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Hudson River Almanac April 26 - May 2, 2009

OVERVIEW

This was a week of record high air temperatures and the blooming of flowers almost as we watched. Spring seemed to be racing up the river as dogwood gave away to lilac, and shadbush seemed to have been lost along the way. The valley was reaching peak migration with river herring, warblers, and the first hummingbirds.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/29 - West Park, HRM 82: Evening was a quiet time in the woods. As we walked along a woodland trail we noted a subtle but stunning display of wake-robin or trillium as well as some sessile bellwort pushing up through the leaf litter. At another stop, jack-in-the-pulpit was ostensibly preaching in their muted way to the woodland creatures. With these hidden floral treasures, I'm reminded me the naturalist John Burroughs, who walked these woods many years ago. He wrote of the correlation of birds and flowers to the advance of spring in his book Wake-Robin: "But each stage of the advancing season gives prominence to certain species, as to certain flowers. The dandelion tells me when to look for the swallow, the dogtooth violet when to expect the wood thrush, and when I have found the wake-robin in bloom, I know the season is fairly inaugurated. With me this flower is associated, not merely with the awakening of Robin, for he has been awake some weeks, but with the universal awakening and rehabilitation of nature."
- Erin Murphy, Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/26 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had our first dragonflies today: common green darners. This is about a month earlier than the usual first sightings I receive.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/26 - Minerva, HRM 284: This morning the spring sounds of a swamp sparrow, black-throated green warbler, wood thrush, and black-and-white warbler were heard in the woods around our wetland. This evening, with the air temperature in the mid-60s, the peepers were gearing up for an amazing chorus of intensive jingle bells, the kind of sound that clears out your inner ear. The peepers were first noted on April 18, when a few of the little frogs were tentatively making themselves known. There was nothing tentative about this evening's peepers. Also of note, a pickerel frog with its short snoring sound began to call. Red-winged blackbirds and our American bittern rounded out the swamp sounds.
- Mike Corey

4/26 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 60: The air temperature reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

4/26 - North Salem, Westchester County, HRM 44: I was on a bike ride 30 miles east of the river when I heard American toads singing, a thousand "Carusos" performing on a dark mud stage.
- Eric Lind

4/26 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 38.5: We caught a 24" juvenile Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River sloop Clearwater's otter trawl just east of Grassy Point. This beautiful fish stayed just long enough for us to take many pictures, give it a kiss, and send it back into the river.
- Brian Mohan

4/26 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 92 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

4/26 - Queens, New York City: Shadbush, first noticed four days ago, was in full bloom at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
- Dave Taft

4/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We have had our first dandelions in bloom. But other than coltsfoot, that is all the color we have so far. We are easily a month "behind" what is considered a typical spring.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/27 - Glens Fall, HRM 208: It was a sweltering 95 degrees, and humid! Flowering crabs and plums were blooming in yards in Glens Falls.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/27 - Saratoga County, HRM 177: While spending the morning botanizing in Skidmore Woods, I came upon my favorite, wild ginger, but also found dwarf ginseng, crowfoot (buttercup family), assorted violets, trout lily, wood anemone, hepatica, leatherwood (a neat shrub), spicebush and shadbush.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: Yesterday, just outside our bedroom window at 4:45 AM, barred owls created a cacophony of noise for almost an hour. Tonight it started again, minus one owl, mercifully shorter this time allowing us some sleep. Pine siskins continued at the feeders but the flock of fifty a few weeks ago was now down to four birds.
- Bill Lenhart, Donna Lenhart

4/27 - Town of Wappinger: After nine years of watching the bald eagle pair interact as they rear and fledge eaglets from their nest (NY62) it has been easy to become personally involved but never easy to watch a failed nesting season. Mama was in the nest today for a few hours, poking around, for reasons only she understood. It appears that either the eggs did not hatch or the hatchlings did not survive. Eagle experts tell us that they do not feel remorse over this, that they will try again next year, and in that I can find some solace.
- Tom Lake

4/27 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught my first two carp of the season today from Long Dock. The largest fish weighed 10 lb. 6 oz. and the other about 5 lb. Both were released. A fisherman came in, one of a dozen boats fishing out near the channel, and said that he had caught a 20 lb. striped bass.
- Bill Greene

4/27 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 60: The air temperature reached 98 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

4/27 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Two days of over 90 degree weather wilted the daffodils, parched the new grass, but plumped the lilac bud-heads. They almost smell like lilacs. The first monarch butterfly of the season fluttered by for a look this morning and then double-checked the swelling blossoms this afternoon.
- Robin Fox

