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Hudson River Almanac June 2 - June 9, 2008

OVERVIEW

Several new captures of the invasive Chinese mitten crab put a sobering pall over this week. Their presence at the head of Tivoli Bays may be a worse-case scenario. In places where they are common, their burrowing behavior tends to undermine the structure of tidemarshes, the ecological heart of the estuary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/9 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: We were surprised to see a four-foot shiny black rat snake heading to the hostas by our front door. He entered the plants and, to our amazement, located a beautiful female. They quickly entwined. After about 15 minutes, he slowly departed and she retreated into a burrow beneath the house. These great nature moments were a first for both of us.
- Mike Murray, Ann Murray

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/2 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The early bluefish harvest seems to be no fluke! Striped bass to 35 lb. and blues to 12 lb. are a daily catch. To top it, one of the Boyz at the Bridge tried a little jigging for white perch and caught a 3 lb. croaker. Perhaps this will be one of those years.
- Christopher Letts

[Croakers are a member of the drum family of fishes. Saltwater drum such as northern kingfish, silver perch, weakfish and spot are often quite common in the lower estuary as young-of-the-year and juveniles. Most of them have a highly specialized swim bladders that serve as sound-producing organs. This has led to the colloquial name of "drum" and, in the case of these fish, "croaker." C. Lavett Smith.]

6/3 - North Germantown, 109: I was driving on a back road heading for the eel ladder on the Saw Kill when I saw my first snapping turtle of the year. She was probably 12 lb. and, unlike many, was tromping steadily across the road. I have to allow more driving time this time of year because you never know how many turtles you have to help cross the road.
- Bob Schmidt

6/3 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: At the fish ladder on the Saw Kill I spotted several small eels in the holding tank. I drained the tank and removed the four eels. Then I noticed something hiding under the drain plug on the side of the tank. A little prodding produced a small (21.0 mm carapace width) female Chinese mitten crab. This eel ladder is on the first dam of the Saw Kill on the Bard College campus and is located upstream of a substantial waterfall. It looks like mitten crabs can overcome such obstacles.
- Bob Schmidt

[The Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) is native to the estuaries of China where it is highly regarded in the market. Mitten crabs are catadromous, meaning that they spend much of their life in freshwater, then return to higher salinities in the lower estuary (15-20 parts-per-thousand salt) to reproduce. The salinity gradients of east coast estuarine systems like the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and the Hudson River are nearly ideal for them. Adult mitten crabs have a carapace width of about 3", but 6 of its 8 legs are almost twice as long, giving them an almost "spider crab" look. Unlike the native blue crab, a swimming crab, mitten crabs are burrowing crabs, similar to our mud crabs only many times larger. Visit the DEC website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/35888.html for more information.

If you catch a Chinese mitten crab, do not release it back to the water. Keep it and freeze it (preserve in alcohol if you can't freeze it). Note date and location caught (GPS coordinates preferred but pinpointed on a map is acceptable) and how you caught it. If possible, take close-up photos, top and bottom views. You may e-mail photo to SERCMittenCrab@si.edu for identification.

The Mitten Crab Network, a partnership among several state, federal and research organizations, is collecting data to determine the status, abundance and distribution of this species. DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources has agreed to collect and hold specimens for genetics testing to determine the origin of individuals caught in the Hudson River. DEC is seeking the public's assistance in collecting any specimens that may exist in NY. Persons collecting and holding chinese mitten crabs for the sole purpose of turning the crab over to DEC must, within 48 hours of collecting the animal, contact one following individuals:

Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and Hudson River below George Washington Bridge: Kim McKown, NYS DEC Division of Fish Wildlife and Marine Resources Crustacean Unit, 631-444-0454

Hudson River above George Washington Bridge: Mark Dufour, NYS Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Hudson River Fisheries Unit, 845-256-3171 or 845-256-3071; Hudson River Estuary Research Reserve, 845-889-4745 or e-mail r3hrf@gw.dec.state.ny.us ]

