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Hudson River Almanac April 11 - April 17, 2009

OVERVIEW

In the last 13 years, we have gone from none to perhaps as many as 25 bald eagle nests along the tidewater Hudson. As they have become more numerous, they have become more difficult to protect. Many are located on private land, and landowners have granted the NYSDEC access for nest monitoring. The status of this permission can be tenuous, however, when the curious arrive uninvited in landowner's yards.

The best of intentions can cause major consequences with adults rearing nestlings. They will abandon their young if they feel sufficiently threatened. Those of us who monitor eagle nests do so at a discreet distance, at a range tolerated by the birds and usually inside a blind with a spotting scope.

Only a couple of the nests ever receive mention in the Almanac, yet all are the scene of remarkable springtime activity. We resist the urge to tell all their stories but at the same time we help ensure that they will not be harassed by the curious. No one wants to believe that their bird-savvy, stealthy, up-close-and-personal nest visit might cause irreparable harm. But they do, with both the landowners and the eagles.

Seeing eagles has become a year-round opportunity; it is possible to encounter one almost anywhere at any time. Bald eagles are protected by federal law, but it is important that we take individual responsibility for leaving the nests to the eagles and respecting their need for privacy, as well as maintaining our trust with the landowners.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/17 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: I checked out the fiddler crabs today. Seven years ago they established a small colony with just a few holes at the north end of a catch basin in the Edgewater Commons Mall. In subsequent years the colony grew to several thousand holes visible from end-to-end of the catch basin. The basin is filled and drained with the tides through a two-foot pipe that lets in logs, pilings, beams, plastic bottles and crates and other flotsam that impedes the flow in and out. This has resulted in the gradual buildup of silt, growth of grasses, and destruction of the crabs' habitat. A modern variant of classic succession! Today there is much dry or nearly dry land in the basin and a stalwart few fiddler crabs are occupying perhaps 100-150 holes at the north end, just barely hanging on by their tiny claws.
- Terry Milligan

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/11- Town of Poughkeepsie: Our Dutchess Community College field archaeology class began their spring exploration of the Hudson Valley's deep past today, surveying a shoreline that is disappearing through erosion. One of the students found a red slate projectile point (small spear point) that had tumbled down out of the hillside. It was a Poplar Island point which we could date (relative dating) to about 4,000 years ago. The students were in awe of such an ancient artifact created and used in the Hudson Valley more than 3,000 years before European settlement.
- Stephanie Roberg-Lopez, Tom Lake

[Poplar Island is not the name of an Indian tribe. For several centuries, about 4,000 years ago, people living in the Northeast made small stone spear or dart points that archaeologists have stylistically labeled "Poplar Island," named for its type site in the lower Susquehanna River of Pennsylvania. These native people were mobile hunters, gatherers, fishers, and foragers. Other than analyzing their stone tools we know very little about them. The dating of ancient stone artifacts is tricky business. For projectile points ("arrowheads") we often rely on the accuracy of radiocarbon dating of organic material found in association with the stone tool to arrive at an approximate date. Tom Lake.]

4/11- Columbia County, HRM 118: This evening we were serenaded by a male yellow-bellied sapsucker that was using our metal 911 sign as a sounding board. Maybe he will attract the female that was hanging around our feeder most of the winter.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

4/11- Queens County, New York City: Bloodroot was just opening its flowers in a small city park this morning. It was blooming later than a group of them I'd seen on Staten Island in a similar city park just four days earlier. Those plants were wide open and probably spent by now, in the way that all bloodroot blooms "happen." They are an ethereal plant with a mystical name - how does the reddish sap make for such pure white flowers?
- Dave Taft

4/11 - West Hurley, HRM 95: While searching for some worms as aquarium food in the lower Esopus Creek watershed, I lifted a log and spotted a beautiful marbled salamander about four inches long. A few clicks on the computer told me that Ulster County is the general northern limit of this species in New York.
- Chris Bowser

4/12 - Norrie Point , HRM 85: I stopped by on Easter Sunday for a walk in a cold blustery wind. From the bridge on the old road I saw a mink foraging along the Indian Kill. He looked up at me, made eye contact, and then entered the water. Swimming under the bridge, he emerged on the other side and then resumed his tour along the bank. At least he was warm in his mink coat!
- Jude Holdsworth

