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Hudson River Almanac August 10 - August 16, 2010

OVERVIEW

The river continues to be warm and salty, conditions that may be responsible for a memorable blue crab season both in numbers and sizes. Schools of bluefish were in the Hudson Highlands and we had two independent sightings of leaping sturgeon off Croton Point on the same day.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/12 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: The picnic area at Bear Mountain State Park hosted a different sort of gathering this morning. Beside a toppled garbage can, a dozen black vultures jockeyed for position while searching for scraps. A few feet away, a flock of wild turkeys - some standing, some sitting - seemed drawn to the action. Every so often, the largest hen turkey charged at a vulture, which at first I assumed to be a defensive posture in protection of her chicken-sized poults. But then one of the poults got into the act, mimicking the hen's moves and forcing a vulture into retreat. On the outskirts of the flock away from the fray, two turkey vultures and a lone raven took in the playful scene, like grandparents at a family reunion.
- Ed McGowan


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/10 - Gardiner, HRM 73: We had seven different species of butterflies foraging on our butterfly bush as well as a hummingbird moth. They included both black and tiger swallowtails, monarchs, a painted lady, and a few I could not identify.
- Rebecca Houser

8/10 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: Fourteen teachers joined us on the beach for the Haldane Hudson Environmental Learning Program. For most of two hours we hauled an 85-foot seine in the warm (82 degrees F) shallows, catching ten species of fish as well as many of what has become the ubiquitous blue crab of summer. Among the fish there were two, not totally unexpected, surprises - Atlantic silverside and bluefish - suggesting that there was salt in the water. We measured about 3.0 parts-per-thousand though in deeper offshore water it may have been nearly twice as salty (salt water is denser than fresh). The young-of-the-year [YOY] bluefish ranged 5-8 inches long; each had a distended abdomen that we discovered was filled with YOY river herring. There was also a totally unexpected surprise: a striped mullet. At 8 inches long, it was a yearling, or second-year fish. Almost all of the mullet found in the estuary are "finger mullet" - finger-length, cigar-shaped young of the year. Mullet, particularly one this size, are very uncommon this far upriver.
- Tom Lake, Linda Richards

[Mullet are a family of saltwater fish found on the Atlantic Coast from New England south to the Caribbean. In the southern end of their range they spawn in the ocean and spend their lives in estuaries, inland waterways and canals. It is a common sight to see scores of mullet leaping out of the water to escape tarpon and snook. In our area we have two species, white mullet and striped mullet. Both are uncommon summer and fall strays into brackish water. In 17 years of the Hudson River Almanac we have recorded fewer than a dozen mullet in the Hudson. Tom Lake.]

8/10 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: People aren't talking about it, but this is a drought summer of serious proportions. Shrubs and vines are dying back wholesale, and even the detested mugwort is getting crispy. I see encouraging numbers of monarch butterflies, but can't imagine where they are finding nectar. Most bird voices have been stilled and morning walks are through a silent and sere landscape.
- Christopher Letts

8/11 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: We were sitting at the dock trying to get a bit of breeze and shade on a very hot and humid day. As we watched the gulls panting in the heat, we spotted an unusual gull that landed on the rocks in front of us. It was a bit smaller with a black head, red feet, and a white collar, red on his beak. It was a laughing gull and it made our day!
- Barbara Billington, John Billington

[In the Hudson River Almanac, the last laughing gull sighting along the river away from New York Harbor and the coast was in 2002 at Croton Point. In 17 years of the Almanac, we have recorded eleven species of gulls along the tidewater Hudson: black-headed gull, Bonaparte's gull, Franklin's gull, glaucous gull, greater black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull, laughing gull, herring gull, Iceland gull, ivory gull, and ring-billed gull. Tom Lake.]

8/10 - Tappan Zee: A few days ago I was kayaking on the Hudson [location purposely vague] when I paddled past a navigational tower upon which was a large bird's nest. Several of the occupants were "at home." Not wanting to disturb their privacy, I stayed a good distance away. These were osprey, two adults and what appeared to be one fledgling. There were 3 birds on the tower - one perched on the rim of the nest, one on the platform, and one on the ladder. As I came around, one of the birds made a chirping sound, not threatening, but I took it to mean "keep your distance."
- Harold Potischman

8/11 - Senasqua, HRM 36: I attended sailing school this week, but today there was very little wind so we went swimming in the river. My friends and I were surrounded by thousands of tiny (smaller than a dime) jellyfish. It was very cool watching them swim.
- Annie McLean

[Comb jellies (Ctenophora) are often mistaken for jellyfish but differ in that they have no tentacles and do not sting. Like true jellyfish, comb jellies are translucent, gelatinous, fragile, and essentially planktonic, drifting at the whim of the wind and current. They are walnut-sized, often occur in swarms, and are common in estuarine shallows. They normally occur in the lower brackish reach of the Hudson in late summer and fall. For a real treat, gently scoop a few from a net with a wet, cupped hand. Place them into a small glass aquarium, and gently rock the water. Their rhythmic, symmetrical, and altogether graceful movements are enchanting. The common Hudson River species is Beroe's comb jelly (Beroe cucumis). Tom Lake.]

