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Hudson River Almanac October 23 - October 31, 2008

OVERVIEW

A nor'easter swept over the lower estuary as our first significant snowfall occurred in the upper reaches of the watershed. Waterfowl migration has been slow, but once the weather gets serious, we'll see ducks and geese fleeing the icy hand of the north. Right now, uninspired by relatively warm autumn days, they are lazy.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/26 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: We pulled our floating docks out today and, for the first time in the four years that the metal docks have been in, we came out loaded with zebra mussels. They were on every square inch of the metal tanks. However, the zebra mussels did not appear to like the galvanized steel components. While some were attached there, they were in isolated patches. In past years, we had not found a single zebra mussel on the docks.
- Renè Van Schaack

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/23 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The school season for seining is about over. The dense beds of wild celery made netting at the Mother's Lap beach very difficult. In two decades of netting here, I can not recall ever seeing it so thick. Not surprisingly, given their preferred habitat, the daily staples included many northern pipefish and fourspine sticklebacks.
- Christopher Letts

10/23 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: School seining programs here were disappointing as well this year, with very few surprises. In mid-September we caught a lookdown, and today we caught another member of the jack family, a moonfish.
- Christopher Letts

[Moonfish are a member of a colorful, tropical-looking family of fishes, the jacks. Other jacks in the Hudson include the jack crevalle, permit, and lookdown. Moonfish get their name from their profile, a bright silvery white rhombus that looks to some like a full moon! Tom Lake.]

10/24 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The white-throated sparrows and juncos are back for the winter and flocks of cedar waxwings are moving through.
- Christopher Letts

10/24 - Staten Island, New York City: We spotted a large strangely shaped "bug" climbing across acres of brick near the Fort Wadsworth Park visitors center. It turned out to be an ambush bug and the species we had is known as a wheel bug (Arilus cristatus). I've no doubt that it got the name for the strange crest it wears on the back of its thorax. It looks like a half of a gear mounted onto the bug's back. The insect had the strangest gait, and a serious looking proboscis, which a friend later told me can inflict a bite to remember. Ranger Bill Parker and I marveled at the bug most of the day from the safety of a bottle in my office. After we took a photo or two, we released it to its fate. It's rapidly feeling like fall out there.
- Dave Taft

10/25 - Ghent, HRM 123: Driving toward Chatham I spotted a coyote on a lovely hillside about 50 yards distant. I pulled over and got out to get a better look. We stood, the coyote and I, watching each other attentively. During that long minute, I had enough time to admire his thick reddish-blonde coat against a hyper-verdant background of what might have been winter wheat. Big, healthy, handsome and bushy-tailed, he turned and loped leisurely into the woods and out of sight. Around the next bend we saw a doe on the other side of the road, up to her neck in ripe corn stalks, statue-still and wide-eyed, looking back toward where we had seen the coyote. I inwardly wished the best of luck to both and drove on.
- Christine Kulisek

10/25 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Flock after flock of brant, a migration of many thousands of these little geese, have been flying down river daily, right on the deck, not more than fifty feet off the water. Cal Greenburg told me long ago, "They will not lift; they fly right on the deck. They even fly under bridges rather than lifting over them."
- Christopher Letts

10/25 - Staten Island, New York City: We've had a major push of blue jays lately at Great Kills Park, twenty or more each day, as well as huge numbers of grackles.
- Dave Taft

10/26 - Manhattan, HRM 7.5: This week's New York State Audubon program, For the Birds, was held in Riverside Park, counting birds with second graders from PS 75M. Most of the group got to see a red-tailed hawk capture a rat. Judging from the number of rats we saw along the wall that runs along the Westside Highway, rats must be a favorite and easy meal.
- Regina McCarthy

10/26 - Staten Island, New York City: The season's first hard frost came to Staten Island late last week. Out of sheer curiosity, I found myself standing at the head of the trail where I annually check the last blooming orchids I know, fall coralroot. I wondered how they'd reacted to the chill. Would these skinny, leafless, pink stems be black and shriveled, or like so many of our late blooming wildflowers, would they be staring winter in the eye, daring it to send in the heavy guns? I was pleased to find that the plants were still flowering. In fact, I even found a few more stems which had sprouted since last I checked a week or so ago.
- Dave Taft

10/26 - Queens, New York City: As we drove down 67th Drive in Forest Hills a very large bird sitting on top of a gold Toyota caught my eye. No sooner had I mentioned it to my wife, when the bird took off with a mighty, business-like sweep of its wings, and was gone into the woods bordering the Grand Central Parkway. But not before being identified as a very large Cooper's hawk. Not a bad bird for the neighborhood. I'm hoping all those starlings and house sparrows are taking note too.
- Dave Taft

10/27 - Green Island, HRM 153: It was mid-morning when I climbed down the embankment to the shoreline. At one day before the new moon, the tide was very low. As is my habit, I combed the rocky beach looking for what there was to find, and came upon two small bald eagle feathers among those of gulls and geese. Migratory birds preening in the cottonwoods? These were the first I'd seen there in three months.
- Tom Lake

[Eagles are protected by the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940. This federal law also prohibits possession of their feathers, all 7,000 of them per bird. Tom Lake.]

