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Hudson River Almanac April 7 - April 15, 2008

OVERVIEW

The spring cascade of colors has begun: forsythia to magnolia to shadbush. This will continue in the weeks ahead to dogwood, lilac, and many others. It is one of the best ways to measure the northward and upward advance of spring from the coast to the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/9 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: On a gorgeous afternoon with a perfect tide and gentle stream flow, students from Randolph School had the opportunity to assist in a moment of research. Our eel fyke is fixed to short lengths of re-bar set in the stream bottom and measures about 15' long by 12' wide. As we approached our net from downstream we spotted 4 wood ducks, 2 pairs, using it as a break in the current to dabble on the gravel bottom. We had a dozen or more glass eels and half as many elvers - a good haul. They would be weighed and measured and returned upstream. The wildlife parade continued as a muskrat swam across just downstream, a flock of 100 noisy goldfinches in daffodil-yellow came through, a graceful Cooper's hawk shadowed the forest canopy, a broad-winged hawk made a fly-by, and before leaving, we had accumulated a woodpecker "grand slam," with a downy, hairy, pileated, flicker, and a red-bellied. It was an altogether perfect hour.
- Goldy Safirstein, Phil Suriano, T.J. Groen, Nils Lewis, Chris Bowser, Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/7 - Hudson Highlands, HRM 45: I watched a pair of ravens flying in formation today over the "goat path," Route 6/202, about a mile south of Anthony's Nose. With wings cocked and legs down, and without seeming to move a feather, they flew within a foot of each other the whole time while they made several turns and dropped over the edge.
- Scott Craven

4/7 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Riverman Cal Greenburg told me today that he will not set shad nets this spring. For the first time in 40 years, shad lovers will leave his driveway disappointed. It kind of takes the gold out of forsythia, one of the flowers that we link to the appearance of shad in the Hudson each spring.
- Christopher Letts

4/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We were staring at a slowly moving Hudson River as it passed along the shore at the Newcomb pump house and made its way under and around the remaining floes of ice. I heard a gurgle of water that didn't match what I was seeing and, as I looked downstream, I saw the head of a beaver cutting across the current to the far bank. A sound upstream drew my attention and I watched the force of the water break off mini-bergs from the ice pack. From downstream we heard another sound, the call of a beaver, a very hard to describe moaning whine. As we looked, we saw not one, but two beaver heads now skimming the surface. One hauled itself up on the shore while the other continued to swim around. Another ice chunk grated loose upstream and the beaver on the shore decided this was a threat so he returned to the water. We returned to our vigil and watched the beavers swim back to the shore where once again one of them climbed out. Then we decided to call it a day, bid the beavers farewell, and headed home.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

4/8 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was out on my snowshoes this evening behind the house. The ice-covered open water areas of my swamp yielded little in terms of critters, but in the marginal shrubs and in the woods were male red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, and robins. I searched in vain for snow fleas. I think they need warmer, sunny conditions to get them up and out on the snow.
- Mike Corey

4/8 - Indian Kill, HRM 85: Overnight our glass eel fyke net caught 2 glass eels, 20 elvers (two-years-old plus), and 3 fourspine sticklebacks. I'm wondering if the tidal marsh habitat at the site, with much cattail, phragmites, and substantial horizontal range of tide, makes it a great place for eels to spend a year or two.
- Chris Bowser

4/8 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: Recently, as I drove into the hamlet of Staatsburg, I saw a red-shouldered hawk fly up from near the roadside and alight on a mass of sticks lodged in a V of a white ash trunk. Later, with binoculars, I could see the hawk standing on the mass of sticks that incorporated what looked like fresh nesting material, including sprigs of hemlock. I have seen this red-shoulder frequently and today there was a female on the sticks with a male a few dozen feet away. Dare we hope there's a new family in town?
- David Lund

[Although they are less common than red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks do nest in Dutchess County. They seem to stay in an area several years, perhaps moving to a different tree, but not far from last year's nest. Barbara Butler.

Red-shouldered hawks are more tolerant of people and close proximity to housing than red-tailed hawks. The fresh greens are a good sign. It sounds like they are setting up housekeeping. Rich Guthrie.]

