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Hudson River Almanac November 1 - November 6, 2008

OVERVIEW

This was a week when two notable and uncommon species showed up in the lower Hudson Valley: a bottlenose dolphin and a snowy owl. Both seemed "out of season." When dolphins have been here, albeit rarely, the late winter-spring run of ocean-run fish seems to be the draw. Snowy owls, although a bit less rare, are usually winter arrivals.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As Toby Rathbone and I made our way toward the Hudson River in the dark this evening (darn time change), we encountered a toad in the road. This toad was alive, although had we left him there, I wouldn't have given him good odds for survival. He was cold and nearly immobile. So, we picked him up and took him along on our walk. The warmth of my hand was enough to restore his energy and before long I could feel him breathing and starting to move. After maybe a short distance, Mr. Toad was released at the edge of a wooded area and directed not to go towards the light. Maybe he'll live to see another day.
- Ellen Rathbone

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/1 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard evening grosbeaks calling today, a call that is hard to confuse with any of our other regular songbirds. However, I did not see any and my feeders were not instantly depleted. I also saw a small flock of snow buntings; Charlotte Demers reported seeing snow buntings a week or two ago, so I'm not surprised. Our snow was mostly gone except in pockets well-protected from the remaining warmth of the autumn sun.
- Ellen Rathbone

11/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: I love bats. And raking leaves. So I had the double pleasure of raking on an absolutely glorious fall day and being kept company by a little brown bat that flitted, swooped and dove after the many flying insects out and about. It got quite close to me on several swoops, close enough that I could see no trace of white around its nose - a good sign. I'm guessing the little beauty was migrating because it was nowhere to be seen the next day. Good luck, winged wonder!
- Donna Lenhart

11/1 - Beacon, HRM 61: The autumn colors were hanging and made even more enjoyable by the mid-60s air temperature. From Long Dock I spotted one long skein of brant humming down the river, passing under the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge less than 100 feet off the water, working with a brisk tail wind. I spotted some carp jumping out in the bay and wondering if they ever take a break. It seems they do that from ice-out to ice-in.
- Tom Lake

11/1 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Sue Peck and I drove past Lake Meahagh this morning and spotted several herons sitting on the partially submerged fallen tree that is a favorite perch of the resident birds. I had a camera with me and I was able to photograph them with the zoom lens. Viewing the pictures, I counted at least 14. Driving past the same spot later that afternoon the flock had dispersed and the tree was empty.
- Pat Korn

11/2 - Round Top, HRM 113: We did not get any snow here, but just a short change in elevation in the Catskills of Greene County, at Blackhead Mountain, produced snow at the 1200-foot level. The number of black bears is increasing. I've seen seven while out bow hunting for deer. On one upwind set, I saw a mom and three cubs only ten yards away. I saw another that must have weighed 400 lb., and he was close.
- Jon Powell

11/2 - Marlboro, HRM 69: We had the same results as Coxsackie (see 10/26) when we pulled our docks at the Marlboro Yacht Club: zebra mussels covered all the wood that was in contact with the water.
- Mike M.

11/2 - Cornwall, HRM 57: The Bradford pear at our home was loaded with dozens of robins. They were interested in eating the small fruit, stayed for 15 minutes, and then left, en masse, possibly on their way south?
- Mary Lewis

[Robins are one of those migratory songbirds that seem to make up their mind on the fly, so to speak. While "our" robins probably move south in winter, and we pick up those from the north, climate change, less severe winters, and increased food availability keeps some of them around. While they are still a somewhat reliable indicator of spring, I'll stick with the red-winged blackbird! Tom Lake.]

