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Hudson River Almanac May 11 - May 18, 2010

OVERVIEW

The full rush of spring songbirds was in play, led by orioles and warblers; at certain times and places the birdsong was deafening - voices laying over one another, making identification difficult. This is the season when vocalization is often the best means of identifying birds since the new green foliage offers concealment. And, as always, the mockingbirds are out there playing with our minds.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/16 - Gardiner, Ulster County, HRM 75. My wife Sally Roy and I were out for an afternoon walk at Mohonk Preserve and came across a stunning "cluster" of more than 30 pink lady's slipper, an orchid, in full bloom along a carriage road.
- Peter Nelson


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a low of 25 degrees Fahrenheit last night following some snow over the last few days. There was not much of it, but there was lots of wind. The High Peaks were good and white. Today the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the wind was barely there at all.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/11 - Wynantskill, Rensselaer County, HRM 149: I had an interesting encounter with a barred owl this evening at the Stewart Preserve Nature Conservancy. The owl landed in a tree about 40 feet away and clacked its beak a few times - "Hooaww." It flew to another tree 100 feet away and repeated the performance. I also heard some small, high pitched, bird-like sounds that seemed to be coming from the owl while it was bobbing up and down. It crossed my mind that the owl could have had a small animal or bird that was still alive making the high-pitched sounds.
- George Wilson

5/11 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5: The harbor seal was still in the vicinity and boaters had to be on alert to not hit it. The seal often swims right in between fishermen's boats. A week ago at the Castleton Boat Club, in all likelihood this same seal hopped right up on the docks. It quickly dove back into the water when people began yelling. Some other members of the club saw the seal later in the day sunning itself on a buoy.
- Heidi Griffin

5/11 - Beacon, HRM 61: Fourth graders from South Avenue Elementary School in Beacon came to Madam Brett Park for hands-on learning in preparation for the New York State science exams. We've crafted science lessons using the park and its environment to engage students in tangible real-life exploration of adaptation, watersheds, life cycles and observation skills. One treat during the day were the dozens of tree and barn swallows skimming and dancing above the Fishkill Creek, taking in the multitude of flying insects.
- Susan Hereth

5/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It was a frosty overnight with air temperatures just below freezing. At dawn the incessant birdsong was barely a twitter. As if to light a fire in the cold morning air, a Baltimore oriole flashed across the tree line.
- Tom Lake

5/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: For the fortnight past, when I have met another soul with binoculars, the questions were formulaic: What have you seen? (commanding a longer and more serious discussion), and where are all the birds? There seems to be an agreement that many fewer migrants are passing through this season and no one has an explanation. So it was a pleasant sight this morning when two flocks of cedar waxwings flew over. Later I heard a thin, familiar call from high above, and rejoiced in the sight of a common loon heading north. In a couple of weeks I will be headed north myself, to Isle Royale National Park on the north shore of Lake Superior. There, the calls of the loon are as frequent as cawing crows and warbling robins are in Westchester County. "See you on the Shining Big Sea Water," I shouted after the loon.
- Christopher Letts

5/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The sun was out, the sky was blue and I had to walk the trails to see if anything new was in bloom. When walking through the woods now, you can't help but see goldthread blooming. Its small white flowers and scalloped clover-like leaves stand out against the forest floor. But what you really want to do is get down and stick your nose in the flower with a hand lens and look at the blossom up close - they are one of the loveliest.
Toothwort, a member of the mustard family, was really getting going. I was told that this plant is vital to the survival of the mustard white butterfly. Its larvae eat nothing but toothwort. Enter the invasive garlic mustard, also a member of the mustard family. Where it gets established, it pushes out many native plants. Whole areas of forest and fields are now carpeted with this aggressive plant. And, while it is in the same family as toothwort, the mustard white's larvae cannot survive on it. This butterfly's future is starting to look grim.
The pink lady's slippers have come a long way in just a week. I couldn't even see the leaves the last time I was out here, and now the buds are visible. Foamflower was blooming all over. What a sweet spire of blossoms. I also stumbled across a small patch of smooth yellow violets, and found several Indian cucumber roots with buds. This seems rather early to me, but they aren't actually flowering. The find of the day was dwarf ginseng. I brought my walk to an end along the Frog Pond with common winter cress, another non-native plant. It's found fairly commonly along roadsides and waste areas.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/13 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: For the first time this year I heard the "wheep, wheep" call of a great crested flycatcher in the top of a tree in my woods. He had evidently returned for the summer breeding season.
- Kathy Kraft

5/13 - Anthony's Nose, HRM 46: The recent windy weather has had all types of soaring birds reveling in the sky. The most common have been small kettles of turkey vultures teetering across the Highlands. It was a treat today to see a small kettle of black vultures parlaying the updraft from Anthony's Nose with a southerly breeze to move across the river without a wing beat.
- Tom Lake

