Hudson River Almanac October 25 - October 31, 2009
With autumn colors past peak and snow in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, watershed observations reflected the final vestiges of autumn.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
10/25 - Coxsackie to Middle Ground Flats, HRM 124-119: As we paddled downriver along the east bank opposite the northern end of the Middle Ground, a red-throated loon popped up right near us. As we drifted along shooting with the camera, I wound up quite close to it. This loon had not yet eclipsed to winter plumage and still had its "red throat." It also tolerated the proximity much better than I'd expect from a common loon. During the trip we also spotted three adult bald eagles and one brant, the latter off the southern tip of Gay's Point, Hudson River Islands State Park.
- Alan Mapes
[Because loons are not regularly seen in the Hudson River Valley they tend to take on an aura of mystique. The common loon is often associated with wilderness; for most people their tremolo and yodel calls conjure up images of a wild and unspoiled landscape. While the common loon breeds in the Hudson River watershed in the Adirondacks, the red-throated is an Arctic breeder. Both species are seen, albeit infrequently, during spring and fall migrations. Tom Lake.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
10/25 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Maynard Ham produces a newsletter each month based on a local newspaper from 100 years ago, printing articles and notices just as they appeared in the original. His goal is to give an idea of what everyday life was like a century ago. Here is a very short notice from the Red Hook Journal, October 25, 1901: "Catching lobsters in this part of the Hudson is something unusual. William Stenson, while fishing in the river at Saugerties a few days ago, caught a large one."
[Calling this catch unusual is much understated. What could William Stenson have caught? The American lobster is a saltwater crustacean rarely found upriver from New York Harbor, 100 miles south. In 1901 there were no alien mitten crabs to confuse matters and it seems quite late in the season for a blue crab of a size to fool a fisherman. Since the journalist did not enclose "lobster" in quotes, we have to assume that the name reflects a colloquial term that the readers would recognize.
An easy guess is the common crayfish, possibly the native spiny-cheeked (Orconectes limosus) that can grow to five inches long. Greeley noted in his 1936 Biological Survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed (p.226), of catching "several specimens" of spiny-cheeked (at that time they were called Cambarus affinis) in "4 to 9 meters of water at Coxsackie," 22 miles upriver from Saugerties. It is unclear whether the invasive rusty crawfish (Orconectes rusticus) was in the Hudson River at that time. Yet, with lobster-like crawfish being relatively common, the comment "something unusual ... in this part of the Hudson" does not seem logical. Ideas? Tom Lake.]
10/25 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: On this crisp, sunny morning, the view from the old Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge (now the Walkway Over The Hudson) was magnificent. Walking 200 feet over the river, I saw a peregrine falcon fly below me and a late monarch butterfly flutter past above, heading south just above the heads of the people on this path in the sky.
- Steve Stanne
10/25 - Palisades, HRM 21: As I was driving home along Oak Tree Road I saw what I thought was a leaf fluttering across the rain-drenched road. Then I noticed it was actually a frog hopping. When I arrived home and got out of the car I heard a frog chorus singing in the night accompanied by a gentle backdrop of rain drops.
- Diane Langmuir
10/26 - Croton Point, HRM 35: This was a new trip for the fourth grade classes from one of the local schools. They had brought buckets and a tank had been set up in their classroom. The seine brought in an impressive catch: dozens of sunfish, killifish, a few silversides, four striped bass and, to my surprise, three dozen four-spine sticklebacks, jewel-like in size, form and color. They must have been concentrated in the shrinking beds of wild celery through which we had drawn the net. We also caught dozens of shore shrimp, jumping about the seine like popcorn. The larger ones went into the buckets and back to school where, I hoped, they might have a calming effect in the classroom and inspire a new spirit of scientific inquiry.
- Christopher Letts
10/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Fall color at dawn on the lower road at the Point was at peak. The trees and underbrush trembled with thousands of migrants - red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings, and hordes of robins. Daybreak offered a classic Indian Summer day with bright sun and a lovely blue sky. A merlin coursed darkly across the landfill - some small bird would perish this morning. I had given up hoping for a late flight of monarchs. The last I saw was now more than three weeks ago. The weekend torrent of rain (nearly two inches) left ample puddles and on one of the larger, a half dozen wood ducks were voyaging.
- Christopher Letts
10/26 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: An adult bald eagle took a perch a little above eye level on a locust about 100 feet away from our second floor window. Her back to us, she made a meal of something, while smaller birds strafed and a mockingbird took jabs at her tail.
- Elizabeth T. Martin, Stephen Tilly
10/27 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This was a cool, rainy morning with a "low ceiling." Somewhere above the gray gloom a flock of Canada geese, masters of flight, day or night, fair weather or fowl (foul), was heading down river. I listened trying to discern if these might have been snow geese, a somewhat subtle and different call, but decided they were not.
