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Hudson River Almanac September 15 - September 22, 2009

OVERVIEW

This was the defining week in Hudson's voyage up the river 400 years ago, the week when he discovered the benevolence of the Mohican people and the reality that this watershed would not provide an unobstructed passage west. Today the Mohican people live on their reservation in Wisconsin, secure in the knowledge that their generosity and protection contributed to the survival of these initial Europeans in the fall of 1609. I want to thank Mohican scholar Shirley Dunn for her insight and interpretation of Henry Hudson's voyage.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/18 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: It was high tide in mid-morning and Croton Bay was empty. An adult common loon, first reported by Christopher Letts six weeks ago, was still there, under the train trestle, diving for small bass and bunker as we passed over. Six hours later in late afternoon the tide was low and the bay had been transformed into a dining hall for dabblers. At least a thousand ducks and geese dotted the shallow bay off Crawbuckie beach. In the midst of several hundred Canada geese, although by themselves, were three snow geese with black wingtips and snowy white bodies.
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/15 - Knox, HRM 153: Woodcock flights were beginning in earnest. I know this because my morning jogging path takes me through a half mile of good woodcock country. While I hadn't seen any in July and August, it's recently become a 50/50 prospect of having at least one leap to a twittering flight ahead of me in the gloaming.
- Dave Nelson

9/15 - Newburgh to Inbocht Bay, HRM 60-110: In 1609, the Half Moon got an early start and with a south wind sailed north out of the Hudson Highlands. Hudson's first mate, Robert Juet, noted that "...the morning was misty, until the Sunne arose: then it cleered." Juet also noted that the river was deep, "thirteene fathoms, and great stores of Salmon the River." As a unit of meausre, a fathom was considered to be the length of a man, roughly six feet, so the river was about 80 feet deep. The Half Moon traveled at least fifty miles to the vicinity of Catskill where Hudson and his crew stayed the night with a beautiful view of the Catskill Mountains. Mohican scholar Shirley Dunn suggests that they may have dropped anchor at Inbocht Bay, just south of the mouth of Catskill Creek. Mohican Indian villages were known to have been inland on Catskill Creek. Juet notes that "There wee found very loving people..." no doubt Mohicans.
- Tom Lake

9/15 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After an absence of more than two months, the barred owls were back tonight. There were two of them in the Norway maple outside my bedroom window with their persistent question: Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you? Just after first light the forest erupted with familiar and strident calls that I had not heard in such volume since spring. A large flock of blue jays was passing through and their clear but raucous calls drowned out all else. The last hummingbird of the season, an immature, drank its fill and then departed.
- Tom Lake

9/16 - Catskill to Hudson, HRM 113-119: "The sixteenth, faire and very hot weather," Juet notes. "This morning the people came aboord, and brought us eares of Indian Corne, Pompions, and Tabacco: which we bought for trifles." The Half Moon traveled "two leagues" (about six miles) upriver to the Middle Ground near the city of Hudson where they anchored in the shoals.
- Tom Lake

[Pompions was an English word used to describe pumpkins and other squash, as well as the dishes made from them. Tom Lake.]

9/17 - Middle Ground to Schodack Island, HRM 119-137: Juet tells us the day began "...faire Sun-shining weather, and very hot." Hudson and his crew sailed another "6 leagues" (about 18 miles) upriver to an area of "shoals and small islands," got stuck in the shallows, waited for the tide to rise, floated off and then anchored for the night, probably near Schodack Island.
- Tom Lake

9/17 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: A month ago I nearly had a "heron grand-slam," finding one each of the five most common Hudson Valley herons in approximately the same area: green heron, great blue heron, snowy egret, great egret and black-crowned night heron. On that occasion I missed the most common heron, the great blue. Today along one mile of tidewater, I had two green herons on snags, one great egret, nine great blues wading, and at least one black-crowned night heron in a tree. The final member of the group would be the most difficult - it was just not to be, I could find no snowy egret.
- Tom Lake

9/17 - Ossining, HRM 33: After a morning of intermittent showers, the sun finally showed its face shortly after noon, brightening the gray facade of the river. From a point high above the water, I noticed what seemed to be six round white lumps floating around near the shore. When six long necks and heads appeared, I realized that I was looking at three pairs of mute swans that had ducked their heads under water in unison.
- Dorothy Ferguson

9/18 - Schodack Island, HRM 137: "...in the morning was faire weather, and we rode still." Henry Hudson's Masters Mate went on shore and visited a Mohican village, probably on Schodack Island.
- Tom Lake

9/18 - Selkirk, HRM 135: Yesterday morning hummingbirds were at the feeder drinking away. Today not a single one; it was as if they just disappeared.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

