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Hudson River Almanac May 14 - May 20, 2008

OVERVIEW

By mid-May, spring seems to be catching its breath. The frenetic pace of April and early May - with flowers blooming, birds and fish migrating, and trees leafing out - has slowed. The morning songbird chorus continues as breeding hits its peak, largely unseen within the green walls of foliage.


HIGHLIGHT OF A PREVIOUS WEEK

5/11 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Three of us headed to Esopus Meadows Lighthouse at 8:30 AM and saw several large flocks of birds flying high and heading north over the river. We didn't have binoculars, so we're not sure what the birds were. They seemed too small for Canada geese but too large for most types of ducks. One flock looked as if it could be cormorants, but another V was too neat and orderly for cormorants. Later, at the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge, I saw another large flock, in two intersecting WW formations, flying north over the bridge.
- Phyllis Marsteller

[I'm confident that they were brant, small geese. This is their time to move north and they do so in loosely organized flocks, somewhat resembling a very shallow V. Rich Guthrie.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/14 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We were doing some shoreline sampling with a boat shocker when we caught an unusual herring. The fish was 90 mm long, looked like an American shad, but had the jaw of a river herring. It turned out to be a blueback herring, but with a very deep body. We were reminded that some river herring probably do not leave the Hudson River, but stay and develop the body shape of a "landlocked" herring. There may not be many of these, but one pops up every once in a while.
We caught a substantial number of spottail shiners over sandy bottoms. While measuring them, we noticed that many had leeches on their fins. These are piscicolid leeches, parasitic juveniles with free-living adults, and appear as small light green leeches attached to fins. We preserved some of the spottails that died and, while preparing the specimens for the New York State Museum collection, counted 7 leeches on the caudal fin, two on the dorsal fin, one on each pectoral fin, and one on the left pelvic fin of a single spottail shiner. This appears to be a significant parasite load.
- Bob Schmidt, Dan Miller, Chris Bowser

5/14 - Fishkill, HRM 61: On a very pleasant afternoon, my wife and I were sitting in our yard enjoying the mild weather and the fragrance of our lilacs wafting on the air. Looking skyward, we spotted a turkey vulture circling overhead, then another, still more, until the kettle amounted to nine birds. My wife remarked, "It gives one an eerie feeling seeing that many vultures hovering overhead." Truthful as the statement was, however, we noted that we live on the side of a mountain with warm thermals providing for strong updrafts as we watched the vultures climb ever higher in the sky.
- Ed Spaeth

5/14 - Brooklyn, New York City: Due to a school bus reservation mishap my kindergarten-first grade class ended up in Brooklyn Bridge Park under the Manhattan Bridge instead of Floyd Bennett Field. Seining was challenging with rocks, bricks, and tires, all invisible underwater. After several trials, we finally pulled up a small silver fish. It turned out to be a juvenile striped bass about 3 inches long. A good day was had by all and we returned to the school on the F train.
- Shino Tanikawa

[Even a single fish can provide a story for schoolchildren. At 3" long, this was a yearling striped bass, possibly born in the Hudson River last summer (small size suggest a late hatch). It may have spent its first winter along the inner pier areas of New York City where the water temperature can be slightly warmer than open water. In 5-7 years it may become a part of the annual spring spawning stock. However, 3" striped bass are like the jelly beans of the sea. Snack food. Everyone loves them. That little striped bass will have a long road to travel until it reaches a less vulnerable size. The odds of any one baby striped bass, as a newly hatched larvae, reaching adulthood, is a million to one. That is why millions of striped bass lay millions of eggs. It is necessary to replace Mom and Dad, and that is what reproduction of vertebrate life is all about. Tom Lake.]

5/15 - Moordener Kill, HRM 138.5: After seeing the normal assortment of birds - eagles, blue herons, peregrine falcons, swallows, geese, ducks, and cormorants - we were slowly cruising along the area by Winnie's Landing, just north of Henry Hudson Day Park, when we came upon a common loon. We were standing on the upper deck of the Dutch Apple Cruise boat with a science and a math teacher from Guilderland School District when we heard the distinctive call of a loon. At first, I thought it was one of the 8th grade students doing a masterful loon call, but then I heard it again. Then we spotted the loon floating along side the boat thirty-five feet away, moving with the current, heading south.
- Pat Van Alstyne

5/15 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: I was at Cohotate Preserve cleaning the field station in preparation for school groups visiting over the next few weeks. I was surprised to find the carcass of a sturgeon on the shoreline where we usually fish. It was approximately 30" long and somewhat decayed. Its eyes were gone and tail was partially removed, but the head and body were in pretty good shape. I attempted some identification based on the books that I have at the field station and I think it was a shortnose.
- Elizabeth LoGiudice

5/15 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: As the roar of my neighbors' lawn-mowers surround me, I am delighting in my own "lawn." First it was tiny anonymous white flowers, then spreads of spring beauties, violets of white, and several colors of blue. What a pretty salad they make! Now I step through early hawkweed, Robin's plantain, sweeps of buttercups, a mat of yellow cinquefoil and what looks like puddles: ajuga, blue, lavender, and purple. And amidst all these flowers, little red "blossoms," Japanese red maple seedlings thickly sprouting over the entire lawn. How can I mow?
- Robin Fox

[Many chic suburban lawns have become green mono-culture carpets devoid of the dandelions, daisies, buttercups, clover, and violets of my youth. Neighbors sneer at the "weedy lot" I call my front lawn. But when the breeze blows just right, tiny puffs go forth downwind from my yard carrying their promise of a technicolor tomorrow! Tom Lake.]

