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Hudson River Almanac April 23 - April 30, 2008


Every spring, without fail, as though it's required, we comment that "spring is early" or "spring is late." These perceptions are based on averages, many of which are purely anecdotal in our memories. But it seems no matter how early or late spring arrives, by May the season has caught up with itself. With global warming and climate change on most people's minds, however, even small deviations are magnified. Having said all that, I feel compelled to mention that the spring flowers sure seemed to bloom early this year!


4/25 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Yesterday, after walking around our wetland pond to see if mama Canada goose's goslings had hatched, my eye caught a large slow-moving form in the alder thicket not fifteen feet away. It was a gorgeous American bittern! As it slowly and somewhat awkwardly moved through the thicket, it repeatedly croaked a harsh staccato call that seemed odd in the face of a potential threat. Today, after some searching, I managed to spot it again, motionless, head pointed toward the sky, in the nearby tussock sedges. Several years ago we saw one on and off for two weeks here in the same tussocks and were hopeful it would nest, but it was apparently just passing through.
- Dan Marazita


4/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I joined biologist Stacy McNulty at the Adirondack Ecological Center on a search for spotted salamanders. It was supposed to be rainy, but the stars were out. We hiked to two vernal pools near Arbutus Lake and scanned the water with our head lamps. There were several masses of wood frog eggs, which - thanks to the lack of rain - were starting to emerge from the ponds. We were able to scoop 2 spotted salamanders in a net so we got a good look at them with their shiny black skin, sides blushed with blue, and backs speckled with bright yellow dots. Several more were floating in the water. Adult wood frogs were out as well, silently suspended at the surface of the water. We even saw two in mating embrace, the small grayer male grasping the larger, pinker female. As we moved to the second pool, wood frogs and a few peepers started to call in the first pool - the trauma of our presence having passed. While not as exciting as a salamander migration, it was still a great experience to be out in the woods at night taking a peak at the private lives of our native amphibians. We were also treated to the distant calling of a barred owl.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/23 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: It was the end of the academic semester and the beginning of another great seining season on the Hudson, so my Marist College students and I took a field trip to Norrie Point. As soon as we got there we noticed a pair of furry mammals swimming in the cove, frequently diving, arching their backs as they did so, with no tail slaps at all. I think they were river otters. We seined at two hours after high tide. For most of the students, it was their first time in waders, and no one was disappointed. Our catch included golden and spottail shiners, tessellated darters (several of them gravid with eggs), white perch, yellow perch, a few small American eels, banded killifish, several river herring, and a 16" white catfish. One of the herring had a distinct fresh wound on its back. Perhaps a near miss with an otter?
- Chris Bowser, Beth Roessler

4/23 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Students from Randolph School had the opportunity to assist in a moment of research. Fyke nets set for eels are an easy and efficient collection method. At low tide the stream is usually behaving itself, and the net is quickly checked and reset. Today we had 6 glass eels that had fully transformed from their fresh-from-the-ocean transparency of a month ago to a bright translucency. They will continue gaining pigmentation all summer until by fall they will look like miniature brown and yellow adult eels.
- Goldy Safirstein, Chris Iverson, Tom Lake

4/23 - Town of Wappinger: As far as we can tell, the eagle pair in the new nest along the river (NY62B) are not incubating eggs this spring, or any longer if they had been. With no solid tie to the nest, they are less likely to put up with intrusion, so approaching the area to monitor behavior has to be done in a stealthy manner or they will leave. A spotting scope allows us to "get close" while still hundreds of feet away. They know you are there, but you have not stepped inside their "alert" distance, let alone their flight distance. Over time you establish, at least in my mind, a compromise separation of mutual tolerance. This morning there was one big white head sitting down in the nest. It was the female and it was anyone's guess as to why she was there. It is possible that there are eggs in the nest that will never hatch and, at the risk of sounding anthropomorphic, sitting there allowed her a measure of comfort.
- Tom Lake

4/23 - Sandy Hook, NJ: This is the height of coastal spring migration of raptors, and Sandy Hook concentrates them before they make the cross-water hop to New York and Long Island. Falcons cross the water without hesitation and accipiters are pretty much the same. But the buteos, great fans of thermals, come up to the tip of the Hook and the ocean (no thermals over water), then hang around soaring for a bit before heading back south till they find solid land to continue their northern voyage. Least happy with over-the-water flying are the turkey vultures and today 15 of them came up to the end of the Hook and spent at least an hour bobbing in the air before heading south to go west to head back north over land.
- Dery Bennett

