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Hudson River Almanac May 6 - May 13, 2008

OVERVIEW

As the enjoyable aspects of the season reach the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, the entire watershed is bathed in the colors and scents of springtime. Nestlings are everywhere, from goslings to eagles to the new broods of songbirds hidden away in the foliage.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/11 - Albany, HRM 145: It was Mother's Day and, appropriately, one of the best days of the spring. This was our 2nd annual shad bake for the Native American Institute, held within a near-forest of flowering trees in Corning Preserve. It took longer to set up this year as orioles singing in the flowering dogwoods provided just too much distraction. An eastern kingbird meted out some revenge as it harassed a crow over our slow-planking shad. Over 150 park-goers sampled our smoked, baked, and pickled shad, and watched traditional dances of the Hodensaunee. American shad have probably been the focus of such riverside springtime celebrations, as a part of native traditions, for many millennia.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek, Barry Keegan, Mariann Mantzouris


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/6 - Troy, HRM 151.5: We decided to do our annual spring electro-fishing jaunt to the Poesten Kill in Troy where we sampled around the 1st Avenue bridge. It was nice to see a substantial river herring run in progress, 40-50 fish, and we could not see what was in the deep pool above the bridge. All the herring we caught were alewife (we have taken blueback herring there in past years). Along with the usual array of fishes (banded killifish, American eel, rock bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed) we caught two species worth mentioning: one fathead minnow, an exotic fish that seems to be spreading in the Hudson Valley from the Mohawk River, and a number of breeding male tessellated darters. Tessellated darters do not develop the gaudy colors that Midwestern and Southern darters are known for, and therefore we tend to overlook them. These individuals were very dark chocolate with jet black fins. The dorsal fins were speckled with black and chocolate. Their colors may be subtle but are very attractive.
- Bob Schmidt, Bryan Weatherwax

- Peaks To Palisades -
Tumbling down from the peaks to the bay
A Nation's great river wended its way.
Through gorges and riffles, past forests and fields
Nature's own highway and her bountiful yield.
Three hundred miles, She meanders along
Gaining in volume before emptying out
But never drawn dry, for you plainly can see
Twice in each day She's refreshed by the sea.
Sturgeon and stripers, herring and shad
Delectable oysters, all to be had
By hard-working folks off the sweat of their brows
Using methods and tools passed father to son.
Then despoiled by Man with filth and with waste,
Yet, somehow the Lady maintained her fine grace.
Reborn again, She still marches on
Enshrined and celebrated in a Pete Seeger song
The Hudson still flows in our hearts and our minds
Perhaps to continue 'til the end of all time.
- Jim Beemer

5/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This morning we discovered a deer carcass on our walk. I was off in my own thoughts and finally looked down to see a clump of deer hair, a clump about the size of a sandwich plate. As we looked around, there was more hair. Lots of hair, and finally the skull, spine and remaining ribs of the deer, all still attached. Hair was everywhere. A little further along, there was more hair, and another pile. I suspect coyotes were dashing off with parts of the deer and plucking and eating it in different locations.
The blackflies were out in swarms this morning with my school group at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. They did not seem to be biting yet. Our leaves are just starting to be visible, but mostly they are tiny and lots of leaf buds dominate the scene. No tree flowers yet, except the maple flowers which are all on the ground now. The lilacs are loaded with flower buds; it should be a good year for them.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

5/7 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Perhaps it was the new moon tides but there were 10 glass eels in the net this morning. That was as many as the previous 12 days combined. A few alewives fluttered upstream in the dying current, turning on their sides when they scooted through pools that were shallower than the fish were deep.
- Tom Lake

5/7 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The first fluffy goslings of the season made their appearance today with proud and watchful parents towering over them.
- Christopher Letts

