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Hudson River Almanac January 1 - January 7, 2010

OVERVIEW



The first week of the New Year brought more ice and more winter birds. Above tidewater, the river has been frozen for a while. Now the Hudson is beginning to ice over in many places from Troy south for at least seventy miles. This has pushed eagles and waterfowl, birds that need open water, south.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK


1/5 - Newburgh, HRM 61: There may have been as many as a thousand gulls riding the ice floes off the Newburgh waterfront. Among them were three Iceland gulls and one glaucous gull as well as some great cormorants.
- Ken McDermott, Curt McDermott

[We frequently see congregations of gulls numbering dozens to scores and more on the river. Most of us take a quick look and assume they are the more common ring-billed gulls, with maybe a great black-backed or herring gull mixed in. But the curious birders among us, like Curt McDermott, take the time to really look, and they frequently find that our gull population is pretty diverse. In the Almanac's 16 years, we have recorded 12 species of gulls along the tidewater Hudson: black-headed, Bonaparte's, Franklin's, glaucous, great black-backed, laughing, lesser black-backed, herring, Iceland, ivory, ring-billed, and slaty-backed. Tom Lake.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES



1/1 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: In the wake of so much winter already, it seemed odd to watch three large flocks of high-flyer Canada geese heading over. They must have been subsisting in northern corn fields and a few open leads, wherever they might have been. North of here is pretty much iced-in, though a flock of one hundred geese can make their own "open water" if the ice is thin.
- Tom Lake

[High-flyers is a colloquial name given mainly to migratory geese from Canada and points north and east, headed for winter corn fields down the Atlantic coast. We frequently hear them before we see them, often as a giant check mark in the sky, anywhere from a score to several hundred birds. With a backdrop of sky blue, a flock of snow geese will almost disappear. During the height of the migration in November, you may see half a dozen flocks of geese at one time, all a mile high or more. Over the course of a breezy day you may count or hear 15-20 flocks as they pass over. Geese also fly after dark so it is not uncommon to hear them passing overhead in the middle of the night. Tom Lake.]

1/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I was out on the point today and saw a few goldeneye and ruddy ducks. I'm also pretty sure I saw a merlin [falcon] on the south side of the landfill cap.
- Stephen Seymour

1/1 - Kowawese, HRM 59:
- The River's Song
Whoosh, Whoosh.
A swish and a swoosh.
Crack goes the ice,
As the waves
Come out to play.
- Alexa Sager, 6th Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

1/2 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The flight days for waterfowl continued in the wake of a frigid north wind, snow showers, and stormy skies. Three more flocks of high-flyers went over in less than ten minutes. The first two were Canada geese, the last snow geese, at least a hundred birds.
- Tom Lake

1/2 - Bear Mountain to Croton Point, HRM 46-34: We went out to make our first eagle check of the new year along the river from Bear Mountain to Croton Bay. We counted only four eagles, but that is sure to change quickly. We did have a number of nice winter ducks in Croton Bay, however, including pintail, common mergansers, redhead ducks, ruddy ducks, buffleheads, and common goldeneye. Mallards and black ducks were also there.
- Sharon Baker, David Baker

1/3 - Farmer's Landing, Dutchess County, HRM 67.5: This was another nor'easter with day-long snow, an odd mixture of winter with a brightening promise of spring. While a strong north wind made it a whiteout, there was a glow to the air. Perhaps it was the slowly lengthening daylight - another minute today, five minutes since the winter solstice. Through the driving snow it looked as though eleven goldeneyes, winter ducks to us, had found a narrow open lead in the ice-choked river. Except for a few narrow slots the river was iced shoreline to shoreline.
- Tom Lake

1/3 - George's Island, HRM 39: The river looked like a churning double latte, heavily frothed, torn by wind gusts up to 40 mph. This was surely no day for a boat ride. That did not bother the eagles. They seemed to be enjoying the wild weather, executing all manner of aerobatics. It might be that some of them had just arrived on the wintering grounds and were celebrating a bit. Fourteen birds were the most I had seen in a morning since last March, and they were in groups of 2-5. At George's Island a flock of robins was busy un-decorating a crabapple tree with a heavy load of yellow fruit, and half a dozen red-winged blackbirds were swaying on the reeds in the marsh.
- Christopher Letts

