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Hudson River Almanac March 11 - March 19, 2010

OVERVIEW

For the first time in several months, bald eagles did not dominate the week's discoveries. Instead, warm days and damp nights ushered in the springtime awakening of reptiles and amphibians, from turtles to wood frogs to spring peepers to salamanders.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/17 - Beacon, HRM 61: This was the first day of the spring carp season and I caught and released a huge one, 17 lb, 10 oz, and 32 inches long! Other than that it was very slow - only one other bite. But who needs quantity if quality is there.
- Bill Greene


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/10 - Town of Montgomery, Orange County, HRM 61: As warmer days have opened up the larger bodies of water, they have become more inviting to numerous birds and waterfowl. One such lake in Montgomery teemed with bird life including 4 mute swans, 20 Canada geese, 2 black ducks, 2 wood ducks, 3 northern pintails, 3 mallards, 20 common mergansers and a great blue heron. Male red-winged blackbirds were singing from their perches and laying claim to their territories in the marsh while a grackle called from a tree overhead. The biggest surprise was the visit of a bald eagle that perched on a snag, preened for awhile, and then swooped down to catch a fish. It returned to the snag to feed on its catch.
- Ed Spaeth, Merrill Spaeth

3/10 - Garrison, HRM 51: I saw my first fox sparrows of late winter today, kicking the leaves and duff in my yard. I checked my records and saw that since 2000, fox sparrows have come through the Hudson Highlands between March 9 and 20. Right on time!
- Pete Salmansohn

3/10 - Popolopen Creek, HRM 49: High up, a squadron of 5 snow geese in precise V formation raced silently north over the West Point Military Reservation. In contrast, a nearby sharp-shinned hawk soared and drifted low, in no particular hurry. Just down the road an eastern phoebe flew sprightly, darting after insects on a dry south slope. This flycatcher had migrated back a full two weeks earlier than usual.
- Bob Kakerbeck

3/10 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: This was another annual ritual observed: cutting a bouquet of pussy willows, loaded with oh-so-soft silver gray catkins. I always yield to the wish to feel the softness against my cheek. As I pruned the bouquet, I enjoyed a flock of breakfast-seeking robins, breasts bright in the morning light. They had that just-off-the-boat look of recent arrivals, a vanguard for the thousands that will follow them across the Tappan Zee in the weeks to come.
- Christopher Letts

3/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was early evening on our nightly walk when we heard the unmistakable "honk" of a Canada goose overhead in the dark. Looking up all we could see were stars and streetlights, but where there is one there are bound to be more. It seemed a bit early for geese to be flying over Newcomb. My notes agreed: usually I do not see or hear them for another 2-3 weeks, although in 2004 we had our first geese on March 11 as well.
- Ellen Rathbone, Toby Rathbone

3/11 - Columbia County, HRM 118: I saw my first chipmunk of the year. It started to run across the road (tail straight up) but then stopped and waited for my car to pass before continuing on. I wonder how many times a day a chipmunk runs across a road. This one seemed savvier than some; maybe it will make it through the summer.
- Bob Schmidt

3/11 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Beneath a lowering sky, things were lively this morning. Green-winged teal foraged in the marsh; flocks of high-flying Canada geese were headed due north, their thin calls drifting down from high above; flickers were calling; the lawns were covered with foraging robins; red-winged blackbirds were shouting "okaleee" from every bush and post on the landfill; a bluebird left a smear of gorgeous color on my retina, a bright spot in a pretty drab landscape; wood ducks paddled on woodland pools, and just arrived killdeer were running laps on the graveled service roads. The best moment during my walk was when a pair of snipe circled high overhead before settling into the bosom of the marsh.
- Christopher Letts

3/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Newcomb is suddenly the place to be for the blackbird clan. The trees were blackened this morning with the collective bodies of starlings, red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds, and their assorted calls filled the air. And there, way in the distance was the call of a flicker. Haven't seen a robin or a woodcock yet, but at this rate, I expect to see them just about any day now. Can frogs be far behind?
- Ellen Rathbone

3/12 - Westchester County HRM 33: At Teatown Lake Reservation, a fisher was caught in an overnight photograph; river otters have been spotted in nearby ponds thus belying the idea that they only inhabit rivers. The reservation is a seven minute drive from Croton-on-Hudson. I grew up in the area, moved away in 1973 before coyotes, fishers, wild turkey and otters were around. Next, if we could only see a pine marten!
- Brad Shields

