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Hudson River Almanac December 24 - December 31, 2009

OVERVIEW



Each week we feature the insights of "river watchers" from adventurous observers to naturalists to scientists. Included in the first group are students, occasionally from elementary schools, and it is not uncommon to find their perspectives to be the most compelling. This week, Alexa Sager of Vails Gate Tech Magnet School in Orange County ends 2009 with an extremely poignant plea that goes far beyond sunrises, sunsets, and the divinity of eagles.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK


12/29 - Croton River, HRM 34: It seems that the worse the weather, the better the waterfowl viewing. Today's 50 mph wind gusts had the Tappan Zee and Haverstraw Bay whipped to a froth and the birds were inside the railroad trestle at the mouth of the Croton River sheltered in the Inbuckie, as the late riverman Henry Gourdine would always have it. They included readheads, gadwalls, scaup, black ducks, mallards, ruddy ducks and buffleheads, along with coot, mergansers and two-score mute swans. It was pleasant to use my truck as a blind and view the birds at close range.
- Christopher Letts

[Crawbuckie and Inbuckie are colloquial names used to describe the mile of shoreline between the mouth of the Croton River and Ossining (river miles 34-33). The origin of the names is hazy but they have been commonly used by local commercial fishermen for well over a century. Crawbuckie is the low-tide beach facing Croton Bay, made famous by striped bass anglers in the 1960s and 70s when catching a striper of any size was big news. Inbuckie is the adjacent tidal bay inside the railroad tracks. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES



12/24 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: I received a gift when I went out for my traditional Christmas Eve paddle at Nutten Hook. Two adult bald eagles were spreading their wings and cheer to all this holiday season.
- Fran Martino

12/24 - Astor Cove, HRM 93.5: We were watching bald eagles on Christmas Eve and had the opportunity to observe two adults perched close by for quite awhile. One of the adult had a leg band that we were able to read through the spotting scope. The number appeared to be I57 or T57.
- Kathryn M. Zvokel

[It was determined that this was a Hudson River Valley bald eagle that was born during the first week of April in 2004. She was one of two fledged from nest NY62 in the Town of Wappinger. Her blue right leg tag was Y57; her brother's left leg tag was Y56. The two birds were banded on May 25, 2004 by Pete Nye and Steve Lawrence (DEC Endangered Species Unit). By mid-June, after ten weeks of steady growth fed by the river's fish and other wildlife, they were ready to leave the nest, or fledge. These ten weeks each spring, at any of our more than two dozen Hudson Valley eagle nests, are filled with amazing and acrobatic eagle antics. One example for Y57:

- 6/14 New Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: Day 71. Both eaglets had made their daily six-foot flight to a horizontal limb over the nest. The adventurous male with a small white blaze on his chest (Y56) was out on the very tip of the limb hanging over open air; down the limb, directly over the nest, was the more cautious female (Y57). Both appeared full size and the male was making overtures of leaving.

They did not make their first flight on the same day (fledging usually occurs between days 72-90). While immature female bald eagles are often more assertive than males, particularly as they near adulthood, when it comes to leaving the nest, the male is usually more adventurous.

- 6/16: Day 73. The male (Y56) eaglet had left the nest. Unlike 2003, I did not see it happen, but at noon there was only a single eaglet watching me through the scope (Y57).

- 6/17: Day 74. The female eaglet (Y57) has also left the nest. Again I did not see it happen; it must have been before dawn. An hour earlier, at dawn, I spotted an immature eagle soaring over the Hudson a half-mile due west of the nest. That may have been Y57.

