Hudson River Almanac October 6 - October 14, 2008
This week's Almanac features some overlap as we continue with entries from our 6th annual Day in the Life of the River. This year's activities with a broad spectrum of Hudson Valley students covered a total range of over 300 river miles.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
10/12 - Bergen County, NJ, HRM 18-11: Karol Ishizeki and I walked the Shore Trail of the Palisades, from the NY-NJ state line back to Manhattan, crossing over into the city on the George Washington Bridge. It was gorgeous. The temperature ranged from pleasantly cool to breezily balmy and the sky was cloudless. The trees were mostly green with only splashes of fall colors. We encountered lovely fall flowers, including a five-petaled purple flower with the adorable name of Herb Robert that we successfully identified with Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. We saw a handsome copperhead snake that we would like to think had recently shed its skin since its markings were so clear. We spotted many migrating passerines, two ravens, a pileated woodpecker and, on two occasions, views of an osprey flying by with a freshly caught fish in its talons. We walked all day and for a couple of hours after sundown by the light of the nearly full moon.
- Scott Jackson Wiley
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
10/6 - Adirondack High Peaks, HRM 310: From the Hudson's headwaters in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, I surveyed the two uppermost Hudson River sites for the annual Day in the Life of the River on behalf of Hudson Basin River Watch. These sites, located where the Hudson first takes its name at the confluence of the short Henderson Lake outlet stream and Calamity Brook, were monitored by Minerva High School. These are pristine mountain headwaters, 50 feet wide, mixing and rushing over and around large rock rubble, cobble and sand. The Henderson Lake outlet was running at 56 degrees F. Calamity Brook was 11 degrees cooler, coming from the highest headwaters of the Opalescent River, Feldspar Brook and Lake Tear of the Clouds on the south side of Mt. Marcy.
- Doug Reed
10/7 - Battenkill to Stuyvesant, HRM 188-127: We held several more Day in the Life of the River programs at sites across 61 miles and most of the day: White Creek, a tributary of the Battenkill in Washington County, with Salem Central School; Watervliet, Green Island, and the Rensselaer boat launch for Tech Valley High School; Albany, Corning Preserve and Rensselaer for Rensselaer Middle School and the crew of the Half Moon; Troy PS 12 and the Children's Museum of Science and Technology at Schodack Island; and finally at Stuyvesant, after relaying chlorophyll and sediment samples to team member Mark VanGorden, joining Leanna O'Grady and an enthusiastic group of Columbia County home-schoolers on a sandy beach at sunset. Great Day in the Life of the Hudson River!
- Doug Reed
10/7- Beacon, HRM 61: The morning of our Day in the Life of the River program could not have been any more spectacular. The Hudson was calm and warm, and the air was about 65 degrees F all day. We had 125 students from the Beacon and New Paltz school districts. They eagerly took data on temperature, turbidity, salinity, tides, and creatures caught in our 30 foot seine net. Our most popular catch of the day was a young male blue crab, who showed off his bright claws to the very excited 4th graders!
- Rebecca Houser
10/7 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: It was a good excuse to be outside all day for 75 students from three local high schools participating in our Day in the Life of the River program. For the majority of the students this was their first trip to the pier and their first opportunity to get right into the Hudson River. It was the fish that did it. Pulling the seine was a compelling enough reason to slide into hip and chest waders and launch with enthusiasm straight into the water...and they did, wave after wave of them. They caught and identified Atlantic silversides, striped bass, comb jellies, and blue crabs with expert skills. But then came the fish that stumped us. We couldn't key them out and make any sense of them. How could tessellated darters be in water that was salty (7.0 ppt)? Because they were naked gobies! Fish were the magnet to draw in the students, but once connected, the sediment samples, turbidity, tides and water movement were enough to hold them captive for the day.
- Margie Turrin
[Naked gobies are small estuarine fish, usually less than 75 mm long, and are occasionally found in shallow, sandy inshore areas of the lower Hudson. They lack scales on their body, hence the common name "naked." Their pectoral fins form a disk on their abdomen and when kept in aquaria, will often "stick" themselves to the side of the glass. In the distant past when the river had viable oyster beds, it is likely that the naked goby was more common. Tom Lake.]
10/7 - Yonkers, HRM 18: For our Day in the Life of the River program at the Beczak Environmental Education Center we had a good variety of fish and macroinvertebrates. Many of our common species were caught in the seine net, including blue crabs, sand shrimp, naked goby, northern pipefish, shore shrimp, soft shell clam, striped bass, and Atlantic silverside. There was an abundance of white perch, one of which was the largest (230 mm) that we've caught all season. We also caught an unusual fish, for us - a juvenile gizzard shad. The salinity was 6.0 ppt .