4/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard my first common loon this afternoon, although our seasonal, Mary Tisi, reported hearing one earlier this week.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/24 - Town of Wappinger: We hoped to see some encouraging activity but neither adult eagle was in sight at the new nest, NY62B. The nest tree was quickly acquiring its spring allotment of poison ivy, the bane of tree-climbers. We'd have to deal with that and soon. The tree's new tulip-shaped leaves had grown to where we could clearly see the connection to its common name. A horizontal limb just below the nest had been a feeding perch for the pair; we noted two long, fresh cuts where the bark had been scraped off. It may also have been the result of "beak-cleaning," often a post-meal activity.
- Pete Nye, Tom Lake

4/24 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Shadbush - a.k.a. shad blow, juneberry, sarvisberry (serviceberry) - was blooming along the shores of the Croton Reservoir. In my yard, brilliant yellow goldfinches clustered amidst the pinky, lavender blossoms of the azalea.
- Robin Fox

4/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I was admiring our flowering dogwood in bloom, by all accounts a week or more early, when I spotted a brilliant orange red fox twenty feet beyond in the background, lazily lounging on a small hill of dirt in our woods. We had recognized this dirt hill, a former woodchuck colony, as a potential fox den in late winter as we saw sporadic activity in the area.
- Tom Lake

4/25 - Beacon, HRM 61: The "Big Carp" showed up today at Long Dock, the largest of which was 17 lb., 32" long, and 22" in girth. I estimated two others to be in the 5-8 lb. All were measured and released. I lost two more due to hook pulls, as I was trying to move them away from the rocks. I also caught a 9" golden shiner, solving the mystery of what was stealing my bait. Anglers at the end of the dock were catching bullheads, channel catfish, and small striped bass. A dozen sportfishing boats arrived after noon, drifting and trolling in the channel for striped bass.
- Bill Greene

4/25 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Thirteen days without rain had reduced the brook to a trickle on low tide. The few remaining shallow pools appeared glassy in the darkness of midnight. Every few minutes I heard and saw an eruption as a half-dozen alewives rushed into a riffle in a spawning commotion.
- Tom Lake

4/26 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby Rathbone and I saw our first mockingbird of spring this morning and down the road the first forsythia was starting to bloom. While out in my yard I saw in my peripheral vision a long, skinny white thing floating across the grass and through the fence: a long-tailed weasel. Poor thing was still totally white, which was the only reason I was able to see it. It looked like someone had tied a string to a white hankie and was dragging it across the lawn.
- Ellen Rathbone

[Like many boreal species, being white where winters are snowy, is an adaptation that provide an element of camouflage. As spring arrives, the fur of the long-tailed, and short-tailed weasel turns a tawny brown, perfect for the dark understory of the forest floor. Tom Lake.]

4/26 - Minerva, HRM 284: It was a wonderful evening: the air was nearly 65 degrees F and the peepers were shrill, almost deafening. The American bittern was back in the swamp, with its cool call that sounds like plumbing about to give up the ghost. I also heard the very strong and amazing song of a frisky hermit thrush in the woods. Yellow-rumped warblers, winter wrens, and brown creepers are back, with their pretty, unmistakable songs (I never actually saw them). Our early spring exotic "wildflower," coltsfoot, blooming along the road. Some early trillium is up, but too early for blooms.
- Mike Corey

4/26 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We had an all-day parade of biodiversity at the Norrie Point Environmental Center today. This morning an angler caught a 39" striped bass. Nearby along the Indian Kill, we have a net specially designed to catch juvenile American eels. It is regularly checked by students from the Dutchess Academy of Environmental Science during the week. On the weekends, Kingston volunteers Katrina Gagnon and John Miller take over. This afternoon, we found 10 glass eels in the fyke net, along with an older eel (elver) and a beautiful leech. The leech was roughly 2" long, though it's hard to really tell. It looked just like the size and type I've often seen on the undersides of snapping turtles.
The main event of the day centered around the monthly "Fishin' the River" program offered by the Hudson River Research Reserve and NYSDEC's "I Fish NY" program. We estimate about 200 people participated throughout the afternoon, both seining and angling for fish and learning about Hudson River ecology firsthand. White perch were the major catch on rod and reel, while the seine brought up a diverse assortment of white perch, yellow perch, bullhead catfish, tessellated darters, spottail shiners, banded killifish, pumpkinseeds, and a fourspine stickleback.
- Chris Bowser, Mark Vangorden, Ryan Coulter, Katrina Gagnon, John Miller

4/26 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: It was now 14 days without rain and fish migration had all but ceased. Whatever alewives had been here had left. The pools were empty - no white suckers, white perch, or carp. Glass eels were scarce. The magic riverward flow of spring rains that seems to urge the fish upstream was missing.
- Tom Lake

