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Hudson River Almanac October 17 - October 24, 2009

OVERVIEW

This was the week when peak fall colors, estimated by many to be the best in years, spread over much of the Hudson River Valley. The seasonal transition was very apparent with snow in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, big bluefish in the brackish lower river, and waves of autumn migrants heading south with our winter birds right on their tail.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK


10/19 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: When we pulled the boat docks and floats today from the Village of Coxsackie's waterfront, I could not find a single zebra mussel. Last year when we pulled the docks, every square inch of surface below the waterline was covered in a two-inch-thick mantle of zebra mussels.

- Rene VanSchaack

[Zebra mussel numbers are not down, but the larger zebra mussels are missing. There seem to be none out there older than one year. Therefore, their capability to filter the river has decreased and because of that some of the phytoplankton and zooplankton has begun to recover. Kathy Hattala.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/17 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: The juncos have arrived in our yard so it must be autumn!

- Bill Drakert

10/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This is the season when fallen leaves pile up in my yard. In most years I can find no useful reason to mulch more than once so the accumulation can be considerable. Today's damp leaves were "alive" with much rustling as though they were blowing in the wind. With a little patience I waited until the rustlers poked their heads up, revealing several white-crowned sparrows and at least one white-throated sparrow - winter birds searching for insects.

- Tom Lake

10/18 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: After many years as a natural resource manager and Coxsackie "river rat," I had my most extraordinary experience today. I was checking the mail box at my home along the river when the sound of something flapping caught my attention. Looking up, an adult bald eagle with a huge fish in its talons passed directly overhead at lower than roof-top level. The bird navigated the space between mine and my neighbor's house. I raced to the back of my house and was treated to the eagle and his dinner turning back, flying east over my head, taking a short arc over the river and then gaining altitude before flapping away over the tree line. I was breathless and my jaw hurt from the big grin on my face.

- Rene VanSchaack

10/18 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: A cold, wet day made for a slow-going morning. While watching for raindrops we spotted a beautiful coyote in our back yard. What a surprise! He was large with a beautiful thick coat and appeared very healthy. Not the thin scruffy version I held in my mind. He was busy sniffing the ground, hot on the trail of something. Where is the camera when you need it? We watched him for several minutes until the neighborhood crows arrived and chased him off. They must have known what he was after and wanted it for themselves. It was a great sight and a nice way to brighten a dreary morning.

- Jill Welch, Ken Welch

10/18 - Kowawese, HRM 50: A steady rain and stiff northeast wind made an already cold and dreary afternoon less appealing. We were on the windward side of Plum Point and the rising tide was capping over in a frothy white. The new moon flood tide had captured the beach and was steadily rising up and over the flood plain heading for the tree line. At the same moment that I thought to myself it was no day to be flying, the resident adult bald eagle glided off nearby Sloop Hill and spiraled upward, turning in small circles to look down at a hopelessly deep Cornwall Bay. Finding dinner would be a challenge today.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

10/18 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The Boyz at the Bridge had themselves a day catching big bluefish to 16 lb. One boat came in with eight fish averaging 10 lb., and that many more that somehow had slipped the hook or broke the line. The action was on "bunker chunks," small hand-cut sections of Atlantic menhaden. Everyone wondered, however, where were the striped bass? Every bluefish was gorged with bunker, so there was plenty of fodder out there in the Tappan Zee and Haverstraw Bay.

- Christopher Letts

10/19 - Town of Esopus, HRM 88: It was mid afternoon and from across the ravine from my job site on River Road I heard a strange barking sound. I did my best to mimic it and a few minutes later a handsome red fox came loping through the tall grass and goldenrod. He did not see me until I spoke to him when he was a mere ten feet from me. He froze in his tracks for a few seconds, then warily turned away, and made a hasty retreat back down the trail. He looked healthy and well fed - a nice glossy coat with vibrant coloration.

- John Sperr

10/19 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.4: An emphatic frost wiped out our squash and pumpkin patch and likewise did in the basil, cucumbers and eggplants. Rats. Tomatoes, beans and leafy crops survived and maybe those recalcitrant tomatoes will ripen before the next cold blast. One can hope.

