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Hudson River Almanac April 7 - April 13, 2010

OVERVIEW

This is the time of spring when the river's banks go from gray-brown to color, a transition from old to new. With fringes of new green as a backdrop, the various cherries with their stark white, shadbush with its soft white glow, and flowering dogwood with a creamy off-white all give a three-dimensional feeling of life. River herring and glass eels are filling the tributaries.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/13 - Hannacrois, HRM 132.5: Today was the first day ever to check the fyke net for eels in Hannacrois Creek. Chris Bowser and a group of volunteers installed the net yesterday near the head of tide. Today, we met again to investigate the catch. A great blue heron flew overhead as we retrieved the mouth of the net from the water - a good sign! We peered into the net and found two tiny eels - one a glass eel and the other a yearling. It was a little larger than the glass eel and pigmented a deep, lovely olive color - an elver. I believe that all the volunteers were caught hook, line and sinker by these eels. As we were leaving the creek, a bald eagle flew overhead.

- Liz LoGiudice

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/7 - Troy, HRM 151.5: In midday with high tide turning to ebb, we spotted nice numbers of herring from the First Street Bridge over the Poesten Kill. We assume that they were alewives, the first of the river herring to arrive from the seas each spring, but we do not know for sure. We do not often check this spot, but we saw more (several hundred) than either of us had seen there before.

- Rick Morse, Bryan Weatherwax

4/7 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: Our bloodroot was in bloom.

- Phyllis Marsteller

4/7 - Orange County, HRM 68: While it has been slow and sporadic in places, the shadbush near the river was blooming.

- Tom Lake

4/7 - Fishkill, HRM 61: With just a chance glance out a back window, I spied a bright yellow palm warbler foraging for insects on our lawn. This lone warbler was the first of the season for me.

- Ed Spaeth

4/7 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: American toads had begun trilling, and redbud and shadbush were in bloom. In north-side shade, it was 95 degrees F in mid-afternoon.

- Christopher Letts

4/7 - Haverstraw Bay-Tappan Zee, HRM 43-25: Striped bass anglers from Peekskill to Piermont were reporting continued success with some of the catches exceeding 20 lb. Fish were being taken on artificial lures and bait in about equal numbers. George Hatzmann reported fighting a large fish for more than 10 minutes, until the connection unraveled. "The big ones always get away," George reminded me.

- Christopher Letts

4/7 - Memory Lane - Shad Camps: Old timers swore to the fact that the shad came up the river in waves, and that each wave could be foretold by the shrubs that were flowering at the time the fish ran. The Forsythia Run was the first, and a quarter of a century ago, those yellow blossoms appeared in Nyack in mid-April. The Gabrielson family fished from the Nyack waterfront, and in its day it was the biggest operation on the river. Almost a mile of net paralleled the south side of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Three crews went out to lift the nets at the peak of the flood, and a fourth boat shuttled the 100 lb. totes of fish to shore. Tons of boxed and iced fish went to Fulton Market in Manhattan; in the mid-1980s, 18-wheelers rolled off the dock with up to 50,000 lb. of fish destined for Baltimore and Washington. Captain Bob Gabrielson had forsythia planted under his living room window. One year, a jokester got a hold of some forced-bloom forsythia branches and tied the flowers among the dormant branches of Bob's bush in the middle of March, no less. Until he figured it out, he fretted that he had missed the first run, the "Money Run," of shad. The first few days of fishing brought the highest prices. As the catch increased, the prices dropped dramatically - sometimes the market was glutted. Sometimes tons of fish were caught and then dumped.

The next run was the Cherry Blossom Run, then the Dogwood Run, and finally the Lilac Run. When we caught the first menhaden (bunker) of the year, we took it as a sign that the season was just about finished.

- Christopher Letts

4/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Another rainy night - this time almost an entire half inch! Worms were all over the roads. Crocuses were in bloom all over as well as early daffodils. Forsythia was in full voice in Glens Falls, 90 miles south, but I have not seen any up here yet. I suspect we will soon. I heard my first phoebe three days ago, and this morning caught a nearly failed attempt at song by a white-throated sparrow.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/8 - Troy, HRM 151.5: Curious as what species of river herring we saw yesterday, we threw a cast net into the Poesten Kill this morning at a group of herring. They were all bluebacks. One alewife was found dead in the creek. Blueback herring generally follow alewives upriver to spawn - this would be a very early date for them to be here.

- Rick Morse, Robert Schmidt, Bryan Weatherwax

4/8 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: At 3:00 AM, a siren from a fire house more than a mile away woke me up. The uniform hum of the spring peepers stopped as though a switch had been thrown. Then, within a minute, all sounds ceased. The coyotes began. They were no more than a few hundred feet away and the clarity of their chorus echoed in the quiet night air. I tried to guess their number and settled on more than a few, perhaps fewer than many, their cries ranging from high-pitched screeches to throaty howls. In another minute they were silent. Then the peepers began again.

