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Hudson River Almanac May 28 - June 2, 2008

OVERVIEW

As you read the Almanac each week, you may notice an imbalance of entries between the upper and lower Hudson. While ecologists recognize that these are, in many ways, two distinct rivers, they are socially, biologically, and physically connected. The river that runs from the High Peaks to Troy is no less special than that which runs to the sea. We always hope that we will hear more stories from above tidewater. Please do not be bashful.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/1 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: We checked out the Staatsburg red-shouldered hawk nest (see 4/22) this evening. The full foliage made getting a clear sighting difficult, but there is at least one large nestling present. We couldn't see any emergent feathers yet, just fluffy white down.
- Linda Lund, David Lund

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I saw my first tiger swallowtail butterfly of the season today as it flitted across the yard, riding the wind and looking for flowers. The only flowers were dandelions, violets and eyebright, but nearby lilacs and ground cover phlox were blooming, so it probably found something. Bunchberry bracts were now open, I presumed the flowers were as well, and blueberries were blooming along the roadsides. Mike Tracy reported the first dragonfly of the season at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. According to Mike's wisdom, this should shortly spell doom for blackflies. We can only hope, because these pestilential insects are driving us all nuts!
- Ellen Rathbone

5/28 - Waterford to Lock 1, HRM 159-164.5: We traveled upriver on our weekly Adirondack Mountain Club paddle. These paddles are well attended. This night our "moderate speed" group had 25 paddlers and the "lily-dipper" group had 14. An immature bald eagle soared over the Hudson north of Waterford as we headed for the Lock 1 dam. This was a one-year-old, judging by the very dark body, and he was not alone in the thermals. A broad-winged hawk soared above him, making an occasional dive at the eagle. Showing great airmanship, we saw the eagle twice turn over neatly on his back to aim his talons at the stooping hawk. It would hesitate with talons up until the hawk passed by. The third time, the eagle did what a pilot would call a "slow roll" - a continuous roll to upside down and continuing smoothly in the same direction until right side up again. It was an impressive display of flying for a young bird.
- Alan Mapes

5/28 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A cold front came through, giving us a gorgeous sunny day with a strong north wind. The ebb tide dropped beyond its midday prediction and Cornwall Bay emptied in the mini-blowout, exposing scores of deadfalls among the sandbars. One of the adult bald eagles nesting nearby perched on a derelict tree trunk, the wind ruffling its head feathers, looking altogether at peace with the world.
- Tom Lake

5/29 - Schuylerville, HRM 186: With some trepidation, I eased my little red kayak into the water near the PCB warning sign that was prominently displayed at the Canal Park boat launch. What might I find in these new waters where I had never paddled? Things of glory: great blue herons, mergansers, orioles, mayflies, caddisflies, water pennies, common map turtles, pinskter flowers and bluets, moose maple, yellow darters and, for some reason, a bat out for an afternoon flyover. Things of glory near a scary sign.
- Fran Martino

5/29 - Highland, HRM 75.5: As I left my house, a buzzing near my entry door caught my attention. Honey bees were zinging in and out from behind my house siding. I had erected three Mason Bee houses in the hope they would pollinate my plants. No worry now.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

5/29 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Nine consecutive days with an empty eel net, coupled with warm water and neap tides, did nothing to boost my expectations. But as soon as you think you have wildlife behavior figured out, eels in particular, they humble you. I had an audience today, the Sound and Story Project of the Hudson River Valley, and the fates were kind. By the end of our spring sampling, eels appear in three phases: translucent, black, and yearlings (last year's glass eels). We had one of each. The two-inch translucent eel may have been in the estuary for a month, the same size but fully-pigmented black eel perhaps twice as long, and the four-inch elver at least a year. It is nice when nature cooperates.
- Tom Lake, Eileen McAdam

5/29 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The brant at Sandy Hook have dwindled down to nearly zero. This is their usual time to vacate for the long trip into the Arctic to breed. We will look for their return Columbus Day weekend. They have left the bay beaches and shallows to gulls, terns, herons, egrets, and a few black ducks.
- Dery Bennett

5/30 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was down in the swamp behind my house this evening and listened to the sounds around me. The American bittern was there (with that amazing plumbing call), as were lots of red-winged blackbirds, a couple of swamp sparrows, and scattered common yellowthroats. The blackflies were still an issue, though somewhat diminished, while the mosquitoes were waking up. It was still a tad too early for the bats, but they have returned to our attic, and would no doubt be heading the short distance west to our open wetland area to catch said tiny flying critters. As for wildflowers, painted trillium, goldthread, starflower, and chokeberry were out and about, always a pleasure.
- Mike Corey

5/30 - Saratoga County, HRM 170: My return to the Round Lake, Anthony Kill heron rookery (see 4/27) had good news and bad news. The good news is that all 13 nests were occupied with young, some with as many as three young heron being tended by the adults. The sad news is that there are patches of Eurasian water chestnut (Trapa natans) that I had not seen there last year. I yanked as much as I could fit into my little red kayak and disposed of it properly.
- Fran Martino

[I have come across viable water chestnut seeds in cornfields 20 miles from Hudson. These were almost certainly deposited by visiting waterfowl, ducks and geese that find the seeds caught in their leggings as they leave the river but manage to shed them as they stop to feed in ponds, lakes, and farmer's fields. It is a dispersal strategy that works well for the water chestnut, but not well for ecologists. Tom Lake.]

