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Hudson River Almanac August 17 - August 23, 2010

OVERVIEW

Steady rain - lots of it - finally gave us a break from the dry weather experienced by much of the Hudson Valley in recent weeks. Young-of-the-year [YOY] fish - those born of this year's spawning activity - are taking full advantage of the food and shelter available in the Hudson now as the estuary fulfills one of its important ecological functions as a nursery for such youngsters.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/23 - Catskill, HRM 114: An eastern phoebe landed on my clothesline this morning and was instantly dive-bombed by the resident female ruby-throated hummingbird who "owns" the last third of the line. The phoebe could not take the assault and left. I have also seen the hummer bother a monarch on a butterfly bush until the monarch left. This hummer is very aggressive and fun to watch.

- Barry Wolven

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

Note: Last week we commented that the falls at Cohoes are the second highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. That was incorrect. In addition to Niagra, Taughannock Falls near Ithaca and the two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills, while not wider, are certainly higher.

8/17 - Town of Athens, HRM 116: On a very still August day a group of teacher and educators gathered on the waterfront at Cohotate Preserve to prep for "A Day in the Life of the Hudson River" on October 14. Two great blue herons stood frozen in the plant beds while an osprey and a bald eagle flew by early in the day. The nets in this freshwater setting yielded an assortment of large male blue crabs, white perch, YOY striped bass, banded killifish, and a couple of sunfish. However, what caught our attention the most was a hogchoker measuring about the size of a quarter! It almost slipped by unnoticed in the net.

- Margie Turrin, Steve Stanne, Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

[Hogchokers are delightful little soles, ranging in size from a penny to the palm of your hand. They can be found anywhere in the estuary from freshwater to salt. Closely resembling a flounder, hogchoker have an intricate pattern of black squiggles on a brown background that gives each one a unique look. It has been observed that like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two hogchokers are ever the same. Tom Lake.]

8/17 - Germantown, HRM 105: Monarchs were on the move in my backyard. Unlike last year when I counted four, at most, this time they were regularly streaming through. I noticed real numbers starting two days ago and they just kept on coming. I'm sure big, blooming butterfly bushes help; but I do see a distinct difference from last year. Last night there were still at least half a dozen at dusk. The numbers and variety of butterflies seems greater this year than I've noticed in a long time.

- Mimi Brauch

8/17 - Iona Island, HRM 45.5: While on a public canoe trip a couple of days ago with the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve, I retrieved a floating tennis ball. To my surprise, eight water chestnut seeds were stuck to the fuzzy ball. Since water chestnut (Trapa natans) is a freshwater invasive plant, I wondered where that ball originated before it made it under the railroad trestle into Iona Marsh.

- Emilie Hauser

[It is true that we do not see many water chestnuts (plants for sure, seeds as well) much south of Bear Mountain. Their preference seems to be fresh to mildly brackish water shallows. However, a shaggy tennis ball with a Velcro-like surface could easy pick up seeds above the Hudson Highlands and then be carried seaward by the tide, wind and currents. Water chestnuts seeds have a number of surprising ways to distribute themselves inland as well as up and down river, such as on the paddle feet of geese and ducks, even wading birds. Tom Lake.]

8/17 - Croton Point, HRM 35: My first seining attempt of the season did not produce much: 150 Atlantic silversides and a half dozen killifish. It was not what I had hoped for. The riverbed was densely vegetated with wild celery to the point where the progress of the net was impeded. That there was more out there than we caught was evident in the dozen moulted blue crab shells lying in the shallows. Schools of "peanut bunker" were rippling the surface offshore, and periodically the water would explode as they were ambushed by small bluefish. The salinity was 7.0 parts-per-thousand [ppt].

- Christopher Letts

["Peanut bunker" or penny bunker are colloquial names for YOY Atlantic menhaden, a species of herring that spawn in salt to brackish water. They are found by the millions in the estuary in summer and fall. Along with the adult, also known regionally as bunker, mossbunker or pogies, they provide forage for striped bass, bluefish, harriers, osprey, eagles and seals. Tom Lake.]

