Hudson River Almanac January 8 - January 14, 2009
Persistent and extremely cold weather coupled with snowfall had the tidal Hudson nearly frozen-over as far south as Poughkeepsie. The presence of so much ice pushed waterfowl and bald eagles south in search of open water.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
1/13 - Charles Point, HRM 43: I was convinced that the bird I was watching was an immature bald eagle until it took off, flared around Crystal Bay, and displayed its white tail fringed in black. A golden eagle.
- Christopher Letts
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
1/8 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: An immature female snowy owl arrived at the Coxsackie Creek Grasslands Preserve three days ago. It has been seen almost daily since as she perches on grassy knolls, building rooftops, or one of two perches set out for raptors to use.
- Rich Guthrie
Snowy owls follow a rather predictable pattern of moving south during winters of food scarcity. They tend to follow lemming population crashes, which usually come close on the heals of a lemming population boom. During the boom years, the owls fledge more young, leading to a population crunch back home, hence the booting out of young birds during lean winters. This cycle usually follows a five-year repetitive pattern and it is the weaker immatures that are forced to leave the better hunting territories and face the rigors and uncertainties of long distance "migration." Numerous other snowy owls have been seen in several other parts of New York and New England. More may be expected as winter tightens her grip. The Coxsackie owl seems to be doing quite well in the habitat preserve, sharing the grasslands with northern harriers, rough-legged and red-tailed hawks, several short-eared owls, and a northern shrike. The visiting hawks and owls to this fragmented piece of what was once a much larger "winter raptor wonderland" demonstrates the value of preserving suitable habitat for wintering and hopefully nesting raptors.
- Rich Guthrie
1/8 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This afternoon, when the snow stopped falling and the storm clouds had been blown east, some blue sky appeared. The sun shone on the far side of the Croton Reservoir, a winter afternoon no-leaves-on-trees spectacle. I was watching the trees shaking off their snow-sleeves when suddenly an eagle appeared, flying north over the water at a leisurely pace. A beam of sunlight caught its brilliant white head and tail feathers. Very nice!
- Robin Fox
1/9 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: This morning there were four pine siskins at my thistle feeder, which is usually monopolized by goldfinches. They must be part of the pine siskin "irruption" that the Waterman Bird Club is reporting at their website, www.watermanbirdclub.org.
- Phyllis Marsteller
1/9 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: As we looked over the Hudson in late morning we spotted an eagle perched high in a tree surveying the river. We could see it turning its head from side to side and the beak was unmistakable. The head feathers were not completely white, so we wondered if it was an immature. As we watched, the mighty bird spread its wings and flew over our house and on to its next venture of the day.
- Kathy A Donnelly
1/9 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: On our way to Stony Kill Farm to see the redheaded woodpecker, we drove along the tidal Wappinger Creek to look for ducks. We saw a few common mergansers, a pair of hooded mergansers, and watched as an adult bald eagle and two immatures flew into a backwater cove. The adult disappeared but we counted five very mottled immature eagles flying low along the creek. The tide was low and they all ended up sitting on the mud flat and in a nearby tree.
- Barbara Michelin, Maha Katnani
1/9 - Oscawana, HRM 37.5: An adult and one immature bald eagle were perched side-by-side on a branch at Oscawana Point in mid-afternoon. They seemed to be watching the water. The adult took off, made a rapid dive down into the river, picked up a fish, and brought it back to its perch on the tree. We watched it for some time, but all we could see was its back, as it bent down to enjoy its catch.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson
1/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was -18EF here overnight. When I got to work early this morning, it was still -14EF. Now, in midday, it has "warmed" to -7EF, a heat wave!
- Ellen Rathbone
1/10 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Attendance for our public bald eagle program was reduced by a Winter Storm Warning. Twenty-eight of us looked out on a frozen river; there was just a narrow slurry of ice floes in the shipping channel, and that did not bode well for hungry eagles. We saw no waterfowl at all; they had moved south to find open water. Jude Holdsworth spotted a pair of adult eagles on the west side of the river and soon we had them in the spotting scope. We guessed these were a mated pair from a local nest. After a while, the female (slightly larger) came down, settled on the ice, and slowly drifted upriver giving us a good view. A half hour after we started, the snow began, and soon we were in a white-out with almost no visibility.
- Tom Lake, Marty Otter, Sandra Fraley, Kathy Hranosky, Dan Zoller, Roberta S. Jeracka
1/10 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: On the way out of the park after the bald eagle program, I saw something in a tree by the railroad tracks. At first I thought it was an eagle but when I went back and looked through the binoculars I saw a large rounded head, a short tail, and "ears," leading me to believe it was a great horned owl.
