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Hudson River Almanac December 17 - December 24, 2008

OVERVIEW

With the onset of serious winter in the northern reaches of the watershed, geese were on the move this week. Other seasonal visitors were also being pushed south: snowy owls, bald eagles, mergansers and winter finches.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/18 - Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: The Hudson River Almanac once stated that red-winged blackbirds, not robins, tend to be a more consistent sign of spring now that robins tend to more commonly overwinter. Perhaps you need to amend that, since I saw a male red-winged blackbird at our bird feeder yesterday and today.
- Barbara Morrow

[Some red-winged blackbirds turn up each winter, more in the southern reach of the Hudson Valley. We had 858 red-winged blackbirds on our December Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Bird Count, all but two of them from one group along the Hudson River at Catskill. Rich Guthrie.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/17 - Rensselaer, HRM 144: An immature snowy owl was spotted on the East Campus of the University of Albany, enduring major harassment by crows. It finally left the site and has not been seen since.
- Ron Bussian

12/17 - Esopus, HRM 87: Flying squirrels moved into our attic this week. How did we know? We heard them. Using a Havahart trap, we caught one per night for six nights. (They're suckers for peanut butter.) We thought we'd blocked all entries to our attic, but these critters are tiny. The head and eyes seem too big for the body. They have a dashing dark streak on their flying flaps. We gave them each a ride to a woodsy area a few miles away. We wonder if they have a homing instinct. This is the second coming of flying squirrels for us. Several years ago we had a half dozen uninvited guests. They don't clean up after themselves.
- Kathryn Paulsen

12/18 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 113: Since yesterday, I've noticed a solitary red-throated loon in the mouth of the creek near the lighthouse dock. Last year, on December 12, I spotted a pair of common loons in winter plumage swimming together in the creek
- Patrick Landewe

12/18 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The ice had gone out of this tidal creek and was instantly replaced by scores of stark-white and dark green common mergansers, another good sign of impending winter in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Spaced between the small groups of 10-12 mergansers were equally elegant hooded mergansers, in twos and threes.
- Tom Lake

12/18 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: I observed the tug Linda Moran, a relative newcomer to the Hudson, moving a tank barge northward. The Linda is Moran Towing Corporation's newest tug, launched this year. She's got a lot of push, 5100 horsepower. The barge she was pushing, "Houston," is also Moran's newest (2008) double-hull tanker, 425 feet long with a capacity of 118,000 barrels. All of Moran's tanker barges are now double-hulled.
- Doug Maass

12/19 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In the midst of a bitter cold whiteout, the female bald eagle was perched alongside her nest (NY62) facing a brutal northwest wind. Such resiliency. I was wearing a parka good to thirty-below. Mama eagle had her feathers and millions of years of evolutionary adaptations to the cold. When the snow stopped, there would be eleven inches piled up against her tuliptree.
- Tom Lake

12/19 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: From late autumn into winter, we hear geese flying at night. But they do not fly in a whiteout. Heavy snow pushed by a strong wind cut visibility to just a few feet and several hundred Canada geese were hugging the shoreline in midday. Whatever celestial cues they receive under the stars were not there today.
- Tom Lake

12/20 - Kinderhook, HRM 127: We spotted some interesting birds on a very white Christmas Bird Count, among which were a few rough-legged hawks, pine siskins at feeders, snow buntings and horned larks in the snowy fields, and hundreds of American robins in the abundant wild grape, bittersweet, and black cherry trees. But no sign of the crossbills reported in other places.
- Cris Winters

12/20 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: The snow brought in the crowds at the feeder: house finch, English sparrow, tree sparrow, white-throated sparrow, cardinal, blue jay, junco, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee and, of course, squirrels. Lots of action but nothing remotely unusual. Can the sharp-shined hawk be far behind? White-tailed deer tracks were in the yard as well. Then, prophecy fulfilled! A large accipiter, probably a Cooper's hawk, just zoomed through the yard and the feeder emptied in a hurry. Overhead, in the wake of the snow storms, was a continuous parade of geese flying high!
- Bill Drakert

12/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: About every ten minutes, as I shoveled out from under eleven inches of snow, I could hear and then see flocks of high-flyer geese heading over. With a low and gray stormy sky I'm sure they were not flying as high as they would have liked. In the course of an hour, looking up into the snow flurries, I counted six flocks, each with 40-50 birds. They had gotten the message.
- Tom Lake

