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Hudson River Almanac November 1 - November 7, 2009

OVERVIEW

The mild mid-autumn weather has made for quiet times. Wildlife - and we as well - respond most actively to the stresses of weather extremes. For most wildlife, this is the calm before the ice storms of December.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/2 - Fishkill, HRM 61: The sky overhead was blue in late afternoon; soft, fluffy clouds were barely moving, and the sun shone brightly, although it was waning beyond the western tree line. As I stood in a freshly mowed field, several crows were flying westward to a night roost, a red-bellied woodpecker was pounding a nut on a tree limb, and chickadees and a nuthatch were busy probing trees for tasty morsels. As I turned my gaze northward, the "ghost of the night," a barn owl, flew across the field in silent flight headed into a copse of trees.
- Ed Spaeth

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Several months ago I saw an adult red-tailed hawk intercepting large cicada killer wasps as they returned to their burrows. It was curious behavior, I thought. This morning I watched an adult red-tail at almost the same spot for about 10 minutes. It was purposefully wading through a puddle about three inches deep, intently scrutinizing the bottom. Several times it jumped up and down with both feet, seemingly trying to grasp something with its talons. After the bird flew off, I examined the puddle. The roiled water and the bird tracks were clear, but I could find nothing to suggest a prey item. The bird never touched the water with its beak. I was mystified. The bird joined a second red-tail to perch in a low tree not far away. I had walked within forty feet of them as I examined the puddle and neither took flight. I suspect this is the resident pair at Croton Point. I walk beneath their roosts on morning walks and they are not timid.
- Christopher Letts

11/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: "Clamming season" must have opened today: the gulls have commenced bombing the Metro North commuter rail parking lot with wedge rangia clams. The gulls "harvest" the clams at low tide; on a good minus tide, it is usual to see up to sixty ring-billed gulls probing the mud flats for clams. Then they carry them over and drop them from about forty feet in the air onto the hard pavement to break them open. However, they do not always hit the pavement; sometimes the heavy clams land on automobiles in the lot. The black-backed and herring gulls tend to let the smaller ring-billed gulls do the work and then swoop in to pirate the clam meats. This is strictly cold-weather behavior. By spring the black asphalt will appear almost white and more than one commuter will get off the train to find a fresh "ding" in their vehicle.
- Christopher Letts

[Wedge rangia are a bivalve mollusk native to more southerly brackish coastal and inshore waters like Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. It is believed that they were inadvertently introduced to the lower Hudson River about eighteen years ago through the ballast water of commercial vessels. They are now found as far upriver as Newburgh. Dave Strayer.]

11/2 - Delmar, HRM 143: I went for a walk at the Five River Environmental Educational Center to look for frogs on a warm, sunny day. I found only young bullfrogs. The moms and dads must have already headed for the bottom of the pond. Ponds where I have found green frogs and leopard frogs were now empty; they have gone to the Vlomankill for the winter. I've been checking for the past few years to see if this theory holds up and it does, here at least. Green frogs and leopard frogs spend the winter in a stream and come back with the spring rains.
- Dee Strnisa

11/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: As last light from the sun faded to the west, the first light from the Beaver Moon, November's full moon, rose in the east. For many Native Americans, in order to ensure a supply of warm winter furs in prime condition, this was the time to set beaver traps before the ponds and wetlands froze over. Another name for the November full moon is the Sassafras Moon. One of the treats of the season is to steep your Thanksgiving cider with sassafras root.
- Tom Lake

11/2 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 51.5: The shift back an hour to standard time brought the added treat of seeing our first bald eagle in months from our Metro North commuter car, an adult perched, sentry-like, in the marsh at 7:15 AM.
- Mike Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

11/3 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: On the way to work today, a short distance from my house, a black bear ran across the road. It was a medium-sized bear with a very full, glossy black coat. Then, a little farther on, a 4-point buck white-tailed deer stood next to the road and stared at me as I drove by. I got to see two of New York's largest mammals on the same morning. A moose would have completed the picture though they are rare in the Catskills.
- Reba Wynn Laks

[As I read this entry, I was hoping for a mastodont! Ten-feet-high at the shoulder, 10,000 lb., they were possibly the largest land mammal ever to inhabit New York. Tom Lake.]

