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Hudson River Almanac March 20 - March 26, 2009

OVERVIEW

Each Hudson River Almanac year covers vernal equinox to vernal equinox, a natural year. We began on the vernal equinox of 1994 and have been an ongoing forum for capturing defining moments of the seasons through volunteer entries and observations ever since. Year sixteen of the Hudson River Almanac began on March 20, 2009. On a personal note, your compiler usually makes a pilgrimage to the Hudson's Adirondack headwaters for the start of spring, but this year was different. With nineteen SUNY Dutchess Community College students, I stood on the equator in Ecuador on the equinox, GPS latitude 00.00'000". Facing east, extending our arms, and feeling the blending of the hemispheres, we had one hand in the first day of spring and the other in the first day of autumn.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/26 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We ventured out at 9:00 PM to see the annual migration of spotted salamanders. The night was perfect for the movement of woodland pool species, it being above 40 degrees and after the first real rain of the season. We made our way down the road moving salamanders to one side or the other and stopped when we reached the vernal pool. It was still slightly frozen and we saw wood frogs and spotted salamanders gliding along the ice looking for an entrance. Around the other side the pool was not frozen, and hundreds of male spotted salamanders were swimming around.
- Rebecca Houser, Brian Houser, Laura Heady, Fran Dunwell, Lia Natzle

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/20 - Northumberland, HRM 161: I had a unique opportunity to watch a small but strong vortex form over the Hudson River just above the Northumberland Dam today. It was about 25' in diameter and was drawing sprays of water up along the path of its circumference. As it eventually moved over land it drew leaves and debris over 200 feet in the air. A large red-tailed hawk was roused from its perch and flew into the center of the vortex and stayed there practicing aerial maneuvers until the phenomena dissipated. The resulting waves on the river were fascinating and lasted for some time.
- John Guyer

3/20 - RamsHorn, HRM 112.2: Several vernal ponds contained calling peepers and wood frogs today.
- Larry Federman

3/20 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: First day of spring and a cold snap arrived to chill us. Frost was still in the ground. Richly-colored fox sparrows pursued their gleanings in the brightly crocus beds and robins minutely inspected the lawns and gardens. It was spring no matter what the temperature.
- Christopher Letts

3/20 - Manhattan, HRM 4: I was standing next to the Hudson in Riverside Park South at the end of the 64th Street pier watching brant geese, when a brown mammal with a long tail swam right by. By the time I got my camera out, it dove down and didn't resurface. I've read that muskrats can stay submerged for more than 15 minutes.
- Leslie Day

3/20 - Brooklyn, New York City: It was only an hour into spring this morning and we had snow falling. Heavy, thick flakes fell for at least an hour or two on the Belt Parkway to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. In the shadow of a dense tree, a newly arrived flock of robins must have been surprised at the turn of the weather in only a few days.
- Dave Taft

3/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This morning I discovered that my tulips (and maybe daffodils) are up about 3-4 inches. I also found, as I walked across the frozen snow to refill some bird feeders, that my pussy willow has fuzzy catkins already out on the branches the deer didn't nail. That took me a bit by surprise!
- Ellen Rathbone

3/21 - Cheviot, HRM 106: Ring-necked ducks seemed to be everywhere. I spotted about 200 on the river at Cheviot and another 50 on the pond next to my house in Germantown.
- Mimi Brauch

3/22 - Germantown, HRM 105: In late afternoon I watched a northern harrier fly over a field in Germantown.
- Mimi Brauch

3/22 - Croton River, Putnam County: With several other walkers along the East Branch of the Croton Reservoir, we spotted a bald eagle a quarter-mile north of the dam. He was soaring high above but the white head and tail were clearly visible. The reservoir has been drained to kill the algae, and the fish are probably concentrated in the area just above the dam. We also saw several painted turtles sunning on the grass sedges in an isolated bog, being entertained by a chorus of peepers. Spring is here!
- Betty Brosius

3/23 - Schenectady County, HRM 145: Last week there were still ice fishermen on Mariaville Lake in Duanesburg. Today as I passed, the ice looked "iffy" and a pair of Canada geese was standing on it, perhaps waiting for it to melt. I guess we're all ready for spring.
- Dee Strnisa