12/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This is the first winter for the new eagle nest at NY62 and so I was interested to see how it fared under the first real snow of the season, about eighteen inches over three days. The old NY62 that the pair used from 2001-2008, a few hundred feet to the east, was abandoned last spring and then collapsed last month. Possibly they sensed its growing instability; eagle nests are accretional in that they are added to each year, growing increasingly heavy and sometimes breaking the limbs upon which they are built. The snow was fluffy, the nest was fine, and the male was perched on the rim. The air was 14 degrees F and I think Papa saw my breath if not heard my footfalls as I walked an unobtrusive arc around the tree at a non-threatening distance avoiding eye contact. He checked me out and then decided to go for a flight, gliding halfway across the river before stroking a wing beat.
- Tom Lake

12/20 - Fishkill, HRM 61: I could see and hear a lot of geese flying south after last night's snow. This is the most I've seen in a number of years.
- Lee Banner

12/20 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: During the snowstorm, a flock of grackles visited our feeders. They were the first birds to discover the new bird-watering dish, but now the smaller birds are finding it as well. Grackles have always been one of our first returning birds in February, but I've never seen them in December before.
- Betsy Hawes

12/20 - Manitou Station, HRM 47: I went out before 7:00 AM to clear the bird feeders of snow. A few juncos had already arrived, as well as a male cardinal. As I tromped through the ten inches of snow, a movement caught my eye. I assumed it was either a sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk that has been buzzing the bird feeders. I heard a crash of branches as I looked up to the locust tree and much to my surprise it was an adult bald eagle trying to land. It didn't take the bird very long to discover the branch would not hold its weight and it took off over the river. I should have known it wasn't a hawk since the juncos only went as far as the shrubs and weren't spooked by the eagle. The young Cooper's hawk that we have had almost daily has developed a great hunting strategy and has had many successes. It flies the birds into the windows of our house and as one lays stunned on the ground, swoops in and flies away with a meal.
- Zshawn Sullivan

12/20 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: I stopped at the overlook on Furnace Dock Road thinking that there might be a eagle or two on Oscawana Island. No such luck, but directly above me in an old tree were a pair of pileated woodpeckers frantically foraging about.
- Dianne Picciano

12/20 - Staten Island, New York City: There was about two inches of snow capped by an almost impermeable layer of ice on my car this morning. Nearly an hour of defrosting and chiseling just barely got me into the vehicle.
- Dave Taft

12/21- Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: In the gloomy pre-dawn I could barely make out the shapes on the ice. The tidewater had frozen over with a few opens leads here and there. Far more than a hundred Canada geese had spent the night here, dark feathered bodies bundled up on the ice and covered with snow. I stood stark still in the bitter cold for ten minutes and watched a red fox dig a burrow under a large deadfall in the woods along Hunter's Brook. This was a healthy-looking, full-furred, orange-red adult with black-tipped ears and a white muzzle.
- Tom Lake

12/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Twelve minutes to sunrise as the winter solstice arrived. Three inches of fresh snow had been added to the eleven from yesterday - there was no denying winter was here. The bald eagles in nest NY62 were perched on a horizontal limb looking off into a whiteout. Somewhere out there was the river. Maybe they could see what I could not. Scientists suggest that the visual acuity of eagles is up to eight times that of humans. Happy solstice, eagles.
- Tom Lake, Virginia Eltagonde

12/21 - Crugers, HRM 34: The day after the winter solstice storm blanketed our area, birds frantically foraged for food both on and under our backyard feeders. What a delightful display they provided with the backdrop of our snow-capped Russian olive tree. Mourning doves and juncos - we counted over 40 juncos - danced around under the feeders while a downy woodpecker pair, a single red-bellied woodpecker, 2 male and 3 female cardinals, a number of black-capped chickadees, all different kinds of sparrows and some blue jays kept trying to get a place on the seed feeders, peanuts or suet. Then a flock of starlings zoomed in and took control of the area. Even the squirrels that were companionably feeding with the other birds took off when this whirlwind of aggressive creatures landed. As quickly as they had arrived, they satisfied their appetites and left. The original occupants of the feeders gradually returned to eat what the starlings had left behind.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/22 - Manitou Station, HRM 47: I saw eleven long-tailed ducks, 6 males and 5 females, dump into the Hudson at Manitou. I rarely see them on my part of the river but you can't miss the males with their distinctive long tails - always a great sight.
- Owen Sullivan

12/22 - Peekskill, HRM 44: Just after 7:00 AM, we spotted a magnificent bald eagle, wings stretched out swooping low over the Annsville traffic circle, as if to welcome us to the winter season.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

