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Hudson River Almanac May 19 - May 25, 2010

OVERVIEW

The behavior of our tagged American shad seemed to suggest that the spawning season was winding down, as most were moving downriver. It has been difficult to get a feel for the mood of this springtime as reports of fewer songbirds and hummingbirds continued along with observations of early and late arrivals of migrants and blooming of flowers.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: It was reminiscent of "Dueling Banjos" [in the movie Deliverance]. An orchard oriole and a Baltimore oriole, in neighboring black locust trees, were singing their heads off. The locusts were bent with masses of flowers, the orioles were bright in the morning sun, and for several minutes I forgot my four miles-an-hour mantra and stood there, drinking it all in.
- Christopher Letts


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/19 - Manitou, HRM 46.5: Hummingbirds have been noticeably absent so far this spring. In eight of the last ten years, they have returned by May 4-5. So far this year, I have seen none. I have had my feeders up and have lots of flowers they love in bloom. I miss them. However, we have had the pleasure of watching four Carolina wrens being raised. You can't miss them, they are so noisy. They travel in a pack (I'm assuming where Mother puts them) and they are busy, busy checking every leaf and mulch area. If you sit still long enough they come right under your feet.
- Zshawn Sullivan

5/20 - Ulster County, HRM 78: Things are progressing nicely at the Trapps along Shawangunk Ridge (see 4/16). As of today we have a pair of peregrine falcon chicks being actively protected by their parents. Based upon their plumage I estimate their age to be about 25 days. Anyone wishing to get some good looks at the chicks as they are developing (currently they are moving freely across the ledge with frequent wing spreads) can do so from Route 299 just past Hasbrouck Road if you are traveling west. As is usually the case, the better your scope the better the sighting. The Millbrook Mountain eyrie continues to present some problems. Although the adult falcons are still demonstrating fidelity to the eyrie, there were no chick sightings and on no occasion did the adults visit the eyrie ledge. Hopefully next week's observations will shed some light on what's going on here.
- Thomas J. Sarro

5/20 - Stony Point, HRM 40: This evening a very large flock of brant passed over Stony Point heading north. They were too numerous and too fast to even get an approximate count.
- Doris Metraux

[Brant are a small goose closely related to the Canada goose. Like Canadas, they can fly at night and migrate to the Arctic Circle to breed. Haverstraw Bay riverman Cal Greenberg recalls that in springs past he would see almost unbroken lines of brant flocks passing over for hours at a time. Tom Lake.]

5/20 - Yonkers, HRM 18: For the first time in my five years at the Beczak Environmental Education Center, we have caught spotted hake - four, each about 125 mm total length, in our beach seine over the last four days.
- Vicky Garufi

5/21 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5:
All the way down 9H this morning,
on my way to work,
from Valatie to Hudson,
cream-white blossoms
on the five inch-long
loosely drooping racemes
of the tall, black locust trees
as strains of Sibelius' "Finlandia"
played on the car radio -
Be still my soul, oh yes.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

5/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It is possible that I have not been paying attention, but I heard my first eastern wood peewees and common yellowthroats today. I love the pewees with their plaintive and rhetorical, questioning and answering call: Pee-wee? Pee-wee!
- Tom Lake

5/21- Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I witnessed the "Dive Display" of the ruby-throated hummingbird this morning above some lilac bushes outside my kitchen window. I was transfixed by this U-shaped looping flight pattern; I counted twelve loops across an arc of about 200 degrees - maybe there were more loops before I noticed. The last loop was followed by a dive into the lilacs. It was truly extraordinary! I will cautiously look for a nest.
- Nancy Durr

5/21 - State Line Lookout, Bergen County, NJ, HRM 18: Margie Turrin and I walked down old route 9W to the State Line Lookout over the Palisades at lunch time. As we reached the lookout we noticed another woman and young boy looking at something on the stone wall: two five-lined skinks!
- Linda Pistolesi

[The five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus) has an incredibly beautiful blue tail which may serve as a survival strategy. Predators grabbing the skink by its colorful tail will find that it breaks off; the skink escapes, and then regenerates another. Tom Lake.]