- Christopher Letts

10/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Frost was thick on all the lowlands and the rain puddles from yesterday's nor'easter were skimmed with ice. There was an increase in the migratory bird pulse, with flocks of cedar waxwings, robins and red-winged blackbirds moving swiftly down the length of the Point to lift off where the distance across the Tappan Zee was lessened. The south side underbrush was thick with kinglets, warblers, and phoebes. The landfill was host to yet another wave of kestrels. I was able to harvest about 3 lb. of prime shaggy mane mushrooms and I planned a dinner menu as I walked: grilled bluefish cheeks (the best part of any fish) smothered in rich mushroom sauce would be the main course.

- Christopher Letts

10/19 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: As our Metro North commuter car crept along we could see a flock of about two dozen green-winged teal bobbing in the chop not far offshore. Many other groupings of waterfowl were spread across the bay but at a distance they all appeared as small, dark, silhouettes.

- Tom Lake

10/20 - Green Island, HRM 153: It seemed that our trees were at peak fall color. The soft, shadowless light of a cloudy day enhanced the colors. It was the most impressive display I had seen in recent years. When I was a child, it seemed like far fewer of Hudson Valley trees and shrubs were aliens or ornamentals. Through child's eyes I seem to recall that we saw classic autumn colors every autumn, and they arrived earlier. Colorful sugar maples seem to be fewer than they used to be. Climate change? They have been replaced in part by Norway maples that often linger into November before coloring, or just shedding brownish leaves. Our present "forests" often appear unbalanced in their makeup; in that regard, fall colors in the Hudson Valley become an international blend.

- Tom Lake

10/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: We spotted four northern harriers soaring over the landfill and a kestrel perched on one of the well rods, presumably hunting. Along the south road adjacent to Croton Bay, a Cooper's hawk shot over the tree-tops and out across the bay. We watched a ruby crowned kinglet bouncing among the leaves in the bushes along the road. The best part, however, came as the sky dimmed about 6:30 PM, and we heard two great horned owls hooting and answering. We spotted one silhouetted in a tall tree over the campground. Then a screech owl started calling making it quite an owl chorus.

- Scott Horecky, Kathy Sutherland

10/21 - Green Island, HRM 153: The tide was extremely low; a line of gulls perched on the spillway of the federal dam gave testimony to the lack of water coming over. In the distance above the dam an immature bald eagle was perched in a hardwood tree. At my feet under a largely leafless cottonwood was a primary (wing) feather of an adult bald eagle. In the shallows along the shore I could see schools of small herring being chased by smallmouth bass. A Cooper's hawk cruised across the Hudson from Troy covering the entire breadth of the river without a single wing-beat. At low tide, this reach of the river, replete with opportunities, is like a deli for raptors.

- Tom Lake

10/21 - Ulster County, HRM 83: My neighbor raises goats and they have a herd of about twenty in a pasture that abuts the unpopulated Shawangunk Mountain side. Recently they butchered several of their flock and discarded the offal in the woods in the back of their property. An unintended consequence of this seems to have been to lure at least one large predator off the mountain to investigate this alluring scent. Late at night, my neighbor was wakened by the alarming barking of his two sheep dogs who patrol the pasture. He also heard a strange yowling cry which he described as being like a child crying. Going out to investigate he found the dogs chasing up and down the electric fence line while whatever it was prowled along outside, still emitting the yowls. Shining a large flashlight over the fence revealed a large tawny animal, the color of a deer and uniform in color, which bounded away like a deer, minus the white tail. My neighbor is convinced that what he heard and saw was a mountain lion.

- Sarah Underhill

[The possibilities in this case run from a bobcat to a coyote, and perhaps as an alternative, a mountain lion. We have had a spate of mountain lion "sightings" this year in the Hudson Valley, and one of these days one of them might turn out to be true. Tom Lake.]

10/21 - Beacon, HRM 61: The underbrush and shrubbery along the Klara Sauer Trail were filled with chipping sparrows and kinglets as well as white cabbage and clouded sulphur butterflies. A hatchling snapping turtle (34 mm carapace length) was on the path heading to the beach and certainly would not refuse our assistance. Then up popped a monarch, a large, healthy-looking butterfly. It seemed to flutter one step head of us as we walked the trail. Given the season, we had the realization that this monarch was also just a step ahead of autumn's first killing frost.

- Tom Lake, Cody Lake

10/22 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: I paddled my little red kayak south from the historic ice house at Nutten Hook to the sheltered cove just to the north of Hudson River Islands State Park. I watched a spotted sandpiper teetering in the muck. The tide was coming in so quickly that the bird had to continually change its position to keep its underbelly from getting wet. It was interesting to note the birds' strategy to free its feet and legs from the mud flat: bend and lift from the knees, similar to a person wearing chest waders stuck in the mud using a seine net at dead low tide.