4/12 - Monroe, Orange County, HRM 46: Easter Sunday morning I was surprised to see a flock of bohemian waxwings near my front door, eating the berries off my holly bushes. It was a wonderful sight. I am 100% certain that these birds were bohemian waxwings, not cedar waxwings. I've seen them in Canada but never in this area before. Robins were here most of the winter surviving on the same berries.
- Irv Lake

[The bohemian waxwing is a bird of the far north and a winter rarity in the Hudson Valley. We received a mixed response from the birding experts that we asked about this observation. Some felt they must have been cedar waxwings, others viewed the sighting in the context of a season that saw extensive reports of uncommon numbers of winter finches (I have had common redpolls at my feeders for the last week). Honest inquiry should not be taken as a sign of disbelief; however, when something out of the ordinary occurs, it is best to ask questions. Tom Lake.]

4/12 - Nyack, HRM 28: A single roe shad was in Robert Gabrielson Jr.'s herring gill net overnight. With the dwindling number of commercial fishermen on the river, it has become increasingly difficult to calculate the arrival date and the strength of the run for American shad and river herring.
- Tom Lake

4/12 - Sandy Hook, NJ: I watched a strange, non-aggressive ballet featuring two crows and a sharp-shinned hawk. They bounced back and forth between a scrubby evergreen and the ground, one-to-one and two-to-one. But there was never a tussle and they made no sounds, almost as if they were showing off different ballet moves with none of the displeasure usually displayed during such an encounter.
- Dery Bennett

4/13 - Beacon, HRM 61: In late afternoon, as I was packing to leave without catching anything all day, I finally saw my first carp "splash and crash" of the season. It gave me some hope because I'm still looking for my first one of 2009. Last year I didn't get my first carp until April 18, when I actually got 4, a day when the air temperature reached nearly 80 degrees F. Bait fishermen at the end of the pier were picking up an occasional small bullhead today, but there was no action with striped bass.
- Bill Greene

4/13 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: Although many studies have shown a strong correlation between glass eel migration and spring tides, so far the elver fyke net at Furnace Brook in Westchester County has been all over the map. Perhaps the recent full moon exerted a delayed reaction from the tiny migrants: this evening the net yielded 302 glass eels!
- Laura Hellmich, Dara Illowsky, Chris Bowser

4/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Our first osprey of the season glided over Croton Marsh, its shadow passing over 60 nervous green-winged teal foraging on the tide flats.
- Christopher Letts

4/13 - Brooklyn Heights, New York City: I've spent years driving a shortcut under the Brooklyn Promenade past abandoned warehouses and ruined piers. I've spent even more time on the promenade, staring at the river flowing past the Battery. Beyond these warehouses, rusted chain link fences, and barbed wire, the river meets the harbor or the sea ascends the river. The old piers and waterfronts are being renovated into parks now and I cannot wait to drive in, not past them, soon. I envy the children who will know this lower river so much better than I have.
- Dave Taft

4/14 - Delmar, HRM 143: A group of students studying biomes at Hackett Middle School in Albany came out to the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center to take a tour of one of our ponds on a beautiful warm spring day. I showed them turtles I had for a program that morning and then went out for a walk. Plants were scarce, but the animal life was abundant. Mallards, geese, red-winged blackbirds, and squirrels were all over. One panhandling goose came right up to us and was much photographed. Standing at the edge of the pond to get a good look at basking painted turtles, one of the girls called out "beaver," as a muskrat dove into the bank under their feet.
- Dee Strnisa

4/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: While I consider my self a pretty sound sleeper, there must be something about owls that registers in my unconscious. For the last two nights, the soft calls of barred owls ("Who cooks for you?") have brought me awake just after midnight. There is something hauntingly serene about the call of owls that surely comes from understanding them. In the superstitious years of my youth in Beacon, I can remember that the nighttime voice of owls would trigger a call to the fire company who would respond with their tall ladders to be climbed by men with shotguns to roust the owls away. All the while neighbors would huddle under the street lamp and talk about how owls calling at night are a presage to death, a foreshadowing of doom. I always felt sorry for the owls.
- Tom Lake

4/15 - Minerva, Essex County, HRM 284: A walk to the swamp-pond in the back of our property yielded up a few fun things. The song sparrows were back and I heard red-winged blackbirds off in the distance. The snow pack in the woods was pretty patchy, with up to a foot in some areas, clear in others. Our American bittern was back, out in the leatherleaf and brown sedges making that weird, truly unique, bad plumbing call. Last year's twig growth on the red-osier dogwood and red maples had taken a beating from the wintering white-tailed deer. The water of a ponded area was about a quarter open now; it was frozen over five days ago when I watched a pair of geese wandering around on the ice looking slightly bewildered. My backyard, stovetop maple sugaring operation has yielded close to a quart of syrup for me. A banner year and it continues!
- Mike Corey

