York City: Though still cold, spring was definitely in the air as Ray Matarazzo and I set out to explore a newly acquired piece of property. Tracts this size are rare enough in the city, but this was a healthy woodland with lots of grassy edges to boot. One of the highlights included an emergence of fire flies! Dozens of these beetles clambered about slowly, jockeying for a position among the first shoots of trout lily and Canada mayflower at the base of an old oak. The southern exposure had heated the ground significantly, and beetles were everywhere. I stooped to photograph them and was covered in an instant. My camera, my arms, my jeans. Ray and I agreed it was a wonderful spring initiation - baptism by firefly! We also found three species of Lycopodium, Spiranthes orchid rosettes (probably Cernua), and some beautiful old beech trees that had miraculously escaped the ardent pen-knives of Staten Islanders.
- Dave Taft

3/31 - Sandy Hook, NJ: This was the 33rd annual last-Monday-in-March bird species count to celebrate the return of Sandy Hook ospreys as well as eat a mess of squid, squid salad, squid in spaghetti sauce, and squid sautéed. It was cool, 42 degrees F, drizzly, breezy with a northwest wind at 15 mph, and mostly dismal. We recorded 44 species, near our record low of 42, and we added no new species to our 32 year cumulative of 149. Among the notable sightings were red-throated and common loons, northern gannets, great egrets, oystercatchers, tree swallows, fish crows, and piping plovers. Raptors were noticeably absent with only northern harrier showing up, and we failed to spot a pigeon (rock dove) for the first time since we started counting back in 1974.
- Dery Bennett

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