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Hudson River Almanac May 1 - May 6, 2008

OVERVIEW

We all have our moments of spring. Being awakened early each morning by the "birdie, birdie, birdie" of cardinals is one of my favorites. Then there are hummingbirds. Why so many hummingbird reports in the Almanac? The length and breadth of their arrival, for many, is the purest sign of springtime. It is the type of signal that indicates warming weather, blooming flowers, and a delicate touch of wildlife.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Our first hummingbirds of the season: a male, a female, and one immature, showed up this evening. By 9:00 PM, it was too dark to see, but we could hear. A hundred feet away from the direction of the red fox den we heard a series of yips, several voices, short and thin, probably the four kits. There was no way to be sure, but it sounded like the nighttime exchange we hear when a mama coyote brings dinner back to her pups. These kits were very excited for a few seconds, then silence. Dinner time.
- Tom Lake


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/1 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard my first "zee-zee-zee zoo-zee" today: a black-throated green warbler.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/1 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: This tributary is a narrow rocky chute flowing over shale bedrock that slowly drops from the fall line about 500 feet inland from its mouth. Glass eels choosing this stream are greeted by a rather uninviting climb through a low bio-productivity brook. I often wonder why they choose this tiny tributary over hundreds of others. Since so many things about freshwater eels are cloaked in mystery, answers to our basic questions might come from the unexpected. In the uplands a mile to the southeast of its mouth is a large swamp that must be paradise to eels. Is there a signal in the brook's flow that tells them so?
- Tom Lake

5/1 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: We smoked our first shad today, truly labor-intensive, yet a labor of love. The smell of the wood smoke, the texture of the brined fillets, the golden finished product are all a part of springtime. This is year 24 for smoking in concert with our spring shad bakes along the Hudson. In the 1980s, we also smoked Atlantic sturgeon, possibly the best smoked product ever produced in the Hudson Valley. When legal, we also managed to smoke a few striped bass, arguably its best cooked form. Today, smoking produces a specialty food; in the times before refrigeration, including prehistory, smoking allowed the abundance of springtime protein from the sea to be stretched well into summer.
- Tom Lake

5/1 - Beacon, HRM 61: I saw my first chimney swifts of the season today, right about on time. Our house wrens also arrived and the gray tree frogs began their evening chorus. We have a piebald robin in our neighborhood with white primaries in the wings and tail. On a similar note, we saw a piebald red-tailed hawk last weekend near the Columbia County airport: the body was white with just a few dark scattered feathers contrasting against the brick-red tail.
- Stephen Seymour

5/1 Furnace Woods: We have had frost in northern Westchester County the past two nights. Yesterday the windshield wipers took care of it. This morning I had to scrape. I have begun to hear Baltimore orioles singing.
- Christopher Letts

5/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Jackie LaCourse reported a young moose in her yard on the edge of Newcomb. Jackie said that they had a female and her offspring there last year and suspects that this might be junior, now on his own.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/2 - Milan, HRM 90: My first ruby-throated hummingbird of the season, a male, arrived at my feeder. I hope we do not have another sub freezing night. Among the many gray squirrels at my feeder I have two that have red tails! A hybrid of a red and a gray squirrel?
- Marty Otter

5/2 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: Our first hummingbird of the season!
- Bill Drakert

5/2 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: There was a soft white glow along the river and the tributaries, shadbush and flowering dogwood. Our Roy C. Ketcham students found an empty net today as the presence of glass eels has dropped to zero.
- Samantha Deger, Kayla Rath, Tom Lake

5/2 - Croton River, HRM 34: Midge Taube kindly gave me a striped bass he had caught on rod and reel to use in my spring "funny fish" elementary school programs. The 26" female was heavy with ripe eggs, and was caught far up the Croton River. Was she wandering, part of a spawning aggregation, or chasing alewives?
- Christopher Letts

5/2 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Our killdeer hatched and fledged (mama taught them the 50 yard dash) four young today from her nest in a parking field surrounded by buildings, tour buses, and yelling school children. All chicks were doing fine.
- Dery Bennett

