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Hudson River Almanac April 18 - April 25, 2009

OVERVIEW

Spring is the time when Hudson River tributaries come alive, from spawning river herring, eagles, osprey, and songbirds to the emergence of color from shadbush, dogwood, and a palette of wildflowers

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/21 - Kowawese, HRM 59: It was a warm afternoon with a low tide and no wind - perfect for seining. The attendees at a Warwick and Washingtonville teacher's workshop helped us haul our 80 foot net in the warming shallows (51 degrees Fahrenheit). The fish were few but all had stories to tell: spottail shiners, tessellated darters, banded killifish, and some glass eels that managed to find their way out through the quarter-inch mesh. As if the setting was not already spectacular in the shadow of the northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands, we spotted two adult bald eagles doing pirouettes over Cornwall Bay.
Every so often something occurs to remind us just how unpredictably special the estuary is: a manatee, bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, bonefish, barracuda, or other animals that are seemingly out of place. Rebecca Houser picked up a small (80 mm), freshly dead fish in the tideline. It was a juvenile spotted hake, a saltwater member of the codfish family (Gadidae), a temperate marine stray, and definitely out of place.
- Michelle Diamanti, Judy Onufer, Pam Golben, Rebecca Houser, Tom Lake

[Spotted hake can tolerate relatively low salinities and juveniles are known to ascend estuaries into brackish water. They have previously been reported in the Almanac 2001-2005, from the Upper Bay of New York Harbor to Yonkers-Alpine, river miles 0-18. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/18 - Minerva, HRM 284: The air was in the mid-50s, it was spitting rain, and I heard the sound for the first time this spring: a chorus of wood frogs in a vernal pool in a wooded area behind our home. What a great sound! The water was now 90% open. I spotted three buffleheads lurking around the edge. As I approached, the ducks took off, lifting directly from the water, circling the pond, and disappearing.
- Mike Corey

4/18 - Palenville, Greene County, HRM 109: As many people have been reporting, pine siskins have been hanging around our feeders, but today the number soared to more than 125. We have regularly enjoyed anywhere from 10-25 birds but were amazed to see this many, on the ground and in the trees, waiting for their feeding turns.
- Larry Federman

[The atypical abundance of winter finches in the Hudson Valley this year probably occurred due to the cone crop crashing up north. It will be interesting to see if some of them find suitable habitat for breeding. We should look for pine siskins around here after June, which could be an indication of nesting. We should also look for evidence of nesting by another winter finch, the white-winged crossbill, especially in northern Ulster and higher elevation Greene counties. Larry Federman.]

4/18 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The Dutchess Community College field archaeology class continued excavating an eroding ridgeline over the river before it disappears into a backwater sediment trap behind the railroad. Just a few inches below the surface they encountered a dozen or more closely associated fire-reddened, fractured rocks. In the absence of charcoal, it was likely not a hearth, but probably a dump-spot for fire-cracked rock that had been used to cook a meal.
- Stephanie Roberg-Lopez, Tom Lake

[Fire-cracked rocks are artifacts of hearths and food-processing that sometimes predate the advent of pottery in the Northeast 2,000 years ago. In place of ceramic containers in which to cook food, Native Americans would fill an animal skin bag with water as well as the food to be cooked. They would place river cobbles in a hearth until they were red hot, and then carefully drop them into the water. The heat from the rocks boiled the water and cooked the food. The red-hot cobbles contacting the cold water caused the rocks to crack or shatter. Today, as you walk along the Hudson River, particularly areas where the ground has been disturbed, it is not uncommon to find some of these fire-reddened rocks strewn over the flood plain, remnants of an ancient Hudson River Valley lifeway. Tom Lake.]

4/18 - Town of Southeast, HRM 52: Painted turtles were out in force enjoying the warmth of the spring sunshine in an isolated swamp just over the hill from the East Branch of the Croton Reservoir. I counted 20, all with shells 8-10" across, lined up on the fallen logs and nestled in the sedges. I'm sure there were more beyond my sight line. The reservoir has been drained to repair the tunnel under Route 22 connecting the East Branch with the Bog Brook Reservoir to the west. The low water levels allow the observer to see the stone walls built in the early 1800s, the locations of old roads and house foundations, and the mills that gave Old Milltown Road its name.
- Betty Brosius

