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Hudson River Almanac June 15 - June 22, 2009

OVERVIEW

In providing a weekly snapshot of the watershed's natural history, the Hudson River Almanac depends largely on unsolicited observations. This week brought an unusual and welcome contribution from a professor and students who "ran the river" from source to sea.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/17 - Ulster County, HRM 75: In a rare opportunity to "put back," and assisted by Preserve staff, we released several copperhead snakes that had been poached from Mohonk Preserve and recovered by undercover DEC Law Enforcement investigators during Operation Shellshock. It was amazing to watch them seemingly disappear before our eyes as they blended into the carpet of needles on the ground between the rocks.
- Peter Fanelli, Al Breisch

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/15 - Manhattan, HRM 0: [Note: this contribution has been abridged and edited for length] My SUNY-ESF students and I just concluded an eight-day field study of one of the largest, most complex and fascinating watersheds on the East coast. Our "Hudson River Watershed: Source to Sink in Eight Days" ran June 8-15.

Lecturers provided expert information in various topics, including the Adirondacks ecosystem; the Catskills area and its critical function as water provider for New York City; the development of the Mid-Hudson Valley; land use drivers and ecosystem change; the ecology of the mainstream tidal Hudson and of its fringing wetlands; pollution from General Electric's long-term upriver dumping of PCBs; and restoration of the lower Hudson River and New York Harbor. Participating students were exposed to research opportunities that are available through such organizations as the Hudson River Foundation and the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve.

On our final day we took the New York Water taxi from Yonkers to Pier 11 on the lower east side of Manhattan near South Street Seaport. Mike Levandowsky gave us a walking tour of old New York, pointing out the architecture, how buildings were constructed one atop the other in some areas, much like palimpsest being written upon again and again. We looked at the old Fulton Fish Market, now a derelict warehouse. We ended up at the Battery, Hudson River mile 0 and the home of the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Environmental Research. We stopped to view the ornamental sphere from the World Trade Center that has been set up as a 9-11 memorial in Battery Park - an emotional moment for many. This also gave us time to reflect on the last week and what we have learned:

Newcomb, HRM 302, 6/8: We arrived at the Huntington Wildlife Forest (SUNY-ESF's research property). Huntington is the second headwaters area of the Hudson River after Lake Tear of the Clouds on the backside of Mt. Marcy. Several ponds and lakes drain down to Harris Lake that in turn joins the Hudson mainstream in Newcomb.

We headed off to Wolf Lake in the northern half of the property with two Alaska trap nets lent to us by Bob Daniels of the New York State Museum. Based on sediment core data, Wolf Lake is one of the least perturbed lakes within the Adirondacks. In terms of fish, it only has native species including many minnows. (Non-native predatory fish have been introduced into many Adirondack lakes and have eaten their way through the native fauna.) We set the trap nets and measured some water chemistry parameters.

Newcomb, HRM 302, 6/9: We retrieved the trap nets and found that they had collected "a mess of fish." In addition to brown bullheads, white suckers, creek chubs, common shiners, cutlips minnows, and redbelly dace, we caught 342 redbreast sunfish, eight-fold more common than our next most abundant species. Many of the fishes were in beautiful spawning colors; the male creek chubs had spectacular spawning tubercles adorning their heads. We hiked around Arbutus Lake with ecologist Colin Beier, considering the important ecosystem services provided by these Hudson headwaters, such as the wooded headlands acting as sponges that soak up the rains and hold them, ensuring a steady and abundant source of fresh water.

Hudson Falls, HRM 205, 6/10: With Jim Sullivan and Ed LaPointe, we toured General Electric's remediation facility designed to clean up on-site remnant PCBs. Because GE's old transformer factory sits atop fractured shale, the contaminants infiltrated deep into the bedrock. We saw the treatment system and also a new, large hole drilled into the ground to access the deepest deposits.

Fort Edward, HRM 202, 6/10: Richard Bopp of RPI provided an enlightening counterpoint to the GE tour. We saw the area of remnant deposits at Fort Edward, left high and dry when an old dam was torn down in 1973. With the help of large floods, this dispersed nearly one million cubic meters of PCB-laden sediments all the way to New York City. We also observed the trial dredging activity in the Rogers Island pool.

Waterford, HRM 159, 6/10: We met Gary Wall (USGS), DEC scientist Simon Litten, and Alene Onion, the new coordinator of the real-time monitoring network known as the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System ( HRECOS) at Cohoes Falls near the mouth of the Mohawk River. Gary discussed the geological formation of the Mohawk River during the catastrophic draining of glacial Lake Iroquois some 13,500 years ago.

