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Hudson River Almanac December 9 - December 16, 2008

OVERVIEW

This was a week of ice storms and winter owls. An incredibly damaging and long-lasting ice storm hit the mid and upper Hudson River Valley, leaving many thousands without power. In its wake came winter owls and migrating waterfowl, pushed south as ice covered lakes and ponds.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/16 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: As Elky and I hiked around the landfill, a short-eared owl swept across the field. What a treat. They were back!
- Jane Shumsky


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/9 - George's Island, HRM 39: The cold weather made a brief retreat today, so I launched my kayak and watched the lights come on across the river as it began to get dark. Between George's Island and Croton Point the only lights were those of the houses on the hills overlooking the river, though the nearly full moon was visible though the clouds. At night on the river you can really feel solitary; a good thing if you like it that way.
- Steve Butterfass

12/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: As I walked along the boat landing at the Croton River I spotted a belted kingfisher.
- Jane Shumsky

12/10 - Milan, HRM 90: I was alerted last night by the actions of one of my cats to the return of the flying squirrels. They visit the suet feeders on the oak tree outside the back door. I only see these little guys in the winter and of course only at night. Their little beady eyes making them look like gremlins.
- Marty Otter

12/10 - Navesink River, NJ: There was still at least one bottlenose dolphin in the Navesink River, the one I spotted near the Oceanic Bridge. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Atlantic County would like to do something to herd them out to sea; the National Marine Fisheries Service maintains it would be best to leave them alone and let nature take its course.
- Dery Bennett.

12/10 - Staten Island, New York City: This was another strangely warm December morning as Ray Matarazzo and I hiked through stunning woods at mid-island. Highlights included a large colony of Pyrola, also known as wintergreen, an equally large patch of wild ginger, a decent sized American strawberry-bush, and the dried husks of what were certainly turtlehead this past summer. I can't wait for spring, and we're not even at the solstice yet.
- Dave Taft

12/11 - Minerva, HRM 284: We have around 8" of snow on the ground with a very thin skin of frozen ice on top. I saw an owl, I'd guess it was a great horned owl, winging through the trees at the town park near Minerva Lake.
- Mike Corey

12/11 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In the last 24-hours, the air temperature had plunged from the mid-60s into the low 30s. Ice covered the roads and trees and schools were closed. At first light, of which there was little, the mated pair of bald eagles were perched in their nest tree (NY62) in a driving sleet-storm. Watching them, I was once again reminded of their incredible resiliency, facing a brutally cold northwest wind laced with ice.
- Tom Lake

12/11 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: As I drove to the Tarrytown Lighthouse across the abandoned General Motors factory wasteland, my truck kicked up a flock of birds. Once they settled I got my glasses on them and saw that most were horned larks, except for two: Lapland longspurs!
- Christopher Letts

12/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We got only 5" of light snow with this storm, bringing us up to 8" total on the ground. Time to get out the snowshoes! The view out the living room window was impressive: there must've been close to 100 goldfinches. Every branch and twig of my little crab apple had a bird and each feeder had 4-6 birds on it including the suet block, peanut feeder, thistle feeder, and both of the sunflower seed feeders. I grabbed the pitchers I use to carry seed, filled them up with sunflower seeds and peanuts, and went out and tossed them on the ground at the base of the feeders so everyone could eat. On the way to work I came upon a flock of crossbills in the road that refused to move. Lucky for them there was no traffic in the other lane and I was able to swerve around them.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/12 - Albany, HRM 145: A severe ice and snow storm struck the Capital District, bringing down trees and power lines and leaving at least 250,000 people without power.
- National Weather Service

12/12 - Columbia County, HRM 119: We had a flock of pine siskins in our feeder today - first time for me. I thought that goldfinches were aggressive, but no one else got a seed as long as the siskins were there.
- Bob Schmidt

Contributor Profile: Bob Schmidt is a fish biologist who teaches at Bard College at Simon's Rock and is associate director of Hudsonia Ltd. and adjunct curator at the New York State Museum fish collection. He spends a lot of time chasing fishes in the Hudson River watershed and pays attention to everything else that moves in the vicinity (and some things that don't move).

12/12 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We live on a marsh on Huguenot Street and, after heavy rain, the marsh floods and we often see muskrats swimming about. Today we took our canoe out on the flooded marsh and, paddling among the trees we, first saw a fist-sized baby muskrat sitting on some driftwood. It jumped off, swam about, returned to the driftwood and nibbled some vegetation clinging to it. A few minutes later we saw a creature passing the canoe, swimming very fast. We got a good glimpse of its head, and realized it was a star-nosed mole.
- Judy Mage

12/12 - Pine Island, HRM 45: This part of Orange County, known as the "Black Dirt" between Florida and Pine Island, is an important agricultural area, growing enormous amounts of produce such as onions, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, cabbage, carrots, corn, pumpkin, and squash in the highly organic soil. From 30% to as much as 90% of the soil is organic; in some place it is essentially a compost heap. The black dirt, topsoil measured in "feet deep," originates from a late Pleistocene lake and swampland and is filled with bones of extinct animals like mastodont, ground sloth, horse, peccary, and stag-moose that died here 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. A small flock of snow geese (not more than a dozen birds) had set down in one of the black dirt fields. What a beautifully, stunning contrast. The trees on northwest-facing hills were covered with rime ice, giving them the look of fine crystal.
- Tom Lake