11/2 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: As I walked through the woods, I was struck with how few acorns there seem to be this year. Several fellow walkers have mentioned this to me as well. A hunter acquaintance tells me the woods were practically bare of acorns. Could this be Nature's grand plan for chipmunk control?
- Robin Fox

11/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The word from the fishermen in the Tappan Zee is that wintering striped bass are back from the coast, with catches up to 25 lb. Flocks of brant continue to pass the point heading south. Cedar waxwings, meadowlarks, and pipits were fairly common on the landfill and around the base.
- Christopher Letts

11/2 - New York City, Staten Island: The morning of the New York City marathon dawned, but before 38,000 runners descended upon Fort Wadsworth Park, what seemed like 39,000 grackles picked over the fenced-off runners area.
- Dave Taft

11/3 - Green Island, HRM 353: Late this afternoon, just below the Federal Dam, I watched a magnificent bald eagle catch a fish. The eagle was flying down river very slowly just above the water surrounded by a flock of gulls. Suddenly it reared back as if to land, talons shot forward, and plunged into the water with hardly a splash. With little effort the eagle lifted a good-sized fish and continued flying with the struggling fish clutched in both claws. The eagle then turned, climbed, and flew north over the dam, its head and tail snowy white, its body glossy black. It was a majestic sight I will not soon forget.
- Mike Magguilli

11/3 - Beacon, HRM 61: Another day for big fish! I caught and released my largest carp ever, 21 lb, 12 oz, 34" long (see Beacon 10/27). A second carp weighed 10 lb. 1 oz. I have to go easy praising the fish and the fun; there are more of both in the river than I'll have remaining words to describe.
- Bill Greene

11/3 - Peekskill, HRM 44: Officer Nicholas Franco and colleagues of the City of Peekskill Police Department spotted a bottlenose dolphin swimming in Peekskill Bay.
- Tom Lake

11/3 - Peekskill, HRM 44: As the Metro North commuter train passed the mouth of Annsville Creek, I spotted many small fish breaking the surface out in the river. It seemed to me that there was a large concentration of menhaden (salt water herring) in the northeast pocket of the Peekskill Bay. I continued looking out the window and spotted what I thought was a very large carp finishing off a "porpoise" maneuver, rolling up to the surface and then submerging head first in that upright, forward rolling movement I've seen carp do - just like a porpoise or a dolphin.
- Bill Greene

[The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is a common caricature (see Flipper and the Miami Dolphins NFL football team). They are a marine mammal commonly seen "porpoising" along ocean beaches of the mid-Atlantic from late spring through early fall. Dolphins, however, are rare in the estuary. Among our most recent visits was late February 1996, when Tim Long took photos from the Tappan Zee Bridge of an adult and a juvenile in the river with Piermont Pier in the background. Then, in May 1997, we had sporadic sightings by boaters in Ulster and Greene counties. On May 25, at Turkey Point (HRM 98.5), a 340 lb, 8 foot-long female bottlenose dolphin was rescued by NYSDEC and taken to the Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation in Brooklyn. Tom Lake.]

11/3 - New York City, Staten Island: Our cleanup after the New York City Marathon included a sad but beautiful wood thrush at Fort Wadsworth. The bird must have hit the visitor center window last night after prematurely concluding its own fall migration marathon. Later, as Dan Meharg led a spirited tour of the civil war gun Battery Tweed, fifth graders, including Kyle Connolly excitedly followed Dan's request to observe closely. Kyle kept observing as he left the fort, and reaching down just before the gate, picked up a small dead snake. No more than 10" long, the snake was unmistakably a brown snake [DeKay's snake]. Not uncommon in New York City and vicinity, I don't believe the species has been recorded in Fort Wadsworth before. I'll have to do some homework, and give Kyle an update.
- Dave Taft

11/4 - Town of Chester, Orange County, HRM 46: Over the past week, I have seen an adult bald eagle in the vicinity of Glenmere Lake on the border of the Village of Florida. It serves as a drinking water supply for the two entities and is largely undeveloped. It is home to the northern cricket frog and has a diverse ecosystem. It is places like this that should remain free from development to provide buffers to other watercourses that are consistently infringed upon within the Hudson River drainage basin.
- Bill Saksen

[Having done field archaeology in this area, I can attest to the fact that seeing bald eagles in this part of Orange County is not unusual. The first time I saw one, several years ago, I wondered why the bird was so far from "big water." Then I remembered that on eagle's wings, big water is never that far away. Tom Lake.]

