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Hudson River Almanac July 3 - July 9, 2010

OVERVIEW

Record warmth and sultry days highlighted the week. At 80 degrees Fahrenheit the river was still refreshing.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/6 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: In an aquarium here I have a six-inch tautog that was captured last summer in a seine at Canarsie Pier, Brooklyn. It's really quite a calm, gentle fish, until the other night when I dropped in a crayfish. The tautog virtually exploded, crushing the crustacean into pieces to the hungry and lurking delight of the mummichog and toadfish that share the tank.
- Chris Bowser

[Tautog are members of the wrasse family, primarily saltwater fish, and more commonly known by their colloquial name "blackfish." In salt water, young-of-the-year [YOY] blackfish are usually bright green, nearly indistinguishable from the sea lettuce in which they find shelter. The same fish in the estuary are lima bean-green, a perfect match for the wild celery in which they are sometimes found. Yearling tautog take on a more mottled appearance of yellow, brown, and black, with flecks of white (mimicking oyster shells), blending perfectly into the sandy bottom.
YOY tautog are not common in the estuary north of New York Harbor. However, the summer and fall of 2001 were exceptions. For one month between September and October, small tautog were taken in seines during education programs at Croton Point (river mile 35). The first to show up ranged 47-95 mm; the latter 75-124 mm. During the month, the salinity at Croton Point averaged just over 10 parts-per-thousand [ppt] - a little less than one-third the salinity of seawater.
The most memorable moment of that month was September 11, 2001, when Christopher Letts and I had second graders from Coman Hills Elementary on the beach as the attacks on the World Trade Center commenced. Even though we were 30 miles away, we knew what was happening. We positioned the children facing us, away from downriver. A rising trace of smoke, just a smudge on an otherwise brilliant blue sky, was on the horizon, and in our seine were a dozen yearling tautog. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The blue jays have fledged and are noisily begging. The bluebirds have also fledged and are flying all around.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/3 - Hudson River Estuary: We downloaded data from 6 of the 7 submersible hydrophones that we had scattered along the river to follow the "Rock Stars" this spring. We heard from 41 of the 44 tagged adult American shad and made some interesting discoveries:

  • The first conclusion from the data is that the fish move a lot. For most of them, once they reached the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (river mile 114) at Catskill, everything was free game. They moved between the Patroon Island Bridge at Albany and the Rip Van Winkle on a daily basis (more than 30 miles). Just when we thought the shad were starting to head downriver and must be leaving, they headed back north.
  • The Weather Girls was probably our fasting swimming fish. On May 28 she headed downriver, passing the Patroon Island hydrophones at 3:00 AM, Castleton Bridge at 10:00 AM, Coxsackie boat launch at 4:15 PM, and the Rip Van Winkle Bridge 90 minutes later, more than 30 miles in just under 15 hours.
  • The next day she passed Diamond Reef (river mile 68) at 3:30 PM; then Hastings the following day at 5:00 PM. She swam the length of the tidal river in less than three days. She had to have been swimming against the tidal current some of the time to make it that fast.
  • Eighteen of the tagged fish exhibited what we are calling "fall back" behavior, i.e., moving upriver a distance, falling back down river a ways, then once again heading upriver to spawn.

- Amanda Higgs

7/3 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The lower mile of the tidal Wappinger was choked with the invasive water chestnut; at low tide, only a thin ribbon of open water snaked its way up stream from its confluence with the Hudson. It is common to see great blue herons, as well as other herons and egrets, using the thickly-matted vegetation as a platform from which to fish. I counted three this morning evenly spaced across several hundred feet of shallows. An odd addition was a white-tailed deer walking on the mats of water chestnut, well off-shore, and stopping occasionally to bend down as though feeding - on what?
- Tom Lake

7/4 - Hoosick Falls, HRM 172: It was almost dark. There was the sound of fireworks in the distance and one lone bat fluttering overhead. My friend remembers when 5 or 6 bats could be seen in her backyard at this time of night. We were on a hill over the Hoosic River which flows north through town on its 70 mile trek from the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts to Schaghticoke, New York, about 14 miles north of Troy, where it meets the Hudson River.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

["Hoosic" is the Mohican word for "kettle" and apparently refers to the geographic shape of the area, as in "bowl" or "pot." Lion Miles.]