9/18 - Saugerties, HRM 102: This year, frequent rains and cooler temperatures have apparently taken a significant and widespread toll on butterflies throughout the northeast, especially hairstreaks and swallowtails. Despite this reduction in overall numbers of butterflies, reports of giant swallowtails in New York State have exceeded the numbers reported in 2008. A giant swallowtail was recently (August 30) reported from the Saugerties Lighthouse Trail, where I also spotted one in 2008. I suspect they may be breeding there due to multiple sightings over multiple years. Now is the time of the year for our readers to be alert for caterpillars in stands of northern prickly-ash or other plants in the Rue (Citrus) family, before they pupate for the winter. These local breeding colonies are apparently quite transient, but if all goes well, next year may reveal record-breaking numbers of giant swallowtails in the Hudson River Valley.
- Steve Chorvas

9/18 - Brockway, Dutchess County, HRM 63: From my window aboard the Metro North commuter train I found that snowy egret that eluded me yesterday. It lifted off from a dead-fall lodged in the water chestnut and flew gracefully alongside as we passed, black legs with yellow feet tailing behind, the "golden slippers" noted by Roger Tory Peterson.
- Tom Lake

9/18 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released just one carp today at Long Dock, a five-pounder, as well as a small brown bullhead. I noticed that the carp have started jumping again regularly. The water chestnut mass that annually clogs the whole bay in the late spring and all summer has broken up and most of it has drifted away. I had my first bald eagle sighting, as a large dark bird glided westward with an occasional wing flap over my head. A full tail fan of white feathers was clearly visible.
- Bill Greene

9/18 - Crugers, HRM 39: While taking groceries out of the car I happened to glance overhead and saw what appeared to be seven turkey vultures. Through binoculars I could see that they were juvenile bald eagles. Two were flying in tandem and teasing one another, as though it were a spring day. They all rode the thermals for about ten minutes as they headed south toward Oscawana Island.
- Dianne Picciano

9/19 - Schodack Island to Normans Kill, HRM 135-141: Juet tells us that the morning "...was faire and hot weather: at the floud, neere eleven of the clocke, wee weighed [anchor] and ran higher up two leagues above the shoals ..." Shirley Dunn believes this may have been below the mouth of the Normans Kill above present Van Wies Point, a place shown on early maps as "oude ree," and mentioned in 1626 as good place for ships to anchor. "The people of the Countrie came flocking aboord, and brought us Grapes and Pompions, which we bought fore trifles" (a similar expression used three days earlier). "And many brought us Bevers skinnes, and Otter skinnes, which wee bought for Beades, Knives, and Hatchets. So we rode there all night."
- Tom Lake

[This may have been the beginning of the Dutch obsession with beaver pelts. By 1650, beaver were extirpated (gone) from the lower Hudson Valley. Tom Lake.]

9/19 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: After a week of getting up early for work, I found it difficult to get some sleep this morning. At 3:00 AM it was the back-and-forth of a pair of barred owls that were no more than twenty yards from my window; at 6:45 AM, it was the sound of a vessel working its way through the thick fog rising off the warm river into the cool September air; then the distinctive clacking of a southbound Amtrak train. I gave up and went out on my deck where I was visited by a female hummingbird that was at the feeder all weekend.
- Peter Fanelli

9/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: A nature walk at Croton Point seemed the perfect way to start the day. We were greeted by a gray catbird flicking its tail feathers back and forth. Up in a tree we got a view of a beautiful northern flicker with the bright blue sky as its backdrop. A flock of starlings flew overhead as we continued. Overhead in the main parking lot more than 20 turkey vultures circled around riding the thermals. On a tree alongside the parking area, six more turkey vultures perched on the branches. One of them had its wings spread out like a cormorant. We proceeded towards the landfill and saw a palm warbler flitting around a small evergreen at the side of the road. Many kestrels were hovering on the hill, waiting for breakfast. As we moved on, two red-tailed hawks glided overhead. Farther up on the landfill we spotted a northern harrier flying low and finally landing in some brush. By now we could see Croton Bay from our location on the landfill. We did see a sharp-shinned hawk and more red-tailed hawks overhead, but the highlight of our hike was the sight of a beautiful adult bald eagle soaring over the point - a perfect end to a perfect day of birding.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

9/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35: This was our thirteenth annual Night Seining program at Croton Point. After sundown we line the beach with lanterns and haul our 250' net, built by Henry Gourdine, out into the dark of the Hudson River. This was a mild and starry night although we run this event rain or shine. One year we hauled during the pitch blackness of a tropical storm when the waves were breaking over the heads of the seine haulers and yet we ended up with one of our best catches. Night fishing with long nets is a tradition that probably originated thousands of years ago, far back in the deep past of the Hudson Valley. More recently, commercial haul seiners fished Haverstraw Bay using similar techniques in the early to mid-20th century. On this night our catch was two Atlantic needlefish, each 20 inches long; young-of-the-year [YOY] bluefish; six-inch menhaden ("penny bunker"); YOY striped bass; white perch; blue crabs; and killifish. The river was 72 degrees Fahrenheit and salinity was 5.0 parts per thousand, about 15% of seawater.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Robin Fox, Tony Usobiaga, Wayne Slaughter

