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Hudson River Almanac July 8 - July 15, 2009

OVERVIEW

This was the week of the white pelican that, unfortunately, few people got to see. These are uncommon occurrences, this being only the fifth Hudson River sighting in the last sixteen years.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/8 - Kingston, HRM 92: A white pelican was sighted on the Hudson near here several days ago and local birders have been keeping an eye on it. It was last seen on July 10. The white pelican is a bird of the Great Plains on up through central Canada. Every year or so, one or more turn up somewhere in the Northeast. Pelicans are strong flyers with the ability to soar at great heights, covering long distances.
- Rich Guthrie

There have been four previous documented sightings from the Almanac since 1993:

- May 1993, a white pelican was spotted by naturalist Chuck Keene and others at Cornwall Bay.

- May 1994, a white pelican was sighted along the river in Ulster County by Rosa Cobeels, Jean Murphy, and Richard Popp. In June, at Wave Hill in the Bronx, B. Buchanan watched two white pelicans fly over heading south, noting in the Almanac that it was "a magic moment."

- July 2005, at Kingston, Melissa Henneman and Steve Stanne "...gazed out among the gulls and cormorants sitting on the jetty on the south side of the Rondout, jostling for space. One bird, large and white, stood out among the others. It was too big and bulky to be an egret or a swan. As we drew closer, the bird raised its unmistakable head. Indeed, there sat a white pelican..."

- July 2007, at Saugerties, Lighthouse Keeper Patrick Landewe saw "... a large white bird, a pelican, perched on the jetty at the mouth of Esopus Creek opposite the Saugerties Lighthouse."

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Fledglings were begging food from parents all over the place; the din was amusing. The bluebirds in my yard are not old enough to fledge yet, and I wonder if the cool wet weather has slowed down their growth or reduced the number of insects the parents can find. Still, the young are alive, so that's a good thing.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/8 - South Glens Falls, HRM 206: I hiked through the woods to a backwater pond connected to the Hudson, the very edge of which is perfect habitat for all kinds of waterbirds. I have seen osprey, heron, and at least five different species of ducks there. But on this day I sighted a solitary sandpiper.
- Terra-Anne Bacon

[Solitary sandpipers migrate through here, going to and from their nesting grounds in Canada, although some may nest in bogs in the Adirondacks. They raise their young quickly, and some start south in July, though this one is a bit early. As the name suggests, they are usually solitary - found quite often in small ponds. Rich Guthrie, Steve Stanne]

7/8 - Kingston, HRM 92: I took my friends' two Labrador retrievers (Filbert and Charlotte) to Kingston Point for a romp, walking north along the shore. The labs tore through the water, jumping on every wake and ripple on the water. Occasionally, they took short forays on the beach and I saw where they had found something interesting. It was a foot-long, half-eaten short-nosed sturgeon. Despite its small size and partial decay, it had the ancient beauty of a magnificent fish. I had seen both the long-nose (Atlantic) and short- nosed sturgeon in the past on the sloop Clearwater. I thought about the dead fish for a short time and wished I had my camera but we left it beached among the discarded broken bricks.
- Betty Boomer

7/8 - Alligerville, Ulster County, HRM 83: The red-shouldered hawks had been calling and calling and the crows were making a terrible uproar. Finally, an adult red-shouldered hawk flew into my willow tree and I spotted an immature on a bare limb at the edge of the woods. The immature flew back into the woods, and the noise did not stop for the rest of the day. The immatures were fledgings and the crows would not leave them alone. The next week I did see an immature flying over the field with five crows harassing it, so I know that at least one survived.
- Yvonne Lynn

7/8 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 61: From my vantage spot in late afternoon, overlooking a small lake with swampy borders, I spotted three young great blue herons stretching and preening in their tree-top nests. No adults were visible. Later, in another wetland just to the northeast, I did see an adult heron fishing. A double-crested cormorant was perched in a nest tree nearby while two other cormorants were down below on a stump in the middle of the lake. Last week I had seen a common moorhen walking and foraging through this wetland.
- Ed Spaeth

7/8- Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: While watering grass on our hill, I was amazed to see a ruby-throated hummingbird buzzing around me - they are truly magical in appearance. This was only the second time I have seen one here, as he buzzed and swayed, taking a shower as he hovered under the stream of water from my hose. After awhile, he landed on a branch and began shaking and preening. As I stood watching him, a second hummingbird buzzed out of the woods and did the exact same thing. Remarkable.
- Scott Horecky

