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Hudson River Almanac September 8 - September 15

OVERVIEW

Another manatee, the second in three years, brushed past the estuary. This is a rare marine mammal in our area. Given their very narrow range of acceptable forage in their native range, it is a mystery as to how they mange to do so well in our far less temperate waters. Autumn migration in the air seems to be progressing very slowly.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/15 - Sandy Hook, NJ: I walked the ocean beach this noon at low tide and noted many ghost crab burrows, mostly at the high tide line. We've had a couple of cool nights and the crabs may be thinking about going into winter quarters, a burrow three feet deep. New Jersey is about the northern limit of the ghost crab (Ocypode quadrata); it's much more common from Virginia south. Their body gets to be about an inch across. They live on the beach, foraging mostly at night along the wrack line, and run into the water to keep their gills moist. Ocypode means "swift-footed." Indeed they are and they can change direction on a dime. Some may winter over; most don't make it. Henry Hill Collins, one of my favorite naturalists writes: "If you ever have the opportunity, patrol the dry sand of a quiet beach by moonlight and watch the scurrying to and fro of the ghostly legions of this crab."
- Dery Bennett

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/8 - Jamaica Bay, Queens: Reminiscent of summer 2006 (see 7/29), a manatee sighting was confirmed in the waters of Jamaica Bay near the footbridge located at 163rd Avenue and 99th Street, west of the JFK airport. The sighting was made yesterday, but not confirmed photographically until last evening. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Jacksonville has been advised. Please spread the word to report any unusual sightings to our 24-hour Marine Mammal Hotline number (631)369-9829. Additional photographs are sought to assist with the detailed identification of this individual. For more information: http://www.riverheadfoundation.org/
- The Riverhead Foundation

9/8 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We pulled a seine near a bulkhead on Sandy Hook for 25 witnesses. The catch included Atlantic silversides, 8 inch northern puffer, 8 inch tautog, snapper bluefish, green crab, and two kinds of jellyfish: lion's mane and moon. We tickled the puffer, it puffed, the crowd cheered, we released the puffer, and it deflated and swam away. A man using a cast net nearby landed a few dozen "finger mullet" (4-6 inches). They are the best bluefish and striper bait.
- Dery Bennett

[Puffers are small marine fish that can reach 10 inches in length and feed on small crustaceans and other invertebrates. As the name suggests, they have a specialized adaptation to enhance their survival. When threatened, they can puff their already prickly bodies into a spherical shape ranging in size from a golf ball to a tennis ball, a survival strategy that deters predators. Tom Lake.]

9/8 - Kowawese, HRM 60: While the winds and storm surge from Hanna were milder than expected, they still pushed tiderows of uprooted wild celery up on the beach. There was a broad, leafy green roll of these aquatic plants several hundred feet long marking yesterday's higher than usual high tide mark.
- Tom Lake

9/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Violent weather often has much to recommend it. The river never looks more alive than when it is erupting in foam, being tossed against the current and dashed on the rocks. An intense thunderstorm raced across the river in midmorning with much noise and little flash. In little more than half an hour, an inch and a quarter of rain fell. It fell hard. So hard that it pelted through my rain jacket, stinging, like so many bony fingers poking me in the back.
- Tom Lake

9/9 - George's Island, HRM 39: The weather had cleared after a thunderstorm and, I was paddling south from George's Island this evening, I counted fifteen dead fish floating past me being feasted upon by gulls. They were all white and gray, and about eight inches long.
- Steve Butterfass

[This is not an easy puzzle to solve without more details. The size and color rules out carp, a not-infrequent river "floater." My first guess was menhaden, a species of herring that tends to be less hardy in estuaries than at sea. A second possibility is gizzard shad, another species of herring that tends to fall prey to stressful river conditions. Another candidate was white perch. There have been occasions when fairly large numbers of white perch have been seen floating in the river in early summer. Post-spawning stress, disease, and power plant thermal pollution have been theorized as possible causes. Other suggestions? Tom Lake.]

