Hudson River Almanac December 1 - December 8, 2008
The pulse quickens along the river as winter nears. We had snowy owl reports as well as confirmation of a second bottlenose dolphin. The Christmas Bird count is with us; please check the website (see 12/1) if you care to participate. Also check the calendar of events for a bald eagle watch in January.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
12/4 - Rondout Creek, HRM 92: My friend Al and I were paddling our kayaks in the Rondout towards the river when a huge bird lifted from the breakwater and landed near its end. When we reached the river we saw a snowy owl staring at us from the end of the breakwater. It had some dark feathers which may indicate it was a female or immature. Three hours later when we returned the bird was still on the breakwater but was being harassed by a flock of crows. They measured their approach, however, coming no closer than five feet to the owl.
- Jack Donohue
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
12/1 - Hudson Valley: The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is held throughout the country around this time of year. It replaces the Victorian era "side-shoot," in which guests went out to shoot as many different bird and mammal species as possible on Christmas Day. In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman organized a group of friends to observe, count and share information about bird species without shooting them. The National Audubon Society, which Chapman helped organize, now sponsors this annual tradition. As an enlightened alternative, thousands of people go out to find and count as many bird species as their group can in a sporting, competitive way. The result has been the gathering of significant data which has monitored changes in bird populations and distribution over the years.
- Rich Guthrie
[For details on Hudson Valley watershed CBC dates go to: http://www.nybirds.org/ProjCBC.htm . Tom Lake.]
12/1- Dutchess County, HRM 76-69: I have always felt that the river becomes more interesting after dark. Fierce south wind in the face of a strong ebb current had the Hudson in tumult with whitecaps and rollers flashing against the dark water. A waxing crescent moon hung in the sky to the southwest with Venus and Jupiter forming a triangle below. At moments like these, the experience is timeless, a recurring act as old as the river itself.
- Tom Lake
12/1- Staten Island, New York City: Walking through a rainy woodland, along the course of a stream that must once have harbored trout and other long vanished New York City residents, I stumbled upon a single skunk cabbage in full bloom. In the dark woods where subtle shades of wet brown and dry brown played against silvery beech bark, this intense purple streaked with green looked more like a living organ than any sort of flower. It was as if I stared at the beating heart of the sleeping woods. The distant hammering of a red bellied woodpecker over the soft sound of the rain falling on old oak leaves made me feel all the more like I was walking through a living breathing being.
- Dave Taft
12/1 - Sandy Hook, NJ: There was a report of a buckeye butterfly here today.
- Dery Bennett
[Although more of a southern species, the buckeye butterfly is fairly common in our area, especially in late summer and fall. Some of them migrate south in winter. Tom Lake.]
12/2 - Kowawese, HRM 59: I watched from the beach as a flock of high-flyer Canada geese cruised slowly overhead, moving southeast. Their V formation was ever-changing, a new leader emerging every so often. Whenever I see this, it reminds me of a volleyball team rotating positions after a point.
- Tom Lake
12/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: On this lovely fall day, Elky, my four legged constant companion, and I decided to walk to the south [Teller's] Point rather than around the landfill, which we usually do. I spotted a ruby-crowned kinglet, a myrtle [yellow-rumped] warbler, and a flock of about 30 goldfinches. Out on Croton Bay, I saw several coot as well as some female buffleheads
- Jane Shumsky
[Elky is a rescue dog and we will soon be celebrating our second anniversary. The shelter said she was mostly yellow lab, my favorite breed for many reason, including that I wanted a swimming companion. As it turns out, she is afraid of the water and doesn't have a clue what "fetch" means, but she's the best and I thank her for getting me out every day and refocused on birding. Jane Shumsky.]
12/3 - Washington County, HRM 191.5-192.5: This rural stretch of the river is known as the Thompson Island pool, a mile-long wide spot in the Hudson below the Lock 6 spillway, and a major stopover for migrating waterfowl. It was as dark as midnight; it was midnight. The crescent moon had set two hours ago and now it seemed as though I could reach up and touch the sky. It was an incredible sight, one of those rare opportunities when you can see the Milky Way, a river of stars, bisecting the night sky. Orion the Hunter was overhead and the "stars had stars," as I noted in my journal, a three-dimensional effect you never see in densely populated, light-polluted areas. The dark silhouettes of ducks and grebes were all over the ice-free river. The fields to the east were filled with noisy geese, almost all Canadas, but maybe some snow geese as well. While I am a fan of knowing wildlife on a first-name basis, I felt comfortable not being sure what waterfowl were out there in the dark. In the hundreds of dark shapes I imagined goldeneyes, ruddy ducks, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, mergansers, gadwalls, canvasbacks, scaup, teal, wigeons, pintails, shovelers, mallards, black ducks, grebes, and maybe even a tundra swan. They gave off a low hum with sporadic soft quacks, much more subdued than the raucous bunch across the road. It was freezing cold, but well worth the shivers.