5/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was extremely humid this morning. Still, it seems to have brought the birds out of the woodwork! The yard was surrounded by songsters galore, most of which I couldn't identify. I can confirm the first ovenbird of the season and the rest were probably other warblers that I cannot identify, even if they are singing one at a time. I filled the feeders up this morning and the yard is full of birds. It's a happy thing.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/8 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Under a dark, closed canopy of maples and ash, the drizzled humidity heightened every smell. It was a mixture of spring flowers, budding trees, decayed leaves, and that peculiar odor that marks fish are around. They were not glass eels - my net held none. The blackflies were thick but did not seem to be biting; I suppose I'd find out later. The "flute players" added their voice to the woods this morning, mostly veerys, maybe a wood thrush. As I reset the net on its re-bar, I noticed among the pebbles and cobbles a "worked" piece of quartzite, the size of a grapefruit. The ends had been repeatedly battered and fractured. A prehistoric Indian hammerstone. Ah, if rocks could only talk.
- Tom Lake

- Of These Wet Rocks -
An anonymous waterfall stirs the sediment and pebbles
of my curiosity as drizzle beads
gather at the end of my nose,
like the dew that adorns the corners of a jewelweed leaf.

The froth borne of these cascades bubble and flow
like milk,
which will soon give life to the Hudson.

Now, as the clouds devour the moon
I stand, uncertainly
invading the privacy of this bellowing wall of water.

I want to leave, to respect the time these rocks have away
from kayakers and camera flashes.
But my eyes remain glazed in this post-dusk lighting
and my sneakers must be soled with concrete,
because I cannot.

I'm rendered stoic and still by the question of:
How am I supposed to stand and present myself
in this place drunken with pale mystique?

I can't possibly attempt a:
"Double hands on my hips, head purposefully left-leaning
as if I'm waiting for something more." What more is there?

I wouldn't dare try to strike an "arms folded across
a puffed out chest, which may instinctually lead me to spit
as if I'm some kind of washed up high-school ballplayer
putting too much pressure on my son, chewing gum too loudly"
Kind of stance.

Or should I stand at all?
Should I kneel slowly?
Or drop rapidly to my knees
in fanatical worship?

Perhaps I'll stand a bit longer
legs spread lazily, shoulders shrugged in thankfulness
with lips open,
leaving me to inhale through my mouth
the air that suggests, that maybe these wet rocks
are as happy to view me in my ordinary posture,
as I am to view them in all of their grace.
- Matt Caligiure, Constitution Marsh Sanctuary

5/9 - Hudson Valley: With at least 20 active bald eagles nests along Hudson tidewater, reports were coming in from observers who happen to see them when out on the river. Many have nestlings, some of which may be 6-7 weeks old. With plenty of food provided by the adults, the nestlings come of age pretty quickly. They are just an amazing sight, all gangly innocence as they discover their new world day-by-day.
- Tom Lake

Soft breezes, lilac bloom
heady, sweet.
Yellow swallowtail sips springtime!
- Robin Fox

5/11 - Highland, HRM 78: Mother's Day: I watched a scarlet tanager picking edible tidbits out of an old white mulberry tree on Mother's Day. Mason bees were making mud doors to protect their offspring in the houses we built for them.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

5/11 - Beacon, HRM 60-61: With high tide and winds whipping up waves onto the shore, we turned north from Denning's Point onto the Riverside Trail. Just then a beautiful gray fox stepped out onto the old railroad tracks and, seeing us, froze. We froze too and locked eyes for at least 20 seconds before the fox turned tail and headed back into the woods. It was a beauty. Always wanting to increase the vocabulary of our pooch, we quietly told him "That's a FOX!"
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly, Chance Plage

5/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A northern parula has been singing in the neighborhood for the last couple of days. And the cherry trees are starting to bloom.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Ten days ago, a neighbor heard a scream coming from the edge of the woods next to his house. He and another neighbor shined a spotlight on the area and saw a bobcat standing in the grass at the edge of the treeline. It ran away. This morning at 4:30, a bobcat came slowly through the woods behind my house, occasionally letting out a "scream" that has been aptly called "piercing." As I lay in bed I was hoping that the foxes had their kits tucked safely in their den.
- Tom Lake

