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Hudson River Almanac April 14 - April 22, 2010

OVERVIEW

Earth Day dominated this week with its usual reflections on the natural world and what we can do to reduce our impact on the planet. The Hudson River Valley as a natural conduit for wildlife migration provides an excellent example of how a well-functioning ecosystem benefits us all.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/21 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Driving towards town, I spotted a sandhill crane out in the flats along the Wallkill River, wading through the fields looking for something to eat.
- Brian Houser

[Sandhill cranes are a huge wading bird with an impressive 6-8 foot wingspan. They breed from the western U.S. north to the Arctic tundra. In migration, sandhill cranes breeding in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and s. Ontario usually pass no closer to us than Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky on their way to and from Georgia and Florida. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

Sandhill crane sightings from the Hudson River Almanac:
2003: 12/7 - Fishkill, Dutchess County, HRM 61
2003: 12/7 - Yonkers, Westchester County, HRM 18
2005: 11/5 - Gardiner, Ulster County, HRM 78
2005: 11/20 - Beacon, Dutchess County, HRM 61
2007: 4/3 - Germantown, Columbia County, HRM 108
2007: 5/3 - Saugerties, Ulster County, HRM 102
2008: 2/15 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41
2010: 4/21 - New Paltz, Ulster County, HRM 78

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/14 - Town of Saugerties, HRM 102: An American bittern was back this year in its wetland breeding grounds - they are always such an uncommonly delightful sight and blend in so well. I watched for quite some time and it seemed totally unconcerned with my presence (about 80 feet away), preening and poking around in the wetland's edges even as I noisily tromped around.
- Dan Marazita

4/14 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: While enjoying my morning coffee on the deck a few minutes ago I spotted a southbound adult bald eagle heading toward Dogan Point and George's Island.
- Sue Peck

4/14 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: We had a hard frost last night; might this be our last? Rough-winged swallows had returned to Croton Bay, the peas are up, and the cooler weather should give us a longer season for spring flowers. Last week's 90 degrees+ temperatures turned a carefully-planned six-week tulip garden into something like six days.
- Christopher Letts

4/14 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The Dutchman's breeches were at peak, with thousands of dainty, pantaloon-shaped flowers nodding in the morning breeze. I watched a pair of tree swallows being very, very busy at a nesting box. Most of the metal well markers on the landfill had a singing male red-winged blackbird perched on top. As I watched the swallows, a female kestrel plummeted; a red-wing flew, but too late. There was a commotion on the ground for a few seconds, and then the kestrel flew off, barely able to keep the blackbird above the tops of the weeds.
- Christopher Letts

4/15 - Hillsdale, HRM 119: I was sitting in my backyard in Columbia County enjoying the last of the really nice spring weather. I followed a male bumblebee (with my eyes, no sense in getting up) in his flight. You often see them flying very low over the ground this time of year. The males are looking for females emerging from the ground and, if they find one, will immediately mate with her. The bumblebee spent about 20 minutes in my sight cruising about an inch off the ground but was unsuccessful. During this time I was serenaded by a chain saw off in the woods (not my favorite spring noise). When the saw would pause, I could hear a barred owl calling in counterpoint.
- Bob Schmidt

4/15 - Hudson Highlands, Putnam County, HRM 56-55: The early morning new moon spring tides had exposed the bottom of the river in many places. Several times a year extreme ebb tides draw the river out of the inshore shallows, allowing the skeleton timbers of old docks, piers and wharves and long ago sunken barges a couple of hours in the sunlight before the river comes back in.
- Tom Lake

4/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I heard a brown thrasher today and realized that it was the first I've heard here in several years. Ten years ago, at least three breeding pairs were on Croton Point.
- Christopher Letts

4/16 - Ulster County, HRM 78: Our peregrine falcon observations along the Shawangunk Ridge began on February 18. We are happy to report that there are two pairs of falcons breeding along the ridge, one on a ledge on Millbrook Mountain and the other on a ledge at the Trapps, the same site as last year's eyrie. Based solely on behavior we predict that chicks will hatch sometime between today and April 19, give or take. Fortunately the weather has been ideal for observing and hopefully will continue.
- Tom Sarro


[For intimate views of peregrine falcon home life, visit DEC's website for webcam views of peregrines nesting on the Dunn Memorial Bridge crossing the Hudson at Albany and the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Steve Stanne.]

