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Hudson River Almanac November 16 - November 23, 2009

OVERVIEW

The mild late-autumn weather continued to make wildlife appear to move in slow motion. Our highlight this week comes from Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River, not far from where it meets the Hudson 157 miles north of the Battery. This scenic overlook is one of the most impressive sights in the watershed and one that has become a favorite haunt of bald eagles.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/21 - Cohoes Falls, HRM 157: The bare branches against a steely gray sky - I call it "stick" weather - were typically November, but if it was any colder it would smell like snow. The falls were flowing high and a wind was blowing. There above the falls, each sitting in its own tree, was a pair of adult bald eagles. They just sat and watched the river, and so did we.
- Karen McCaffrey

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/16 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 152: Our neighbor left some round hay bales in one of our fields and a red-tailed hawk took advantage of them as perches while scrutinizing the now cleared field for feeding opportunities. He was there almost every day until the balls were removed.
- Pat Price, Bob Price

11/16 - Town of Rhinebeck, HRM 88: It was a mild morning but the woods of Ferncliff Forest were quiet, as were the skies as viewed from atop the fire tower. Hiking back downhill, being careful not to slip on the wet leaves, I was surprised to find a 14-inch garter snake coiled up in plain sight on the forest floor. It was catching a few rays and yet almost too cool to respond to my touch. I've somehow had the eye for snakes this year, though I expect this will be the last.
- Krista Munger

11/16 - George's Island, HRM 39: I was able to launch my kayak in late afternoon knowing that coming back I would be paddling in the dark with just a head lamp and the lights from across the river to guide me. After sundown, the massed clouds in the west turned a glowing orange, like a shiny, wet pumpkin, fading to raspberry and then steel gray. No river traffic, but many birds flying to their roosts.
- Stephen Butterfass

11/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 70: I glanced out my window this morning where I have a hopper feeder and saw a red fox chase the birds away. It was the second time in a week that I had a fox here. Last time he ran along the ridge behind my house and down to the Casper Kill. This time, he was only a few feet from my house. He saw me approach the window and took off, again in the direction of the stream. I have had problems with cats under my feeders, but who would have thought I'd have a problem with a fox!
- Marge Robinson

11/17 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: They may have been back for a few days but today was the first time I saw them in numbers - common mergansers, hens and drakes, a dozen or more. In the world of phenology, common mergansers are one of those species whose presence portends future events. In this case, their late fall arrival from northern breeding grounds comes just before the arrival of wintering bald eagles. They are a favorite prey for eagles and the connection is pretty clear. The drake merganser is among the most strikingly beautiful of all waterfowl. The equally gorgeous hen, with her fly-away red-feathered head, always reminds me of the Bride of Frankenstein. Common mergansers will be here by the thousands, in rafts large and small, from now until late March when they will depart for points north just ahead of the eagles.
- Tom Lake

[Phenology is the study of wildlife phenomena and their periodic, often predictable, natural cycles of occurrence. Included are such events as the "first robin of spring," the "last monarch of autumn," the blooming of flowers, the mating of eagles, the chirp of the "last cicada," and the "first killing frost." Tom Lake.]

11/18 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: The black bear could not quite grab the bird feeder that was hanging seven feet above the ground on a line running from the house to a sugar maple tree. We were excited and amused as the bear "danced" under the feeder trying to get hold of it. Neither the outside light nor we watching seemed to affect its actions, even when we advised it to move on with rather loud shouts. Unable to reach the feeder, it quickly climbed the maple tree, sat on the first branch and yanked and bit into the line without breaking it. Unsuccessful after several minutes, it returned to the ground and ambled into the woods stopping three different times to observe us, and the elusive bird feeder.
- Bill Jacobs, Judy Kito

11/19 - Town of Wappinger: As you travel the Hudson Valley is impossible not to notice the habitat loss for wildlife as commercial development, piecemeal, erodes the landscape. As a result I try to savor every moment that typifies a more natural and wild landscape. I stood for fifteen minutes today, downwind and stoic as a tree, while a large, medium gray coyote did a dance in a field, presumably in pursuit of mice. Its mincing steps were playful, almost comical, as it would hop and spin 180 degrees as though a wind-up toy were escaping. Then it would pounce, shove its muzzle into the grass, catch nothing, and wind up sneezing. In the end, the thrill seemed to be gone, and soon so was the coyote.
- Tom Lake

11/19 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: A pied-billed grebe and a horned grebe were fishing the shallows at the start of the flood tide in Croton Bay just outside the railroad trestle this morning.
- Christopher Letts

