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Hudson River Almanac October 9 - October 16, 2009

OVERVIEW

This was another week of fall migration tales, from butterflies to songbirds. You will also note a correction to a previous Weekly Almanac from 9/24. While the Almanac tries to be interesting and informative, we also recognize the need for accuracy. On occasion, when a questionable sighting or discovery undergoes additional scrutiny, we have to amend our original entry. Science works best when it is self-correcting.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/10 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Spending time along the river in the shadow of the Palisades in October can be like a three-ring circus. While we were there to haul a seine and catch fish for the Palisades Nature Association, we could not help but stop every few minutes to watch the show in the air. There were as many as eight osprey in the air at a time, all consumed with their intent to catch one of the many menhaden they undoubtedly could see in the river below. Whenever we looked up at least one of them would be carrying a fish to the safety of the treeline. The "pirates" were also out, 3-4 bald eagles in view at a time, and more than once an eagle would dive on an osprey forcing the fish hawk to drop its catch. Closer to the water we spotted a single spicebush swallowtail butterfly moving south, but no monarchs. The catch in our seine seemed anticlimactic: a dozen thumbnail-size female blue crabs, a few Atlantic silversides, young-of-the-year striped bass, and a nice surprise, several silver perch (128-130 mm). The river was 65 degrees F. and the salinity was 8.0 parts per thousand, or about 25% seawater.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts, Nancy Slowik, Terry Milligan

[Silver perch are a member of the drum family of fishes. Saltwater drum such as northern kingfish, croakers, weakfish and spot are often quite common in the lower estuary as young-of-the-year and juveniles. Most of them have highly specialized swim bladders that serve as sound-producing organs. This has led to the colloquial name of "drum." C. Lavett Smith.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/9 - Croton River to Crawbuckie, HRM 34-33: There must be a metaphoric "dinner bell" associated with low tide on Croton Bay. Hundreds of Canada geese were scattered across a half-mile of river with nearly as many mallards, black ducks, green-winged teal, and cormorants interspersed. Every couple of hundred feet a great blue heron was standing on the sand at the water's edge. Every hundred yards a great egret was wading in its exaggerated slow-motion feeding posture. A snowy egret was perched on the wing of the train trestle, its yellow feet draped over the pilings as it eyed the adjacent shallows for an opportunity to feed.
- Tom Lake

10/9 - Scarborough, HRM 32: Loons seem to spend as much time underwater as they do on the surface so it took some good timing as our Metro North car passed to spot a common loon feeding in the low tide shallows. I had to wonder if this was the same loon we had been seeing since mid-summer two miles upriver in Croton Bay.
- Tom Lake

10/9 - Palisades, HRM 21: In mid-afternoon, there was a sudden flurry of activity in the shadbush outside my office. Not all at once, but in the course of about 15 minutes, I watched a blue-headed (solitary) vireo, a male black throated blue warbler, a female ruby-crowned kinglet, an immature black-throated green warbler, 3-4 goldfinches in winter plumage, a male cardinal, a few titmice, and an immature yellow-rumped warbler.
- Linda Pistolesi

10/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Among the auditory signs of autumn are the calls of high-flyer geese that you hear long before you see. Often they are so high that you have to look at what appears to be an empty sky for minutes before they finally appear like black lines etched in a background of blue. When I finally found a large flock of Canada geese in midday, it took the form of a huge check-mark in the sky.
- Tom Lake

10/10 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 14: You could tell the fishing was good for anglers along the seawall. They spoke in a matter-of-fact way of the foot-long red hake, or "ling," that seemed to be coming over the bulkhead every couple of minutes. Shrugging, they spoke of catching bluefish to 15 lb., striped bass to 20 lb., and how they expected the fishing to pick up soon. Such optimism could only come from dedicated fishermen.
- Tom Lake

10/10 - Cape May, NJ: The monarch butterfly migration was in full swing. Although there weren't quite as many as we usually see in mid-October, there were still swarms of monarchs all over the dunes. It's always so interesting to watch the tagging of the butterflies by the Cape May Bird Observatory before the monarchs make their long journey to Mexico.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

[While this entry is not physically Hudson River-related, it does share some association with the mystery of the Hudson Valley monarch butterfly scarcity. Cape May, 160 miles south of Manhattan, is a jumping off point over Delaware Bay, a collection area for birds and butterflies migrating south in the fall. The monarchs seen here skirted our area using other migratory paths to Cape May. Tom Lake.]

[Monarch butterflies bred in the Hudson River watershed migrate south as much as 2,700 miles to a wintering location in a mountain forest near Mexico City. They arrive in large numbers to the same roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their wintering location is threatened by deforestation, increased agriculture and other human activity. The Mexican government is attempting to save the monarch's winter habitat by establishing wildlife refuges and tourist parks. The length of the round-trip journey far exceeds the lifetime of a monarch, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer. The last generation of the summer lives up to seven months, during which it migrates to the wintering location. This generation does not reproduce until it leaves the following spring. How monarchs manage to return to the same wintering locale over a span of several generations is a mystery. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall. Tom Lake.]

