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Hudson River Almanac January 16 - January 23, 2010

OVERVIEW


While the New York State January Waterfowl Count focuses on ducks and geese, it also gives birders an opportunity to find other, uncommon species. This year the count recorded four northern harriers, a lesser black-backed gull, and a common loon. Still, the highlight was a greater white-fronted goose, possibly a first for Ulster County.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK


1/22 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Twenty-five members of the Palisades Nature Association were peering through binoculars and finding very little to see on the river. But there was a soft, yet very distinctive "chortling" in the air. No doubt about it, there was an eagle nearby. We turned around, looked up, and there was an immature not 100 feet away watching us from a tall black locust. A second immature was in the next tree over, feeding on a large fish (appeared to be a gizzard shad). Several of us turned our attention back to the river just in time to see a harbor seal flip over and dive among ice floes and a scattering of common and red-breasted mergansers.
- Nancy Slowik, Tom Lake, Christopher Letts


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES


1/16 - Coeyman's Creek, Albany County, HRM 134: Just before going to bed, I heard an incredibly loud yelp-bark sound that continued every 3-5 seconds. I know there is a red fox den nearby. Mating call? Perhaps fox, but probably coyote?
- Roberta S. Jeracka

1/16 - Albany to Greene County, HRM 134-109: The river was mostly frozen with some open reaches during an eight-hour survey for the New York State January Waterfowl Count. Local streams and ponds were frozen. Among the 879 waterfowl sighted, the most common were Canada geese (563). Eight bald eagles were spotted, seven of which were adults. Among the red-tailed hawks encountered, six seemed to be paired up including some in courtship flight. Notable, or less common, raptors included a rough-legged hawk and four northern harriers.
- Rich Guthrie

1/16 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We scheduled this "bald eagle viewing" program in October, without the aid of a crystal ball. As a result, 18 of us faced a river frozen nearly shoreline-to-shoreline without an eagle in sight. With the Hudson 95% ice, it would take far too much effort to secure a meal, so the eagles, both wintering birds and the locals were elsewhere, up or down river, where open water made hunting far easier.
- Tom Lake, Dave Lindemann, Pat Joel, Bill Joel, Barbara Butler

1/16 - Ulster County, HRM 102-68: Twelve spotters in six field parties participated in the Ulster County survey for the January Waterfowl Count, recording a total of 6,439 individual birds of eleven species during 8.5 hours. Species diversity was the lowest in six years yet total number of individuals was comparable to some of our most productive recent counts. Canada geese (5,288) accounted for 82% of all waterfowl. The most common "winter duck" was common goldeneye (54). A single common loon was also recorded. The Hudson River was a mix of solid ice and scattered areas of significant open water along the periphery, and a main channel congested with ice floes. Lakes, ponds and streams were generally frozen, with occasional small pockets of open water.
One greater white-fronted goose, a very uncommon Arctic breeder, was spotted associating with a large flock of more than 700 Canada geese in the Hudson River intertidal shallows north of the Saugerties Lighthouse spit. This was likely our first Ulster County waterfowl count record for this species. An American kestrel was also seen perched on a snag just southwest of the lighthouse at the mouth of Esopus Creek. Bristol Beach State Park, in extreme northern Ulster County, provided a nice vantage point to view a sunrise flight of gulls that included one adult lesser black-backed gull.
- Lynn Bowdery, Allan Bowdery, Jayne Dean, Mark DeDea, Kyla Haber, Michelle Higgins, Evelyn Rifenburg, Bob Rifenburg, Wyatt Smith, Selden Spencer, Charlie Woodruff, Steve M. Chorvas

[Agricultural fields, covered with up to three inches of snow were, for the most part, entirely devoid of waterfowl. This is perhaps an indicator of the affects of recent changes in farming practices that reduce or eliminate residual corn in the fields. Steve M. Chorvas.]

