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Hudson River Almanac July 1 - July 7, 2008

OVERVIEW

It is easy to see why biologists use scientific names to identify wildlife. This week we added the northern snakehead to our list of fishes of the watershed. Who would have guessed that a "snakehead" was a fish? When we also consider the Asian clam, another alien invasive that appeared this week, and the apparent "settling in" of the Chinese mitten crab, wildlife managers have some knots to unravel.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/1 - Schuylerville, HRM 186: I stepped out of my kayak to wade the waters behind the small falls located to the north of the canal lock. In 1777, during the Revolutionary War, the British crossed the Hudson here, and marched south about 9 miles south to Stillwater. After their defeat, the British retreated back to the village, where they surrendered, marking the "turning point" of the American Revolution. As I continued to poke around in the river water, I noticed an object that begged to be picked up. It was the bowl of a 'tavern pipe" and my imagination soared with thoughts of it belonging to a British soldier, or maybe even Burgoyne himself! Tavern pipes were hung on racks in local taverns during colonial times, and were used by patrons. Pipes were made of white clay (kaolin), and had long stems. After smoking, a patron would break off part of the stem to be placed back in the rack for the next patron to use.
- Fran Martino

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/1 - Hudson River tidewater: My field crew picked up the first specimens of the nonnative Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) from the freshwater tidal Hudson River today. We have numerous specimens of small, fresh-spent shells from at least 2 sites. We picked up these specimens as part our annual survey of native unionid mussels in the river.
- Dave Strayer, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

7/1 - Putnam County, HRM 54: Rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and wood thrush have been providing us with beautiful sights and sounds this summer as they nest in the woods near our farm fields on East Mountain Road. The buntings are such a vivid blue in the green trees. The bluebirds, phoebes and tree swallows are all on second broods.
- Connie Mayer-Bakall, Dylan Jeannotte

7/2 - Troy, HRM 151.5: We visited the falls on the Poestenkill today and noticed a couple of dozen of the tiniest American toads we have ever seen. They were about a quarter-inch long and must have just transformed.
- Bob Schmidt, Erin Swift

7/2 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We were searching the Saw Kill for mitten crabs tonight, hoping to find some live ones (found none) when we noticed that the lightning bugs at the top of the hill were small with rapidly blinking yellow lights. At the bottom of the hill, over tidewater, they were larger, greener and kept the lights on longer. Now we know that there are at least two species around.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt, Bob Daniels, Erin Swift

7/3 - Columbia County, HRM 113: We were driving through Hollowville when we saw a black squirrel (melanistic) on the side of the road. We know of black squirrel populations in the Bronx and southern Westchester and one in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. This is the first one we have seen in the upper Hudson Valley.
- Bob Schmidt, Erin Swift

7/3 - Coeyman's Landing, HRM 133.5: More than 40 of us took part in the first day of the Great Hudson River Paddle, traveling just over 13 miles south, on our own power, from Albany to New Baltimore. Great blue herons were everywhere along the way once we left the Port of Albany. We also had two immature and two adult bald eagles. The best wildlife sight of the day, however, was a bald eagle soaring up high just north of Coeyman's Landing, with a peregrine falcon flying below it. It was an inspiring combination! I could only paddle the first day of the trip; here's hoping that the group finds many more such sights on the way to Manhattan.
- Alan Mapes

7/3 - Esopus, HRM 87: Our group kayaked south on the river from George Freer Beach. In the area of the fishing pier on River Road, we encountered three adult bald eagles! At first I thought they were fishing, swooping low to the water and very agitated. But as we got closer it seemed that two of the eagles were attacking the third. They actually knocked it into the water, where it appeared to be "swimming" with its wings. The bird got to shore and ran through the weeds into the woods. Not very majestic. They other two hung out in the trees for a while, not paying any attention to us. Finally one flew off across the river. We turned for home. On the way back we also saw an osprey. What an adventure!
- Marion Zimmer, Kingston paddle pals

[This is just a guess, but such a conflict among adult eagles could be territorial. A mated pair, in the vicinity of their nest, often object to intrusion by another adult. Tom Lake.]

7/3 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: It seems early, but I've been hearing my first locusts of the season. The blackcaps are also ripe, always right around 4th of July.
- John Mylod

7/4 - Hathaway's Glen, HRM 63: Three-quarters of an inch of rain had fallen overnight so the brook was running strong. With much of the runoff occurring over warm ground, the brook was not as cold as usual, only 10 degrees F cooler than the river (76 degrees vs. 66 degrees F). The new moon tide had scoured the shoreline, lifting and taking away familiar deadfalls from previous visits. We seined the river on both sides of the emerging brook and captured many young-of-the-year fish: striped bass (24-42 mm), white perch (25-37 mm), smallmouth bass (44 mm), spottail shiners (21-34 mm), and tessellated daters (33-37). Many of the rocks we caught in our net were covered with zebra mussels, a sobering reminder of the human impact on the ecology of the estuary.
- Wayne Hall, Tom Lake

ROCKS AT THE RIVER
The rocks at the river
are smooth like my skin.
The rocks are hard like my bones,
and colorful, like my mood swings,
red and gray.
- Jeancarlo Rodriguez, 6th Grade, Vails Gate School

[This is poem 7 in a series of 11 that will appear in the Hudson River Almanac. They are from the national River of Words contest, which connects students to their watersheds and imaginations through poetry and art. The art and poetry submitted to the River of Words organization is exhibited around the globe and is seen by millions of people each year, both in person, and reprinted in magazines, books, annual reports and other media. Every painting, every poem contributes to an informed appreciation of the natural world and the interconnectedness of all beings. For more information, visit http://www.riverofwords.org . Tom Lake.]