- Dorene Sukup
10/7 - Brooklyn, Upper Bay, New York City: At first glance there didn't seem to be much nature along the Nature Walk sandwiched between the huge Newtown Creek wastewater treatment facility and the waterway that gave the sewage plant its name. A long concrete walkway with sculpted concrete walls on both sides led to a concrete esplanade with wide terrace-like granite steps descending into the water. Across the creek a crane loaded scrap metal and cars onto a barge. But in the water itself was life: schools of silversides ranged along the submerged steps, and P.S. 78Q students here for the Day in the Life event were engaged in filtering a water sample to concentrate the chlorophyll-bearing phytoplankton - mainly microscopic algae - drifting in the creek. The kids also were fascinated to see the tide rising, lapping over and then submerging the terraced steps, slowly but surely.
- Steve Stanne
10/8 - Bethlehem, HRM 140: I was on the river at Henry Hudson Park with a group of students that could not make yesterday's Day in the Life of the River program. Fishermen were coming and going all day, but when the kids broke for lunch, one fisherman hung around our display table eying our 6 foot-long fiberglass replica of an Atlantic sturgeon. He wanted to know all about it, and so I told him. But then he said, "What I really want to know is, can you take my picture with that fish?" He got his camera and I did. But will anyone believe him?
- Dee Strnisa
10/8 -Sandy Hook, NJ: Right about on schedule, we had waves of kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers passing through today. The kinglet numbers (95% of them were golden-crowned kinglets) were impressive. They were in the grass and bouncing around in the trees, feeding up after a long overnight haul. Within a few days, we should mark the arrival of brant, back to the Hook after summer breeding in the Canadian Arctic.
- Dery Bennett
Dery Bennett is on the staff of the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation organization based inside the Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ. Sandy Hook is bathed by the drainages of many rivers: the mighty Hudson, East, Raritan, Passaic, Hackensack, and Rahway. Its dunes, wetlands, beaches, fishes, birds, and plants are enjoyed by 20,000 visitors on a hot summer weekend
10/9 - Beacon, HRM 61: The winged migration of autumn waits for days like these. A strong, warm and steady breeze blew down river from the northwest, pushing monarchs along in its grasp. From Long Dock I counted more than a dozen in less than five minutes in what was the best flight day of the fall.
- Tom Lake
[While "flight days" occur during both spring and fall migration, they are most often recognized in autumn following the passage of a cold front. Brisk winds shift to northwest, providing a tailwind boost to migrating birds and butterflies. With conservation of energy a foremost priority, they are able to cover long distances with a minimum expenditure of calories. Tom Lake.]
10/9 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: This fall there seems to be an abundance of wild celery washed up along the edges of the pier. I have been bringing students to the pier in the early fall for ten years, and have not seen anything like these large mounds washed up on both sides of the pier. This seems a positive message that the beds are present, and from all appearances, thriving in this lower threshold of their range.
- Margie Turrin
10/10 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: I was looking for mitten crab sheds and the stream was very low and clear. For the first time since early June, I did not find any evidence of mitten crabs in this tributary; maybe the cooling water finally signaled the crabs to stop growing. At the mouth of the Saw Kill, just at the head of tide, is a small deep pool, probably about 30 feet long. I noticed a huge accumulation of small sunfish (young-of-the-year) along the quiet edges of the pool. There were easily 1,000 individuals and they were very aware of my presence. I couldn't tell what kind of sunfish they were, but pumpkinseeds are the commonest species in the area.
- Bob Schmidt
10/10 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: A male Chinese mitten crab was captured in a commercial blue crab pot in the river just south of Poughkeepsie. The Hudson River tally is now approximately 201 crabs, 25 of which were captured alive, since June of 2007. They have been found in ten tributaries and many locations on the main stem of the Hudson from the Sparkill (river mile 24.5) north to Cheviot (river mile 106).
- Mark DuFour
10/10 - Brooklyn, New York City: With the Battery directly across from where I sat in Brooklyn Heights, an immature sharp-shinned hawk rounded the Brooklyn shore and officially started its way upriver with river mile "0" just behind it. I wondered how far it was heading as the leaves fell.
- Dave Taft
10/10 - Jamaica Bay, New York Bight: I took a class of 5th grade students from PS3 to Floyd Bennett Field today to sample the bay with a 20 foot beach seine. Our catch included a lined seahorse, northern pipefish, young-of-the-year flounder, silversides (tons of them); striped killifish, shore shrimp, (too many to count), a lady crab, a few mud crabs, a few green crabs, and a horseshoe crab that I grabbed in the shallow water to show the students. We also caught an unidentified green fish (bright green, just a couple inches long). I have been taking classes there every fall and spring and I have never caught that many fish!
