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Hudson River Almanac August 17 - August 23, 2008

OVERVIEW

Hints of autumn commonly show up in late August: leaf color in Adirondack and Catskill hardwoods, migrating flocks of birds and butterflies, and cool dawns and diminishing daylight.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/19 - Verplanck to Troy, HRM 40-152: We have always wanted to take a boat ride up to the head of tidewater at Troy, and finally got the chance over the last two days. We were greeted by a belted kingfisher as we prepared to leave the marina in Verplanck. As we approached West Point, we saw a large flock of cormorants on the wing headed south. We finally got to see, first hand, all the wonderful places that are mentioned in the Hudson River Almanac: Norrie Point, Esopus Meadows, Tivoli Bays, Rondout Creek, Catskill Creek, and more. There was so much aquatic vegetation from the Rondout to the Catskill Creek that we had to slow to a crawl. We reached Troy in about five hours on a beautiful day and had seen so many great blue herons, osprey, and two juvenile bald eagles along the way. It was another lovely, cloudless blue-sky day for our return trip home. We spotted more osprey at Castleton-on-Hudson and there was a beautiful adult bald eagle perched in a tree at Matthew's Point. Our final sighting was of twenty turkey vultures over Storm King Mountain. It was a wonderful experience.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/17 - Upper Nyack, HRM 29: Out for an early morning sail, Marta Renzi and I saw osprey circling and feeding just off Upper Nyack. For some reason, early fall is when they seem to be around this area. Could it be the bluefish pushing schools of bait fish closer to the green surface? One came by with a silver dinner in its claws. Then briefly, silently, an adult bald eagle did a turn out of and back into the suburban trees: a secret.
- Dan Wolff

[From mid-August through mid-October, the number of osprey along the estuary increases dramatically. Most of this is fall migration, birds that have nested from Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence to Lake Champlain and are heading south. In most years, as they pass Haverstraw Bay and the Tappan Zee, they come upon huge aggregations of menhaden, silvery herring that school near the surface and are just the right size to be plucked from the river. Tom Lake.]

8/18 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I spotted a coyote this evening in an open field about sixty feet from the brushy margin. It probably was on its way to munch on fallen fruit from a very abundant crop of pears and peaches. When it noticed me, it trotted back into brush. After about five minutes, it ventured out a few feet, but again retreated when it saw me.
- N.P. Durr

8/19 - Germantown, HRM 108: We had some lovely bald eagle watching today during a back-porch luncheon to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Germantown Garden Club. The property of the hostess drops down to the river, an idyllic location. A juvenile and an adult eagle made several passes over the lawn. I spotted the juvenile in the sky, pointed it out, expected that to be the end of the show. A bit later, large shadows cast over the lawn alerted us to a pretty good, if brief, show of both. These are likely the locals reported from Cheviot.
- Mimi Brauch

8/19 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: In mid-afternoon I watched four species of birds foraging on or among the dense water chestnut in Tivoli South Bay: 2 great egrets near the railroad, and near the mouth of the Saw Kill 3 green herons, 5 spotted sandpipers, and several cedar waxwings. The waxwings were gleaning from the water-chestnut leaves, probably eating water-lily leaf beetles. The sandpipers were foraging across the top of the water-chestnut mat. The green herons were standing on top of the water-chestnut, and the great egrets were standing among the water-chestnut rosettes.
- Erik Kiviat

8/19 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: A friend told me he saw a "cat" run across Red School House Road near the intersection of route 9D at about midday. It was dark brown with faint spots, about the size of a small German shepherd, was thin (indicating it was either young or underfed), had a bushy crop of hair on its head, and had a tail about two feet in length that drooped low behind. He said it had the appearance of a mountain lion.
- downstate4

[The cougar, puma, panther, catamount, or mountain lion (Felis concolor) was native to New York State but has been extirpated. In the last two decades, there have been hundreds of "mountain lion" sightings in New York State. These have been a combination of blurry photos and first-hand observations, but no empirical evidence. There has been no documented proof of wild mountain lions in New York State for over 100 years. A breeding population requires a certain critical mass (see the arguments for the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, Yeti). Every other form of ephemeral New York State wildlife, from black bears to bobcats to moose, sooner or later fall victim to either a hunter or an automobile. Why no mountain lions? There have been examples of escapes from captivity, but, as far as we know, no home-grown pumas. I have come across large bobcat paw prints in mud and snow that would pass for a small puma. It is not impossible that one or more might show up in New York State, wandering in from Canada or northern New England as the moose has done, but - like extra-terrestrial alien encounters - it would be nice to have irrefutable evidence. Tom Lake.]