- Kathy Khranowsky
1/10 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I drove slowly along the tidal Wappinger toward the Hudson following an adult eagle downstream. It took off through the snow, landed in the trees, and then took off again. It was screeching, and in the midst of the snowstorm the sound echoed off the banks of the creek. It was my best eagle experience ever.
- Kathy Khranowsky
1/10 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: Despite the cold temperature and chilly winds birders with binoculars and cameras gathered at Stony Kill Farm to view perhaps the most photographed and photogenic bird of the season, a redheaded woodpecker who most cooperatively flew back and forth from pine tree to suet feeder to maple tree and back, quite undisturbed by its admiring audience. Though slightly smaller than the commonly seen red-bellied woodpecker the sharp contrast of its red, white, and black colors make the bird seem larger. A real beauty!
- Carolyn Plage, Tully McElrath, Steve Golladay
1/10 - Castle Point, HRM 64.5: We waited for two hours at Stony Kill Farm to see the red-headed woodpecker, without a sighting, but did get some great looks at an immature harrier hunting the fields. Thinking that some of the houses to the west of the farm may have feeders that the woodpecker frequents, we took a drive and ended up on Chelsea Road. We were surprised to see an immature sharp-shinned hawk casually walking and hopping about some hemlock shrubs along one of the houses. He was stalking, looking for a meal before the impending snow. It was interesting to see such a fast, agile hawk changing its hunting tactics. We went back to Stony Kill Farm and finally saw the red-headed woodpecker just as the snow began to fall.
- Brian Bury, Lora Kunzman
1/11 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: First light was not fun. The air temperature combined with the breeze had windchills below zero. It hurt to breathe. Five-inches of new snow carpeted the river. A small flock of Canada geese were huddled on the ice, several buffleheads bobbed in an open lead, and six immature bald eagles were hunched on ice floes out in the channel, stretched along a mile of river riding the up tide.
- Tom Lake
1/11 - Crugers, HRM 34: The morning after the storm, against the white backdrop of an overnight snow, a gathering of birds was under and around our feeders: a beautiful red-bellied woodpecker clung tenaciously to the peanut feeder, while a female downy pecked at the suet; a cardinal pair sat in the olive tree, occasionally hopping down to the covered seed feeders for a meal; black-capped chickadees and a tufted titmouse covered the other seed feeders, along with sparrows and a lone Carolina wren; the overflow seed on the ground was being cleaned up by a dozen juncos and a few mourning doves. All the while, two blue jays and several starlings flew in to chase the other birds from the feeders. Squirrels joined the crowd and attempted to dislodge the suet feeders from their hooks. We threw some stale popcorn out to distract the squirrels but our Irish setter, Brandy, beat them to it!
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson
1/11 - Charles Point to Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 43-34: We saw 25 eagles, a mixture of adults and immatures, between China Pier, the Croton train trestle and, at sunset, George's Island.
- Bill Cherry, Martha Cherry
1/11 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: In the brilliant full-moon light, tree shadows from the edge of the woods made a second forest on the snow-covered lawn. A very large buck deer emerged from the bushes, stamping and pawing his forefeet the way white-tails do. He was impressive holding his antlered head high and with his white tail as a bright beacon. I began to see a huddle of deer at the edge of the shadow woods. They were milling about, reacting to the buck's stamping. Finally, I rapped on the window. The buck snorted - I could hear him even through the closed window! - and with a few leaps, plunged into the woods with his harem dashing ahead. Within seconds, all was white, shadowy and still.
- Robin Fox
1/12 - Albany County, HRM 145: While traveling west of Albany along the New York Thruway I was counting winter red-tails when I was startled by two large wild turkeys, five-feet off the ground and visible above the guard rail and snow banks. They were having a lunch of conical staghorn sumac fruit clusters, awkwardly and precariously balanced near the top of the bushes and using the backside of the snow drifts as a step ladder to get to the reddish brown berry clusters. How resourceful these birds are - turkey snow cones!
- Pete Corrigan
1/12 - Town of Shandaken, Ulster County, HRM 90: We were out snowshoeing today and came across a fresh set of black bear tracks. It was a very pretty, partly sunny day, with very little wind and 16EF. I guess the bear thought it would be a nice day for a little walk too.
- Tim Hinkley
1/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: Early this morning I heard what I figured was one of our local crows doing a dead-on impersonation of a common raven. I thought it was odd as I never heard them impersonate a raven before. Then I saw the ravens, two of them in fact, flying overhead. They were the first we've ever seen in our 15 years living here. The crows swooped at them briefly as they flew overhead. It was interesting to see them, crow and raven, side-by-side, and appreciable the size difference. The ravens came in from the east and headed west. They may have been a good omen for two hours later, pine siskins finally showed up at our feeders; a flock of eight mixed in with the goldfinches.