4/18 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The sun was out and the temperature broke 60 degrees. I spotted a double handful of seaside sparrows along the beach acting as if they were migrating. Two of the nesting ospreys appear to be on eggs.
- Dery Bennett

4/19 - Catskill, HRM 113: We spotted an osprey on a mud flat across from Dutchmen's Landing, and later were treated to a low osprey flyover on Catskill Creek off West Main Street.
- Larry Federman

4/19 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Walking the lighthouse trail we noticed that some early spring flowers were beginning to emerge, including marsh marigold. Two mute swans were swimming in the waters north of the peninsula while on the south shore of Esopus Creek we could see just the head of an osprey in its stick nest high in a tree. Farther upland near the falls of the Sawyer Kill we saw a lone palm warbler as it flew from the ground beneath a pine tree.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

4/19 - Town of Esopus, HRM 85: On my walks to a pond at Shaupeneak Ridge, I usually keep moving, but lately I've been sitting still and watching everything else that moves. One day a bluebird perched atop a nearby stump, as if to investigate. Another time, directly in front of me, something slow and sinister moved through the water's surface. It appeared to be the head of an alligator, but I knew that it was the shell of a snapping turtle, partly exposed. Frequently it paused and raised its huge head, which looked like the end of a jagged stump sticking out of the water. It remained motionless, then submerged and resumed cruising. Music from Jaws came to mind. The snapper's movements were smooth and when it reached a log barrier, it slowly climbed out and over, then plopped ungracefully back into the water. I wonder how old it is? It seemed nearly as big as a tire. I hoped to see it catch something to eat.
- Kathryn Paulsen

4/19 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 65: In a very unusual sighting, I spotted an adult bald eagle sitting on the roof of a garage across from my front door on Osborne Hill Road. Several residents gathered to watch him. Somebody suggested that the bird may have been from a local nest.
- Carl Scalici Jr.

4/19 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Just after midday, we watched two brilliant bluebirds bickering in and out of our brightly blooming forsythias.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

4/20 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: Gwen Saylor, a Poughkeepsie High School teacher helping to monitor our collection equipment on the Fall Kill, reported an incredible 625 glass eels in the fyke net this afternoon.
- Chris Bowser

4/20 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 84: This morning we watched an osprey perched over Wappinger Creek that seemed very comfortable in a heavily trafficked area. Every now and then he would cock his head to listen to the nearby McDonald's drive-through speakers.
- Malcolm Castro, Rudy Castro

4/21 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We went to the mouth of the Saw Kill today to begin fish monitoring in the Tivoli Bays for 2009. Our herring net immediately caught a 26-inch-long male northern pike that had clearly been spawning. This is the first northern pike recorded for Tivoli South Bay. Pike in the Hudson River don't seem to spawn in the habitats that the literature predicts. Tivoli South Bay has no vegetation at this time of year and the mouth of the Saw Kill is rocky. We also caught three alewives, small males, and the first we have seen this year. On the way back we encountered two adult male brown-headed cowbirds beating each other up in the middle of the dirt road. They were rolling around on the ground and stabbing at each other with their bills. We stopped about three feet away and watched. They finally separated and flew away.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

4/21 - Rhinebeck, HRM 88: This morning four panel vans from a landscaping company kept me from my usual walk at a condo community in Rhinebeck. Company employees were spreading their version of medicine and commemorating their work with mini yellow flags warning people to stay off the grass for 24 hours because of pesticide application. Unfortunately, the application went close to several ponds where, at various times of the year, there are great blue and green herons, common and hooded mergansers, northern shovelers, and green-winged teal, among other waterfowl species. This condo community is also the location of the only sighting in Dutchess County (2002) of a Hudsonian godwit, a marine shorebird. Water from one of the ponds flows directly into the Rhinebeck Kill, which flows into the Landsman Kill and the Hudson River.
- Phyllis Marsteller

4/21 - Town of Wappinger: Today marked two weeks since a suspected eaglet hatch but the sight that greeted me at first light was not encouraging. Both adults were perched, side-by-side, in Papa's night roost, a giant beech a hundred feet from the nest. No one was in the nest. About every half hour during most of the day Mama would fly over to a limb next to the nest and peer in (forlornly?) and then fly back to the beech. While we are not ready to give up, the nest may have failed.
- Tom Lake

[Bald eagle nests in Alaska have about a 50% success rate. Hudson Valley bald eagle nests have about 75-80% success rate. Competition for habitat and resources adversely effects the Alaska success rate. Pete Nye.]

