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Hudson River Almanac December 1 - December 7, 2009

OVERVIEW


Snow, ice, and the unmistakable characteristics of winter crept down from the upper Hudson this week, where they had been for a while, and all thoughts of autumn left. For some this will curtail outdoor activities; for others it is just the beginning of a season-long celebration of birds and other winter wildlife, beginning with the Christmas Bird Count.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK


12/5 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: We have had a pure white blue jay around for the last few weeks. It is pure white except for the tail and part of the wings which are normal blue. Perhaps he will be less conspicuous when the snow falls later.
- Bill Drakert

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES


12/1 - Hudson Valley: The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is held throughout the country around this time of year. It replaces the Victorian era "side-shoot," during which guests went out to shoot as many different bird and mammal species as one could on Christmas Day. In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman organized a group of friends to observe, count and share information about bird species without shooting them. The National Audubon Society, which Chapman helped organize, now sponsors this annual tradition. Thousands of people go out to count and publish as many bird species as their group can in a sporting, competitive way. The result has been the gathering of significant data which has monitored changes in bird populations and distribution over the years.
- Rich Guthrie

Christmas Bird Count Locations and Dates:
December 15: Catskill-Coxsackie
December 19: Chatham; Dutchess County; Eastern Orange County; Hudson Falls; Brooklyn L.I.; Mohonk Lake-Ashokan Reservoir; Peekskill; Saratoga Spa S.P.; Schenectady.
December 20: Albany County; Elizabethtown; Lower Hudson NY/NJ; Queens L.I.; Rockland County.
December 26: Southern Orange County.
December 27: Bronx-Westchester Region; Southern Rensselaer County
January 2: Putnam County; Saranac Lake; Troy

[For details on Christmas Bird Counts, go to: http://www.nybirds.org/ProjCBC.htm . Tom Lake]

12/1 - Catskill, HRM 113: The just-concluded black bass (smallmouth and largemouth bass) season ended in grand fashion. Near the end of the month, smallmouth bass of 4-5 lb., weighed at the River Basin Shop, were being caught in Catskill Creek. As an addendum to the month that just ended, a 37" northern pike was caught in late November five miles north in the river at Hudson.
- Tom Gentalen

[Northern pike are on a list of species that evoke a feeling of wilderness and remembrance of a less cluttered past. It is a short list that includes the raven, eagle, black bear, coyote, and the occasional moose. Tom Lake.]

12/1 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34-25: Red hake, or ling, are still exciting the fishermen. These salt water members of the cod family are being taken as far upriver as Croton Point. The Boyz at the Bridge caught more than three dozen at least a foot long on one tide at the Rockland Light tower in the Tappan Zee. Some of them are going over 2 lb. each.
- Christopher Letts

12/2 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: This morning the sun was out just long enough to warm things up a bit. I glanced out into the yard to see a flash of bright blue and there were 4 or 5 male bluebirds flitting about. I had put out cracked corn, but never expected to see such a magical sight. They didn't stay long, but what beauty!
- Joanne Engle

12/2 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: It takes a combination of a clear sky, low humidity, and a good vantage point to provide a spectacular full moon. Tonight's full moon was one of these. Native Americans have a variety of names for moons and, as usual, they capture the essence. For December it is the Long Night's Moon, or the Cold Moon, both of which seemed appropriate as I stood and watched. It was quite hypnotic. I was snatched back from a sense of faraway places by the call of geese. Coming my way from over the land, a small flock was heading for a place to spend the Long Night under the Cold Moon.
- Tom Lake

12/3 - Catskill, HRM 113: "Flap, flap, glide ... flap, flap glide," is the diagnostic flight of accipiters, or bird hawks. I watched a pair of Cooper's hawks cross over the creek and melt into the woodlands on the far side. Below, Catskill Creek was running high and muddy-brown after nearly 1.5 inches of rain overnight.
- Tom Lake

12/3 - Palenville, HRM 109: I heard what probably was the latest and last spring peeper of 2009.
- Larry Federman