- Fran Martino

10/22 - Rhinebeck, HRM 100: In mid-morning I saw four turkey vultures, wings spread out, resting on perches about forty feet above the ground. They had taken over two banks of floodlights above the soccer field at Bard College just east of Tivoli Bays, in a symmetrical arrangement: Atop each pole are eight lamps, two rows of four. Below each vulture were four lamps, two rows of two.

- Phyllis Marsteller

10/22 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: This was the tenth anniversary of the serendipitous discovery (no one was looking for it) of the Hyde Park mastodont. These are an extinct form of "elephant" that roamed the Hudson Valley in the Late Pleistocene during the time when it is believed that the first Native Americans arrived here and the Hudson River was becoming an estuary.

- Tom Lake

[A cast (exact replica) of the Hyde Park mastodon is on permanent display at the Mid-Hudson Children's Museum in Poughkeepsie. The original animal stood ten-feet-high at the shoulder and weighed 10,000 lb. The 1999-2000 excavation was not unlike entering a time machine and the display gives us a great appreciation of the tremendous time-depth of our region. Tom Lake.]

10/22 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The highlights of our birding day were two vesper sparrows and, best of all, a very cooperative dickcissel. Earlier we had spotted numerous palm warblers as well as white crowned, swamp, and savannah sparrows. Pipits and killdeer have also been seen in good numbers this week at Croton Point but we did not see any this morning.

- Larry Trachtenberg, Charlie Roberto

10/22 - Bergen County, NJ, HRM 14-11: Forget Vermont! The autumnal colors here were the finest I have seen in many a season. As I walked the shore trail south the George Washington Bridge the woods were loaded with songbirds including warblers, sparrows, kinglets, and brown creepers, a life-long special bird for me. Winter wrens seemed to find aging stone walls and foundations irresistible; they pried and poked into every crack and cranny. Then they will spend ten minutes at a picnic table, an upside-down spider shopping mall.

- Christopher Letts

10/23 - Indian Brook, Putnam County, HRM 52: I woke up early to walk along the river and by the light of a misty morning I watched a brown trout, spotted and sure, rise and fall in the small upstream riffles of Indian Brook. In the waters of low tide, its large, shining body rested in small pools, preparing for the next push. Pleasured by the stamina and sleek body of this guest, I became most glad for its size as a rattling kingfisher breezed past overhead.

- Charley Wilkinson

10/23 - Furnace Book, HRM 38.5: The leaves came thundering down by the true millions. The mulching mower revealed a healthy greensward beneath the macerated leaves. Another puff of breeze and fresh hordes of leaves rattled down to cover my walk. This is our way of fertilizing the lawn and dealing with leaves. By spring not a vestige of a leaf will remain. No raking, bagging, and hauling of leaf bags. It works.

- Christopher Letts

10/23 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: "Blowin' like stink," as the Lake Huron sailors like to say of a strong wind, as cascades of leaves came swirling down. White-crowned sparrows, bobolinks, white-throated sparrows, and juncos had returned. Many flocks of robins and cedar waxwings were moving through.

- Christopher Letts

10/23 - Bergen County, NJ, HRM 18: The wondrous colors that we somehow missed this season were in superabundance today. With big winds and soaking rain moving in, it will not last. But today! The colors were brilliant as well as subtle, healthy green on the oaks to crazed reds and oranges and yellows on the vines and on the maples. I was getting honked at while driving the actual speed limit on the Palisades Parkway. I moved to the parallel route 9W where the pace was slower and the colors even better. Every commute should be as rewarding.

- Christopher Letts

10/23 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: The bus filled with Ossining second-graders was on time, and a good thing. We caught the tide just right and made it out off the beach into the mud with the seine. This was not like yesterday, calm and balmy. With a long northeast fetch of river, we had white caps on the Tappan Zee and foot-high waves breaking on Bloomers Beach. The catch was not much, a few bay anchovies, juvenile blue crabs, a single white perch, and a couple silversides. The children did not have any expectations, so a three-inch blue crab and a five-inch perch spelled success.

- Christopher Letts

10/24 - Town of Goshen, HRM 52: The Carolina wren's morning song was soon joined by the "Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody" of a white-throated sparrow. The flick of the juncos white outer tail feathers were also here. Our winter birds had returned.

- Betsy Hawes

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