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Hudson River Almanac December 16 - December 23, 2009

Dear Almanac Subscribers:

With winter's arrival bringing the sparkle of frost to the shadbush in my yard, I wanted to take a moment to recognize your passion for nature and enthusiasm for sharing the magical moments of nature's splendor that make our river valley special. Nearly 2500 of you take the time to read the Almanac, and many submit tidbits of nature lore from your backyards, vernal pools and river shores. We are truly a community of people whose fascination with eagles, salamanders, otters and clouds ties us together. How wonderful that the internet has made it possible for us to share observations that connect downstream with upstream! How informative the Almanac has become in documenting both the usual and the unusual in these times of change! We thank all of you for your love of the Hudson and we especially thank Tom Lake and Steve Stanne, who teach us so much about the river through their commentary. Best wishes for the New Year, and have fun reading another great issue of the Hudson River Almanac.
- Fran Dunwell, Hudson River Estuary Coordinator


On January 11, DEC will hold its 31st annual New York State Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census. This is the day when we try to count all of the bald and golden eagles in the state's major flyways and wintering, roosting, and congregation areas. If you are interested in participating, visit the Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey page.


12/17 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: As I was driving toward the Hudson, I happened to look up to see the largest flock of snow geese I'd ever seen. Several hundred birds were following the river south flying with a complete lack of organization; their ebb and flow movement made the entire group look like a living entity in itself. Flying just behind them in almost military precision, was a small group of about twenty Canada geese. What a difference in flight these birds have! Both were a delight to see.
- Donna Lenhart


12/16 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: A possum crossed the road, out and about despite the dark and the chill of the night.
- Reba Wynn Laks

12/16 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: The Canada geese seemed to be taking cautious steps as they walked across the top of the frozen pond at Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center. They weren't slipping or sliding, but they definitely seemed to be walking a little slower and taking a little more care.
- Reba Wynn Laks

12/16 - Brockway, Dutchess County, HRM 63: In the first light of day the river was a still life in black and white. From the Metro North commuter train I spotted several pairs of ducks on the river - buffleheads by their silhouettes.
- Tom Lake

12/16 - Peekskill Bay, HRM 43.5: A large raft of black scoters was spread out over the bay. From their breeding and summering grounds in northern Canada they were heading to the coast to spend the winter months.
- Tom Lake

12/16 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I was sitting in my truck sipping tea. The north wind had the truck rocking, blowing half a gale. In the predawn light I counted eight flocks of red- winged blackbirds in the space of twenty minutes, perhaps 1,000 birds in all. No feeding, no resting, not a single call was heard. These birds had read the weather report and were headed south at sprint speed. A northern harrier did a dawn dance over the landfill, rocking and rolling, completely the "wind master."
- Christopher Letts

12/16 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The bay on the south, or leeward, side of Croton Point was crowded. There were acres of Canada geese, wing-to-wing, and on the fringe were many black ducks, teal, buffleheads, gadwall, and at least one American wigeon.
- 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. Tom Lake.]

12/16 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: A pair of adult bald eagles was doing pirouettes and wing touches in the sky low over the Tarrytown Lighthouse. A complete lack of aggression suggested that this was an early courtship display.
- Tom Lake

12/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It dropped to six below zero overnight but by morning the sky was blue-blue-blue with sparkling white snow everywhere. Purple finches were at the window feeder and they all look well-fluffed.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/17 - Kingston to New Paltz, HRM 91-78: While I have to assume from the occasional dead carcasses that white-tailed deer do get hit by cars on the New York State Thruway, I had yet to actually see a deer crossing the highway. That changed this morning when a doe and fawn ran down an embankment and across the four lanes of traffic only a car or two ahead of me. Luckily, everyone slowed down in time and the deer made it safely to the other side.
- Reba Wynn Laks

12/17 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: There were three beautiful bald eagles in the trees on the south side of the point today - two adults and one immature. They were basking in the sun on this cold and cloudless day, constantly preening, all the while being protected from the strong north winds. I could see several feathers fall from the perch, circling and swirling in the breeze before landing in the river. Later I watched them soar above me, their white tails and heads gleaming in the sunshine.
- Dianne Picciano

12/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was ten below zero this morning. Toby Rathbone and I spent time today watching the snow buntings on the ground around our feeders. I've been trying to photograph them but they are very skittish.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/18 - Town of Highland, HRM 75: The sky was blue and the air was cold (14 degrees F) at the parking area of Francis Reese State Park. The steep downhill flowing stream just inside the entrance had formed varied patterns of ice on its edges. The encountered wildlife included a blue jay, a couple of downy woodpeckers, a robin that flew into the small trees inside the ruins of a onetime stately house, and a wild turkey, running very fast, that crossed the trail ahead of us.
- Bill Jacobs, Judy Kito

12/18 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: As feeder activity picks up, visits from our resident Cooper's hawks increase. They specialize in mourning doves and blue jays, generally taking them as they leave the feeder. Neat circles of blue or gray feathers mark the spot where meal preparation was done. The male seems to concentrate on downy woodpeckers and titmice. He consumes his catches on low rhododendron branches not ten feet from our window. He takes upwards of an hour to pluck and eat a titmouse.
- Christopher Letts

12/19 - Middletown, Orange County, HRM 58: I looked out my window this morning to see a red-tailed hawk pinning something to the ground. Crows were in the trees above screeching. The hawk became startled and, as it flew, I realized that it had killed a crow. It flew down into a swamp and was lost amongst the reeds. This hawk lives nearby, is often seen on the power lines, and I have become quite fond of him.
- Ann Reichal

