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Hudson River Almanac March 27 - April 3, 2009

OVERVIEW

The seasons were teetering on the brink. Winter was hanging tough in the High Peaks while migratory fishes and birds were arriving in the lower Hudson Valley. Spring flowers were slowly emerging and the world seemed poised to erupt into the sights, sounds, and fragrances of spring.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/27 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: Everything was covered with dew and the ground fog hadn't burned off yet, pretty typical for this time of year. Heading to work I saw the sun just starting to burn through at the Bear Mountain traffic circle. Taking advantage of this was the local squadron of black vultures that roost in the area. They were perched on the big traffic signs with their wings outspread, drying them off for a day of flying, and were getting some pretty odd looks from my fellow commuters. When there were only a couple of black vultures they used to hang around with the turkey vultures. Now that there numbers have increased they have formed their own group.
- Scott Craven

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/27 - Delmar, HRM 145: My signs of spring are wood frogs and a chorus of peepers. Last week at Five Rivers Environmental education Center I heard a few scattered voices, but today they were in full chorus, in spite of a bright sun and air temperatures in the 50s.
- Dee Strnisa

3/27 - Town of Wappinger: There was such a heavy fog at first light that calling it such was based on the time of day more than any actual light. There was a silhouette in the crown of a sycamore a hundred feet east of the eagle nest (N62). Papa was in his night roost. Mama was head-down in the nest, incubating, asleep.
- Tom Lake

3/27 - Orange County, HRM 60: I've been doing weekly checks at a couple of vernal pools in the new Orange County Park at Barron Road and Route 17K for initial signs of amphibian breeding. Today was the first time that I heard wood frogs singing at the pools, and also spotted mole salamander spermataphores and one spotted salamander egg mass. Game on, at last! I also saw a few fairy shrimp in the pools.
- Bruce Friedmann

3/27 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Wood ducks seemed to be in every puddle, bluebirds in every sunny glade. Another wave of kestrels came in yesterday on the south wind.
- Christopher Letts

3/27 - Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: I saw a mourning cloak circling my garden this afternoon, the first I've seen this spring season.
- Barbara Morrow

3/28 - Columbia County, HRM 118: We walked down to a beaver pond not far from our house. There was quite a spring chorus: spring peepers and wood frogs calling, intermixed with red-winged blackbirds and common grackles. A barred owl added a few notes, which was a little surprising in the middle of the afternoon. We stepped around coyote scat and snapping turtle nests dug up by predators to get to the pond itself. We sat on the pond margin and watched male wood frogs only ten feet from us calling and moving around. No fewer than 500 were in view, although we did not attempt to count them. Every once in a while a new frog would swim from the shore out into the pond. That would start a brief flurry of activity until the frogs determined that it was just another male.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

3/28 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: I spotted a river otter in the mouth of Esopus Creek at the lighthouse dock early this morning. The otter was beneath the corner of the dock and immediately submerged and swam away before resurfacing fifty feet away. It swam around in the mouth of the creek, diving and resurfacing for several minutes until I lost sight of it. This sighting was a year to the day from the otter I saw last March in the same place.
- Patrick Landewe

3/28 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 78: I woke this morning to hear that the phoebes have returned, calling "phee-bee" back and forth in a duet. The male goldfinches were beginning to return to yellow plumage, a lovely sight. They are still monopolizing my sunflower seed feeder in very large groups.
- Kathy Kraft

3/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM67: What a remarkable season this has been for winter finches: redpolls, crossbills, and pine siskins, the latter a major presence this year. The pine siskins were still here in numbers and have continued to dominate the feeders although the goldfinches were beginning to issue some challenges for the perches.
- Tom Lake

3/28 - Constitution Marsh HRM 52: There were signs of spring everywhere on this warm day. A pair of house finches spent a good part of the morning investigating the Christmas wreath still hanging on the front door of the house, and apparently debating its merits as a potential nest site. After lunch, we moved the wreath to a shutter on a side window, which only postponed the finches' evaluation for perhaps a half-hour. Later, while sitting outside during a brief sun break next to a beautiful, fully-opened, pale whitish-purple crocus, I was watching a pair of red-tailed hawks circling about together when I noticed a small yellowish-white butterfly, about half again as big as a spring azure, flying quite strongly about the yard. This is the first butterfly I've seen this year.
- Mary Charbonneau

3/28 - Constitution Marsh HRM 52: This was the first day we found young eels in our fyke net in Indian Brook. We set out the net on March 24 as part of the glass eel monitoring project. Our eel numbers were humble compared to what the Ossining High School students have found at Furnace Brook in Westchester County, but after months of preparation and coordination, we were quite happy to catch our very first glass eel in the net, especially since this is our first year participating in the project. Today's catch was 6 glass eels, 2 elvers, 14 banded killifish and one tessellated darter, and a whole lot of macro-invertebrates, like Gammarus amphipods.
- Rich Anderson, Mary Charbonneau, Pete Charbonneau

3/28 - Highland Mills, HRM 50: I heard spring peepers for the first time today. Almost every little pool of standing water resonated with their broadcasting.
- Alan Groth

3/28 - Manhattan, HRM 3: Crocuses were coming up, showing flowers, in plantings and tree pits all around the West Village in Manhattan. Then I heard a robin for the first time in the garden of Saint Luke's in the Fields, on Greenwich Street.
- Thomas Shoesmith

3/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This evening the skies cleared a bit and soaring overhead were three turkey vultures, the first of the year, followed shortly by a merlin zipping by, yet another first. We still have no wildflowers blooming, nor any frogs singing, but perhaps these will be early firsts this year as well.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/29 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: Tonight I heard spring peepers for the first time this season. Though there are still a few small piles of snow left at the end of my driveway, and ice along the edges of Cooper Lake, the voices of the peepers makes me feel that spring has finally arrived in the Catskills.
- Reba Wynn Laks

3/29 - Town of Wappinger: I was in my blind watching the eagle nest (NY62) when a severe thunderstorm swept across the river shortly after 8:00 PM. With a sky full of dark clouds and no moon, it was as black as it gets. Heavy rain fell with long and loud bolts of lightning. At every flash, a tall sycamore tree momentarily lit up and I could see Papa in his night roost, water streaming off his huge yellow beak, his white head like a brief beacon in the black of night. Mama was huddled in the nest keeping her eggs warm and dry. Later, after the night had settled, a screech owl began to call. The owl, the eagle, and I were pleased that the deluge had passed.
- Tom Lake

3/29 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Even as the early morning mist and fog shrouded our wooded hillside with an eerie, mysterious aura, there, just above the treetops, the dark sinister-looking form of a turkey vulture glided out of the gloom and into view. When it saw me, it veered away to the north, searching I am sure for a thermal to carry its broad wings higher aloft than our 350 feet above sea level.
- Ed Spaeth

3/30 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard and saw my first flock of Canada geese five days ago, and another batch went over this morning in the rain, ice and snow. As I stood in the yard, the wind whipping the snow into a horizontal blizzard, I heard a sound that gave me pause. "No," I thought, "it can't be! It's too soon!" The bird making the noise was silhouetted against the sky, so I could not see it well. Taking a chance, I went inside to get my binoculars. When I returned, the bird was on the birdfeeders, and the binoculars proved my ears were correct: a bluebird! I checked my bird arrival checklist and the earliest I have seen bluebirds in Newcomb is 22 April. This is just a bit too early. We had over a half-inch of rain over the weekend and at last this has made the Hudson rise. All the ice is now gone so it looks more like spring conditions.
- Ellen Rathbone

3/30 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: We put a fyke net in the Fall Kill today to study juvenile eel migrations. While we were waiting for Poughkeepsie High School and Dutchess Community College students to show up, we mucked around in the shallows with a dip net, and came up with a strange mottled fish that looked like a killifish but wasn't; it was a 4-inch central mudminnow. We also spotted a number of white suckers, both drab females and salmon-pink-striped males.
- Chris Bowser, Brittany Burgio

[We have two species of mudminnow in the Hudson River watershed, the eastern and central mudminnow. They are small, 2-4 inches long on average, and look something like killifish (they are often found within schools of banded killifish and mummichogs). However, mudminnows are not common and they are not minnows. Taxonomically, they are placed between the pikes and the smelts. Tom Lake.]

3/30 - Constitution Marsh HRM 52: We had a much smaller showing of eels today (one glass eel in the fyke net, and one elver in an "eel mop"). However, we were surprised to also find three fish eggs, probably white sucker, in the eel mops, a collection device set upstream from the fyke net in Indian Brook.
- Eric Lind and Mary Charbonneau

3/30 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: There was lightning, thunder, and hail last tonight. This morning, although the sun was mostly shrouded, spring was still here. One of my andromeda bushes was in full bloom; that seems early, but the bees will be happy. I spotted chives up in the garden and that makes me happy. The azalea right outside the kitchen window was covered with tiny buds, each showing a little tongue of the sweet pinky lavender color of its flowers to come. Little goldfinches were still crowding out all the other birds at the feeder as they have been doing for the past week. I hope they stay and nest.
- Robin Fox

3/30 - Croton Point, HRM 35: After a couple of warm days and an inch of rain, the daffodils were blooming from Ossining to Furnace Woods. Swarms of tree swallows swirled in the misty rain over Croton Bay.
- Christopher Letts

3/30 - Ossining, HRM 33: The day after the thunder and hail storm. At midday the river was covered with whitecaps from the high winds. Due to the clouds drifting about in the blue sky, the river took on a two-toned aspect: dark bluish-gray in some parts and an aqua blue in areas where the sun reached. At first no birds could be heard over the din of the winds blasting through the tree branches, but then the unmistakable cooing of a mourning dove and the sound of a red-winged blackbird reminded me that spring had definitely arrived.
- Dorothy Ferguson

3/30 - Sandy Hook, NJ: For 27 consecutive years, on the last Monday in March, we have celebrated the return of the Sandy Hook ospreys with an all-day bird species count and a squid and spaghetti supper. Eight of us counted 54 species (our lowest count has been 42, highest 78). We blame the low count on extreme northwest winds to 30 mph that kept most small birds huddled in the weeds. There was a big flock of swallows that we couldn't pin down, many cowbirds, a notable absence of waterfowl, and small numbers of early migrants. At dusk, we did get to witness the charming mating song and dance of woodcock. Then it was seven pounds of squid topped off with chocolate pudding.
- Dery Bennett

3/31 - RamsHorn, HRM 112.2: A first-of-the-season eastern phoebe showed up today. There was also a new butterfly species for the sanctuary, a Compton tortoiseshell, along with several eastern commas and mourning cloaks. The tortoiseshell, an over-wintering species, is listed as rare to uncommon in New York State. One of our regulars, a fisherman, saw a pair of northern pike spawning at the bridge at the RamsHorn Sanctuary.
- Larry Federman

3/31 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Three wood turtles, two familiar old males and a new female, were enjoying the late afternoon sun along a stream near Hyde Park. Two box turtles were just emerging from their hibernacula, crusted in dirt, blinking in the light.
- Jude Holdsworth

3/31 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Twenty-four hours after setting our fyke net in the Fall Kill, our team from Poughkeepsie High School found four glass eels and one large elver. This early in the season, the glass eels were incredibly transparent
- Chris Bowser, Brittany Burgio, Regina Willis, Veronica Thompson, Annie Wood, Tyrek, Cheyenne, Amanda, Leah, Jaleisha

3/31 - Town of Wappinger: In what is typical of most of the Hudson River tidewater eagle nests this spring, incubating was still in progress. A good guess is that many are within a week of hatching. As I watched from my blind in midday, I could hear a barred owl calling a few hundred yards away near the edge of the river. This was the second instance in a few days of a barred owl vocalizing during the day (see 3/28, Bob and Kathy Schmidt).
- Tom Lake

3/31 - New Paltz, HRM 78: At lunch time in bright sunny conditions there was a bat foraging over the marsh behind our house.
- Steve Stanne

[These nocturnal creatures must have gotten day and night switched around today. Barred and sometimes great horned owls will occasionally call repeatedly in the middle of the day. However, it is unusual to see a bat foraging at midday - perhaps a sign of stress and low fat reserves near the end of a long winter torpor. Steve Stanne.]

4/1 - Denning's Point, HRM 60-59: On a walk to the tip of Denning's Point, I was treated to the sound of spring peepers the entire way.
- Henriette Poehlmann

4/2 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: The daffodils were out and the forsythia were showing a glow!
- Bill Drakert

4/2 - Ulster County, HRM 78: On five separate occasions while traversing the fire lines in Minnewasksa State Park along the Fly Brook and Stony Kill, assessing possible restoration opportunities for the lines, our group flushed a ruffed grouse.
- Kevin Grieser

4/2 - New Windsor, HRM 60: I stopped by to watch ring-necked ducks, a pair of mute swans and a pair of common mergansers on Brown's Pond [Silverstream Reservoir] yesterday.
- Betsy Hawes

4/3 - Norrie Point Environmental Center, HRM 85: Driving in to the Margaret Lewis Norrie State Park on the way to work this morning, I was greeted by a large group of wild turkeys in the open field adjacent to Route 9. The group, called a rafter, was comprised of roughly 20 birds, several of which were toms. These males were busy strutting their stuff, vigorously displaying for the hens, who appeared to take no notice whatsoever of their antics. Spring is here indeed!
- Laurie Fila

4/3 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: I was driving south on Route 9 near Locust Grove this morning when suddenly a ruffed grouse flew in front of my windshield and banked sharply to avoid the next car. I think the bird made it to the side of the road and the woods. I sure hope so. It was certainly a surprise!
- Anne P. Strain

4/3 - Town of Wappinger: At first light, all was still: the air, the river, even passage over the wet grass came without sound. There was no activity at the eagle nest (NY62). The male had already left his night roost in the big sycamore - first light to an eagle is far different than for us. The first blackflies, very early this year, were making pests of themselves. Although I was at a considerable distance, shielded in a shrubbery-blind, the female knew I was there. Through the scope I could see her turn and peer over the rim of the nest at me. Satisfied that I was uninteresting, she went back to incubating.
- Tom Lake

4/3 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: While watching a male bluebird checking out the nest box up the hill from my study, I noticed a brownish flycatcher a bit further up the hill, flying off a fence-posts and low branches for insects. When I got my glasses on it, the bird turned out to be an eastern phoebe. Last summer, they nested in the shed, but I don't remember seeing them this early.
- Michael McKenna

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