7/8 - Brooklyn, New York City: We were aboard the South Street Seaport Museum's schooner Pioneer, built in 1885, hauling a trawl through Bay Ridge Flats in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. We pulled the net onto the deck and sorted through the denizens of the estuary, which included mussels, seahorses, and crabs. In the center of the trawl was a three foot-long gray shape. The 23 students from Brooklyn Tech High School declared it to be a shark, but upon closer examination, we realized that it was a creature less common, a shortnose sturgeon! We let the students file past to get a good look; some of them continued to think it was a shark and didn't want to come too close. Then we hurried to release it and the sturgeon vanished into the green water - a prehistoric species from a historic ship into a modern harbor.
- Richard Dorfman, Shevawn Innes, Christin Ripley, Maggie Flanagan, Alexis Buckley

7/9 - Clermont State Historic Site, HRM 103.5: The Hudson River tide on this mostly sunny morning was rather calm with small silvery ripples. The sky was bright blue over Clermont and large lovely cumulus clouds, the kind that one can pick out a hundred images, hugged the peaks of the Catskills across the river. The ancient, stately trees were a healthy bright green due to the abundant rainfall the past few weeks. A red fox, surprised by us, gazed for an instant and then took off in a flash over the bank toward the river. The numerous catbirds seemed especially melodious as they flitted around the shrubbery. A great crested flycatcher flew across our path, its wings showing in the reflected sunlight a dazzling cinnamon coloration.
- Bill Jacobs, Judy Kito

7/9 - Queens, New York City: At the upper end of the Belt parkway, as it skirts past Kennedy Airport, I was surprised to see a merlin winging past. I had just begun the old game of trying to convince myself it was a peregrine falcon when it did that most merlin-like of maneuvers: From an arrow-straight trajectory, the bird swerved ninety degrees out of its way to chase a juvenile laughing gull. The gull must have been surprised to see this small falcon in pursuit, but managed to escape, darting between a warehouse and a tree. The merlin then resumed its original straight line flight past Kennedy Airport.
- Dave Taft

7/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I led a Rich Lake Paddle today, and a perfect day for it: not too humid, a bit of a breeze, no pesky bugs. Pickerelweed was only just starting to flower, a few swamp candles were out, a couple of swamp milkweed, and some steeple bush. Spatterdock and fragrant water lily were doing very nicely; native floating-heart and some rushes were also in bloom. My favorite find of the day, though, was two small patches of large cranberry with beautiful pink flowers. Many dragonflies and damselflies were also darting around. I think everyone was just reveling in the sunshine.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/10 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: On our way to the river we saw a least bittern take off in near Bell's Pond. We see very few of these and the habitat looked really wrong for this bird. Seining the bay we caught our first young-of-the-year striped bass (about 40 mm). It is always nice to see that these fish are doing well. We did catch a somewhat unusual minnow, a spotfin shiner. We have seen them before in the tidal Hudson, but never more than a couple per year.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt, Nik Kotovich

[Spotfin shiners are common in the Mohawk River, the probable source of the few we catch in the mainstream Hudson. Tom Lake.]

7/10 - Cragsmoor, Ulster County, HRM 74: While wending our way through a deep crevice on an ice caves trail at Sam's Point Nature Preserve, we saw a smooth scale green snake. It was the prettiest little snake I've ever seen. None of us four hikers had ever seen one before. It basked on a rock in one of the few patches of sunlight that reached the bottom of the crevice. It seemed to be lit from within. A few stray scales were iridescent turquoise. It stayed still while we took photographs, only lifting its head to look back at us. The day was perfect, with wonderful views, warm sun, and icy depths, but for me it will always be the day of the green snake. We noticed quite a few small orb webs down there so I guess it's in a good place.
- Kathryn Paulsen

[The smooth green snake (Liochlorophis vernalis) is fairly common in the Northeast, feeding on spiders and insects. It is called "a gentile little reptile" by Conant and Collins (Peterson Field Guide); the translation of its scientific name is "smooth green snake of spring." Tom Lake.]