- Bill Lenhart, Donna Lenhart
1/12 - Mid-Hudson Valley: It was a frigid 12EF at dawn for the 31st annual New York State Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census. This is the day when we try to count all of the eagles, both bald eagles and golden eagles, in the major state flyways, wintering, roosting, and congregation areas. The recent surge of true winter weather had driven many wintering birds south from Canada and points north and east.
- Tom Lake
1/12 - Lattintown Creek to Cornwall Bay, HRM 69-58: From dawn to mid-morning, at least 16 bald eagles, 8 adults and 8 immatures, were counted across these eleven miles, from lower Ulster through Orange and Dutchess counties. Over the last ten years, the average number of eagles counted has been 15 with the highest number at 52 and the fewest at 5 (2002, 2007).
- Tom Lake
1/12 - Diamond Reef, HRM 67.5: An ice floe covered the lower end of Diamond Reef; near the edge an adult bald eagle was feasting on a fish. Nearby, five impatient immatures paced back and forth in their brown feathery pantaloons, never venturing any closer than ten feet from the adult.
- Tom Lake
1/12 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The tidewater creek was frozen bank-to-bank and out in middle an immature eagle had some prey on the ice. As it labored to rise, I could see a small, dark, furry mammal in its talons. The bird flew into a sycamore where it joined an adult. These may have been the same eagles that Kathy Khranowsky saw there two days ago.
- Tom Lake
1/12 - Danskammer Point to Roseton, HRM 66.7-65: For the annual Eagle Census, I walked the shoreline between Roseton and Danskammer Point and spotted 15 different eagles perched in various trees. My walk also mistakenly spooked a great blue heron and caused a small group of common mergansers to take flight. It was a beautiful blue sky day with an abundance of ice flow and bird activity on the river.
- Eric Shaw
1/12 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: While driving south on the West Side Drive this morning near 79th Street, a large buteo appeared immediately in front of my car, about 30 feet above the south-bound lane. It was backlighted so colors were difficult to distinguish, but it landed on a branch alongside the road. As I looked back in the side mirror, I thought I saw an orange-buff-colored breast. Could it have been a red-shouldered hawk in the Big Apple? [Yes!]
- Michael McKenna
1/12 - Brooklyn, New York City: The promenade was a slick, straight, slide paralleling the harbor and Manhattan. I stared at Manhattan Island from the edge of mighty Stirling Park (the sign says 0.214 acres) located along Columbia Heights in downtown Brooklyn. In the icy winter night, Manhattan Island slowly glimmered and glittered all the way from the Battery to the Brooklyn Bridge. A jagged wall of light, reflected in the river. I thought about the early descriptions of this harbor - fish so dense you could walk across their backs, dense woodlands, forested hills. Henry Hudson could never have envisioned what I see now. I will never experience his river either, so perhaps I ought to see this light and water show as a not-so-bad trade off. I turned to leave as a large ship bellowed from the harbor. We will always reinvent the river -each for our own. I wonder what my children, or theirs, will look out and dream about.
- Dave Taft
1/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I have heard Carolina wrens in winter. Their call of tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea reminds me of warmer days, but until today, I cannot recall ever having one visit the feeders.
- Tom Lake
1/13 - George's Island, HRM 39: The ice at the George's Island Park launch was thin and easily broken, so I went out with my kayak and immediately saw two adult bald eagles perched in a nearby tree, side-by-side, watching the river. George's Island abuts the extensive grounds of the Montrose Veterans Hospital and as I went by, I noticed some movement. I paddled toward it and saw that two adults and one immature eagle were sharing a tree.
- Steve Butterfass
1/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The poor birds were cold and hungry this morning (-11EF). They must have used up a lot of energy keeping warm last night. I got up early and went out to replenish the seed and two little pine siskins were clinging to the thistle feeder. They refused to move, pecking slowly at the seeds within. I stood there, a little more than a foot away and waited for them to fly off. I reached into the bag of seed and held up my hand next to the birds. One took off, but the other still hung on. Finally, it too flew off.
- Ellen Rathbone
1/14 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: This time of the year, when I cannot locate the mated pair from nest NY62, I aim my spotting scope at the cottonwoods along the shore just below the warm-water outflow from the Danskammer power-generating station, a short distance south and across the river. Even if they are not diving on fish or chasing waterfowl, they are often perched downwind of the warm steam rising off the water. They were there this morning. I stood in zero degree Fahrenheit air a half-mile away across the river envying their sauna.
- Tom Lake