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Hudson River Almanac July 16 - July 22, 2009

OVERVIEW

The sounds of cicadas that we tend to associate with hot and dry summers seem to be struggling in the wake of the record rainfall and cooler than average air temperature of the last seven weeks. In the last 60 years, for these seven weeks, only once (1975) has there been more rainfall. In July so far, the salt front in the Hudson has not been further north than West Point. It's commonly at the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge at this time of year.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/17 - Ulster County: A thousand years before the Half Moon sailed up the river, an ancestral Mohican hunter buried a small ceramic pot, probably containing provisions for a later visit, along a northeast-facing limestone outcropping not far from the Hudson. As archaeologists, we found the now-broken pot buried a foot in the ground in the shadow of a rock face veined with Helderberg chert. The decorations on the potsherds indicted a ceramic style that was made and used about AD 600.
- Tom Lake, Stephanie Roberg-Lopez

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/16 - Manhattan, HRM 2: The peregrine falcon first sighted yesterday flew low over a field of pilings in the Hudson River before turning inland, pursued by a couple of passerines (perching birds).
- Walter Laufer

7/16 - Staten Island, New York City: An open field that had once been mowed and mowed again, and farmed year after year for many generations, is now a wet meadow and a park. The history of this kind of use is nothing original for Staten Island, for New York City, or any city for that matter. What was unique, however, were the 47 spikes of ragged fringed orchid (Platanthera lacera) popping up in and amongst the grasses, milkweeds, poison ivy, and roses. Although just past their peak, they were still quite a show.
- Dave Taft

7/17 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: As I took an early morning run toward Lake Meahagh, a very large bald eagle shadowed me above my head as if to say "good morning." It is difficult to decide which I love more, these great birds or all the tiny hummingbirds that are here all summer.
- Becky Makelainen

7/17 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: While driving on this muggy 85 degree afternoon, the sky became very dark, the wind began to whip up, torrential rain began to fall, and then nickel-sized hail. I really thought my windshield was going to crack from the impact. After fifteen minutes of this, everything stopped and only the clouds remained.
- Dianne Picciano

7/18 - Town of Hague, Warren County, HRM 245: At 7:00 AM, my cousin and I started our two mile hike up the mountain to Jabez Pond as volunteers for the Wildlife Conservation Society's Adirondack Common Loon Census Program. We arrived at the pond an hour later and there in the mist were two adult loons with a chick on the mom's back. We hunkered down with our binoculars and just watched the family of three. Then another adult joined them. They swam around in circles and then mom pushed the chick off her back. It appeared that mom was trying to teach her chick to dive. It was priceless. The little brown, downy fluff just kept popping up and scooting over to a parent. Just down the trail we saw an immature loon swimming toward the others. The immature loon would scoot away from the others but then would race back. I suspect the immature may have been an earlier hatching from the later arriving adult. We did hear loon calls periodically and could not tell how many pairs were nesting at the pond. We stayed at the pond for over three hours and had a difficult time leaving.
- Bobbi Buske

7/18 - Coxsackie, HRM 1324: While wandering around town today, I heard my first cicada, a true sound of summer.
- Rich Guthrie

7/18 - Storm King, HRM 57: While hiking on one of the higher places on Storm King, we came upon a beautiful five-lined (blue-tailed) skink sunning itself on a rock in the recovering burn zone. Given its faded coloration I would say it was a young adult; much lighter than juveniles. In all my years of hiking, I had never seen one of these small lizards in the wild.
- Peter Schechter, Bruce Bleiweis

[Skinks and other reptiles favor sunny, rocky places such as areas in the Hudson Highlands where forest fires have thinned the canopy. The five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus) has an incredibly beautiful blue tail which may serve as a survival strategy. Predators grabbing the skink by its colorful tail will find that it breaks off, the skink escapes, and regenerates another. Tom Lake.]