8/18 - Dutchess County, HRM 71: There were many big, black fuzzy bumble bees in the yellow pumpkin vine flowers in my vegetable garden in Poughquag. I just saw my first monarch of the summer feeding on red clover. It reminded me of the fall of 1971. I was at Mamaroneck High School (Westchester County) football practice on the track field when a monarch butterfly migration in the thousands came past in a thick stream. I estimate that it was 100 yards wide and 15 feet or more high. The team stopped practice and just stared in silence at this once-in-a-lifetime event.

- B. Herbst

8/18 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Since we were alone on the beach three spotted sandpipers felt secure in sampling the tideline and tiderows of wild celery. The inshore shallows were like a sauna at 85 degrees Fahrenheit and the salinity still hovered around 3.0 ppt. We expected some exotic fish but none appeared in the net with the YOY American shad and striped bass. There was one increasingly more common species: a YOY smallmouth bass 75 millimeters [mm] long.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

8/18 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was high summer for us, but migration time for some animals. Monarch butterflies were moving through in increasing numbers and the kestrels have appeared. Down in the marsh, waders and shorebirds were moving through.

- Christopher Letts

8/18 - Harlem River, HRM 13.5: As our Metro North commuter train headed north from Manhattan we saw two graceful great blue herons flying south at Spuyten Duyvil.

- Dianne Picciano

8/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was such a beautiful morning that I had to abandon the office and get out on the trails. I headed for the Sucker Brook Trail, always a good choice. The water level of the lake was quite low. We've barely had a half-inch of rain this month and July was also quite dry (about 3 inches). So I was able to walk along a shoreline that is usually underwater. The gentians were pretty much past their prime, but oh, the cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) were really glorious this year!

- Ellen Rathbone

8/19 - North River, HRM 263: There are sections of the upper Hudson River that few people get to see. Ten of us journeyed to the wilderness area at North River for a Hudson River rafting adventure. The river was very low; usually a class 4 river, it was now more like a class 3. We saw osprey, hawks, gulls, and herons. The smell of white cedar - the most abundant tree, towering over us - and the site of cardinal flowers everywhere along the shore made us not want to leave this beautiful river.

- Rebecca Houser

8/19 -Yonkers, HRM 18: While holding our "Catch of the Day" program at the Beczak Environmental Center we caught an oyster toadfish in our seine. It was about an inch long and blended in well with our net. It was the first time we had ever caught an oyster toadfish so we were quite excited.

- Susan Juggernauth

[Oyster toadfish, known colloquially as "oyster crackers," are common along the Atlantic Coast as well as in New York Harbor. They have strong, sharp teeth that they use to crush shellfish and are a good indicator of salinity. Bones of oyster toadfish dating to 4,000 years ago were found by archaeologists at Dogan Point (HRM 39.5) in Westchester County. It is believed that the river was saltier in prehistoric times and certainly supported a robust oyster population, prime forage for the oyster toad. Tom Lake.]

8/19 - Manhattan, HRM 7: I live in a Manhattan high rise where I have a terrace with two small deciduous trees, plants, and a birdbath. For years robins have consistently visited - less frequently finches. Two weeks ago when the heat was in the 90s they all disappeared and have not returned. This has never happened before in August. Do your readers have a hypothesis as to why this occurred?

- Melinda Mousouris

8/19 - Manhattan, HRM 0: Our second "Day in the Life" workshop this week was held at South Street Seaport aboard the beautiful Peking, a four-masted barque sailing vessel. Salinity levels in the East River read 24.0 ppt (more than 70 percent of seawater salinity) and the nets scooped up an abundance of Atlantic silversides along with a smaller assortment of northern pipefish, a YOY bluefish, striped bass and comb jellies. The water was a warm 77 degrees Fahrenheit but dissolved oxygen levels read a poor 4.0 milligrams per liter (mg/l).