12/12 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: It was not a low ceiling but the sky was heavy and gray over Liberty Marsh near the headwaters of the Wallkill River. The rain had ended (4.0" over three days) and the Wallkill had risen and spilled over into every adjacent flood plain. The marsh was filled with hundreds of Canada geese and more mallards than I had ever seen in one place before. Flocks of 50-60 birds were taking off at a time, and there were a half-dozen of those. A merlin buzzed past, four red-tailed hawks were spaced along the utility poles and wires, and a single harrier put on a show of precision flying out over the marsh. We watched through spotting scopes as 100 mallards lifted off and flared away; we suspected something was up. Just then an adult bald eagle strafed the marsh and nailed a drake mallard. We never saw the eagle coming; neither did the drake mallard. The eagle took its catch to a marsh-side hardwood and had a feast. I hung around until dark to watch the moon rise, the brightest full moon of the year.
- Tom Lake, Charley West

[Merlins are one of three falcons we see with some regularity in the Hudson Valley. In the 1934 Peterson Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America that I was using, the merlin is called the "eastern pigeon hawk," the peregrine falcon "duck hawk," and the kestrel "sparrow hawk." Roger Tory Peterson offered these common names as a guide to the falcons' preferred prey size. Tom Lake.]

12/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a gloriously clear and sunny morning, blue sky above, new snow below. The temperature was -5 degrees. Toby Rathbone and I took a leisurely stroll around the horn, making it longer by taking in both ends of our street. When we reached the water tower, I was shocked to see six snow buntings on the utility line overhead. Usually these little birds are seen at a distance, foraging on the ground or in the road. But here they were perched on the line, all at the end that was in the sun. It was nice to get a close look at them. Then they flew off and joined a large flock of goldfinches that were zooming about a large balsam fir, shelter for the nearest bird feeding station.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/13 - Gardiner, HRM 75: Walking around Tilson Lake, we spotted two bald eagles, one immature and one adult. We watched them play with each other for about 20 minutes, diving, and doing flips and turns in the air.
- Rebecca Houser, Brian Houser

12/13 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: O n this crisp sunny day, I decided to take a walk to Teller's Point accompanied, of course, by Elky, my four legged companion. We spotted at least 500 ruddy ducks and several buffleheads, as well as a red-breasted merganser out in Croton Bay.
- Jane Shumsky

12/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I just got back from two miles of snowshoeing, putting up signs on our Sage and Sucker Brook trails. By the tracks I saw, the otters have been very busy. There were also tracks from pine marten, deer mouse, possibly shrew, and fox.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/14 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: While scouting out the lower half of Vassar Farm in search of wintering northern shrikes, I unfortunately kicked up a short-eared owl. I say unfortunate, as every crow within sight made a beeline for the owl. The owl made some twists and turns, flying higher as it went drifting off towards the east. The crows, one by one, lost interest in the chase. Fifteen minutes later the owl returned (still loping along) flying to the west until I lost sight of it.
- Bill Lenhart

12/15 - Albany, HRM 145: I was traveling home late this afternoon on Route 787, and as I got to the end, there were crows everywhere: In the trees, the parking lot, all over the ball fields, and flying every which way. They were making a tremendous racket to say the least. I had never seen so many crows.
- Roberta Jeracka

[This was a night roost. In December, with its short days, crows usually congregate in their night roosts by late afternoon into early evening. Tom Lake.]

12/15 - New Paltz, HRM 78: As we were walking around the grounds of the NYSDEC Region 3 office, we spotted an albino squirrel.
- Rebecca Houser, Beth Roessler

12/15 - Manhattan, New York City: From the 10th floor of Bellevue Hospital at Kips Bay, the East River looked placid and blue. I watched the river flow in all morning, and out in the evening, while visiting my mother-in-law. Each time I glanced to judge the tide, the river was attended by a gull or two, a pigeon here and there. At one point a cormorant flew at a distance across the Brooklyn waterfront. Though calm above, below the water's surface I knew it was the same roiling, tumbling river that Henry Hudson met 399 years ago.
- Dave Taft

12/16 - Bannerman's Island, HRM 58: As our Metro North commuter train sped along heading to Manhattan, an adult bald eagle flew alongside, 200 feet away, keeping pace for 10-15 seconds before flaring off, up and over our car. In the first light of sunrise over Breakneck Ridge, the low tide river appeared as calm as I have ever seen it. The surface was dotted with many small groups of goldeneye, mergansers and mallards.
- Tom Lake

12/16 - New Windsor, HRM 59: A sharp-shinned hawk sat down on the fence in our yard and ate whatever small creature she had caught. Our thick hedges to her back provided her great cover from anything that might consider taking her meal. My daughter and I watched her for quite awhile as she plucked away at a small bird of some kind. We have these hawks in our yard fairly frequently, but were surprised to see her comfortable enough to be taking her meal here, and were impressed with her dexterity: balancing and eating on the top of a chain-link fence, feasting before the coming storm.
- Joanne Zipay

12/16 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The bay was fairly covered with waterfowl as far as you could see. A good guess would be far more than 1,000 birds. Interspersed among the larger rafts of Canada geese were smaller assemblages of ruddy ducks, mergansers, goldeneye, and mallards.
- Tom Lake

12/16 - Shrewsbury River, NJ: A flock of about 200 ruddy ducks showed up right where they spent last winter. Maybe the same ducks? Nearby were two mute swans and small patches of greater scaup.
- Dery Bennett

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