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Hudson River Almanac April 1 - April 6, 2010

OVERVIEW

There were many first-of-the-season sightings this week from birds to migratory fish to amphibians and black bears. Atypically warm days, from the lower estuary all the way into the High Peaks, produced record early blooms for some spring flowers.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/4 - Columbia County, HRM 118: A bobcat managed to evade Sunday's traffic as it crossed four lanes of the Taconic State Parkway.

- Frank Margiotta

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/1 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I have hazelnut flowers [American hazelnut]. I finally learned what they look like and this evening I went out to search for them. They have to be one of the smallest tree or shrub flowers. Two of my hazelnut shrubs have them, so I am hopeful that I'll finally get some nuts this year!

- Ellen Rathbone

4/1 - Athens, HRM 118: I found a metal ammo box marked "Geo-Cache - Dead Man's Cove - Do not Remove" bobbing near the shore of Middle Ground Flats while kayaking around the island. Among its contents was a yellow rubber ducky wearing a tropical Hawaiian shirt. You'll have to find (rediscover) the Geo-Cache box to discover what this kayaker added to the collection.

- Fran Martino

4/1 - Hudson River Valley: I was on a flyover of the Hudson River and its watershed from Syracuse to JFK airport in Queens. We approached the Hudson via the Catskills, and I saw that mountain range at a new angle and illumination. There was still snow on the mountains, and one could see the concentric, sedimentary bands in the landforms. All the mountaintops above a certain elevation were crowned with conifers, as were some of the cooler valleys. We flew down the west side of the river, affording a good view of the Hudson and its eastern flank. Imbocht Bay, Tivoli Bays, Norrie Point, Poughkeepsie, Wappinger Falls - all gleamed in the strong spring sunlight. This being a couple of days after a large rain event, the Hudson was silty - but milky-blue silt, not the murky, muddy green I often associate with summertime storms.

It was interesting to note the plumes of tributaries that discharge into the Hudson. I was surprised to see that the Wappinger Creek plume was a lot larger than that of the Fishkill Creek. They are nearly equal-sized watersheds and my impression has been that the Fishkill catchment was more urbanized than the Wappinger (and therefore would "leak" more water because of urban runoff). But the Fishkill was apparently holding onto its water this time; does this mean that the Wappinger is catching up in impervious surface development? Or has it always produced more discharge? At any rate, both plumes appeared clear and blue at 21,000 feet, mixing into the milky-blue of the estuary. There was also a large, clear patch of water just south of Croton Point. This must have been the plume of the Croton River. In the strong afternoon sunlight, the transition from Catskills, Shawangunks, Highlands, and patchwork forested urban lands to the intensity of Metro New York was striking to say the least.


Later, as I flew out of JFK, I could see Haverstraw Bay taking on the dreamy hues of a spring evening, with the Tappan Zee Bridge snaking idly across the estuary.

- Karin Limburg

4/1 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: My daughters and I were driving home in the evening, traveling west on Route 44. As we crossed the bridge over Wappinger Creek we spotted a large, wet beaver heading our way on the shoulder. Was this a male that had he been pushed out of the lodge and told to go find his own territory?

- Christopher Duncan, Rebecca Duncan, Kathryn Duncan

4/1 - Cold Spring, HRM 53: The mist was rising slowly this morning across the Hudson at Foundry Dock Park. My friend Darcy and I noticed a flock of 30-40 birds, all squawking like those ambulances they have in England, as they passed low to the water along the shore. Their wingspan was at least four feet, (well, perhaps three feet, at least). They had very long and very pointed beaks. Darcy swears that there were teeth in the lower jaw. The heads were large and yellow and topped with a crest fore-to-aft that shimmered in an iridescent glow. Their bodies had a camouflage pattern in alternating cerulean blue and off-pea green. The legs extended back and the feet were held in a clutched configuration. Most striking of all was a long tail with white and red alternating bands. We were unable to find anything like this in my Peterson guide (although it is an old edition) and wondered if you could help.

- Ray Phillips

[Ahhh, the tomfoolery of April First!]