5/30 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Heading down the path at the end of a busy day, with multiple school groups visiting us at the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, I stopped to allow a "lengthy" resident of this National Park to cross slowly in front of me. It was a beautiful, shiny black rat snake. It appeared to be in no hurry at all, and I was content to wait and watch as it made its way toward the old Ice House. All five feet of the snake easily slid beneath the rock foundation of this old building.
- Ann Murray

5/30 - Beacon, HRM 61: The fishing from Long Dock was good. I caught and released a 16 lb, 1 oz carp and two others estimated at 8 lb. and 3 lb. This was also an opportunity to try some non-offset, circle hooks. I wasn't sure if carp feed in a fashion that would make circle hooks effective. But they did their usual "grab and run" resulting in solid hook-ups and easy releases.
- Bill Greene

5/30 - Beacon, HRM 60.5: We were looking under the rocks in the water with 4th graders from South Avenue School and, to our surprise, we found glass eels! One eel I caught had no pigment yet, just two red dots. Very exciting!
- Rebecca Houser

5/30 - Westchester County, HRM 27: As I drove north on the Saw Mill Parkway near Hawthorne I caught sight of a wheeling bird banking back and forth above the road. The sun shone on it, lighting its very distinct long, sharp wings which bore clearly defined white patches near the tip ends. The body of the bird was pale and rather slender, the tail straight and narrow. I looked as long as traffic allowed, then returned home to read this week's Hudson River Almanac with the reports of nighthawk sightings. Had I been lucky? I checked my bird book to find my description fit that of a nighthawk. Another first for me.
- Robin Fox

5/31 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: As we drove from the Bard College Field Station up the dirt road that runs along the Saw Kill, we saw a small creature crossing the road and stopped to check it out. It was a hellgrammite - a large, dark, elongate insect larva (dobsonfly) with a strong pair of mandibles. Several people we know have run afoul of these jaws. The larvae are aquatic and the adults are terrestrial, but they pupate in soil. This larva had crawled at least 100 feet uphill and across the road in order to find a suitable place to dig. We have dug them up by mistake while finding worms for bait, but this is the first time we had seen a hellgrammite this far from the water.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

5/31 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A lone snow goose was keeping company with immature Canada geese in the Norrie Point boat basin. I assumed it was an injured bird, but it flew off as we approached with a group of paddlers.
- Alan Mapes

5/31 - West Park, HRM 82: The beautiful home of moss and mud between our front door and the lamp was inhabited again this spring. Five eastern phoebes fledged from an extremely over-crowded nest on Memorial Day weekend. A seemingly exhausted mom and dad continued to feed the fledglings in nearby trees for at least three days. Just when it seemed time for a well deserved break, both mom and dad phoebes appeared to have instead chosen to refurbish the well-worn nest, perhaps considering a second brood. (That would match the time of initial creation and successful use of this nest by the pair last season, producing four fledglings.)
- Mike and Ann Murray

5/31 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: After 72 days it was the end of the sampling season, time to take the gear out. One last juvenile eel in the net, a little over two inches long, chocolate brown, fully pigmented, was a nice find. Still, this spring saw the fewest number of glass eels immigrating into the brook in six years of data collecting. From a highpoint in numbers three years ago, 2006 saw a 73% decline followed by 85% fewer this year. If a trend is there, it might be that we see a peak year followed by two steep declines. However, for a fish that has been on earth for millions of year, a six-year snapshot is not even the blink of an eye.
- Tom Lake

5/31 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In early evening a line of strong thunderstorms swept across the Hudson from west to east. The river turned from hazel to leaden gray in a matter of seconds; the cyclonic wind churned and before long the Hudson was capped-over from bank-to-bank. Cottonwood seeds filled the air like a snowstorm. The rain did not arrive immediately, allowing time to lie back in the grass and watch the incredibly dynamic storm clouds. They crept over in three levels, the highest moving slowest, the lowest and darkest rolling over like they were caught in a whirlpool. The fringes of these spun away in all directions as lightning lit up their underbelly. At the height of the storm, like cannon shots, the wind snapped two nearby mature trees-of-heaven midway up their trucks. It was surreal. If this were Hollywood, an alien spacecraft would have tumbled down out of the swirling storm clouds.
- Tom Lake