4/27 - Westchester County, HRM 27: The air temperature reached 93 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

4/28 - Olana to Poet's Walk, HRM 112 - 96.5: Prairie, blue-winged, and yellow-rumped warblers were around the pond at Olana. A blue-gray gnatcatcher and a Baltimore oriole were at the Clermont State Historic Site (HRM 103.5). Poet's Walk yielded tons of bluebirds, yellow-rumped warblers, Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks, kestrel, towhees, and a possible scarlet tanager. The last bird was too small to be a cardinal, did a swift shot over a field and got lost in the trees on River Road.
- Mimi Brauch

4/28 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: As I was cleaning out the garage, I heard a loud chattering outside. I looked out expecting to see a squirrel, but it was a gorgeous Baltimore oriole. Brilliant orange color splashed brightly, the oriole flew up from my flowering quince bush across the driveway to the bright coral of my other quince. He continued scolding and then sailed off to a distant tree.
- Joanne Engle

4/28 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 60: The air temperature reached 95 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

4/28 - Fishkill, HRM 61: I saw the first goslings of the season today, as well as two male Baltimore orioles in the yard this evening, no doubt hastened north by the warm weather.
- Stephen M. Seymour

4/28 - Fishkill, HRM 61: The woodland flowers were ablooming! Marsh marigolds have spread like a green and yellow carpet on our wooded hillside. Bleeding heart, Dutchmen's breeches, Virginia bluebells, sessile bellwort, and bloodroot were also in bloom. Our trillium would have been blooming but a deer must have eaten it. Various ferns were pushing their fuzzy heads above the leaf litter. The dogwood and redbud trees have burst out in color while the showy blooms of the lilac have released their pleasing aromas in the air as well.
- Ed Spaeth

4/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34: A pied-billed grebe was in Croton Bay this morning. I spotted two dowitchers, wading bird usually found along the coast, far out on the tide flats. But they were too far out to tell if they were short-billed or long-billed dowitchers.
- Tom Lake

4/29 - Green Island, HRM 153: While this has to be one of the premier spots on the river to catch American shad on rod and reel in spring, today was not one of those days. In midday the tide was low, the water was calm, and every instinct told me I could have left the rod in the truck. There were fish around, however. Small schools of river herring, probably alewives, would dash into the shallows every few minutes. Out in the current, a dozen double-crested cormorants were catching all the fish they wanted. The inshore shallows, warmed by the sun as well as the collective heat of the last few days, were 59 degrees F, about five degrees warmer than usual for the end of April.
- Tom Lake

4/29 - Albany, HRM 145: The last color of the shadbush was fading away and the first of flowering dogwood was taking its place.
- Tom Lake

[This has been a strange spring for shadbush. The woods have been unusually colorless. Since 1994, from early April in Bergen and Westchester counties to early May in the lower Adirondacks, this wildflower has been a dependable indicator of springtime advancing up the estuary. Shadbush tends to be recognizable by the white glow it gives off when in bloom, a softer, hazier white than dogwood. In bloom, at a distance, it also tends to have a vertical aspect; dogwood in bloom seems more horizontal. Tom Lake.]

4/29 - Catskill, HRM 113: I was fully intent on looking for herring in the shallows of Catskill Creek when a shadow passed over the water. I looked up to see an osprey wheeling overhead. As I watched the "fish hawk" hunt, I realized what a wonderful view he had from that vantage in the air.
- Tom Lake

4/29 - Germantown, HRM 108: My sister and I were headed out Roundtop Road in Germantown in late afternoon when she spotted a fox. It crossed right in front of our car and stood in a field so we could really see it - a gray fox!
- Mimi Brauch

4/29 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: We put the feeder out yesterday and had a ruby-throated hummingbird arrive this morning at breakfast! Last year the first one arrived on May 2.
- Fran Drakert, Bill Drakert

4/30 - Ulster County, HRM 97: My white trillium was blooming away, keeping company with the bleeding heart. Now I'm expecting the cranberry I transplanted from my Adirondack cabin to makes its appearance soon.
- Peg Duke

4/30 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: There was a male ruby-throated hummingbird at the nectar feeder this morning, and it's still April.
- Phyllis Marsteller,

4/30 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: I'm sure there is a list somewhere of signs of spring, dominated by personal favorites that bring the season into focus. One of many that I hold dear occurred today, standing in tidewater as alewives bounced off my legs heading upstream. Yet, I'm still only seeing them in pairs, twos and threes, not the small schools of spawning adults from previous years.
- Tom Lake

