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Hudson River Almanac December 8 - December 15, 2009

OVERVIEW


The curtain has gone up on winter. Snow and accompanying frigid air temperatures have sent a message to the malingerers (snow geese!) in the northern end of the watershed. The rush was on this week for winter waterfowl.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/12 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 153: Looking out the sliding glass door in the diffuse light of early morn, I saw one, then two, then finally three bobcats working slowly around the beaver lodge and walking on the newly formed ice on our beaver pond. Were these the same three we saw last winter, we wondered? Tall and lanky, they were now indistinguishable from each other in size. This time, I roused my wife, but not the kids, from slumber. Imagining that these are probably the same family group we saw last winter, I was surprised to see them still together. Since the (presumed) kits are now as big as the (presumed) mother, they were exhibiting almost pack-like behavior.
- Dave Nelson

[See November 16, 2008, and January 26, 2009 for the earlier appearances of these bobcats at Dave Nelson's "wildlife sanctuary!" Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES


12/7 - Croton Point, HRM 35: It was a crisp morning, my water bottle was frozen and there was an inch of ice on the puddles. Flocks of cedar waxwings and robins were everywhere, working their way south along the Point.
- Christopher Letts

12/7 - Croton River, HRM 34: There was a nice assortment of waterfowl on the river today: mallards, blacks, buffleheads, lesser scaup, goldeneye, green-winged teal, and hooded mergansers. On my way out I picked up three gadwalls in my binoculars, a nice bird to see anytime. I hope they stay.
- Christopher Letts

12/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The pair of adult bald eagles who built a new nest in a tuliptree here last spring has been actively engaged in renovation for a month now. I've heard reports of eagles carrying sticks to the nest.
- Garrick Bryant

12/8 - Patterson, Putnam County, HRM 60: I first paddled in the Great Swamp twenty years ago. At that time it was filled with junk, cans, plastic stuff and tires. I went in today hoping to beat the freeze. There were ducks, geese, hawks, beaver and some bothersome skim ice but no junk. Something is going right in the Great Swamp.
- Jack Donohue

[The Great Swamp, at nearly 6,000 acres one of the largest wetlands in New York State, flows into the Croton River and eventually into the East Branch Reservoir. Tom Lake.]

12/8 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I feel that I know this red-tailed hawk, brightly marked and very tame, and I'm getting fond of it. It is one of our resident pair and it behaves unlike any other I have observed. It never flushes, and I have seen people walk close enough to cast a shadow on the bird. I have twice seen it wading in several inches of water for up to an hour, apparently looking for food that I was unable to see. I spotted the bird on the high tide line of the bathing beach this morning, feeding on something. I marked the spot, and when I returned, I discovered that breakfast had been the remains of a very large white catfish, now emphatically dead, not much left but the grin, a sort of a Cheshire catfish.
- Christopher Letts

12/8 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Before, between, and after visits from schoolchildren from Ossining and Armonk I tried a bit of fishing off the Tarrytown Lighthouse bridge. I was rewarded with two Atlantic tomcod, both ripe females about a foot long. Dinner! I'll bring a frying pan next time, and treat myself to a real lighthouse keeper's lunch.
- Christopher Letts

12/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Morning broke to nearly four and one-half inches of new snow. Purple finches were at my window feeder.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/9 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Seven inches of overnight snow (some locations in Ulster County received a foot of snow) chilled the water and set up slightly more substantial ice. It did not look safe enough for travel but with my binoculars I followed goose steps across the slush for 100 feet to a round opening where the Canada had plopped through. The cyclic rise and fall of tidewater makes ice formation problematic until we have a night or two of still, near zero, air.
- Tom Lake

12/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The last light of a snowy day was just ebbing away through the trees when the first bolt of lightning flashed. Thunder followed much too closely. Within seconds hail fell steadily bouncing off the compacted seven inches of snow and shaking the beautiful yellow forsythia blossoms that had decided mid-December was a good time to bloom. It was an odd combination, but after a prolonged autumn of ho-hum weather the vibrancy of the moment brought goose bumps.
- Tom Lake