6/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: My students and I conducted a biodiversity investigation at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. We tromped through three habitats and compared the life (animals, animal signs, animal sounds) found in each, looking for diversity and abundance. Today we found spring peepers, pickerel frogs, red efts (so tiny) and red-backed salamanders. Mayflies had hatched, so they were out and about, resting on arms, caught in spider webs. Current bloomers included early coralroot, pink lady's slipper, European mountain ash, chokecherry, striped maple, starflower, goldthread, blueberries, buttercups, cinquefoil, painted and red trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, foamflower, and witch hobble (just barely). False Solomon's seal and Canada mayflower were just budding, and I found one yellow clintonia with buds (the rest are still just leaves). Dandelions, strawberries and purple violets were still hanging on in lawns.
- Ellen Rathbone

THE HIKE
We hiked along the river, it was crystal white.
I picked up a rock, it was jagged like ice.
I left the group, I was by myself.
Around me, I looked through the dark woods.
I kept quiet ... I breathed slowly ... I kept still.
I was calm and peaceful.
- Anamaria Gonzalez: 6th Grade, Vails Gate School

6/5 - Delmar, HRM 143: As I walked one of our teaching paths (grassy and four feet wide) at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, I came around a bend to find a family of geese blocking the path. Both parents were there with six goslings who were good-sized, but still yellow with darkening backs. All were busy eating grass in the shade of the bushes, but the babies were laying down to eat. They would grab a few mouthfuls, get up, move a few inches, then drop back down to eat some more. I started out five feet away and they ignored me. I slowed down and moved closer, but they still ignored me and went on with their feast. I finally got within two feet before one of the adults opened its mouth and hissed, but I walked around them without getting a pinch. The young and other adult never changed eating habits and were still at it when I left.
- Dee Strnisa

6/6 - Green Island, HRM 152: I couldn't sleep with all the noise so I got up and went to one of my favorites places along the river at the head of tidewater. The noise was a fast-approaching line of severe thunderstorms that had filled the sky with dark clouds and the air with incredible thunder. The driving rain and sultry air had a tropical feel to it. Dawn would not come suddenly today: total darkness was blending into a hazy dawn. A hawk flared out of a tree close enough in the dim light to see that it was a red-tail. An immature bald eagle was perched in a shoreline cottonwood not more than a hundred feet away. The bird eyed me and must have felt I was less of a threat than being airborne. The rising tide was nearing full and the river was being driven onto the rip-rap. The few gulls I saw were flying backwards in the near-gale winds. Double and triple lightning bolts lit up the sky. Was it dangerous? No doubt. But it's nice to be there when the river comes alive.
- Tom Lake

6/6 - Highland, HRM 75.5: Last evening the blue jays were in distress. One glance told the whole story of their nest's peril: a black rat snake was about 25' up their tree. But it just stayed there, barely moving. After about half an hour I had to leave. This morning I looked again and the snake was gone.
- Vivian Wadlin

6/7 - New Paltz, HRM 78: On the Hudson Valley Rail Trail this morning I spotted another black rat snake, about the same size as yesterday's. I seem to be seeing two of everything: two indigo buntings, two rat snakes, two honey bee colonies.
- Vivian Wadlin

6/7 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 94 degrees F today, just shy of the record high for the date of 95 degrees F.
- National Weather Service

6/7 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: This was the first day of what would become a siege: four consecutive days of air temperatures well over 90 degrees F. There was a breeze coming through the Highlands between Storm King and Mount Taurus, just enough to reward a hike around the point. I sat and took a break on the beach and realized that I had chosen the largest "beaver stick" I have ever seen. It was, in fact, a beaver "limb," nearly nineteen-feet-long, white as a bleached whale bone. I found neatly gnawed rows from one end to the other where beaver, like eating corn on the cob, had removed the bark. A dozen or more smaller branches, as well as the base, had been chewed off in the signature cut of beaver teeth. This limb had drifted here in the tide from upriver and then likely pushed ashore by the west wind.
- Tom Lake

[If you walk on almost any beach along the Hudson River, from the Adirondack to the sea, you are likely to find a beaver stick that has floated in. Easy to spot because of the ends chiseled by beaver incisors, they range from a foot long to tree limb size, but most are 1-2 feet. These are remnants of hardwoods that beaver have either used for food (they eat the bark and leaves) or were part of a lodge, eventually finding their way into fast water and headed downstream. Tom Lake.]