5/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Another moose miss! This evening Toby and I were headed toward the Pump House down on the Hudson for our "long" walk. En route, we passed a neighbor coming back. Just as I was about to ask him, "So, any moose signs down there?" he beat me to the punch by saying "There are moose tracks around the Pump House." We hurried along, I scoured the ground to find the tracks, and there they were. They pointed towards the trees but then vanished. There is a wetland on the other side of the trees, but we didn't see any signs down there either. Upon further examination of the tracks, I decided they must have been a couple of days old. Still, this means there is a moose around somewhere in the area.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/13 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We clearly saw a beaver paddling along in the river at Norrie Point today at noon. There were plenty of students and fishermen around, but the big rodent just kept swimming, diving, and staying a respectable distance as it warranted. The Indian Kill is puttering along - some days no glass eels, some days just a few.
- Chris Bowser

5/13 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: It seems early for fireflies, but there were some here tonight. It's not only early, but cool.
- John Mylod

5/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I emulated one of ecologist Aldo Leopold's favorite practices this morning. With a mug of hot coffee I went out onto my deck just before first light and listened to the woods awaken. While it is true that a few birds seem to chirp all night, the rising crescendo of birdsong from just before dawn to sunup can be deafening. There really is a kind of a "roll call" each morning in May, as certain species come awake. The first change in the background cheeps came from several finches: goldfinches, house finches, purple finches. Then a couple of robins. Titmice. Cardinals. An oriole. Before long the veerys joined in adding their flutish song, and I could hear faraway crows. A pair of Canada geese flew over. From under the deck came a chipping sparrow. Once the entire ensemble was in full chorus, I could hear some repetitive and different off key notes - a mockingbird. The final song was a harsh call from a catbird. The show was over for this morning.
- Tom Lake

5/13 - Pine Bush, HRM 60: I could not believe my eyes: a male indigo bunting was feeding on the ground under my bird feeder. He hung around all day in the rhododendron bushes, flying in to feed and then returning to the relative safety of the leaves. In my many years of bird watching, I have never had the pleasure of this visitor. I took his picture and shared it with my high school English classes. What a treat for us all.
- B. Ganley

5/13 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: I checked the fiddler crab colony today. The habitat that they have found so suitable and protected, judging from the several thousand occupying the catch basin of the Edgewater Commons Mall a few years ago, is almost a lost cause. There are maybe 100 holes today. The drastic reversal of fortune in this case is due, not to the wasteful or unthinking actions of their worst enemy, us, but to the inexorable force that comes with the simple passage of time known as succession. When first created, the catch basin was undoubtedly too deep. But as water flowed in with the tides from the fast moving river, silt dropped out of it as it slowed nearly to a stop. This action gradually filled the basin to an ideal level and fiddler crabs came and prospered, growing in numbers each year. Then it became shallow enough for common reed - Phragmites - to begin to grow, which trapped yet more silt and formed an island unsuitable for the crabs. Now the island occupies much of the northern end and their paradise is no more.
- Terry Milligan

[Terry Milligan has been keeping us apprised of the fiddler crab colonies at Edgewater since Volume VII (2001-2002) of the Hudson River Almanac. Tom Lake.]

5/13 - Navesink River, NJ: It was time to check out a report of a school of fish, maybe herring, crowded near the base of a dam in a small tributary of the Navesink River, a tributary of Raritan Bay. It turned out to be a dense school of Atlantic menhaden, or moss bunker, holding against the strong current of a spillway fed by a rain-swollen lake. The rivers here have been loaded with adult menhaden for about a month, ample food for the spring run of bluefish and striped bass. The locals call the bluefish "racers." They come into the estuary this time of year long, lean and mean, big head, thin body, but soon fatten up and leave. Menhaden do not run into freshwater to spawn; maybe they were attracted to the aerated water from the dam.
- Dery Bennett

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