- Tom Lake
12/3 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: I was driving into Croton on a warmish, wet day and, glancing at the Croton River, I saw a magically wonderful band of mist hanging over the water. Although I couldn't measure it, I'd say it might have been ten feet thick, hovering about forty feet over the river. Beneath the mist the air was sharp and clear, above it, the sky was winter gray. The mist river followed the river's curves and shape through the woods from the Croton Dam to the Croton Water Station, held aloft by the cold water.
- Robin Fox
12/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a purple finch at our window feeder today, and this morning a goldfinch (as well as the usual chickadees and nuthatches). Finches as a whole are pigs at feeders; whether purple, gold or grosbeaks. They just sit and eat and eat, not letting any other birds in. Still, their bright colors are nice to see. If only they could learn to share!
- Ellen Rathbone
["Gangs of goldfinches" and their poor manners are well-known in the world of winter feeders. Just about the only remedy that I have seen that forces them to behave is the arrival of a sharp-shinned hawk. Tom Lake.]
12/4 - Highland, HRM 76: It seems that we have a second dolphin swimming around in the Hudson River. (See 11/10 - Kingston, HRM 90) Another unconfirmed dolphin report, this time of two dolphins in the river near Kingston. This sighting was reported by Jim Ash, a tugboat operator, at around 2:00 PM. The description of the animal fits a common dolphin but no photos were available. This animal was described as 6-7 feet long, dark-colored, with a curved dark-colored dorsal fin.
- Kim Durham
12/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I spotted a great blue heron today on the Hudson River! At first I didn't know what it was because it was standing so still. When I recognized it was a heron, I wondered if it was ill because it was entirely rigid and two ravens were lurking on the ice nearby. When I came back from the dump [the road to the transfer station runs along the river in Newcomb], the heron was flying away upriver. It must've been fine. The ravens were nowhere to be seen.
- Rynda McCray
12/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We have had a lot of critters out and about despite the chilly air temperature (it was 5 degrees F last night at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center). On a night walk, Toby Rathbone and I saw tracks from white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, fox, and coyote. And while intellectually we know that these animals are out there all the time, it always seems like they suddenly appear just because now we can see their tracks! Toby knows better, but those of us with deficient "sniffers" are to be pitied, for to us the world is an empty place.
- Ellen Rathbone
12/6 - Staten Island, New York City: On my way from New Jersey to Jamaica Bay, I had crossed the Outerbridge near dusk and was heading north into Staten Island. There, ahead of me near the top of a leafless tree, was the unmistakable silhouette of a great horned owl.
- Dery Bennett
12/7 - Milan, HRM 90: During our first snow of the season I noticed a flash go by the suet feeder. It was too quick to identify until it landed on my fence. It was an accipiter, probably a sharp-shinned hawk. I've seen this bird, or one like it, before, but have not been able to identify it as it usually left as quickly as it appeared with a nuthatch or chickadee in its grasp. This time it missed and was waiting for a second chance. After a short wait it left since all of the potential victims had vanished.
- Marty Otter
12/7 - Navesink River, NJ: A cold snap overnight appears to have delivered some winter diving ducks, 25 greater scaup, the first of the year. They were bobbing near but definitely separate from about the same number of brant.
- Dery Bennett
12/8 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I woke up at 8:00 AM to see 37 mute swans swimming off Cheviot, in the company of several Canada geese, amid the first skim of ice in the open river. The air temperature dropped to 12 degrees F last night.
- Jude Holdsworth
12/8 - Blue Point, Ulster County, HRM 74: While sunset was officially at 4:29, the earliest of the year, the prominence of Blue Point had captured all sunlight five minutes earlier. At 4:33, an incredible sight filled the sky over the Hudson: A river of crows, hundreds of yards wide, hundreds of feet deep, came across the river. It was a continuous flow, many thousands of birds, all heading to their familiar night roost along the river in Poughkeepsie.
- Tom Lake
12/8 - Sandy Hook, NJ: After being alerted that three snowy owls had been seen on Long Island within the past week, we spotted one in the dunes at Sandy Hook this afternoon. They may prefer dunes and beaches that resemble their native haunts, the tundra. They come down this way when prey is scarce to the north. If they come this early it's probably going to be a good snowy owl season.
- Dery Bennett