10/27 - Beacon, HRM 61: This was definitely a day for big fish at Long Dock. I caught and released my biggest Hudson River carp ever, a 20.5 lb, 34.5" fish! Just a half hour later I caught another carp, 16 lb, 11 oz. Mixed in were three very nice channel catfish, all about 22" and 4 lb. Finally there was one more carp, about 4 lb., and a small bullhead.
- Bill Greene

10/27 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: Our 4th grade students from South Avenue Elementary School explored the Hudson River by canoe at Constitution Marsh. While canoeing, we saw two adult bald eagles, with white heads and brown bodies, perched on tree tops. One had soared over the marsh before landing in the tree. We thought they looked magnificent.
- Stephanie Bliss, Lisa Biersack

10/28 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: A nor'easter had swept up the coast, dawdled a bit over the Hudson Valley, and dumped over three inches of rain. The morning sky cleared to a crisp day and with all of the runoff coupled with new moon tides, Wappinger Creek was up in the trees. During the midday high tide, I counted six great blue herons looking more like black-crowned night herons perched on low-lying limbs of box elders. Lunch for them would not come easy today.
- Tom Lake

10/28 - Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: I know that oaks have a great mast crop some years, and that other years are skimpy. But I do not recall a year with no acorns, until this year. I have half a dozen red oaks and one white oak, all at least 50 years old, but have not seen a single acorn. Is this a local phenomenon? Has anyone seen a lack of acorns elsewhere?
- Barbara Morrow

10/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: In the wake of a nor'easter that passed through the lower valley a cold front dumped five inches of snow on us, some fluffy, some heavy and wet. This morning schools to the west and north of us were closed. Most of the storm missed us. To the north, Tupper Lake had thirteen inches and Lake Placid eleven.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/29 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: Seven R.T. Waterman Bird Club members walked the Mills Mansion State Historic Site park trails in a stiff west wind, the remnant of the snow and rain storm of yesterday. At the southern end of the cove, we found many species of birds enjoying a refuge from the wind. Most interesting was a flock of about 50 pine siskins picking at rows of wild celery left on shore by the tide. We don't think they were eating the wild celery, but something that was carried in with it. Siskins are seed eaters, so it was likely some kind of seed, rather then insects, that led to their intense activity here.
- Barbara Butler

[On its way ashore, uprooted and washed-up submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), from wild celery to water chestnut, tends to collect everything from insects to duckweed to various seeds. Once on the beach, it may retain moisture and collect wind-blown seeds as well. Tom Lake.]

10/30 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The sun was trying to shine this morning, and there were small patches of blue sky. Only a half-inch of new snow fell overnight, but there was plenty of wind to blow around what we had. I think we all love the first snowfall of the year; it adds something exciting to the dull grayness of late fall. I've put out my bird feeders but I'm seedless at the present time, which is fine because I suspect the bears are still out and about and wouldn't be adverse to helping themselves to some fat-rich seeds. Still, many of the sunflowers I grew this summer remain upright and sporting their seedheads, so the birds are welcome to those.
- Ellen Rathbone

10/30 - Staten Island, New York City: Ed Pontbriand, a visiting ranger from Acadia National Park in Maine, and I were inspecting an old field along one of the Great Kills Park trails where rangers had recently re-opened a small meadow. I looked up in time to see what I initially thought was a red-tailed hawk, but as we stared (of course neither of us with binoculars) the smallness of the bird really struck us. No doubt this was a broad-winged hawk, most probably in migration. I am so used to seeing these smaller buteos in kettles that I almost didn't recognize one flying alone. It struck me only later that this bird could well have been a resident at Ed's park not a month ago.
- Dave Taft

10/31 - Hyde Park, HRM 78: For many fans of the season, Halloween is the time to visit the crypt of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore. But I have my own Hudson Valley Halloween tradition. I visit the grave of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit theologian, paleontologist, and renowned naturalist who died in 1955, and who is buried on the grounds of the Culinary Institute. The bright sunny setting was far less spooky than in other years when black clouds and brisk winds made me shiver. Today the maples glowed in red and yellow and the red oaks ranged from leathery brown to brilliant scarlet. A flock of a dozen blue jays swept through the cemetery from one spruce to the next and then on their way. Someone had very fittingly had left a pumpkin on de Chardin's grave, where it joined a collection of river-rounded quartz pebbles, fossils, and other tokens of natural history. I left a small quartz crystal, found along the river, that may have been a shaman's charm in the deep past, and would have fascinated de Chardin's sense of curiosity.
- Tom Lake

10/31 - Beacon, HRM 61: The good carp fishing continued at Long Dock. Today another big one, 19 lb. 8 oz., 33 inches, caught, weighed and released. A second one, "only" 25 inches, 8 lb., would have been memorable not too long ago. The small ones, 2 three-pounders, hardly bear mentioning! The river is rewarding me very well for my late season fishing efforts.
- Bill Greene

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