7/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: Another one-and-a-quarter-inches of rain overnight (a total of two inches in two days) dampened many 4th of July activities. In mid-afternoon the tidal Wappinger was chocolate brown and lapping over its banks at high tide. The herons and kingfishers were perched high and dry along the shore. These were not good conditions for sight-feeders of shallow, clear water.
- Tom Lake

7/5 - Shrewsbury River, NJ: There's a whole lot of fledging going on all at once. The local adult cardinals are particularly loud, usually with a string of 5-8 notes, but I noticed a much longer set from one so I sat down and counted. It came out with a string of 60 notes, followed by one of 40. I gather that this was a male. Who knows how many kids he was announcing?
- Dery Bennett

7/6 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: It was nearing 6:00 AM, but the dawn hike had become one of just gradual lightening. Humid haziness covered the mountains to the east. The ebb tide was half way out and kingfishers were chattering across the water as the shallows came alive with killifish. I counted a half-dozen great blue herons, like sentinels in the mist, scattered across the carpeting of water chestnut. An adult bald eagle flew low across the bay from Hammond Point and landed in a nearby cottonwood.
Denning's Point is a mile-long peninsula that juts out into the river. The trail along the bay side was still dark due to the heavy green canopy and I walked within 100 feet of a white-tail before stopping. The young deer straddled the trail looking at me, its huge ears straight up, like soft, furry antennae. We both froze. For the next 15 minutes, the white-tail edged closer, moving side-to-side as much as straight ahead; with no breeze, there was little scent, just oppressive humidity. I kept breathing and blinking to a minimum as the deer closed the gap. At last it was no more than 15 feet in front of me, wondering what was this that looks like a tree but smells like Cutter's? But it came no closer. Of its own accord the white-tail slowly walked away, into the woods, heading to the interior of the point.
Earlier I had come upon another young white-tail drinking along the shore in the bay. It was still pretty dark and I was 100 feet from that one before I saw it. Up popped its head and we stared at each other for ten minutes. This one did not try to get much closer but instead paced back and forth, never taking its eyes off me. Every few feet it would stop and consider my presence, and always on three legs - all contemplation was done with one leg in the air. After 15 minutes, this one also walked off. I felt good that I had not caused a panic in either instance.
- Tom Lake

7/6 - Town of Waywayanda, Orange County, HRM 60: In late May, DEC Fisheries staff responded to a report by a local fisherman of an invasive species in Catlin Creek near Ridgebury Lake. Subsequently, DEC conducted an investigation and verified the presence of the northern snakehead, a fish species native to Asia. While the northern snakehead is not a threat to human health or safety, it is an aggressive predator that has the potential to prey on and compete with native fishes. Left unchecked, this predatory invasive is likely to rapidly expand its population and territory with real and negative economic impacts to the Hudson River watershed fisheries while causing potentially irreversible harm to rare and endangered species and natural communities. The DEC has taken immediate action to eradicate this species to protect native fish populations and prevent any possible expansion of northern snakeheads beyond the headwaters of Catlin Creek. Temporary fish barriers have been erected in Catlin Creek as DEC works to delineate the area where they occur, and then capture and remove those they find.
- NYSDEC Region 3 Fisheries

[The northern snakehead is native to China, northern Korea, and Japan. It is a desirable food fish in its native range. Snakeheads have been found in several areas of the United States and there is a recent paper describing its spread in the Potomac River. There are legitimate concerns about the effect that this large predator can have on the environment. They are capable of reproducing in New York waters. Tough fish, snakeheads can endure poor water quality. They have an accessory breathing apparatus and can survive out of water for several days at moderate temperatures. Bob Schmidt.

On our list of Hudson River watershed fish fauna, the northern snakehead (Channa argus) becomes species number 215. On the taxonomic list, based on physical attributes, it is number 200, right between butterfish and lefteyed flounders. In its physical appearance, the snakenead can be confused with the bowfin, another introduced fish with much character. But the bowfin is considered much more "primitive," living on the opposite end of the species list near the gars, tarpons, even sturgeon. How these fish came to be in Orange County is pure speculation, ranging from a pet fish release to the live fish trade - snakeheads are considered good eating in the Asian markets. Tom Lake.]

7/7 Newcomb, HRM 302: I saw a lovely grey fox dash across the road this morning as I headed into work. I want to say it was small, but in reality, they are small. It had a gorgeous fluffy tail.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/7 - Selkirk, HRM 135: As I was going to work I recognized the unmistakable yellow flower of St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum), growing on the side of the road. This week it is in full bloom and ready for picking. Clip a little here and save a little there, never take the whole plant. This should continue to bloom for a good portion of the summer. As an herbalist, this is one of my favorite herbs - Mother Nature's pharmacy at its best.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

7/7 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: At this time of year, when I stand and look out at the water chestnut-choked bay where the Fishkill Creek meets the Hudson River, I always get the impression that the carp are having a party. In ones, twos, and threes, they explode from the water, sending leafy rosettes into the air before crashing back into the bay. Some of it is still spawning activity, but the rest just seems like they are having a good time. In the first few minutes of my hike I encountered three animals that share a trait - a white rump - probably for diverse reasons: a common flicker, the eastern cottontail, and the white-tailed deer.
- Tom Lake

7/7 - Sandy Hook, NJ: My daily commute takes me past two highly visible osprey nests atop manmade telephone pole-platforms, each now with one large but still unfledged youngster. Often, a male red-winged blackbird does a flyby, dipping down to whack (or at least appear to whack) the young osprey in the back of the head. Like many bird watchers, I tend to side with the smaller bird in these encounters - house wren vs. blue jay, red-wing vs. crow, crow vs. red-tailed hawk - but in this situation, I side with the innocent osprey.
- Dery Bennett

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