4/1 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: The glass eel project is off to a great start at Furnace Brook in Westchester County. This year, several Ossining High School students are joined by students from Northern Westchester/Putnam BOCES to monitor eel migrations at the mouth of Furnace Brook. The net was installed last week but did not catch any eels until March 27 (8), March 28 (28) and March 29 (74). At the same time the eel numbers were growing, so was the moon, heading towards full, as well as the brook itself, swelling with rainfall. We expect the eels will keep coming, and we'll be back to open a little window on their world.

- Chris Bowser

4/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35: During the recent four-day gullywasher that flooded so much of the East Coast, the lovely, lacy foliage of the Dutchman's breeches appeared. The road that runs up through the ravine at the north end of the Point was lined, carpeted with them a quarter of a century ago. The road was shaded by majestic hemlocks and the tiny flowers found the situation much to their liking. Since then, the wooly adelgid, an alien species, has wiped out every hemlock. This provided good habitat for another alien, the Japanese knotweed. Knotweed has been marching up the road ever since, and about 40% of the wildflowers are gone. But hundreds of Dutchman's Breeches remain, and for the next two weeks I will take every opportunity to walk up the ravine, admiring the foliage and flowers alike.

- Christopher Letts

4/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The air temperature reached 80 degrees F today. This evening I heard my first spring peeper. This was very early; the previous early date was 4/22. I also heard my first woodfrogs, another early arrival; the previous earliest date was 4/12.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/2 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Various birds were coming and going from our feeders, including blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and sparrows. Nearby to all this busy activity is a nest box which had been occupied by resident bluebirds. No bluebirds were in sight. It was not until a brown-headed cowbird came to our feeders that the male bluebird swooped from to give notice to the cowbird to stay clear of the nest box. The cowbird continued to eat at the feeder, but the male bluebird remained ever watchful from a nearby perch.

- Ed Spaeth

4/2 - Fishkill, HRM 61: In strolling around our yard, looking for various flowers abloom, we had the pleasure of seeing a small spring azure butterfly. It's a tiny sprite of a thing, but simply beautiful with pale blue upper-side and soft brown spotted underside to its wings.

- Merrill Speath, Ed Spaeth

4/2 - Beacon, HRM 61: All I could manage fishing from Long Dock today was one 8-inch brown bullhead, which was released. There were quite a number of small bullheads caught today off the pier by striped bass fishermen who did not seem to be catching any stripers.

- Bill Greene

4/2 - Croton River, HRM 34: The first osprey of the season was circling over the marsh at Inbuckie. I decided I would like to see the first osprey catch a fish, so I pulled up a boulder and had a seat. It took 15 minutes and three tries, but the third was the charm: a big white perch for breakfast.

- Christopher Letts

[Inbuckie and Crawbuckie are colloquial names used to describe the mile of shoreline between the mouth of the Croton River and Ossining (river miles 34-33). They used to be part of Croton Bay and the greater Tappan Zee until cut off by the railroad in the 1840s. The origin of the names is hazy but they have been commonly used by local commercial fishermen for well over a century. Inbuckie is the tidal bay inside the railroad tracks. Crawbuckie is the adjacent low-tide beach facing Croton Bay made equally famous in the 1960s and 70s by striped bass anglers, when catching one of any size was big news. Tom Lake.]

4/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was another warm one: it reached 83 degrees F today. I'm sure these must be records for early April. The coltsfoot around the building came into bloom today. Prior to this season, our earliest date was 4/12.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/3- Stockport Creek, HRM 121.5: I'm always a bit regretful when I flush out some ducks resting in the backwaters of Stockport Creek while paddling my little red kayak. But then, I'm also curious why my silent paddling brings them to flight while the sounds of Amtrak trains don't seem to startle them at all. I had four pairs of wood ducks on the way into the backwaters and a fistful of pussy willows on the way out.

