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Hudson River Almanac January 1 - January 7, 2009


A new year arrived with all the familiar features: snow, ice, eagles, ducks, hungry songbirds, and the stories of people eager to experience the Hudson Valley in winter.


1/6 - Town of Shandaken, Ulster County, HRM 90: I have had a large flock, 50 or more, of white-winged crossbills picking up salt and grit from County Route 47 on Slide Mountain near Winnisook Lake. I thought it was just a large flock of the usual finches but they were hesitant to get out of the road when vehicles passed. As a result, some were being hit. I picked up a male and female today and they were definitely white-winged crossbills. Usually I only see chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, ravens, woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Blue jays are my only winter color, except for a male bluebird I spotted on Route 28 just below Phoenicia yesterday. So it has been a real treat to see these red birds almost everyday.
- Tim Hinkley


1/1 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: It was the dawn of a new year; the air temperature was 8 degrees F but mercifully the breeze was light and the windchill hovered around zero. Several immature bald eagles were out on the ice. They were unfamiliar to me, a sure sign of winter migration.
- Tom Lake

1/1 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: We attempted a New Year's Day morning bird walk with Saw Mill River Audubon at Kendall-on-Hudson but had to abandon the group when frostbite began to set in! Although the day was sunny, the air temperature was below freezing and high winds made it uncomfortable. Before we left we saw a downy woodpecker, a flock of starlings chasing a mockingbird and, best of all, our first bald eagle of the season, an adult flying low over the river. Later on, after thawing, we went to Oscawana ten miles upriver and were rewarded with two adult eagles perched very close together near the end of the point. Haverstraw Bay off Oscawana was frozen and the rest of the river was dark gray, spotted with whitecaps from the high winds.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The Croton River was teeming with migratory waterfowl among which were common mergansers, brant, buffleheads, black ducks, and geese. However the real treat was out at Croton Point at sunset. As we walked the south beach we heard hoots coming from the stand of white pines on the south road. We went to the sound and saw, outlined against the darkening sky, a great horned owl patiently watching over a clearing. We remarked about how their profile is so cat-like.
- Scott Horecky, Kathy Sutherland

1/1 - Queens, New York City: Whatever it was behind the construction fencing at Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach, it attracted the single-minded attention of a large sharp-shinned hawk. Some hapless starling or sparrow was not going to be starting the new year off well.
- Dave Taft

1/1 - Staten Island, New York City: In the biting cold of a park-and-ride, on my way into a hiking trail, a lovely male northern harrier fought with the wind to make headway. His slow progress gave me plenty of time to admire his Wedgewood blue-gray color and black wing tips. On my way back on Route 278, a red-tailed hawk actively hunted along the north side of the roadway.
- Dave Taft

1/1 - Sandy Hook, NJ: This was the American Littoral Society's 31st annual New Year's Day Beach Walk. The 10 degree F air temperature and northwest winds at 15-25 mph kept the crowd down to about eighty people and four dogs, but we made it to the water's edge and for the 31st time, using various illegal pyrotechnics and a jury-rigged hydrophone, failed to communicate with fellow Society beach walkers across the Lower Bay on Breezy Point. A small raft of herring gulls and a few red-breasted mergansers bobbed offshore. We spotted a big raptor flying high to the north and with watering eyes, our guesses included eagle, rough-legged hawk, and "big buteo." Back at headquarters, all walkers were rewarded with hot dogs, cocoa, and mulled cider.
- Dery Bennett

1/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: In a "good winter" for my bird feeders, I might see a couple of pine siskins. This morning, in the blowing snow and zero windchills, there was a veritable invasion of pine siskins - no fewer than a dozen, maybe more. Like common redpolls and crossbills, the presence of these winter finches can often be tied to harsh winter conditions and a low or inaccessible food supply far to our north. Birders also refer to these sudden appearances as "irruptions." For once, the regular army of goldfinches at the feeders seemed to behave themselves. From what I have observed, the little pine siskins are no one's pushover.
- Tom Lake

