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Hudson River Almanac August 18 - August 25, 2009

OVERVIEW

There was a little bit of a lot of things over the last seven days that collectively spoke to a quiet late summer week. The slowly increasing numbers of osprey, shorebirds, and monarchs signal the coming of autumn.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/21 - New Paltz, HRM 78: A giant swallowtail butterfly fed among the butterfly bushes in our garden late this morning. I've never seen one before, though references say it ranges north to southern New England. This one had been pretty beaten up, by birds I'd guess, but was still a strong flyer.
- Steve Stanne

[Giant swallowtails were pretty widely reported in southern New York last summer. This is the first I've been told of this year. They come up as strays from the deep south, sometimes following or carried by outer winds of tropical storms. There are reports of them breeding in New York, the caterpillars feeding on prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) in the Hudson Valley and the Ontario Lake plain. Spider Barbour.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/18 - Town of Pleasant Valley, HRM 84: Recently we saw a great egret, as large as a great blue heron but snowy white, land on a fallen log at the edge of Wappinger Creek in Salt Point. A day later and eight miles south, we watched a bobcat cross Spring Road along the Fall Kill. These were amazing sightings since we had never seen either of these animals before.
- Santha Cooke, Elizabeth Hanka

8/18 - Croton River, HRM 34: I came upon a Chinese mitten crab at the south end of Paradise Isle in the lower Croton estuary yesterday, as reported last week in the Almanac. Paradise Isle is now surrounded by hundreds of blooming cardinal flowers and I waded around to stay cool. I first came upon a brown trout that let me stroke it gently three times before taking off like a shot. The mitten crab was nearby where I also found a dead "snapper" bluefish as well as a blue crab moult. This may be the first mitten crab reported from this Hudson River tributary. After some recollection, I came up with some more field marks to add: the crab was alive and walked away as I got close (they are a walking crab as opposed to a swimming crab like the blue crab); it was an adult from what I could see; it had a small square-ish 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 and 4-5 inches head-to-tail. Osprey and great blue herons were everywhere!
- Barry Keegan

["Snapper" blues is one of the many colloquial names applied to bluefish of every size and age. Some of them refer to their teeth and the strength of their jaws. Young-of-the-year (YOY) blues are called "snappers"; yearlings are known as "cocktail" or "tailor blues." Once they reach the 7-10 pound range, anglers speak of "choppers," or "slammers." Names like "alligator" and "gorilla" blues are reserved for the very largest and meanest of bluefish. Tom Lake]

8/18 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: A pair of osprey had been circling over the Hudson, an unusual sight in itself, but today I had a second sighting of one carrying a good sized herring (Atlantic menhaden?) in its talons. I have not yet seen the flashing beneath the surface of the huge schools of menhaden such as I saw last year but maybe they are out toward the channel or near the far shore this year.
- Terry Milligan

8/19 - Rifton, HRM 85: I was driving along the Wallkill River this morning when I spotted a very white-headed bald eagle, an adult, standing on a gravel rise a couple hundred yards downstream from the hydro station. Since I had my camera, I thought I would take a picture of this fine fellow. He had been picking at something and just as I lifted my camera, he flew off. He was really a wonderful sight.
- William Murray

8/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35: On this sunny, hot day, the teachers in our training workshop for this fall's Day in the Life of the Hudson event wanted to stay in the shade. But the river beckoned; from the bulkhead alongside the swimming beach, we could see small areas of ripples moving on the glassy surface of the river - like a cats paw breeze, but with no sense of direction. Underneath were schools of young menhaden, most 3-5 inches long. They swam with mouths wide open and gill covers flared, filtering plankton from the water. Nearby, the bright sun was strongly driving photosynthesis in a thick bed of submerged water celery - the surface of the water was slowly fizzing with tiny bubbles of oxygen rising from plants below.
- Steve Stanne