8/19 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: A huge and lovely luna moth lay dead this morning, the first I had ever seen in Westchester. Properly spread and mounted, the moth excites the wonder of all who see it, none of whom had seen lunas previously.
- Christopher Letts

8/20 - Warren County, HRM 240: After seeing very few monarch butterflies all summer, I sat on a boulder and watched, and counted, as twenty-five passed me in an hour, all heading south. The river was typically August-low and the midday sound of locusts comfortably reminded me that summer was not lost.
- Tom Lake

8/21 - Green Island, HRM 151.5: We came to sample the inshore shallows to see who was home today, but we lingered a bit too long. By the time we dragged our net onto the tide flats, we were ankle deep in soft bottom. After slogging through the mud, we managed to run our kick-net seine through a few pools and found tessellated darter and banded killifish, many of which were brilliant lavender-banded males. The river was 73 degrees F. A flock of two dozen Canada geese landed in the lee behind Green Island. In the middle was a single snow goose. While this is not entirely uncommon - snow geese are occasionally seen in the company of Canadas - this one was right in the middle of the group, not hanging out on the fringe as is usually the case. One of the Canadas carried a neck band number RT05.
- Tom Lake, M. Mantzouris

8/21 - Troy, HRM 152: We were walking the shoreline amidst the disturbances of modern erosion control (rip-rap) looking for evidence of earlier cultures. Documented historic sites, even prehistoric sites, ran to the river here but are now likely buried under many feet of concrete and granite blocks, re-bar, and landfill. We found a huge, dead "silver eel" wedged among the rocks. It was well in excess of 24" long and had a circumference of at least eight inches. The carcass had been pretty well scavenged so we left it.
- Tom Lake, M. Mantzouris

[Silver eel is a colloquial name given to female American eels, 20-30 years old, that have undergone physical changes preparatory to spawning. They have gone from the green and yellow coloration of their yellow eel phase, to dark black and stark white. Their eyes become enlarged and their alimentary canals atrophy. These changes are adaptations to traveling in the deep, dark waters of the North Atlantic, developing eggs, and finally spawning. Where and how this is done is still a mystery. Tom Lake.]

8/21 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I noticed what looked like a large partially-built nest in the number 93 channel marker at the end of the tidewater jetty just south of the Saugerties lighthouse. I hadn't noticed it before but it could have been there for some time. Maybe an osprey nest?
- Dan Marazita

[As far as we can tell, there are presently no successful osprey nests along the estuary. However, in recent years we have seen several attempts from the Tappan Zee to Albany County. As with our wealth of bald eagle nests - fourteen years ago we had none, now we have at least 22 - it may take some time for them to become established. There is little reason why, eventually, we will not have active osprey nests along the tidewater Hudson. Tom Lake.]

8/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The trees were really coloring up now along the roadsides. As I was driving to Newcomb, I passed a large turtle crossing the road. Although the turtle was moving with steady speed, I stopped, backed up and decided to give it a hand across. There were no other cars around. It was wood turtle with a nearly foot-long carapace. As I was getting it set up on the bank, a slew of cars came along and, there I was, stopped right in the middle of the road (I had put on my four-way flashers). I managed to get in and drive on before they had to pass. My good deed for the day!
- Ellen Rathbone

8/23 - Essex County, HRM 290: One of the draws of the north woods of the Adirondacks has to be the cool and dewy dawns of late August. I took a first light hike into the forest and the smell of balsam fir was all the reward I needed. Woodpeckers were at it from every quarter, flickers and pileateds, hairys and downys, a near-constant staccato that sounded like a drum recital.
- Tom Lake

8/23 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Fishing was slow during our monthly public program at the Norrie Point Environmental Center. Both angling and sampling were hampered by rafts of filamentous algae in all of the shallow water coves. Esopus Meadows is showing the same huge amounts of algae, showing up earlier and denser than I've seen in recent years. The Norrie program was helped, however, by an exciting assortment of creatures that came up in researcher Helen Bustamante's crab traps. In addition to a female blue crab, there was a hefty American eel (two-feet long and very thick in circumference) and a small common musk, or "stinkpot" turtle. For this air-breathing reptile, it was lucky Helen checked her traps when she did!
- Chris Bowser

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