7/18 - Manhattan, HRM 2: The peregrine falcon, first spotted three days ago, perched for at least two hours today, moving only to stretch its wings and turn around.
- Walter Laufer

7/18 - Staten Island, New York City: As I stepped out of my car at Fort Wadsworth a dark shadow crossed my path. I looked up to see a turkey vulture circling overhead. Behind the first was a second, a black vulture, much rarer in these parts, circling in the same thermal. I've seen these birds as they've expanded their range further north into New York State, but this is only the second time in New York City.
- Dave Taft

7/19 - Town of New Scotland, Albany County, HRM 145: Taking my regular walk at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, I found two small birds feeding on the spillway of the Beaver Pond. This large, horseshoe-shaped spillway is made of cut stones from an old lock of the Erie Canal. The large flat stone surface with a shallow sheet of water running over is a favorite feeding area for the spotted sandpipers that nest nearby. One of them was bobbing up and down, walking through the shallow water and picking up small creatures for a snack. A second bird was doing the same, bobbing up and down and showing colors almost the same as the sandpiper, brown on the back with a white breast, spotted with brown. A much shorter beak hinted that this was a different bird, a warbler actually. This was the first time I'd seen a Louisiana waterthrush on the spillway, though they nest along the Vlomankill nearby. These two species are not related, but share similar coloring and behavior. I think the term "convergent evolution" would apply.
- Alan Mapes

7/19 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: Ring-billed gulls were streaming by New Baltimore daily. These are the first of the fall migrants headed south. Six miles south at the Coxsackie Boat Launch I saw two adults displaying to each other in the company of two juveniles as they continued to pester the adults. I suspect this was a family group, traveling together in migration.
- Rich Guthrie

7/19 - Columbia County, HRM 125: We found a female promethea moth on our back porch this morning. This is one of the native large "silkworm" moths that we rarely see.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

7/19 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We were watching a kingbird perched on a telephone wire making twisting aerial assaults on flying insects when a scarlet tanager had the temerity to land on the same wire. The kingbird instantly switched from insect to bird assault, chasing the tanager out of some invisible zone of personal space with an aggressiveness I've only seen in mockingbirds.
- Pat Joel

7/19 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63: A female wild turkey with one little poult had taken up residence in our back yard in a strictly residential area. Today our resident coyote tried to gobble up the poult while we watched from our picture window. Mama fiercely attacked the coyote to protect her one little baby and held him off until my husband and I ran out and shooed him away. He is very bold and this happened only fifteen feet from our home. Her baby was saved this time but I am sure "Wiley" will be back. Unfortunately, he is only doing what nature deems.
- Carol Coons

7/20 - Stockport Flats, HRM 124-120: We joined the Hudson River Research Reserve on their canoe trip to Stockport Flats today. We saw osprey, muskrat, belted kingfisher, great blue heron, an immature bald eagle, bank swallows, and one of my favorite wildflowers, a cardinal flower.
- Rebecca Houser, Mark Ruoff

7/20 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: I'm used to stopping for critters in the road, but today's encounter was a first. As I was driving home a great blue heron stepped out of a roadside pond and walked into the middle of the road where it stopped. I braked ten feet from it and sat watching it for a few minutes. Finally I nudged the car forward and the heron crouched, flapped, and took off.
- David Lund

7/20 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: We hauled our otter trawl from the sloop Clearwater and made an impressive catch today: 36 hogchokers, 8 shrimp, 15 young-of-the-year Atlantic tomcod (notably larger than the ones we caught a month ago), a snail, two blue crabs, and a ten-inch spotted hake.
- Captain Samantha Heyman

[Trawls are cylindrical nets that are dragged through the water, usually by a boat. The depth at which they sample can be adjusted by the amount of line let out (scope), the speed at which the net is pulled, or the amount of weight in the bottom seamline. Tom Lake.]