5/13 - Inbuckie, HRM 33.5: The afternoon low tide had emptied out the marsh at Inbuckie, a half-mile north of Ossining. As expected, the herons and egrets were busy: three great blue herons and four great egrets were stalking the mud flats accompanied by a willet, an uncommonly seen shorebird for Hudson River inland marshes.
- Tom Lake

5/13 - Hasting-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: An immature bald eagle kept pace with our Metro North commuter car for a hundred feet or more before veering out over the river. Those who were watching had a treat. It still seems like a new experience to spot any eagles this far down river. A decade ago, we rarely saw an eagle from spring until fall below the Tappan Zee.
- Tom Lake

5/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard my first ovenbird of the season last evening. It sounded like it was out of practice, so much so, that I wasn't completely convinced that's what I was hearing. But the time is right for them to start singing. Today I saw my first tiger swallowtails, almost a week early for them.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/14 - Saw Kill - Fall Kill, HRM 98.5-75.5: I really enjoy fishing in tributary mouths this time of year because you never know what you will catch. I visited the mouth of the Saw Kill and the Fall Kill today. In the Saw Kill, my first catch was a 10 inch-long fallfish, a large minnow in bright breeding color. Many people don't realize that some of our minnows are very colorful in the spring. Fallfish tend to have a rosy head with a bluish body. My second fish was a 2 lb. largemouth bass. The water was a little turbid due to rains the previous night, but I was able to see a carp, about 7 lb., appearing and disappearing in a deep area of the rapids.
In the Fall Kill, I stood in the middle of the stream watching alewives milling around. A small group swam to within a couple feet of me. Two males were following a female and were nudging her side in the vicinity of her vent. Every once in a while they would swirl in the water for few seconds, presumably releasing eggs and sperm. My main purpose for being in these streams was to look for Chinese mitten crabs - I found none. Wouldn't it be nice if they decided that Hudson River tributaries were not interesting and they left?
- Bob Schmidt

5/14 - Rhinebeck, HRM 88: From the Red Hook Journal, Friday, May 14, 1909 - "Jacob Pinder, the Rhinebeck shad fisherman, in pulling up his seine on Wednesday morning, found in it a sturgeon that weighed 308 pounds. Mr. Pinder handled the seine alone. The sturgeon went to Catskill."
- Maynard Ham

5/14 - Rhinebeck, HRM 88: At dawn this morning I saw and heard about two dozen chimney swifts flying above and around trees and rooftops. They seemed to be the morning detail, replacing the swallows that fly overhead and over the ponds in late afternoon.
- Phyllis Marsteller

5/14 - Highland, HRM 75.5: I spotted a squirrel sitting on a stone wall next to my driveway, watching something below with great fascination. He stretched his neck out to look below the stone he sat on, then climbed to the rock below and did the same. A chipmunk ran out of the wall below but the squirrel paid no attention, though at first I wondered if he was playing with the chipmunk. But then the squirrel behaved in the most unusual manner: He put his front legs out in front of him toward the wall but put his tail over his shoulder in the direction of the wall. He did this several times, each time getting closer to the wall. And then, I knew. He was snake-baiting. I looked closer at the wall below where I had first noticed the squirrel's odd behavior. Sure enough, a 30-inch-long black rat snake was stretched out at the base of the stone wall. The squirrel inched closer, tail now not only bent forward over his shoulder but the end of it turned toward the snake. It made a "L." I had seen this behavior one other time and, had I not read that this is not uncommon behavior in squirrels, I would have though myself charmed in some way to have observed it twice.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

5/14 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Near our Science Barge Ian MacGregor, Gwen Hill and I spotted a cormorant close to shore swallowing a 4 inch-long hogchoker. The bird dove and within 30 seconds came up with another hogchoker. It was interesting to me that the cormorant had no problem swallowing a fish that reportedly earned its name from choking pigs.
- Bob Walters

[Hogchokers are delightful little soles, ranging in size from a penny to the palm of your hand. They are found in the Hudson from the sea all the way into fresh water. If you stroke these little flatfish from head to tail, they are incredibly smooth. However, if you run your finger from tail to head, it will feel like the fine teeth on a saw. Wise predators have learned to swallow hogchokers head first. Tom Lake.]

5/15 - Selkirk, HRM 135: This evening I saw my first hummingbird at the kitchen window. I immediately put out the feeder and it was not long until the territorial fight began.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

5/10-5/15 - Hudson River Estuary: We have "heard" 37 of 44 American shad that we caught and tagged this spring with sonic tags along the 85-mile reach from the George Washington Bridge to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. Tracking (detecting the sonic tag) will help identify migratory routes, the rate at which the fish ascend the estuary, as well as specific spawning locations and congregation areas. GPS locations will be linked with available or collected habitat information of the bottom of the river. For 2010, we named the fish after 80s bands and singers.
During the week of 5/10, we covered the river from the Bear Mountain Bridge to the Troy Dam. Each day the crew had a specific section to cover, listening for tagged fish. We heard or detected fish in all sections of the river.
- Amanda Higgs, NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit

- Culture Club, who regularly travels long distances, was found a few miles below Poughkeepsie (river mile 75). The rest of our "detections" found shad moving within what might be considered their prime upriver spawning area.