5/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Lorraine Miga and I saw our first great blue heron of the season wing its way across route 28N to land in a small vegetation-filled pond to look for an afternoon snack. This pond is intermittently tended by beavers. They haven't been there for a while, so the vegetation is taking over. Still, with the recent rains the water level is high enough to support a meal for a heron and paddling for a trio of male mallards. We also saw a pine marten dash across the Blue Ridge Road in front of us. It was a lovely reddish brown with black legs and a dark tail. It was also in a hurry, so we only caught a glimpse of it as it bolted back into the woods.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/3/1907 - Red Hook, HRM 91: Excerpted from the Red Hook Journal: "Eleven crates of German carp weighing a thousand pounds, were shipped from Saugerties to New York last week. The fish were caught in the lower [Esopus] creek, which teems with them. The fishermen find ready sale in the New York market for all they catch."
- Maynard Ham

[PCB contamination has made commercial capture and sale of the Hudson's abundant carp illegal today. Steve Stanne.]

5/3 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 84: I heard the song of house wrens that return every spring to the fruit trees in my side yard, They were singing away this morning despite chilly 40 degree F air temperatures and a drizzly rain. Yesterday I saw and heard my first catbird of the season in wooded thickets, "meowing" rather loudly. They are now joining the calls of the many cardinals, song sparrows and red-winged blackbirds that have already been singing for weeks, waking me up at 5:00 AM each morning.
- Kathy Kraft

5/3 - Pine Bush, HRM 60: My first hummingbird of spring came to the feeder this morning. I had filled it last week and noticed the nectar was gone. I thought it had leaked because I hadn't seen a hummingbird. As soon as I refilled it this morning, there it was. What a pleasure on such a gray, dreary, cold morning!
- B. Ganley

5/3 - Manhattan, HRM 12.5: Well over 500 people jammed into a corner of Inwood Park in northern Manhattan for our 16th annual Hudson River Foundation shad bake. All enjoyed a sample of smoked, baked, and pickled shad.
- Christopher Letts, Dave Taft, Jasper Fox, Tom Lake

5/3 - Staten Island, New York City: We are seeing turkey vultures every day. Today, three circled the Fort Wadsworth park's administrative building, a scene too suggestive for comment.
- Dave Taft

5/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Shadbush is blooming 90 miles south of us, but not yet up our way. Every time I think I see one, it turns out to be a tree with fuzzy catkins instead of white blossoms.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/4 - Gardiner, HRM 73: We had our first yellow warbler and Baltimore oriole of the season show up, admiring the blooming flowers on our apple tree.
- Rebecca Houser, Brian Houser

5/4 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: This was our 22nd annual shad bake in northern New Jersey, a state that shares the Hudson River with New York. We cooked and served in the shadow of the Palisades as osprey and eagles fished out in the river.
- Tom Lake, Jasper Fox, Christopher Letts

[The Hudson River shad bake has its origins in colonial times. Other than keeping a wary eye for British vessels, commercial fishing was hardly disrupted by the American Revolution. Europeans were introduced to shad by the Algonquian people who lived along the river. For many millennia they had been celebrating the fish's annual return - the predictability of resources was very important in prehistory. Native Americans baked shad and other fish on huge riverside roasting platforms, some of which were a half-acre in size. Fires, hot coals and cobbles were set around flat rocks upon which shad were placed for slow cooking and smoking. We have always wondered if they saw this as a festive occasion, with song and dance and laughter. How could they not? Our modern shad bake serves a dual purpose: we celebrate the fish and we hope to reconnect people to the river. Tom Lake.]

5/4 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Our first ruby-throated hummingbird of the season arrived. We had recently put out the feeders and today a single male showed up. They are a little late; we usually see them about the first of May.
- Martin Turner

5/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Our first hummingbird visit of the season. The lovely little bit of shiny green appeared where a fuschia basket and the feeder hang all summer. Although there's no basket there yet, I hung the feeder from the hook. A "welcome home!"
- Robin Fox

5/4 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We did our first seining in Sandy Hook Bay this morning and landed one solitary fish, but an interesting one: a 20 mm-long juvenile bluefish, probably hatched offshore in the Atlantic within the past three weeks and able to make it inshore to spend its formative months in the estuary. Other finds: hermit crab, Asian shore crab, isopods, and sand shrimp. The water temperature was in the low 50s.
- Dery Bennett

5/5 - Mohawk River, HRM 159: In a wetland north of Niskayuna Road, painted turtles dived from logs, a muskrat lodge, and a submerged trash can at my approach from the adjacent bike path. Basking near them on the can was a turtle whose shape distinguished it from the painted turtles. I suspected an illegally released, non-native, red-eared slider. After a perilous wetland balancing act, I got close enough to the now submerged slider for my sturdy butterfly net to serve as more than a wading staff. As I help this turtle find a suitable home and hope she isn't carrying eggs, I will help the NYSDEC add relevant information about her to the Herp Atlas Database.
- Ken Blanchard