8/20 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 61: Most of the fields had been mowed for hay on the old Benedict Farm, but on this warm, humid, summer afternoon, goldfinches were still plucking thistledown. Stands of Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod, purple loosestrife, and Joe-Pye weed swayed in the occasional breezes as bees busily fed on aster blossoms. A few milkweed seeds wafted across the field on a gentle breeze as monarch and orange sulfur butterflies fluttered through the air.
- Ed Spaeth

8/20 - Fishkill, HRM 61: The rock quarries and sand quarries were stilled for the evening, but at a nearby campground nestled between the hills of the old Wiccopee Pass, I spotted a little blue heron stealthy stalking its prey, insect swarms notwithstanding, in the murky, muddy waters of the campground's small pond.
- Ed Spaeth

8/20 - Middletown, HRM 55: I have been fortunate to wake up to the red-winged blackbirds right out my door, with one always perched on the top of my tall pine tree. They have been my companions morning and evening since the first signs of spring. Recently I noticed they were all gone. I miss their song and presence in my garden and will await their return next year, telling me spring has arrived.
- Ann Reichal

8/20 - Manhattan, HRM 4: Driving on the West Side highway today I spotted a bird on a lamppost between the Fifty-seventh and Seventy-second Street exits. Instead of the usual pigeon or gull, it was a red-tailed hawk in all its regal glory. What a treat!
- Ettie Shapiro

8/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Because of the all the rain we've had, has created much standing water, the mosquitoes are bad seemingly everywhere.
- Christopher Letts

8/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I found an orchid down in a drainage ditch this morning. Almanac contributor Dave Taft suggested that I keep my eyes open for Spiranthes, or Ladies'-tresses, for they will often grow where the purple fringes grow, and I think I found one. I didn't have time to really look it over, but I hope to stop again after work, camera and field guide in hand, to figure it out.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/21 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Ten years ago today, after twelve months of searching with ground penetrating radar, a backhoe, and much human effort, a team of paleontologists from Cornell University at last found the "bone pit" of a mastodont adjacent to the Fall Kill. Radiocarbon analysis of the tusks of this now-extinct form of elephant returned a date of 11,500 years ago, the dawn of human presence in the Hudson Valley.
- Tom Lake

8/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 73: I was pulling into a black-topped parking late this afternoon in the midst of a thunderstorm and had to stop for a group of six turkey vultures walking single file through the parking lot. They did not look twice or hurry off because of my car. They crossed the parking lot and then started off into the woods.
- Anne Lynch

8/21 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: There are few better places in the Hudson Valley to watch an approaching storm from the west-southwest. This was a classic summer thunderstorm with dark and heavy rolling clouds rapidly crossing the river appearing like special effects from a sci-fi movie. Lightning flashes overlapped and the rain arrived in sheets. Torrential wind gusts over 50 mph had trees listing at 45 degrees. Finally a loud crack and a mature Norway maple toppled into the road. In a half-hour, an inch of rain had fallen.
- Tom Lake

8/21 - Yonkers, HRM 18: While driving southbound on the Sprain Brook Parkway in an evening rainstorm, we watched a lone wild turkey foraging along the shoulder of the very busy roadway. We were surprised to see this bird in Yonkers, but I suspect there is still sufficient oak wood habitat in this part of the city where I used to camp under the stars many years ago as a boy.
- Ed Spaeth, Carol Albee, Kaycie Williams

8/21 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: I could not find any barn swallows today. They arrived on April 16 and, as always, they are gone four months later, some years to the day. I saw some other barn swallows streaking by Overpeck Creek in Leonia yesterday and wondered if they all are ruled by such strict schedules.
- Terry Milligan

8/21 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: For five or six years in a row now, I have seen the puzzling sight of a flock of birds, about 50 birds in a perfect V formation apparently migrating south, go past my house at high speed, wings rapidly beating, only one foot off the water. They fly in this formation and at this absurd height for as far as I can see (about 2 miles) and never rise or fall from this precise level. I have also seen the same species going upriver in spring at the same level off the water.
- Terry Milligan

[These were probably double-crested cormorants, although brant (small geese) also fly in a "right on the deck" manner at times. Cormorants are common nearly year-round along the tidewater Hudson while brant migrate through heading to and from breeding grounds in the Arctic during spring and fall. Tom Lake.]