6/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was very warm today - 80 degrees F before 9:00 AM. Not a breath of air when Toby and I went out for a walk. We had the time for a long walk, but the air was so oppressive that neither of us wanted to be out any longer than necessary. The early flowers of summer are starting to appear: buttercups, hawkweed, birdsfoot trefoil, hop clover. Ox-eye daisies should be open in a few days. The red osier and grey-stemmed dogwoods were also blooming.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/8 - Brockway, HRM 63: As I hiked through the ruins of this old brick works the scent of honeysuckle and multiflora rose filled the air, making the heat, humidity, and black flies seem less oppressive. The air was quiet in late morning, birdsong was nearly non-existent. An orchard oriole flew across in front of me and landed in a mulberry tree. I rarely see these birds with Baltimore orioles being far more common.
- Tom Lake

6/9 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: For the second year now great blue herons were nesting on one of the huge power line towers on the west side of the Hudson, between Catskill and Athens. Three nests are readily visible. The birds are very wary and usually spook if a boat gets too close. In the early morning, peregrine falcons use the east shore towers of the same power lines to wait for prey. Today I watched a falcon make three passes at a bittern on the wing. On each pass the bittern would dodge by swooping lower until it was barely above the water. Then, as the falcon circled and dove again, the bittern landed in the river. The falcon circled the floating bird a few times before flying away. I had never seen a bittern float on water before.
- Tom Gentalen

6/9 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We checked the trap on our eel passage device on the Saw Kill and found three small eels. We drained the bucket to catch them and found a small Chinese mitten crab hiding under the drainplug, the second one taken in this device in a week.
- Bob Schmidt, Erin Swift, Ira Shadis

6/9 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: We stopped by Lighthouse Park at Esopus Meadows on the river this evening, hoping for a cool breeze. Instead we were treated to the constant sound of splashing in the warm water. At any given moment, 20-30 carp were thrashing in pairs and small groups amidst a growing carpet of water chestnut.
- Mike Murray, Ann Murray

6/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 97 degrees F today, surpassing the previous record high for the date of 95 degrees F.
- National Weather Service

6/9 - New Hamburg to Hammond Point's Island, HRM 67-60: It is easy to lose perspective on how many carp are in the Hudson. From aboard Metro North heading to Manhattan, I watched the river churn in the shallows along these seven miles of shoreline, thousands of carp exploding in every bay and inlet.
- Tom Lake

[Common carp in the Hudson River can weigh close to 40 lb. and yet they are a cyprinid - a minnow, our largest. Native to Eurasia, carp were introduced into New York State in the Hudson Valley in 1831. Their spawning season begins in late spring and can last well into the summer. Tom Lake.]

6/9 - Manhattan, HRM 0: It was a tough day to be working over 100 lb. of hot coals, but the fish needed to be baked for this, our last shad bake of the season. Under the trees in Battery Park our thermometer read 97 degrees F, a record high for the date. Someone said the "heat index" was 108 degrees F. As afternoon tuned to evening it seemed to get even warmer; maybe it was the slackening of the wind or the angle of the sun. As the final fillets came off the planks it was time make for the railing near the Staten Island Ferry to try and catch a breeze off the bay and envy the double-crested cormorants diving in the cool Hudson. Out on the fringe of the cormorants was a single red-throated loon.
- Tom Lake


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