7/4 - New Baltimore, HRM 132: We heard our first cicadas of the season today.
- Rich Guthrie

7/4 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: I haven't been able to locate the local red shouldered hawk's nest for the last two years, but they're still nesting in the area and this year had at least one fledge. For the last two days a juvenile red-shoulder has been hanging around, sometimes making a standard red-shoulder's call, but when a parent is in sight it switches to a pleading call which can only mean "feed me!" We spent much of our adult lives wishing we could see a red-shoulder. Now they're such an everyday part of our lives that it's hard to believe that it was just over three years ago - April 21, 2007 - that we saw our first one just north of River Road in Staatsburg.
- David Lund, Linda Lund

7/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I was photographing the river this evening when a young raccoon walked out from behind the Waryas Park icehouse and proceeded to the rocks at the river's edge. He was alone and still had his fuzzy baby fur which glistened in the sunlight like a hairy halo around him. He walked between the rocks, reaching down into the water every once in a while, casually looking over at me a short distance away. When I left, he was on a rock looking upriver, perhaps enjoying the fact that the boat ramp was closed that day and it belonged to him.
- Wendy A. Bohlinger

7/5 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 47: The nesting ravens near Highland Falls recently fledged.
- Scott Craven

7/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I sat on the porch amidst summer-sweet-smelling flowers, as popping, cracking and distant booming signaled nearby fireworks. My darkened yard was dazzling, sparkled with fireflies. What a show! And, I didn't have to tussle with getting out of a parking lot.
- Robin Fox

7/4 - New City, Rockland County, HRM 33: On a hot and sultry day as the cicada's song of summer played, I was out checking listless flowers in the yard. I noticed a beautiful tiger swallowtail butterfly sipping from the butterfly bushes, the perfect coloring with blue dots lining the lower wings, looking almost like a painting. The bushes behind were moving ever so slightly; I peered in and noticed a small hummingbird furiously working over the bee balm. I was reminded of my father, a writer who dabbled in photography. One summer when I was nine, he set up a tripod, and a camera with a squeeze bulb trigger. He focused on one flower waiting for a hummingbird to select just that flower, hoping for the perfect shot. He sat for many hours quietly contemplating, perhaps planning his next book, but vigilant in his watch. I cannot remember if he got the picture, but I remember the focus of his attention as if it was yesterday.
- Margie Turrin

7/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The air temperature reached 91 degrees, warm for the Adirondacks.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/5 - New Hamburg HRM 68: It was a hot and hazy day and as I fished for carp, my eye caught a mini "Loch Ness monster." It was an undulating river otter swimming near a flock of ducks. I pulled up my line as I got a really good tug after the otter submerged. I did not want to have to work an otter off my hook. This one seemed much shyer then the one I had seen a mile away up Wappinger Creek that just floated around playing on a log.
- Glen Heinsohn

7/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Thank goodness for ice-cold lemonade! It was 99 degrees in the shade; in the direct sun, my thermometer would not record past the 105 mark. The raspy sound of the cicadas and the fiery-orange of a Baltimore oriole seemed to heighten the heat.
- Tom Lake

7/5 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 47: My favorite companion up on my rocks overlooking the Old Fort Montgomery, a large five-lined skink, showed up the other day without his tail! He looked healthy, but will he survive? How long until his tail grows back?
- Scott Craven

[The sacrificing of the tail (or an appendage in Crustacea) is called autotomy. It is very widespread in lizards. Everyone seems to agree it helps lizards escape predators. Erik Kiviat.]

[Skinks have fracture planes in the vertebrae of their tails (20% of their weight) - they break easily if seized by a predator. If the skink escapes, the broken tail will regenerate. As to how long, most references only cite the duration as "in time." Tom Lake.]

