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Hudson River Almanac January 22 - January 31, 2009

OVERVIEW

A frozen-over Hudson, from the Highlands to the High Peaks, became a playground for wildlife with the added perspective from the Coast Guard cutter Penobscot Bay.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/26 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 153: I looked out the window early this morning to see a bobcat on its haunches directly under our bird feeder. As loud as I could, I whispered, "Bobcat! Under the feeder!" Quickly rousing the family, I missed the best sighting. My wife, Debbie, watched as a rabbit rounded the woodpile and approached the large cat. In a flash, the bobcat made quick work of dispatching the unsuspecting cottontail. I returned to the window to see the bobcat dragging the now limp rabbit away through the thin brush. It was only then that we noticed another, smaller bobcat, and then a third, also smaller, falling in line and following the mother. They had been hunting cooperatively, effectively pushing the rabbit toward the mother, who lay in wait for the ambush. We surmised that this was the same litter we saw on November 16, but now the kittens had grown much larger.
- Dave Nelson


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/22 - North Germantown Reach, HRM 103: Aboard the Coast Guard cutter Penobscot Bay, while maintaining the ice track for tug and barge traffic this past week, eagles appeared everywhere, preferring small floes of ice or exposed shoals next to pools of open water. Today we spotted an adult bald eagle fighting with six crows on the flats at the southern end of the North Germantown Reach. The crows nearly got the best of him.
- Lt. Jamie Collins

1/22 - Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, HRM 96: Several timid mammals also made their way out onto the ice this week. Today we had a red fox with a large bushy tail cross our path at a range of about 200 yards just north of the bridge. Yesterday, a hungry-looking coyote loped across the frozen track ahead of us just north of Saugerties, six miles upriver. The severe overnight temperatures in the middle and upper reaches of the navigable river caused the established ice track to freeze solid overnight, permitting most of these animals to cross the entire river safely while tugs and barges waited until morning for our ice-breaking services. The air temperatures remained low enough during the day that the track would re-freeze 1-2 hours after we passed, solidly enough to support many kinds of animals.
- Lt. Jamie Collins

1/23 - Columbia County, HRM 96: We saw a pair of golden eagles at Thompson Pond (wintering birds from Stissing Mountain?) riding the thermals high above a field, making talon contact repeatedly and flying together gracefully. Several red-tailed hawks were also taking advantage of the spring-like day. Later we saw a strange sight that we had to drive past several times to confirm. A red-tailed hawk sat high in a tree by the roadside, guarding a huge, dead wild turkey, much larger than the hawk, dangling below it. The top half was eaten down to bone and the remainder flapped in the breeze.
- Jude Holdsworth, Barb Nuzzi

1/23 - Town of Chatham, HRM 124: I spotted some snow buntings in a cornfield behind my house. I heard them first and looked up to see ten of them sitting in a cottonwood tree. About twenty more were on the ground in a hollow.
- Cris Winters

1/23 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 52: We had a wild turkey perched on top of our pole feeder today pecking at the suet.
- Mary Charbonneau

1/23 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: In late afternoon I counted no fewer than ten eagles flying, floating, landing on ice and trees, eating, and challenging on the ice floes next to the village park. They knocked each other off the ice, out of the trees, and out of the sky (if one had prey). Immatures battled adults for fish. If they were sated, they floated. It was spectacular and close.
- Bonnie Talluto

1/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: A dozen members of the Palisades Nature Association were with us at the mouth of the Croton River eager to see the eagles (eight were on hand) but found even more delight in the array of waterfowl: buffleheads, ruddy ducks, coot, ring-necked ducks, both hen and drake canvasbacks, great cormorants, and Canada geese. We watched a hen common merganser "troll with her eyes," slowly swimming, the crown of her head tilted downward so only her eyes were underwater, looking for prey. When the opportunity arrived, she would dive in pursuit. Without a doubt, however, the stars of the morning were a drake and two hen redhead ducks. These are uncommon winter visitors who, along with canvasbacks, nest in the prairie potholes in central Canada where habitat loss is leading to a decline in their population. In just an hour, from the Croton River nine miles north to China Pier in Westchester County, we counted at least 34 bald eagles, half of which were adults, nearly all of them out on the ice.
- Tom Lake. Nancy Slowik, Berit Pattersen, Christopher Letts