3/13 - Town of Saugerties, HRM 102: A late night/early morning survey of two area roads revealed a few first-of-season amphibians on the move; several wood frogs, spring peepers, Jefferson salamanders, spotted salamanders, and red-spotted newts were encountered crossing the roadways, migrating from their terrestrial dens to breeding pools. Conditions were less than ideal for a big movement with cold overnight temperatures in the mid-to-high 30s and a slow-to-develop rainfall, but eventually it was enough to initiate this first small movement of amphibians.
- Steve M. Chorvas

3/14 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: With the melting of most of the snow, there has not been as much traffic at the bird feeders in our backyard as we've had earlier in the winter. This afternoon I looked out to see a real mixed assortment mobbing them. There was a flock of nearly a dozen blue jays, several grackles, at least two red-winged blackbirds, and a few juncos, all at the same time. One of the grackles was flapping madly as it was hanging on while trying to get the last of the suet out of the suet feeder swinging in the wind.
- Larry Roth

3/14 - Ulster County, HRM 76: While strolling along the Walkway Loop Trail that crosses the Walkway Over the Hudson and the Mid-Hudson Bridge, I had a thrilling top-down look at a pileated woodpecker from atop the bluff on the Highland (west) side of the river. Usually I hear these birds more often than being able to see them and being able to see it fly from such a great vantage point and angle was a special treat.
- Fran Martino

3/15 - Westchester County, HRM 34: The spillway at the Croton Dam was going full spill. The snow melt and the aftereffects of the weekend's big storm were plunging into the Croton River. It was quite a sight - Niagara-on-Hudson! The air was heavy with mist, hanging the surrounding trees with water-drop jewels. The trees looked almost as if they were in bud the mist was so heavy. The Croton River had risen over its banks and was flowing swiftly through the woods almost at the edge of Route 129.
- Robin Fox

3/16 - Milan, HRM 90: Although spring doesn't arrive for four more days, it was spring in Milan today. This morning two wild tom turkeys were doing their best to impress about two dozen hens. Their efforts were rewarded with one of the hens dropping to the ground to accept the larger tom. After fending off the other tom several times he was able to mate. This evening I was greeted to the sounds of chorus frogs. The ladybugs that have shared our home all winter long in modest numbers have had a population explosion. They are in every window. We've opened the windows so that they may enjoy the spring-like night.
- Marty Otter

3/16 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I took a walk today on the first wonderfully warm and sunny day after a week of clouds and wet weather. The tide was very high in mid-afternoon. No eagles or waterfowl were visible. A small brown bat fluttered in my direction. I saw similar behavior in another small brown bat a year ago in Esopus Meadows. It's sad to see them so disoriented. An hour later at a vernal pond I heard a chorus of "quacking" sounds. I could see little frog eyes and heads just above the water's surface. The pond was filled with newly emergent wood frogs, many of which were paired - the smaller male clinging to larger females with swollen white underbellies. Unlike the shrill peepers, the wood frogs were a pleasure to hear close up. Now that "robin winters" may be over, perhaps frogs are the new harbingers of spring.
- Pat Joel

3/16 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I spotted a river otter in the tidal Wappinger today, swimming to and fro picking up and putting down a half submerged log.
- Glen Heinson

3/16 - Constitution Marsh, Putnam County, HRM 52: Among the best signs of spring at the Marsh have been droves of red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows. In our fondness to leave doors flung wide open, we saw perhaps the most definite signal of a new season: a Compton tortoiseshell fluttering about in our front yard. These notoriously early fliers let us know that spring is fully on its way with their bright colors waving about our yet-to-be-resurrected garden.
- C. Wilkinson

3/16 - Putnam County, HRM 51: While driving on Route 9D late this afternoon, I heard my first spring peepers of the season. There hasn't been any peeper action at Manitou Marsh three miles down the river. This time of year is filled with contradictions: peepers actively looking for mates with piles of snow around from the last snow storm; the male goldfinches are beginning to get their bright feathers but yet the juncos are still under the feeders at my house. Some large flocks of noisy Canada geese flew over late this evening.
- Zshawn Sullivan

3/17 - Dutchess County, HRM 85: I made a quick stop to walk the bank of a stream today to look for wood turtles perhaps up from hibernation. A tagged male, L11 R2, was taking advantage of the St. Paddy's Day sun, basking on the bank. It was the first turtle of the spring for me.
- Jude Holdsworth