7/10 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 61: All was quiet and still in mid-afternoon at this murky, mostly algae-filled stagnant pond nestled in a wooded area near Stewart International Airport. Yet, off in the middle distance, a silent sentinel, a belted kingfisher, was watching a small area of open water from his perch on a dead snag overlooking those still waters.
- Ed Spaeth

7/11 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We were fishing off the north side of the boat dock and I was using a rubber worm. As I reeled in, the lure bounced off the rocks at the water's edge and my line got stuck. Then I realized that my line was not snagged, something was tugging back. Being very careful not to break the line, I managed to hold onto the lure but whatever was on the other end was strong. My husband and I tugged for several minutes until a small round mouth emerged from the rocks biting the tail of the rubber worm. We both tried to identify the culprit as we see-sawed back and forth for possession of the worm. It was not a fish. It finally let go of the lure and slithered away to a new rock hideout right at the water's edge. It was a northern water snake. The fishing was poor, but the water's edge adventure was amazing. It kept me smiling because I had quite a "fish" story to tell!
- Mona Burkard

7/11 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 52: I was out in Constitution Marsh with my family today and noted a remarkable absence of large avifauna (birds), although we did hear a few marsh wrens and common yellowthroats. We hiked along Indian Brook to look for Chinese mitten crab carapaces, but didn't find any. We noted a high diversity, but low abundance, of fungi, including several species of Amanita, Russula, Boletus, Leccinium, and Cantharellus, among others. This diverse flush of mushrooms was doubtless due to the heavy rains of the past few weeks.
- Karin Limburg

7/11 - Oscawana Island., HRM 38.5: The clouds were thickening and a strong south wind was shifting to southeast, foreshadowing a thunderstorm. Two hundred feet over the peninsula at Oscawana, an immature bald eagle was strung out like a kite, facing south, motionless except for its fluttering feathers, in perfect balance with the wind.
- Tom Lake

7/11 - Crawbuckie, HRM 33.5: As our Metro North commuter train sped past Croton Bay, I watched an osprey and a harrier, a few hundred feet apart, both dip and dive trying to catch a fish. I cannot recall ever seeing those two raptors fishing so close together. The harrier was successful and took his fish, probably a menhaden, toward a shoreline cottonwood. The osprey missed, missed again, but then caught its own bunker.
- Tom Lake

[Atlantic menhaden are a species of herring that spawn in salt to brackish water. Adults - known regionally as bunker, mossbunker or pogies - and their young-of-the-year, known colloquially as peanut bunker or penny bunker, are found by the millions in the estuary in summer, providing forage for striped bass, bluefish, harriers, osprey, eagles and seals. Tom Lake.]

7/12 - Jersey City, NJ: For the past couple of weeks, the peregrine falcon fledglings have owned the skies above their scrape at 101 Hudson Street. The watching has been wonderful as the two of them are becoming more accomplished fliers. The young female is huge and still had just a bit of down today. I got to watch her defend her meal from her male sibling on two occasions. The young male has incredible flying skills. He is able to maneuver around the buildings and soar with the adults. Both adults constantly have their young in sight.
- Bonnie Talluto

7/13 - Rhinecliff, HRM 92: I had just caught two striped bass (16" each) on a yellow bucktail jig when something unusual hit my lure. It was also sixteen inches long, but a different fish altogether, a freshwater drum!
- Jim Howell

[Freshwater drum probably arrived here in the last twenty-five years through the New York State canal system and Mohawk River connecting the Hudson with the Great Lakes. These fish love mollusks and in the Great Lakes are known to consume large quantities of zebra mussels. They have been showing up in crab pots, shad gill nets, and on anglers' lines, mostly north of the Hudson Highlands. An exception was May 2004: Ryan Barrella was striper fishing at Croton Point (HRM 34) when he caught an 18.5 lb. freshwater drum, a Hudson River record. The New York State angling record is 24 lb. 7 oz., caught in Ganargua Creek in 1995. Tom Lake.]