8/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: After a summer of few or none, we were now seeing many monarchs.
- Ellen Rathbone

8/12 - Green County, HRM 112.2: Osprey, late summer migrants, were showing up at the RamsHorn Sanctuary as well as the Hudson River-Catskill Creek confluence.
- Larry Federman

8/12 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: We ventured out onto Tivoli North Bay to complete our seining program for the season. As we paddled towards the Hudson at low tide, we noticed that the native wild celery (Valisneria) was blooming. Thin light green stalks bearing a tiny white flower were lying along the surface. What pollinates them anyway? We found a blue crab claw, probably the remains of a shed exoskeleton. On the base of the pincer there was a small (~3 mm) zebra mussel. The mussel must have settled on the crab and stayed with it until the claw was shed. Similarly, zebra mussels have been reported to colonize crayfish exoskeletons in the Great Lakes.
- Bob Schmidt, Ian Hetterich, Alec Schmidt

8/12 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A belted kingfisher used the stone column at the corner of the patio for a perch off and on for an hour this morning. This low vantage point is less than ideal for fishing by this sharp-eyed bird but, will probably have to do since from the trees along the cove it would be nearly impossible to spot fish under the thick mat of Eurasian water chestnut.
- Nicole Vente, Dan Miller

8/12 - Haverstraw Bay to the Tappan Zee, HRM 35-27: A friend and I sailed up the Hudson from Nyack. When we were at the entrance to Haverstraw Bay, we both saw a large fish break water in a splash. The tail gave away that it was a sturgeon nearly six feet long. Shortly afterwards we saw a small school of either bluefish or menhaden that we got close to under sail but they quietly dispersed as we ghosted near them. As we approached Ossining on our way back downriver my friend thought he saw the same kind of big fish and splash that he took for another sturgeon of large size. That night we tied up at Nyack Boat Club and saw a black-crowned night heron land on the dock for a brief visit.
- Caleb Davison

8/12 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 26: Recreational crabbers have been limiting out for weeks on big blue claws, so when Gino Garner, Riverman, invited me to join him I jumped at the opportunity. "We'll do it the old-timey way" he told me. With fresh bunker for bait, we set out our lines and sat back to wait. Was it the new moon? The salt front? In 2 hours, we managed only eleven crabs, all legal but none huge. Would I have wished myself somewhere other? No. Crabs were swimming past us on the surface. We watched half a dozen sturgeon clear the water - a lovely sight. We had the Palisades, Croton Point and, at the end, enough crab for a wonderful summer celebration.
- Christopher Letts

8/12 - New York Bight: I spoke to a long time crabber on Little Neck Bay (Queens, New York City) and he said the same thing as we have been saying in the Hudson: We've never had more or larger blue crabs than this season. He heard the same thing about Jamaica Bay.
- Ted Gass

8/12 - Ossining, HRM 33: I don't know what difference this year's lack of water makes, but for the first time in 34 years we have seen copperheads, two of them, big and very fat, killed while crossing the road, heading from swamp to the unknown other side. We had not had a sighting since 1976. What's up?
- Mimi Rosenwald

[Both copperheads and rattlesnakes descend from high areas during droughts. It may be that their prey also comes downhill for access to water and they follow. When people do this, it is called verticality, or transhumance - following the resources. Bob Schmidt.]

8/13 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: The very low water level in our streams is probably stressful for the inhabitants, but allows biologists to see things we might ordinarily miss. We found two blue crab sheds in the plunge pool under the waterfall in the Saw Kill. Although we have seen them in the rapids here before, this was certainly the farthest up stream ever.
- Bob Schmidt, Ian Hetterich

8/13 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: The weak flow over the waterfall in the Fall Kill revealed a pothole in the falls. This is a deep round hole with a loose rock in the bottom. The flows twirl the rock around and it erodes a round hole. Today, we noticed about a dozen small eels in the pothole swimming around the edge with their heads up. They were the size of the upstream migrants we have been seeing in our eel ladder and looked like they were trying to find their way up the falls. While we were watching, a small eel fell from a wet ledge and squiggled into the pothole.
- Bob Schmidt, Ian Hetterich

8/13 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Friends refer to my garden as "The Hummingbird Capitol." The traffic is amazing. I fill three feeders two times a day. The other day I counted (can one really count hummingbirds?) twelve birds sitting on the fence and going at each other and the feeders. They do the most astonishing "dances," breast to breast, their tails fanned, they rise high into the air, eventually so far up, I lose clear sight of them. Suddenly one of them comes whizzing back to dart and arc with another bird. Up and around, up again they swoop. The wild action is complicated by the many bees, hornets, and yellow jackets that attend the garden flowers and hover around the feeders. Altogether, it's dizzying and thrilling to watch. I find myself sitting on the porch, long stretches at a time, my head and eyes going back and forth, lots of other things being left undone as I watch, enthralled.
- Robin Fox

