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Hudson River Almanac February 23 - February 28, 2009

OVERVIEW

This week's entries cover a broad range from the Adirondacks to the head of the Hudson Canyon, a distance of more than 335 miles. The topics range from a humpback whale to a harbor seal to incubating eagles.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/26 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: We were treated to a visit from 16 white-winged crossbills this morning outside our office window at the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Among them were two rosy colored males, and all were very busy. It was amazing to watch how quickly they worked through the fallen crop of hemlock cones with their bent, and yet perfectly adapted, beaks!
- Ann Murray

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/23 - Lake George, HRM 230: I saw my first robin this morning as I was driving through Lake George. It almost flew into the side of my car, but luckily I wasn't going too fast and it squeaked by. It's going to be hard pressed to find any worms under all the snow!
- Ellen Rathbone

2/23 - Stony Point, HRM 40: There were many eagles in the trees on the point this morning when I walked out to the Coast Guard station on a building check. I counted eleven, all immatures, in the trees on the water near the tip. They were sheltering from the strong north winds blowing down the river. I have seen adults daily as well, but the ratio of immatures to adults is at least 7:1.
- Julia.Warger

2/23 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: The flocks of grackles and blackbirds in the last two days made the earlier ones this winter seem tiny. This time there were hundreds, of birds, possibly thousands, creating quite a show of sounds and flights. I wondered how far they were going.
- Betsy Hawes

2/24 - Town of Wappinger: After slowly easing its grip over a few warm days, the ice was now back, the tide having drawn it down from upriver. The nest (NY62) was empty. No one was home. I scanned the ice down on the river with my scope but it was barren. I checked in the trees directly across the river, a mile away, and finally found the pair perched in a hardwood, watching me, watching them, and probably wondering if I was going to intrude on their personal space.
- Tom Lake

2/24 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: The blackbirds were back this morning to serenade the rising sun. Their number is quite amazing. Some spend the summer around here, of course, but I suspect those blackbirds may not be here yet. Surprisingly, they have not mobbed the bird feeders. Most were common grackles with a few red-winged blackbirds mixed in. No brown-headed cowbirds that I could see.
- Betsy Hawes

2/24 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: I only had time for a quick stop at Liberty Marsh near the headwaters of the Wallkill River. It was very windy and very cold, uncomfortable for me but just right for two harriers, teetering over the hummocks and hunting over the marsh. A half mile west, at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, I found the waterfowl that had lost the open water in the ice-covered Liberty Marsh. The Wallkill River is less than 100 feet across at this point but it was entirely ice-free. Upriver and downriver, as far as one could see, there were hundreds of Canada geese, as well as black ducks, mallards, coot and others too distant to identify.
- Tom Lake

2/24 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: We stopped at the overlook late this afternoon and were happy to see a pair of beautiful adult bald eagles sitting in the sun in one of the trees on the point of the peninsula. One, possibly a female (it appeared to be somewhat larger than the other) and sat closer to the water, while the other was farther back in the branches of the same tree. The surface of the river glowed in the afternoon sun and was topped with small ripples of waves. The larger eagle kept turning its head, first looking downriver and then directly at us as we viewed it through the scope.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/24 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Jason Muller was walking to our marsh at the Beczak Environmental Education Center when he spotted a bald eagle on our beach. He stopped 70 feet away and watched the eagle feast on a large striped bass. The eagle sensed his presence and looked directly at him. Jason was close enough to see the blood on the eagle's beak. He called me from his cell phone to come and see this magnificent sight but the eagle took off before I got to the scene, leaving its catch behind. We watched the eagle glide in circles above us, waiting to be left in peace to finish its meal.
- Dorene Sukup

2/25 - Town of Wappinger: This seemed like the perfect day to begin incubating eggs. There was a warm winter sun, no wind, and the nest was bathed in full daylight. Mama looked ready as she hunkered down in mid-morning. The male, Papa, did not seem to be in the area. I watched the nest through my scope from a new blind, a comfortable distance (for the eagles) away. It was not long before I could hear a "clucking" call echoing in the trees all around me, a mysterious sound that eagles make, often when you cannot see them. He was there, somewhere in the forest, watching me. It was time to leave.
- Tom Lake

[Our best guess is that 2/25 was the day the adults in NY62 began to incubate their eggs. This is about a week early for them. If so, we can look for a hatch around April 1 (hatching occurs, on average, in about 35 days). In seven of the last eight years, this pair began to incubate, on average, on March 1. The exception was March 21, their first year. Tom Lake.]

