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Hudson River Almanac October 1 - October 7, 2008

OVERVIEW

We held our 6th annual Day in the Life of the River along the estuary from the capitol district near Troy to New York Harbor. The weather was perfect and the river was calm. This water sampling snapshot of the Hudson has a defined set of parameters for students to explore, but often the day and the river have additional lessons to offer.


HIGHLIGHT FROM LAST WEEK

9/28 - Denning's Point. HRM 60: I took a walk on Denning's Point this morning. There were four black-crowned night herons in the cove by the old factory building. Ospreys were all over the cove, fishing and perched at several locations. There were fish splashing on both sides of the point that appeared to be 6-12 inches long. They looked like herring, possibly gizzard shad? I think there has been too much fresh water in the river this year to bring menhaden this far upriver. The water chestnut beds have almost entirely broken up, leaving piles several feet wide and a couple feet deep along parts of the tide line.
- Stephen M. Seymour

[Atlantic menhaden, a salt water herring, have demonstrated that they can intrude into parts of the river where salinity is minimal or non-existent. In the last decade, young-of-the-year menhaden have been found in summer as far upriver as Troy, river mile 153. Adults are not uncommon during dry stretches of late spring, summer and fall, as far upriver as New Hamburg, river mile 67.5. For example, here's an Almanac entry from October 5, 2005:
Denning's Point, HRM 60: At the train trestle where Fishkill Creek meets the river, large schools of young-of-the-year menhaden were being chased by what I presumed to be bluefish until I broke up the party by hooking and landing a 20" striped bass. Tom Lake.]

[Rain and runoff into the estuary have lessened in recent weeks. According to the U.S. Geological Survey's sensors, as reported on the USGS Hudson River Salt Front website, on 9/28 the leading edge of dilute seawater reached HRM 67, north of the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge and Denning's Point. Steve Stanne.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/1- Newcomb, HRM 302: Our resident summer photographer, who spends summer and early fall camping in Long Lake, stopped by this morning to tell us that he had two sets of moose tracks just a few feet from his trailer when he woke up this morning.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/1 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: A slender, hawk-looking bird swooped low, coming to rest on the stone wall at the edge of the lawn. Its arrival set the crows, who were already in loud conversation, into a frenzy. The newcomer rose to the tree above, showing a fanned and striped tail (no sign of the rusty tinge of a red-tail). That fact, and its slender body and smallish size, made me think it might be a Cooper's hawk. The crows began to dive the hawk but the raptor responded by flying like a punch into the mob of crows, making a noise like an angry cat! It was clearly on the attack. The hawk flew to another perch, challenging the crows again and again with its fiercely flapping wings and angry noise. The crows fled. The hawk sat and preened a bit, then disappeared.
- Robin Fox

10/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: A heron grand slam? In the tidemarsh inside the railroad trestle, I spotted a great blue heron, a great egret, a snowy egret, and a black-crowned night heron. To top it off, there was also a immature little blue heron.
- Christopher Letts

10/1 - Sandy Hook, NJ: I was on a dog walk on a midday beach, several days after a heavy surf. Many small, dying surf clams were washed up at the high tide line. The clams had set too close to shore and thus were vulnerable to the strong wave action. Most surf clams lie miles offshore in 40-60 feet of water. They are a major fishery resource, taken off the bottom with heavy hydraulic dredges. The seaside golden rod was out in full force, but so far only a smattering of monarch butterflies. Groundsel had just started to bloom. My canine beach companion discovered a dead sea robin and rolled on and in it. Lovely.
- Dery Bennett

10/2 - Catskill Creek, HRM 113: A second Chinese mitten crab was captured today by Mike Aguiar, the owner of Riverview Marine in Catskill, NY(see 9/27).
- Tom Lake

10/2 - Cornwall Landing, HRM 57: L0814 No sooner had the sun risen over Mount Taurus to the southeast than a cold northeast wind drew heavy gray clouds across the sky. A cold front was moving through and almost instantly, the air temperature dropped from 56 to 51 degrees F. There was no doubt that this was autumn. A half-mile across Cornwall Bay to the northwest an adult bald eagle was perched in a cottonwood on Sloop Hill. A second adult eagle, perhaps its mate, circled high over the bay, eying the opportunities that low tide brings.
- Tom Lake

10/2- Staten Island, New York City: Felice Ciccione of the National Park Service and I wandered old pre-civil war batteries at Fort Wadsworth this morning. The prize for the morning was a fall magnolia warbler bathing in a muddy puddle beside a granite wall.
- Dave Taft

10/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There is snow in "them thar hills!" Yes, indeed, the winter fairies had stopped for a while in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, for this morning the mountains were covered with snow.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/3 - Windham, HRM 110: My wife Debbie, my nephew Jake, and I shared a wonderful view of a coyote hunting afield. Raking light caught the archetypal image of the old trickster, golden brown, pointy-nosed, staring intently at what I imagined was a mouse under the frost-killed goldenrods. Ears pricked up and alert, he was a handsome and stunningly ancient creature hard at work.
- Dave Taft

