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Hudson River Almanac February 8 - February 14, 2009


OVERVIEW

After a few warm days you could almost feel winter lose its grip on the valley. Tidewater that had been nearly frozen solid a week ago was now covered with floe ice. After reaching a peak of perhaps as many as 300, the number of wintering bald eagles in the Hudson Valley will soon begin to dwindle as lengthening daylight and melting ice slowly lure them northward


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/8 - Lower Hudson Valley: During our final eagle night roost survey of the season, observers synchronously tallied an astounding 257 perched birds between Beacon and Croton as dusk fell. As it is unlikely we are counting every bird in the area, there very well could be as many as 300 eagles using the lower Hudson this winter.
- Ed McGowan


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/8 - Rhinebeck, HRM 88: There were some white-winged crossbills in the hemlocks behind Messiah Church in Rhinebeck today.
- Mimi Brauch

2/8 - Highland, HRM 76: We had been hearing them for two months, but today a pair of ravens sat in a tree outside our window and preened. Oh my, they're big! As they took flight and headed north a young pileated woodpecker took to playing peek-a-boo two trees away.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

2/8 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: It was a warm (55 degrees) day looking for eagles. We were treated to the sight of six cavorting over the Stony Point Lighthouse across the river. Two pairs soared and dipped, locked talons, fell, swooped up again and then chased each other across the sky, riding the thermals way up with the white clouds as a backdrop.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/8 - George's Island, HRM 39: Late in the day it became quite windy and cold. Yet it was still thrilling to watch as the eagles came in to roost for the night on Dogan Point. When we were leaving the park we noticed the glorious full moon rising in the night sky.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

2/8: Croton Point, HRM 34: Despite all the bald eagles on display for the Teatown Eaglefest, we were more thrilled with the two long-tailed ducks hanging out with the goldeneyes not far offshore.
- Scott Craven, Bill Kress

[Long-tailed ducks, formerly known as oldsquaw, are sea ducks that occasionally wander into the lower estuary. Tom Lake.]

2/8 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: On this warm, sunny afternoon we walked the Shore Trail from Alpine Boat Basin to Forest View. An adult eagle flew from a perch ahead of us, circled out and back across the river and found another perch. An immature came off the cliffs above us and flew upriver. Later, the adult circled back across the Hudson and disappeared along the Yonkers shoreline. Along the way we also spotted four black ducks and a winter wren crossing our trail at dusk.
- Bob Rancan, Janet Rancan

2/9 - Highland, HRM 76: Early this morning, two very healthy-looking coyotes walked by our porch.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

2/9 - Town of Wappinger: The adult pair in the local eagle nest (NY62) spent much of today carrying new sticks to their nest and jettisoning old ones. They were still at it when the full moon rose over the horizon in early evening.
- Tom Lake

2/10 - Minerva, HRM 284: We're into the second week of February, and I still have seen no sign of snowshoe hare. No tracks, no droppings. Very few squirrel tracks, either. Plenty of deer sign - browse evidence, deep paths in the snow. But where are the hares and the rodents? Our neighbor saw a bobcat during the day and it sounds as though it attacked her cat, who was worse for the wear. Bobcats are around but are rarely seen during the daytime. My guess is that their usual food source is scarce and they are cruising for easier-to-nab prey.
- Mike Corey

2/10 - Cold Spring, Hudson River Mile 55: We checked our feeders this morning and were amazed to see a flock of twenty white-winged crossbills shuffling about the ground beneath the feeder. There was about one male for every three females.
- Brian Bury, Lora Kunzman

2/10 - Con Hook to Roa Hook, HRM 48-44: From a southbound Amtrak train, I counted fifteen bald eagles, a mix of adult and immatures, riding upriver on ice floes.
- William T. (Chip) Reynolds

2/10 - China Pier, HRM 43: Despite much ice having melted over the last few days, a southbound flotilla of "bergy bits" provided ample space for at least ten bald eagles in the bay this afternoon. We saw one mated pair that kept taking flight for a tandem synchronized aerial show. Six other adults plus two immatures never moved much at all from their spots. The water was glassy between and around the ice floes, making for some truly amazing mirror-image viewing of the birds in flight, almost skimming the surface at times.
- Peter Schechter, Lil McFetridge

[Small icebergs, rising between three to thirteen feet out of the water are called "bergy bits." Canadian Tourism Commission.]

