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Hudson River Almanac July 16 - July 22, 2008

OVERVIEW

An increased presence of stinging jellyfish, a mystery animal to many New Yorkers, in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor made the news for several days. This native marine species is a rather common visitor to the lower estuary but warmer water temperatures may have peaked their numbers this summer.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/18 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Some high school students and I had a fascinating afternoon studying the water chestnut beds at Norrie Point. A few hours after high tide, dissolved oxygen in the middle of the beds was 3.4 parts per million and 40% saturation. A seine pulled up only a few small fish. A few hours later, the open water between the water chestnut beds and the shore registered 6.0 ppm and 85% saturation. Water temperature was 83 degrees F. We pulled a seine through the open water and the net came up literally vibrating with young-of-the-year brown bullheads. To hold a handful was a strange experience of slipperiness and tiny prickles. After counting out 200, we estimated about 5,000 of them were caught in the net. We got the fish back in the water as quickly as possible.
- Chris Bowser

[During photosynthesis, water chestnut's floating leaves release oxygen to the air, not the water. At the same time, the densely packed leaves block light from reaching the water below, preventing photosynthesis by plants underneath. As bacteria and other organisms use up available oxygen there, dissolved oxygen levels in large water chestnut beds drop to low levels, especially at low tide. A rising tide brings oxygenated river water back into the bed. Steve Stanne.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/16 - New Windsor, HRM 59: One month ago an event called Saving Sacred Sites was held at the New York State Museum. While sacred Native American sites elsewhere in North America such as Bear Butte, Crater Lake, and the Grand Canyon are well known, those in the Hudson Valley are not easy to find. Many are lost to development. We are excavating an archaeological site on a height of land a half-mile from Moodna Creek that must have held some deep meaning for the Hudson Valley Algonquian people and their ancestors. Human occupation at the site can be traced, almost continuously, from 8,000 years ago to the arrival of Henry Hudson. Although we may never know the site's significance, that longevity speaks volumes.
- Tom Lake

RIVER POEM I
The river's calm, shallow waves.
The fish that it comforts.
The life that it gives is peace to me.
Land or water, it gives life to you and me.
- James Brittle, 6th Grade, Vails Gate School

7/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: All our bluebirds have fledged in the last 2-3 weeks, and all the nest boxes are empty. It has been incredibly noisy outside with all the begging calls of various offspring, from crows and jays, to sparrows and nuthatches, to swallows and thrushes. I don't know when I've ever heard so many fledglings all at once!
- Ellen Rathbone

7/17 - Milan, Dutchess County, HRM 90: There is a black squirrel population in Milan that I have been enjoying for several years (in response to the 7/3 report of black squirrels from Columbia County).
- Marty Otter

7/17 - Kerhonkson, Ulster County, HRM 82- My neighbor told me of another rattlesnake sighting today. She nearly stepped on the chartreuse green-yellow snake while walking in her sheep pasture in tallish grass. She was unable to determine the length as the snake was coiled and buzzing vigorously to warn her away. She vacated the premises, reminded of the rule, taught me by my mother who grew up in Northern California (where the snakes also abound): never put your hand or foot anywhere when you can't see where you're stepping or reaching.
- Sarah Underhill

7/18 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We were looking for eels and mitten crabs and found both. We also noticed an oval patch of white material on a rock a few inches above the water level, the egg mass of a dobsonfly. Most people know the aquatic larva, the hellgrammite, but rarely see the adults. The adult flies lay their eggs where the hatching larvae will fall into the water. We have seen these masses often on the vertical faces of rocks, sometimes in large numbers.
- Bob Schmidt, Erin Swift

7/18 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: As we left the Norrie Point Environmental Center building, we came across a moderately large black rat snake about 3.5 feet long. As it very calmly moved away from us, it showed substantial bulge around its last meal. The snake had a white reticulated pattern around the bulge, its pale skin showing between the jet black scales. Its neat to see a black rat snake because they get hard to find farther up the Hudson Valley.
- Bob Schmidt, Erin Swift