- Fran Martino

[Wildlife, including waterfowl and eagles, generally tend to be comfortable with recognizable objects producing consistently predictable noises. It is not uncommon to see a bald eagle on a tree limb above the railroad tracks as a loud train rushes past. However, the modulating whine of an outboard engine, the grating blare of a jet-ski, or even the silky smooth slurp of a canoe paddle can produce much anxiety. Tom Lake.]

4/3 - Hillsdale, HRM 119: I have a patch of wild ginger, a dark brown flower sitting close to the ground, in my yard. Today I cleared off some of the maple leaves that had accumulated over the winter and found many of the ginger plants in flower.

- Bob Schmidt

4/3 - Columbia County, HRM 118: I passed a moderately large beaver swamp today and counted at least a dozen painted turtles basking in the bright sun. Last year there was a pair of great blue herons nesting on a snag in the middle of the pond. Today I saw one heron standing on last year's nest. Do the males appear first and females later like some other birds? Does anyone know?

- Bob Schmidt

[According to Birds of North America Online, there is some evidence that males arrive and settle on nests, where they court females. Steve Stanne.]

4/3 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Eighteen participants on an organized walk watched a first-of-the-season osprey in the cove at Esopus Bend Nature Preserve. We also came upon six yellow-rumped warblers, a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers excavating a nest cavity, eastern bluebirds entering and exiting a tree cavity, and white-breasted nuthatches also entering a natural tree cavity. A few rusty blackbirds continued to move through the wetlands, but not in large numbers. At least nine eastern commas and six spring azures were encountered along the trails; most of the commas were in close proximity to their stinging nettle host plants.

- Steve M. Chorvas

4/3 - Town of Milan, HRM 90: My neighbors had considerable quite a bit of damage done to their bird feeders in the last couple of days by a bear, or bears. Fortunately I had removed my feeders and so far have had no incidents of black bear activity at my bluebird boxes. As you may recall last year, I witnessed the destruction of the bird houses by a small bear.

- Frank Margiotta

4/3 - Milan, HRM 90: The black bear was back tonight! I do not know if it is the same one from last year, this one seemed larger, 200+ lb. The bear showed no fear and only retreated a short distance when I yelled. I was able to save the bird feeders this time.

- Marty Otter

4/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie: One of the first activities each spring for our Dutchess Community College field archaeology students is to survey the down-slope areas beneath narrow benches overlooking the river. Over the course of a year, driving rain and heavy snow can "excavate" several millimeters of soil off the surface and send it slowly sliding down to the water's edge, occasionally revealing prehistoric artifacts. It did not take Brenda McCaffrey very long to find a beautiful yellow-brown jasper spear point of a style called "Otter Creek" by archaeologists. Adding to the story of this find was the material, Berks-Lehigh jasper, quarried by Native American hunters and gatherers in Pennsylvania about 150 miles to the southwest and brought to the Hudson Valley during their seasonal rounds in pursuit of migratory fish and game.

- Stephanie Roberg-Lopez, Tom Lake

[How old was this spear point? Otter Creek points were recovered at the Sylvan Lake Rockshelter (Dutchess County, Fishkill Creek drainage, 13 miles due east) by New York State Archaeologist Robert Funk in a context that dated to about 5,700 years ago. The name derives from Otter Creek in Vermont where the style was first described. Tom Lake.]

4/4 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We put our glass eel fyke in the mouth of the Saw Kill today. I was amazed at how warm the water was. We spooked a smallmouth bass from the net site and banded killifish had already taken their stations in an inch of water next to the shore. I saw a large (18-inch) male white sucker, his anal fin covered with large nuptial tubercles, dead in the stream. I guess a few suckers have decided it is breeding season in the Hudson.

- Bob Schmidt, Catherine O'Reilly

4/4 - Greene County, HRM 116: Coltsfoot was plentiful and easily found at the Cohotate Preserve. A solitary blunt-lobed hepatica greeted trail walkers on the main path that leads to the river. The trout lily leaves were demurely hidden on a trail less traveled.

- Fran Martino

4/4 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: We spotted a school of about 30 river herring, probably alewives, just below the bridge over Black Creek. A scap-netter caught six fish in a ten minute period.

- Matilda C.

