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Hudson River Almanac March 20 - March 26, 2010

OVERVIEW

The Hudson River Almanac began on the vernal equinox of 1994 and ever since has been an ongoing forum for capturing defining moments of the seasons through volunteer entries and observations. Year seventeen of the Almanac began on March 20.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/22 - Town of Saugerties, HRM 102: This was a "Big Night" migration of spotted salamanders from their terrestrial dens to breeding pools. Wood frogs, for the most part, had already moved to their breeding pools, but during the three hours we surveyed a few area roads we encountered some late-moving wood frogs, many spring peepers, green frogs, one bullfrog, pickerel frogs, some red-spotted newts, a couple of Jefferson x blue-spotted salamander hybrids, several four-toed salamanders, red-backed salamanders, American toads, and a young snapping turtle. We assisted more than 100 spotted salamanders to cross the roadways.
- Steve Chorvas, Alan Beebe, Henry Halama


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/20 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: Now that it was officially springtime, the coltsfoot was out.
- Bill Drakert

3/20 - Hudson Highlands: Many wood frogs were calling from two wetlands high on a ridge. Patches of ice were present on one of the wetlands and a small amount of snow was still on the ground on a northerly facing slope, although it won't be long before all traces of ice and snow are gone from this area.
- Jesse Jaycox, Ed McGowan

3/20 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: It was another warm, blue-sky day and it certainly felt like the first day of spring. A flood of party-colored crocus blooms brought joy; surging tulip and daffodil leaves brought anticipation. Eastern phoebes had arrived overnight and were inspecting their new digs, bobbing their tails and feasting on some tiny unseen insects. An early morning walk around our acre revealed a wealth of blooming crocus and Lenten lilies. We looked again, just at the time when spring began officially, and found that a clump of sheltered daffodils had bloomed. The temperature in the shade on the north side of the house was 74 degrees F.
- Christopher Letts

3/20 - Croton River, HRM 34: This is the first weekend of open striped bass fishing, and the boat launch was busy. Bass into the 20 lb. range were being taken in several favored areas. There was much grousing among anglers about the new requirements for both a New York State fishing license and a tidewater fishing license. Yesterday, buffleheads and common mergansers were enlivening the scene, but today the best we could do was a small flock of green-winged teal.
- Christopher Letts

[The federal government mandated that, beginning in 2010, all anglers fishing coastal waters register with the federal government so that it could survey anglers to develop better estimates of recreational catch and harvest. The federal government also made it clear that they would charge a fee, with the revenues going into the general federal coffers rather than to marine resource management. However, if a state could provide the federal government with a list of marine anglers - using a list of licensed anglers, for example - then the state could apply for an exemption to the federal registry requirement. So anglers were facing a saltwater registry requirement, with a fee, or a state marine license requirement. With the aiming of keeping license fees in New York to fund state conservation programs, New York lawmakers approved a new state marine fishing license. For more information, visit Recreational Marine License FAQs. Steve Stanne.]

3/20 - Sleepy Hollow to Croton Point, HRM 28-34: I kayaked upriver from the Tarrytown Light to Teller's Point and am happy to report that although there was a good deal of wood afloat in the river, presumably due to the storm, the water was almost completely clear of man-made debris. It was truly a good sign for the first day of spring.
- Harold Potischman

3/21 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: Taking advantage of the fine weekend weather we spent some time doing some spring cleanup. One of the things we noticed was that last year the mostly scrubby white pines on our property had produced a bumper crop of pine cones. With the snow melted, large numbers were visible on the ground under nearly every tree. Was last year just a really good year for pine cones, or is something else at work? For example, oak trees somehow manage to coordinate an extra large crop of acorns every few years, and lean crops the rest of the time. As the theory goes, the population of foragers that eats acorns drops when the supply is low. When the oak trees bring out a bumper crop (a mast year) there are so many acorns the surviving seed eaters can't get them all and there's a better chance that at least a few acorns will get to germinate into oak seedlings.
- Larry Roth