1/3 - Albany, HRM 145: Our feeder has been visited by chickadees, finches, juncos, nuthatches, jays and cardinals. A female cardinal was at the feeder for some time today. What amazed me was that a blue jay calmly waited its turn, perched on top of the feeder, for her to finish before feeding himself.
- Christine Dooley

1/3 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: Commuters on Metro North spotted a white-tailed deer out on the river ice, albeit connected to the shore, off Low Point. The deer was not in trouble. However, situations in nature that are not commonly seen can be misinterpreted. The best example is when harbor seals haul out on rocks, piers, or even ice. Their awkward posture suggests they are in distress when, in fact, they are merely relaxing. Under these circumstances, calls to "save the seal" are common. In this case the deer, despite the fact that it attracted law enforcement and many concerned citizens, was not in danger and left the ice by the next morning. Deer have been out on river ice, even swimming across the Hudson, long before people were here to see them.
- Tom Lake, Jerry Owen

1/3 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was close to low tide in mid-morning and the eagles were on the Croton River, fishing like crazy. An adult caught a fish and an immature was on the chase. The adult dropped the fish, the immature scooped it up, and then carried it into Croton Marsh in back of the Metro North parking lot where the Phragmites prevented viewing.
- Bonnie Talluto

1/3 - Queens, New York City: The largest red-tailed hawk I can recall seeing looked forlornly from a lamp post into the athletic field of Forest Hills High School. With no students in sight on Saturday, it was like watching a puppy tied to a lamp post waiting for its owner to return.
- Dave Taft

1/4 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: This morning my sister, Sue Peck, spotted our first eagles of the season, a handsome pair of adults sitting in our neighbor's trees. Great carpets of ice were drifting down the river in front of our house, a sure signal to look for eagles!
- Pat Korn

1/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Much to our surprise, while stopped at a traffic light on Market Street in downtown Poughkeepsie, what should swoop down low in front of us but a red-tailed hawk carrying a bird in its talons. Is Poughkeepsie so quiet at 2:30 PM on a Sunday that it is hawk hunting territory?
- Christopher Duncan, Kathryn Duncan

1/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: Once again, an adult eagle caught a fish right before my eyes. No need for a scope, the bird was too close. It took off with no less than four eagles in pursuit, two immatures and two adults.
- Bonnie Talluto

1/5 - Pine Bush, HRM 68: I found the Almanac notes from last week interesting [see 12/26, 12/28]: I, too, had a little brown bat circling the porch lights this evening. I imagine the milder weather or some disturbance woke her out of her winter slumber; she had a momentarily scary encounter with the cat lurking under the bench but swooped away and out of sight before damage could be done. I hope she settles in somewhere peaceful and quiet for the rest of the winter.
- B. Ganley

1/5 - New Hamburg to Irvington, HRM 67- 25: The Metro North commuter passage south to Manhattan this morning was a fifteen-eagle trip, five adults and ten immatures. They began on the ebb-tide ice at New Hamburg in full view of the waiting platform and ended offshore on floe ice at Irvington, 42 miles downriver. In most places, ice covered 10% of the river affording the birds feeding, congregating, and loafing platforms. To see eagles on the ice, it is necessary to develop a sight-image, so that crows and gulls are not mistaken for eagles at a distance.
- Tom Lake

[Eagles-per-train-trip: As the miles passed and I noted the eagles I could see, I remembered how limited such a count can be. If you are on the river-facing side of the train, you miss all those birds that are perched in the deltas of the many tributaries on the other side; conversely, if you are on the upland-facing side, you miss all the birds on the river. Binoculars are difficult to use on a train due to the high speed and less-than-clear windows; birds that are a mile or more across the river, especially those perched on the west side, are missed. In passing peninsulas like Denning's Point, Constitution Island, Croton Point, and others, the view is limited to east-facing exposures. Others such as Indian Point, Charles Point, and Dogan Point are missed altogether. The net of all this is that train counts are limited; they are more of a barometer than absolute data. A train ride two weeks ago was a "ten-eagle" trip. In the days that followed, severe winter weather pushed even more wintering eagles south and that was reflected in today's count. If a rule-of-thumb can be applied to winter train travel along the Hudson, it would not be an exaggeration to say the number of birds counted are no more than half of the birds that were there. Tom Lake.]