12/4 - Green Island, HRM 152: I love to walk on Hudson River beaches and check out the water-worn pebbles. To reinforce their commitment to nature, some Native Americans groups encourage their children to walk along beaches and creek beds, look for small stones, and find one that is shaped like an animal. This is not unlike seeing images in the clouds: one person's duck is another's porcupine. The children save that small stone and the symbolic animal becomes their life-long guardian spirit, a tangible connection to nature. The theory goes that you will not destroy that which you love. In just half an hour I found two owls, a butterfly, a turtle and three bears (there are lots of bears on the beach).
- Tom Lake

12/5 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: The first snow of the season, in this instance 4", makes the landscape look new. It is not a view that will last. As I stood on a terrace forty feet over the river an adult bald eagle flew past, eye-high, carrying a branch in its talons. As winter arrives and then wanes, the "spring cleaning" of eagle nests - the replacement of old timber - will become a commonly seen activity.
- Tom Lake

12/5 - Highlands Mills, Orange County, HRM 50: We saw a pair of bluebirds this morning at our bird bath, which seemed unusual for this time of year. They were actually the first bluebirds we've seen at this location. Maybe they were just passing through on their migration route. There were many pairs of cardinals, and singles, foraging on the ground during this morning's flurries. Our feeders are attracting the common mix of titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, finches, blue jays, and a couple of different woodpeckers. The red-bellied "zebra-back" is especially nice to see.
- Alan Groth, Janice Groth

12/5 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: This is the fourth year in a row that a male yellow-bellied sapsucker has appeared at one of our suet feeders in the first week of December. Same bird? One would delight in thinking so. Anyway, it is wonderful to have the addition to our feeder fauna. Last year the male was joined in late winter by a female. Ah, romance.
- Christopher Letts

12/5 - Croton River, HRM 34: Two of our most indefatigable anglers showed up this morning with a 32 quart cooler jammed with frozen red hake and tomcod. The tomcod were impressive, as large as I have ever seen, from 11" - 14" and of vast girth. Midge and Big John were grinning like kids over showing off their catch of the past two weeks. Atlantic tomcod are perhaps the estuary's earliest spawners, even spawning under ice in January. These fish were ripe; when our heroes handled them at the time of capture "the eggs just sprayed out of them." These fish all had a rosy cast to their heads, and the late Bobby Gabrielson got excited when the "pink-nosers" were running at Piermont Pier.
- Christopher Letts

12/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 78: Still catching channel catfish at Quiet Cove Park. I've had no luck with carp. The channel cats are averaging about two pounds. I catch them on a special recipe of flour, water, and vanilla extract.
- Glen Heinsohn

12/7 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Are there any whiter whites in nature than the body of a drake common merganser or the raised crest of a drake hooded merganser? On a cloudy day against the backdrop of new snow covering the uplands, pairs of both mergansers fished the mile of tidewater to the Hudson, their "whites" glowing in the soft light.
- Tom Lake

12/7 - Fishkill, HRM 61: On this chilly morning, there was a clear blue sky above, but snow covered ground below. Our white pines, their boughs heavily laden with wet snow, created a tunnel effect in my yard. As I walked beneath those boughs and into the tunnel to fill bird feeders and scatter some seed upon the bare ground, I met a hermit thrush. It walked toward me, bobbing its auburn tail, curious of the seed, I suspect. Not a bit shy, it waited within three feet of me until I left. Having some concern for its well being, however, I returned outside to scatter raisins and craisins, but this time it flew off to another spot beneath other conifers. Ah, what a morning, cold and chilly, but warm and friendly, too!
- Ed Spaeth

12/8 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Skim ice at first light on the tidewater creek was easily parted by the paddling waterfowl. Two small flocks of ring-necked ducks had arrived overnight. These are one of several "black-white-black" ducks that can be confused for scaup at a distance. The creek is getting crowded, filling with waterfowl as a taste of winter weather arrives.
- Tom Lake

12/8 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Snow dots the parts of the yard now in all-day shade. The bird bath is frozen solid but a nicotiana plant (a type of nightshade) which refused to bloom all summer is now in full throes of white blooms in spite of the frost!
- Robin Fox

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