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Hudson River Almanac July 28 - August 5, 2009


Shorebird migration has begun. Just as spring comes early to migratory birds, so does autumn. Early spring migrants often arrive with ice on the lakes and snow on the ground. Similarly, early fall migrants are heading south when summer seems at its peak. While we focus on the calendar, birds look at the slowly diminishing daylight of the mid-summer sun, and the changing-of-the-seasons message it brings.


7/29 - Milan, HRM 90: The bear was back (see June 8). I was not home for an eyewitness account, but the rearrangement of my trash cans and bird feeders left little doubt. This evening we spotted eight male wild turkeys (jakes) battling. Most were just chasing one another but two were locked in close combat, beaks locked, wings pounding one another. It got so intense I yelled to break it up.
- Marty Otter


7/28 - Knox, HRM 153: The season's first call of a katydid this evening reminded us that summer was here, even though the cool temperature of our pond has shocked us when we've gone swimming.
- Dave Nelson

7/28 - Sandy Hook, NJ: I heard my first cicada song of the summer this evening.
- Dery Bennett

7/29 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: It was a damp, humid morning and I was working at a new house in the Town of Milan. As I moved some rocks around, I spied a bright orange newt, an amphibian, scurrying to safety (this was the red eft stage of the red-spotted newt). I've always loved these guys and had not seen one in ages. It made my day.
- Joanne Engle

7/29 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This is the "high season" for ruby-throated hummingbirds. Their aerial antics are continuous and amazing, even during downpours. The feeders are emptied sometimes twice a day. Often there are five birds perched on the garden fence while two others arc and swoop, dueling over the feeders. When it's raining, the birds on the fence shake themselves, fan their tails, then lift and lick their feathers, seldom at rest. They are such a show that I hardly notice the three pairs of beautifully brilliant American goldfinches nest-keeping nearby. They sit and glow golden on the bee balm and swing on the purple loosestrife.
- Robin Fox

7/29 - Staten Island, New York City: There are still many pockets of beautiful raw nature in New York City, but few are as large, and fewer still have beech woods as old. A hidden pool in Tottenville, no doubt much larger this year for all the rain, was filled with green frogs and hunted by one very beautiful green heron.
- Dave Taft

7/30 - Brooklyn, New York City: The sloop Clearwater worked out of Red Hook this week, trawling in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. Today we caught a flounder, 3 northern pipefish, one baby sea robin, and 35 bay anchovies.
- Captain Samantha Heyman

7/30 - Brooklyn, New York City: Kim Tripp and I spent an early morning hour in a beautiful developing salt marsh at Plumb Beach. I was very surprised to find a beautiful pink flowering plant. Undoubtedly a mint, the plant turned out to be American germander, a native perennial and a plant I have not encountered in Gateway National Recreation Area previously.
- Dave Taft

7/30 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Route 36 is a nightmare when Monmouth Park is open along with all of the accompanying malls and stores on the main route to the ocean beaches. This did not stop two motorists from pulling over and holding up traffic while they saved a snapping turtle from death by SUV. The turtle went off into the marsh, traffic resumed, and there was nary a horn toot, just a few "Thank you's" and "Well done's." It was a feel-good New Jersey moment.
- Dery Bennett

7/31 - Waterford to Peebles Island, HRM 159-158: Despite heavy rains, we collected young-of-the-year [YOY] blueback herring above the Troy Dam. We seined three sites: upper Hudson just north of Waterford, Lock 6 on the Mohawk, and Peebles Island on the Hudson. The YOY herring ranged from 24-65 mm long. They appeared to have two size modes, 35 mm and 47 mm. Besides the bluebacks at Peebles Island, our seines also caught spottail shiners, inland silversides, tessellated darters, fallfish, common shiners, bluntnose minnows, fathead minnow, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, rock bass, gorgeous pumpkinseed and bluegill sunfish, spotfin shiners in spawning colors, white suckers, banded killifish, a medium-sized freshwater drum, and a rusty crayfish. The water temperature was noticeably cooler in the Hudson (69 degrees F) compared to the Mohawk (76 degrees F). Both were very turbid and high.
- Karin Limburg, Bob Schmidt, Bob Daniels, Bryan Weatherwax, Leah Pitman, Nik Kotovich, Carri Marschner

[Young-of-the-year aptly describes the multitude of recently hatched fauna found in the Hudson River each spring, summer and fall. The progeny of shad, river herring, striped bass, white perch, blue crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, and many others are present by the tens of millions. So many references are made to their presence that we abbreviate the phrase to YOY. Tom Lake.]