4/16 - April Haiku
Lilac-purple scent - sweet.
Sunlight dazzles - bright.
Small golden birds perching.
- Robin Fox

4/17 - Warrensburg, HRM 237: Shadbush and forsythia was in bloom in Warren County, but nothing yet in bloom father north in Essex County.
- Ellen Rathbone

4/17 - Mid-Hudson Valley, HRM 70-45: In the last few years, lilacs were considered as blooming early when they showed in late April. In the not too distant past, lilacs were a mid-May sign of the end of the spring shad run. This year, however, lilacs were in bloom even earlier, barely allowing the flowering dogwood ample time to show off.
- Tom Lake.

4/18 - Ulster County, HRM 102: I was kayaking with a friend on Yankeetown Pond, just off the Glenford-Wittenberg Road near Woodstock, and was happily surprised to see a continuous "swarm" of perhaps 150 tree swallows flying and feeding over the surface of the water. What kinds of insects or larvae they were eating remained a mystery, but I felt as if I had stepped back in time when swallows and birds were more numerous than they seem today. It was truly a spectacle! This weedy, muddy three quarters of a mile or so-long wetland was also inhabited by buffleheads, ring-necked ducks, great blue heron, killdeer, and painted turtles, and dotted with about ten hefty beaver lodges. There were also half dozen beaver scent mounds, made of mud, near the shoreline in different parts of the pond.
- Pete Salmansohn

4/18 - Haverstraw, HRM 36: Today was part of the "Great American Cleanup" with Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain. While collecting the trash that had washed up along the shores of Haverstraw Beach, we saw a river otter swimming away from us.
- Wendy Wawny

4/19 - Rockland County, HRM 45.5: The mowed field along the Bear Mountain Parkway by the loop exit to Perkins Drive usually features a few pairs of grazing Canada geese in the morning. This morning there was a bloody-beaked adult bald eagle about 100 feet from the road, sitting in a pile of goose feathers and down, enjoying its breakfast. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the geese to return.
- Stephen M. Seymour

4/20 - Kingston, HRM 92: The two beaver working the Rondout Creek at dusk didn't see me standing there as I wondered what was making a patch of invasive Japanese knotweed grow so irregularly. Then one came up along the bank and started munching away. Beaver eat knotweed!
- Jeanie Antonelle

4/20- Esopus Meadows RM 87: This was our second Clearwater Tideline program of the year, and the high school students from Middletown and Port Jervis were greeted by a soaring osprey headed north. In our seine, the 40 students caught 23 spottail shiners, 19 banded killifish, 5 tessellated darters, and one crayfish in 9 hauls of the net. A pond sample, brought from Sullivan County by Rick Nestler was as impressive, with damsels, water scorpions, caddisflies, and mosquito pupae. Absent were dragonfly larvae.
- Eli Schloss

4/20 - Putnam County, HRM 54: In addition to our usual roster of feeder birds, for the last few days we have been treated to a most unusual visitor: a golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus). We don't know if it escaped or was released, but it's been hanging around and flitting through the underbrush - not easy for a bird with a tail at least twice its body length. It has definitely been roosting in trees at night, and will let us get fairly close if we're very quiet and move very slowly. Its colors are spectacular, so it's probably a male.
- Paul Kuznia, John Stowell, Susan Butterfass, Rob Ahrens, Nancy Ganswindt, Kate Marcos, Eric Decker, Bryce Wilk, Glen Weeks, Chris Gasparri, Jennie Adams

4/21 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: The eel fyke net has been colonized by caddisfly larve; I counted 7 of these macroinvertebrates in casings made of sticks when John Cannon, Ro Woodard and I begin the daily eel count in Hannacroix Creek. I also counted at least 10 mayfly nymphs clinging to the net as we removed it from the water. Inside the net, we found another type of caddisfly - this one uses stones to construct its casing - and a large stonefly nymph! To me, finding these particular macroinvertebrates is a sign that the water quality in the Hannacroix may be pretty good, as all three of these creatures require high oxygen levels, are regarded as pollution intolerant and therefore indicators of clean water. A tessellated darter had also made its way into the net. I was pleased with the diversity of our catch, but what really delighted us were 24 eels: 12 elvers and 12 glass eels!
- Liz LoGiudice

[In the sixteen-plus years of the Hudson River Almanac, some place names have seen multiple, but correct, spellings. Hannacroix is one of these. There are times when it can be seen spelled as Hannacrois, with a "soft" s rather than an x. However, for future consistency (by referendum residents prefer Hannacroix) we will go with the x from now on. Tom Lake]

4/21 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: While on my roof working this afternoon I was distracted by the "kek kek kek" call of a nearby raptor. I put down the paint brush, wishing that I had brought my binoculars on the roof. I was treated to the courtship display of a pair of Cooper's hawks. The smaller male circled above the female and intermittently provided chase - the female never quite giving in. At one point they faced off and nearly coupled. Then the female headed west toward the river, and the male took for a tree top. I do hope they come back.
- Beverly Whalen