11/3 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: Several months ago I sent the Almanac a note about a woodpecker that was renovating a wren house, using its bill to enlarge the opening. Late this afternoon, I saw a downy woodpecker head straight for the wren house with no hesitation. It was so quick that I could not see whether it was a male or female. I kept an eye on the house until dark. Since the woodpecker stayed inside, it looks as if it's roosting in the wren house.
- Phyllis Marsteller

11/4 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: As we scanned the landfill, we spotted two snow geese flying away from us, heading south. After that, it was a day for raptors. A beautiful red-tailed hawk flew past, also heading south. As we aimed our binoculars towards the red-tail, we spotted a large raptor sitting atop one of the posts on the hill, its light-colored chest gleaming in the sunlight: a northern harrier. We watched it for more than a half hour, expecting to see it fly, but all it did was preen. Then a dark shadow passed over and we watched a sharp-shinned hawk fly into a nearby tree. The sharp-shinned, too, just sat there, patiently awaiting its prey.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

11/4 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Flocks of black ducks and green-winged teal returned here about three weeks ago. They have since moved inside the train trestle to the mouth of the Croton River. Today, under a fat pale moon, a raft of about 20 buffleheads was riding the placid surface of the bay - the first winter ducks. It was nice to have them back.
- Christopher Letts

11/5 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: A mid-morning walk starting on the blue trail from the Mills Mansion was delightful because of the crunching sound and sensation as we plowed through several inches of leaves. Except for some oaks and beech, most of the leaves have fallen on both the blue and white trails. Approaching the Hoyt House, we observed our first wildlife activity: a pileated woodpecker was calling as it circled up a majestic oak, while several slate-colored juncos and a cardinal flew up from the high grassy vegetation ahead of us. At the same time, an immature red-tailed hawk landed in a large sugar maple, looked about for a minute and flew further into the woods. We continued back to the Mills Mansion north along the Hudson, the water very calm, the midsection smooth as glass. Near the old pump house, a pileated woodpecker took off from a large chestnut oak, flying in an elongated arc back toward the river. It is always a thrill to see this large black woodpecker with the white underwings as it maneuvers through the trees.
- Bill Jacobs, Judy Kito

11/5 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The river was as flat as a mirror with reflections of the last of the autumn colors, mostly yellows and browns, from the Hudson Highlands. I heard a squeaky call from down in Cornwall Bay as an adult bald eagle came off Sloop Hill. I am always surprised to hear such a powerful bird emits such a timid call. It is fairly weak compared to the k-i-r-r-r-r of the much smaller red-tailed hawk. I'm guessing that they are just a confident, self-effacing raptor. Their countenance is all the expression they require.
- Tom Lake

11/5 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: "Firsts" are easy - there was no doubt that the male goldeneye diving off the swimming beach was the first I had seen this season. The same was true for the pair of hooded mergansers feeding in the Croton River soon thereafter. "Lasts" are the tricky ones. I rarely see woodchucks in November, so the pudgy critter sitting bolt-upright in a clover patch this morning was probably a "last."
- Christopher Letts

11/6 - Red Hook, HRM 98: The morning weather was in the low thirties and very windy; the Hudson was choppy. A single blue jay, very vocal, and a far off gray squirrel were the only wildlife spotted during our hike on Poet's Walk. As we emerged from the woods trail, the fluffy white seedpods of the milkweed in a large open field were a picture of beauty.
- Bill Jacobs, Judy Kito

11/6 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: The Birds Are Coming! I drove to the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie tonight to see Alfred Hitchcock's movie "The Birds." Near the Mid-Hudson Bridge there were millions (at least many, many thousands) of crows perched in treetops, their night roost, all facing the same direction, silhouetted against an almost dark sky. It was perfect!
- Kathryn Paulsen

11/6 - Beacon, HRM 61: The northwest breeze was disruptive enough for a small raft of black ducks to find shelter inside the bay on the leeward side of Long Dock. The season is right, the diminishing daylight carries a message, and the only element yet to come is the cold, icy, harsh weather that will drive many flocks of wintering waterfowl south on the river in the months ahead.
- Tom Lake

[Windward and leeward are terms that are often used to provide color and accuracy to the description of a location or condition under which a sighting is made. These are sailing terms used to denote wind exposure: windward being in the face of the wind, leeward meaning sheltered, as in the lee of a point, such as Long Dock. Tom Lake.]

11/7 - Delmar, HRM 143: It's one thing to have your sharp-eyed contributors spot our national symbol along the mighty Hudson, but to see one circling over a car wash while driving down Delaware Avenue in the bedroom community of Delmar today really brought it home for me that this magnificent bird is back. The car wash, I hasten to add, perches on a bluff above the Normanskill near the Albany city line just a few miles from the great river itself. I'm sure that's where this bird had come from. Still, it was a pleasure to see my first Delmar eagle in the wild.
- Pete Corrigan

11/7 - Town of Wappinger: After an absence of several months, the mated bald eagle pair from nest NY62 was back. I spotted the male today in a tall white pine, preening. After five successful seasons beginning in 2002, the pair has failed to produce fledglings in the last three years. It is impossible to know if they are running on instinct, or determination, to make 2010 an successful year. They are still together and apparently have not abandoned the area, so the signs are positive.
- Tom Lake

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