3/23 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I counted 15 snow geese in northbound flight over the river this morning.
- Mimi Brauch

3/23 - New Paltz, HRM 78: The spring peepers loudly arrived in full force today, a little later than in the past five years or so. This year I didn't hear any soloists leading up to the show. A joyous chorus always enjoyed!
- Bill Murray

3/23 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: The red-headed woodpecker that has been visiting Stony Kill Farm for more than 2 months was undaunted by today's morning temperature of 27 degrees F. It was seen flying between a large butternut and another tree near the corn crib at the southern end of the farm. A farm worker told me that the bird has been feasting on the corn by eating the heart out of the kernels that he takes to a tree for extraction. Other woodpeckers were nearby as well - a pair of downies as well as a red-bellied - but the red-headed took the best-dressed award. He was stunning in his attire -black and white formal wear with a red top hat. Matchless!
- Ed Spaeth

Contributor Profile: When we began the Hudson River Almanac in 1994, we consciously decided that our journal would focus on the 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. Ed Spaeth is another one of the very few who has been in our pages from the first days in 1994. Tom Lake.

From an early age, I have been interested in the natural world. Although raised in the urban setting of Yonkers, it was the vacant lots through which I walked to school or where I played, the old Croton aqueduct, Nepperhan Creek and, of course, the Hudson River that held the most interest for me. These were places where we could explore our interest in nature's bounty. What's this flower? What's that critter down by the brook? What is that different bird? Why are the Palisades the way they are? Questions always needing answers. Later, I became a librarian always wanting to finding the answers to those and other questions. Even today, in retirement, no matter where I am, I want to know about the natural world about me. There is always something new and interesting in its rich diversity. For me, it has always been a sustainable, inexpensive and pleasurable hobby.
- Ed Spaeth

3/23 - Orange County, HRM 40: Hiking up the Appalachian Trail in Unionville at 7:00 AM, I do not know who was startled the most, me or the woodcock that was nesting in my path. In seven years of hiking that particular area every morning with my dogs, this is only the second woodcock I have ever seen.
- Ann Reichal

3/23 - Brooklyn, New York City: I can recall Kings Plaza from before it was either a plaza or intended for "kings," so I was rather surprised as I stopped for a light at the corner of Flatbush and Avenue U to see three perfect turkey vultures circling over the plaza. A sign of economic hard times? It seems to me that I am seeing more vultures in New York City. They were once such an uncommon sighting.
- Dave Taft

3/23 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Pretty much on schedule, the first osprey arrived at noon today. It was spotted on its platform nest doing minor house cleaning and generally making it clear that the only other osprey welcome there was its mate. They split up in the fall and migrate south separately, then return to the nest and go through re-socialization. We expect about five other pairs will nest on Sandy Hook, but this nest in Spermaceti Cove is the first occupied each spring. It is probably also the prime location, being closest to the water. We will celebrate the osprey's return at the 28th annual Squid and Spaghetti supper the last Monday in March. Ospreys guarantee spring's arrival.
- Dery Bennett

3/24 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: A couple of white-throated sparrows that looked as though they flew right out of the pages of my field guide joined the crowds at the bird feeder. They're quite lovely looking and eager feeders as well. The many little goldfinches fluttering about have begun to "eclipse" - their olive-gray bodies are now streaked with sunshine as their breeding colors appear.
- Robin Fox

3/24 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: We put our fyke net in Furnace Brook with several students from Ossining High School. Our goal: to monitor the migration of tiny juvenile "glass" eels, as they entered the tidal tributary. I cautioned the students that we were starting several weeks earlier than last year and that the water was still very cold (48 degrees). Undaunted, they pounded fence posts and slogged through mud so that we could capture data around this week's new moon.
- Chris Bowser and Brittany Burgio, along with Laura Hellmich, Heidi Hellmich, Dara Ilowsky, Liz O'Hanlon

3/24 - Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: Red maples were in full flower in the native forest at The New York Botanical Garden. As I was walking along the main trail, I also saw a thrush foraging on the ground among the leaves and fallen branches. I think it was a hermit thrush, but I find spotted thrushes confusing.
- Barbara Morrow

[The hermit thrush is the first of the "spotted" thrushes - as opposed to robins and bluebirds - to appear in spring migration, arriving in late March and early April. A few individuals overwinter in the Hudson Valley each year. Steve Stanne.]