4/26 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Everything seems earlier this year. A few years ago lilac and dogwood were a mid-May treat. Both were in full bloom now.
- Christopher Letts

4/26 - Yonkers, HRM 18: I spotted a savannah sparrow today at the Beczak Environmental Center. I saw a pair there last week, maybe three altogether.
- Jeff Weber

4/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We finally got some rain last night (0.14"), first in along time. With it came our first worms on the roads this morning.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/27- Minerva, HRM 284: Shadbush was in bloom, about ten days early in an average year, along the Olmstedville to Pottersville road. Over the last 15 years, blooming has ranged from April 20 to May 19 with the average of about May 6.
- Mike Corey

4/27 - Saratoga County, HRM 170: I was eager to take a look at the Round Lake, Anthony Kill heron rookery this year. My visit was about a month earlier than last year. The sad news is that we've lost 8 nests, but the good news is that the remaining 13 are all being gently tended by the adult great blue herons.
- Fran Martino

4/27 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: We had been seeing the male red fox, a brilliant orange with black legs, sitting on top of the dirt hill they have modeled into a den. This morning, the reddish-gray female, was out with her three kits, each no larger than a house cat. They are reddish-gray like their mother, and adorable. Like a combination puppy-kitten, they played up and down the dirt hill finding toys in the twigs, branches, sticks, and each other's tails.
- Tom Lake

4/27 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: ... and on the fifteenth day it rained! By the time it ended we would have over an inch and a half. Because it was a gentle rain, one that Native Americans would call a "female rain," the land had a chance to absorb much if it. Still the brook ran and strong and clear. It would take a while for the wildlife to respond; I did not expect to see an increase in fish migration for a few days.
- Tom Lake

4/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Lilacs were showing serious color. It is an odd year when the parade of spring flowers have all bloomed before the first of May.
- Tom Lake

4/29 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: The heavy rain exiting the Fall Kill took its toll on our eel fyke net, bending the supporting re-bar in all sorts of directions and pulling the net up taught. We decided to leave the net out for the night, even at the cost of a night's hole in our data. On the bright side, the net seemed fine, we caught 14 glass eels, and everybody pulled together safely and in good humor.
- Chris Bowser

4/29 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: My house is at the edge of woods, with an arm of the Croton Reservoir out front. I know there are coyotes around. For years I've heard them, seen their tracks, and caught glimpses of them. But I always hoped to see a fox. I see the tracks in the snow but never a live animal. Yesterday, right in the middle of the daffodils, was a beautiful red fox. It stood, posed, sniffing the air, occasionally pawing the ground. It had delicate black legs, black tipped ears, and a wonderful bushy tail. The perfect fox! It trotted a few steps, plopped down to unceremoniously scratch dog-style. Then, it faded into the brown, leafy undergrowth of the woods. What a treat!
- Robin Fox

4/29 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: Yesterday our "Furnace Brook team" put their eel fyke back in the brook for a week of sampling. They noted a high flow rate and debris all over the place from the rain. Today, they found 49 glass eels, 8 of which weighed a whopping 2.2 grams!
- Chris Bowser

4/29 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Flocks of double-crested cormorants, more than 500, fewer than 1000, flew up the spine of the Hook this noon on their way north. Usually we see them strung out over the water; these were in patches about 300 feet high.
- Dery Bennett

4/30 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was snowing, fair-sized flakes, and depressing! Like so many drops of scarlet blood, the fallen maple flowers lay scattered on the pavement.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/30 - Delmar, HRM 142: The past week has seen air temperatures in the 70s and 80s at the Five Rivers Environmental Education center. During reptile training for our volunteers, the painted turtles put on a real show, basking on every log. I counted 24 on one log alone. Trout lily, shadbush and cherry were all blooming. Today summer left. It's in the low 40's with snow flurries between breaks of sun.
- Dee Strnisa

4/30 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Each year we try to figure out what motivates these two-inch glass eels to ascend waterways they have never seen before. We mull over the moon and its pull, rain and riverflow, and the likely possibility that we are drawing from a dwindling population. Students from Roy C. Ketcham High School collected 5 glass eels today, a number that may be significant, if we only knew what it meant.
- Tom Lake, Jon Tokarc, Jeremy Patton

4/30 - Town of Wappinger: Dutchess Community College student Angela Anderson had never seen an eagle in the wild. In recent days we had stalked NY62B in the shadow of the tall tuliptree several times but no one was home. Today Mama was sitting in the nest and Papa was perched on an adjacent limb. In the context of the smaller nest (compared their six-year-old original, NY62A) they appeared enormous.
- Tom Lake

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