7/20 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: At 9:00 PM, with the Clearwater docked portside to the 79th Street Boat Basin, my crew gathered at the rail. The goal was to capture and observe the largest American eel we had ever seen. After a few close calls in which our slippery friend almost escaped, we were successful in netting the fish. We spent ten minutes observing the eel, including an impromptu education with the public gathered at the end of the dock. The eel was a deep green in color and difficult to measure as it barely stopped moving. We estimated that it was 40 inches long, as she overshot our 36 inch-long catch tub by 4-6 inches. We let it go with sincere thanks having enjoyed our very intense experience with a powerful and graceful animal.
- Captain Samantha Heyman

[A digital photo identified that this was an American eel. Eels of this size are almost always female, black-and-white "silver eels," heading back to sea to spawn. While the location in the lower estuary seemed right, the size and coloration of this one was a head-scratcher. Tom Lake.]

7/21 - Schoharie County, HRM 155: I have counted as many as seven cottontail rabbits at one time in my yard this summer. I can look out my window at almost any time and see at least one. I watched three this morning. One of the smaller rabbits made its way through a hole in the "rabbit guard" fence I have around my vegetable garden. I had to open the gate so he could get out. I think he is too fat to do it again. I've also noticed that I have not had hummingbirds at my feeder in a few weeks. I generally have hummers all summer long and had four earlier in the year.
- Gary Ovitt

[The record rainfall this late spring-early summer has certainly provided much lush greenery for cottontails. Increased numbers are being seen throughout the Hudson Valley. Rich Guthrie has suggested that the temporary absence of hummingbirds in early summer may be due to adults tending to their young. They'll be back.
- Tom Lake]

7/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The staccato sound of cicadas, summer's music, was drowning out the incessant calls of the catbirds. It seems to be a very big year for them. It was also very good dawn for identifying birds without seeing them: orioles, kingbirds, mockingbirds, cardinals, scarlet tanager, veery, black-and-white warblers, wood pewees, and others.
- Tom Lake

7/22 - Piseco Lake, Hamilton County, HRM 221: While driving along a dark heavily wooded road we encountered a young red fox that was sitting, looking somewhat confused, in the middle of the roadway. Even as we approached with the headlights on, he didn't move. It was not until a second automobile came up behind us that the young fox decided to saunter off into the woods.
- Bill Hampson, Ed Spaeth

7/22 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 98.5: Canoeing into Tivoli South Bay for our biweekly fish monitoring, we saw the resident juvenile bald eagle perched on a snag surrounded by great blue herons and a single great egret. On the river side of Cruger Island, we picked up a blue crab shed exoskeleton (3.3" point-to-point), the first evidence we have seen of them this far upriver this year. We watched two species of birds feeding on the abundant waterlily leaf beetles: a small flock of cedar waxwings and 8-10 spotted sandpipers. We spied a small map turtle sunning on a snag. A stand of cardinal flower was just beginning to bud brilliant reds. Paddling along the shore we moved through a mass of thousands of small blue damselflies (Chromagrion) chasing each other incessantly; they are doing very well this year. We also saw a Louisiana water thrush.
- Bob Schmidt, Leah Pitman, Nik Kotovich

7/22 - Hyde Park, HRM 83: We heard, and then saw, an indigo bunting scolding us from a conifer tree on the grounds of the Vanderbilt National Historic Site.
- Pat Joel, Carrie Grey

7/22 - Westchester County, HRM 30: As I walked around Rockefeller State Park's Swan Lake this morning, a fisherman pointed out a large snake in the grass along the path. I was struck by its bulk. It was very thick and solid gray in color - an impressively large northern water snake.
- Sharon AvRutick

[As northern water snakes age, their bodies gain bulk and lose the distinct banded pattern of youth, becoming dark gray in color - especially when dry from basking in the sun. Steve Stanne.]

7/22 - Manhattan, HRM 6.5: We hauled our otter trawl from the sloop Clearwater and made another impressive catch today. From two hauls we netted 3 blue crabs, 3 spotted hake, 25 hogchokers, and one fluke, or summer flounder. Both trawls were made down-current, mid-speed, and took place in 20-27 feet of water on the New Jersey side directly across from the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial in Manhattan.
- Captain Samantha Heyman

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