8/14 - Ulster County, HRM 92: As we were kayaking on Rondout Creek just above the Eddyville Dam, we saw a skunk tangling with an opossum (well, we smelled it first). Watching the interaction, it became clear that they were not fighting, but playing! The skunk was clearly the stronger, more insistent participant, but the opossum did not retreat. We watched them playing on a grass lawn for 15 minutes until their game took them out of sight. What would make them come out at this time of day?
- Dawn Osselmann, Dave Yozzo

8/14 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: The Esopus Meadows Lighthouse has opened for tours this summer. It was a much longer boat ride from Kingston than to our usual Rondout Lighthouse but well worth the trip. The preservation group has done a fantastic job renovating the lighthouse. There was an adult cormorant sitting on the pole where the Coast Guard used to have the light, and an osprey flew over the shallows.
- Bill Drakert

8/14 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: I think I've discovered something that eats monarch butterflies despite their toxic and bad taste. I was standing in front of a butterfly bush at the Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center when suddenly a monarch butterfly dropped to the ground and began thrashing around. I decided to scoop it up and move it to a quieter place so that it wouldn't get stepped on. It continued to flutter in my hands as I walked a few yards away. As I laid it on the ground and looked more closely, I noticed that a white-tailed hornet (also known as a bald-faced hornet) was attached to the body of the butterfly. I had inadvertently carried the hornet with the butterfly. By this time the butterfly was too far gone for me to do anything. I returned later in the day to the site of the kill. The wings of the butterfly were lying on the ground, but the body was almost entirely gone. I guess white-tailed hornets have very strong constitutions.
- Reba Wynn Laks

8/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: Record low tides exposed vast areas of tide flats, littered this morning with the "sheds" or moulted shells of blue crabs. I happily gathered them to take home, bag, and freeze. When school begins, the classes that come to the river will marvel at them. A dozen blue herons and several great egrets were stalking about the mud. Osprey carrying mossbunker passed overhead at frequent intervals, and an adult bald eagle flapped down the Croton River and out over the Tappan Zee. An adult Caspian tern shadowed by an immature was fishing near the Route 9 bridge. High summer.
- Christopher Letts

8/15 - The Falls at Cohoes, HRM 157: The drought that we have sensed from the sparse rainfall this summer was evident at the falls. Compared to late winter, the water was barely trickling over the rocky escarpment. We saw no eagles but a solitary, croaking raven crossed the gap. A half-mile downstream the Mohawk was running very shallow and the bottom was covered in vegetation. Scores of Canada geese and black ducks were scattered across the shaley bottom feeding on the green carpet.
- Tom Lake

[The Cohoes Falls, composed of graywacke, a hard sandstone, and shale, range from 75-90 feet high, 1,000 feet wide, and are the second highest falls (after Niagara) east of the Mississippi River. They were carved during the post-glacial draining of glacial Lake Iroquois. Tom Lake.]

8/15 - Green Island, HRM 153: The river was quiet with only a light curtain of water coming over the federal dam. High tide was lapping at the base of a cottonwood, a favorite eagle tree frequently used for loafing and preening. On a mossy hummock next to the tree were four small, white feathers, eagle feathers, from the head or neck of an adult bald eagle, the first I had seen there in nearly two years.
- Tom Lake

[Eagles are protected by the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940. This federal law also prohibits possession of their feathers, all 7,000 of them per bird. Tom Lake.]

8/15 - Iona Island Marsh, HRM 45: It was a windy and rainy day in the marsh. One great egret, 2 snowy egrets, 2 great blue herons, 6 mallards, and a collection of barn swallows all grouped together on the mud while 2 double crested cormorants floated nearby to wait out the wind and rain. Luckily, bleak weather made way for great birding!
- Nicole Vente

8/16 - Schuylerville, HRM 186: Although it was mid-morning, the sky to the west was black as night. A band of thunderstorms was heading this way. When they finally struck, the monsoon-like torrent dropped visibility to near zero. In less than 30 minutes, three-quarters of an inch of rain fell. The rain stopped, the sun came out, and the river was as placid as a pond. An osprey was perched on a limb over the river just below Lock 5, surveying opportunities.
- Tom Lake

8/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 72: This morning there was a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk dead on the ground outside the building where I work. On the large plate glass window on the second floor above the body there was a faint outline, in feather oil and dust, of the bird's head and wings where it had flown head-on into the window.
- David Lund

8/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 71: A component of a severe thunderstorm called a "macro-burst" passed through the southern end of the Town of Poughkeepsie with heavy rain and winds 75-100 mph. A macroburst - a localized area of sinking air that causes straight-line wind damage - is the same thing as a microburst, but must be 2.5 miles or greater in length.
- National Weather Service

8/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After some recent late summers and autumns with nearly no monarchs at all, it was nice to count four fluttering past today. Coupled with reported sightings to the north, we may have a nice fall migration this year.
- Tom Lake

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