4/15 - Greene County: On this date in 1997, after a hiatus of 100 years, a pair of bald eagles had a successful hatch along Hudson River tidewater. Here is the brief but exciting entry describing that long-awaited moment:

"The adults [bald eagles] had been incubating continuously since March 12. Darcy Misurelli, a full-time nest monitor, had spotted an adult bringing a fish into the nest yesterday. Today we observed feeding, indicating a hatch had occurred! At 12:59 PM, an adult again flew into the nest with a large fish. Only three more months to go to see if we finally fledge a bald eagle from a Hudson River nest."
- Pete Nye

4/15 - Cheviot, HRM 106: This morning I saw the first breeching carp of the season. Its large golden body caught the sunlight as it rose up out of the river and flopped back in with a splash.
- Jude Holdsworth

4/15 - Milan HRM 90: For several days, two barred owls have been "talking." They start in mid-afternoon and continue for about an hour, and then again at night. The closest one seems to be in the same tree, although I haven't seen it. The other is too far away to get a fix on. The brown bat that likes to make the spot over my front door his daytime home is back. I have tried to convince it otherwise with mothballs hung in a mesh bag - to no avail. I guess I lose. Now, if it would only wear a diaper.
- Marty Otter

4/16 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: With help from Poughkeepsie High School, Marist College, and Dutchess Community College students we caught our highest number of glass eels yet at the Fall Kill. There were 110 in the fyke net and 10 in the eel mops!
- Brittany Burgio

4/16 - Beacon, HRM 61: As I walked along Fishkill Avenue near Groveville, I could see the dark forms of several turkey vultures in the air and a clear view of the peaks of Mount Beacon in the distance. Looking closer I could see even more turkey vultures with wings outstretched on their roost of construction rubble several stories high where once an old factory stood. All totaled, there were about 22 turkey vultures in the air and at the roost.
- Ed Spaeth

4/16 - Fishkill, HRM 61: In late afternoon, a large shadow passed over the lawn. Looking up, I could see one, then another turkey vulture drift overhead at treetop level. Shortly, thereafter, a red-tailed hawk soared in on a thermal, and then a second and a third hawk joined the thermal grouping. Two of the red-tailed hawks locked talons just 250 feet overhead. They parried back and forth in stunning choreography for about five minutes before going their separate ways. I'm guessing that there is a nest nearby and one red-tailed hawk crossed into the other's territory.
- Ed Spaeth

4/16 - West Point. HRM 48. We went to see one of the many areas I managed over my seventeen-year career at West Point - Cragston Lake, the outlet of which enters the Hudson at Con's Hook, in Orange County. The Cragston area was originally owned by J.P. Morgan, the early 20th century financier. We were looking at the calm waters of this man-made, eight-acre lake and saw a hen Canada goose sitting on her nest, her mate keeping close watch on us. A pair of mallards was swimming on the smaller pond nearby. Painted turtles were busy sunning themselves. In the vertical crack of a large, rock outcrop, an adult male five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus) was sunning itself. This outcrop is always a good site to see skinks, as well as several snake species.
- James Beemer, Dawn Russell

4/16 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: I saw this year's first barn swallows today. This is not particularly early but there were three of them and I usually see just one on the first day so they may have arrived a few days ago. The birds seemed to be flying at each other often so I suspect there were two males and one female. I inquired to eBird about the 49 brant I saw this evening, and they thought that sighting was unusual. The brant were feeding on algae on top of two partially sunken barges and appeared to be getting ready to hunker down for the night. (The next day they were gone.)
- Terry Milligan

4/17 Mohonk Preserve, Ulster County, HRM 78: During an early evening hike to Duck Pond, I spotted a black rat snake coiled on a branch in a small tree. This was the second time I have seen a black rat snake in a tree. The first time was while hiking around a different Duck Pond in Putnam County, but both times the snakes were about five feet off the ground, coiled towards the end of branch in a small tree. While I know that black rat snakes are excellent climbers, I must say seeing a snake in a tree while hiking is a very unexpected, but intriguing, sight.
- Garrick Bryant

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