9/9 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: It wasn't that long ago, it seems, when the ruby-throated hummingbirds heralded the return of summer, appearing again at our fuschia-basket feeders. And now, it seems, suddenly, autumn's banner, golden rod, is festooning the roadsides. Golden rod is a wonderful flower, bright, glorious, indomitable, but here so soon?
- Robin Fox

9/10 - Kowawese, HRM 60: I am used to waiting for a parade of wild turkeys to cross the road in this park, usually ushered along by mature hens. Today it was a parade of fawns, young-of-the-year white-tailed deer. As I idled in my truck, seven of them in various sizes hopped, bounded, gamboled ("to skip about in play"), and just strolled across the road. All were curious but none seemed alarmed.
- Tom Lake

9/10 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: I was with some students at Furnace Brook this afternoon when I got a very short glimpse of a mammal that probably was a mink. It was dark brown, bigger than a weasel.
- Chris Bowser

[On at least two occasion, while tending river herring research nets from dusk to dawn at Furnace Brook in years past, we have seen mink lurking creekside, hunting the shallow pools. Tom Lake.]

9/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It is difficult to believe that we are actually dry in Newcomb - no significant rain since mid-August. But now we are officially into fall weather, thanks to the hearty frost we had last night. What began as some promising autumn colors last month has become pretty drab.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/11 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: We were seeing lots of hummingbirds until a few days ago. Now they seem to have left.
- Bill Drakert

9/12 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The local osprey population (six nests, 10 young) has pretty much flown the coop for southern climes. One first-year bird remained, standing in its nest most of the day. Thousands of tree swallows roared through in one big, undulating flock today, diving into bayberry and then swirling out over the dunes and beach and back to the bayberry. And then, presto, they disappeared. Meanwhile, just a few hundred yards north, Sandy Hook's last osprey waits summer out.
- Dery Bennett

9/13 - Albany, HRM 148: I was crossing the Interstate 90 bridge westbound over the Hudson at about noon when I spotted an adult bald eagle flying north. The bird flew in front of my car and was very impressive.
- Terry Berinato

9/14 - Brooklyn, New York City: The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and The Coastal Marine Resource Center provided a public seining program to 115 participants at the shores of the East River, under the Manhattan Bridge. Our catch included sea squirt (Molgula spp. of sea grape), shore shrimp (Palaemonetes spp.), mantis shrimp, sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa), striped bass, northern kingfish, striped searobin, Atlantic silverside, blue crab, lady crab, winter flounder, comb jelly, and lion's mane jellyfish. The "cutest specimens of the day" awards went to the diminutive hermit crab, an oyster toadfish, a northern pipefish and a bay anchovy.
- Kara Gilmour, Cortney Worrall, Cynthia Fowx

9/14 - Staten Island, New York City: Among the pigeons hovering over a famous brand name donut shop in New Dorp, was a turkey vulture. No comment necessary.
- Dave Taft

9/15 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: You have to love the antics of wild turkeys. I dutifully stopped my truck on a tree-lined stretch of Wheeler Hill Road as the "flag-turkey" demanded. Looking to the side, I counted nine young wild turkeys lined up on an old fieldstone wall, waiting. Out in the middle of the road, directing traffic, showing much assertiveness, was a single mature hen. She looked up and down, and with a great deal of non-verbal communication, slowly ushered the nine safely across.
- Tom Lake

9/15 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The raptor migration along the Hudson River at Yonkers has been very slow. We've noticed a few flocks of blue jays and robins moving but the numbers are low. Monarchs can be counted on one hand. The winds have been muggy from the south. Perhaps it will pick up as it cools down. Over the past week or so, there has been a pretty good movement of warblers and flycatcher in all of the city parks.
- Joe O'Connell

9/15 - Staten Island, New York City: It doesn't take much to start a flame on a windy, dry day. Phragmites, or common reed, makes quick work of an errant match or cigarette butt. There was no saying as yet how big the fire at Great Kills would be, but as National Park Service and FDNY firefighters got to work, I was amazed by a kingbird watching the trucks, their sirens, light bars, and fire staffers from an ailanthus (tree-of-heaven) branch. If I were to assign him some emotion, I'd say simple interest. Neither frantic, nor particularly bothered by the flames, the kingbird made me aware of the many flying insect dinners nearby, perhaps flushed by the flames. An interesting lesson about kingbirds and an interesting lesson about opportunity.
- Dave Taft

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