10/3 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: While kayaking on the lower Esopus Creek, I noticed a tiny creature skating across the surface of the water. At first, I thought it was a water bug. As it passed in front of my kayak I saw that it was in fact a "kite surfing" spider. A length of gossamer thread acted like a spinnaker sail on the breeze as the spider rode the surface tension of the water.
- Patrick Landewe

10/3 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught, weighed, and released one very welcome carp, 15 lb. 3 oz, 31 inches-long, along with three other carp in the 3- 4 lb. range at Long Dock today. There was a lot of vegetation in the water that loaded up my fishing line during the incoming tide. During flood slack, the carp were able to get through to my bait. When I arrived, I counted 12 turkey vultures flying low over the north-east corner of the bay area. They never seemed to land, and there was no sign of a carcass in the vicinity. I've seen them in that area before, but never so many.
- Bill Greene

10/4 - Catskill Creek, HRM 113: Mike Aguiar at Riverview Marine caught another Chinese mitten crab in Catskill Creek today. He has now taken three, all females, this latest one a little smaller than the other two.
- Leslie Surprenant

10/4 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: At first I thought it was my golden retriever kicking me in his sleep, but I quickly realized that I had awoken for another reason. Although it was very low in decibels, if I held my breath for a few seconds, I could easily make out the faint, almost shrill repetitive sounds of geese, a mile high and flying over. It was near midnight and the nighttime high-flyers were migrating.
- Tom Lake

[High-flyers is a colloquial name given mainly to migratory geese, from Canada and points north and east, headed for corn fields down the coast. We frequently hear them before we see them, often as a giant check mark in the sky, anywhere from a score to several hundred birds. With a backdrop of sky blue, a flock of snow geese almost disappear. During the height of the migration in October, you may see half a dozen flocks of Canada geese at one time, all a mile high or more. Over the course of a breezy day or night, you may count or hear 15-20 flocks as they pass over. Tom Lake.]

10/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The High Peaks are still white today, so I imagine there was significant snowfall up there. Two flocks of geese passed overhead this morning, winging their way southward. The first was just one long string, a formation that seems to be more and more common each year, while the second batch was in the traditional "V" formation. They must have seen the snow on the mountains, too, and decided that they'd better be moving along. Colors are starting to peak - some are even past peak now, depending on where one is standing. Lots of folks have been telling me that the colors are the best they've seen in many years. I'm not so sure I'd agree, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/5 - Athens, HRM 118: I took my nephews out with my family for some afternoon fishing along the river at the Athens Pier. We caught and released probably a hundred small white perch, as well as pumpkinseeds and a nice channel catfish. But we had a mystery fish! I figured it had to be a drum of some sort, but I wasn't aware of drum being commonly caught in the Hudson. I certainly had never caught one before. The fish was very handsome, about 2 lb, with a subterminal mouth, a strange caudal fin, and the right array of hard and soft dorsal fins with a broad arch-backed shape. Like a drum.
- Dave Taft, Debbie Morrison

[Freshwater drum probably arrived here in the last twenty-five years through the New York State canal system and Mohawk River connecting the Hudson River with the Great Lakes. Freshwater drum are lovers of mollusks and in the Great Lakes are known to consume large quantities of zebra mussels. They have been showing up in crab pots, shad gill nets, and on anglers lines, mostly north of the Hudson Highlands. An exception was May 2004: Ryan Barrella was striper fishing at Croton Point (HRM 34) when an 18.5 lb. freshwater drum took his bait, a Hudson River record. The New York State angling record is 24 lb. 7 oz., caught in the Ganargua Creek in 1995. Tom Lake.]

10/5 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: When Ed Weber and I took the work barge to Esopus Meadows Lighthouse this morning, we saw a Sea Tow skiff trying to free a sailboat that had run aground in the mud flats west of the lighthouse. Since the tide was low, a short time before 10:00 AM, and the boat was about 30 feet long, it looked as if the sailors would have to wait for the tide to change. Ed and I worked at the lighthouse until 4:00 PM, so we saw the boat, with its sails up, bob up and sail off around 3:15. Before we left, a variety of vessels passed by, including the John Harvey fireboat, the Rip van Winkle tour boat, several barges, and a reproduction PT boat with a deck full of tourists, in addition to kayaks, jet-skis, and a modern biplane that seemed to be making test runs over the river.
- Phyllis Marsteller

10/5 - Nyack, HRM 28: I spotted a nice fat osprey with a fish in its talons on a piling at Petersen's boatyard. The scruffy bird looked like it needed a bath.
- John Lipscomb

10/6 - Bethlehem, HRM 140: I counted 97 killdeer on one football field at the high school in Bethlehem this evening. Not that seeing them in that location is unusual, but to see so many of these shore birds at one time, oblivious to the walkers and joggers circling around them, was quite a sight. I just assumed the large grouping was a pre-migration get-together.
- Peter Corrigan