8/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After 12 hours of rain (three-quarter of an inch) a blazing hot sun came out and steam rose from the forest. With it came 11 turkey vultures, one after another, spiraling upward until they formed a kettle several hundred feet in the air. Several monarchs mimicked the vultures rising in the warm air and disappearing over the canopy.
- Tom Lake

8/22 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: On a walk on Denning's Point this morning I realized that even the indigo buntings along the access road had stopped singing. I did hear an adult red-shouldered hawk calling from the interior of the point. Later an immature, perhaps its offspring, sailed across the tidal cove and landed in the cottonwoods along the shore. It was low tide and a half dozen deer were foraging in the stranded water chestnut plants. I spotted an osprey over the cove and there were a few spotted sandpipers as well as the picked-over shells of a few blue crabs, along the shore.
- Stephen M. Seymour

[Has anyone noticed a bit of a resurgence of purple loosestrife this year? I've seen more blooming plants this season than in recent years. Perhaps the rainfall and cooler temperatures have stifled the efforts of the beetles imported to control it. Stephen M. Seymour.]

8/23 - Croton Point, HRM 35-24: I counted several indigo buntings and many flycatchers on my walk around the point today.
- Christopher Letts

8/23 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: The sloop Clearwater was sitting at the dock at the Palisades Interstate Park this morning with a light rain falling. Out of the mist two osprey flew past, each clutching a fish. Osprey carry fish head first in the most aerodynamic position. Nature is most abundant in this park - a little slice of wilderness along the western shore of the Hudson within sight of Yonkers across the river.
- Brian Mohan

8/24 - Maritje Kill, HRM 81: It was low tide so I walked to the mouth of the Maritje Kill. The wild rice was beginning to develop its kernels which were waving over the marsh. I found one blue crab exoskeleton (shed) in the tidal area.
- Bob Schmidt

8/24 - Fall Kill, HRM 75.5: At the Fall Kill, in the rapids above the head of tide, I spotted a small male blue crab that had just shed; the crab was sitting just behind the old shell. I briefly picked up the softshell crab, one that would normally pinch painfully.
- Bob Schmidt

8/25 - Fishkill, HRM 61: While I was enjoying watching a hummingbird busily seeking nectar from the remaining blossoms of our monardia and other flowers, the little bird flew to rest on a nearby lilac shrub. As it perched there, I began to quietly talk to it. It seemed that the bird moved to a more visible perch to get a better view of me. As I continued to talk quietly to the bird, it flew directly in front of me, hovering briefly about a foot from my face to give me the once over before flying off to seek other blossoms.
- Ed Spaeth

8/25 - Rockland-Bergen counties, HRM 25-15: There is nothing new to report on the black panthers of Rockland and Bergen counties. We have received many suggestions regarding the identity of this animal, including the usual suspects: young black bears, bobcat, even a melanistic bobcat. The most popular alternative to a mountain lion has been a large weasel, a fisher. Fishers are our largest weasel, reaching over 40" in length. While they are seen periodically in the Catskills and Adirondacks, they are uncommon in the Mid-Hudson Valley. While the name of this furbearer suggests an aquatic habitat and diet, they actually much prefer dense forests and porcupines. Ellen Rathbone reminded us that one of the colloquial names for fisher is fisher-cat.
- Tom Lake

[From the Hudson River Almanac, January 2007: The fisher weasel has re-established populations in other parts of the state outside of the Adirondack Park. Many reported sighting of "black panthers" have been confirmed as fishers. The stuffed fisher on display at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center is huge, originally a 19 lb. animal. Most fishers are not that big, but certainly a large male could be of significant size, and have big feet, too. I've seen very large fisher tracks around, although one must take into account the furriness of feet in winter. Ellen Rathbone, Naturalist.]

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