4/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: In late afternoon, the shaded reach of Wappinger Creek just below Red Oaks Mill nearly obscured the coyote that had stopped for a drink. He was a beautiful full-bodied, grizzled gray adult, standing up to his hocks (ankles) in the cool flow. I froze, not more than 100 feet way, while he drank. It may have been a shift in the wind or a sudden feeling of unease, but he finally took off up the embankment and disappeared into the forest.
- Tom Lake

4/21 - Putnam County, HRM 54: I was heading in to work this morning when I encountered a black bear in the woods next to Indian Brook Road. It was standing on all fours, looking around, and I drove right past before realizing what it was. Someone else who saw it thought that it had faded green tags on one ear. It seemed to be heading down toward Putnam Valley when last sighted. We plan to take in our bird feeders tonight.
- Susan Butterfuss

4/21 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: Another reminder that nature makes its own rules: We expected migrating raptors at Bear Mountain today, especially broad-winged hawks. However, not even a token broad-wing went through. Instead we counted 11 red-tailed hawks, all immature. This is certainly quite late for them. Two northern harriers came together as well as a Cooper's hawk, a sharp-shinned hawk, and one kestrel.
- Joe Scordato and Doris Metraux

4/22 - Brockway, Dutchess County, HRM 63: Earth Day. Each year on this day I think how much we need 365 "Earth Days" instead of just one, where we wear green and think good thoughts of our home. The sightings we make today occur every day. I was also reminded of this as an immature bald eagle flew so close to my window aboard a Metro North commuter train to Manhattan that I could see he had half of a herring clutched in his talons.
- Tom Lake

4/22 - Beacon, HRM 61: Honoring the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we participated in Scenic Hudson's annual Mount Beacon clean-up with volunteers and 45 fifth grade students from Sargent Elementary School. The students hiked the mountain to take in the glorious views of the Hudson Valley and their community below while learning about the history of the mountain. They also did community service work, picking up trash along the trail and a doing a gardening project at the base of the mountain. Bravo to these kids! Every day should be Earth Day.
- Susan Hereth

4/22 - Hudson Highlands HRM 53-47: The Hudson River canvas, 2010 edition, was now awash with color. Framing the river, the Highlands have been quietly greening up, weeks early this year. Changing shades of green from chartreuse and tea green to forest green reflect off the water. In the lowland along the river, the cove forest of mostly red oak and tuliptree astoundingly began to break bud and flower in the first days of April and began leaf-out the second week of April. A scattered component of beech, birch, sugar maple, ash and sycamore remained dormant until just this week. But for these last species, the understory and canopy of the forest here remind us of mid-May. The upper slopes of the Highlands have been close behind and are now mantled in pastel hues. The oaks reign here. Most years the red oak is among the last of the forest trees to leaf out; now this most dominant tree has mysteriously changed it up and brought on an inspirational show in time for Earth Day.
- Bob Kakerbeck

4/22 - Manitou Marsh, Putnam County, 46.5: An osprey was perched in a snag as we zoomed past aboard Metro North. He looked up from his catch with a piercing look, a catch that he had firmly clamped onto the branch. With only a brief glimpse, it looked like small striped bass.
- Tom Lake

[Riding Metro North to and from Manhattan is a year-round river-watching treat. From late fall through early spring, the best seats are on the riverside where eagles on ice floes and huge rafts of migrating waterfowl can be seen. However, from spring through summer the inside seats away from the river may offer as much or more. These views include tributaries, backwater bays, and tidemarshes with shore birds, wading birds, songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors on feeding perches. Tom Lake]

4/22 - Ossining, HRM 33: What a beautiful day to celebrate the Earth! Early in the morning, a female red-bellied woodpecker visited our peanut feeder as we listened to the cries of a mourning dove and fish crow in the distance. Later on, a wild turkey ambled across the road in front of us and disappeared in the brush. On the river overlook at Mariandale, we spotted a robin high in a tree, its head tilted back in full song. A cardinal and a mockingbird made us aware that they were somewhere up in the branches of a high oak tree. Black squirrels and robins shared the pickings on the grassy meadow. Of course, groups of Canada geese sauntered among them.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

4/22 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Our otter trawl from the schooner Mystic Whaler hauled up northern pipefish, blue crabs, red hake, grass shrimp, and lots of smaller fish. The students were enthralled! The weather has been fabulous. We will be making our way north next week to Piermont, then Poughkeepsie. Watch for us.
- Phil Frandino

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