1/23 - Sandy Hook, NJ: After this long spell of cold weather, Sandy Hook Bay and the rivers were pretty much frozen over. Ice boat races were underway upriver around Red Bank. The bay has harbor seals hauled out on ice floes. We have seen a flock of fifty snow buntings in the dunes. The mammals are missing, dug in for the winter, all except for the white-footed mice that have found their way inside.
- Dery Bennett

1/24 - Port Ewen, HRM 91: In recent days I've been doing some routine gushing over the sighting of seven bald eagles, 5 immatures and 2 adults, on the ice floes off Port Ewen. There are always batches of gulls and crows around the periphery.
- Patti Ellis

1/24 - Cold Spring, HRM 55: Walking along the shore in Dockside Park on a warm afternoon we listened and watched the creaking of the massive ice that seemed to stretch shore-to-shore across the river. There were no visible signs of a tide and hardly any open water. Plowing through the ice came the Kristin Poling, an impressively long, inland tanker. As the vessel tanker the ice gave way, piling up on either side, groaning and moaning loudly as if in protest to this violent disruption.
- Carolyn Plage, Elaine Case

1/25 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: A solitary black squirrel was feeding voraciously on spillage from the bird feeder today. A gray squirrel was also present and, although the black seemed more skittish, they appeared to be totally indifferent to each other. Juncos seem especially abundant this year whereas blue jays seem fewer than usual. Is anyone else noticing this abundance and scarcity?
- Nancy P. Durr

1/25 - George's Island, HRM 39: There was plenty of open water in the Hudson at George's Island, and also plenty of eagles. Despite the cold, at least 25 people were gathered along the shoreline with scopes, binoculars and cameras pointed north toward Dogan Point where, in late afternoon, 20 eagles, both immatures and matures, were already perched. As we watched four more came in for a landing.
- Carolyn Plage, Ed Connelly

1/25 - George's Island, HRM 39: In late afternoon, we saw more eagles in one place, at least 23, than at any time this winter. We first noticed seven eagles in one tree and two in another on Dogan Point. Little by little, more flew in and landed. Eventually, the tree with seven became a tree with twelve, and more kept flying in and out. A pair was interacting in the sky in courtship. After a wonderful display, they landed together on a branch so close to each other that they looked like one big eagle.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/25 - Croton, HRM 34: Despite the persistent below-freezing temperatures, the Croton River has largely remained free of ice. I put my kayak into the water in the early afternoon and was instantly rewarded with four adult bald eagles perched in a tree watching the water. I went upriver in the Croton as far as I could before I was turned back by the strong ebb tide current. Several hawks flew overhead and there were hundreds of swans, geese and ducks on the water.
- Steve Butterfass

1/26 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was frigid at first light, single digits; you could almost feel ice crystals in the air. I stopped by eagle nest NY62 and was extra careful to walk softly and obliquely to the tree so as to not to cause anxiety in the mated pair that were perched side-by-side on a horizontal limb near the crown. I am not an unfamiliar sight to them, and if I do not make eye contact and seem to be headed elsewhere, they tolerate me. On such a cold morning the last thing I wanted to do was to cause them to burn calories unnecessarily.
- Tom Lake

1/26 - Kowawese, HRM 59: It was five degrees Fahrenheit at dawn but had warmed to ten degrees by the time the bus with sixth graders from Vails Gate Elementary arrived. The students were at the river to find inspiration to write poetry for their River of Words program. We did some winter wildlife tracking in the snow as we hiked along the river. Understandably, domestic dog prints were featured and it took some looking and interpreting to find coyote and fox among them. The rising tide aggressively pushed the floe ice toward shore with a broad range of sounds. The crisp, cold beauty of the day would challenge the students to find the right words in their vocabulary to capture the moment.
- Tom Lake, Cassandra Merry

- My River Poem
Hairy roots on a tree, deer bites on a bark.
There are waves talking to you within your heart.
Nice tulip trees, during each season singing birds on top.
There is nothing prettier than the ice I saw at the park.
- Alize Howard, Grade 6, Vails Gate Elementary

1/26 - Peekskill, HRM 43: We had the exciting experience of seeing over forty eagles on the ice floes off Charles Point. There were also six common mergansers diving in the open areas.
- Yvonne Lynn

1/26 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 39: During the return transit of the Coast Guard cutter Penobscot Bay to Newark, we watched as an adult bald eagle successfully pulled a fish out of the water in mid-channel off Haverstraw. In total, we had over 60 eagle sightings during the week.
- Lt. Jamie Collins