11/20 - Brewster, HRM 52: We spotted a sharp-shinned hawk perched on the limb of a red maple very near our house. It was calm and quite tolerant of our presence and in fact seemed to be dozing on and off for a couple of hours. What a privilege to see it so close for so long - a beautiful bird. A couple of years ago, we noticed all the songbirds evacuate the feeders outside our dining room window. Shortly thereafter, a sharp-shinned appeared and perched on the railing right beside one of the feeders ten feet from our window. It figured that a group of chickadees had taken refuge in a nearby thicket. The hawk charged the thicket three times, finally succeeding in flushing one chickadee. For the next fifteen seconds we were treated to the most incredible display of low altitude, high speed avian aerobatics imaginable as the sharp-shinned gave chase. Finally the chickadee zigged when it should have zagged and, as if gingerly grasping a jar from the top shelf, the hawk banked left and gently snatched the chickadee out of the air. It was sad for the chickadee but a breath-taking display.
- Bruce Iacono

11/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: After an all-night rain (0.63 inches) and a mild, misty morning it was a joy to walk with the last of the bright leaves falling, wrens trilling, and robins clucking. A couple of kestrels were chasing each other, almost swallow-like in their dips, dives and turns. Cabbage white butterflies and several shades of alfalfas were plentiful, dragonflies basked, and a mosquito bit me. Shades of mid-September!
- Christopher Letts

11/20 - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens, New York City: The new colonel of the United State Army Corps of Engineers and a group of government partners timed their visit to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge well. Thunderstorms (in November!) mellowed into a glorious sunny day by mid-morning. Highlights of the walk included a brown snake (caught eating worms disgorged from under their leafy hiding spots by the rainy morning), a great blue heron eating fish in a west pond filled with brant geese, and a great view of a peregrine falcon sitting on an osprey platform. Unfortunately, we missed the immature bald eagle which flapped past Johann Schumacher's ever-ready camera on the east side of the refuge. By nightfall (late afternoon this time of year), we were standing on the newly reconstructed Elder's Marsh, a project brought about through the collaboration of the National Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York State, and New York City, not to mention a host of volunteers.
- Dave Taft

11/21 - Rhinebeck, HRM 88: At 6:45 this morning, when I carried some seed out to the thistle feeder, two goldfinches flew from their perches and the downy woodpecker flew from the wren house that it has been using as its roost.
- Phyllis Marsteller

11/21 - Dutchess County, HRM 78: While hiking with LaGrange Middle School students on the Appalachian Trail between Route 55 and West Dover Road, in two separate locations we saw birds' heads. One was attached to its spine; one looked as though it was chopped off. Not far from the latter was a long brown feather which was probably a pheasant's. The one with spine was like a crime scene with several tufts of feathers on ground and caught in branches. We thought it might be a duck because there were many nearby on a lake. Finally, it was good to see a live bird, but what was it? I thought maybe a grouse, but its markings were different. It made "peeping" sounds. As I approached, it did not fly, but walked away to keep its distance.
- Kathryn Paulsen

[Digital photos confirmed our speculation that Kathryn had encountered a chukar partridge. Among upland birds, farm-raised, non-native "game birds" do not seem to have as much of a natural instinct for survival as do the native ruffed grouse and northern bobwhite. They often have no qualms about walking out in the open with predators about. That is why quail, partridge, and pheasants are so popular with hunters on game preserves. Your dead bird had probably fallen prey to an owl, although a hawk, fox or coyote would have done the same. Tom Lake.]

11/21 - Bear Mountain Bridge, HRM 46: As my wife and I were driving over the Bear Mountain Bridge early this evening (5:47 PM), we looked to the north and saw what looked like a ball of fire traveling west over South Mountain Pass, over the Hudson River, and over Con Hook (HRM 48.5) before it "flamed out." I've seen many "shooting stars" but I've never seen anything like this - it even had a "tail." I assumed from the trajectory it impacted somewhere over by Long Pond, but who knows. It looked like the video I've seen of the Peekskill Meteor. I've always thought of the Hudson Highlands as the atmosphere's stage for rainbows, fog, storms, etc., but this was amazing!
- Scott Craven

11/22 - Town of Wappinger: The male and female adults were back in the eagle nest tree, perched so close together that they touched. I watched and they tolerated me. In nine years of watching this pair, this was new behavior for this time of the year. It seemed far too early for that kind of togetherness. It is hard not to sense the connection they must feel.
- Tom Lake

11/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 78: The river was flat despite a stiff north wind. It was a good flight day except for the fact that nothing, as far as we could tell, was flying. Curt McDermott and I stood talking about the rafts of scoters, goldeneye, and scaup that might be heading this way. It seemed as though we were waiting for the curtain to rise on a stage performance.
- Tom Lake

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