2/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was so tropical today (49.5 degrees) that we saw snowfleas for the first time this year. It was great because the third-graders I had at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center got to see them "jumping" all over the place. Animated pepper.
- Ellen Rathbone

[Snow fleas are insects - a species of springtail. They can be seen jumping about on the snow on a warm winter day. Their dark color makes them appear as black specks, much like pepper. Tom Lake.]

2/11 - Rhinebeck, HRM 88: I took a late afternoon one-mile jaunt through woods and ridges on my cross-country skis. Although the air temperature was in the 50s, there was just enough frozen granular snow left. As I passed a pond a beautiful silvery hawk (species unknown) flew from the top of a dead tree. I came across a deer carcass, mostly devoured by coyotes, and lots of deer bedding places under hemlocks. The aftermath of this winter's ice storm gave the familiar terrain a wild, broken look. As I headed home the sun was setting, red and clouded.
- Joanne Engle

2/11 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: There were a few robins at the house at dusk and today we had a common flicker as well. The titmice have begun singing. Is it possible ...???
- Bill Drakert

2/11 - Germantown, HRM 108: Two nights ago, coyote yipping and carrying on awakened me from a sound sleep just after midnight. There was more of the same last night. They sounded as if they were right under my bedroom window but probably were on the adjoining property.
- Mimi Brauch

2/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit today, a record high for the date. The old record was 52 degrees.
- National Weather Service

2/11 - Garrison, HRM 51: I was driving north on Route 9D this afternoon and spotted a merlin atop a dead tree. I tried to convince myself it was a female kestrel, but it just didn't fit. I was able get a good look at the bird for five minutes; its back was the dark, chocolate brown color of a females or juveniles and it gave the impression (very robust) of a small peregrine falcon.
- Brian Bury

2/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Today's sixth-graders visiting the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center went on our mile-long trail. We saw otter tracks, fresh beaver chews, and followed a large canid (probably coyote) down the trail, marveling at its footprints. We even came across a pile of beechnut husks that something had recently emptied for a mid-winter feast.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In addition to Abraham Lincoln, some people held birthday parties for Charles Darwin today (200 years). As I stood in the snow this morning behind my blind, not long after first light, I watched a mated pair of bald eagles preparing for the nesting season to come. I recalled the incredibly frigid north winds that drive across the river with a twenty-mile fetch that buffet their nest each March (the nest is 120 feet off the river on the edge of a ridge, completely exposed to the elements). Darwin would tell us that natural selection has treated these birds well, with finely tuned layers of feathers that provide cooling in summer and goose-down-like protection in winter, making them well-adapted for the trials they face. They are able to hunker down in the face of a cold winter wind and cover their exposed areas including their big yellow feet.
- Tom Lake

2/12 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: Two days of spring-like weather had loosened the river ice. With spotting scopes and binoculars, 36 of us, students and faculty from Rondout Valley High School as well as Dynegy Corporation personnel, spotted a pair of immature eagles on the shelf ice near the mouth of Wappinger Creek. We watched at a distance as a mated pair of adult bald eagles put on a show of courtship, first in their nest, and then soaring overhead. In a few weeks they will get down to the serious business of incubating eggs.
- Sue Tokle, Bob Slechta, Eric Shaw, Lisa Jury, Justine Seksinsky

2/12 - West Point, HRM 52: I was looking at a small West Point wetland for marbled salamander larva swimming under the ice. Temperatures were exceptionally mild, and the margins of the basin were ice free. There at the edge, near a tussock, was a single spring peeper, up early and calling.
- Christopher Pray

2/12 - Ossining, HRM 33: At midday we braved the gale force winds and ventured out to the overlook of Eagle Bay. The dark river was churning with whitecaps and gray clouds were moving swiftly across the sky. We spotted eight eagles floating far overhead on the thermals. They were not interacting, but seemed to be enjoying their high solitary flights.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/12 - Queens, New York City: This evening a young sperm whale washed up and died on the beach at Breezy Point.
- Dave Taft

[The short summary is that this young male sperm whale was a dependent calf, likely a newborn based on the size (4 meters). There were no signs of trauma or congenital defects. The cause of its death remains a mystery. Kimberly Durham, Riverhead Foundation.]