7/18 - Ardsley, HRM 23: Doing some electro-shocking in the Saw Mill River at the dam in the Great Hunger Park, we were catching a fairly normal array of stream fishes when we saw something moving that was bright glowing red. We got it in the dip net and it turned out to be a red crayfish (Procambarus acutus), an invasive southern species.
- Bob Schmidt, Erin Swift

7/19 - North Germantown, HRM 109: I was snorkeling near midday in the shallows just upriver of the DEC boat launch. The ebb tide brought clouds of young-of-the-year striped bass and herring, swirling into the scattered beds of wild celery. As I drifted, shoals of banded killifish flushed from their cover and dozens of tessellated darters scooted off across the sandy bottom. One of my favorite summer moments is enjoying the exquisite view of the electric blue damselflies from underwater. They hover overhead in twos and threes just off the surface, sunlight refracting and reflecting from a thousand facets - from insects to water ripples to my face mask. The air was 95 degrees F, the river 84 - a real sauna.
- Tom Lake

7/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We received over two inches of rain today, doubling our rain totals for the month. Things are very wet here, with nearly three inches over two days.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/20 - New York Harbor: River watchers were reporting an increased presence of lion's mane jellyfish in the Hudson River and the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. Warmer than average water temperature may be a contributing factor. In mid-July 2004, Daniel Kricheff reported a similar abundance of these stinging jellyfish off the west side of Manhattan: "Countless lion's mane jellyfish had drifted into the lower estuary and collected around the 79th Street Boat Basin this week. These fascinating creatures are known to reach a size of 8' in diameter, though the ones I have been seeing average about 8-12."
Over the last seven years, Hudson River surface water temperatures for mid-to-late July have averaged from the high 70s to the low 80s. This summer, many areas have been several degrees warmer. Mark Bain, a Cornell scientist, and others have speculated that climate change may be at work, or at least fueling the process.
- Tom Lake

7/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: As I drove the quarter-mile to the river this morning, I never got out of first gear. Almost immediately three tiny spotted fawns began a slow canter in the road not more than 50 feet in front of my truck. They were not panicking, kept up a slow but steady pace, and once in a while one would peak back to see who and where I was. With wobbly legs and an loose but unsteady gait, they did cris-crosses in front of me as we proceeded down the hill at 5 mph. After not much more than a minute, the anxiety must have been too much as they galloped off into the woods.
- Tom Lake

7/22 - North Germantown, HRM 109: The last of the ebb tide on a warm and sultry day seemed to be perfect time to get wet and see who was home in the river. Across the way in Inbocht Bay, a pair of adult bald eagles, perched side-by-side in a cottonwood, kept an eye on us as we began our sample by pulling our 85-foot seine through an acre of dense wild celery. The water was as warm as it gets, 86 degrees F, and we wondered if that would limit our catch. When we opened the net we found young-of-the-year smallmouth bass (68.0 mm), striped bass (41.0 mm), banded killifish, tessellated darters, pumpkinseed sunfish, spottail shiners, and two gorgeous young-of-the-year brown bullheads (51.0, 52.0 mm).
Next we hauled our net through an acre of bright green curly pondweed, alive with fish like a magic carpet pulsing in the current. Even though the beds were less dense and the water was a bit cooler (81 degrees F), the fish were similar: young-of-the-year smallmouth bass (69.0 mm), striped bass, white perch, spottail shiners, more tessellated darters than we could count, banded killifish (gravid females), mummichogs, and one more little brown bullhead (51.0 mm). Our favorites were the male banded killifish, shining through the mesh in shades in shades of lavender, violet and gold.
- Tom Lake, M. Mantzouris

7/22 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A group of teachers and I seined at Kowawese today and caught two Atlantic needlefish, one about 4" and the other about 2" long.
- Rebecca Houser

[Atlantic needlefish are naturally designed to be a consummate predator. They are sight-feeders with over 20% of their total length taken up by tooth-studded jaws. The two fish taken in the net were likely young-of-the-year, born in the river in late spring. While needlefish and their kin are considered brackish, even marine fishes, the Atlantic needlefish has also adapted to the Hudson River and much lower salinity. Tom Lake.]

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