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Hudson River Almanac February 1 - February 7, 2010


This was a week of uncommon bird sightings: a dovekie (a small auk), an orange-crowned warbler, a red-headed woodpecker, and a yellow-headed blackbird. The context of winter, with its limited diversity of bird life, makes such finds seem more special.


2/1 - Staten Island, New York City, Lower Bay: A small seabird called a dovekie washed up here today. It was still alive and we took it to a local wildlife rehabilitator.
- Dave Taft

[Dovekies have been having a very rough winter. These starling-sized birds are in the family Alcidae. Alcids, as they are called, are very similar to penguins but they can fly (the flightless and now extinct great auk was an exception, and a good example of convergent evolution). The other North Atlantic alcids include the Atlantic puffin, black guillemot, razorbill, and common and thick-billed murre. Dovekies nest in colonies estimated to number in the millions in the very-high Arctic latitudes. They winter at sea as far south as New England and New York. In our area, dovekies winter in huge numbers well offshore. A year ago this month, on an ocean birding trip to the Hudson Canyon about 60 miles south of the Battery, we saw more than 9,000 dovekies. And those were the ones we could see from our speck of a viewing platform - a ship traveling through a very limited segment of their range.

Dovekies are rarely seen from land. However, there have been an unusually large number of lethargic dovekies found along the south shore of Long Island this winter. Those that could be reached were brought to licensed wildlife rehabilitators where, despite noble efforts, most succumbed. The cause of these "crashes" is not really known, but one theory is that the recent nor'easters have taken a heavy toll on dovekies. In past years, severe storms have driven large numbers of dovekies to within sight of land. It's a rough life for these small seabirds that have to survive eating plankton in an ocean environment where storms can kick up waves in excess of 50 feet high. Rich Guthrie.]


2/1 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: As I was enjoying being on the Walkway Over The Hudson, I looked down to see two dark figures sharing the same block of ice. As I got closer, I saw two white heads flashing in the sun as two beautiful mature eagles preened themselves. Looking up and down the Walkway, I was surprised that no one else seemed to be looking at them. I felt sad for those people for what they were missing. I watched the eagles float northward until they disappeared under the bridge.
- Donna Lenhart

2/1 - Gardiner, HRM 73: There were three male yellow-shafted flickers were in my yard this morning. One was on the suet and the other two on the ground. I have seen one before but never this many. It was quite a show.
- Roland Ellis

[The breeding ranges of the yellow-shafted (eastern) and red-shafted (western) races of flickers overlap, and in the zone of overlap the two hybridize freely. As a result, ornithologists have combined the two into one species: the northern flicker. Tom Lake.]

2/1 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The window thermometer on the north side of the house read 6 degrees Fahrenheit an hour before sunrise. The porch boards cracked and creaked under my boots. The snow in the driveway squeaked and squealed. The moon was lemon ice in the sky. The truck battery was a new one, but it had to work hard to crank the engine. I don't care what Groundhog says, it feels like six more weeks of winter to me.
- Christopher Letts

2/1 - Verplanck to Oscawana, HRM 405.-38.5: Surprisingly, there were no eagles at Verplanck, but as we were leaving a Coast Guard cutter was heading south, clearing the channel. As the waves reached the shore we could hear the tinkling of the layers of ice, stacked up like diamonds at the shoreline. George's Island rarely disappoints: We saw two immature eagles in the trees and six more out on the ice. A short distance down river we counted five juveniles and two adults on the river ice, and 3 immatures in the trees - eighteen eagles across less than two miles of river.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

2/1 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: I heard crow calls and soon spotted an adult bald eagle perched in a big tree at St. Christopher's residential home property looking out over the river. The crows were doing their best to harass the eagle, who was just ignoring them. There were still open stretches of water on the Tappan Zee.
- Ann-Marie Mitroff