12/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby Rathbone and I were taking a walk in the dark this evening into the teeth of a gale and we kept hearing a sound. I thought to myself, "Is that a dog or a goose?" We couldn't see anything, so we kept going. As we were coming down the home stretch, I heard it again, and I thought, 'Is that a goose or some metal thing creaking in the wind?" I looked up and there, in the dark, lit up by the orange glow of the street lights, was a flock of snow geese. They were so low that had it been light out I could've counted their toes and seen all the details of their faces, without binoculars! It was a small group, maybe 15 or so. A second, smaller flock flew crosswise above them. I was stunned. A little bit later, as I stood in the back yard, I heard more of them, but they were high enough in the dark and blizzard that I couldn't see them, although they certainly sounded close. And then a bit later, I heard yet more of them. I was starting to think that maybe they were all the same flock or two, going in circles, but later I consulted with our local wildlife rehabilitator and she said that snow geese love this kind of weather.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/11 - New Baltimore, 131.5: At 7:00 in the evening I heard the distinctive "barking honks" of snow geese going over after sundown. Since it was dark, I couldn't get a count of how many there were, but I'd estimate there were about 50. A little while later, I heard another flock going over.
- Rich Guthrie

12/11 - Kowawese, HRM 59:
A Day at the River.
As I watch the water flowing,
Winds blowing with snow everywhere,
I feel the freezing air all around.
The water sings to me, and I feel refreshed.
- Infinity Walker, Sixth Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

12/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby and I were on another walk, this time in the morning, when we heard something that, at first, sounded like a normal blue jay's vocalizations. But then it changed into a strangled-sounding "Jaaaayyyy Jaaaayyyyy" that went on non-stop. Could a cat have caught a jay? Then a whole bunch of jays flew off screaming from the trees on the opposite side of the road. I looked over toward where I heard the sound and saw a dark shape on the ground below a cedar. It was a sharp-shinned hawk with a freshly caught, and very much alive, blue jay. I could see the jay's wing fluttering beneath the hawk. I kept walking, hoping for a better view, and when I rounded a snowbank it was too much for the hawk. It flew up, trying to haul its catch away with it. But just above the ground the two birds separated. The hawk took off and the jay struggled up into the branches of a young maple. It shook itself, looked around, and took off across the road in search of its traitorous "family." All that remained of the brief struggle was the imprint in the snow where the hawk pinned the jay to the ground. If I had not seen it happen, I would never have been able to guess it from the snowprint.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/12 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: This morning, with the air temperature dipping to 17 degrees F, skim ice formed in the river. A thicker rim of ice lined the shoreline as the tide went out. For some reason, this was an extremely low tide. That's a mystery since the wind had been out of the south and the moon is not in a full or new phase. Even the remains of an old sunken wooden barge show. This only happens on very low tides, maybe a few times a year.
- Rich Guthrie

12/12 - Highland, Town of Lloyd, HRM 76: From our home in a small glen, an unnamed brook tumbles down to the river under Walkway Over the Hudson. Out back there's a rock outcropping topped by a steep slope with small patch of woods that apparently supports a large and diverse population of birds. Two days after erecting feeders they came. First a cardinal, and then titmice, chickadees, goldfinches, purple finches, blue jays, juncos, and sparrows. Downy and red bellied woodpeckers have also become regular customers. This morning I sat on my back steps to photograph the birds at my feeder. Within a minute, two red-bellied woodpeckers flew by and began engaging in some rather startling behavior. The birds chased and pecked at each other both in the air and on the ground. Finally one flew off and the other perched in a nearby tree branch. The entire display lasted perhaps a minute, maybe two. I was unsure if they were mating or fighting. I emailed a description of the account and photos to Ward Stone, New York State Wildlife pathologist. He believes the birds were fighting over territory for food at the onset of winter.
- Jeff Anzevino

12/12 - Beacon, HRM 61: The early morning sun had not quite warmed the chilly air enough for a lone black vulture to take to the skies. When I first spotted the vulture, with its dark head and white beak, it was perched in a bare tree. About a half hour later, however, it and four turkey vultures were climbing the thermals over Route 52 and Old Glenham Road and heading toward the snow-covered mountains beyond.
- Ed Spaeth

12/12 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: I saw my first winter eagle this morning, a large immature, perched in a tree on Oscawana Island overlooking the Hudson.
- Dianne Picciano

12/12 - Piermont, HRM 25: Walking along the historic Piermont Pier on a cold, windy day, I saw four buffleheads bobbing together in the water on the north, windward side of the Pier.
- Reba Wynn Laks

12/13 - Beacon, HRM 61: The gray ceiling was getting lower as snow flurries began. Still, visibility was good enough to see a flock of snow geese heading straight down the river at maybe a thousand feet of elevation. It was nearly a straight-line formation except for a couple lead birds that had formed a small hook. I began to count and reached 41 before the frigid air blurred my vision.
- Tom Lake