Now, five years later and 26 miles upriver, Y57 is an adult (bald eagles reach maturity and moult into their white head and tail usually at age four). The adult pair, still active in NY62, will probably be grandparents soon. Tom Lake]

12/24 - Ulster County, HRM 79: We had a great time walking around on 4-6 inches of ice on a swamp in Ohioville associated with Swartekill Creek. We walked through an extensive beaver flowed area. It was beautiful. We found one beaver lodge and innumerable muskrat lodges. They peppered the swamp. Along the sometimes-tough-to-follow main channel through sedge hummocks and cattails, the ice was occasionally crystal clear and we could get on our bellies and look straight down at the activity below the ice. We spotted various freshwater larval creatures walking upside down on the ice underside including some that I could not identify. There were many tadpoles of various sizes and many green frogs that had been in that metamorphic state for their second year. The coolest part was that along with the barely moving polliwogs there were those that were encased in ice, some with little air bubbles around their heads. They weren't moving. I know that many amphibians can handle the extended freezing temperatures by producing glucose that serves as anti-freeze by lowering the freezing temperature of their blood. But I wondered if their other life stages, such as polliwogs, can manage this as well?
- Mike Corey

12/24 - Kowawese, HRM 59:
- The River View
Water flowing, ice crackling,
Wind blowing, real cold, snow all over.
I feel it all around,
In the air, and on the ground.
Birds flying high and low,
Coyote's prints on the ice,
Deer and dog tracks everywhere.
Big beautiful mountain tops
With snow coverings.
- Kyla Richardson, Sixth Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

12/24 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: We saw our first bald eagle of the season today, a great Christmas gift! The same thing happened last year when we saw our first winter eagle on Christmas Eve. We had been looking for eagles over the past week but were unsuccessful. Today at noon, we went to Oscawana Overlook to enjoy the calm serenity of the Hudson on this cold, but sunny, day. There we spotted the white head of an adult bald eagle gleaming in the sunlight as the bird perched in one of the trees on the point, staring down river.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/25 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: Christmas dinner. An adult bald eagle was out on the ice having bufflehead. The rest of the small raft was inshore adrift in the warming outflow of the power generating station, happy that they were not on the menu.
- Melissa Romero, Tom Lake

12/26 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: One of the most fascinating moments to observe each winter is the relationship between eagles and crows on ice floes in the Hudson. In late afternoon, an immature bald eagle was feeding on large fish, a gizzard shad or catfish, on an inshore quarter-acre ice floe. The eagle was accompanied by twenty crows. None were within "snatching distance," in case the eagle took a mind to object to their intrusion, but all were intent on the potential for leftovers. Over the years I have seen courageous crows dash between the legs of feeding eagles to grab a morsel and then back out the way they came. I have rarely if ever seen an eagle take a crow. Though not as agile in the air, an eagle would seem to have an advantage on an ice floe. It makes you wonder if they establish an understanding, including the patience to wait their turn.
- Tom Lake

12/27 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Winter tracking in the snow had begun. The trick in most places is to get away from the jaunts of domesticated animals, such as dogs and people. They only tend to confuse things and muddy the picture. The season was young and so there were portions of trails where the snow had not yet been trod upon except by the residents of the forest. The traffic was light but significant: fox, coyote, wild turkey, squirrel, small rodents (mice?), bunny, and probably crow. The first two were likely nocturnal while the others could have been almost anytime. I have been asked by trail walkers, "Where is all the wildlife?" "Watching you," I usually reply.
- Tom Lake

12/27 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I took a walk on Croton Point this morning; catbirds were calling from the pine grove on the south side. Waterfowl seemed sparse though there were a few buffleheads along the shore. With the air temperature in the mid 40s, there was a lone spring peeper calling from one of the wetlands.
- Stephen M. Seymour

12/28 - Hammond's Point, HRM 60: The early morning shadows nearly concealed an adult bald eagle perched in an oak tree on Hammond's Point directly across the bay from Denning's Point. However, the bright white head glowed like a light bulb.
- Madison Romero

12/28 - Crawbuckie, HRM 33.5: The tide was up so the dabblers (mallards, black ducks, pintails) were scarce in Croton Bay. However, as the Metro North car slowed heading into Ossining, I could see a raft of 200 canvasbacks (their unmistakable silhouette) a short distance off shore. The sixty-mile ride from New Hamburg to Manhattan had been a "three-eagle" trip, far fewer than I had expected.
- Tom Lake