12/19 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: The sky was heavy and gray over a frozen Liberty Marsh near the headwaters of the Wallkill River. A strong nor'easter was moving northward along the coast and heavy snow was forecast. Several flocks of Canada geese were criss-crossing in the snow flurries, heading to corn-stubble fields. One flock that sounded different turned out to be thirty snow geese passing low overhead. If they had landed, I would have lost them in the snow.
- Tom Lake

12/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Seven hearty birders braved the freezing cold temperatures at Croton Point as they participated in the annual 110th Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The snowstorm held up until the count was finished. Sixty-one species were tallied at Croton Point. Our youngest birders were in their early teens, the oldest is in his mid-sixties. Highlights included white-crowned sparrows, an eastern screech owl, a snow goose and a peregrine falcon
- Mike Bochnik, Kellie Bochnik, Ryan MacLean, Paul Oehrlein, Joe O'Connell, Ed Higgins, Benjamin Van Doern

12/19 - Manhattan, HRM 5: New York City received eleven inches of snow during the so-called "Blizzard of 2009." Coastal areas Long Island and south along New Jersey received between 24-28 inches of snow.
- National Weather Service

12/20 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: It truly becomes winter for me when the river begins to ice over. I noticed it starting three days ago when there was some shoreline ice. Today the banging of a barge's hull against the ice sheets woke me up. Several common mergansers were diving among the floes, just beautiful birds to watch.
- Peg Duke

12/20 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The mile-and-a-half of tidewater was frozen bank-to-bank. Less than one inch of snow had fallen overnight and most of that had been blown away by the wind. This was no longer a haven for waterfowl; the mergansers and others had moved to the river for open water. A pair of adult bald eagles was perched in a hillside sycamore looking at the bare cupboard. These may have been recent migrants from the now-frozen north; they would have to find forage elsewhere.
- Tom Lake

12/21 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: It was a brilliant sunny day for the winter solstice. There was good skating in the SG-4 wetland at the bottom of my hill and as I made my way down the back road to the ice, a deer hobbled off a scant 20 feet before it stopped from pain and exertion - probably a casualty of shotgun season or an encounter on the highway. I'm surprised the coyotes had not yet found it. A decade ago, illegal pond construction at the outlet of SG-4 bumped the water level in the swamp up a few feet. Standing dead trees abound and there are signs of beaver activity. It has become a successful rookery for great blue herons - the nest count has doubled in two years from 7 to 14. Sheltered from the wind, it's easy and interesting skating among the giant common reeds, dead trees, and the occasional bright red winterberry plants. Back up the hill, a flock of several dozen wild turkeys was roosting for the night. They seem to have had a good year; they were twittering away as they settled in for the night in the overgrown evergreen plantation. A pair of great horned owls began their nightly courtship while a waxing crescent moon graced the sky.
- John Sperr

12/21 - Kowawese, HRM 59: I always hope for something memorable at the solstices and equinoxes: a snowstorm, a nor'easter, thunder and lightning, bitter cold, record heat, or just a gorgeous sunrise, something to mark the moment. Winter came at 12:47 PM in a rather unremarkable passage. The rising tide was a third of the way up and the deadfalls in Cornwall Bay were beginning to disappear. An adult bald eagle abandoned the snag on which it had been resting, spiraled upward, and with nary a wing beat floated into the tree line at Sloop Hill. Peace and tranquility at the solstice has an allure as well.
- Tom Lake

12/21 - Piermont, HRM 25: Today the sun reached its lowest point on the southern horizon, marking the winter solstice - the first day of winter. We had received reports of a barnacle goose at Piermont during the Rockland County Christmas Count and went looking for this Hudson Valley rarity. The goose failed to appear; the only geese we found were Canadas in a protected area further inland and the barnacle was not among them. The river was dotted with small rafts of ducks, however: buffleheads, canvasbacks, mallards, and a nice collection of ruddy ducks. Ruddies are noted for "laying back and chillin' out" with their heads tucked into their mantle of down. Our representatives were perfect examples of this behavior. It seemed on the last day of autumn and the first day of winter that these birds said it all: Get ready for a cold few months.
- Sharon Baker, David Baker

12/21 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 15: I spotted an adult bald eagle hunting ("scouting" might be a better description) today around the Riverdale Metro North commuter train station. He made several low runs parallel to the surface of the river about sixty feet offshore and then gently swooped up overhead and circling around. He eventually disappeared above the trees to the northeast.
- Holly Moore

12/22 - Beacon, HRM 62: While crossing the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge heading west in late afternoon I saw an adult bald eagle sailing along obliquely to the northwest, perhaps thirty feet above the roadway. Our intersecting trajectories gave me a nice long look at this magnificent creature.
- Steve Oakes

12/22 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: We headed out to enjoy the clear sunny weather and still fresh snow. We came across tracks from white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, wild turkey, fox, coyote, and saw the wing-print of a raptor on the snow (no remains). We were all set for entertaining grandchildren a few hours later!
- Betsy Hawes

12/23 - Storm King, HRM 57: A pair of adult golden eagles has been hanging out in the swale between Storm King and Crow's Nest in the Hudson Highlands.
- Curt McDermott

[Golden eagles are not common in the Hudson Valley. At least two have spent winters in recent years at Stissing Mountain in northeast Dutchess County, but during the rest of the year we tend to see them only in migration or occasionally as wintering birds. Golden eagles, one of the Native American archetypes for the Thunderbird, is more of an uplands raptor and less inclined than bald eagles to be near big water. With talons larger and stronger than those of the bald eagle, they are known as fast and powerful hunters. Tom Lake.]

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