2/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: For more than a week now, we have had a lovely barred owl sitting outside the office windows of the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. This is always a nice find. We're guessing that it is after the mice and squirrels that live under the bird feeders.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/2 - Gardiner, HRM 73: As I carried my morning coffee to the barn, I spotted a dark hawk perched atop the wooden power pole out on the flood plain. A quick glimpse with binoculars suggested that it was a peregrine falcon and it was standing on a bird carcass plucking feathers. Through my spotting scope I watched the falcon take methodical shreds, nipping them off, glancing fiercely around, and circling on the post with huge yellow talons holding the meal down. It opening the gut first, then the chest, then the wing joints, sending down a shower of white feathers (the carcass was probably a pigeon). I enjoyed 20 minutes of backyard birding with a local hero. Good hunting!
- Joe Hayes

2/2 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The ice floes on the reef that extends southwest off Sarah's Point looked like a train wreck, some of them as much as ten feet high. Haverstraw Bay and the Tappan Zee were largely covered with ice, much of it in motion, churned by the tide. A ceaseless percussive accompaniment to the moving ice held me mesmerized for many minutes: rumbles, cracks, shrieks, pistol shots echoed as the ice ground along the shore, trying to degrade the peninsula it had helped to build some 15,000 years ago.
- Christopher Letts

2/2 - Croton River, HRM 34: The assemblage of waterfowl in the Croton River at Black Rock included gadwall, mallards, and red-breasted mergansers.
- Jane Shumsky, Elky Shumsky

2/2 - Scarborough to Tarrytown, HRM 32-27: The eagles tend to arrive on the river ice by 8:00 AM, sometimes earlier, and array themselves in mid-river from Scarborough to Tarrytown. Today I counted thirteen eagles (a personal best) of varying degrees of maturity. Settled in between the big guys were flocks of black-and-white diving ducks (mergansers, scaup, goldeneye?) and the usual gulls.
- Doug Maass

2/3 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: There has been a gorgeous mandarin duck hanging out at the Seventy-ninth Street Boat Basin for the past week.
- Leslie Day

[Mandarin ducks, colorful waterfowl reminiscent of our native wood ducks, are native to Asia but have been imported widely to Europe and the Americas. Those found in the wild are escapes from captivity. Tom Lake.]

2/4 - Stuyvesant, HRM 127: The Postmistress in Stuyvesant, Susie Fontaine, saw four eagles doing their "dance" today out on the river ice. She said it was beautiful!
- Pat Van Alstyne

2/4 - Roeliff Jansen's Kill, HRM 111: If you follow this major tributary of the Hudson River from its mouth near Linlithgo, it wanders inland to the Roe Jan Park in Hillsdale, Columbia County, where it meanders behind the Woodland Stream Trail. It was there that I spotted four common mergansers tucked in seeking refuge from the wind. According to historian James Polk, Roeliff Jansen was a sometime sailor, sometime farmer, and sometime government official.
- Fran Martino

2/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: I was enjoying a run on Wilbur Boulevard when I noticed a large flock of highly agitated crows ahead. I was stopped dead in my tracks when a bald eagle flew toward me, low enough that I could see its eyes. It was magnificent. Thirty seconds later another one followed, higher up than the first but definitely headed the same way. I've been walking and running there for years and that was a first. What a treat!
- Donna Lenhart

2/4 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: It was most instructive to watch the moving streams of ice. The river revealed its innermost workings in a way one might never guess during the open water season. As it bounced off the Point, great eddies were formed, written clearly in the patterns in the ice. A dozen eagles were riding this great moving roadway; some of them headed north, others south. Where there were open leads, cormorants and common mergansers were fishing, perhaps hoping that they would not be the Catch of the Day for the eagles.
- Christopher Letts

2/4 - Croton Point, HRM 33.5: An orange-crowned warbler was sighted by both Charlie Roberto and Bill Wallace near the grove of white pines on the south side of the Point. A red-headed woodpecker was spotted near there as well.
- Scott Williamson

2/4 - Manhattan, HRM 1: Finally we have ice floes circling the Battery! I've been waiting all winter. We had a tiny bit about two weeks ago, but today we actually have a healthy flow of ice right out into the Upper Bay of New York Harbor.
- Helena Andreyko

2/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a coating of very dry, fluffy snow when we woke this morning, about an inch, but only 0.01" of moisture. It was like trying to shovel feathers, or milkweed fluff. I looked at our January totals the other day: it was the driest January yet. Last year was the driest, and the year before was the driest, etc... A pattern?
- Ellen Rathbone