1/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was three hours before dawn when the coyotes began. They were close. I peeked out the window and, despite a moonless night, I could make out faint shadows of 3-4 slowly passing across against the tree line. In a world with far too much loud, intrusive noise, a chorus of coyotes is the music of the night.
- Tom Lake

1/16 - George's Island, HRM 39: Some pleasant observations to a blistering cold day: an adult bald eagle on the north side of the island and a second year immature on south side near the lower pavilion. An impressive raft of canvasbacks with a few goldeneye mixed were out in the bay below the boat launch.
- Scott Williamson, Venisha Lazarus

1/16 - Croton River, HRM 34: The mute swans had returned for the first time this winter with an extended flock of twenty birds. We immediately made plans for a cracked corn dinner for them.
- Sandy Plotkin

1/16 - Manhattan, HRM 5: It was a gloriously sunny day for a walk through Central Park. The reservoir had a fairly thin skim of ice with enormous number of gulls, ducks and a surprising number (20-30) of Canada geese, most of which were congregated along the edge of the ice busily dipping their bills and dabbling in the limited open water.
- Barbara Buff

1/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: The usual suite of woodpeckers were taking turns on the suet - hairy, downy, red-bellied - plus one new one, a northern flicker.
- Tom Lake

1/17 - Kowawese, HRM 59:
Hudson River Music
Music,
The ice breaking,
A beautiful floe song.
A symphony of ice, playing
Music.
- Christopher Doerrer, Sixth Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

1/17 - George's Island, HRM 39: For the past two weeks the cove adjacent to Dogan Point has been graced with a flock of perhaps 75 canvasbacks. They tend to stay close in shore, no more than 40 yards from people who are clever enough to use their vehicles as a blind. Such grace, such elegance, such marvelous patterning. I come to count the eagles and stay long to admire the ducks.
- Christopher Letts

1/18 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Six double-crested cormorants perched peacefully on the channel marker facing the sun. Across the river on the Rockland side we spotted two bald eagles perched to the south of the Stony Point Lighthouse. Another three were soaring high over the trees in the vivid blue sky.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/18 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Winter had loosened its hold. Our January thaw, or possibly something more meaningful? Too soon to know. On the south side of the house, the first crocus were thrusting up through the leaf litter, and the snow cover was gone. This gets me to thinking about maple syrup, and when to tap the trees. Until a few years ago, it was axiomatic: in Westchester, you tapped on the President's Day weekend. Now, we just don't know, and in an enterprise where guesswork can be tantamount to failure, one more unknown is cause for disaster.
- Christopher Letts

1/18 - Upper Bay, New York Harbor: Visiting the Statue of Liberty we noticed brant geese swimming in twos and threes along the shore. When we returned to Liberty State Park, a flock of them took off, their honking softer than that of Canada geese in keeping with their smaller size.
- Patsy Wooters

1/19 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: An immature bald eagle has been in our yard most mornings, looking for prey. We have seen small canine type tracks in our yard after the recent snow, which is not surprising. Several days ago we spotted a red fox running along the road at 10:00 PM.
- Stephanie Pratt, Jim Pratt

1/19 - Peekskill Bay, HRM 44: Headed upstate on Metro North for the first time this winter, I kept a close watch for eagles on the river. The morning was pale and misty, and the fractured reflection of the hills could barely be made out among the ice floes. As we rounded Peekskill Bay, I finally spotted what I was looking for: an adult bald eagle stationed on a block of ice near shore, surveying the train as it rushed past, and two other eagles commanding their own ice rafts farther out. Their white heads and tail feathers blended with the ice, making them just another piece in the river's mosaic.
- Ann Pedtke

1/19 - Haverstraw Bay-Tappan Zee, HRM 43-34: Rain, wind, and warmer weather had the river ice broken up and moving with the tides. I counted 30 eagles this morning, the largest number this season. A few were using tree perches, but most were on the ice floes, in groups of 2-5, looking very much like commuters waiting for a bus.
- Christopher Letts

1/20 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Following a string of warmer days, the river ice had loosened. The stream of floes, ice moving in the current, provides a conveyor for eagles. At a time of the year when conservation of energy is paramount for all birds, hopping aboard a mobile hunting and feeding platform is very cost effective.
- Tom Lake

1/20 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: The raft of ruddy ducks I had been seeing in Croton Bay as well as the canvasbacks from George's Island left this week. I may have found them here, ten miles downriver. A mixed flock of canvasbacks and ruddy ducks were rafted in the lee of the Pier, perhaps 150 birds in all.
- Christopher Letts

1/21 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: The hopeful eagle spotters were disappointed at Norrie Point's Eagle Watch (see 1/16) when only one made a very brief appearance, but the moderator's stories just sharpened our anticipation. Just before sunset today, we spotted a solitary adult eagle atop an evergreen at the midpoint of Esopus Island. It looked like a textbook illustration for "America the Beautiful."
- Pat Joel, Bill Joel

