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Hudson River Almanac May 11 - May 18, 2009

OVERVIEW

Our happiness at sightings of hummingbirds, butterflies, and wildflowers was tempered this week by the loss of a legendary fisherman, Bob Gabrielson. For 65 years Bob managed one of the river's largest commercial operations for shad and blue crab. Bob's incredibly rich life had a special impact on a broad spectrum of friends and admirers from students to scientists to educators. The market will feel very empty without Bob's catch.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/15 - Albany County, HRM 145: I finally took my first spring walk in the Albany Pine Bush barrens and was happy I did. The wild lupine was blooming and I saw three Karner blue butterflies, from teal to pale blue with some orange edging.
- Christine Dooley

[The Karner blue butterfly, a federally endangered species, is found in scattered localities from Minnesota to New Hampshire. In New York, they are found in certain parts of the Hudson Valley sand belt which extends from the Albany Pine Bush north to Glens Falls. Within its range, this species is restricted to dry sandy areas with open woods and clearings supporting wild blue lupine. The Karner blue is experiencing a decline primarily due to human activities such as agriculture, urbanization and fire suppression. The most intact populations remain in Saratoga County. Research is underway to develop methods of enhancing or creating habitat suitable for the Karner blue. A recovery strategy is being developed by a cooperative working group of DEC, NYS OPRHP, The Nature Conservancy, and the Albany Pine Bush Commission. For more information on the Karner blue butterfly, go to: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7118.html

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/11 - Saratoga County, HRM 170: My annual visit to the Anthony Kill heron rookery at Round Lake was a bit early for herons, but just in time for fiddlehead ferns. This year's sad news is that we lost four heron nests since last year - only nine remain. The good news is that all nests were being tended to in preparation for the birth of the young. More good news is how delicious fiddlehead ferns are on top of cheese pizza.
- Fran Martino

5/11 - Nyack, HRM 28: Bobby Gabrielson died today. A life-long Hudson River commercial fisherman and sportsman, he was 79. Bobby began fishing when he was 14 years old on the crew of a Tappan Zee haulseiner. His pay was a dollar a day and one fish. Throughout his life he graciously donated many fish and shellfish for education and research. He was a teacher, a mentor to those of us who learned the finer points of shad fishing at his side for decades. Bobby was the last of his generation to fish and crab the lower estuary from Haverstraw Bay to the Tappan Zee. He will be missed, especially in April when the shadbush blooms and thoughts of setting our nets rekindle the loneliness we feel right now.
- Tom Lake

On one occasion, with classes of schoolchildren en route to the Nyack waterfront for a program on fishing, Bobby checked the net the students were to help draw from shore. It was empty of fish. He quickly motored offshore to another net, filled a tub with fish, and hurried back to shore. There he began to stuff fish into the empty net. Looking up he saw a Nyack police officer looking down at him. There was a long silence. Then the officer spoke, "That's funny, I always thought you did it the other way around!"
- Christopher Letts

5/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our first ruby-throated hummers had arrived at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. I thought they would be arriving soon, so this morning I mixed up a batch of food, put out our feeders, and just now I saw a male checking the feeder at my window. At least they are cheaper to feed than the pine siskins and purple finches!
- Ellen Rathbone

5/12 - Hudson River Mile 115: Paddling my little red kayak south of the Hudson Athens Lighthouse brought me to two unusual sightings: Great blue herons have established a "mini" heron rookery on the power line towers on the west side of the river. Three nests were tucked on the lower levels of the towers with herons strategically negotiating turns with their wings to avoid trouble. Further south on green channel marker 129, an osprey nest!
- Fran Martino

5/12 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: It has been an interesting year for Staatsburg's red-shouldered hawks. In early April 2008, they were seen in nesting activities. This year they were spotted mating near the center of the hamlet in mid February, but there was no activity at last year's nest site. By mid-March, the old nest had fallen down. We've caught glimpses of them occasionally, usually in the woods to the south or west of town. But this week we found an ever-growing pile of fresh material at the old nest site, with the female much in evidence. Did they move their nest site, and did the new nest fail? Will they try again this year at the old nest site, or is the female just getting a jump on next year? Time will tell.
- Linda Lund, David Lund

5/13 - Athens, HRM 118: My friends and I did a short paddle on Murderer's Creek, which dead-ends at the Sleepy Hollow Lake dam. We climbed up the dam to get a view of the lake and on the way down we saw turkeys in the field. We spotted a robin sitting in a nest that was built underneath the road bridge; the bird did a perfect "freeze" as we paddled by. We had an interesting perspective from our kayaks looking at the replica of the "Half Moon" that was docked in Athens. We wished the crew a Happy Quad as we returned to the Athens boat launch.
- Fran Martino

5/13 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The song of the Baltimore oriole was everywhere; they were singing and flashing color all along the tidewater creek. A fair number of warblers were also passing through but most of them found cover in the heavy green foliage, making visual identification difficult.
- Tom Lake

[Naturalist and ecologist Aldo Leopold described the oriole's flash as "like a burst of fire." Tom Lake.]

