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Hudson River Almanac September 16 - September 23, 2008


The broadest extent of Hudson River entertainment was on display this week, from an eel race on the beach, to an exotic Indonesian fish, to the Space Station streaking overhead. There was a red-tail cruising on Broadway in Manhattan and a Rhode Island Red rooster cruising on Sandy Hook. All this and the Autumnal Equinox as well!


9/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: North Country Public Radio had a spot on astronomy today, featuring Jupiter with its several moons, visible with binoculars, as well as the Space Station. If we went out at 8:10 tonight, and looked toward the western horizon, we should see the Space Station as it cruised northeastward across the night sky. At 7:50 PM I headed out, armed with my binoculars, picked up one of my neighbors, and we headed to The Scenic Overlook, just down the street. We took up our spots behind the monument, blocking out the light from the dozen street lights in the area, and waited.

Bracing our binoculars against the monument, we could make out four of Jupiter's moons. We watched something, presumably man-made, zip across the sky, from the middle of the dome overhead down towards north, where it vanished. We suspected it was a satellite. And we waited.

And sure enough, at 8:10 PM I saw something large, bright and red shoot out above the silhouetted trees to the west, like a shot from a cannon. It was the Space Station! And it was cruising. It arced up and up, heading northward, then northeast. As is sped across the heavens, it lost the bright red color, becoming plain white, shrinking in size, and finally vanishing all together as it entered the northeastern quadrant of the sky. The whole thing lasted about two minutes, but Charlotte and I figured it was well worth the price of admission.
- Ellen Rathbone, Charlotte Demers


9/16 - Catskill, HRM 113: At 2:00 AM, the near-full moon was almost directly overhead. It was circled by a huge halo, ice crystals from a cold front, and yet the glow was still so intense it hurt your eyes. A slight breeze was coming down off the Catskill from the northwest. The upstream tide was nearing full flood and river was still and dark. The air was still with an autumn chill. Henry Hudson and the Half Moon stayed the night in this reach 399 years ago today.
- Tom Lake

9/16 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: This was my first seining program of the season and it was very atypical: There were no flatfish (hogchokers, summer flounder, winter flounder, or windowpanes); no juvenile "snapper" bluefish; no white perch. Instead, two lovely ethereal lookdowns, the first I've taken in a seine. Out on the fishing pier, foot-long red hake (ling) and large eels were being bagged by bait fishermen.
- Christopher Letts

Lookdowns are a member of a colorful, tropical-looking family of fishes, the jacks. Other jacks in the Hudson include crevalle, permit, and moonfish. Lookdowns get their name from their profile; they appear to be looking down their snouts as they swim about.
- Tom Lake

9/17 - Town of Esopus, HRM 85: My wife and I took a hike on the Black Creek trail and when we got down by the river, a bald eagle flew right in front of us. A few minutes later, we spotted another eagle fly north into the trees. It was very exciting for us because we have waited and watched for years to see an eagle up close since we moved here eight years ago.
- William Paskey, Andrea Paskey

9/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I've gotten so I can sleep through most of the nightly coyote choruses but there is something about the haunting whinny of the screech owl that demands that you wake up and listen. Unlike the jarring intrusion of an alarm clock, the mournful call of the screech owl seems to slowly draw you out of your sleep to where, for a few seconds, you are not sure of very much, other than you are listening. But for what? And then there is the soft tremolo from the forest and sleep is put on hold. It was 3:30 AM and the owl song was followed minutes later by the frantic call of some small mammal. There was no way to know if they were connected but the dark of night is never a reassuring time for small mammals when owls are about.
- Tom Lake

9/17 - Diamond Reef, HRM 67.5: It was the last of the flood tide near midday and the gulls were slamming the reef. A pulse of young-of-the-year blueback herrings, a half-acre of them, was looking for refuge. Underneath the tiny fish, scores of yearling striped bass were in hot pursuit. As the herring sought escape at the surface, the ring-billed gulls were having a feast. A few monarchs fluttered by.
- Tom Lake