1/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The ebb tide was drawing ice down river in huge rafts separated by small patches of open water, moving "oases" where small flocks of mergansers and goldeneye congregated, drifting along.
- Tom Lake

1/21 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: While driving across Furnace Brook in late afternoon, we saw a bright black-and-white bird in the middle of the stream. It was a beautiful male hooded merganser perched on a piece of driftwood. As it preened its feathers, it seemed to be looking down at its reflection in the still water. On the other side of the bridge we spotted a pair of hooded mergansers gliding through the water, the male showing its full crest.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/22 - China Pier to Croton River, HRM 43-34: For the last eleven years, the Palisades Nature Association has traveled this nine-mile reach of the river one day in late January to count eagles. Today's tally was ten adults and 13 immatures. The yearly totals vary depend on the amount of ice in the river (the more the better) and visibility. The high count was 66 (2003), the low was 4 (2006), and the average has been 28. While eagles were impressive, they shared honors with a small raft of canvasbacks in the Croton River.
- Nancy Slowik, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

1/22 - Crugers, HRM 39: As I was filling the bird feeder this morning, I counted 13 blue jays watching and calling out so I threw out some peanuts (in the shell). Within a minute, the jays descended in a frenzy. Each bird would pick up a nut and fly off with it only to return in a matter of seconds. They were caching them and coming back for more. Some jays appeared to almost swallow one peanut while trying to stuff yet another in its mouth. Some would test nut after nut and would not take off until they had found just the right one. A squirrel showed up at the feeder and was immediately dive-bombed. All the peanuts were gone in five minutes. A few jays remained to feed on the ground and were joined by a lone red-winged blackbird, four mourning doves and many sparrows.
- Dianne Picciano

1/22 - Inbuckie, HRM 33.5: We had eight eagles in view at one time, all within a couple hundred yards - perfect spotting scope distance. The bay at Inbuckie, a tidemarsh inside the railroad tracks, had a large mix of hooded and common mergansers, mallards, and buffleheads. An immature eagle dropped down off a tall sycamore along the bay and glided over the water toward the river. Pandemonium! The ducks were immediately alarmed, flying every which way, bumping into one another, diving, and flying under the railroad trestle as the young eagle just eased its way into Croton Bay without a wing beat.
- Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

1/23 - Town of Esopus, HRM 88: While driving north along River Road in Esopus this morning, I scanned the ice for bald eagles and spotted one sitting in a riverside tree at the edge of the road. I stopped the car, rolled down the window, and from behind the wheel of my car photographed the gorgeous and most co-operative creature bathed in beautiful morning light.
- Jeff Anzevino

1/23 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: There were no eagles on hand today but three pairs of common mergansers were enjoying the open patches of water. We spied a solitary bird on an ice floe with its back to us; the fact that it was alone and not fishing or diving intrigued us. Something caught its eye; it lifted up and flew across the river. It was a slender, gray hawk with a white rump: a northern harrier.
- Pat Joel, Bill Joel

[This was an unusual winter sighting on the river. Harriers are hunters of small birds and small mammals in wetlands and marshes and are most often seen along tidewater in migration. Pat and Bill's gray harrier was a male, often called a "gray ghost" by birders. Rich Guthrie spotted four harriers, one of which (first time he had seen this) was sitting on an ice floe, about forty-two miles upriver near Coxsackie. Tom Lake.]

1/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: Charlie Roberto was our guide on a Teatown Reservation bird walk. Along the Croton River we spotted a 3 year-old (immature) bald eagle sitting on an ice floe, its multi-colors gleaming in the morning sunlight. As we approached the Black Rock area of the Croton River, we were unprepared for the amazing spectacle that awaited us. A great cormorant sat sunning itself on a branch jutting out over a bubbling waterfall while a great blue heron poked around on the shoreline. Buffleheads bobbed in the foam of the waterfall, resembling plastic ducks in an amusement park game. Hooded and common mergansers, black ducks, mallards, gadwalls, mute swans, coot and other varieties of waterfowl crowded the area, creating quite a show. Downstream at the edge of Croton Bay conditions must have been just right for eagles since we saw several perched in trees and so many flyovers that we lost count.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

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