4/8 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Our resident breeding red foxes have had, so far, a single kit. Last year they had 4. We can see it moving around at the edge of the woods with Mom mostly at dawn and dusk. This seems early. Last year we did not see the baby foxes until April 30. In spring 2007, their maternity den was in a compacted brush pile; this year they have moved under a nearby tool shed where the adults have brought squirrels. We have found their skins and bones scattered around the edge.
- Diane Lowry

4/8 - Brooklyn Heights, New York City: Star magnolias were in bloom through Hicks Street, and perched on just one, a lovely, mint-bright phoebe, tail bobbing and flitting from flowered branch to flowered branch.
- Dave Taft

4/8 - Staten Island, New York City: The robins were crazy with love and vying for territories every morning, ignoring the worms on the pavement and the blooming Persian speedwell blooming everywhere on the lawn at Fort Wadsworth. Three cardinals were also besotted this morning, each calling from a separate parking lot tree, and each as red as a forgotten Christmas tree ornament.
- Dave Taft

4/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our first butterfly of the season, a Compton's tortoiseshell, came by today.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/9 - Town of Wappinger: It seemed like a change in plans was afoot. The mated pair of bald eagles were now back in their original nest, NY62A, having, or so it seems, abandoned the nest closer to the river. This morning, Mama was hunkered down in the nest with Papa perched close by. It was not too late for them to make up their mind and incubate eggs.
- Tom Lake

4/9 - Staten Island, New York City: In a secluded woodland, dozens of clean white bloodroot flowers greeted the cool air of spring like they have since bloodroot was "invented." Seeing these blooms has become a personal ritual for me each spring.
- Dave Taft

4/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This evening as Toby Rathbone and I headed down to the river, we were taken aback by a branch full of pussy willows just emerging. They hadn't been there the day before.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/10 - Hudson River Estuary: Observing river herring! There is a volunteer effort underway this spring to record, albeit anecdotally, the presence of river herring in Hudson River tributaries. Times and tide play a major role in the presence of river herring in tributaries, but the mix of these tend to be different for each. For example, in the bigger tributaries, like the Wappinger, Rondout, Catskill and possibly Stockport Creeks, river herring come in on the flood tide, mingle, and then stick around for another tide cycle. In smaller tributaries like Canterbury Brook, Quassaick Creek, Hathaways Glen, and Hunter's Brook, they come in on the flood, spawn if they are ready, and exit on the ebb tide. It is not unusual to see their characteristic "rushing up along the shore," males chasing females, at any time of the day or night in most tributaries, although nighttime flood tides might be favored. Time and tide may not be as important as the location where you are observing. Some reaches of tributaries lend themselves better to the acrobatics of herring, such as long deep runs, pools behind large rocks, and inshore shallows adjacent to deeper water. In the Serengeti, it would be like finding a spot to watch the perfect watering hole, thus the lions!
- Tom Lake

4/10 - Hudson River, HRM 92-96: This evening a friend and I paddled north from Kingston Point to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. We watched the falcon box for awhile until it became clear that there was at least one peregrine present. At one point, the falcon flew out, briefly fluttering overhead checking us out, perched on the beams under the bridge, and watched us until we left.
- Wes Ostertag

4/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard my first winter wren of the season singing away in full voice.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/11 - Town of Esopus HRM 82: On a beautiful sunny afternoon, my partner Tona and I decided to canoe on Chodikee Lake and then continue north on Black Creek. We had gone past several beaver lodges and were passing another when suddenly a Canada goose began swimming toward us. It took off and flew just over Tona's head, wheeled and flew back grazing her head this time with fast-beating wings. We were frightened; that bird was big and its wings very powerful, especially as seen close-up underneath! We back-paddled and the goose swam away. Then we realized what had happened: We had failed to notice its mate sitting atop a beaver lodge; it was simply defending its nest. We wanted to continue but instead made a wide detour through a flooded area next. We were rewarded further by the sight of a bald eagle, many herons and, on the way back, a huge beaver swimming in the lake, then diving down with a great flap of its tail.
- Judy Mage

4/11 - Staten Island, New York City: I wondered when it would happen, but today while touring through the Great Kills park with my friend Dave Avrin, a pair of wild turkeys paraded out in front of the car. My first wild turkey within the park boundary.
- Dave Taft

4/12 - Germantown, HRM 108: After an entire winter of seeing only 2-3 purple finches and goldfinches at a time my backyard feeders, today produced an explosion in numbers. I counted 15-20 of each, as well as the typical numbers of "regulars" - titmice, downy woodpeckers, mourning doves, and assorted sparrows. The ground was a moving patchwork of colors as they hopped about pecking up the seeds I'd scattered.
- Laurie Fila

4/12 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Some A.P. Biology and Environment students from Roy C. Ketcham High School helped us check our daily catch - 5 glass eels and 2 elvers - from our research net. As we finished up our work, a pair of trusting mallards drifted downstream right past us, close enough to exchange smiles.
- Celina Alvarez, Arnold Cruz, Wilfredo Chaluisant, Tom Lake