["Henry's net" was built to exacting specifications: his own. Henry Gourdine of Ossining once built a 2600-foot commercial haul seine that used a quarter-mile of head rope. One day, more than fifty years ago at Crawbuckie, Henry and his crew caught 14,000 pounds of American shad and striped bass. He was not altogether happy about the haul; it took the crew so long to weigh, box, and ice the fish that they missed the opportunity to set on the next tide. Christopher Letts.]

[Natural selection designed the Atlantic needlefish to be a consummate predator. They are sight-feeders with over 20% of their adult length taken up by slender tooth-studded jaws. Adults can reach nearly two feet in length and will frequently leap out of the water in pursuit of prey. Known more as a temperate-to-tropical marine species, their presence in the Hudson went largely unnoticed until about 25 years ago. They seem to have adapted well, and since larval needlefish have been captured in the Hudson Highlands, it is likely that they are spawning in the estuary. A needlefish oddity occurs when you cook them (they are delicious smoked): their bones turn Kelly green. Tom Lake.]

9/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I spotted 4-5 monarchs today. I presumed they were migrating through.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/20 - Round Lake, Saratoga County, HRM 202: While paddling in the north end of Round Lake on a pleasant sunny afternoon, we had already seen several great blue herons, an osprey, and some double-crested cormorants. Then we saw a large dark bird flying towards us from the south end of the lake. It was an adult bald eagle. The eagle landed in a snag along the shore of the lake, sending the cormorants away from their perches. It was in full sun, with both wings partially spread, as though drying them.
- Scott Stoner, Denise Hackert-Stoner

9/20 - Normans Kill to Moordenaer's Kill, HRM 143-149: The run of good weather continued as Juet noted, "...in the morning was faire weather." Five men go upstream two leagues in the ship's boat to explore "... and found but two fathomes of water, and the channell very narrow." They return to the Half Moon and ride out the night.
- Tom Lake

9/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I woke up early this morning to a killer frost. Shriveled up pumpkin and squash vines were all around. I had my pumpkins covered, so hopefully they made it.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/21 - Normans Kill, HRM 143: "...The one and the twentieth, was faire weather, and the wind all Southerly. We determined yet once more to goe farther up into the River, to trie what depth and breadth it did beare; but much people [Mohicans] resorted aboord, so wee went not this day."
- Tom Lake

9/22 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Monarchs have been scarce but sulfurs [butterflies], on the other hand, have suddenly appeared everywhere. I've even seen a handful of mourning cloaks lately.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/22 - Normans Kill, HRM 143: This would be a pivotal day for Henry Hudson's voyage. Juet tells us that "...The two and twentieth, was faire weather: in the morning the Masters Mate and foure more of the companie went up with our boat to sound the River higher up. The people of the Country came not aboord until noone: but when they came, and saw the Savages well [those Mohicans who had slept on board overnight], they were glad. So at three of the clock in the after-noone they came aboord, and brought Tabacco, and more Beades, and gave them to our Master, and made an Oration, and shewed him all the Countrey round about. They sent one of their companie on land, who presently returned, and brought a great Platter full of Venison dressed by themselves; and they caused him to eate with them: then they made him reverence, and departed all save the old man that lay aboord. This night at ten of the clocke, our Boat returned in a showre of raine from sounding of the River; and found it to bee at an end for shipping to goe in. For they had beene up eight or nine leagues [24-27 miles], and found but seven foot water, and unconstant soundings." A water route to the west was not at hand.
- Tom Lake

9/22 - Hudson-Champlain Canal, Lock 1, HRM 165: Henry Hudson's crew gave up in their attempt to find a navigable passage through the watershed to reach points west. About 22 miles north of where the Half Moon lay at anchor, near Lock 1 of the Hudson-Champlain Canal, there is a New York State Historical marker that reads: "Henry Hudson - September 22, 1609 - Stopped near here by shallow water in Hudson River in search for Northwest Passage."
- Tom Lake

9/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: In late afternoon I was out looking for acorns when autumn arrived. We had recovered several flat, palm-sized, double-pitted stones from an archaeological site where in the distant past Hudson Valley native people had used them, presumably, as platforms for cracking nuts. Would present-day acorns fit? Finding intact white oak acorns at Bowdoin Park was not so simple; I discovered that the gray squirrels had been very busy. As the autumnal equinox swept over the valley, the air was quiet, the sky was gray, and even the squirrels were silent.
- Tom Lake

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