10/6 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: There is a time each autumn when blue becomes a predominant color. In the lower estuary blue crabs and bluefish are stealing bait, hitting lures and filling pots. Great blue herons are on almost every dock and deadfall. In park shrubbery along the river bluebirds are competing with the fall foliage. Today, as I emptied and returned a half-dozen blue crabs and bluegill sunfish from my eel pots, a flock of twenty blue jays rushed past. This has been a "blue jay week," as flocks have been moving through treelines migrating south. However, most of our winter blue jays will be year-round residents; scientists think that less than 20% of the population migrates. Migrant or not, they definitely add color to the season.
- Tom Lake

10/6 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Watching turkey vultures soar lost its novelty long ago for me. I respect their role in our world, but their teetering flight is rarely the stuff of compelling prose. However, black vultures still occupy a special place, with their black head and short tails and what seem like tighter circles as they soar. For a half-hour this afternoon I watched a single black vulture float in a thermal with so few wing beats that I could count them: two.
- Tom Lake

10/7 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 77: Students and teachers from Krieger Elementary participated in our 6th annual Day of the Life of the River, sampling water quality, testing turbidity, seining for fish along the beach, and donning waders to investigate the shallows with the help of special scopes that allow you to look underwater at Quiet Cove. With the help of staff from the DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit they caught lots of fish including spottail shiners, banded killifish, and pumpkinseeds. Local high school students participating in the No Child Left Inside program taught the workshops alongside staff from Dutchess County Cooperative Extension, teachers from Dutchess County BOCES and Krieger Elementary. It was a real partnership effort and the kids loved it!
- Kristin Marcell, Hudson River Estuary Program

10/7 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I was at the river before dawn to make a withdrawal from my collection pots and traps for today's education programs. The hazy look of pre-dawn made the riverside forest glow with myriad fall colors. It is difficult to say exactly when "peak color" arrives; that is a highly subjective view and is controlled in large part by when various species lose their green. Regardless, as the sun peaked over the eastern dolomite ridge, the western shoreline, replete in reds, oranges, and yellows, was peak enough for me. As for my gear, 22 fish in one, nothing in the other - fickle fish.
- Tom Lake

10/7 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Conditions were perfect for our Day in the Life of the River program. Thirty-six 8th graders from Bishop Dunn school watched as we hauled our 85-foot beach seine through a midday low tide. The net filled with hundreds of young-of-the-year blueback herring. These were the progeny of sea run adults that had made the incredibly long and difficult spring journey up through tidewater, ascending a long series of locks to spawn in the Mohawk River. Adults are not infrequently observed as far west as Rome and occasionally in Oneida Lake. Included in a catch of banded killifish and young-of-the-year striped bass, white perch, and American shad, was a double-side-pigmented hogchoker. We rarely see these, yet we now have seen two in less than three weeks at Kowawese.
- Judy Onufer, Pam Golben, Lisa Ocana, Tom Lake

10/7 - Cornwall Landing, HRM 57: Seventy 4th graders from Willow Avenue School joined us on the beach at low tide to sample the shallows with our 20-foot seine. Our catch was modest, maybe a hundred fish, and was not dominated by any particular species. The most interesting story we shared came with the spottail shiners we caught, a fish described by DeWitt Clinton from the Hudson River in 1824, between terms as governor of New York State. The students found a single "dead" blue crab in an isolated pool left by the dropping tide. We investigated and discovered that it was not a dead blue crab after all (see below). A raucous race followed where teams of "specially trained racing eels" competed. In a mere ten seconds, the Lightning team edged out the Dragons by a nose as their champion, a two-foot-long American eel wiggled down the wet sand amidst wild cheering and reached the river first.
- Chris O'Sullivan, Amanda Seibel, Tom Lake

[From time to time, summer through fall, we get emails and phone calls reporting "dead blue crabs" washing up on beaches somewhere along tidewater. These reports are rarely true. Nearly all the time they are moults, shed exoskeletons of blue crabs. Many of them are perfect imitations of live crabs until you lift the carapace and discover that no one is home. Blue crab moults are common from May through November with higher concentrations around the new and full moon when shedding activity increases. Tom Lake.]

10/7 - Manhattan, HRM 12.5: A Day in the Life of the Hudson River could not have been more fun for me, and hopefully many students as well. At Inwood Hill Park, I met up with teacher Susan Vincent and her class from Young Women's Leadership School of East Harlem. The park features a semi-enclosed tidal mud flat with a narrow opening to the Harlem River at Spuyten Duyvil, a great place to study intertidal ecosystems. The students were busy collecting chlorophyll samples and measuring turbidity, when someone suggested, "Hey, let's go seining!" The waders were barely on when we realized this was one muddy site! One of the brave young women, likely her first time in waders, sat down in the shallow water and soft mud with a huge oozy splash. Her fellow students were not far behind. By the time we dragged our sorry seine back to shore, we were all soaked and laughing our caudal fins off. You've never seen a group of people (myself included) more excited to see a silverside, a shore shrimp, and a tiny baby blue crab.
- Chris Bowser

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