2/25 - Crugers, HRM 39: We saw something odd this morning in our back yard: four mourning doves and a male cardinal were perched in the branches of a large tree. Perched right above them, on the topmost branch, was a Cooper's hawk. Is this a normal thing? Why didn't the hawk attack the smaller birds? Eventually the hawk flew away
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

[This is something that I have often wondered about: Do raptors give off physical cues to prey as to whether or not they are hungry? I've seen eagles perch in trees within a few feet of a raft of mergansers with neither seeming to notice the other. Conversely, I've seen an entire field of snow geese take off in utter pandemonium when an immature eagle appears on the horizon. I'm guessing that the Cooper's hawk was subliminally telling the doves and cardinal, "I've already had breakfast." Tom Lake.]

2/25 - New York Harbor, Lower Bay: The Coast Guard announced that a humpback whale became entangled in a lobster pot and netting south of the Rockaways. They set up a 500-yard safety zone around the whale, which was eight miles east of Sandy Hook, NJ, near the approach to Ambrose Channel, the head of the Hudson Canyon, and active shipping lanes. The Coast Guard Cutter Penobscot Bay and a vessel from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were on the scene to protect the animal. The whale, reportedly visible on the surface and breathing, according to the Coast Guard, was described as a juvenile humpback, about 25-30 feet long.
- Jamie Collins, Executive Officer, USCGC Penobscot Bay

[Hudson Canyon: The post-glacial draining of pro-glacial lakes in the interior of New York State 12,500 years ago, and possibly even older glacial meltwaters, carved this magnificent underwater canyon that runs from the mouth of New York Harbor 120 miles seaward to the great abyss of the North Atlantic. This ancestral "Hudson River" is 3,600 feet deep and 5.5 miles wide in places. Tom Lake.]

2/26 - Milan, HRM 90: A juvenile goshawk perched for several minutes in an ash tree close to my bird feeders this morning. I had a brief look at it yesterday but was not certain of its identity. Today I had the opportunity to note the bold white eyebrow along with the other juvenile field marks. It eventually flew away into the woods, maneuvering with typical Accipiter behavior around the trees.
- Frank Margiotta

2/26 - Town of Wappinger: One of the adults was covering the eggs all day. The sides of the nest are high enough so I can only see their heads. In mid-afternoon, a Cooper's hawk buzzed the nest, flying past eye-high to the adult. That caused an immediate and sharp look from the eagle. (I love Cooper's hawks.) At last light, both adults were in the nest. I missed the actual arrival of the second one; this may have been a changing of the guard.
- Tom Lake

[The female does the majority of the incubating, perhaps as much as 20 of the 24 hours in a day. The male will relieve her occasionally so she can go off and feed. With this pair at least, almost all of the night incubating is done by the female. The male generally spends the night roosting in a nearby tree. Tom Lake.]

2/26 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: The floe ice just north of Iona Island was littered with bald eagles, dozens, mostly immatures, probably birds in migration. Hauled out in their midst was a very healthy-looking harbor seal.
- Kathryn M. Zvokel

2/26 - New York Harbor, Lower Bay: According to the New York Times, the humpback whale entangled in fishing gear was freed this afternoon. The whale, which weighed perhaps 20 tons, was freed after an entanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studies of Gloucester, Mass., cut away the gear, which was wrapped around the whale's tail.

[It is not uncommon for humpback whales to be this close to New York Harbor. Humpbacks follow a food supply of small fish and this whale was probably one of about 900 whales in a group called the Gulf of Maine feeding component of the larger Western North Atlantic whale group. Teri Frady, NOAA.]

2/27 - Town of Wappinger, Dutchess County: One of the adults has been in the nest at NY62 since first light today. That makes three days. So unless this storm that is brewing outside makes a difference, I'm thinking she began on February 25.
- Tom Lake

2/27 - Town of New Windsor, Orange County: Pairs of eagles have been building nests here (two of them) but not using them for almost a decade. This year might be different. An adult has been on this nest all day in the 60 degree sunlight and, as far as I can tell, all day yesterday since just after dawn.
-Tom Lake

2/28 - Ashokan Reservoir, HRM 92: "A bald eagle!" I exclaimed, to Gregg Lindsay. Where? Right in front of us! The adult bald eagle passed not more than twenty feet across the front of the car as we drove over the Ashokan Reservoir bridge. Almost as an afterthought I noticed the nesting material clutched in one of its talons.
- Reba Laks, Gregg Lindsay

2/28 - Milan HRM 90: Red-winged blackbirds are here in numbers; the males have arrived with their distinctive calls. The pussy willow is starting to have some catkins peaking out. Ah, spring!
- Marty Otter

2/28 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I witnessed a spectacular display of some young eagles at the mouth of the tidal Wappinger. I was fortunate enough to get some digital photos of one immature perched on a limb with a yellow/gold band number, WR9.
- Kathryn M. Zvokel

[WR9 was one of three young fledged in 2006 from a nest on the Connecticut River in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Kathryn's amazing photos showed a nice example of three-year-old plumage. Pete Nye.]

2/28 - Stony Point, HRM 40: I counted nine immature bald eagles this morning in the trees at the point at Stony Point Park; two more were flying overhead.
- Bonnie Talluto

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