- Tom Lake

4/8 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Last spring my son Jake, my daughter Allison and I built a sturdy bluebird house for the backyard. It took an entire year but it appears we have residents. We are all happy that our labor paid off.

- Eric Shaw

4/8 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Hundreds of northern gannets poured around Sandy Hook and into Raritan Bay this morning. It was quite a sight to see them plunging into the bay en masse after the schools of mossbunker [menhaden] that entered the bay earlier this week. This inshore sighting of gannets is a special event that occurs only a couple of days each spring. They are starting to show bright yellow breeding plumage on their heads.

- Jeff Dement

[Atlantic menhaden are a species of herring that spawn in salt to brackish water. Adults are known regionally as bunker, mossbunker or porgies. Their young-of-the-year, known colloquially as peanut bunker or penny bunker, are found by the millions in coastal waters and the Hudson estuary in spring through fall providing forage for striped bass, bluefish, harriers, osprey, eagles and seals. Tom Lake.]

4/9 - Albany County, HRM 142: Driving south on Route 9W near Glenmont, I spotted a very large bird circling in a thermal. It was up high, too high to see if there were long legs trailing out the back. Pulling off the road and grabbing the binoculars, I found it to be a great blue heron. I estimate its altitude was between 500 and 1,000 feet, and it continued circling, flapping 6-8 times, and then soaring for a while on set wings. I've seen this only once before, along the Mohawk River. That time, the heron was sharing a thermal with a red-tailed hawk.

- Alan Mapes

4/9 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: Our fyke net caught 127 glass eels and 13 elvers at Scenic Hudson's Black Creek Preserve. What a way to end the work week! Four volunteers, along with Anthony and I from Scenic Hudson, fished the eels out of the net, counted, weighed and released the little beauties well upstream to prevent counting them twice. Volunteers, including students from three area high schools, boy scouts and the Maple Ridge Bruderhof, are working on this Citizen Science project in partnership with NYSDEC's Hudson River Estuary Program. The net is checked at Black Creek every day. Volunteers also have been monitoring river herring but we didn't see any during our afternoon time frame at the creek.

- Susan Hereth, Anthony Coneski

4/9 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The fyke net at Crum Elbow Creek was empty today, and has been catching very low numbers all week. At Crum Elbow, the stream divides around an island into a narrow slow moving meander and the faster main channel. Our fyke in the main channel isn't catching much, but our "eel mop" in the slow channel is catching a few glass eels. We may set up another net in the slower channel and see if that narrow haven of slow water is a corridor of eel migration.

- Chris Bowser

4/9 - Fall Kill, HRM 75: Poughkeepsie High School and Marist College interns collected 82 glass eels and a handful of small yellow eels in their fyke net on the Fall Kill. Overall, eel numbers have held steady or slightly climbed this week. Water temperatures were fairly warm, (around 62 degrees F in the Fall Kill) and several observers have been surprised that the "glass" eels are developing pigment quickly.

- Chris Bowser

4/9 - Town of Wappinger: Easter Sunday was incubation Day 33. Mama sat in her nest (NY62), head resting on the rim. She gave no indication that she was aware of me watching her from a distance through my spotting scope. A large shape crossed the narrow image of the scope and as I looked up I saw a northern harrier fly past no more than twenty feet from the nest, heading upriver. The eagle lifted her head and followed the flight of the marsh hawk as it disappeared along the tree line.

- Tom Lake

[Now, five days later, it has become apparent that Easter Sunday was the last day the nest was occupied. Incubation had ended for reasons unknown. The male had not been around the nest for a week, not a good sign, even though the female continued to sit, presumably on eggs. Today's evidence - crows in the nest - was the final proof. All indications point to another failed nesting season for this pair. While they have tried every spring, their last successful fledge was 2006. Tom Lake.]

4/9 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: Hannah Kamen of Ossining High School reported 191 glass eels in their fyke net at Furnace Brook - a high for the week.

- Chris Bowser

4/9 - West Point, HRM 52: The oak leaves are now the "size of a squirrel's ears!" Flowering dogwood has been in bloom for six days (mind boggling early). Bloodroot were almost ready.

- Bob Kackerbeck

[In the centuries prior to the arrival of European in the Hudson Valley, the cultivating of maize, or corn, was important for Native People. There is much lore regarding the planting of corn; oral (ethnographic) tradition among many Midwest and Northeast tribes suggests planting corn when the new oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear. But what is the size of a squirrel's ear? One spring I decided to find the answer. I spent the month of April driving around the Hudson Valley measuring the ears of road-killed gray squirrels. I counted 116. The average "ear size" was 20.6 mm - 0.82 inches long. Size may vary with different oaks in different areas. In most years the prime date arrives in early May and is probably related to soil temperature, rainfall, and perhaps some other factors. Tom Lake.]

4/9 - Middletown, Orange County, HRM 60: While walking my dog each day, I pass by a small pond that has pairs of geese and ducks co-habiting peacefully together. The "mother goose" has been sitting on her nest for several weeks now and I assume the female duck is hunkered down as she has not been visible. The two males swim together each morning. First violets in the grass have sprung up this week, daffodils are in full bloom, and my dogwood tree is in full bloom. Ahhh, spring time!

