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Hudson River Almanac March 12 - March 19, 2009

OVERVIEW

Winter has ended and, for many of us, not a moment too soon. Although most of us actually love winter, by March we are ready for a change. There is something seductive about the coming of spring, with longer days, returning birds, nesting eagles, and a sense of rebirth in the air.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/19 - West Point, HRM 52: Late this afternoon, on the last day of winter, I heard distant calls. Then, high up, I spotted a skein of about 100 snow geese. They were flying north drafting each other in ever changing versions of their "V" formation - a passing flurry. Soon the calls grew faint and the snow geese were fast fading out of sight like winter itself.
- Bob Kakerbeck

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34: This area is especially rewarding for walking these days, with each day yet another sign of spring: red-winged blackbirds singing, skunk cabbage emerging, snow drops in bloom. I was delighted to see at least nine pair of green winged teal. They are quite stunning.
- Jane Shumsky

3/12 - Manhattan, HRM 0: In mid-afternoon, 25 students and 4 teachers from Corlears School stepped off the Ellis Island ferry back onto Manhattan. As we wandered through Battery Park toward the playground we happened upon a wild turkey! The students noticed it first. We watched the turkey walk around for a few minutes and it did not seem to be bothered by us. We speculated about how it got there and wondered where it slept and what it ate.
- Bonnie Levine

[There have been reports of a wild turkey in this park since 2004. Tom Lake.]

3/12 - Long Beach, Nassau County: As I walked my dog I could hear a squawking that sounded like parrots. I spotted two large, green-colored parrots flying from one tree to another. They appeared to be building a nest in a tall pine tree. They broke off twigs from a nearby leafless tree and flew over and disappeared into the top of the pine.
- Bob E. Geis

[These were probably monk parakeets. Native to South America, monk parakeets escaped from the pet trade and began nesting around New York City as early as 1968. Unlike other parrots, which nest in cavities, this species constructs a stick structure that can house a single nest or be a larger complex with a dozen or more separate chambers. Steve Stanne.]

3/13 - New Paltz, HRM 75 - The signs of spring have been increasing in frequency and urgency of late: large mixed flocks of blackbirds are being seen daily; cardinals and eastern bluebirds are singing; displaying woodcocks have been a delight, kestrels are returning to the area; and robins have increased dramatically in number from the wintering few to the migrating multitudes.
- Christine Guarino

3/13 - Gardiner, HRM 73: Pine siskins were still making little pigs of themselves at my feeders but they will likely depart soon. A group of four migrating red-tailed hawks had my resident red-shouldered hawks in a tizzy. As the small kettle of red-tails circled in a thermal the pair of red-shoulders, who have recently returned to set up shop, started screaming and swooping about in a fit of agitation.
- Christine Guarino

3/13 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: Spring is everywhere: The doves are cooing, the chickadees are singing "fee-bee," the nuthatches and titmice are calling loudly, our own red-winged blackbird males are staking out their territories and shouting "cherreeee," the early crocus have had visiting honeybees, the first few spring peepers have been heard, and the Canada geese are paired up. I haven't heard a robin singing yet to show he's home for the season or seen a crow carrying a stick, but those signs can't be far ahead.
- Betsy Hawes

3/13 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: Looking skyward in mid-afternoon on a bright, sunny, and chilly day, I noticed a most unusual sight: a crow flying in hot pursuit of a bat. They spiraled upwards together until the crow tired of the chase, leaving the bat to beeline it away at a high elevation. Although we will never know exactly why that bat found itself in such a predicament, it may be an unwelcome omen for the arrival of whitenose syndrome in the Hudson Highlands.
- Ed McGowan

3/13 - Upper Bay, New York Harbor: An egg-bearing female Chinese mitten crab was caught in the lower Hudson River at Jersey City by a dredge fisherman. Since 2007 we have encountered juvenile and adult male and female mitten crabs in freshwater tributaries and the mainstream Hudson throughout all seasons. This is the first mitten crab reported in 2009 and it is the missing link: confirmation of natural reproduction in the Hudson River.
- Mark DuFour, NYSDEC Environmental Analyst

3/14 - Selkirk, HRM 138: I heard the unmistakable call high overhead of geese. I looked up, way up, and spotted a V formation heading north. Although it was very high to the point where I could barely see them, the calls were clear - when they were out of sight I could still hear them. They could have been snow geese, the timing was right.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

3/14 - Wallkill, HRM 69: I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw an adult bald eagle perched high in a tree beside the pond on Old Mill Street in Wallkill. The pond is a small treasure tucked behind some woods off of Route 32 near the Orange and Ulster County border. I always scan the pond for waterfowl and herons on my daily commute, but I never expected to find an eagle.
- Sharon Gambino

3/14 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: As I walked toward Steamboat Dock I spotted a robin in a field. A sign of spring? As a cold wind blew, the bird looked as unsure as I was.
- Becky Makelainen

3/15 - Wallkill, HRM 69: While driving along Old Reservoir Road in mid-afternoon, we noticed a small mink in its dark brown spring coat slip into a small brook that parallels the road. We soon lost sight of it as it became obscured by some tall grasses. It had no prey in its mouth.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

3/17 - Minerva, HRM 284: Spring was on its way. I heard my first flock of red-winged blackbirds this morning, resting in the woods behind our house. They were noisy and frisky. We still have two plus feet of snow on the ground, so any daffodil possibilities are a few weeks away. Three days ago I started my annual maple sap collecting. I have three buckets out and have collected around four gallons at this point. I think it's going to be a pretty good year for syrup in the Adirondacks.
- Mike Corey

3/17 - Hudson, HRM 118: I was paddling in my little red kayak on St. Patrick's Day when I spotted a cormorant on top of the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse. It seemed much larger than the double-crested cormorants and appeared to be guarded as it continued to flit back and forth as I paddled around the lighthouse toward Middle Ground Flats. When I was out of reach, it settled back on top of the lighthouse. It was a great day for the Irish and perhaps a great day for a great cormorant.
- Fran Martino

[The great cormorant, also called the European cormorant, is a nearly cosmopolitan species that winters on the lower Hudson. Great cormorants are, on average, a little larger than the more common double-crested cormorant. In Europe they have been described as a "goose-sized reptilian water-bird" They breed along the coast from Newfoundland south into Maine.]