1/5 - Crawbuckie, HRM 33.5: Croton Bay is one of the major stopover and holdover areas for migrating winter waterfowl. The bay is shallow, faces south, and is out of the wind in the lee of Croton Point. On most winter days, several hundred ducks and geese of a half-dozen or more species can be seen. Dashing by on the train this morning I noted well over a hundred gadwalls spread along the shallows just off the beach at Crawbuckie.
- Tom Lake

[Crawbuckie is a legendary beach fronting Croton Bay, just north of Ossining and just south of the Croton River in Westchester County. From this strip of sand, striped bass of epic proportions have been hooked (some even landed) by anglers over the years. One day, fifty-five years ago, Henry Gourdine and his crew, using a hand-made 2600-foot-long haul seine with a quarter-mile of head rope, caught 14,000 pounds of American shad and striped bass. He was not altogether happy about the haul; it took the crew so long to weigh, box, and ice the fish that they missed the opportunity to set on the next tide. Tom Lake.]

1/5 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: This morning we spotted two adult eagles sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on a small island of ice in mid-river. They sat there for at least an hour as they slowly floated out of view toward the Tappan Zee Bridge.
- Doug Maass

1/6 Cheviot, HRM 106: Around noon, I spotted an immature bald eagle sitting high in a tree on the peninsula island pier off Cheviot. It was sharing the tree with four crows, in close proximity, all preening feathers and at peace with each other. Later in the day, an adult was perched at the top of the tree and surveyed the river, all alone, with the late afternoon sun glinting off his feathers and reflecting off the piles of drift ice below its perch.
- Jude Holdsworth

1/6 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Abbey is an eleven year-old dog, half golden retriever, half Rottweiler, a sweet but tortured soul. Yet she seems to have the understanding, perhaps the patience, of a much more feral animal when it comes to wildlife. She watches with apparent interest dozens of songbirds at the feeders ten feet away through the window. Small family groups of white-tail deer frequently walk past her outside a four-foot-high fence, and they all just exchange curious looks. Today she sat patiently on one side of the chain-link fence while a female red fox created a winter den, maybe even a pupping den, excavating snow and leaves out from under a large dead fall in the woods 20 feet away. I do not think she feels a misplaced sense of kinship with any of the wildlife; it seems more like a mature air of curiosity and tolerance.
- Tom Lake

1/6 - George's Island, HRM 39: In late afternoon I launched my kayak into a river almost devoid of ice. It was overcast, the air damp and cold, wind minimal, and the river was calm. Heading south, I saw a large bald eagle flying toward me from the west side of the river. It swiftly reached my position and passed me not more than twenty feet overhead. It's always a thrilling sight to see one in flight and so near.
- Steve Butterfass

1/6 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Two bald eagles occupied separate ice islands near each other and a brown and white immature sat on a third piece of ice a short distance away. They soon drifted south and out of view. They were about 2000 yards away, too far to note any leg bands, even with 20X binoculars or telescope.
- Doug Maass

1/6 - Staten Island, New York City: Going birding between meetings at Great Kills, I counted 26 brant geese, 31 ruddy ducks, and a raft of 11 bufflehead. The bufflehead always amuse, popping up after each dive like corks, always with a surprised look plastered across their faces, as if the open air was a thrilling new surprise each time. It never takes long for the drakes to get back to the business of impressing the females though. In this group, four males did their best with a group of seven females. I'm afraid I was far more impressed than the hens, though.
- Dave Taft

1/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Down along the Hudson this morning, I saw a small tree filled with turkeys. It was like seeing a tree full of vultures, like something right out of a Far Side cartoon!
- Ellen Rathbone

1/7 - Milan, HRM 90: Pine siskins have been mixing in with the goldfinches at my thistle feeder.
- Frank Margiotta

1/7 - Queens-Brooklyn, New York City: As I traveled the Belt Parkway, I spotted a red-tailed hawk perched very low in a young copse of Ailanthus. The wet, cold, miserable day was not deterring the hawk from hunting the shoulder of the "raptor parkway."
- Dave Taft

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