2/5 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While traveling on the New York State Thruway this morning I noticed two sun dogs evenly spaced on each side of the sun. Emanating from them was a colored arc circling the sun at least three-quarters of the way around.
- Reba Wynn Laks

2/5 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We were on the road to the point when we were fortunate enough to have some cardinals cross our path. We stopped, watched and counted as eventually fifteen - nine males, six females - emerged from the brush to chew on dried seed wings, similar to maple whirligig wings, which littered on the roadside grass. I could see how their chunky beaks were uniquely matched to the job.
- Pat Joel, Bill Joel

2/5 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: I stopped to admire the first snowdrops of the season, pushing through the leaf litter to reveal fresh green, flawless white. As I turned away, my smile changed to a grin: The first cardinal song of the year sounded oh-so-sweet to my ears.
- Christopher Letts

2/5- Staten Island, New York City: If this occurred anywhere upstate, no one would have batted an eye, but Ray Matarazzo and I stood in a small park on Staten Island staring at what might be the last patch of wintergreen (Gaultheria sp.) on the island. We counted about 30 plants under and between the heavy oak-leaf litter. Then we carefully selected one leaf and crushed it between our fingers. The unmistakable scent was like cracking open a bottle of fine champagne for Ray and I. Though probably once more abundant on Staten Island, records show it was considered rare in the last botanical survey of 1981. Though the rough location of the record had been passed along verbally to a few Staten Island naturalists, none were located in several searches from the mid-1980's on, and the plants were finally considered lost. How nice to reclaim them for the flora of Staten Island, if not all of New York City. Earlier in the afternoon, we found two small plants of rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), another great rarity within New York City limits.
- Dave Taft

2/6 - Columbia County, HRM 112: As I passed the "Olana Viewshed" historic maker on Route 9G at 5:30 PM, I reflected on how the "viewshed" had changed in the last 150-175 years from a time when the Hudson River School of Painting captured such incredible natural vistas. I am not a "sunset" guy - give me an uplifting sunrise any day - but as I passed under Olana, the view to the west opened and there, over the Catskill Mountains, was the most incredible sunset I had ever seen. The base color was red, but the atmosphere had played magic with all its permutations. It was breath-taking, and truly a "Frederic Church moment."
- Tom Lake

2/6 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: After five minutes standing in the cold on my birthday, I was rewarded with an adult bald eagle coming in from the north over Esopus Island and landing on an ice floe. Several ring-billed gulls and common mergansers were nearby. After a half hour, we both got cold and left. It was a great birthday gift! You are only 21 once.
- Dan Whalen

2/6 - Pine Plains, HRM 96: The bluebirds were back in my yard today. They seem to make a circuit and arrive here every three weeks or so. Sometimes there are a couple of pairs, but at other times there are two dozen. At night they roost in our bluebird boxes, all piling in together, for warmth I suppose.
- John Paterson

2/6 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was a wonderful day for the EagleFest, as we had adult bald eagles on the south side of the Point. We also came upon a flock of tree sparrows.
- Scott Williamson

2/6 - Westchester County, HRM 33: A yellow-headed blackbird has been at the Pruyn Sanctuary in Chappaqua for several weeks, attracting much birder attention. This uncommon, largely western species often winters in flocks with other blackbirds.
- Joan Coffey

2/7 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: We stopped by the kayak landing on Annsville Creek to watch two adult eagles soaring high in the air over Camp Smith. Another adult was perched in a tree directly above busy Route 202. Cars were just whizzing by, unaware of the spectator above them. This eagle was undaunted by all of the noise and activity below.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

2/7 - Kowawese, HRM 59:
- Hudson River
Mother Nature,
Birds, eagles and hawks flying in the sky,
Trees giving us fresh air,
Water and Ice rotating in the river,
River making random sounds,
Everyone listening to Mother Nature.
- Jerry Santana, Sixth Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

2/7 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: We watched two adult and two juvenile eagles as they rode the thermals across the river over Stony Point Lighthouse. After fifteen minutes, they drifted our way and began their aerial acrobatics, eventually directly overhead. Where else can you sit in your car having a cup of tea and see such a spectacle?
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

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