5/21 - Stony Point, HRM 40: This evening I saw a second large flock of northbound brant from my backyard in Stony Point.
- Doris Metraux

5/22 - Hudson River Estuary, HRM 154-46: To date, we have detected 37 of the 44 American shad that were caught and tagged this spring with sonic tags along the 85-mile reach from the George Washington Bridge to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. Tracking continued this week; each day the crew covered a specific section of the river from the Bear Mountain Bridge to the Troy Dam, "listening" for tagged fish.
- Amanda Higgs, NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit

- We "heard" fish - named after popular musicians of the '80s - in all sections of the river during the week of 5/17-5/22. Some appeared to be moving downriver, post-spawning, and perhaps heading out of the estuary. For example, Bananarama was found just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge (river mile 47); two days earlier she was 80 miles upriver near Stuyvesant and the day before that at least 20 miles farther north above Albany. She had moved downriver 100 miles in three days.

- The following day we moved further north and found Tears for Fears a bit north of Rogers Point (river mile 78). Last week she was 26 miles upriver near Green Flats.

- The next day we found Indigo Girls on the Saddle Bags near Tivoli. For the last few weeks she had been upriver near the Bethlehem boat launch.

- Fish continued to move out of the "hot spot," the 5 mile reach (river miles 145-150) between the Troy-Menands Bridge and the Patroon Island Bridge, leaving just three this week: Stevie Nicks, Bob Boyle, and Michael Jackson.

- The Bangles was heard just north of the Port of Albany. She had eluded us for three weeks, having last been heard on May 1, 10 miles downriver near the Schodack Island boat launch. The Go-Go's was found near the Bangles. She had moved a little south in the last two weeks from a couple of miles upriver.

- We found Bangles near the I-90 Castleton Bridge 9 miles downriver from where she had been two days before. Journey was heard just a few miles downriver from where we found her last week at the I-90 Castleton Bridge.

- Elton John and Whitney Houston, both near Stuyvesant, were moving south very fast with the ebb tide.

5/22 - Gardiner, HRM 73: I just love seeing the bobolinks flying around and singing in the fields!
- Rebecca Houser

5/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Being suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by the call of a barred owl, fifty feet away but sounding as though it was sharing your pillow, gives you the feeling of having been touched by the timeless.
- Tom Lake

5/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I emulated one of ecologist Aldo Leopold's favorite practices this morning. I went out onto my deck just before first light and listened to the woods awaken. While it is true that a few birds seem to chirp all night, the rising crescendo of birdsong from just before dawn to sunup sounds like an orchestra coming to life. There have been several reports this spring that the birdsong has been far less than in previous years. I have experienced that as well, but this morning there were sufficient participants for a "roll call" as certain species came awake. The first change in the background cheeps came from several finches: goldfinches, house finches, purple finches. Then a couple of robins. Titmice. Cardinals. An oriole. Before long the veerys joined in with their flutish song, and I could hear faraway crows. A pair of Canada geese flew over. From the underbrush came a chipping sparrow. Once the entire ensemble was in full chorus, I could hear some repetitive and different off key notes - a mockingbird. These songbirds begin quite well, mimicking songs and calls in their repetitive phrases, but somewhere along the way they lose it in a moment of exuberance and the masquerade is exposed. The final song was a harsh call from a catbird. The show was over for this morning.
- Tom Lake

[I've read that young mockingbirds learn the sounds they commonly hear while in the nest. If the nest is near train tracks, they will mimic the squeal of the rails. Urban mockingbirds learn car alarms. Car ignition sounds seem perfectly logical in a parking lot. Once near a lake, I heard a mallard quacking way up in the top of a tall cottonwood. That confused me for a moment or two. Eric Lind.]

5/23 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Mugged by mugwort. I don't recall seeing this very invasive plant until about six years ago, and then it seemed to be everywhere at once. I would be confident in saying that twenty percent of this approximately 500 acre peninsula is now colonized by mugwort. It is now challenging Phragmites and Japanese knotweed for dominance. Where are the wildflowers? Between invasives and deer, this sovereign peninsula, so lovely and so important for migrating and native wildlife, is turning into a mono-cultural museum of human mistakes.
- Christopher Letts

5/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: We had two interesting visitors to our backyard. The first was a pileated woodpecker that we heard call and then saw on a Norway maple. It was later heard rapping on a neighbor's tree. The second was a red-tailed hawk that we have seen regularly during the last few years. Today he missed taking a squirrel under our bird feeder and landed just fifteen feet from the back of our house.
- Gerhard Randers-Pehrson, Hale Randers-Pehrson

