Hudson River Almanac November 22 - November 30, 2008
The first recorded Rockland County sighting of a king eider, a large sea duck that rarely ventures inshore, was offset by the reported discovery of a bottlenose dolphin dead and beached in northern Dutchess County. The eider was seen and verified by several top-notch birders but the dolphin was apparently carried away by the tidewater currents.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
11/24 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: The local network had alerted us that an immature king eider was diving for food and bobbing off the end of the pier. As soon as we could break for lunch we headed down to get a glimpse for ourselves. There he was, hovering about 25 yards off the end of the pier - diving and recovering in a repetitive pattern. This ritual had apparently gone on for several hours when we arrived.
- Margie Turrin, Linda Pistolesi
11/24 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: We heard reports through the Rare Bird Alert that a king eider was located at the end of the pier in Piermont just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. We waited until the skies cleared later in the day and headed down to find out if the bird could still be seen. What a great sight to see this rarity swimming and feeding just 50 yards or so from the dock. Although apparently a first year bird, the field marks and the tell-tale bill left no doubt in anyone's mind as to its identity. We felt even more fortunate to have been able to see and photograph the eider when we found out it was the first of its species to have shown up in Rockland County.
- David Baker, Sharon Baker
[The king eider nests in remote areas of Arctic; according to the Birds of North America Online, few birds of any other species nest farther north. Pushed south in fall by advancing sea ice, most winter at sea from Labrador to Newfoundland, but young birds sometimes venture as far south as Florida. The species is uncommon but seen regularly along the coast of New York. Steve Stanne.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
11/22 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: A cold, hard northwest wind to 30 mph was battering the point. I made my way to the south-facing shoreline where a sheltered micro-climate protects us from the winter weather. I spotted a raft of about 500 ruddy ducks out in Croton Bay and was surprised to see an osprey working the bay as well. Lately we have been seeing a great horned owl just after sundown; this seems to be when it is most active.
- Scott Horecky, Kathy Sutherland
11/23 - Sandy Hook, NJ: In the fall, dawn and dusk may be the best times to be on the beach. There were a dozen of us in the surf and the lower the sun dropped behind us the colder the brisk westerlies became. The neoprene gloves were coming out and to make matters worse, no one was catching fish. A quarter-mile offshore in the Lower Bay I could see pandemonium in three or four places, gulls as thick as black flies in June, diving on acres of chopped bait driven to the surface by striped bass and bluefish. I was out knee-high with binoculars watching the show when a red-throated loon popped up not more than ten feet away with what looked like a herring in its mouth. That was my highlight of the evening.
- Tom Lake
11/23 - Queens, New York City: On a short hike through Alley Pond Park in the bleak last light of late fall, squirrels made disproportionate noises in the leaves and a red-bellied woodpecker male was still active and hunting for food. Here and there from the deep, rich woods (so rare for Queens!) a great horned owl hooted half heartedly. I tried to track it down without success.
- Dave Taft
11/24 - Cold Spring, HRM 53: There were snow flurries and the ponds were covered with skim ice. I put on my cold weather gear and launched my kayak at Foundry Cove. The river was quiet, no one was around, and I caught the tide going south. I found the marinas at Cold Spring, West Point, Garrison and Cornwall in hibernation. The tide reversed six miles down river at Popolopen Creek and I headed north with a respite at Manitou. Save for a few gulls and black ducks, I had the river to myself for four glorious hours.
- Jack Donohue
11/24 - Croton River, HRM 34: Gulls have been harvesting wedge rangia clams at low tide and dropping them on the parking lot to break them open. However, they do not always hit the pavement; sometimes the heavy clams land on automobiles in the Croton Metro North commuter lot. There was a flock of gadwall on the Croton River day and a large raft of ruddy ducks rafted in the lee of Croton Point.
- Christopher Letts
[Windward and leeward are terms that are often used to provide color and accuracy to the description of a location or condition under which a sighting is made. These are sailing terms used to denote wind exposure: windward being in the face of the wind, leeward meaning sheltered, as in the lee of a point. Tom Lake.]
11/24 - Sandy Hook, NJ: I was on the sand by 6:00 AM. Still dark. The sunrise to the southeast was an incredible kaleidoscope of pink, fuchsia, yellow and orange. Breathtaking. The breeze had shifted to the south and the birds "working" on schools of bait (scooping the leftover off the surface of the sea) were slowly moving inshore. The red-throated loons now numbered in the dozens. After a long cast I stopped to pat a yellow lab loping down the beach and nearly had the rod yanked from my hand by a big striped bass. Like a parade marching past there was a magic hour from 6:30 to 7:30 when the bass, all 20-25 inches-long, came right into the surf. Then, like a switch was thrown, the gulls, loons, and bass disappeared. Just as well. Fishing should never be fully predictable and should always leave you wanting more. The ocean was 48 degrees F.
- Tom Lake
11/25 - Nyack, HRM 28: Walking east on Main Street in downtown Nyack I noticed a commotion on top of the old telephone building. A murder of crows was hassling something I couldn't clearly see. I stopped to watch and was rewarded when a female peregrine falcon lifted off the parapet and flew an evasive course northward pursued by the crows until I lost sight of her. I was reminded of a Jerzy Kosinski novel and hoped for the best for her escape. I frequently see peregrines at Hook Mountain but this is the first one I have seen in Nyack.