3/24 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We have tied off and sunk a plastic trash can with holes punched in the sides and different sizes of PVC pipe inside, from the Coast Guard dock on the bay side of the Hook in about 15 feet of water. We call it a "Fish Condo" and hoist it up periodically to see what is using it as habitat. Today it was populated with the usual cunners (bergalls) and one new (to us) species, a four-inch-long oyster toadfish, a bottom dweller, also called oyster cracker or sally growler. Adults are renowned as territorial nesters with a variety of vocalizations, whistles and grunts.
- Dery Bennett

3/25 - Amsterdam, The Netherlands: "On Saturday the five and twentieth of March, 1609, after the old Account, we set sayle from Amsterdam; and by the seven and twentieth day, we were downe at the Texel: and by twelve of the clock we were off the Land, it being East of us two leagues off."
- Robert Juet, first mate of the Half Moon

This date marks the beginning of the voyage that brought Henry Hudson to this region 400 years ago. In this Quadricentennial year, we will occasionally include excerpts from Robert Juet's journal of the Half Moon's voyage. His journal is the main source of information about the trip; only fragments of Hudson's records remain. The New Netherland Museum has posted a transcription of Juet's journal in its entirety at http://www.halfmoon.mus.ny.us/Juets-journal.pdf

3/25 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: From Esopus Lighthouse Park on River Road this evening, as first reported by Mark Dedea, I could see that a tufted duck continued to hang out with the raft of several hundred ring-neck ducks and scaup. Bonus sightings included two dozen canvasbacks, many buffleheads, half a dozen common mergansers, and a pair of horned grebes, almost in breeding plumage. The tufted duck was just hanging out on the surface, while all around it the ring-necks and scaup were diving and poppin' up!
- Larry Federman

[The tufted duck is a close Eurasian relative of the ring-necked duck and a rarity in New York and the northeast. Steve Stanne.]

3/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The year of the "winter finches" continued as reports of white-winged crossbills, common redpolls, and pine siskins persisted. Our thistle feeders were jammed with pine siskins, arriving in waves, dozens feeding with many more waiting their turn.
- Tom Lake

3/25 - As the temperature rose above 50 degrees on this partly sunny afternoon, an eastern phoebe started singing like crazy from a perch between Indian Brook and the nature center at Constitution Marsh. Eric had seen the first phoebe at the marsh this year on 3/13, but that bird was not singing.
- Eric Lind, Mary Charbonneau

3/25 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: Just 24 hours after setting the fyke, there were 75 glass eels, fresh from the sea, in the net.
- Chris Bowser and Brittany Burgio, along with Laura Hellmich, Heidi Hellmich, Dara Ilowsky, Liz O'Hanlon

3/25 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The pine siskins were still at my feeders.
- Jane Shumsky

3/25 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The big flocks of Canada geese were noticeably gone except for a few that are paired up. But the brant were still here in force and will be until late May when they head north. Twice, recently, I have seen a flock of about 80 brant feeding on grass in a nearby field. Both times, they formed an almost perfect circle, not just its circumference, but a solid, filled circle of brant. The Canada geese walk and feed more randomly.
- Dery Bennett

3/26 - Town of Wappinger: As last light flickered out over the hills of Orange County, the silent darkness of the new moon, the maple sugar moon to the Algonquian people, fell on the eagle nest in the tuliptree (NY62). Mama was still incubating and Papa was snug in his night roost 100 feet away in a huge sycamore.
- Tom Lake

3/26 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: I got a text message this morning: "134 glass eels." It seems that my concern of it being "too early, too cold," was unfounded.
- Chris Bowser and Brittany Burgio, along with Laura Hellmich, Heidi Hellmich, Dara Ilowsky, Liz O'Hanlon

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