9/17 - Manitou Marsh, HRM 47: My husband and I first heard a racket overhead and looked up to see an adult bald eagle and an osprey. The eagle had successfully shaken the osprey enough to get it to release the fish it had caught. We watched, with amazement, as the eagle caught the fish in midair. The fish looked from our vantage point to be about a foot long. The eagle flew over the southern end of Manitou Marsh with the osprey hot on its tail trying to get its fish back. They both flew out of view leaving us to wonder who ended up with the meal.
- Zshawn Sullivan, Owen Sullivan

9/17 - Manhattan, HRM 7.5: I emerged from the subway this evening on 104th Street and Broadway. Glancing west to admire the sunset, I noticed a shadow overhead. A red-tailed hawk was soaring across the intersection at about the 5th floor level. I stopped dead to watch. He gracefully alighted on a lovely pre-World War II high-rise, facing west, on the northwest corner of 105th and Broadway, pausing for a few moments to admire the spectacular early-evening horizon, I suppose. Then he rose and glided effortlessly toward Riverside Park, maybe hoping to catch a pre-theater, prix fixe special of squirrel tartar. There was no doubt in my mind at that moment who ruled Manhattan.
- Christine Kulisek

9/17 - Sandy Hook, NJ: This is a National Wildlife Refuge, a narrow peninsula with one pinched road access at its southern end. Today, a lone rooster showed up in one of the small parking lots five miles into the park. It was a well-groomed Rhode Island Red, skittish, but not terror stricken. A park ranger made a few passes trying to catch it, but this one appeared to be a wise and agile quarry. It's probably another kind of "drop off." The park gets unwanted dogs and cats; the latter generally seem to bear young constantly. We mentioned the rooster's presence to a serious birder, suggesting it be added to his list. Not funny, was the reply.
- Dery Bennett

9/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In what might well have been the curtain-closer, a female (or immature) ruby-throated hummingbird made an appearance today for perhaps the final time until next spring.
- Tom Lake

9/18 - Bronx County, New York City: In shallow water, just above the falls of the Bronx River on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, a single large (16-20 inch) Asian arowana was swimming lazily with sunfish and others in the late afternoon sun. It appeared to be the red-tailed golden arowana (Scleropages aureus), native to northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The fish was likely released by a local aquarist when it grew too large. But where it was released and how it found its way to the zoo section of the river remains a mystery.
- Robert DeCandido

Under other circumstances, we'd be inclined to consider adding the arowana to our compilation of fish for the Hudson River watershed that currently lists 215 species. However, this may be a one-time, exotic introduction that is isolated enough to warrant a special category of aquarium releases, highly unlikely to become established. As fish consultant Bob Schmidt notes, "Ultimately, every aquarium fish in the universe can show up in the Hudson." It is well worth mentioning that releasing these fish is a really bad idea.
- Tom Lake

9/19 - Beacon, HRM 61: Three carp, the largest of which was 11.5 pounds, were caught and released at Long Dock today. Mixed in was a nice channel catfish and one eel. After a long period of little activity, the carp suddenly began feeding an hour after high tide.
- Bill Greene

9/20 - Town of Ulster, HRM 88: The feeder is in and the temperatures are falling, yet we had a hummingbird at the petunias this morning!
- Bill Drakert

"Hudson Rest"
I rested by the Hudson
Where it ran a stone's throw wide,
Sure of its long, winding course
Over a rock-tumbled guide.

Among the hemlock and spruce
White paper birches alight,
Lifted lofty branches - A
Forest cathedral site.

The solace I took was clear
As the cold water that flowed,
Strong, true, bold and steady
To its distant place below.

Today I sit quiet,
Where the river runs wide,
And slowly flows both ways
With the ebb and flood tides.

Its deep murky waters
Remain rich, full of life.
In currents on currents
Flotsam swirls day and night.

My river side outlook
Very few people know,
So, still there is solace,
But I leave like it flows.

Scott Sheeley's thoughts, as he moved from DEC Region 3 to Region 8, about leaving, and his days on the river.

