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Hudson River Almanac August 13 - August 19, 2009

OVERVIEW

There were sporadic reports of mountain lions in Dutchess County in May and July, and of black panthers in Rockland and Bergen Counties, but the evidence necessary to make a positive identification never seemed to follow.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/17 - Croton River, HRM 34: I came upon a live Chinese mitten crab in the lower Croton estuary. It was an adult from what I could see: small square shell, brown-to-tan, long legs compared to the body, small claws, looking much like the rest of its legs. It was about 7-8 inches across, 4-5 inches head-to-tail
- Barry Keegan

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/13 - Fishkill, HRM 61: In late morning, our feeder was visited by a family of chipping sparrows. With plenty of seed in the feeder, the two young chipping sparrows selected some seed for themselves, but would still readily beg for handouts from the parent bird. Interestingly, the young birds with their striped breasts and lack of a red top-cap seemed somewhat larger than the parent bird.
- Ed Spaeth

8/13 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Oh, what a treat to have a great crested flycatcher visit our yard, however briefly. It was first spotted when it landed on a conifer. It darted out from its perch several times to catch insects and also gleaned some insects from the pine boughs. After a short while, it flew low and out of sight, but not without first showing off its beautiful markings: gray throat, yellow breast and reddish tail.
- Ed Spaeth

8/13 - Crugers, HRM 39: It rained most of the day and after it stopped, some different birds visited our feeders. As we watched black-capped chickadees feeding on sunflower seeds, a tiny ruby-throated hummingbird whizzed past, seeming to buzz the chickadees as it flew by. This was the first hummingbird we have seen this season. As the chickadees continued to feed, they were joined by a tufted titmouse, a beautiful male house finch, a male white-breasted nuthatch, and a male downy woodpecker busily working on the peanut feeder.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

8/14 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: In three trips here to fish, including two days ago, I have never seen a surfacing or jumping carp. At least I hooked, but then lost, a small carp today - hook pulled out. A while later I caught and released a small (15") channel cat.
- Bill Greene

8/14 - Rockland-Bergen Counties, HRM 25-15: It began last winter, maybe even earlier - several reports of large, black cats, always one, sometimes two, as in Sparkill's Tallman Mountain State Park in March. Many eyewitnesses believe they are black panthers. Area law enforcement patrols have been increased, cameras have been set to capture nighttime images, and trackers hired to find whatever it is that so many people have been seeing. So far, evidence from the trackers includes scratches on trees and some paw prints that might be from a large cat. With bobcats and bears around, such identification can be problematic. If it is a large cat, it almost certainly would have to be a mountain lion. Oddly, no one has reported a missing mountain lion. However, if it was a deliberate release, that would be expected.
This is the third mountain lion report in the last three months. The first two were in Dutchess County in May and July. Following an investigation, neither produced any evidence other than eyewitness observation. There has been no documented proof of a home-grown wild mountain lion in New York State for over 100 years. It is not impossible that one might someday show up wandering in from Canada or northern New England. What is needed is DNA, from scat, fur, or the animal itself. Even a good, verifiable photo would help with identification. Peter Nye, NYSDEC Endangered Species Unit leader, suspects that if it is not an escaped pet, he'd bet it would be a fisher. A large fisher can be the size of a small mountain lion.
- Tom Lake

[The black panther is a color variant, dark gray or black of the mountain lion (Puma concolor), known throughout its range by various names such as puma, painter, panther, cougar, and catamount. Tom Lake.]

8/15 - Garrison, HRM 51: Over the weekend, we noticed two beautiful monarch butterflies coming across the river heading south. Let the migration begin!
- Dianne Picciano, Kay Martens

[Autumns that follow summers with significant rainfall, especially where the milkweed grows, can produce a very impressive monarch butterfly migration. On those autumn days with a north to northwest breeze, you can stand along the river and count them flutter past. Perhaps the best location for this is along the river in the lee of the Palisades in Bergen County, NJ, from Alpine south to Englewood. Tom Lake.]

8/16 - Croton Marsh, HRM 35: This was the kind of sultry summer day, heat and humidity both in the 90s, when even shade hardly helped. It was far too hot for Gino Garner to go fishing so he sat in the shade and watched eagles and osprey fish the mouth of the Croton River. Gino lamented the low salinity in the Hudson, 3.0 parts per thousand - barely discernable to the tongue, which meant far fewer menhaden or bunker, and almost no bass and blues. We counted nine great egrets, with their precision wading, systematically stalking killifish in the dropping half-tide shallows.
- Tom Lake

8/16 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: The salinity of the river, less than 5.0.ppt, was about a third of what would be expected on a typical mid-August day in the Tappan Zee. An immature bald eagle seemed to be very proficient as it cruised, dove, and fished the Tappan Zee for at least a half hour, making several catches of small fish.
- Tom Lake

8/17 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 52: This warm August morning saw us leading a canoe trip into the marsh for eleven teenage counselors-in-training and three of their supervisors from the Fresh Air Fund. Although it was mid-morning when we launched the canoes from Indian Brook, we were pleasantly surprised to see and hear quite a variety of birds, including: a dozen cedar waxwings, a green heron, 2 Cooper's hawks, an osprey, 3 eastern kingbirds, 2 belted kingfishers, a small flock of American goldfinches, a few swallows, many red-wing blackbirds, and 2 turkey vultures way off in the distance.
We also found a newly constructed (within the last 1-2 weeks) marsh wren nest. The marsh wrens are definitely done nesting for the season, so we surmised that a young male may have constructed the nest late, just to brush up his skills for next year. Bumblebees and honeybees were out in force visiting the many wildflowers currently in bloom, including jewelweed, pickerelweed, swamp rose mallow, and cardinal flower. Unfortunately, we have yet to find a single muskrat lodge in the marsh this year, and there have only been a few muskrat sightings.
- Matt Caligiure, Bethany Ellis Caligiure, Mary Charbonneau

8/18 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I was looking for mitten crab sheds and finding none. I paused to look up and spotted two large black birds heading straight at me along the river. They were black as crows but cruised like raptors. Ravens. They passed over and headed inland. While it is not uncommon to see ravens in the Hudson Highlands, near nesting areas, seeing them here was a bit of a surprise.
- Tom Lake

[We have been seeing more common ravens, especially in the Hudson Highlands, for at least 12-15 years. There were a few at first but now they are becoming more established. You can see their eyries tucked into crevices on the face of Storm King Mountain and across the river at Breakneck Ridge (river mile 56). You can also find them by the streak of "white-wash" (bird offal) that spills down from the crack in the rock. They stuff nesting material into these snug openings in the rock face - one of their favorite types of nests. It affords them good protection as well as providing easy in-and-out access. Tom Lake.]

8/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had 0.64 inches of rain this morning, the largest single amount of rain in quite a while. July only netted us 5.11 inches as compared to well over 6 inches last July.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/19 - Saw Kill to the Fall Kill, HRM 98.5 - 75.5: My search for mitten crabs (August 19) took me to the mouth of the Saw Kill and the Fall Kill. In the Saw Kill I saw 9 juvenile great egrets fishing in the water chestnut. In the Fall Kill I spotted four small blue crabs (3-3.5 inch) scuttling along in the rapids above the head of tide. I have seen them at considerable distances from the tidal Hudson in other years. I did find one mitten crab shed.
- Bob Schmidt

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