- Tom Lake
10/27 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The rain slowly but steadily increased as I made my morning walk around this peninsula. After 32 species of birds counted yesterday, today's count was only 5. And then a flash of movement - the first snow buntings of the season were moving down the gravel path ahead of me. Hours later I could still bring them back in my mind, a bright spot in a dreary morning.
- Christopher Letts
10/28 - the freshwater tidal Hudson River: According to our data the overall numbers of zebra mussels are not down, but mortality rates are way up. Annual survival rates are just 1% of what they were in the mid-1990s, so all of the zebra mussels we see are small, young, and then they die. We don't know why mortality rates have gone up so much, although we do know that blue crabs are killing a lot of zebra mussels. This is not a result of adults siphoning young from the water column, as had been the case in the past. The mortality is occurring after the young animals have settled on hard substrate.
- Dave Strayer, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
10/29 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: At first glance I thought I was seeing the first winter ducks of the season, a pair of buffleheads. But it seemed early so I stopped the truck and pulled out the binoculars. Hooded mergansers, three gorgeous pairs in all, a sign of late autumn and impending winter, but not the serious weather to come that will drive bufflehead, common mergansers, ruddy ducks and scaup south from points far north and east.
- Tom Lake
10/29 - Rockland County, HRM 31: Prologue to autumn seining programs usually includes an explanation to the students about seasonal migrations. It is never easier than here, at Hook Mountain, beneath the rim of the Palisades. Sharp-shinned hawks and black and turkey vultures were the main event today. At one point, more than a dozen vultures were ascending into the blue right over our heads. The old joke resurfaced: "We call that a kettle except at Halloween when it's a cauldron."
- Christopher Letts
10/30 - Sandy Hook Bay, NJ: While words flowing from the mind of a good writer can paint pictures, there are times when language fails. Acres of "sand eels," also called American sand lance, small schooling bait fish, were spread out across Sandy Hook Bay, attracting numbers of large bluefish. You could see "troubled water" at almost every quarter where the blues had collared the sand eels and were extracting their toll. But even more impressive were the acres of double-crested cormorants, hundreds of birds, swimming, diving, and then surfacing with small silvery sand eels drooping from their bills. One of the mysteries of such an encounter is how the cormorants keep their flippered feet intact from the indiscriminately marauding bluefish.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts
10/30 - Lower Bay, New York Harbor: A dozen American Littoral Society members and friends jumped on a charter boat to fish Romer Shoals. In late afternoon, the striped bass decided to start feeding and, with clams for bait, we caught, tagged and released a dozen ranging in size from 25 to 30 inches as well as a 22-inch bluefish. The striped bass, all mature fish, will soon swim up into the Hudson River estuary, find lower salinity brackish water in which to spend the winter, and then participate in the spawning run next spring.
- Dery Bennett
10/31 - Hyde Park, HRM 78: The afternoon was windy, the sky a dark gray, and a persistent drizzle gave the day some character. As is our Halloween tradition, we visited the grave of one of the twentieth century's most renowned naturalists, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was also a Jesuit theologian and one of the very few clergy of his day who was able to reconcile his faith with Darwin's theory of evolution. Teilhard de Chardin died in 1955 and is buried on the grounds of the Culinary Institute.
In keeping with the uneasy spirit of the day, the large, drooping branches of Norway spruce hung down like the arms of a giant. The forest edge had a contradictory mixture of colors and shadows with the maples glowing scarlet while the red oaks were a leathery brown. The theme of such visits is natural history; visitors pay homage by leaving appropriate offerings like fossils and flowers and shells. From an ocean beach earlier in the day, we had collected moonshell, whelk, scallop, and mussel shells, as well as a gorgeous yellow quartz pebble, all symbolic of a spirit of kinship with the earth.
- Tom Lake, Cody Lake
10/31 - Sandy Hook, NJ: This was a damp, strangely balmy morning; out in the woods the katydids were back singing after what seemed like a three-week rest period.
- Dery Bennett
10/31 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The tracks in the sand at first light, while barely noticeable, were still unmistakably river otter. The gait and paw prints were unique among the many domestic dog trails. We followed them along the edge of the beach grass for a hundred feet or more until they dissolved into the dunes. Flock of sanderlings, small shorebirds, were making precise and synchronized turns along the water's edge. Offshore a score of gannets, both adults and immatures, were bombing schools of bait fish. While we did not see them, seasonally migrating bluefish and striped bass were here - blues heading south, the bass north into the estuary. We spotted a long wavering V of brant coming off the Hook heading west across the bay.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts
[Northern gannets are goose-sized seabirds nearly always seen over the ocean, rarely venturing inland except to breed. They are birds of the cold North Atlantic, with breeding colonies in the far northeastern Canadian Maritimes. They dive like pelicans or osprey when feeding, and although I have seen some sloppiness at Sandy Hook, author David Sibley describes their entry as "piercing the water," with a minimum of splash, like an Olympic swimmer executing the perfect dive. Tom Lake.]
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