3/17 - Columbia County, HRM 119: It was threatening to shower and, since it has also been quite warm, we decided to look for amphibians. The rain never happened but we still found a small number of wood frogs, spring peepers, and spotted salamanders in Hillsdale. It was strange to see them on a completely dry road.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt, Margot Boucher

3/17 - RamsHorn, Greene County, HRM 112.2: Bald eagles are nesting near the RamsHorn-Livingston sanctuary. Spring peepers and wood frogs were calling in the vernal pond off the main trail just beyond the parking lot.
- Larry Federman

3/17 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: Our first coltsfoot was showing. It seems early.
- Bill Drakert

Contributor Profile: When we began the Hudson River Almanac in 1994, we consciously decided that our journal would focus on flora, fauna, and natural history rather than people. However, since some of our contributors have become such astute and long-term observers, we profile a few of them from time to time. Bill and Fran Drakert are among a few contributors who have been a part of the Almanac from the beginning, more than fifteen years. Tom Lake

We moved to Ulster County from Westchester in 1992. I had long been interested in the natural world and the Hudson Valley, and for years walked many trails in the area, usually accompanied by our dog. By the 21st century our dog had died and my knees told me walking was no longer a good option so most of my activity now is very local and just backyard birding. I would love to be able to walk in my favorite "Gunks" again! Still, any day you are vertical at my age is a good day. Keep the Almanac going, we both read it.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

3/17 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I was enthralled by the sound of several peepers, braving the still-frozen pond water.
- Susan Maresca

3/18 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: There were red-winged blackbirds at the feeders this morning, a most welcome sign of spring.
- Susan Maresca

3/18 - Manitou HRM 46.5: The bird feeders and the ground surrounding them were filled this morning with goldfinches, pine siskins, downy woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows, chipping sparrows, song sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, juncos, a pair of cardinals, a single hairy woodpecker and a couple of morning doves. A young sharp-shinned hawk appeared and everyone scattered. The hawk sat in the rose-of-Sharon bush (10 feet from the feeders) until the birds slowly started coming back, with only his eyes moving from one feeder to the others. The pair of morning doves flew in to the area and the hawk seized the moment, taking one of them. But he caught it from behind, didn't have a good grip, and was then in for a good fight from the dove. But in the end, the sharpie had a good meal. The birds will have lots of feathers from my yard to line their nests this spring.
- Zshawn Sullivan

3/18 - Staten Island, New York City: The day was just too perfect to end with paperwork, so Ray Matarazzo of the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences met me for an afternoon walk. The woods in this northern Staten Island park were rich and beautiful. At 66 degrees we knew spring had arrived, but even without the budding trees and shrubs, the signs were abundant. We counted no fewer than six garter snakes on a south facing slope, each still so cold you could touch them without much reaction. We also counted seven mourning cloak butterflies variously sunning and sucking whatever minerals mourning cloaks suck from mud in spring. The best sighting of the day for me was the many honeybees actively pollinating skunk cabbage of all things! As I listened to them actively buzzing in each spadix, I took my annual opportunity to sniff a skunk cabbage. And again, this year concluded - as I have for many years now - that they smell horrible. Considering the stench from these beautiful but weird "flowers," they have simply got to be the only things flowering. Why else would a honeybee try to brew honey from them?
- Dave Taft

3/18 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Yet another sign of spring: this morning the commercial fishermen from nearby Belford started driving poles into the bottom of Raritan Bay. They will hang netting from the poles and end up with a fish trap, called a "pound." Then, in about two weeks, they will start their season for most any fish that inhabit the bay until November: winter flounder, summer flounder (fluke), bluefish, weakfish, scup (porgies), and bunker (Atlantic menhaden). More signs of spring: Canada geese are pairing up, a killdeer arrived late last week, day lilies have pushed out of the ground, and a woodcock was spotted flying across the road at dusk. The large rafts of greater scaup that dominated the bay side of Sandy Hook a year ago skipped us completely except for half a dozen of these ducks here and there. There has been one osprey fly-by; Sandy Hook nesters are not due until around March 25.
- Dery Bennett

3/19 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: Late this afternoon, a kettle of nine turkey vultures were circling over Staatsburg. They circled in a tight formation, 30 feet in diameter, as they gradually rose higher into the air. After they'd risen a few hundred feet in 10 minutes, they reached cruising altitude and dispersed, four to the northeast, four to the southeast, and one to the west.
- David Lund

3/19 - Staten Island, New York City: Ranger Kathy Garofalo had just commented to her supervisor, Phil Melfi, as we drove to the Great Kills harbor, that she had only seen a seal in New York City once despite many efforts. We pulled up to the bulkhead to try to find the female harlequin duck that has been reported at the park for a few weeks. I saw what looked like the rear end of a duck sink silently under the water. Training my binoculars on the spot, to my surprise, when the "duck" resurfaced it was a watery-eyed harbor seal looking straight at us. The three of us must have been a little too excited for this drizzly, quiet day at the park. The seal resurfaced once more, wrinkled up his nose at us, and was off.
- Dave Taft

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