6/1 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 68: An early evening walk on the Dutchess Rail Trail from Hopewell Junction to Lake Walton was filled with bird song, including the delightful trills of a wood thrush. We were hoping to see if the mute swan pair that had a nest in a Lake Walton cove two weeks before had been successful. After scanning the lake with binoculars we spotted the handsome pair carefully guarding 5 fuzzy gray cygnets far out on the lake. Despite the fact that these birds are not a native species, we enjoyed seeing the feathered and fuzzy family. When almost back to the entrance, we spotted a red fox with a mouthful, first crossing the trail one way, stopping, looking at us, turning back and looking some more. It was, no doubt, calculating its safety as it headed back across the trail into a field still holding a mouthful of something pinkish - too large to be a mouse, perhaps a baby opossum. It was great to see that the red fox population seems to be thriving in many locations in Hudson Valley.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly, and Chance Plage

TIDE
The tide comes back and forth,
Gently and strongly every day.
The water hits the shore,
Every minute, of every day, of every year.
It brings sand and takes sand.
It brings leaves and takes leaves.
It brings sticks and takes sticks.
Always to take and give back,
But never to keep.
- Anthony Bruno, 6th Grade, Vails Gate School

6/1 - Westchester County, HRM 34: In recent weeks I have seen a red fox on a trail above the Old Croton Aqueduct, in the first segment leading from the dam, and a coyote trotting along the base of the land fill on Croton Point. I hadn't seen either in years.
- Marguerite Pitts

6/1 - Scarborough Light, HRM 32: After the last Hudson River Almanac mentioned the teasing "promise" of an osprey nest at Scarborough Light, I decided to go look this morning. Sailing near, I saw a sizable pile of sticks below the #14 and the white navigation light, the kind of mess we associate with an osprey nest. Standing on its edge were two osprey, one larger than the other, the smaller occasionally giving the high osprey cry. Above the light, a third osprey circled, small fish in its talons. As I sailed closer, first one then the other spread big wings and left the pile of sticks. Soon, the two were harassing the third, swooping for its fish out over the Tappan Zee. Then all three spiraled up into a sky of white, charcoal and brilliant blue and disappeared from sight.
- Dan Wolff

6/2 - Catskill Creek, HRM 113: While paddling north on the Catskill Creek, I noticed an angry crow having an encounter with a turkey vulture overhead. The crow struck at the vulture with its feet, but the bigger bird was unfazed by the crow's attempt to shoo it away. The vulture turned on its wing, and landed on the shore where it joined a second vulture. Two vultures standing on the shore? Odd! I paddled a bit closer and saw through my binoculars that vulture #2 was eating an eel. Even odder! Both vultures sort of took turns, holding the eel with their feet while they pulled at their slippery meal. I guess the road cleanup crew has turned into shoreline cleanup crew.
- Fran Martino

6/2 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: One of the guests at the Saugerties Lighthouse said he saw a black bear on the trail when he looked out the bedroom window this morning. He thought it might be a big dog at first until it stood up on its hind legs. I thought the same thing until I identified bear tracks in the wet sand on the trail near the dock in front of the lighthouse. Later, someone knocked at the door to report seeing the bear near the start of the trail. It was the wildlife photographer who visits regularly to photograph birds. He was so excited when he saw the bear that he forgot to take a picture. I received an e-mail message from Lauren and Tim, residents of Malden, the hamlet north of the lighthouse. While visiting the lighthouse yesterday, they spotted a bear on the shoreline across Esopus Creek between the jetty and the long dock. They reported seeing the same or a similar bear this morning walking through their back yard in Malden.
- Patrick Landewe

6/2- Kerhonkson, HRM 82: Although a bit early, as we do not usually see them until July, it was our first rattlesnake sighting of the season. The three-foot-long, golden-brown specimen was a fresh roadkill on Berme Road. The unfortunate reptile had been run over, and the rattle removed, presumably by the motorist. I notified Randy Stechert, the Rattlesnake Ranger. He took the data and advised us to either put the specimen in the freezer or give it a decent burial. I was tending toward the latter option but found this morning that the corpse had been removed by someone who needed it more than we did!
- Sarah Underhill

6/2 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: In the evening before the new moon, the ebb tide was extra low. A large snapping turtle had come ashore climbed a short embankment and was now slowly digging a hole with its hind legs. It would be dark soon and this female would lay a clutch of eggs in the hole, cover them up, and then return to the creek. All would be accomplished in a very slow, deliberate manner. Their success rate, however, is not good. Raccoons and skunks love turtle eggs and the scent the female leaves behind is unmistakable to these scavengers.
- Tom Lake

[In years past, I've had many middle-of-the-night "Jurassic Park" moments with huge snapping turtles in the beam of my headlamp. These were usually battles over possession of fish captured in research nets. The water, the night, the light, and their demeanor often combined to make them look the size of trash can covers. While 20-30 lb. snapping turtles are not uncommon, truly large ones can reach 40-50 lb with a carapace length of 18". Tom Lake.]

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