- Ann Reichal

4/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie: A gusty northwest wind chilled our Dutchess Community College field archaeology students to the bone. With our backs to the wind, our investigation of native people who lived along the Hudson nearly 6,000 year ago continued. We found several utilitarian tools such as scrapers and knives reminding us that these people had a broad-based economy, including gathering, foraging, and fishing, as well as hunting. Overhead, turkey vultures "teetered" in the wind like tight-rope walkers. A bald eagle hung in the sky, a thousand feet high, attaining perfect equilibrium with canted wings. At least two Cooper's hawks zoomed through the trees using a tailwind to propel them along.

- Stephanie Roberg-Lopez, Tom Lake

[River miles are sometimes omitted from Almanac entries for reasons of protected species or, in this case, an archeological site. Some people confuse archaeology with "treasure hunting." As far as we can tell, there are no buried treasures in the Hudson Valley. Tom Lake.]

4/10 Town of Cortlandt, Westchester County, HRM 38.5: Dogwoods and redbuds were in bloom. In a visit to the New York Botanical Gardens we saw lilacs in bloom. Back in my shad fishing days, we figured dogwood to bloom about May 10, lilacs a week later, with lilacs signaling the last wave of northbound shad, the biggest and most handsome fish we caught.

- Christopher Letts

4/10 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Croton Point acts like a giant collector of flotsam and jetsam as it stretches half way across the Hudson at its widest point. Hundreds of tons of debris make their way onto the bathing beach, most of it pushed by winter ice and northerly winds. For more than 20 years, students from Post Road School in White Plains have volunteered to aid in the spring cleanup. The storms of the winter past put more debris on the beach than I have ever seen before, and a harsh northwest wind had real bite in it. But the 50 volunteers representing 19 families pitched in heartily. They not only collected and piled the trash, they raked the entire beach. The school has been enjoying environmental studies here for more than two decades, and water quality has always been an important theme. Teacher Lori Mollo expressed it well: "This is our chance to give back to a place that has given us so many wonderful memories."

- Christopher Letts

4/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I woke up this morning to find the bird feeder pole uprooted and the feeders in various states of damage. The bear came in by the garage - just pushed down the fence - and climbed over. He took out not only the near feeder pole, but also my compost bin and a second feeder pole on the other side of the yard. I walked the fence looking for an exit, and found it had gone out at a joint in the fencing - just pushed it apart and went into the woods. No more food for the birds. Several feeders were damaged, a couple beyond repair. Can't really blame the bear though, I'm the one who left all the food out, and there is very little in the woods right now for a bear to eat.

- Ellen Rathbone

4/11- Minerva, HRM 284: Out on the open water of our swamp this morning was a pair of common goldeneye who I suspect were just stopping because of the attractive nature of the water. In the shrubby marsh area, I could hear what I believed to be a sora rail. There's no sign yet of our annual friend, the American bittern. Coltsfoot was blooming by the roadside this week; tree leaf and flower buds are swelling for sure, and our Myrica gale flowers are just now coming out.

- Mike Corey

4/11- Rockland County, HRM 25: Every spring I read through the almanac to see when the shad bush blooms are bursting throughout the river valley. Two years ago I decided I needed my own marker of spring - I planted a few in the yard. Last year they were too small to count but this year I have been watching and waiting for them to bloom. Now I can now report that my shadbush is in bloom!

- Margie Turrin

4/12 - Town of Esopus, HRM 85: Volunteers from Kingston High School caught 355 glass eels in a fyke net at Black Creek! This is the highest number of glass eels recorded so far this season, right around the new moon when tides are more extreme.

- Sarah Mount

4/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68.5: The assemblage of wings and tails in the grass at the edge of the woods looked like a collision between a wild turkey and a turkey vulture. As I got closer I could see that it was a crow tangled up with an immature red-tailed hawk of nearly similar size. The hawk had it by the neck. I did not see the "takedown," and wondered if the crow had been previously injured. There is an adult Cooper's hawk in the forest and it would be a prime candidate. Inquiring among birder associates, I could find no one who had ever seen a red-tail take a crow, although it would be justice given all the grief crows impart on hawks.

- Tom Lake

[There are instances cited in scientific literature of red-tails taking fledgling and adult crows, many other birds, and even bats in flight. Steve Stanne.]

4/13 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: While walking along one of the back roads this morning I saw large spreads of purple trillium, trout lily, Dutchman's breeches, and rue anemone, as well as skunk cabbage and lots and lots of garlic mustard all in bloom.

- Phyllis Marsteller

4/13 - Town of Wappinger: Mama eagle was back in her nest (NY62) at first light. Still no male in sight; it has been nearly two weeks now. She sat high in the nest for a half-hour, tilting her head back and calling - or at least "mouthing" a call - with no sound whatsoever. Was she calling for her mate? It is both difficult and necessary to be there at times like these.

- Tom Lake

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