5/16 - Catskill, HRM 113: While they tend to get all the press, striped bass are not the only lure to Hudson River anglers. Walleye, up to 12 lb., have been taken all spring, mostly at night, in Catskill Creek.
- Tom Gentalen

5/16 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: As I waded in the mouth of the Saw Kill, I was pleased to see several "strings" of yellow perch eggs waving in the current. A few feet upstream I caught two 14" yellow perch on a spinner.
- Bob Schmidt

5/16 - Staten Island, New York City: Walking in a light drizzle along the course of a beautiful woodland creek on the south shore of Staten Island, I turned my attentions from plants to stones. Some significant plantings had been undertaken along the stream banks, but the banks had eroded, exposing beds of smoothed river stones proportionate to the tiny stream. One of slightly strange shape caught my eye and I picked up a flat, gray, half moon-shaped stone about 3" wide. Notches on either side seemed fitted for a human hand. Each time I tried to convince myself the stone was merely a stone, I looked at the perfectly beveled sides, and the incredibly fine edge, and replaced it in my pocket. Finally, curiosity made me show it to an archaeologist. Palming it, feeling its heft, inspecting the beveled edge under a hand lens, he identified it as a scraper, made of argillite, and of considerable age.
Perhaps 5,000, even 10,000 years ago, an ancient fellow Staten Islander squatted near this same stream side, perhaps in a drizzle like the one that wetted me, and carved this tool. And who could have guessed that many years later the stone would find another set of hands to appreciate its craft and feel its weight. The stone now has a second life on my desk, where I mull over park plans and wonder at its story.
- Dave Taft

5/17 - Tivoli Bays, HRM 100.5-98.5: Dan Miller and I did some boat shocking and set some herring nets in Stony Creek and the Saw Kill. Putting a small-mesh herring net in the Hudson is ordinarily a beacon that attracts white perch from miles away. This year we caught no white perch. Shocking turned up only one. Have white perch crashed or am I just lucky?
- Bob Schmidt

5/17 - Columbia County, HRM 104: The tall oaks and maples along the river were serving as way-stations for waves of newly arrived songbirds. Baltimore orioles were almost common today, flashing flame orange in the sunlight. Ecologist Aldo Leopold described the oriole's flash as "like a burst of fire."
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Andra Sramek, Susanne Lake, Barry Keegan

5/18 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Recent rains had this small brook running again. The spring glass eel migration had slowed to a trickle, just a precious few, and all of them, no longer even translucent, appearing as tiny black threads.
- Tom Lake

5/18 - Croton River, HRM 34: Despite the raw weather, carp have begun to leap and cavort, the beginning of their spawning rituals. Anglers are taking striped bass to 25 lb., and there is a good deal of surprise that bluefish up to 10 lb. are mixed in with the bass. The Boyz at the Bridge were recollecting that in earlier times, bluefish were a September phenomenon.
- Christopher Letts

5/18 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 2: Signs of spring in Manhattan. At ten o'clock this morning at Hudson River Park on Harrison Street, 8 brant were sitting quietly on the water in the little cove between the back of Stuyvesant High School and Pier 25. In the plantings along West Street, salt-spray roses (Rosa rugosa) were in full bloom, as were the cat mints.
- Thomas Shoesmith

5/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: On the road in early morning I saw two red foxes on the pavement, alive. I'm not sure what they were doing. As I approached, I could see something in the road that resolved into two foxes that parted and trotted off into the woods. About halfway to Tupper Lake, a bobcat crossed the road. I slowed down as it moseyed across, stopped, and looked back over its shoulder at me as I rolled past.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/19 - North Germantown, HRM 109: The overwhelming presence of striped bass in the Hudson River short-circuited the commercial shad season this spring. There are very few, if any, nets still in the water. While that may be good for the preservation of adult shad, their progeny will face many of the same predators this summer and fall when they try to exit the river for the sea.
- Tom Lake

5/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Ir was a brisk day with fresh snow on the High Peaks this morning. A Baltimore oriole was in the yard as well. In the central part of the High Peaks, orioles have only put in an appearance for a year or so, and then only one or two birds, so this was rather exciting. Despite the ravages of the deer, two of my apple trees have buds. These are two that haven't had flowers before, so I am very excited.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/20 - Green Island, HRM 152: Just after 9:00 PM, the sky in the east took on a silver glow that precedes moon rise. The tide was halfway out and ebbing. A thousand dimples out on the river marked the presence of shad, river herring, and many other fish This was the night of the full moon in May, the Corn Planting Moon to many Native people. It was going to be a quick glimpse, however, as a thick gray cloud bank was poised just above the horizon to capture the moon.
In the 500 years before Henry Hudson, the Mohican people were almost totally committed to horticulture: maize, squash, and later, beans. Their gardens and fields were often flood plains along the river, areas largely lost with the advent of the railroad in the early 19th century. Their season began in May, continued with the Green Corn ceremony in late August, and climaxed with the autumn harvest.
- Tom Lake

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