3/21 - Columbia County, HRM 119: There was a substantial bloom of coltsfoot yesterday. As I stepped outside today, I heard the unmistakable sound of wild turkeys calling. Later, as I walked down to a beaver pond behind my house, I startled a pair of wood ducks. I watched four painted turtles basking through my binoculars, also saw my season's first waterstrider, as well as a single whirligig beetle cruising on the pond. I guess whirligigs need a partner in order to dance.
- Bob Schmidt

3/21 - Town of Saugerties, HRM 102: Highlights of our Esopus Creek Conservancy "Signs of Spring" nature walk included 21 first-of-season tree swallows flying over Esopus Creek adjacent to Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, and a second flock of 50+ birds flying low over the marsh at The Great Vly. Two eastern commas and a mourning cloak butterfly in very fresh condition were encountered along the woodland trails and the vernal pools were busy with amphibian activity. Wood frogs and spring peepers were heard vocalizing and a closer visual inspection revealed numerous wood frogs, a few green frogs, and large communal concentrations of wood frog egg masses in both pools. Several pairs of wood frogs were seen mating, providing a nice comparison of the dramatic size difference between the smaller male and larger females. The highlight of the day for some of us was the sight of two wood frogs just below the surface of the clear water, the female in the act of depositing her eggs as the male fertilized the protruding mass from above. A few painted turtles basking on logs in the beaver impoundment provided some reptilian representation on this second day of spring.
- Steve M. Chorvas

3/21 - Fishkill, HRM 61: "Red bird, red bird, what do you see? I see another red bird looking at me." These paraphrased words from a children's book I used to read to my daughter came resounding back to me as I watched a frustrated male cardinal attack its own image reflected in our living room window. His territorial dispute ended and his frustration was eased when we closed the blinds. He discontinued attacking the window.
- Ed Spaeth

3/21 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: It was the first full day of spring 2010 as well as the anniversary of Johannes Bach's birthday (325 years). In celebration (can it be otherwise?) the azalea outside my window had put forth six lovely, tender, pale lavender-pink blossoms. Three weeks ago, the bush had been flattened under heaps of snow. And, as if to emphasize the equinox, the spring peepers were peeping.
- Robin Fox

3/21 - Croton River, HRM 34: Gino Garner, always the earliest arrival of all the "Boyz at the Bridge," reported finding four-inch "sawbellies" lying on the beach before sunrise for the last week or so. The theory is that the fury of the water pouring out of the Croton Reservoir over the Croton Dam several miles upstream was carrying and then dashing the little fish to death, after which they are carried to the Croton-Hudson confluence by the strong current. Gulls have been seen grabbing them from the surface, and several striped bass caught on the flats just outside the railroad bridge were "crammed with sawbellies."
- Christopher Letts

[Sawbellies are a colloquial name for alewives, or river herring. It refers to the sharp scutes along their ventral surface. Run your fingers fore to aft, and they are smooth; but from tail to nose they are like a serrated blade. Angler introduction and perhaps historic-prehistoric intrusions upstream from the sea have created a land-locked population of small alewives. Savvy anglers recognize that sawbellies are like candy to the huge brown trout that cruise the Croton Reservoir. Tom Lake.]

3/22 - New Baltimore, HRM 132: I took a drive along a back road in the heavy rain this evening. As I had hoped, there was a big movement of large salamanders - the few for which I stopped to get a closer look were all spotted salamanders.
- Rich Guthrie

3/22 - Croton on Hudson, HRM 34: Since yesterday, forsythia, Andromeda, magnolia, and red maples had bloomed. A flock of more than 100 tree swallows put in a first appearance, swirling over the waters of the Croton River. Twice during a morning walk a pair of snipe swirled out of the sky and plummeted into the wet grass, disappearing immediately, in plain sight.
- Christopher Letts