2/13 - Turkey Point, HRM 100: The ice on the Hudson was finally starting to break up and was no longer just a ribbon of broken ice in the channel. Since the onset of the extreme cold, I have not seen any eagles for several weeks. Today I spotted 13 common goldeneyes and 27 common mergansers swimming in the open channel. Busily darting among several feeders were songbirds including downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, a common flicker, pine siskins, house finches, goldfinches, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, juncos, white-throated sparrows, tree sparrows, mourning doves, and cardinals.
- Ellen Kalish

2/13 - West Point, HRM 52: One morning the body of a fawn appeared in the sparse bushes behind an on-campus parking lot. First came the sharp-eyed crows, fearless and organized. With one scout perched in a nearby tree, the others could safely peck at the soft parts and be ready to fly with the passage of a jogger on the sidewalk. Then came the ravens, normally shy and seldom seen so closely; hunger has made them brave. Overnight a fox came to dine. Her tracks came up from the culvert where she hides under the softball field, up our driveway, over the retaining wall, and straight to the carcass. By morning, the body was little more than the hide and a few bones. To this came three black vultures to pull at the scraps. The black vulture is a relative newcomer to the northeast. Brave, perhaps brazen, these fellows perched on the rib cage, quarreling, and feeding; unconcerned with the comings and goings in the nearby parking lot. It looked like the Serengeti, but the scene played itself out 10 feet from the bumper of my parked car.
- Christopher Pray

2/13 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: A swarm of turkey vultures came from out of nowhere and began circling over our heads, flying quite low. At the same time we spotted two adult bald eagles soaring high up in the vividly blue sky. We tried to focus on the eagles but the vultures kept blocking our view. Despite the turkey vultures, we were able to follow the flight of the eagles as they rose higher and higher in the sky and finally disappeared.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Dianne Picciano

2/14 - Milan, HRM 90: The crows were exceptionally agitated this morning which drew my attention to the meadow on my property where I managed to get a very good look at a fisher. The escape was rather erratic and I was able to watch the fisher for several minutes as it fled through the varied terrain and cover of the meadow. I had noticed tracks previously that led me to believe that a fisher was in the area.
- Frank Margiotta

2/14 - Cheviot, HRM 106: After the recent warmer air temperatures, a lone adult eagle returned this morning and perched in a nearby nest. Within fifteen minutes another arrived and sat in an adjacent tree. A few minutes later they were both sitting on the nest. Perhaps love was in the air today on Valentine's Day!
- Jude Holdsworth

2/14 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: I was walking along Old Post Road in mid-morning when I heard a red-shouldered hawk "kakking." This was answered by more "kakking" close by as the male of the local red-shoulder pair flew in and landed in a sugar maple. He sat there for a few minutes then took off again calling loudly. I looked for the source of the more distant cries and saw the female perched on the cross on top of St. Paul's Church. The male landed in a maple behind the church. They called back and forth for a minute until the male flew over to the female, then back to the tree near the church and all was quiet. In early afternoon we had a small flock (12-20 birds) of pine grosbeaks busy feeding on the cones of a very old Norway spruce.
- David Lund

2/14 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I have been reading all about the eagles that have been spotted in the lower Hudson Valley. The river has been pretty much frozen over in the Capital area where I live, so we went to the Norrie Point Environmental Center. We spotted one adult bald eagle sitting a piece of ice sticking up where the barges go through. I did notice the large blocks of ice that had broken up in the channel and was reminded that this was once an area where the ice industry flourished.
- Roberta S. Jeracka, Peter Sinclair

2/14 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I heard a familiar call in the lawn on the north side of the point. It was a killdeer, which seemed very early. There were a half dozen immature eagles sitting on a partially submerged sandbar in the bay west of the railroad trestle. It must have been a good fishing spot as they didn't want to leave despite the rising tide, preferring just to lift their wings each time a wave rolled in.
- Stephen M. Seymour


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