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Hudson River Almanac July 26 - August 1, 2010

OVERVIEW

This week found a rare duck at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and a rare fish on the shore in the Tappan Zee. We should never underestimate the estuary's ability to surprise us every day.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/31 - Queens, New York City: It was exciting to be among a group of seven birders at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge this afternoon that first spotted a black-bellied whistling duck at Bench 7 on the West Pond. The initial group quickly grew as the news of the sighting spread like wildfire. It has been at least four years since this handsome bird has visited the refuge. I wonder if they found any "ugly ducklings" at that time?
- Omar Raheem, Helle Raheem

[A black-bellied whistling duck was reported from Jamaica Bay in May-June 2006 (see Hudson River Almanac, Vol. XIII). At the time, Refuge manager Dave Taft commented on their presence: The black-bellied whistling duck has an extensive range, but are far more common in South America than in the mainland U.S. They have only been recorded nesting in the U.S. once or twice, and those were well south of us. There is no telling how these birds got here. I like to think they are birds simply flying as they will; other refuge regulars suggest that they may be escaped pets. We had a black-bellied whistling duck at the refuge a few years ago that set off quite a debate about its origins. Those were never resolved, and the duck didn't have much to say about them. Their life history suggests they can be nest parasites. Theoretically, they could find some other duck nest, common enough at the refuge, and deposit an egg or two, consequently making them a refuge breeding bird. We'll have to keep our eye out for any "ugly ducklings" among the black ducks, mallards, and Canada geese. Dave Taft.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/26 - Newcomb, 302: The dragonfly numbers were far fewer than five days ago. Amidst a swarm, however, I could actually see a dragonfly snag an insect in mid-air.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/26 - Croton River, HRM 34: A common loon in breeding plumage can be seen almost any morning at the mouth of the Croton River. I've heard reports of a red-throated loon as well but have not seen it.
- Christopher Letts

7/27 - Ulster-Dutchess County, HRM 99-97: I had a wonderfully peaceful kayak paddle tonight. It was so quiet that you could hear the waves gently lapping the shoreline. Carp were splashing along with many small fish too quick to recognize. I spotted two healthy-looking whitetail deer along the shore drinking. As they watched me I heard a whoosh of wings and an immature bald eagle landed on a dead tree near them. On the way back, as I came to the dead tree, the eagle took off joined by another immature that had been hidden in the branches. The sun was setting as I came to shore and dragonflies were skipping along the top of the water and resting on the aquatic vegetation.
- Peg Duke

7/27 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: At the close of a Teaching the Hudson Valley workshop along an unnamed Hudson tributary on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Historic Site, several participants stayed behind as the rest headed back to the conference center. Following the workshop leaders' advice to take their time in observing nature, they wanted to take a closer look at cases constructed of tiny stones by insect larvae living in the stream. While examining these, they noticed movement in a pool alongside the stream - a pool two feet long and a few inches deep that had become separated from the channel as its flow diminished in dry weather. The pool held about ten shiny pumpkinseeds two to three inches long. If these little sunfish had been literate, they would have recognized what ensued as a deus ex machina - hands reached down into their disappearing domain, captured them one by one, and transferred them into the mainstem. In the process, the hands encountered a larger, slimier creature in the muddy pool - a ten inch long American eel that had also become stranded. It probably didn't need the help (in moist conditions eels can travel overland) and its slippery writhing made it hard to catch, but eventually the hands from above had their way and moved the eel back into the stream too.
- Steve Stanne

7/27 - Croton River, HRM 34: The Boyz at the Bridge were happy with the blue crab harvest this summer, from the Tappan Zee 27 miles upriver to Newburgh. One crabber ventured to Newburgh and caught 100 crabs, half of which were keepers (State regulations require blue crabs to be at least 4.5-inch hard-shell carapace width, no more than 50 per day.)
- Christopher Letts

7/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our air temperature was down in the 50s last night, but today it was getting warm. Our monarch butterflies arrived at the end of June, early July, but I haven't seen one for about three weeks now. I did find a caterpillar on one of my butterfly weed bushes. Still, I have to wonder where all the adults are. An ADK Visitors Interpretive Center regular, who's a photographer, hasn't seen a single monarch all summer. It is very odd.
- Ellen Rathbone

7/28 - Tivoli South Bay, HRM 99: We were sitting on the bank of Tivoli South Bay waiting for the tide to begin flowing, which it seemed very reluctant to do. A small flock of cedar waxwings descended on the thick water chestnut and actively fed on insects. We presume they were eating the very abundant waterlily leaf beetle larvae.
- Bob Schmidt, Ian Hetterich

7/29 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: Our seining trip proved very colorful. We saw red flowers, blue crabs, and silvery fish. The red flowers were a stand of cardinal flower in full bloom. The blue crabs were, of course, blue crabs. We saw several sheds and caught a keeper (jimmy) in our seine. The silvery fish were of several kinds. We caught young-of-the-year alewife and blueback herring, which are as silver as one can get. We also caught the first silvery minnow (Hybognathus nuchalis) that we have seen in the bay - it was a large (120 mm long) adult. While traveling between sites, a large beaver splashed his tail at us, an expletive in "beaverese."
- Bob Schmidt, Ian Hetterich, Alec Schmidt