3/23 - Minerva, HRM 284: Yesterday I was out with the pesky dogs in the back wetland and enjoyed a nice spring sound: an actual single song sparrow, not just one of a group passing through. This morning I was out again early with the same exact dogs and again ran across a chilly-looking and sounding song sparrow. No red-wings settling in, although they have indeed been passing through to other places. Ice was still on the pond and there were only vague signs of pussy willows starting to look pussy willow-like. Meanwhile, I did hear a couple of robins singing in a robin sort of way in the woods where there was very little snow left. The strange later-winter weather did not produce a wonderful sapping season, but I did make over a pint of very beautiful, sweet maple syrup.
- Mike Corey

3/23 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: I spotted a pair of killdeer, probably mates, running and bobbing, then running and bobbing some more. Perhaps they were scouting a good nesting site. There are a few good stone areas nearby to choose from.
- Eric Shaw

3/23 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: An all night rain had left nearly three inches in the rain gauge with more to come. The past week had produced six inches of rain. Overnight it seemed that the world had turned green.
- Christopher Letts

3/23 - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens: Whitlow grass, among spring's first blooms, was in full flower on the lawn in front of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Whitlow grass is a favorite for anyone who likes to look at flowers on all fours with ten-power magnifying lenses, or for those of us desperate to see flowers after months of snow cover.
- Dave Taft

3/24 - Germantown, HRM 108: Wild turkeys were in the stubble fields, robins, red-winged blackbirds, and grackles were everywhere. There have been cowbirds in the yard and perching bluebirds on the power lines. I also finally got a few ring-necked ducks both on the river at Cheviot Landing and on the pond next to my house.
- Mimi Brauch

3/24 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The turkey vultures were back. I know to some they may not seem like the most elegant of birds, but I'm certain the pair perching in a tall pine in our backyard would beg to disagree. I think their size is awesome and I love watching them glide overhead.
- Bobbie Wells

3/24 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Following a warm and wet week, forsythia and magnolia were in color. The "birdie, birdie, birdie" song of the cardinal echoed at dawn. It is one of those sounds that bring back memories of soft, warm mornings with no wind on the river, perfect for drifting our shad nets during what now seems like a different lifetime. The daffodils were in bloom. I know this because I saw the bright yellow flowers protruding from the lips of a white-tail deer as it made its way across my yard.
- Tom Lake

3/24 - Middletown, Orange County, HRM 60: The spring peepers had returned. Even though the weather was quite chilly this morning they were not deterred. The robins were back in abundance and there were pairs of ducks and geese living quite happily in my stream. The geese take a leisurely stroll across the lawn each morning. After the quiet of winter the air was teeming with noise and the sky was filled with birds.
- Ann Reichal

3/24 - Memory Lane - The Hudson River Shad Camp: I went to work with Smith and Ingold in 1970, first as volunteer help, later as paid crew. They were the last of the stake-net shad fishers of the Hudson Valley and fished two lines of nets. One line was Charlie Smith's, just off the Edgewater Flats, and the other was the Ingold line, just north of the George Washington Bridge. The so-called stakes were white oak and hickory poles the size of slender utility poles. They were old, some of them as much as 100 years old, and they did service just two months of the year beneath the tides. They never dried out, but remained strong and supple enough to bear the weight of nets, fish, and the push of strong spring tides.

The routine was simple: you lived by the tides. Twice a day the boats went out from Edgewater loaded with clean, dry nets to be hung on the rows of poles poking up above the water. Nets were set at the beginning of each flood tide, lifted before slack water at the peak of the flood. Timing was important: if you went out to set the net too late, you missed the tide; if you went out to lift the net too late, the ebbing tide will have washed many fish out of the net.

Back on shore, the shad had to be sorted, the net cleaned, and then hung on racks to dry. The fish had to be boxed, iced, and loaded into the truck that would move them to Fulton Market on the lower east side of Manhattan. A clean, dry net had to be loaded into a cuddy and placed in the boats, ready for the next set. Then, perhaps, the crews could sleep for an hour or two.
- Christopher Letts