- Traveling north the next day we found Billy Joel near the southern end of the Kingston Flats (HRM 94), pretty much where he was last week. Tiffany was several miles upriver near Tivoli North Bay, 20 miles south from last week.

- We detected Styx just north of Esopus Creek (HRM 103) and Tears for Fears and Tears was still in the general area of Green Flats (HRM 104).

- Whitney Houston had moved a few miles upriver near Cementon (HRM 107), and the next day we found her at Catskill, 6 miles upriver.

- Prince was found near Germantown. She has been moving within a 29 mile reach between Mill Creek (HRM 129) and Germantown (HRM 109).

- Expose and Talking Heads were heard near Coeymans (HRM 133) with Stevie Nicks who, just the day before, had been 12 miles upriver at Albany. Not far away, Journey was found at the I-90 Castleton Bridge (HRM 135), a few miles upriver from where we heard her last week.

- Further upriver, Indigo Girls was found near the Bethlehem boat launch (HRM 138), near where she was heard last week, and The Go-Go's was back at Albany (HRM 145), where she was two weeks ago.

- The "hot spot" noted last week, the reach (HRM 145-150) between the Troy-Menands Bridge and the Patroon Island Bridge, was less hot this week. We heard three shad there - Bob Boyle, Michael Jackson, and Bananarama. None of the three had moved very far from last week. However, a day later, Bananarama had moved 20 miles downriver to Stuyvesant where she joined Elton John.

5/16 - Columbia County, HRM 118: I saw my first snake of the year, a garter snake, of course, as well as a red admiral butterfly.
- Bob Schmidt

5/16 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: In two mid-morning hours we identified 40 species of birds. Among the highlights were 15 species of warblers, including black-throated blue, black throated green, blackpoll, Nashville, and American redstart. We counted 6 orioles, among them an immature male orchard oriole. Other notables included a female scarlet tanager, and indigo bunting, and a red-throated loon flyover
- Larry Trachtenberg, Charlie Roberto, Kyle Bardwell

5/17 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5: The harbor seal was sighted swimming up and sunning itself atop the edge of the green channel marker just south of the Castleton Boat Club.
- Barry Lambert

5/17 - Roeliff-Jansen's Kill, HRM 109: I did a little sport fishing on the Roeliff Jansen's Kill south of Hillsdale where there was an inordinate number of chipmunks tearing around on the bank. At one point I was standing under a tree trunk that had fallen across the river at a steep angle. A pair of chipmunks chased each other and ran up the trunk within inches of my head. This area of the Roe-Jan had dense growth of bright green and blackish algae on the rocks. Too many plant nutrients are getting into the river; I suspect the fertilizer on the many corn fields abutting this section of the stream.
- Bob Schmidt

5/17 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: As I walked to work in early morning near a bluff overlooking the Hudson, I saw a red-tailed hawk sitting on some big prey on the ground in open grass. When the hawk saw me, he tried to take off with the prey, but it was too heavy to get off the ground. I went back to check a while later and the hawk was still there. Because of the distance and the height of the grass, I couldn't tell what the prey was, but the hawk had by now plucked a great deal of fur or feathers that had blown off to the east. Two hours later the red-tail had finished and left so I was able to go see what it had been eating. It was a male mallard. The hawk had plucked and eaten the duck's neck and had plucked, but not eaten, its chest.
- David Lund

5/17 - Croton River, HRM 34: Spawning carp had begun jumping, a good two weeks later than usual. I've seen a willet two days in a row foraging on the mud flats near the train station. An adult peregrine falcon swept across the marsh and disappeared in the direction of Croton Point - swift and lovely.
- Christopher Letts

5/18 - Rhinebeck, HRM 88: The morning was overcast with approaching rain, but the backyard was brightened by the appearance of a half-dozen goldfinches flitting back and forth between the top of the lilacs and an old dead peach tree. I leave the weathered, craggy tree in place because it's crawling with insects that attract lovely birds.
- Joanne Engle

5/18 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Today saw the return of many spring migrants; black-throated blue warblers and black-throated green warblers were seen and heard side-by-side. I also listened to rufous-sided towhees, eastern pewees, American redstarts, scarlet tanagers and even a common yellowthroat.
- Scott Williamson

5/18 - Croton Point, HRM 34: It has been a peculiar spring season: trees leafed out early, flowers and flowering shrubs came and went easily two weeks earlier than "average." The bird migrations seemed to lag by a fortnight. By the first of May, I am used to hearing wood thrush song, orioles, warblers and vireos moving through - but not this year. I heard my first wood thrush and common yellowthroats just yesterday. The canopy is loaded with tiny, flitting forms, but in the fully developed leaf cover, good luck in identifying them.
- Christopher Letts

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