7/13 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We seined a three-inch Atlantic needlefish at the Environmental Center. This visitor from more brackish waters is not a rare sight in hot summer months, but an odd one this year since the frequent rains have kept the salt front far downriver. The little cove at Norrie Point shows some tremendous variability: The shallows under the water chestnut contained less than half the dissolved oxygen it could have (42%), while the narrow stretch of water between the plant beds and the shore was supersaturated with oxygen (113%), presumably because of the rising tide, patchy algae, and gentle ripples of the breeze. We couldn't seine in the water chestnut beds, but a brief pull in the open fringe yielded a dozen pumpkinseed sunfish, killifish, and two American eels. We were delayed in getting a bucket to the site, so the energetic eel had to be captured in my hat.
- Chris Bowser, Brittany Burgio

7/13 - Beacon, HRM 61: Four carp were caught and released at Long Dock, ranging 2-9 lb., along with a pound-and-a-half channel catfish. While I was partly concealed by a tree, a turkey vulture briefly circled over my head at a height of no more than ten feet before flying off. I could not only see his red head, but his eyes as well. I imagine he was attracted by the scent of the canned salmon sandwich I was eating for lunch.
- Bill Greene

7/13 - Manhattan, HRM 2: In Hudson River Park, a snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) spent at least twenty minutes on a butterfly bush, as it flew from one flower spike to another, hovering while it fed on nectar.
- Walter Laufer

7/14 - Troy, HRM 151.5: We did some fish collecting in the Poesten Kill today. It seems like logperch have been established in this tributary whereas we never saw them five years ago. We caught a young (one inch) northern hogsucker, the first we have ever seen in this tributary and evidence that they are spawning in the Poestenkill.
- Bob Schmidt, Bryan Weatherwax, Leah Pitman, Nik Kotovich

[Logperch, a small member of the perch family, are native to the Mississippi River system, and probably migrated to the Hudson watershed in the past hundred years through the New York State canal system. Tom Lake.]

7/14 - Cheviot, HRM 106: This morning I could hear the carp spawning out on the flats north of Cheviot so I took my kayak out for a better look. I parked the boat in the water chestnuts and watched the huge fish splash and roll out of the water not ten feet from the hull. There were no less than fourteen great blue herons standing in the weedy shallows, mostly juveniles. As I sat quietly, a young heron flew low over the water right at the bow of the kayak; I think he was going to land, but at the last minute he banked away and thought better of it. I also saw seven map turtles basking on floating logs on the flats, and two bald eagles overhead, one very young juvenile, and one young adult. It was a beautiful day to be on the river. As the Water Rat in "The Wind in the Willows" said, "there is nothing-absolutely nothing-half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
- Jude Holdsworth

7/14 - Port Ewen, HRM 90: I was walking the shoreline searching for the white pelican with no success, but a pair of Baltimore orioles flew across my path, a gorgeous black-and-orange male, and a drab but elegant female. While a white pelican would have been nice, I was more than satisfied with the orioles.
- Tom Lake

7/14 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: More walking and watching with binoculars along the shore for the white pelican, again with no success. The noon low tide had created a series of tidal pools along the shore, each teeming with clouds of killifish, many thousands, splashing the surface in pursuit of insect larvae.
- Tom Lake

7/15 - Catskill to Albany, HRM 113-145: On board the RV Seawolf, the River Summer program transited from Catskill to Albany, leaving at the dinner hour and slowly motoring through the upper end of the estuary. As we counted bald eagles we were amazed by the lush marshes and vegetated beds that lined the edges, edges that we learned from our guest Dan Miller were created by humans in the late 1800s-early 1900s. This altered habitat has been accepted by the bald eagles that nest and fish from the tree-lined edges. We counted, in total, sixteen bald eagles.
- Margie Turrin, Tim Kenna, Lucy Johnson, Tom Sarro, Dave Kennedy, Roger Flood, Karen Johnson, Gary Lyons

7/15 - Ulster County, HRM 82-77: We spent some time in the Wallkill drainage looking (successfully) for Oriental weatherfish. We also found a population of eastern mudminnows in the Kleine Kill, north of New Paltz. This is farther north than this fish was reported by C. Lavett Smith (Inland Fishes of New York), and thus the most northern natural population of this species. The Kleine Kill was exceeding turbid with clay banks and bottom, so seeing the mudminnows was a challenge.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt

7/15 - Manhattan, HRM 2: A peregrine falcon was perched on a protuberance of a pier building about three stories up overlooking the Hudson River. After a while, the falcon uttered a cry and flew up from its perch, rising slowly, pestered by swallows, until it reached a certain altitude, where the swallows broke off their harassment. The peregrine circled several times and then returned to its perch.
- Walter Laufer

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