5/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Last night, Toby Rathbone and I went into the yard and, as the peepers peeped and the stars sparkled, I said "all we need now are some fireflies." And there, at the treeline where the yard meets the forest, a flash of light sparked. Then another. The fireflies were here. Last year it was June 17 before we saw them.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/24 - Town of New Scotland, Albany County, HRM 145: I was traveling along Onesquethaw Creek and in a pond nearby, swimming along, were four adult Canada geese and thirteen goslings. Two families.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

5/24 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: In midmorning I noticed two wild turkeys in my backyard. The male tom turkey was in full display, tail fanned out, body puffed up, strutting his stuff. The female was busy taking a dust bath in a hollowed out spot. Like all the turkey hens I've observed in the past, she wasn't paying the tom much attention. Pretty soon, they were both walking around the yard apparently looking for things to eat. It seemed surprising that both turkeys stayed in my backyard until evening, and that was with my daughter and I going in and out of the house and the car coming and going.
- Reba Wynn Laks

5/24 - Castleton on Hudson, HRM 137.5:
- Eastern Cottonwood
The small fruits
on the cottonwood
have split open
exposing seeds attached
to thread-like strands.
A breeze picks up,
the almost heart-shaped
leaves quiver,
and the seeds disperse
from this female tree.
Some blow in the window
and land on my desk;
while others continue downward
leaving piles
of cotton on the asphalt
to be swept away.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

5/24 - Beacon, HRM 61: My most notable catch from Long Dock today was a 5 lb, 11 oz. male channel catfish, all decked out in his dark blue-black breeding colors. Before releasing the fish, I measured his length at 25.5 inches, with a 13.5-inch girth. Carp were jumping on and off all day, but did not seem to be spawning yet. It was interesting to see the great amount of water chestnut plants drifting in the water and heaped up on the shore. They were apparently torn up by some circumstance. Usually I see great bundles of these plants on the shore in the fall after they die off. What I saw today were uprooted plants.
- Bill Greene

5/24 - Cornwall-on-Hudson, HRM 57: Evidently a beaver had taken up residence in the Cornwall Yacht Club. I first thought it was a muskrat but he swam by within a foot of me and the big flat tail was a dead giveaway. I mentioned seeing the beaver to a friend and he told me that he saw it several weeks ago while launching his boat at the ramp.
- Owen Sullivan

5/24 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: As we entered Black Rock Park this afternoon, we saw the tail end of a great blue heron flying away. Looking out over the mirror-like surface of the water, we spotted two cormorants, one gliding along with its long neck sticking out and another perched on a rock that jutted out of the water. The cormorant gave us quite a show as he spread his wings way out and occasionally flapped them around to dry them off. Its full reflection could be seen below it, making us wish we had a camera to capture the beauty of the scene. Above the waterfall, many Canada geese were floating around and a turkey vulture soared over the treetops into the clear blue sky that was dotted with white clouds - really a bucolic scene.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

5/24 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: As our Dutchess Community College Anthropology Club emerged from the Hayden Planetarium into the parkland that surrounds the American Museum of Natural History, we spotted two gray squirrels scampering across the grass. One had a white tail while the other's was completely blonde! There is a broad range of variability in fur color for gray squirrels, but we had to wonder what natural selection had in mind when it found favorability in those tails. To us they seemed like beacons for red-tailed hawks.
- Tom Lake

5/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While driving in to work this morning, I saw a turtle contemplating crossing the bridge over the Hudson River. It was a wood turtle, as evidenced by her orange legs. When I walked up to her, she withdrew into her shell, and I picked her up and carried her across. It's a pretty steep slope down the other side, but I carried her down a short distance just to be sure she'd be off the road. In previous years the earliest I've seen wood turtles is June 1. The deer flies were also out and biting.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/25 - Piermont, HRM 25: This was another lunchtime walk on the Piermont Pier, with binoculars this time, to try to find the small gull I saw yesterday. No sign of it, but there was a blue-billed ruddy duck on the south side of the pier. On the north side a number of turtles of varying size were hauled out on the stone breakwater offshore. In the full sun, one of the larger ones stood out from the others, its carapace seemingly tinged yellow (especially around the edges) and with distinct markings. At my distance the legs and neck appeared uniformly light grey, and more pale around the head. I concluded that it was a diamondback terrapin.
- Linda Pistolesi

5/25 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Last week we caught a bullhead catfish and today a crayfish in our beach seine. We don't commonly catch catfish or crayfish in our nets. We think that they lingered over from the nearby Saw Mill River. It has been an interesting past two weeks of new and different species for us.
- Vicky Garufi

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