3/17 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34.5: This morning as I was driving into Croton I spotted patches of golden discs - coltsfoot - clustered at the base of the rock face across from the roaring Croton River. Only a few days ago the now glistening, shiny, dripping river rocks were armored in ice.
- Robin Fox

3/18 - Hamlet of Unionville, Town of New Scotland, HRM 148: I heard my first spring peepers today - "frog season" has begun!
- Karen McCaffrey

3/18 - Rensselaer County, HRM 140: I was traveling south on Route 90 when I spotted nine juvenile hawks, each standing on the ground in the median strip. Each was standing tall with its head up. I guess hunting voles was really good that afternoon. I always assume that these hawks are juvenile red-tails, but I do not do juvenile hawks very well and at 65 mph it is hard to tell.
- Bob Schmidt

3/18 - Germantown, HRM 109: While driving on Route 9G, I heard several spring peepers calling from a roadside wet area.
- Jesse Jaycox

3/18 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: We had a female purple finch at the feeder. It has been so long since I saw a purple finch I had to take an extra look to be sure - but there it was.
- Bill Drakert

3/18 - Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County, HRM 75: Hundreds of wood frogs were calling from a woodland pool at James Baird State Park. As I stood there watching the frogs in the pool, I noticed some movement in the leaf litter at the edge of the pool. What I first thought was the breeze turning over a few leaves turned out to be wood frogs on their way to the breeding site. As I stood there quietly, I began to notice many frogs hopping through the woods towards the wetland. I also heard a few spring peepers calling from the same area. I guess spring is finally here.
- Jesse Jaycox

3/19 - Town of Saugerties, HRM 102: A first-of-season cabbage white butterfly was flying in my yard this afternoon. This is two days later than my 2009 first cabbage white, but still a relatively early date historically. One eastern comma in remarkably fresh condition has also been active in the yard for two days, one day proud of four months since I recorded an eastern comma as my final butterfly sighting of 2009 on 16 November. It will be interesting to compare photographs of the two records for any distinguishing marks that might confirm this is the same individual.
- Steve M. Chorvas

[While on the subject of insects, the sidebar about the snowflea observation (3/4/10) in the last issue confused their taxonomy with that of true fleas, which are thought to be descended from scorpionflies. Snowfleas are actually springtails in the order Collembola, which is now considered to be a non-insect hexapod group. Springtails are one of the most abundant groups of animals on the planet, but their ecology is actually fairly poorly known. They're primarily soil dwellers, though some are found in forest canopies, and eat microbes and detritus. Sacha Spector, Steve Stanne.]

3/19 - Red Hook, HRM 98: (From the Red Hook Journal, March 19, 1909)
"Robins have put in an appearance, tin peddlers are on the road and the organ grinder and fish peddler may be expected any day. These are sure indications of spring."
- Maynard Ham

3/19 - Memory Lane, Lower Hudson Valley: Forty years ago this spring, a friend borrowed a motor skiff and took me out beneath the George Washington Bridge to watch a shad lift. It changed my life. I became a fisher of American shad, a shad gourmand, and a plank-baker of shad. In those days, only roe fish [females] were shipped to Fulton Fish Market. The bucks [males] were sold for lobster or catfish bait, or tossed over the side. In that first decade, I fished for Smith and Ingold out of a fish camp on the Edgewater [NJ] flats [HRM 8.5], an old Penn Central barge that Charley Smith had purchased for $1.00. Fish camps were not eco-tourist luxury lodges. They had the bare essentials to sustain life during the six-week season: bunk beds, a coal burning stove from another Penn Central barge, a deer-camp-like galley and a table large enough to seat two shad boat crews. We visited another old barge by crossing a gangplank. That barge had a hole chainsawed in the deck, a flimsy outhouse perched over the hole. Ronnie Ingold used to grin "gets flushed twice a day" in reference to the tides that rose and fell in the old barge.
- Christopher Letts

3/19 - Tallman Mountain State Park, HRM 23: As I turned a bend in the walking path, funny "barking" sounds came from a nearby wooded pond. Three frogs in the pond were calling. I could faintly hear much more barking down the path. Another path-side pond had 10 or so frogs in it, but there was more barking still in the woods towards the Hudson River. I shortly came upon a large pond (classroom size) with at least 100 of these frogs in chorus. These were wood frogs and they are generally the first frogs to begin calling in the spring - a first for me at least.
- Linda Pistolesi


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