9/21 - Waterford, HRM 159: On a morning canoe trip on the Hudson River north from Waterford, in addition to a few monarch butterflies, we spotted a pileated woodpecker, common flicker, Carolina wren, eastern phoebe, great blue heron, great egret, least sandpiper, double-crested cormorant, about 100 Canada geese, and a red-tailed hawk among about 25 species.
- Scott Stoner, John Kent

9/21 - Kowawese, HRM 59: On the last day of summer twenty-three of us gathered on the beach to sample the river for the 8th annual Hudson River Valley Ramble. Making our way over the hummocks of uprooted wild celery, we set our 85-foot net out into the shallows. Several hauls netted 500 fish of a dozen species, and while none was surprising, they all had a story to tell: young-of-the-year blueback herring were migrating seaward from faraway reaches of the Mohawk River; young-of-the-year striped bass, in a wide variety of sizes, gave testimony to their extended spawning season; several six-inch smallmouth bass spoke of the productivity of nearby tributaries; one five-inch yearling carp seemed to be an anomaly despite the huge presence of adults in the river; and 15 hogchokers, delightful little soles, with a mottled black and brown pattern, ranging in size from a penny to the palm of your hand. We often remark that, like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two are ever alike. Of the 15 we caught today, 2 were different: one had pigmentation both top and bottom; the other had no pigmentation and was fairly translucent on both sides. We concluded our program with a spirited eel race.
- Tom Lake, Dick Manley, Amelia Risinit, Autumn Drake, Amber Drake, Max Epstein, Penny Kelly, Louise McCoy

The eel race is held on a beach, preferably with a gentle slope to the water. Five-gallon buckets, a quarter-full of water, are lined up a short distance apart, parallel to and about fifteen feet from the water's edge. One or more American eels (trained "racing eels") are placed in each. (For our race, we had racing teams, two in each.) A group of fans, preferably eager elementary school students, are assigned to each entry. Competing groups can be boys/girls, teachers/students, blue eyes/brown eyes, earth signs/sun signs, or any other meaningful assemblage. The eels are given honorary names like Eelie, Slimy, Snakey, or Fred, which makes cheering much easier. At the chosen moment the buckets are tipped over. The length of the race is a product of several factors such as distance to travel, gradient of the beach, wind velocity, barometric pressure, enthusiasm of the cheering fans, and the individual eel's competitive nature. With luck, and about ten seconds, there is a winner. Today's teams were The Speedies and Go Electric. The loudest cheer was "Go Go Electric!" and their team won in a flash.
- Tom Lake

9/21 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: What a day in the garden: monarchs were in abundance, selectively attracted to asters; a great blue heron on the wood chip path nabbing a grasshopper; birds were at the feeder (blue jays, red-bellied woodpecker, house finches); phoebes and pewees made flying grabs at airborne insects; mourning doves sunbathed in the leaf mulch; crows were eating fallen pears; chipmunks were racing and chasing one another along the rock wall; house finches vied for space in the birdbath; a stunning canary-yellow goldfinch had a drink before coming to the feeder for a snack; so many bumble bees in the phytostegia that it could be heard abuzz from eight feet away; many small white cabbage butterflies fluttering around in pairs; two red-tailed hawks soared with four turkey vultures; and to top it off, a bluebird was perched at the apex of an umbrella pole.
- Nancy P. Durr

9/22 - Green Island, HRM 153: I left early and drove a long way to reach one of my favorite spots on the river for the autumnal equinox. The changes in the seasons are those rare moments when humans have no control over the observance. The time that the sun shines on the Equator is governed by forces in nature which we can only observe. The river was calm, the tide was a full flood, and I lost count as to how many gulls and cormorants were bobbing on the water. Monarchs were fluttering by at a rate of about one-a-minute. Fall arrived at 11:44 AM, totally lost in the glare of midday. As I was about to leave a raptor swooped down over the federal dam into the plunge pool below and made a furtive dive at a fish. It was dark--maybe an immature bald eagle. As it rose to the level of the sky, however, I could see the markings more clearly. It was an osprey, migrating, a defining moment of the season.
- Tom Lake

9/23 - Nyack, HRM 28: Captain Bob Gabrielson pulled his trawl of crab pots out of the Tappan Zee this week. Blue crabbing has been disappointing, with catches down 70% from last year.
- Christopher Letts

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