7/31- Tivoli Bays, HRM 99.5: This morning, while walking back along the causeway from Cruger Island where I am conducting a shoreline research project, I startled a beautiful least bittern in the marsh. It flew about five feet ahead and perched on a dead tree, staring at me, the intruder. It would have made a perfect picture if I had been brave enough to bring my camera out in the rain. Oh well. Sometimes it's better to just watch, enjoy, and take a mental snapshot.
- Cornelia Harris

7/31 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Eagles and osprey have been regular daily visitors soaring and diving over Croton Bay, as it fills with schools of silvery menhaden.
- Christopher Letts

7/31- Brooklyn, New York City: Another day out of Red Hook, and the sloop Clearwater trawled up 7 blue crabs, and 11 shrimp.
- Captain Samantha Heyman

7/31 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: I spotted a small flock of seven shore birds, probably plovers, poking around in the mud at the water's edge along the public walkway. Shore birds are rarely seen here. They were 6-7 inches-long, brown heads, brown body with a distinctly white neck and a thick, inch-long bill. These were migrants, getting an early start south. There was also a black-crowned night heron that roosts on a half-sunken barge close to shore where dozens of people walk, jog, or ride their bikes past as it snoozes away. We often see a smaller-than-average great egret hunting in the catch basins. I have seen it over several weeks and it doesn't seem to be growing at all, although there is plenty to eat in the catch basins. There was a similar-sized one here last year. It is a treat to see these interesting birds among the gulls and pigeons.
- Terry Milligan

7/31 - Edgewater, NJ. HRM 8.5: Our barn swallows now seem to be flying in pairs with one right behind the other. It often looks like a mid-air crash is inevitable. I suspect these are this year's young ones following their parents. I wonder how much of this behavior is for learning from the parents how to hunt insects and how much is just hoping the adults will do the catching and continue feeding the lazy child?
- Terry Milligan

8/1 - Greenport, HRM 119: After an incredible amount of rain that caused damage to several communities in Columbia County, the river returned to a more relaxed stage. An adult bald eagle greeted me as though it were the official sentry to the opening of North Bay at the Greenport Conservation Area. A kingfisher sat in its usual place along the railroad tracks, and a large snapping turtle continued to dive, causing my little red kayak to rock and roll in the shallows.
- Fran Martino

8/1 - Ulster County: This was my first timber rattlesnake sighting of the year at the DEC-designated "Underhill Den." As we hiked down the flooded creek bed, a flutter of movement proved to be a three-foot-long black-and-yellow rattler who was as startled as we were. It rattled at us, not that this could be heard over the roar of the rain-swollen creek, and drew back its head in "strike" mode. We retreated into the creek and watched it awhile before leaving it alone. The rattle segment on its tail was easily two inches long.
- Sarah Underhill, Sabra Underhill

[As with eagle nests and orchid blooms, exact locations are not advertised. Hard as it might be to believe, there are "collectors" of endangered wildlife among us. Tom Lake.]

8/1 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I watched two healthy, glistening mourning cloak butterflies at the Vanderbilt site, the first one in the grass by the edge of the road, quickly joined by a second, just as attractive. The two then spiraled around each other high into the air. I was wondering if they were fighting or flirting. Earlier this summer I saw chipping sparrows doing the same maneuver, only about 4-6' in the air. I also saw two bald eagles engaged in similar behavior last February. So my guess is they were flirting.
- Pat Joel

8/1- Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 52: A greater yellowlegs passed through the marsh today, a migrant already on the way south, I presume, after a brief summer in Canadian muskeg. Didn't they just pass through in May, on their way north? That was fast.
- Eric Lind

8/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The summer shorebird migration, primarily yellowlegs and sandpipers, is well underway.
- Christopher Letts

[Many sandpipers and plovers start migration as early as the first week of July. Adults move out first leaving the young behind in their nesting grounds. By mid-August, depending on species, the peak of shorebird migration begins, consisting mostly of adults. We get to see shorebirds in fading adult plumage as they molt into their basic plumage on their way through. The juveniles come through by September and October. Any adults still around will be in the less colorful winter (basic) plumage. Many of the sandpipers and plovers have a long way to travel. Some nest in the high Arctic and then winter in the pampas of Argentina. Some of them take off from the Canadian Maritimes and fly out over the ocean, non-stop, to a South American landfall. Rich Guthrie.]