[Information on the New York State Herpetological Atlas for turtles can be found on DEC's website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7140.html ]

5/5 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: I helped our Poughkeepsie High School students check the fyke net in the Fall Kill this afternoon. We got 77 glass eels and 13 elvers. The creek was 57 degrees F. About a dozen alewives were resting and enjoying the lee of our net. A beautiful thing to see.
- Chris Bowser

5/5 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: New moon, old story: no glass eels. In research, results are not to be taken personally - no data is still data. Things brightened considerably when I saw my first oriole of the spring perched on the limb of a box elder bending over the brook.
- Tom Lake

5/5 - Bronx, New York City: Searching for plants in Pelham Park, I was greeted by a pair of brilliant Baltimore orioles feeding on an oak branch at the park's entrance. It was much better than any flowery entrance sign!
- Dave Taft

5/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I was thinking of hummingbirds this morning as I came down the walkway to the main building of the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. Our hummingbird garden was still mostly under snow (a 3-foot pile remaining from what slid off the roof). It isn't melting any too quickly, but warmer days are on the way, so it will be a race to see which happens first: the hummers arriving or the snow disappearing.
There were many birds at my feeders this morning. A red-breasted nuthatch took over a peanut feeder seconds after I had it up and didn't even care that I was standing a foot away. Red-winged blackbirds, a blue jay, assorted sparrows, purple finches, and probably a goldfinch were lurking in the trees. I heard cardinals singing, and saw a broad-winged hawk. The peepers were in full voice last evening. It is amazing what a little sunlight and warmth will do.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/6 - Goodnow Flow, HRM 295: Amy Freiman reported hummingbirds at her house.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/6 - Columbia County: The road to the river was lined with apply blossoms and lilacs in bloom.
- Tom Lake

5/6 - North Germantown, HRM 109: Most of us only get snapshots, snippets of a larger tableau. But an entire day on the river plays out like a theatrical performance: eagles and osprey, cormorants and kingfishers, musical songbirds, shad, bass, catfish, and the human element of fishermen and boats, all arrayed against a backdrop of tides, currents, and weather systems moving east off the Catskills.
Double-crested cormorants have taken over the two light towers in the reach where we drifted our shad nets, off Silver Point to the south and Greene Point to the north. The Silver Point tower had 30 birds and eight nests, close together on each corner of the structure's cross-beams. The Greene Point tower had fewer birds, only four nests, but we saw a couple of nestlings.
The fishing was slow but on a few occasions the shad came up in the net in threes, "bananas." This is an expression that has its origin 50 years or more ago, when Henry Gourdine of Ossining shad-fished in the Tappan Zee. When the run was heavy and the nets were filled with fish, Henry would haul a short section of gillnet into the boat and exclaim, "they're coming in bunches, just like bananas!" The river was 53 degrees F.
At one time or other, we had 5 bald eagles in sight. Two of them were adults. Near sundown we had two immatures low overhead engaged in extended aerial playtime. We saw one osprey for the day, but we did hear at least one other. There is something grand about tidewater, that is until I head up into the mountains and then I say the same thing about the smell of balsam fir and the faraway vistas.
- Tom Lake, Bud Tschudin, John Mylod

5/6 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 53.4: The water was calm as I launched my canoe from Foundry Cove into Constitution Marsh. A great blue heron greeted me, a few pairs of nesting Canada geese did their best to hide along the shoreline, and turkey vultures circled above. I spotted an osprey flying overhead and paddled past a few more geese noisily defending their unseen, but assuredly nearby, nests. The paddle to the south end of the marsh was quiet until I found myself in the midst of carp doing their "spring fling" prelude to spawning. As I continued on the unobstructed serpentine water trail a huge snapping turtle lumbered out of a shallow pool and onto a fallen tree to bask. I stopped at Jim's Walk [a boardwalk named in honor of former Audubon warden, Jim Rod] and saw bald eagles riding the thermals. Red-winged blackbirds-a-plenty were fluttering about and wild turkeys could be heard gobbling away in the woods. Another fine paddle.
- Carl Steiniger

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