3/24 - Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn: The conference call was rounding its second hour as I stared blankly through my office window at a beautiful day. To my surprise, the window suddenly framed a turkey vulture, a not too common bird for us in Brooklyn. The wind swept the bird north and rapidly past the limits of the window frame. After the vulture, a crow, caught in the same strong breeze, flew past like an old newspaper. The phone conversation continued. I looked out the window again only to see the same turkey vulture now flying low, using the pines and grasses to break the wind as it headed back south. Five crows were now in rapid pursuit like a bunch of teenage bikers behind a bus. The phone conversation continued, and once more I looked out the window to watch the turkey vulture zip past, flapping rapidly and with the northbound tailwind pushing it quickly. No fewer than 15 crows were now in hot pursuit. I could swear I recognized the glint of a "good time" in one of the crow's eyes as they continued to torment the vulture. If I were that poor bird, I doubt I'd be visiting Brooklyn again anytime soon.
- Dave Taft

3/25 - Athens, HRM 118: I spotted my first osprey of season flying north over the Hudson River, a half mile south of the Village of Athens.
- Larry Federman

3/25 - Town of Wappinger, Dutchess County: The female looked content in the nest (NY62) at first light as incubation day 23 dawned. The male was perched ten feet away on a huge limb of the tuliptree.
- Tom Lake

3/25 - Town of New Windsor, Orange County: The mated pair of bald eagles continued to incubate eggs. Last summer, this nest fledged at least one young eaglet.
- Tom Lake

3/25 - Moodna Creek, HRM 58: It had been more than 15 years since I visited a short peninsula that juts out into Moodna Creek just inside Cornwall Bay. At that time, there were several small baldcypress trees growing just above the reach of tidewater. Now they were gone. Time, tide and perhaps winter cold had erased all evidence of them. Three anglers were out on the tip of the point carp fishing. Each had caught a single carp in the 10-12 lb. range and was eagerly anticipating which of them would break the tie.
- Tom Lake

[Baldcypress are coniferous trees that are native to more southerly climes from Delaware into the deep South. They are found in a couple of places in the Hudson Valley as part of estate plantings or escapes. Tom Lake.]

3/25 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Every depression in the land is now a pond, some as large as an acre. The plenitude of rain provided a largess for wood ducks, and I had never seen as many on this peninsula. Each little lake seemed to have at least one pair, and there was an overflow into the marshes on the south side of the Point. Wary, spooky, they flushed easily; often before I could admire the breeding plumage there was a flash of wings and the "wheep wheep wheep" call - guineas pigs on steroids - as they disappeared from view.
- Christopher Letts

3/26 - Green Island, HRM 153.4: The freshet had arrived! The melting of the snow and ice and heavy spring rain falls has resulted in a large discharge over the Troy dam. I had been watching the discharge data at Green Island and on 3/23 saw a peak. Data from Schodack Island, 14 miles downriver, showed a corresponding rise in water level and turbidity on 3/23 and subsequent cresting on 3/24. Although the readings had already dropped significantly by today, the water at the Albany boat launch was noticeably chocolate-colored. This is a tangible reminder that the terrestrial watershed is closely linked to the river. To read more about this event, visit the HRECOS [Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System] website: www.hrecos.org .
- Alene Onion

3/26 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was spitting rain, blowing half a gale, and I had no expectations for the morning walk except the walk itself. But, there were some nice surprises. It is always nice to see the lawns studded with bright robins, thick as raisins in rice pudding. As I started up the hill behind the park office, an immature bald eagle came right over my head with a flock of crows in cautious pursuit. A few steps more, out of the wind in the ravine, and a dozen species of songbirds came into view. One of my favorites, the phoebe was present - two, in fact, and they danced ahead of me, up the hill to the oak grove. Out on the margins of the model plane flying field I walked up on a dozen killdeer. When they flushed, a pair of woodcock I had not seen went up with them. Down the hill, and back on the service road around the landfill, an adult peregrine falcon came out of nowhere, skimmed the surface of the hill, and then disappeared into the marsh. Half an hour later, ready to climb back into the truck and out of the wind, I looked up to see a flock of five great blue herons beating into the northeast wind, A full five minutes later, as I drove out of the park, they were still in view, apparently determined to cross Croton Bay but making heavy work of it. Hey - I made lemonade.
- Christopher Letts


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