1/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: Our first birding trip of the new year yielded a wide variety of wildlife at the mouth of the Croton River. There were two groups of gulls (20 each) huddled together on ice floes, looking like small mounds of snow. The area was filled with many mute swans and Canada geese; the swans mostly floated around with many of the geese hunkered together near the shoreline where the water was still. Several flocks of geese took off heading south. There were no eagles around but we did get to see several mergansers, common and hooded, male and female, drifting and periodically ducking under the frigid waters. It's always exciting to see them, particularly the male hooded merganser with its beautiful white crest.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/4 - Garrison to Spuyten Duyvil, HRM 51-14: We had the opportunity to travel to Manhattan today via Metro North from Garrison. I am always excited to ride the rails when there is a good amount of ice on the river. With the prevailing west wind all the ice was pushed up on the eastern shore which made spotting eagles that much easier. It was a "ten eagle" trip. Most were just sitting on the ice but three were squabbling over a meal. I wondered how many people make this trip everyday and never notice our national bird.
- Zshawn Sullivan, Kaitlin Sullivan

[The theme of the Hudson River Almanac has always been about natural history and not necessarily about the people, the contributors. However, as one of ten long-time contributors, Zshawn Sullivan is an exception. This is her seventeenth year of crafting natural history entries for the Almanac. The other nine, active since 1994, are Mike Corey, Jesse Jaycox, Eric Lind, Chris Letts, John Mylod, Jon Powell, Doug Reed, Bob Schmidt, and Ed Spaeth. Tom Lake.]

1/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We were still sitting at about fourteen inches of snow, depending on where one is sitting. Some areas are probably closer to 20, while others less than 10, all based on the wind. I had a wild turkey in my yard this morning. Just one. I'm used to seeing them in groups. It must have flown in over the fence and was checking out the bird seed. It must've felt me staring at it through the window, for just as I was trying to photograph it, the bird picked up its pace and dashed behind the shed. Rats. And they say that dinosaurs are extinct.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/5 - Saratoga Battlefield, HRM 196: While trekking on the Wilkinson Trail, a wooly-bear wiggled on top of about six inches of snow. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the longer the middle brown band, the milder and shorter the coming winter; the shorter the brown band, the longer and more severe winter will be. This little fellow wasn't banded anymore. His short, fuzzy little body was reddish-brown. I repositioned him off the trail to a safer and hopefully warmer place.
- Fran Martino

1/5 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: While walking on the Muller Pond Trail at Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center, I spotted a black vulture flying not too far overhead. This was the first time that I or any of my companions had seen one on the east side of the Hudson River. Given that they are a more southerly bird species, I was surprised to be seeing a black vulture in January.
- Reba Wynn Laks

[The black vulture was virtually unknown in New York State only a few decades ago. It, like so many other southerners, moved northward. It is now fairly common in the lower Hudson Valley. At times they can outnumber the more familiar turkey vulture which, itself, preceded the black vultures in moving northward. I remember reading in Henry Hill Collins' book Wildlife of North America that you knew you were crossing the Mason-Dixon Line when you looked up and saw turkey vultures. Now, we can see them while crossing the Canadian border. Rich Guthrie.]

1/5 - Fishkill, HRM 61: We did not expect to see any birds at an ice-covered holding pond near Fishkill Creek but there, standing on the snow-covered berm, was a great blue heron all hunkered down near a very small ice-free area of the pond. Laughingly the bird, with no legs visible, appeared to be an oval shaped Humpty Dumpty form sitting on the hillside. It was only from a certain angle that we could see his long sharp beak protruding from the small bump that was its head. Meanwhile, nearby Fishkill Creek was ice-free and flowing.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

1/5 - Croton River, HRM 34: After having dropped my son off at the Croton train station, I drove down to the landing and was immediately rewarded with a pair of redheads, a flock of ruddy ducks, several black ducks, common merganser, bufflehead, mallards, mute swans and, of course, a large flock of Canada geese.
- Helle Raheem

1/5 - Hastings on Hudson, HRM 21.5: A pair of adult bald eagles flew by our third floor aerie this morning, cruising south along the river. One was 20 feet above the other. The white heads identified them a half-mile before they got reached us. What a thrill!
- Harry Thomas, Karen Thomas

1/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are now up to fifteen inches of snow at the stick. We had some very, very fluffy snow overnight and the morning air temperature was 14 degrees F, practically mild. There was little wind and that's the key.
- Ellen Rathbone

1/6 - Defreestville, Rensselaer County, HRM 142: I was working at the Van Alen house when what should come prancing across the back yard along the frozen creek but two adult size red foxes, obviously together. They headed up the creek bed towards Blooming Grove Drive. They look healthy and had beautiful winter coats. Would they be mating at this time? This is the first I've seen foxes in the area.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

[It is mating season for red fox now. Mid December through late January is their typical mating season. Ted Kerpez, DEC Region 3 Wildlife Manager.]