7/29 - Piermont, HRM 25: New data show that the Piermont Marsh may serve as a net sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. The plants in Piermont Marsh fix atmospheric carbon through photosynthesis. The microbes breaking down dead plant material, release this carbon which is then transferred to the open river by the tide. In this way, atmospheric carbon is transferred from the air to the estuary. Wade McGillis and his graduate student Nadine Els with Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory were able to observe this transfer at the Piermont Pier HRECOS station (see full story at (http://www.hrecos.org/). If this carbon is transported to the open ocean, it would represent a net sink of atmospheric carbon. This mechanism is referred to as the plant CO2 pump and some scientists feel it could be an important mechanism to mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
- Alene Onion

7/30 - Ulster Park, HRM 97: The noon whistle sounded as we were sitting down to lunch at Big Rock Point. The crows and gulls got nosy. This caught the attention of two immature and one adult bald eagle. We had quite the audience until they went looking for something tastier than garden burgers.
- Jean Antonelle

7/30 - Milan, HRM 90: The joe pye weed that I transplanted last fall to our wildflower garden has grown to seven feet high and is attracting many bees and dozens of tiger swallowtail butterflies. I'm waiting for the monarchs to arrive on their way south.
- Marty Otter

8/1 - Ulster County: Evidence of emerald ash borer has been found at a total of 19 sites spread over an area of approximately 15 square miles in Ulster County. In response, DEC will focus on measures that have been shown to slow the spread of infestations. In particular, we would appreciate the public's cooperation in complying with our firewood movement regulations, as this invasive insect is spread by transporting logs from place to place. (See Hudson River Almanac, July 22.)
- Wendy Rosenbach, Public Affairs, DEC Region 3

8/1 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: At low tide I spotted a pair of snowy egrets feeding with the ducks, geese and gulls at Steamboat Landing. There was also, a pair of mute swans. The male swan comes right up to my face. This may be the same pair I saw a year ago at the same spot.
- Viki Goldberg

[A common thread for Almanac entries is a reference to Hudson River miles [HRM]. For research and navigation purposes, the Hudson River is measured north from the Battery (river mile 0) at the tip of Manhattan, in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. The George Washington Bridge is at HRM 12, the Tappan Zee Bridge is 28, Albany 145, and the Federal Dam at Troy, at the head of tidewater, is about HRM 154. The tidal section of the Hudson constitutes a bit less than half the distance - 315 miles - from Lake Tear of the Clouds to the Battery. While cities and bridges make convenient points of reference, river phenomena do not always occur at such neat and tidy intervals, so we see many references to places in between. Entries from points east and west in the watershed reference the corresponding river mile, due east or west, on the mainstem. While these designations are not exact, they do allow us to create a mind's eye picture of points on the river and in the Hudson watershed. Tom Lake.]

8/1 - Piermont, HRM 25: A large, dead, sun-bleached, fish was found along the shore by anglers on Piermont Pier. Photos were taken and sent to DEC for identification. The fish was reported to be more than 40 inches long, may have weighed more than 30 lb., and appeared from the photos to be a large drum. Of the three possible species, red drum was ruled out since there appeared to be no ocellus (spot) at the base of the tail. Of the other two, black drum (a saltwater fish) and freshwater drum, the former seemed most likely due to its size, overall shape, and pectoral fin shape.
Black drum (Pogonias cromis) are not unknown from the lower river and New York Harbor, but their presence has diminished significantly in the last century as oysters have disappeared. Recently oysters have been making a comeback in New York's Upper Bay due to human intervention both by reducing suspended sediments in the water and by creating oyster reefs and introducing spat (juvenile oysters). There are also reports that black drum are now becoming more common in the New York Bight as well. They are not currently on our fish species list for the Hudson since the records are very old, anecdotal, and no specimens have been collected. Adult black drum can reach 90 lb.
Freshwater drum, a non-native species, began showing up in the river in the early 1990s, in the wake of zebra mussel introduction (there is likely a connection). The record for the species is 54.5 lb., while the New York State angling record is 24 lb. 8 oz. In May 2004, Ryan Barrella caught an 18.5 lb. freshwater drum at Croton Point.
Regardless of species, there is also the possibility that the fish was dumped on the shore by an angler. For example, in May 1994, five longnose gar were found along the Saw Mill River in Yonkers (HRM 18). (See the Hudson River Almanac, Vol. I.) There are also records of ocean-caught sharks being left along the river. Longnose gar are extremely rare for the Hudson River and following some laboratory analysis it was concluded that they had been caught in the Chesapeake system, brought to Westchester County, and then discarded.
For now, this fish, both its species and origin, remains an enigma.
- Tom Lake

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