5/13 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: While parked at the overlook watching the Hudson, I spotted a single beautiful killdeer, a seasonal shorebird, in the grassy area near the edge of the river.
- Dianne Picciano

5/13 - Tarrytown, HRM 27: When we first started out along the trail on the Saw Mill River Audubon walk in Rockefeller Preserve, two young deer ran across our path. Shortly thereafter, a coyote loped across not far from us. Despite the unseasonably cool early morning air temperature, we were excited to encounter many birds that we haven't seen at our feeders, such as yellow warblers, an American redstart flitting across the canopy, a gray catbird clearly visible on a branch near the path, and an orchard oriole sunning itself high up in a tree. We also enjoyed seeing a gnatcatcher, which resembled a miniature mockingbird, as well as a wood thrush almost hidden amidst the branches of a tree.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

5/14 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: During a morning hike at the Staatsburg State Historic Site, a barred owl took flight from the ground to a distant tree. It stared at us for several minutes and called a couple of "hoo-hoos." It is not uncommon to hear the calls of the barred owl in the woodlands around Staatsburg but viewing them so close on this bright sunny day was a wondrous thrill. When we returned the call, a second barred owl flew across our path and disappeared into the fresh spring canopy out of sight. The first owl gracefully flew into a nearby tree where there was a mutual observation of each other for many minutes. We continued our hike toward the Hudson River with the owl still gazing at us with its large brown eyes.
- Bill Jacobs, Judy Kito

5/14 - Town of Pleasant Valley, HRM 84: I saw the first painted turtles crossing Clinton Hollow Road north of Salt Point today, two big, strong live ones and one smaller one, crushed. So sad!
- Santha Cooke

5/14 - Little Stony Point, Putnam County, HRM 55: A class of tenth graders from Haldane High School helped us seine the shallows off the beach on a windy and rainy day. The fact that none of the students complained about getting soaked spoke well for our catch of spottail shiners, golden shiners, tessellated darters, white perch, hogchoker, and colorful banded killifish.
- Pete Salmansohn, Jeanne Fitzgerald, Mark Patinella, Tom Lake

[The male banded killifish in breeding colors is strikingly handsome. While the females are a rather drab yellowish green, the males have iridescent purple, blue, even lavender highlights to their bands. Legendary fisherman Everett Nack used to catch them for bait and gave them the colloquial name of "blue-banded mudminnows." Tom Lake.]

5/15 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: When the fifth graders from Robert Graves Elementary left Esopus Meadows today, I walked to the lighthouse. I had heard someone mention that you could walk there at low tide and the water wouldn't reach much higher than your knees. After a short debate with myself, I decided to go for it. I hoped to see one of fisher-people in the many boats dotting the nearby waters catch a big striped bass or to startle a snapping turtle or sturgeon as I went forth. The sandy, then slightly soft bottom only occasionally sucked one foot to the ankle but all in all it was incredibly pleasant. The sky was filled with clouds suitable for a Hudson River painter. Warm waters on the way out, approximately 1,540 steps, but much cooler with the returning tide (the water never reached higher than my collarbone). It was a sweet afternoon.
- Betty Boomer

5/15 - Beacon, HRM 61: A fourth grade class from James V. Forrestal Elementary teamed up with their first grade river buddy class and had a great day doing some river investigations at Long Dock. We caught four different species of fish: pumpkinseed sunfish, a river herring, two banded killifish, and an American eel. The students really enjoyed dipping tiny nets in the water to catch plankton and other creatures, as well as setting tide sticks, and looking through the binoculars to find birds, boats and anything moving out on the water.
- Rebecca Houser, Susan Hereth

5/15 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: I heard either an oriole or a rose-breasted grosbeak while out in my garden today. I couldn't get a glimpse to confirm which it was, but the song was beautiful.
- Betsy Hawes

5/15 - Little Stony Point, Putnam County, HRM 55: We had another class of tenth graders from Haldane High School on the beach this morning. While the sun was out and the catch of the day was similar to yesterday, the birds stole the spotlight. As we were getting organized on the beach with our nets and aquaria, we spotted a half-dozen turkey vultures milling around some deadfalls that had drifted up on the beach less than 100 feet away. They are pretty impressive birds at that distance with their pink featherless heads and black bodies. Eventually we walked over to see what had attracted them and found a 10 lb. carp, our biggest minnow, lying dead in the sand. Later, as the students ate their lunch on the beach, a vivid black and white adult bald eagle made a few pirouettes in mid-river before heading over to Storm King Mountain.
- Judi Barcavage, Rose Mackey, Pete Salmansohn, Tom Lake

[New World (American) vultures such as turkey and black vultures do not have feathers on their heads. This is an adaptation to their feeding behavior. To paraphrase naturalist-author Edward Abbey, "... if you spent much of your life with your head stuck inside carrion (road kill) you would not want feathers on your head either." Few or no feathers that would be prone to collecting harmful bacteria has been a favored evolutionary trait for these carrion feeders. Tom Lake.]