4/4 - Saugerties, HRM 102: This morning I encountered a first-of-the-season Louisiana waterthrush singing on territory along the southern tributary, and several ruby-crowned kinglets singing in the hemlocks along the South Trail of the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve. More than two dozen painted turtles were out basking on logs in the beaver impoundment, and many wildflowers were in bloom, including lyre-leaved rock cress, bloodroot, round-lobed hepatica, and violets. Red trillium, wild columbine, and trout lily were sporting large flower buds ready to open in the next day or two.

- Steve M. Chorvas

4/4 - Furnace Woods, Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: Hyacinth and yellow violets had begun to bloom; pesky blackflies had begun to bite.

- Christopher Letts

4/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Flowers were blooming all over: willows, crocus daffodils, and Daphne. As I drove the ninety miles south to Glens Falls, every mile down the Northway had more and more trees with swollen buds. By the time I got to Saratoga, I was expecting actual leaves. Even up here in the mountains some of the trees have buds visible at a distance already. Amazing what a little warmth will do.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/5 Memory Lane, the Shad Camp, Edgewater NJ, HRM 8.5: Shad season lasted about six weeks. By then the runs of fish from the sea had passed us by, heading inland to their spawning reach 100 miles upriver. In the old days, shad fishers might hitch a ride on a northbound string of barges and extend the season by catching up to the fish. Of the tens of thousands of shad taken each year by Smith and Ingold, about 10% were sold at the dock. The hen fish, with the luscious and famous shad roe, were worth much more than the bucks. Bucks were sold for bait and to those who still smoked or pickled fish. A hundred bucks a week went to a smokehouse in Teaneck. Half of the finished product came back and was sold almost immediately - a smoked shad is a wondrous thing to a lover of fish.

The bulk of the fish were destined to end up at Fulton Fish Market at the southeastern tip of Manhattan. The buyers wanted roe fish. The roes were cut out and sold separately; the fish was then "deboned," an impressive piece of knife-work. The boneless fillets were then sold for a good price. We believed that the value of the roe paid for the fish and all attendant expenses, and that the value of the boned fillets was pure profit. True or not, only a fraction of the value of the fish found its way back to Edgewater and the crews who worked so hard to catch it.

Fulton Market [now at Hunts Point in the Bronx] had been there since forever, it seemed, and was a fascinating place. By about 8:00 in the morning, the day's business had been transacted, the fish were on their way to shops and restaurants throughout the region, and the pandemonium that was the market in full operating mode gave over to Wall Street types in corporate dress. But from 4:00 - 7:00 AM, it was a circus not to be missed. In scores of stalls, the wares were laid out. Huge sturgeon, tuna and swordfish, frozen and with their weight inked on their sides lay in state on pallets, to be returned to the freezers if not sold. Baskets held live eels, terrapins, and crayfish. Steel trays were filled with brightly colored, fantastically shaped coral reef fish. Bins were filled with cod, haddock, tilefish, pollock. There were crates of blue crabs, hard-shelled and soft, and more crates and bins of scallops, mussels, clams, cockles, and oysters.

- Christopher Letts

4/6 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Our shadbush was in bloom.

- Dave Conover

4/6 - Town of Wappinger: In a field about a hundred feet down-slope from the eagle nest (NY62) I came upon the carcass of a young white-tail deer that had been killed, or at least scavenged, by coyotes. The scatter of bone and hair suggested it had been there for a month or so. Coyotes tend to be less-than-loved by many homeowners, especially by those who do not appreciate the role they play, albeit limited, in controlling the white-tail deer population. A historical lack of natural predators has been an ecological issue in the Hudson Valley for many years. As I stepped out of the field onto a dirt path, I counted 19 deer ticks on my arms, legs, shirt sleeves, pant legs and boots. And that was with a liberal application of bug spray.

- Tom Lake

4/6 - Chester, Orange County, HRM 60: It was exciting to see hepaticas, both round and sharp lobed varieties, in bloom in our garden. The extreme heat seems to be forcing things up too quickly

- Jerome Spector

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