4/30 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: It was nearing low tide at midday and half of Cornwall Bay was dry. There were acres of stickups, deadfalls, and exposed sand spits. On a long, narrow sandy expanse, an adult bald eagle was walking in circles as a small fish flopped between his feet. A second adult, possibly a female, came down off Sloop Hill and joined in. It looked like a pair. The male neatly sidestepped and allowed the female to feed on a small striped bass.
- Tom Lake

4/30 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 38.5: The good luck must be following in Clearwater's wake, because today we caught a 14" Atlantic sturgeon in our trawl. We also found a 3" lined seahorse. Both of these fish were uncommon catches, the sturgeon being protected due to a diminishing population, and the seahorse being a saltwater fish that rarely ventures this far upriver.
- Brian Mohan

5/1 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: It was a baptism of the season. While watching students at Clearwater's Tide Line Discovery program, I fell into the activity at hand. We were asked to write a haiku using something found at the river's edge. Minutes later I actually fell into the river thanks to a flat rock that tilted sideways. Moments before that I had written: River, I have come home. You cost me nothing but my life. Take me. I am yours.
- Betty Boomer

5/1 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: Glass eels were present in my fyke net, but in modest numbers, not like the incredible catches seven miles upriver in the Fall Kill or thirty miles down river in Furnace Brook. The flowering dogwood was full bloom and lilacs were nearly there. The water in the brook, heading to the Hudson was 56 degrees F.
- Tom Lake

5/1 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: I spotted an adult bald eagle perched on a branch overlooking the creek.
- Kathleen Kourie

5/1 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The beach plum was out in all its glory.
- Dery Bennett

5/2 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: There was a substantial number of large spawning white suckers in the stream, mostly hiding in the deep pools, but every once in a while one would flash its red-black-white striped side. There were also five strings of yellow perch eggs stuck on the rocks, evidence of a successful spawning run. The most disturbing thing I saw was the first shed exoskeleton of a Chinese mitten crab this year. Last year we found 130 in the Saw Kill. On the way out, I noticed a large hatch of small black caddis flies along the stream. They were running all over the rocks along the shore. They were gathering in clumps in some spots, each containing several dozen individuals. Most of them were mating. This is the first time I noticed aggregations of these insects.
- Bob Schmidt

5/2-Milan, HRM 90: On Kentucky Derby day I had the trifecta of red at my feeders: rose-breasted grosbeaks, red-bellied woodpeckers, and ruby-throated hummingbirds. While refilling the thistle feeders, female goldfinches were nearly perching on me in anticipation. They fluttered their wings much the same way I have seen young birds beg for food from their parents.
- Marty Otter

5/2 - Esopus, HRM 87: For the past three days we've had frequent visits at our feeder from a dazzlingly handsome male rose breasted grosbeak. This afternoon there were two of them. Several pairs of purple finches have stopped by as well. On the ground below the feeder, white-throated sparrows kept on chicken-scratching and singing their wistful song. They may be leaving soon but I wish they would stay.
- Kathryn Paulsen

5/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The Dutchess Community College field archaeology class finished their excavation for the season, salvaging information from an ancient Hudson River-side encampment before it eroded away into a backwater sediment trap behind the railroad. Six inches down in a meter-square unit, Nancy Mejia uncovered a Bare Island spear point that had not seen the light of day in four millennia. It brought chills to us all.
- Stephanie Roberg-Lopez, Tom Lake

[Like Poplar Island (see 4/11), Bare Island is not the name of an Indian tribe. For several centuries, about 4,000 years ago, people living in the Northeast made a series of stone points that archaeologists have stylistically-labeled the "narrow-stemmed" tradition. These included other forms such as Lamoka and Sylvan-stemmed (named after a Sylvan Lake site in Dutchess County). Like Poplar Island, Bare Island is named for its type site in the lower Susquehanna River of Pennsylvania. Tom Lake.]

5/2 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: This was our first shad bake of the season, and the longest running. We have been celebrating the return of American shad to the estuary for 25 years and this was year 23 for the Alpine-Englewood shad bake. In the beginning, this event featured commercial fisherman Ron Ingold and his shad nets set just a few hundred feet offshore from the park in Englewood - fresh fish from the river to the revelers. Ironically, the lilacs were in full bloom days before our first shad bake. The traditional shadbush-magnolia-dogwood-lilac series of blooms heralding the various stages of the shad run appears to have lost its significance due to fewer fish and a shift in the seasons. Lilacs used to signal the end of the shad run. With diminishing coastal shad stocks, the ecological cues no longer seem to apply.
- Andra Sramek, Christopher Letts

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