[Eagles-per-train-trip: As the miles passed and I noted those that I could see, I remembered, once again, how limited such a count can be. If you are on the river-facing side of the train, you miss all those birds that are perched in the deltas of the many tributaries on the other side; conversely, if you are on the upland-facing side, you miss all the birds on the river. Binoculars are difficult to use on a train due to the high speed and less-than-clear windows; birds that are a mile or more across the river, especially those perched on the west side, are missed. In passing peninsulas like Denning's Point, Constitution Island, Croton Point, and others, the view is limited to east-facing exposures. Others such as Indian Point, Charles Point, and Dogan Point are missed altogether. The net of all this is that train counts are limited; they are more of a barometer than absolute data. A train ride two weeks ago was a "ten-eagle" trip. In the days that followed, severe winter weather pushed even more wintering eagles south and that was reflected in today's count. If a rule-of-thumb can be applied to winter train travel along the Hudson, it would not be an exaggeration to say the number of birds counted are no more than half of the birds that were there. Tom Lake.]

12/28 - Upper Bay, New York Harbor: There seemed to be as many brant as people on Liberty Island. With a fiercely cold north wind, most of these small geese were huddled on the grass in the lee of the Statue. Some black scoters and bufflehead were bobbing in the in the chop on the south side of the island.
- Christopher Lake, Tom Lake

12/29 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: A beautiful great blue heron was sunning itself at the shoreline of the unfrozen portion of Ogilvie's Pond, an old quarry pit. Its neck was tucked into its body but it occasionally dipped its beak into the pond. Swimming nearby were five mallard couples, ten ducks. They swam in a straight line at first, playing follow the leader, and then separated for a while in all different directions, with some of them ducking their heads into the water with only their hind feathers pointing up. The green heads of the males glittered in the early afternoon sunlight as they swam closer to the oblivious heron.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/29 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We were bracing against 50 knot northeast winds that had Raritan Bay looking like a scene from "Victory at Sea" in the North Atlantic. Many great black-backed, herring and ring-billed gulls, as well as a raft of red-breasted mergansers were actively feeding in the wash created as the waves continually pounded the bayside rip-rap at Fort Hancock. For the life of me, I could not seem to get a look at what they are so actively feeding upon. Dery Bennett and I had talked many times about this gull behavior. Thirty or so brant had taken up their usual winter residence in the salt pond at the base of the Hook, and greater scaup were really starting to congregate in earnest in Spermaceti Cove, also normal for this time of year.
- Jeff Dement

[50 knot winds equates to about 57 miles per hour. The National Weather Service notes that winds of this strength are considered a "strong gale, with slight structural damage occurring; chimney pots and slates removed." Regarding the gulls, while it could be argued that high-energy inshore wave action might be loosening edible crustacean snacks, I have just as often seen this occur in open water. It may be that the whitecap action of wind-roiled water looks very much like predators-chasing-bait disturbances. I have often wondered if gulls recall good pickings under such white-water conditions. I have spent much time casting to "feeding gulls" on the Hudson River only to discover that they were reacting to windy-whitecaps rather than predator-prey events. It is just a theory. Bird brains on both ends. Tom Lake.]

12/30 - Crawbuckie, HRM 34: As my Metro North car zoomed past I could make out a raft of about 200 canvasbacks of mixed hens and drakes not far offshore. These may have been the same ducks I saw two days ago. Despite the increasing cold and ice on the river, this was surprisingly only a "two-eagle" trip to Manhattan.
- Tom Lake

12/31 - Kowawese, HRM 59:
- The Sparkling River
The sparkling water,
Ice crackling.
Mountains all around.
Everywhere I look, there is sun.
Water calm and smooth.
A seagull sitting on an ice patch,
Floating across the river.
River flowing upstream,
From the moon's pull.
This is the river, the home of many.
I hope it stays this way forever.
- Alexa Sager, Sixth Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

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