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Hudson River Almanac May 21 - May 27, 2008

OVERVIEW

The presence of black flies, sultry days, and a real mix of rather unrelated stories are all good indications that spring is winding down and summer is not far off.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/25 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: This morning as I was walking around a small pond I spied the adorable pointy whiskered face of a river otter staring at me from the water close to shore. We seemed equally curious until the otter realized I was accompanied by my dog (oblivious to its presence) and decided to submerge and leave.
- Norma Goldstein


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/21 - Hamilton County, HRM 286: We were sitting in our plastic kayaks in the almost dry Indian River bed near the confluence with the Hudson River. We were waiting for the daily Indian River Dam water release to wash us down to the Class III white water stretch of the Upper Hudson Gorge. A young adult bald eagle flew overhead, close enough for us to hear his wing beat, enjoy the bright yellow beak, and spot a few remaining speckled feather patches on the underside of his wings. We guessed he was doing a "fishing commute" upstream from the Hudson to the Indian River lakes.
- Joe Hayes

5/21 - Beacon, HRM 61: My biggest carp yet at Long Dock: 18 lb. 4 oz., 32" long. And another that weighed 12 lb. 6 oz. The big one may be a hard act to follow, but the season is young. The bottom of the bay off the dock must be paved with golden shiners; I caught a couple of them as well, and the ones I didn't catch were busy stealing my bait most of the day.
- Bill Greene

5/21 - Fishkill, HRM 61: While sitting in my yard, enjoying the aroma of lily-of-the-valley wafting on the air, a pair of catbirds were busy searching for nesting materials. One of the catbirds attempted, unsuccessfully, to break apart some small twigs. The bird moved across the lawn nearer to me to seek out a "snake skin." The snake skin in question was a latex glove my wife had used to handle her potting soil and plants, but it had fallen off a table. After pecking at it a number of times, the bird relented since it could not break it apart or carry it off.
- Ed Spaeth

5/21 - Staten Island, New York City: I delighted in the raucous calls of yellow warblers, American redstarts, black-throated green warblers, Baltimore orioles, and red-eyed vireos, as they sifted through the almost mature, but still soft vegetation of a tiny Staten Island wood lot. Below the birds, below the beeches and oaks, below the shadblow now developing fruit, was a solitary pink lady's slipper orchid. Behind them all, a brand new mega supermarket.
- Dave Taft

5/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There I was, sitting at my desk at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center, quietly working away, when "Whack!" - something hit the window. I peered out and saw a small warbler sitting on the ground looking all rumpled. I grabbed my "Bird Rescue Unit" (a cardboard box) and rushed out. I found it, scooped it up, placed it in the box with a roll of paper towel to hold it in place, and closed the lid. After an hour or so sitting on my desk, it started to bump around, so I knew it must have recovered. I took the box out on the back deck, opened the lid, and - zip - out it flew, a lovely magnolia warbler.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/22 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The succession of the seasons had changed this tiny brook from an icy maelstrom in later winter to a shady, sultry stream in late spring. The icy pelting of March's sleet was now the insane buzzing of blackflies. The wool and down of winter was now t-shirt, shorts and sandals. Any observation effort that takes you to the same place over time has that reward. Pondering these profound realizations, I moved through a haze of gnats and a bouquet of honeysuckle and Dame's rocket to find that my glass eels nets were totally empty. While the research will continue through the end of the month, whatever determines when these tiny fish arrive from the sea has been turned off.
- Tom Lake

[One of the signs of the waning spring season is the appearance of Dame's rocket along the river and its tributaries. This non-native wildflower comes in white, pink, violet, and purple. Its wonderfully sweet fragrance accompanies me in late May as I make early morning checks of pots, traps, nets and other education and research collection gear. Tom Lake.]

5/22 - Town of Wappinger: Mama, one of the two mated bald eagles, was perched alongside the nest on a limb feeding on what might have been a catfish. While no other eagles were in sight, on two recent evenings three eagles were in the nest tree, two adults and one immature. The adults were the mated pair but the immature was a mystery. If the young bird was kin, it might have been one of two fledged in June 2006 from nest NY62A, 500 feet west of this new nest. With no nestlings to occupy the adults, they may not hang around as much as summer comes.
- Tom Lake

5/23 - Lexington, Greene County, HRM 122: We took an after-dinner walk along the edge of the forest that now covers Bearpen Mountain. From high up in the sugar maples and hickories we could hear, then see, a prairie warbler, then two rose-breasted grosbeaks, male and female, the female seeming to sing a softer version of the male's practiced song. When we stopped craning our necks and looked down, there was a male scarlet tanager on the ground just a few yards in front of us on the trail. He was slowly hopping and pecking, like a robin, but without the upright posture or the head cocking. We watched and watched. His rich red color seemed to glow. Finally we had our fill and, difficult as it was, walked away from a scarlet tanager in plain sight.
- Walter Havighurst

5/23 - Garrison, HRM 51: Taking a time out to bring my new granddaughter out to lay on a blanket in the grass for the first time, we were delighted to enjoy a bluebird, a ruby-throated hummingbird, and a pileated woodpecker. We also caught the antics of three squirrels hanging upside down, busily cutting off young branches atop a maple tree. Were they making nests?
- Kathleen Kourie

5/24 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: I watched from the lighthouse dock this morning as an osprey (one of a pair) glided over the jetty carrying sticks in its talons. Wings flapping, it hovered momentarily over channel marker #93 and dropped the sticks on top. With each addition, a haphazard pile of sticks is gradually taking shape as a nest.
- Patrick Landewe

[For at least the last decade, we have been teased each spring by the promise of an osprey nest along Hudson River tidewater. As far as we know, none have been successful. Scarborough Light (HRM 32) in the Tappan Zee has been a favorite target. Other attempts have occurred in Haverstraw Bay as well as some locations just south of Albany. Tom Lake.]