- Shino Tanikawa
[Given the location and the description of the mystery fish, we will guess that it was a young-of-the-year tautog. I remember the first time I encountered a juvenile tautog while snorkeling at Sandy Hook. It was such a distinct green that I thought it was a tropical stray. The color may be an adaptation to living among bright green sea lettuce. Tautog later take on a brown-tan mottled look and then finally a dark color that has earned them the colloquial name of "blackfish." Tom Lake.]
10/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: The world went from quiet to raucous in an instant. One moment the only sound was breeze through leaves; the next, hundreds of migrating blackbirds were storming through the branches, tree-hopping down along the river. They were almost all noisy common grackles though I did see a couple of brown-headed cowbirds and at least one red-winged blackbird.
- Tom Lake
10/11 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: I had a great look at a blue-headed vireo today, just a few feet above my head, at the Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, gently scolding me for being there.
- Eric Lind
10/12 - Beacon, HRM 61: I suppose we say it every year but surely the colors on the trees seem even more spectacular than ever. During our hike on the River Walk trail from the Beacon train station to the cove at Denning's Point and back, we saw one lone monarch heading south and a great egret in flight over the river. In the cove on the east side of Denning's Point, we spotted a cormorant with wings spread out to dry and two great blue herons wading near the shore. The river lapped lazily, sunlight dappled on the water and the trees' colors reflecting here and there - double color. The brightest of the leaves seemed to be the Virginia creeper, draping from branches of many trees.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly, Chance Plage
10/12 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: I became so engrossed in beach combing that my late afternoon hike turned into a dusk walk. Still I procrastinated. A migrating yellow warbler perched in some open shrubbery for a full minute allowing me ample time to record field marks through my binoculars, notes that would later reveal it to be a Canada warbler. Just as the light tuned from gray to off-black, I heard a barred owl call from the interior of the peninsula. The distinctive "Who cooks for you?" call is unmistakable. I listened for a few minutes as a second barred owl returned the call from a half-mile away near the base of the point. It felt good to be among friends. Coincidentally, directly across the river in New Windsor, just a few days earlier as the sky was darkening after sundown, Joanne Zipay heard a barred owl calling from the woods in back of her house.
- Tom Lake
10/13 - Beacon, HRM 61: While the mile-long trail River Walk trail lacks the wild nature of hiking in the Hudson Highlands, it still possess the diversity of habitat that makes for good birding. A half-hour walk took me through one continuous flock of migrating warblers. As I watched them, I remembered what Roger Tory Peterson refers to as the "confusing fall warblers," a time of the year when, lacking distinctive breeding plumage, many little yellow warblers look very similar. From one end of the trail to the other, I must have passed though 100 yellowish warblers, almost all of them engaged in frenetic foraging on the ground with tails waggling almost continuously. One warbler perched on a fence with a Carolina wren landing not a foot away, face to face, an odd counterpoint, but giving me ample time to assess their relative size (very similar). With color, size and behavior in hand, I had my best guess as to what these birds were, but I still asked the experts.
- Tom Lake
[The tail-wagging makes me think they were palm warblers. At this time of year they are moving through in good numbers. While passing through, palm warbler are likely to be found where there is contact with open ground and mixed shrubs. Rich Guthrie, Eric Lind.]
10/13 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Right on schedule, the first four brant arrived today fresh from their breeding grounds in the Arctic. It's spooky how confidently we set the brant calendar: These small geese leave here for the north on Memorial Day weekend while there is still snow on their nesting ground, time their arrival for when the snow is gone, raise their young in a narrow summer window, and start to land back on Sandy Hook Columbus Day weekend.
- Dery Bennett
10/14 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: The fall colors were magnificent. I followed a bright orange Town of Livingston dump truck on my way to the Saw Kill that looked drab against the background of trees. I prefer my fall colors with green mixed with the yellows, reds, and oranges. The Saw Kill was the lowest I have ever seen it and the tide was extremely low as well. Tivoli South Bay looked post-apocalyptic. I found no eels in the ladder and no mitten crabs. Sometimes the lack of things you might expect to see is more important than their presence. I think the mitten crabs have finally stopped growing and shedding with the falling temperatures. Last week I reported seeing about 1,000 sunfish in the small pool at mouth of the Saw Kill. Today, four days later, there were none. Where would 1,000 sunfish come from? Where would they go to? Why would they even bother showing up in that spot?
- Bob Schmidt
10/14 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: It was just about midnight and the near-high, full moon tide was lapping up and over the rip-rap along the shore. I expected to hear an owl and I did, a great horned, maybe a half mile upstream but still a distinct call, soft but haunting "Who's awake? Me too!"
- Tom Lake