12/13 - Tuxedo Park, HRM 38.5: We've had our bird feeders going for about a month now with the usual suspects visiting daily. Today, the fog and freezing rain, we had a surprise visit by our first-ever field sparrow who ate voraciously all afternoon. No sign of him today, however. I hope we supplied him with enough energy to get to his next destination in warmer climes.
- John Yrizarry

12/14 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: The goldfinches and juncos are usually up before the downy woodpecker leaves his roost, the wren box that he took over after he'd enlarged the opening. This morning, however, I saw him peer out the opening for several minutes, seeming to scan the landscape to check the weather or look for predators. When he was ready to leave the box, he bolted, and his exit coincided precisely with the time of sunrise, 7:15 A.M.
- Phyllis Marsteller

12/14 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: From the Mills Mansion State Historic Site the Hudson River could not be seen because of low hanging clouds over the water. However, as we walked to the river the sun appeared and the cloud and fog dissipated, creating mists of varying colors of gray to purple toward the western shore. The water was calm but it was also changing colors from gray to blue as the sun shined brighter. The Esopus Lighthouse appeared a shining white due to the bright-reflected sunlight. A large flock of ducks swam from the curved shore from the northeast into the Mills Mansion bay. The snow and sleet from the previous day contained many interesting tracks of deer, squirrels and numerous Canada geese. The Hudson River this morning with the changing light and mists was a magnificent scene of beauty. To add to this breathtaking view, as we were returning up the hill to the Mansion, an adult bald eagle flew from the south over the treetops next to the shore, its colors also brilliant due to the reflected sunlight.
- Bill Jacobs, Judy Kito

12/14 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: Freezing temperatures and snowfall aside, our true sign that winter is upon us is the sight of the local adult bald eagles in their usual winter perch just south of Danskammer Point. Soon the trees will be crowded with migrating bald eagles, a sight we anticipate at the beginning of each winter.
- Eric Shaw

12/14 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Despite the cold and the snow cover, the hermit thrush, first seen a week ago, was still visiting my yard. I spotted it once five days ago, and again this morning beneath my white pines. It must be subsisting on the Virginia creeper berries that have fallen to the ground, because the raisins I scattered still appear to be uneaten. Another unlikely visitor this morning was a northern mockingbird that touched down near my feeders and then flew off again
- Ed Spaeth

12/14 - New Windsor, HRM 59: I had a red fox in my yard for half the morning today. He seemed to be chiefly interested in sitting curled up on the crusted snow, with lots of grooming going on, especially of his beautiful fluffy tail. He was a large, very healthy-looking fox, and he came back once again a couple of hours after his first appearance earlier in the morning. He seemed very at-ease as he looked straight at me moving around behind my glass doors. He eventually strolled off back into the woods, but not before giving me one last look over his shoulder. I know I have foxes in my yard just about every night, because I find their scat in my flower beds, but this was a rare and unusual sighting, only the second time I've seen a fox here in my suburban setting over the past five years. I wonder if he'll come back.
- Joanne Zipay

12/14 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: The view of the Croton River from our warm kitchen was the perfect back drop for a horror movie. Gorged with recent rains, the ink-black water was whipped into frothy whitecaps. A thin mist rose from the waterfalls near the Croton Pumping Station. The drama of the scene was heightened by a pair of great blue herons on patrol of their favorite fishing grounds. Their majestic, prehistoric wings spread a few feet above the ominous swirling blackness. Nature remains the master of special effects. How lucky we are to be in the audience.
- Sandy Plotkin

12/15 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Jeff Dement of the American Littoral Society reported that long-time Almanac contributor (sixteen years), naturalist extraordinaire, and genuinely wonderful person Dery Bennet died today. Dery's insightful observations at Sandy Hook and elsewhere will be badly missed. Even more, however, will be the warmth and good cheer he brought to the lives of everyone who knew him.
- Tom Lake

[Chris Letts and I were fortunate enough to go striped bass fishing with Dery just a month ago. We watched as Dery - with much exuberance - hooked, landed, tagged and released a 30+ inch bass at Romer Shoals in the Lower Bay of New York Harbor. It was a special day for the both of us and now it will be one of those moments that will carry a lasting significance. Dery's sense of humor and incredible laughter still echo for us. Tom Lake.]

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