1/26 - Ossining, HRM 33: At a little after noon today, I was treated to the sight of thirteen eagles on the ice between Ossining and Croton Point. Although Croton Bay seemed to be entirely frozen, when I looked with my binoculars I could see some strips of open water. Ten eagles were standing side-by-side on a large ice floe near the open water. They kept pushing one another off the ice and seemed to be trying to establish certain positions among the group.
- Dorothy Ferguson

1/27 - Town of Kinderhook, RM 131: In late morning, I was traveling along the back roads in the north end of the Town of Kinderhook when I saw a large bird sit down on a road sign. I stopped and saw that it was a short-eared owl. It lifted and circled around, giving me that eye-to-eye look that was familiar from seeing it often during the winter in Delaware salt marshes. It passed over the road where several crows started to chase it. Maybe they were the cause of the landing on the sign. It seemed to be staying close to a snow-covered golf course. I have never heard of a short-eared owl sighting in Columbia County.
- Cris Winters

1/27 - Newburgh Beacon Bridge, HRM 62.3: As I drove eastbound over the bridge an immature bald eagle, heavily streaked, flew alongside the bridge.
- Reba Wynn Laks

1/27 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: The red-headed woodpecker that has been visiting Stony Kill Farm flew directly over my head. It has been spending its time going back and forth from the bird feeders next to the Manor House to the corn crib down by the barn. Two great bird sightings in one day!
- Reba Wynn Laks

1/27 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: The traffic was light as I headed south on Route 9 around the traffic circle. I was keeping my usual eye out for eagles soaring and ducks floating in Annsville Creek. To my surprise, a ring-necked pheasant suddenly came out of the brush and flew right in front of my car! Fortunately, I was able to brake quickly and watch as the green-headed male bird continued flying across the bridge over the creek. It stayed only slightly above and ahead of two other cars that were headed toward the traffic circle, before disappearing into the reeds just off the shoulder of the road.
- Mary Charbonneau

1/27- Crugers, HRM 39: There were so many birds vying for a spot at the feeders today due to the weather that I went out and threw tons of seed on the ground for them. I was surprised to see ten red-winged blackbirds among the usual species.
- Dianne Picciano

1/28 - Columbia County, HRM 119: We have had an unusual winter visitor at our feeder in Hillsdale the last two days, a yellow-bellied sapsucker eating suet. We are at, or just beyond, the winter northern limit of this species.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

1/29 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: From a vantage point on the east side of the river, it appeared that the Hudson was frozen over. Through the spotting scope I could make out a narrow slushy trackway in the channel forged by passing tugs and barges. From where I stood, I had almost a five mile view, north to south, Marlboro to Low Point. Scattered on floes and in trees I counted fifteen eagles. In a winter like this, with long stretches of cold weather, the Hudson River estuary becomes a playground for bald eagles.
- Tom Lake

1/30 - Piermont, HRM 25: Margie Turrin, Jim Carcone and I took a lunchtime walk on the Piermont Pier and were treated to excellent views of two immature bald eagles. One was perched in a tree over the walkway. As we approached, another flew in to the tree and the first flew away. Out on the river, a third eagle sat on some ice. In addition to the eagles, we saw small rafts of ruddy ducks with a few buffleheads interspersed and a solitary male goldeneye in the company of a pair of canvasbacks.
- Linda Pistolesi

1/31 - Fort Miller, Lock 6, HRM 192.5: In one of the few open water areas of the upper Hudson, forty common goldeneye drifted beneath the lock at Fort Miller. Immediately below, the Thomson Island pool was frozen over.
- Tom Lake

1/31 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: In another open water area beneath the Route 125 bridge, no fewer than 100 goldeneye drifted and foraged. Open water was at a premium in the non-tidal reach above the federal dam at Troy.
- Tom Lake

1/31 - Green Island, HRM 153: A few hundred yards of open water extended downriver below the federal dam. Several black and white feathers were strewn along the inshore ice; an adult eagle had been preening overhead in the cottonwoods. The only wildlife in sight was a single drake common merganser.
- Tom Lake

1/31 - Croton River, HRM 34: The Croton River was still mostly free from ice inland from the railroad trestle. The day was windy and bitterly cold but the sun seemed to make up for some of the weather's effects. I counted seven bald eagles flying low over the hundreds of swans, geese and ducks floating in the river. As the flocks rose in successive waves moving away from my approaching kayak, the eagles followed, tracking them, flying near them and above them, but making no attempts to interfere.
- Steve Butterfass

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