- JC Brotherhood
11/25 - Staten Island, New York City: Walking from the gym on the Coast Guard side of Fort Wadsworth park, I heard a familiar "yap" and looked up in time to watch a red-bellied woodpecker flit from a large red oak.
- Dave Taft
11/26 - Rhinecliff, HRM 92: John Carlson beached his kayak at dusk in a small cove north of Rhinecliff two days ago and discovered the carcass of an 8-10 foot-long dolphin "awkwardly balanced" on a rock right at the water's edge. We assume it is the same one we have been following in the Hudson since 11/4. New moon tides this week have been strong and we hope it is still there when we go to look and perhaps retrieve the animal tomorrow.
- Tom Lake
11/26 - Raritan Bay, NJ: Our Navesink River dolphins are still here, or at least one of them is: I saw one porpoising near the Oceanic Bridge. It's getting late for them. The big schools of menhaden (bunker) seems to have headed out to sea, so the dolphins will probably begin to have a food problem if they do not follow.
- Dery Bennett
11/27 - Rhinecliff, HRM 92: I spent all morning, from dawn to noon, low tide to high, checking the shoreline several miles north and south of the train station in Rhinecliff, including the cove where John Carlsen spotted the dead dolphin three days ago. I found no evidence. It was low tide at the time of discovery, and subsequent flood tides might have lifted it off the beach.
- Tom Lake
[Note: The Riverhead Foundation's emergency 24-hour Stranding Hotline number: (631) 369-9829.]
11/27 - Beacon, HRM 61: While today's catch at Long Dock was only as single carp, it was a nice one, 12 lb. Mixed in were two 3 lb. channel catfish. The channel cats have a beautiful silver-side coloration with small black speckles. For the second year in a row, the west end of the breakwater-jetty was loaded with zebra mussel shells, almost like confetti.
- Bill Greene
11/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There was a fresh four inches of snow when we got up today. I've been having a lot of fun watching the blue jays. One of my feeders is a wire coil (think slinky) that is bent around in a wreath shape. You can fill it with assorted large nuts and I use peanuts in their shells. The blue jays are able to pluck the nuts out of the coils with relative ease; they are such clever birds. When they cock their heads to the side they look like they are contemplating something, perhaps trying to figure out their next move, like a chess player. It may be that they are only focusing one eye on something on the ground, but they look very calculating.
- Ellen Rathbone
11/28 - Sandy Hook, NJ: While I'm a fan of sunrise, sundown at the surf can also be rewarding. It is even better if there are fish around. On this occasion, they were not. Surf anglers learn early that if they crave longevity in their sport, they must develop an appreciation of other aspects of fish-less times or life becomes tedious. A dozen red-throated loons, rising and falling in the swells, seemed as underwhelmed with the fishing as I did. But 300 feet offshore, out beyond the loons, was a different-looking bird. Through the binoculars I made it out to be a grebe, a red-necked grebe in winter feathers. I caught only one fish but my first red-necked more than made up for it.
- Tom Lake
11/29 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Forty-two (counted them!) European starlings suddenly converged on our hill after a dusting of snow had just fallen and frantically pecked at whatever was available to them. They left as quickly as they had arrived and totally ignored our feeders. Maybe they were just passing through on their way to warmer climes?
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson
11/29 - Sandy Hook, NJ: As first light spread over the beach and visibility pushed out beyond the breakers, I could see that the red-necked grebe was back and now no more than 150 feet offshore. A half-dozen red-throated loons were bobbing nearby. Fishing at dawn can be an ordeal in late November. The time leading up to the first cast often means scraping ice off the windshield and wearing enough layers of clothes so that you are warm yet can still walk and cast a line. Schools of two-foot-long striped bass were in the surf chasing sand eels (American sand lance). As a result of shifting ocean currents, the water temperature was 49 degrees F, up more than a degree from a week ago.
- Tom Lake
11/30 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: Winter was slow in arriving to the lower Hudson Valley but it was here today. Snow and sleet made visibility nearly zero. I was searching for our wayward dolphin in coves and backwaters with no success. Maybe it was the closeness of the day that allowed me to stand on the shore no more than a couple of hundred feet from a raft of goldeneyes. On a sunny day I think those ducks would have been long gone, paddling furiously out to deeper, safer water.
- Tom Lake
11/30 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: A cold wet mist was falling and the half-acre of ducks in the middle of the river were simply black-white-black birds at a distance. Through my spotting scope I could see that they were scaup, diving ducks, but could not determine whether they were greater or lesser scaup (by the shape and sometimes the color of their head).
- Tom Lake.
11/30 - Ossining, HRM 33: This morning the fog-shrouded river resembled a large vat of boiling water. Later, the fog totally dissipated leaving a very calm and glassy surface. From our observation point at Mariandale, I could neither see nor hear any birds. However, a black (melanistic) squirrel cavorted with a gray squirrel around the trunk of a huge tree.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson