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Hudson River Almanac April 3 - April 10, 2009

OVERVIEW

Every reach of the river seems to have its own special and often unique signs of spring. It is not uncommon to find them linked, reminding us of the ecological connection between the air, land, and water. This week northern gannets returned to Sandy Hook and the Lower Bay of New York Harbor. Their appearance tends to correspond to the arrival of springtime fish migrants such as herring, shad, and Atlantic mackerel, prime forage for the gannets, and signs of spring for many coastal areas of the Northeast.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/9 - Saugerties, HRM 102: The resident osprey pair is back and this time they are building a nest, not on the channel marker across from the lighthouse where they often perch, but in a treetop a few hundred yards up Esopus Creek. This looks like the real deal, not the false starts we've seen in past years. I watched this morning as one of the osprey made repeated trips with materials to add to the nest.
- Patrick Landewe

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/3 - RamsHorn, Greene County, HRM 112.2: As I paddled my kayak from the river into the RamsHorn creek at high tide I kept flushing a group of ducks. It wasn't until I got to a quiet backwater that I finally got a closer look. They turned out to be eight wood ducks, seven vibrantly-colored males vying for the attention of one hen with her teardrop-shaped eye marking. Let's hope one of the wood duck nesting boxes placed stream side will be home for some baby woodies.
- Fran Martino

4/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was only a small observation, but it certainly said spring: I saw my first earthworms of the season today.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/4 - Green Island, HRM 153: It was an early afternoon high tide and the river was up in the trees. I've rarely seen it so high. Water rushing over the dam from Adirondack meltwaters was nothing less than a torrent. A strong, gusty northwest wind blowing whitecaps across the water pushed a few ring-necked ducks along the shore where they struggled to stay in the eddies formed by the whirling current.
- Tom Lake

4/4 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: Yesterday, near a pond in Rhinebeck, I saw a falcon that was too small to be a peregrine and too big to be a kestrel. I think it was a merlin.
- Phyllis Marsteller

4/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The ground was white with snow when I got up today, but by afternoon it had melted off.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/5 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 85: It was a beautiful spring afternoon for a walk at Esopus Meadows. As we arrived we were treated to the sight of a little brown bat winging around the parking area, taking advantage of early season insects. Along the trail we came upon a garter snake. The peepers were still peeping but the wood frogs were quiet, perhaps done quacking for the season. We found evidence of spring in the leaves and buds of Dutchman's breeches, trout lily leaves, and some flowering rock cress and round-lobed hepatica (both white and blue forms).
- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

4/5 - Town of Wappinger: It seems like we tucked them in for the night (the eagles in NY62). Light had faded as the sun set over the hills of Orange County. The female was settled deep down in the nest with only the top of her white head showing. The male was perched in the crown of a huge sycamore a couple hundred feet away. Earlier, when the male was out fishing along the river, I took the liberty of inspecting the area around his roost tree and discovered that it also has been a feeding perch. The head of a large white catfish (foot-long?) was in the grass under the tree. This is typical of the male: he eats the good parts and shares the rest.
- Tom Lake

4/5 - Wallkill, HRM 57: It was a mild spring day, sunny and warm. We were walking along the rail trail in Wallkill when a red-tailed hawk swooped down from its perch on a rail-side pole. It seemed to us that it was about to land on our heads. Instead, undaunted by our presence, the hawk landed on prey on the other side of the trail. It then brought its catch to a tree along the trail where it fed on what appeared to be a mole. A feast for the hawk and a feast for our eyes!
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

4/6 - Town of Wappinger: Sometime between last light yesterday and first light this morning, we had a hatch in eagle nest NY62. Mama was up and about the nest. Papa, in his perch not far away, was similarly anxious. So far it is only circumstantial evidence; we will not know for sure until a small fuzzy head (or two) pops in a couple of weeks.
- Tom Lake

4/7 - West Park, Ulster County, HRM 82: At 11:15 this morning we received word that a kayaker had found a dolphin carcass on the west bank of the Hudson River in West Park. It is likely that this was the offshore bottlenose dolphin which eluded us around Thanksgiving. (See Hudson River Almanac, November 26, HRM 92.)
- Kim Durham

4/8 - Sandy Hook, NJ: This has been a "gannet week." They are wonderful pelagic, albatross-like birds, bigger, faster, and whiter than gulls, agile diving hunters of fish, mostly herring locally. They showed up by the hundreds on the bay side of the Hook two days ago, tracking schools of fish and diving in such profusion that one observer said it looked like a waterfall of birds. The wind was northwest at 25 knots, just about the birds' favorite conditions. Today it is calm; it's more a scattering of gannets here and there, swooping low. It appears they haven't found the fish yet.
- Dery Bennett

4/9 - New York Harbor, Upper Bay: The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation reported that a 30-40 foot-long humpback whale was seen in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor inside the Verrazano Narrows. After a while it left New York Harbor and was last seen in the waters off Coney Island. (See March 5, 2009, for another humpback whale in the New York Bight).
- Rob DeGiovanni

[A springtime presence of marine mammals in the lower Hudson estuary and New York Harbor, from whales to dolphins to porpoises and seals, is not unexpected. Beginning in late March, schools of herring and shad migrate from ocean waters to spawning grounds in the Hudson River. These are prime forage for these marine mammals. Tom Lake.]

4/10 - Saugerties, HRM 102: From the Saugerties Lighthouse Trail I spotted a pair of osprey briefly mating on their nest atop a dead deciduous tree along the south bank of Esopus Creek. It was a remarkable sight considering that this represents the first documented breeding of osprey in Ulster County in the 59 years the John Burroughs Natural History Society has been compiling bird records for the county.
- Steve M. Chorvas

4/10 - Staten Island, New York City: I headed out to Great Kills Park to see the two long-eared owls Ranger Kathy Garofalo excitedly reported she'd seen last evening. As so often happens with owls, I did not see them. But unlike the usual disappointment that follow this kind of outing, nature was generous, and was out painting the world with grand sweeps. A growling, angry, rainy day with low cloud cover darkened the entire sky making the fishermen, and everything else, fluoresce. I looked up to see a huge ultra-white northern gannet fly past, no more than 50 feet away, closer than I'd ever seen one before. With binoculars I could count the feathers on its apricot colored head. Then another flew past, and as I closed in on a nine-gannet count, I realized that they must be coming from further out in the harbor. I counted no fewer than 725 gannets floating, flying and hunting all over Crooke's Point. When they began to hunt, it was like being on a nature documentary. The large birds flew up and folded into torpedo shaped projectiles, their black tipped wings flowing gracefully behind them. Several bobbed up with fish; one struggled to swallow a herring. Another looked as if it had a small mackerel. I watched this show for almost an hour, absolutely spellbound. I also had my first laughing gulls today, a pair of phoebes, a pair of hermit thrushes, and three loud oystercatchers.
- Dave Taft

[Northern gannets are a goose-sized seabird nearly always seen over the ocean, rarely venturing inland except to breed. They are birds of the cold North Atlantic, with breeding colonies in the far northeastern Canadian Maritimes. They dive like pelicans or osprey when feeding, and although I have seen some apparent sloppiness, author David Sibley describes their entry as "piercing the water" with a minimum of splash, like an Olympian executing the perfect dive. Tom Lake.]

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