4/12 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Just when I was winding down on the bird feeding season, a little push of birds made me think twice. Fox sparrows, a family favorite, showed up - gotta feed them! - and chipping sparrows, song sparrows, white-throated sparrows and the kicker, white-crowned sparrows. Off the ground, we saw the usual goldfinches, house finches, and continuing strong numbers of pine siskins. And a flock (well, 6) of purple finches, usually seen only in the nastiest of winter weather. Sigh. Another trip to the feed store seems in order.
- Christopher Letts

4/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We were getting snow, little stuff that won't likely stick around, but still, it was snowing. The river is in flood stage now, thanks to almost an inch of rain and the continual melting of snow. I've heard that there is still over eight feet of snow up on Mt. Marcy. Our snowstick shows that we have a little less than a foot of snow on the ground, but that all depends on where you are standing. There are many bare spots, but likewise there are pockets where it is almost knee deep.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/13 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: Forsythia and myrtle are out in Esopus.
- Bill Drakert

4/13 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: As far as we can tell, our first alewives of the spring arrived to spawn here today.
- Chris Bowser

4/13 - Croton River, HRM 34: It's not like it was 15 years ago, or before that as far back as I can recall. Still, the sight of hundreds of Dutchman's breeches blooming pulls me here every April. Back then, in the road gorge, there was a carpet of dainty flowers under foot and a canopy of ancient hemlocks overhead. The hemlocks succumbed to the woolly adelgid and now, with the canopy missing, Japanese knotweed has colonized the gorge, pushing out everything else. Still, it's worth the visit this time of year, as the remaining hundreds of dainty, lacy mint green leaves support tiny blossoms of Dutchman's breeches.
- Christopher Letts

4/14 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We spotted our first osprey of the season, scouting the river for fish. Its appearance, not surprisingly, coincides with the first reports of herring being caught in our eel nets. The exquisite timing in the natural world never ceases to amaze me. We also have a mallard nest near the building. The female is camouflaged so well that you have to actively look to spot her.
- Laurie Fila

4/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: No wildlife observer should miss any chance to visit this estuary. Something is always going on. Dawn low tides are especially fine for good looks at the usual and unusual. This morning from my "blind" (pickup truck cab) I watched tree swallows, phoebes, a lone pair of bufflehead and another of green-winged teal. Then, riding the flood under the railroad bridge, a couple of horned grebes, one splendid in breeding plumage, the other drab in winter wear. A mated pair, surely: they swam together, dove together, and got within ten yards of my blind.
- Christopher Letts

4/14 - Staten Island, New York City: Shad bush was fully in bloom. I could not resist the urge to take a final peek at a Staten Island bloodroot patch on this cool and drizzly day. As I walked, dozens of chipping sparrows flew off from a grassy field at the entrance to the woods. And once in the bright leafless shade of the woods, I noted 175 flowers before losing count, possibly because of a waterthrush calling, my first of the season. I couldn't track down the bird, and ultimately had to guess that there were still about a hundred flowers left uncounted. Trout lily and Canada mayflower leaves sprang up through the leaf litter without flowers as yet. Blue cohosh and wild oats poked up flowerless as yet too. Spicebush was alive with its tiny chartreuse flowers.
- Dave Taft

4/15 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: A group of Siena College students showed up to talk about eels and check the glass eel fyke in the mouth of the Saw Kill. We only caught two glass eels but one of the students saw and picked up a red-spotted newt. This is the first time we had seen one from tidewater.
- Bob Schmidt, Catherine O'Reilly, Cris Winters, and lots of Siena College students

4/15 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A bright, sunny spring morning was made a bit more cheerful by watching the courtship display of two resident eastern bluebirds. Both male and female bluebirds were perched on different branches of a budding dogwood tree that was near their nest box, when the very bright blue male flew down to the ground and seized an insect. With the insect in its mouth, he returned to the dogwood tree where he fed the insect to the female doing a fluttering wing display. He did this twice in close succession. On the third foray, he moved to another branch, ignored the begging flutters of the female and presumably ate the captive insect himself.
- Ed Spaeth

4/15 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: From our new third floor apartment on Palisade Street, we can see the Hudson River, the tops of trees, and yes, the Palisades. We have come to recognize the calling of a neighborhood cardinal that frequents the trees across the street, making us crane our necks for a welcome flash of red in the still bare woods.
- Denise Woodin

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