Troy, HRM 153, 6/10: At the last dam on the Hudson River, exactly halfway from Newcomb to New York Harbor, we finally reached tidewater. We saw the first of the HRECOS monitoring sites. We also collected some of our own water chemistry data including remarkably high readings for phosphates (we re-tested to be sure). Why was this? Perhaps because of high rains, the combined sewer overflows were running.

Coxsackie, HRM 124, 6/11: René VanSchaak of Greene County's Industrial Development Agency showed us examples of good and bad mitigation wetlands and good and bad development, and discussed how the IDA negotiates for land easements to offset development.

Athens, HRM 118, 6/11: We drove toward Catskill, but were stopped by the sight of the Quadricentennial flotilla moving at a stately pace past Athens. The Haalve Moon was under full sail, and the fireboat John J. Harvey gave a multi-hosed spray show. Clearwater, Riverkeeper, and half a dozen other ships of various sizes and shapes completed the flotilla.

Annandale, HRM 98.5, 6/12: We went electrofishing in the Saw Kill with Bob Schmidt of Hudsonia, and fished up eels as well as banded killifish and mummichogs. We searched unsuccessfully for shed carapaces of the Chinese mitten crab. A yearling snapping turtle was sunning itself on the rocks, and didn't seem to care at all about mitten crabs.

Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5, 6/12: Sarah Fernald, Jean McAvoy, and Laurie Fila from the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve took us canoeing in Tivoli North Bay. We explored the marsh and found water clarity to be 0.4 meters (about 1.3 feet), a stark contrast to the 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) that we could see through in Wolf Lake in the Adirondack headwaters.

Millbrook, HRM 82, 6/13: We met David Strayer at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in the Wappinger Creek watershed. He showed us a small spring and explained its connections to the mainstream of the tributary nearby. We hiked to the East Branch of the Wappinger and electrofished the creek, collecting many minnows, several respectable brown trout, and a few sunfish that had been washed out of farm ponds. Dave told us that headwater areas, like the East Branch of the Wappinger, are the "capillaries" of watersheds.

Palisades, HRM 23, 6/14: With Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory researcher Wade McGillis we discussed atmospheric carbon dioxide and what affects it. Surprisingly, the NYC Metro area is relatively low in CO2 due to the fact that it's surrounded by "green lungs" - forests that take up CO2 in the day - and influenced by sea breezes that sweep a lot of it away. Nevertheless, the levels are disturbingly high, evidence of the greenhouse gas increase.

Piermont Pier, HRM 25, 6/14: We measured specific conductivity of the river with our monitoring gear. Barely a week ago, we had measured 18 microSiemens/cm at Wolf Lake in the Adirondack headwaters - nearly as pure as distilled water, as indeed it was distilled from the clouds. At Piermont, the river measured 5,776 microSiemens/cm - equal to salinity of 3.3 parts per thousand. Part of the saltiness comes from the marine influence, but much also comes from the flushing of dissolved substances out of the enormous watershed.

The trip wrapped up with a New York City commuter trip (subway and Metro North train rides), followed by the long drive back to the hinterlands of Syracuse, 40 miles beyond the western boundary of the Hudson River watershed.
- Karin E. Limburg, Theresa Burkard, Will Condon, Stephanie Goodman, Jennifer Hubert, Peter Malaty, April McEwen, Craig Tompkins, Stephen Tyszko.

6/16 - Dutchess County: I was lucky today to spot one of my favorite, but seldom seen, reptiles the eastern box turtle, in both Dutchess County parks: Bowdoin Park (Town of Poughkeepsie) and Wilcox Park (Town of Milan).
- Garrick Bryant

6/16 - Kowawese, HRM 59:
- A Nature Acrostic
Kinds of animals like deer and eagles,
Owls in the dark night turning heads around,
Wild animals being free.
All is silent in the morning,
Water in the Hudson River,
Exciting movements in wilderness,
Snakes in their holes waiting for prey,
Emotion always in the air.
- Tomas Flores, 6th Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

6/17- Minerva, HRM 284: It was early morning and I was in the swampy area out back of my house. It was a good day for amphibians. I found a little red eft very slowly making its way across the path en route to the wetland. I could hear the sounds of our bittern along with red-winged blackbirds and swamp sparrows. Most of the warblers and thrushes had pretty much stopped calling. In the open, but covered up nicely with floating-leaved plants, were bullfrogs, green frogs ("banjo twang"), and - showing up more this spring - mink frogs ("bep bep bep"). What a great swamp!
- Mike Corey

6/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: Walking on a path at dusk at Bowdoin Park, I paused at the sight of a nearby deer. The white-tail and I studied each other for a few minutes when my ears tuned in to an unrecognizable sound behind me coming from the forest floor. After a few minutes the sounds were now coming from both the ground and overhead. I finally spotted what appeared to be a diminutive owl. I had my camera and confirmed the sighting of a juvenile eastern screech owl on the ground and an adult overhead.
- Garrick Bryant