[The John Evert Van Alen house, built in the late eighteenth century, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was the home of John Evert Van Alen, surveyor, merchant, and politician from Rensselaer County. Tom Lake.]

1/6 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: There are often deer prints in the snow beyond my deck, but this morning the hoof prints were embedded in long narrow lanes that looked almost like groomed trails for very small cross-country skiers. Were the deer walking slowly and cautiously instead of running and leaping? [Absolutely.]
- Phyllis Marsteller

1/6 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: While teaching a class of New York City sixth graders at Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center, one of the students asked me if the snow was real. When I pointed out the fact that New York City had just received a lot in a snowstorm, one of the adults explained that the snow in New York City was dirty. In other words, it didn't look like the white snow at Stony Kill.
- Reba Wynn Laks

[Reba's brother, Scott Wynn, told us that in New York City new fallen snow is at first white just like upstate. In parks it remains white but on the streets it turns grey within a day. The snow at Stonykill is "unfettered," so to speak. Reba comments, "What is interesting to me is that the child who asked the question is apparently not getting outside or to a park to witness that herself." Tom Lake.]

1/6 - Tompkins Cove, Rockland County: HRM 41: While working on the annual winter wildlife survey for Harriman State Park, our team spotted a beautiful chocolate-brown immature bald eagle. The bird was flying at relatively low altitude over the Hudson just north of Tompkins Cove. As we watched the eagle circle over the river, a raven entered our field of view. The raven headed right for the young eagle and began to harass the larger bird. We have all seen eagles mobbed by crows, harassed by gulls, and challenged by red-tailed hawks, but this was a first. The two interacted for fifteen seconds with the raven being smart enough to avoid the eagle's talons. Then, as quickly as it had begun, the dance was over and the raven flew off. One of the greatest attributes of this sighting was the fact that 20 years ago, we'd have been thrilled to get a brief glimpse of either of these birds in the Hudson Valley, and here we were watching the two species interact in the same field of view.
- Sharon Baker, David Baker

[It is perfect example of an "aerial pecking order." Crows are more agile than ravens, ravens more agile than red-tails, red-tails more agile than eagles and so on. And they tend to harass in that order. Of course the kingbird is the most agile so they show the most courage. Ravens, however, get away with what they can (much like crows). They have had millennia to fine-tune their "distances" and maneuvers. I have seen ravens on a couple of occasions dive-bomb eagles (it always seems to be the immatures) in the river between Storm King and Breakneck Ridge, both places where the ravens set up shop each spring. Tom Lake.]

1/6 - Irvington to Croton, HRM 24-34: I was on an early morning Metro North train heading north and was struck by how much more ice was on the river than last evening when I came south to Manhattan. Then, I had seen three eagles, all riding the ice. This morning, there was an adult bird soaring over the train station at Irvington, apparently unnoticed by thronged commuters on the platform. At Dobbs Ferry a flock of three dozen canvasbacks rode close to shore, and at Philipse Manor two eagles were in view from the window of the train. By the time we reached the Croton-Harmon station, I had counted eleven eagles. It was a nice way to begin the day.
- Christopher Letts

1/7 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: As I crossed the creek I spotted three immature bald eagles standing on the ice just upstream. That was unusual enough for me to make a u-turn and take another look. The ice was not moving, but the hidden tidewater current beneath was at peak ebb, rushing to the river a few hundred feet away. In the midst of the birds was a large dark hump frozen in the ice - a dead white-tailed deer. Of what I could see, it was mostly two bony legs. It was easy to get a sense of frustration from the eagles: here was a prime opportunity to scavenge and they could not get to it, at least to the parts they wanted.
- Tom Lake

1/7 - Ossining, HRM 33: I looked out over Eagle Bay in midday in search of bald eagles. I spotted an immature flying over the trees near the river. My position, high on a bluff above the river, made the Canada geese swimming near the shore seems very tiny. I spotted an eagle flying into the trees at the tip of Croton Point, a mile upriver, and then noticed one circling over the river midway between me and the Croton Point shoreline. It dipped into the water, flew around for a while, and then hit the water again. Since my vantage point was so high above the river, it was interesting having to look down instead of up to see the eagle.
- Dorothy Ferguson

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