12/23 - Northumberland, HRM 161: The air temperature was -10 degrees at 6:00 AM with clouds of steam billowing from the Northumberland Falls. A small flock of snow geese I had been watching were nowhere in sight this morning. When not resting on the ice sheet they had been drifting along on massive floes following a week of recurring snowfall. Our total for the last three days is well over 18". Perhaps this last storm sent them the message to head south. Daily visits from an immature bald eagle have been keeping a group of common mergansers on high alert.
- John Guyer

12/23 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: My desk at home sits with a panoramic view of the river just 50 yards in front of me. As I sat sipping hot coffee and waiting for first daylight, the river appeared out of the darkness with a wonderful snow fog laying 20-30 feet deep over the entire river. The water was 50% covered by ice floes. As I watched, a small flock of geese came floating by on the down tide riding a "berg taxi." Within minutes they lifted off and the air was so still I could see the swirls their wings made in the fog.
- Renè Van Schaack

12/23 - Beacon to Oscawana, HRM 61:-38: As I rode the 6:47 AM Metro North commuter train to Manhattan this morning, I spotted an adult bald eagle just north of Beacon and two more adults perched at Oscawana Island.
- Malcolm Castro

12/23 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We stood on the snowy beach watching the late afternoon low tide stall in the sand. A stiff southeast wind and thickening clouds gave notice of a weather change. Out on the tide flat, the newly-formed shelf ice spoke to us in its creaky winter voice. Down in Cornwall Bay we spotted an adult eagle perched on a deadfall and from the hardwoods up on Sloop Hill we could hear the soft whoooooo of a great horned owl.
- Tom Lake, Chris Lake

12/23 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I spotted a small flock of songbirds but the lighting was very poor. However, I do know that at least one was a ruby-crowned kinglet.
- Jane Shumsky

12/23 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: Two adult bald eagles were flying along the shore just north of the pier.
- James Mulligan

12/23 -Brooklyn, New York City: As if my attention was not distracted enough by the great conversation I was having with naturalist Jim Ash, my eyes caught the silhouette of a kestrel, tail bobbing and all, happily dismembering some poor unfortunate critter. The kestrel had picked a dramatic dining spot on a lamp post overlooking a wintery Jamaica Bay. Jim and I both wondered how these birds became so scarce. They used to be routinely sighted at places like Floyd Bennett Field or the Rockaways. They even used to nest regularly in these locations. Now, passing one on the Belt Parkway is something to comment about.
- Dave Taft

12/24 - New Hamburg to Crawbuckie, HRM 67-33: It is fun to measure winter train trips along the river to Manhattan by the number of eagles you see. Today was a ten-eagle-trip - the first 3 in Dutchess County, the next 3 in Putnam, and the final 4 in Westchester: One adult was perched in a tuliptree just south of Wappinger Creek; an immature was feeding on a fish on the ice at Chelsea; an immature was in a hardwood tree at Hammond's Point just below Fishkill Creek; two adults were perched on the south side of Constitution Island; an immature was on the tip of Arden Point (across from West Point); an immature and an adult took off in tandem from the shoreline as we passed Roa Hook, just above Peekskill; an adult was perched on the north side of Oscawana Island, and finally an immature was in the air off Furnace Brook. All ten sightings were in the company of rafts of waterfowl, whose numbers peaked as we passed Crawbuckie and Croton Bay, where we saw more than 1,000 ducks, geese and swans, including goldeneyes, scaup, mergansers, coot, mallards, and black ducks.
- Tom Lake

12/24 - Loundsbury Pond, HRM 38.5: This pond at Blue Mountain Reservation is an impoundment of Dickey Brook, a Hudson River tributary. I drilled a dozen holes this morning in 3" of slushy ice and caught 50 fish (20 throw-backs), including four big black crappies.
- Christopher Letts

12/24 - Brooklyn, New York City: I frequently call the Belt Parkway the "Raptor Parkway" these days. Despite miserable, rainy conditions, the hawks were hunting today. West of the Cross Bay Boulevard entrance ramp, a flock of pigeons flared just as I negotiated my way into the middle lane. A dark silhouette veered off at a tangent from the rest of the birds with legs extended, and then flew past my car headed east bound. It was a large peregrine falcon that had caused all the commotion, but had come up empty taloned. A few minutes later, at an exit just off the Belt Parkway at Coney Island Avenue, a kestrel, perhaps the one I saw yesterday along the Belt, tried to maintain its balance on the very tip of a honey locust. The wind and pelting sleet must have been more than he could bear; by the time I looked in my rear view mirror, he had vanished.
- Dave Taft

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