7/5 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 99 degrees today, a near-record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

7/6 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: While swimming in the river, I was eye-level with the YOY river herring as they "flipped" out of the water. I used to think they were dodging predators, but by dangling a piece of cotton on a string, I found out that they seem to be pursuing the many small insects that are skimming the surface.
- Rich Guthrie

7/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 102 degrees today, setting a new record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

7/6 - Kowawese, HRM 59: As we seined the shallows in midday, the air temperature passed 100 degrees, making the 80 degree river seem cool by comparison. The fish were few but meaningful: we caught some very small YOY striped bass (24.2 - 32.4 mm) as well as YOY American shad (avg. 59.0 mm).
- Tom Lake, D. Wood

7/6 - Furnace Woods, Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: This was the warmest day I could recall as the thermometer reached 105 degrees in the shade on the north side of the house.
- Christopher Letts.

7/6 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 103 degrees, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

7/6 - Manhattan, HRM 3.2: From the observatory of the Empire State Building, I watched a peregrine falcon fly by. None of the other visitors seemed to notice or were impressed. We were on floor 102 and the air temperature outside was also 102, leading some people to term New York City the ""baked apple."
- Reba Wynn Laks

7/7 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Responding to an Almanac reader's question regarding the apparent absence of white catfish in the Hudson River, Kris McShane compiled some numbers from the DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit's haul seining data. The white catfish (Ameiurus catus) is native (here in 1609); the channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is a twentieth century immigrant from the Midwest via canal. Both are taken as bycatch in DEC's annual study of American shad and striped bass spawning stocks.
From 1985 through 2002, white catfish comprised more than 99 percent of the catfish bycatch. However, from 2003 to 2009 white catfish decreased from 81 percent to 15 percent of the catfish bycatch, while channel catfish increased from 19 percent to 85 percent. It is unclear if they are direct competitors or if something else is accounting for the drastic change in abundance.
- Tom Lake

[The haul seining data is from the freshwater portion of the tidal Hudson. In spring, the Hudson River Fisheries Unit also records catfish bycatch in nets set to catch juvenile sturgeon in Haverstraw Bay, when the water there is typically slightly brackish. The biologists do catch white catfish there, but cannot remember taking a channel catfish; the species may have different salinity tolerances. Steve Stanne.]

7/7 - Newburgh, HRM 61: As outside temperatures were above 100 degrees, there was a huddle at a slowly receding puddle in an industrial warehouse area near Stewart Airport. Various birds, including killdeer, crows, and goldfinches had come to seek relief for their water needs or to feast on the various unidentified insects also swarming at the puddle's edge. Meanwhile, barn swallows would swoop down, dip their beaks, and fly away refreshed.
- Ed Spaeth

7/7 - Kowawese, HRM 59: An early morning air temperature of 93 degrees gave promise of another scorcher. The salt front had reached the northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands; the near-shore shallows had 2.0 ppt of salt, enough to measure but not enough to taste. [Ocean water, at this latitude, is 32-33 ppt]. Four monarchs drifted along the beach: two heading upriver, two downriver.
- Tom Lake

7/8 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I went to Cheviot Landing recently to witness turf wars. A great blue heron had flown onto the island pier that extends out from the shore to devour a fish it had caught. I swung my binoculars to check the rest of the river and heard a squawk. I quickly turned around to find that an adult bald eagle had appropriated the fish. The eagle then flew off with the fish in its talons leaving the heron looking forlorn.
- Mimi Brauch

7/8 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: In the vicinity of the scenic overview at Vanderbilt Park you can see male and female indigo buntings in the trees. Another good spot is in the grove of pine trees at the bend in the road to Bard Rock.
- Pat Joel

7/8 - Ulster County, HRM 85: We traveled the Wallkill River by canoe and kayak to look for oriental weatherfish. Dave Yozzo had found some likely sites, but when we used our shocker, no weatherfish appeared. We did collect some eastern mudminnows at two sites, both stream mouths a little south of the boat launch in Rosendale. These were the northern-most records of this species in the Hudson Valley.
- Bob Schmidt, Nico Hernandez, Ian Hetterich, Dave Yozzo

[The Oriental weatherfish (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus) is a non-native, introduced species. It was first collected by Doug Carlson in the Dwaarkill, a tributary of the Wallkill River in Orange County, in 2009, and became species number 216 on our Hudson watershed fish list. Tom Lake.]