10/11 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: A strong west wind held an adult bald eagle in the sky like a kite on a string. The bird's white head and tail glowed in the sunlight as it paused for a minute or more with just its wing tips fluttering.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

10/11 - Town of Goshen, HRM 52: I stopped at Harmony Farm in mid-afternoon on a windy day to check the garden. I spotted a sharp-shinned hawk fighting the wind to hover over me for a minute before sailing away. Not long after, a huge bird came over us from behind, flying quite low. I spotted the white tail and when it passed over and banked briefly, the white head and tail of an adult bald eagle were clear.
- Betsy Hawes

10/11 - Peekskill, HRM 43: From my backyard I heard some high-pitched trills. I grabbed my binoculars expecting to see cedar waxwings but instead spotted several golden-crowned kinglets foraging at the top of a 30-foot spruce. Michael Bochnik of Hudson River Audubon confirmed that cedar waxwing have a single "seeet" call, and that kinglets have a triple "seeet-seeet-seeet" call when there is a flock. They sound very similar.
- Carol Capobianco

10/11 - Haverstraw Bay, Rockland County, HRM 35: While motoring our sailboat up river in northern Haverstraw Bay I spotted a two-foot-long fish leaping out of the river and then flopping back. In the bright sunlight of early afternoon it looked silvery. The profile was definitely that of a young sturgeon. I also saw a large swale on the river that I concluded must have been made by a much larger fish. This was my first sturgeon sighting on the Hudson.
- Caleb Davison

10/12 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Our Tappan Zee anglers were catching bluefish and striped bass 6-18 lb., mostly on chunk bait such as menhaden. But nothing good seems to come without a price. They complain that big blue crabs have been pilfering their bait.
- Christopher Letts

10/13 - State Line Lookout, HRM 18: Margie Turrin and I walked down old route 9W to the State Line Lookout. As we began our walk back to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, we came upon a beautiful male eastern box turtle on the old concrete roadway. He had lovely yellow marks on his six-inch carapace and red-orange markings on his forelegs and neck. We lifted him over the high curb and placed him in the sunny brush alongside the road.
- Linda Pistolesi

10/13 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The brant arrived back right on schedule from their Arctic breeding grounds after having left here on Memorial Day weekend. Presently there were about 40 birds, but we may end up with a few hundred. If we have a tight freeze this winter, many of them will move farther south. It's good to know that we can count on hearing their croaks, squeaks, and gentle honks until spring. At the moment, Sandy Hook is featuring brant, golden-crowned kinglets, seaside goldenrod, and groundsel.
- Dery Bennett

10/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Shorebird migration can be a sign of fall as well as spring. It is comforting to hear the first killdeer in early March a call that usually coincides with ice-out on local ponds. Today we watched two dozen killdeer scurrying around a grassy knoll calling "tee di di" (sounds like "killdeer" to birders!). After a few nights of frost, they will get the message to move on.
- Tom Lake

10/14 - Campbell Hall, Orange County, HRM 60: For several nights in a row I have been awakened in the middle of the night by what I thought sounded, at first, like a rooster. But it turns out that it was a barred owl!
- M. Jane Groves

10/14 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: For the past three mornings there has been frost here - first a tiny bit in the lowest bottoms, then a bit higher up. This morning it shimmered on the brush a third of the way up the landfill. Yet another wave of kestrels had moved in and was making things hot for the local crowd. Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks as well as harriers were all moving through and the lower road on the south side of the point was pulsing with warblers, kinglets, and sparrows.
- Christopher Letts

10/15 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: In late afternoon the snow began, large soggy flakes that hissed when they hit the water. The air was in the high 30s and the river was in the low 60s, resulting in a heavy mist rising off the water. I could plainly hear high-flyer geese but looking up I could only see snowflakes and fog.
- Tom Lake

10/15 - Palisades, HRM 18: On many days, including today, over the last 2-3 weeks there has been an eastern phoebe visiting the shadbush, pine, and honey locust trees visible from my office window. I assume it's the same individual. Other birds have come and gone, but he appears to be sticking around rather than continuing south.
- Linda Pistolesi

10/16 - Sparkill Creek, HRM 25: On September 24, we captured what we thought was a rare species of native turtle in Sparkill Creek: "There was a second turtle that was distinctive in its elongated pointed snout and the webbing on its feet, an eastern spiny soft shell." However, we did not have a photo of the turtle and, after conferring with Hudson River turtle experts like Bob Schmidt, we have concluded that we actually had caught the invasive Chinese soft-shelled turtle.
- Margie Turrin, Linda Pistolisi

[The Chinese soft-shelled turtle is native to Asia. Determining its exact native range is not easy since it is used widely for food and homeopathic medicine The Chinese soft-shelled turtle is an invasive species in North America and is not uncommon both in ethnic markets and the pet industry. Tom Lake.]

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