4/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: On Earth Day, Mike Tracy and Rynda McCray reported hearing wood frogs. Toby Rathbone and I did our two-mile walk past a small ephemeral pool and on the way back, even though we could see our breath and the spitting rain was fat enough that it could almost pass for snow, we could hear the unmistakable peep, peep, preeeep of spring peepers in full voice.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/22 - Town of Wappinger: Mama was back in the eagle nest at dawn of Earth Day. It was difficult to tell what she was up to, except that it appeared she was alone - a sad recognition. A dozen wild turkeys strutted around the base of the tulip tree adding a hopeful presence to an otherwise sad moment.
- Tom Lake

4/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was snowing this morning, big, fat flakes coming down furiously, if only for a few minutes.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/23 - Troy, HRM 153: We made one haul of our 50-foot seine in about four feet of water just below the federal dam at Troy and caught three adult alewives (river herring).
- Rick Morse, Bob Schmidt

4/23 - Poesten Kill, HRM 151.5: We were looking for fish for an Earth Day presentation and were using a backpack electro-shocker in the Poesten Kill. We spotted 50-70 alewives, a nice sight after years of very few river herring. Additionally, we caught an adult logperch, a type of perch common upstream in the Mohawk River, the first ever seen in this tributary. The best catch, however, was a large mud puppy, also the first ever from the Poesten Kill and not commonly seen in the Hudson River. Other fishes caught were American eel, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, white perch, white sucker, tessellated darter, and fallfish. The diversity of fishes in tributary mouths is surprising, especially this early in the season.
- Bob Schmidt, Bryan Weatherwax, Rick Morse

4/23- Lake Hill, HRM 100: There was a brisk breeze and the temperature was chilly, all the more reason for me to be very surprised at seeing the first garter snake of the season in my front yard. I had seen my first mosquito only the day before.
- Reba Wynn Laks

4/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had our first thunderstorm of the year tonight with blinding lightning.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/24 - Town of Wappinger: The eagle nest was empty. The adults were nowhere in sight. However, one of them had used the night roost for a feeding perch. Beneath the big beech were small, scattered and furry squirrel parts.
- Tom Lake

4/25 - Hudson River estuary: Twenty-nine Chinese mitten crabs were captured along the tidewater Hudson River in 2008-2009, including 14 females (30-70 mm) and 15 males (45-65). They were captured in a 75-mile reach between Haverstraw Bay (river mile 37) and Catskill Creek (river mile 113). Additionally, hundreds of sheds (exoskeletons) have been recovered. While mitten crabs have been found from Chesapeake Bay to the New York, the Hudson River is the only location where both adults and juveniles have been found, likely evidence of successful reproduction.
- Carin Ferrante, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD.

4/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It is difficult to believe that two days ago we had snow flurries. This morning it was already in the high 50s with increasing humidity. A preview of summer?
- Ellen Rathbone

4/25 - Hurley, HRM 92: While watching Orion setting in the evening sky I reflected upon the day. Earlier I had spotted three black bears running full speed across the road in West Hurley. It was an incredible sight as they would stop, and then resume traveling at full speed. I wondered if they were enjoying the summer-like conditions as much as I was.
- Jasper Fox

4/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

4/25 - Yonkers, HRM 18: On a sunny and hot afternoon, children and adults alike turned out at the Beczak Center to cool off in the river while doing some seining. We had our normal catch of white perch, striped bass, pipefish and shrimp, when something different appeared in the muddy net. To our surprise, it was a lined seahorse. The seahorse measured about two inches in length and was the first that I had caught this far upriver.
- Jason Muller

[One glance at a seahorse and it is evident how it got its name. C. Lavett Smith calls it "the marine version of a chess knight." A close relative, the pipefish, has a similar appearance. While pipefish are found as much as fifty miles up the Hudson in brackish water, seahorses seem to be confined to the lower reaches of the estuary. They are frequently seen by snorkelers - vertically oriented, their prehensile tail wrapped around vegetation or some other secure structure - swaying in the current. Tom Lake.]

4/25 - Yorktown Heights, HRM 43: While enjoying today's amazing weather from our boat on Mohansic Lake (not much success fishing yet), we were surprised and intrigued by an osprey alternately sitting atop a tall, still leafless tree, and riding the thermals rising from alongside the lake. That bird was waiting for the fish to appear as well.
- Peter Schechter

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