7/8 - Garrison, HRM 51.5: As our Metro North train turned the corner at the south end of Constitution Marsh heading to Manhattan, we looked at the river just in time to see a three-foot sturgeon leap out of water and land with a splash. It was probably an Atlantic sturgeon but the viewing time was far too brief to tell. This was within the six-mile reach from World's End south to Bear Mountain where such sturgeon behavior is not uncommon in late spring and summer.
- Chris Lake, Tom Lake

[Among the many unusual traits exhibited by sturgeon is their propensity for jumping clear out of the water. Similar to the breaching behavior common to large marine mammals, sturgeon have been observed to leap several feet out of the water and then reenter with a large and loud splash. There are historic accounts of sturgeon leaping out of the water only to land in a passing rowboat. In the Hudson, I have seen both Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon leaping. Scientists are unsure about the exact reason(s) sturgeon engage in this behavior, although a couple of theories are popular. The leaping may be a useful means of ridding the fish of unwanted external parasites; another theory holds that sturgeon emerge from the surface to gulp air. Nancy Haley.]

7/8 - Manhattan, HRM 5: While resting on a bench on Central Park West at 69th Street, three monarch butterflies alighted on my left shoulder within ten minutes.
- Glen Heinsohn

7/8 - Brooklyn, New York City: The Coastal Marine Resource Center and Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy seined the East River under the Manhattan Bridge with children from Madison Square Boys and Girls Club. In our net were sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa), shore shrimp (Palaemonetes spp.), winter flounder, striped bass, northern pipefish, blue crab and comb jellies.
- Cynthia Fowx

7/9 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We checked out the eel ladder on the Saw Kill and were amazed to find 74 elvers(2-4 year-old yellow eels) in the holding bucket. This is more eels in three nights (since we last checked) than we find in some entire years. We are beginning to think that very low water is somehow a tremendous stimulus for eels to migrate upstream.
- Bob Schmidt, Ian Hetterich, Kathy Schmidt

7/9 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A team of twelve volunteers took to the cove at Norrie Point Environmental Center to combat invasive species. We removed three truckloads of Eurasian water chestnut creating an open corridor for launching canoes and kayaks as well more angling and seining access in the cove. Another invasive, tree-of-heaven, was trimmed from the banks to allow a better view of the cove from the walkway.
- Nicole Vente

7/9 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: We checked the Fall Kill for mitten crabs and after picking up a few blue crab sheds, we watched a pair of redbreast sunfish spawning in a small deeper area along a stone wall. The male was twice the size of the female and the female was very dark in color. As soon as she turned light, he chased her from the nest. We went upstream and found two mitten crab sheds under the train station. On our way back down we saw a palm-sized blue crab moving near the redbreast nest. The male was making short rushes at the blue crab who took up its usual defensive stance - arms spread and claws open. After a short stand-off, the crab sidled away and the redbreast went back to its parental duties. There aren't too many places in the world where you can see a blue crab interacting with a nesting redbreast sunfish.
- Bob Schmidt, Ian Hetterich, Kathy Schmidt

[Sunfish use color to signal mood and other physiological states. A male will chase any sunfish that is normal color, but dark color says "I'm ready to spawn," and will elicit courting behavior from the male, not aggression. As soon as she changes back, aggression is elicited. Bob Schmidt.]

7/9 - Clinton Point, Dutchess County, HRM 70: In just a couple of days, the salt front (measurable salinity) had moved upriver another ten miles to the vicinity of Clinton Point.
- U.S. Geological Survey

7/9 - Brooklyn, New York City: The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and Coastal Marine Resource Center seined the East River under the Manhattan Bridge with a group of children from Red Hook Recreation Center. In our net we found sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa), striped bass, northern pipefish, a lady crab, winter flounder, summer flounder, Atlantic silversides, an inch-long northern puffer, an amphipod, numerous hydromedusae [Hydrozoa], and comb jellies.
- Cynthia Fowx

[Lady crabs, also known as calico crabs, are - like blue crabs - classified as "swimming crabs." Among their ten legs (Decapoda) are two that are flattened like canoe paddles and are used to swim. They are not commonly found in the estuary north of New York Harbor. Unlike blue crabs, lady crabs will pinch your toes when you are wading. Tom Lake.]

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