8/1 - Brooklyn, New York City: Another trip out of Red Hook for the sloop Clearwater. Today our net caught 9 shrimp, a summer flounder, 2 winter flounder, 2 lined seahorses, 2 sea stars, a large (3") moon snail, 3 spider crabs, and a fiddler crab.
- Captain Samantha Heyman

8/2 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 153: Before the rains came yet again, we managed to harvest our very wet garlic crop from the rain soaked field, all the while being watched by a lone Canada goose on our house pond. It seems to have been separated from its buddies. Yesterday, when the sun came out, we watched two hummingbirds exchanging places at our feeder.
- Pat Price, Bob Price

8/2 - Croton River, HRM 34: An adult common loon and a dark-plumage red-throated loon have been hanging out in the lower Croton River near Croton Bay most days. People have been referring to them as a "pair of loons." Well, almost.
- Christopher Letts

8/3 - Hudson, HRM 118: Paddling my little red kayak around Middle Ground Flats offered two sightings that piqued my curiosity. On the west side of the island, there was a coyote; on the east side of the island, a white-tailed deer. I wondered if they knew of each others' presence.
- Fran Martino

8/3 - Ulster County, HRM 78: The Mohonk Preserve, as well as the Rondout Esopus Conservancy in the Rondout Valley south of Stone Ridge, is a swath of lands teeming with native life. Great blue herons troll Kripplebush Creek for crayfish when the rains don't swell it. Each morning they lift off the eddy below the bridge on Old King's Highway and flap, "kraaking" their complaint at the necessity of the commute to work. New hawks have begun to ride the updrafts between the hayfields and the wood lots past Alligerville up to Mohonk Road where there is a tall dead tree, "subsidized housing" for some tens of turkey vultures. The hayfields themselves are full of red-winged blackbirds. Because the summer's been so wet, farmer Harm can't hay the fields with his usual rhythm, so the milkweeds have flourished. This week monarch butterflies have begun to congregate. Standing in bare feet by the edge of the hayfield, I watched as a garter snake slithered across my foot, insouciant and intent on its grassy destination.
- Peter Hales

8/4 - Stuyvesant, HRM 127: I paddled my little red kayak northbound from Nutten Hook in search of cardinal flowers. I was rewarded by seeing their blushing nod from behind the loosestrife and joe-pye weed. An Amtrak train traveled south while a doe took the shortcut by swimming across the inlet near the tracks.
- Fran Martino

8/5 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 61: Several weeks ago, we witnessed several young great blue herons being fed by adults high up in a snag tree above a small lake ever swelling from all the rain. The young herons eagerly stretched their long necks with mouths agape in attempts to get the adult to deposit food. It was fun to watch. Today, however, there appeared to be only one lone young heron that still had not flown the nest, with no adult in sight. A pair of mute swans, usually seen in the waters below with their two gray-feathered cygnets, was not visible either. Nearby, four double-crested cormorants were perched on individual branches of another snag.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

8/5 - Newburgh, HRM 61: While on a back road at Stewart International Airport, we came upon several northern flickers, some young and some adults, in the middle of the road. They appeared to be "anting" as they were wiggling about while prone on the pavement surface where prominent cracks in the asphalt would be. At times, they would peck into the asphalt crack and then would preen. We watched this activity for five minutes until a sharp-shinned hawk came stooping, whereupon the flickers and other nearby birds fled for cover.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

[Anting is an odd bird behavior that involves rubbing insects on their feathers, oftentimes ants, to acquire chemicals from them that, in addition to others properties, may help to control parasites. Tom Lake.]

8/5 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: We heard our first katydids tonight. This is very late for them. Perhaps this is because of the cool summer?
- Bill Drakert

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