11/4 - China Pier, HRM 43: I was on a dolphin search, something not much different from looking for a needle in a haystack. A dolphin in distress could be foundering in any one of a hundred coves or inlets along 150 miles of tidewater. In the two-mile reach from Indian Point to Roa Hook, cormorants and kayaks dominated with no sign of Flipper.
- Tom Lake

11/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I found a significant number of snowshoe hare droppings in the woods this morning while running our biodiversity program with a school from Lake George. This was a nice find since we usually only see evidence of hares in the winter, and even then their tracks at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center are hit or miss.
- Ellen Rathbone

11/5 - Town of Lloyd, HRM 75.5: The Town of Lloyd Police reported that a bottlenose dolphin, we assume the same one as was sighted in Peekskill two days ago, was stuck in Mariner's Harbor in Ulster County.
- Lisa Masi

[To report a sighting of a healthy, sick, alive or dead marine mammal or sea turtle, contact The Riverhead Foundation at their emergency 24-hour Stranding Hotline phone number: (631) 369-9829. For more information on The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, go to: http://www.riverheadfoundation.org/ ]

11/5 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The hanging bird feeder at my back door is a very busy place these days: chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, mourning doves, goldfinches, purple and house finches, cardinals, and blue jays. Then, every morning when the sun hits the feeder, a big, beautiful red-bellied woodpecker arrives, scattering all the other birds who then perch nearby while the woodpecker teeters, hanging to the edge of the feeder trying to get into position to stick its beak into the feeder. After some undignified flopping and wobbling, the bird gets a seed or two and off it goes. The little birds return, then so does the red-belly, and so it goes, back and forth, until the feeder is emptied.
- Robin Fox

11/5 - New York City, Brooklyn: Just before I crossed westbound on the Belt Parkway over Paerdegaat inlet, I wondered what the sudden eruption of red-winged blackbirds off to my left was about. A brightly silhouetted Cooper's hawk turned out to be the culprit. After missing the blackbirds, he banked below the rise of the parkway and returned to the shrubbery.
- Dave Taft

11/6 - Milan, HRM 90: I have many oaks on my property and I, too, have seen very few, if any, acorns this year. (See Hastings-on-Hudson 10/28 and Croton-on-Hudson 11/2.)
- Marty Otter

11/6 - Town of Lloyd, HRM 75.5: Near midday, the Town of Lloyd Police reported that the dolphin had freed itself and was last seen swimming down river.
- Lisa Masi

[For more information Hudson River marine mammals, see Erik Kiviat and Tanessa Hartwig's 1994 article, Marine Mammals in the Hudson Estuary, in News from Hudsonia. One of the best field guide to our marine mammals is Pieter Folkens' 2002 National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. Tom Lake.]

11/6 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: A weak and docile snowy owl was captured this morning in front of the National Guard Armory on Market Street. It was taken to the Trevor Zoo in Millbrook for rehabilitation where it died several hours later. The owl was severely malnourished, weighting only 2 lb (normal weight is 3½-6½ lb).
- Michael Woyton

[Fall incursions of snowy owls are more or less regular occurrences, every 4-5 years or so, and are thought to be caused by the low numbers of their prey to the north: hares and lemmings. Unfortunately, many of the snowy owls that show up in our area are badly malnourished. Eric Lind, National Audubon.

These snowy owls are primarily immature males that have no hunting territory in the Arctic tundra. In poor lemming and vole years, they range far and wide and arrive in the Hudson Valley beautiful, but starving and stressed beyond belief. However, their human-free hunting hours are limited and their need for food is great. Most do not survive. Bob Kendall, Hudson Valley Raptor Center.

This was the eleventh snowy owl in the last twelve years that we have documented in the Hudson River Almanac. Tom Lake.]

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