5/24 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I saw a lovely olive-sided flycatcher and a black-billed cuckoo at the Shawangunk Grasslands this morning.
- Sharon Gambino

5/24 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I was very excited to see a pair of common nighthawks zooming around the sky above my backyard this evening. I have not seen night hawks in at least ten years. I used to see them regularly near the Mid-Hudson Bridge, as well. Why have they become so scarce?
- Sharon Gambino

[The disappearance of the nighthawk is a mystery to us all. Years ago they were a reliable sight and sound in our cities and villages. I used to take the kids to "downtown" Coxsackie to watch them. Every year they were regulars in Albany, Poughkeepsie, and Saratoga Springs. On August evenings, we'd look forward to flocks of them circling overhead as they migrated south. Not any more. I heard of only one report from Albany this year. No one seems to know why this is. It possibly could relate to the increase in common crows and fish crows in the urban scene. They might easily prey on the eggs or young. Another possibility is night lighting which is decimating the night flying insects, the main food for nighthawks. Rich Guthrie.]

5/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: We went to Bowdoin Park to walk the trails and found ourselves taking a trip back in time. As we approached the point above the south rock shelter, we could hear the sound of drums and the singing of Native Americans from the fields below. At the lookout, in the tall dead tree, five turkey vultures were resting on the branches. As we came down onto the ball fields we encountered a wonderful gathering of Native people, dancing, and singing.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly and Chance Plage

[This Native American Indian Festival was organized by park naturalist Dave Beck. It was held on the park's soccer field, the very spot where an Algonquian Indian village stood as Henry Hudson arrived in 1609. To Native people, this is hallowed ground. The field was "destroyed," archaeologically speaking, during World War I when it was mined for sand. Giant conveyor belts carried glacial sands to barges waiting along the river. Local children were paid to stand by the side and pick off "arrowheads" for a nickel a piece. Many of them are now in a collection at the American Museum of Natural History. Tom Lake.]

5/25 - Town of Cortlandt, Westchester County, HRM 44: As we sat outside the last two nights, off in the distance we could hear the approaching calls of what we thought were Canada geese. But as they got closer, the honk became less defined and more of a muffled clack than that of Canadas. As they approached overhead last night, I pointed my flood light up in the air as the flock was just over the tree tops. There were hundreds of them and they were not Canada geese. They flew in a scattered pattern, not the tight V of Canadas. It took over a minute for each flock to pass over us - there were three waves within one hour and two the night before within twenty minutes. What were these birds?
- Bill Burns

[Quality, concise, detail-filled observations always help with identifications. Too often, fuzzy eye-witness accounts sound like UFO sightings. In this instance, the season, the calls, the flight pattern and night flight all point to these being brant, a small goose closely related to the Canada goose. Tom Lake.]

5/25 - Croton River, HRM 34: While hiking along the river trail of the Croton River, spotting the usual suspects of belted kingfishers, great blue herons, and double-crested cormorants, we noticed something different in our binoculars. These were not a pair mallards but a pair of common mergansers. We had never seen them here this late in spring, in this warm weather. They were very busy feeding; the male would barely lift his head for a second before he would re-submerge, feasting away.
- Scott Horecky, Kathy Sutherland

[Common mergansers are generally a winter visitor to Hudson tidewater, arriving in the lower estuary by mid-December.While they more regularly nest in New York's north country and Canada, the State Breeding Bird Atlas shows confirmed nesting records from eastern Dutchess County and Ulster County. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne]

5/26 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: It seemed like cement blocks were dropping out of the sky along a mile reach of tidewater. Carp were spawning. There were explosions, eruptions here and there, as groups of 5-15 lb. carp rushed into the shallows to consummate their goal.
- Tom Lake

[For years there has been a legend of a Loch Ness-type "monster" in Lake Champlain that the locals have dubbed "Champ" There were photos and video, always grainy, of a long sinewy shape just below the surface of the lake, undulating in a serpentine manner suggesting the neck of a long-extinct plesiosaur. Twenty years ago, Dr. C.L. Smith of the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan investigated the claims and, after many hours of viewing photos and video footage, discovered that these "monsters" were simply huge congregations of large carp, climbing over each other in a spawning frenzy. Tom Lake.]

5/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: At the edge of the High Peaks, our current spring bloomers are starflower, foamflower, witch-hobble, painted trillium, sessile-leaved bellwort. False Solomon's seal and Canada mayflower should be coming along soon, as should bunchberry, although I haven't seen any buds for that yet. The chokecherries are getting ready to open, too.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/27 -Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: They are appropriately named "chorus frogs." What seemed like hundreds of wood frogs were playing a concerto for much of the night in the trees next to my bedroom window. At first it was like listening to falling rain, very loud, but soothing. However, they were waking me up whenever they changed their chord. What a racket!
- Tom Lake

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