5/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Today's heavy rain raised the river way up.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Middle-of-the-night owl serenades have become nightly performances. For more than an hour, three barred owls, each from a different quarter, exchanged calls, with an occasional, and distant, great horned owl's hoo, hoo-hoo chiming in.
- Tom Lake

[Barred owls are referred to as "eight-hooters" by Roger Tory Peterson in his 1934 edition of A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern Land and Water Birds. Their call is written as "hoo hoo hoo oo, hoo hoo hoo hoo-aw," but is commonly translated phonetically by birders as "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you, all?" Tom Lake.]

5/16 - Winnisook Lake, Town of Shandakan, HRM 90: This morning as I was gathering my daily weather information for the National Weather Service, I spotted a blackish bird sitting in the grass among the dandelions. I saw yellow on the bird's head as it blended in with the flowers. It was a bobolink and at times he would flare his neck feathers. I'm behind this spring and I haven't mowed the lawn yet; the dandelions are fully grown, all in bloom, and the grass is getting long. Was he thinking it might be a nesting site? This was the first bobolink I've seen here in 19 years. It was a real treat watching his yellow head the exact color of the flowers. So pretty!
- Tim Hinkley

5/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I saw my first silver spotted skipper [butterfly] today. Yesterday it was my first yellow tiger swallowtail, and the day before my first monarch of the season, all in my back yard.
- Jane Shumsky

5/17 - Germantown, HRM 109: On several occasions over the past few years, we've spotted a beaver swimming along the shore of the Hudson in Germantown. There's a small pond on the uphill side of the railroad about a quarter mile away and we always wondered if there was a beaver family living there. Today I spotted a turkey vulture perched in a tree along the river. They are common in the area but I'd never seen one there before. It flew down to the riverbank and disappeared. An hour later, another turkey vulture did the same thing. I went over to investigate and found the body of a large beaver at the high tide mark. There was no obvious cause of death, and we're still wondering why a beaver would choose to live alongside the Hudson.
- Kaare Christian

5/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: For many of us, one of the special treats of springtime is to be awakened by the sound of birdsong. This morning it was like an orchestra tuning up for a concert. For true birders, I'm sure it is not difficult to lie there and distinguish among the myriad of songs and identify the singers. For the rest of us, we can hear the cardinals and the robins, and maybe one or two others. Of course the mockingbirds are out there as well, just playing with our minds.
- Tom Lake

[This time of the year, birdsong begins before 5:00 AM. If you are able to be up and about at that time, you might want to emulate one of Aldo Leopold's favorite activities. In his classic natural history volume "A Sand County Almanac," Leopold writes of stepping from his cabin door in Wisconsin just before dawn, with coffee pot and notebook in hand, and sitting on a bench facing the morning star. As first light appeared, he recorded the order of awakening songbirds as follows: field sparrow, robin, oriole, indigo bunting, wren, grosbeak, thrasher, yellow warbler, bluebird, vireo, towhee, cardinal, all "explode into song" and "all is bedlam!" Tom Lake.]

5/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The wild cherries were in bloom and the woods and edges were looking lovely.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/18 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: There was a male American redstart in my yard this morning, the first one I've seen this season. It rested for a few seconds on a rhododendron that had been munched by hungry deer during the winter. Then it took off and flitted about in a tree.
- Phyllis Marsteller

5/18 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: I moved through a haze of blackflies and a sweet bouquet of honeysuckle and Dame's rocket to find that my nets were thankfully still in place. The inch-and-a-half of rain of two nights ago had, once again, sucked nearly all the re-bar holding the nets out of the creek bed. It has been a difficult month for netting glass eels. Beauty can appear in small packages. As I walked out of the woods, a male American redstart briefly landed on the tip-top of an ailanthus.
- Tom Lake

[Dame's rocket, with purple, pink, and white petals, is one of the most fragrant wildflowers of spring. It was introduced to America from Europe in colonial times and is listed as a noxious weed by the United States Department of Agriculture. Nevertheless, I am willing to overlook that designation. Tom Lake.]

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