6/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We went out on our first DEC bat survey. The first 20 minutes were disappointing, but then we had a hit on the bat detector. The call was unmistakable. We had a bat! We ended up driving about 22 miles (at 18 mph), and in the nearly two hours picked up many bat calls. Most were clustered around street lights but a few were in the backwoods. This is very reassuring, although we realize that had this been done 4-5 years ago, we would've had many, many more hits.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: After a night and day of rain, we added another 2.25 inches, now up to just over 8 inches in nine days. It rained so hard overnight that the barred owls' serenade was reduced to muted background noise.
- Tom Lake

6/18 - Staten Island, New York City: The rain outside the van windows was coming down so hard, it looked like were riding in a submarine. I could see just clearly enough to negotiate a left turn at Fort Wadsworth when I spotted five black-crowned night herons foraging on the neatly manicured lawn just north of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. I imagined a steady stream of earthworms, mice, frogs and other half-drowned unfortunates dislodged by today's epic rains. The herons looked happy for night herons. In fact, I'm sure I saw glint of joy in one of their beady red eyes.
- Dave Taft

6/18 - Staten Island, New York City: The word had spread from the night herons to other flocks. Later in the day, after leaving a meeting, I passed a field across from where I had earlier seen the night herons. Out in the field I spotted a pair of glossy ibis and nineteen herring gulls. The ibises in particular looked like they were probing the now soft earth and finding lots to eat. I wondered who will be foraging tomorrow.
- Dave Taft

6/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: As we cruised Tahawus and the Blue Ridge Road for bats tonight we received a number of hits, all near water.
- Ellen Rathbone

6/19 - Kowawese, HRM 59:
- Deep Thinking
As I watch the water flow,
I imagine swimming with dolphins
Deep in the ocean blue,
Kicking my feet, and moving my hands.
The one sound that brings me back to
The present
Is the water, crashing against the sand.
- Alexandra Rosario, 6th Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

6/20 - Brooklyn, New York City: We seined The East River at "The Cove" in Brooklyn Bridge Park during a public program offered by The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and Coastal Marine Resource Center. Despite the constant drizzle of rain, the twenty or so program participants were surprisingly enthusiastic about the experience. We caught bay anchovy, northern pipefish (three with distinctly rosy pouches), striped bass, shore shrimp, sand shrimp, sea squirts (probably sea grape), blue crab, comb jellies, hydroids (probably tubularian), hermit crab, and snails. Two Asian shore crab molts were found on the beach.
- Cynthia Fowx

6/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: During another day and night of relentless rain (nearly an inch) we eased into summer as the solstice passed in the early morning hours. At the magic moment of 12:45 AM the wind picked up and summer arrived in a very inauspicious manner. In the last eleven-plus days, we have had 9.2 inches of rain.
- Tom Lake

6/21 - Town of Southeast, HRM 52: The water in the recently-drained East Branch of the Croton Reservoir is rising fast now with all the June rains, and was only 10-15 feet below brim-full on the weekend. The rowboats tied up on the perimeter are now within dragging distance of the water's edge. A few dozen anglers were out on the shore in the early hours of this morning, and some seemed eager to brag about their catch of the day: a smallmouth bass, some largemouth bass, and a catfish. As the water keeps rising, fishing this summer will be good!
- Betty Brosius

6/22 - New Baltimore, HRM 132: On a noon time walk in the Hannacrois Preserve we came upon two snakes close together on a high narrow rock ridge above a raging waterfall. One was a ring-neck snake (about a foot long) and the other, a larger one, was a grayish snake that we could not identify (maybe a water snake?). Down the trail closer to the parking area we encountered a small snapping turtle crossing the path.
- Jean Bush

6/22 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I have been watching from my bedroom window each morning as the woodchuck family that has taken up residence under my shed makes short forays into the lawn grown long from the limited number of dry periods this month that have allowed mowing. Coming home early from work today I found two of the youngsters far enough from the shed that I could position myself on the escape route between them and the shed that they usually disappear under at the slightest noise. Their response was to flatten themselves into the grass far enough that they could not be seen, a behavior I had never seen in a woodchuck before.
- Peter Fanelli

6/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Another overnight rain of more than a half-inch. Since June 9, thirteen days, we have had 9.65 inches. My yard looks like the Serengeti but without the interesting fauna. The largesse of greens has, however, attracted four baby woodchucks and three cottontails.
- Tom Lake

[The National Weather Service reported 7.55 inches in the same time, but that gauge is several miles inland at Dutchess County Airport. Along the river, our totals were significantly higher. Tom Lake.]

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