- Margie Turrin, Steve Stanne, Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

8/20 - Crugers, HRM 39: As we looked out the window this morning, we spotted a large bird, a beautiful northern flicker, pecking at the lawn. We had never seen one here before. The bright red patch on its neck and the black chest band were very evident. Soon it was joined by another flicker that had been hiding behind the forsythia bushes. Later we noticed a large bird flying overhead that we expected was a turkey vulture since there are so many around. However, as it came closer, we recognized that is was an immature bald eagle. Enthralled, we watched as it floated and dipped with the blue and white sky as a backdrop and then flew off to the south. We had not seen a bald eagle in the area since winter, so it was an exciting sighting.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

8/20 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 35: Concerning the Almanac's observations and comments on comb jellies (8/11), trying running a boat through a large "school" of them at night; the blue luminescence of your wake for hundreds of feet behind is amazing. Thirty plus years ago, when I worked on the river for a fisheries consultant, we would pull our otter trawl aboard and the entire cod-end would be filled with thousands of them. As we dumped our catch into a holding tub to identify the fish, we would be up to our elbows in what could only be described as cool, bluish, luminescent jell-O. On a hot summer night, not unlike a few we've seen lately, this was an unexpected and unforgettable treat.

- Don Pizzuto

[While all comb jellies can be luminescent, those described by Don Pizzuto may have been Leidy's comb jellies (Mnemiopsis leidyi). When "agitated" by a ships wake's they flash luminescent green (or greenish-blue). Frank Margiotta recalls surf fishing along the north shore beaches of Long Island Sound and encountering Leidy's comb jellies: "The water would glow blue-white as I reeled in my lure." Like a firefly's flash, this is best seen at night. During our fall night seining programs at Croton Point (this year October 9), our 250 foot-long haul seine often creates a greenish swath through the shallows. Our other comb jelly, generally more common, is Beroe's comb jelly (Beroe sp.). Tom Lake.]

8/21 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34-33: The drought continued - such a sad, crisped, landscape. Local anglers are taking striped bass to 20 lb. and bluefish to 10 lb. on a variety of lures and baits. "Snapper" bluefish had doubled their size in the past few weeks. I received a call from the Boyz at the Bridge (Midgie Taube and Big John): "We've got a weird fish for you!" I hurried to the river, and found a foot-long oyster toadfish swimming around in a bucket. I do not recall finding this ocean species north of the Tappan Zee Bridge, another reminder that the salt front has moved far up the river. The oyster toad went into my freezer, scheduled to reappear in April for the edification and delight of school children.

- Christopher Letts

8/22 - Milan, HRM 90: A pair of bluebirds had three broods in one of my nesting boxes. The first brood was in May during a cold stretch of weather. I decided to help the pair with the first brood because they had "their beaks full" raising 5 hatchlings. I placed some mealworms a mealworm feeder that I mounted on the unoccupied bird box adjacent to the nest. It didn't take the pair long to figure the system out; they removed the worms as I walked away from the box and quickly fed them to the young birds. The hatchlings did very well and all 5 fledged. The second brood of 5 hatchlings was during a hot spell and again all successfully fledged. I thought the pair was finished but was pleasantly surprised to see a third brood in August. Four fledged last week and there are many juvenile bluebirds eating the insects around my property. This is one of the benefits of never using any chemicals to control insects.

- Frank Margiotta

8/22 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34-33: Local anglers are using a variety of methods to catch bluefish to 8 lb, and striped bass to 18 lb. An increasingly frequent by-catch are channel catfish up to 4 lb, unheard of here just a couple of years ago.

- Christopher Letts

8/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Finally - we received 2.25 inches of rain this weekend.

- Ellen Rathbone

8/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After more than four inches of rain (4.4) in less than two days, the deluge had slackened off to a drizzle. During the heaviest downpours, the skies were empty. Now with just intermittent sprinkles monarchs butterflies were back in the air. I counted five during a half-mile hike.

- Tom Lake

8/23 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Rain began 24 hours ago, just before dawn, and continued since then. Happily it started with several hours of drizzle and light rain that allowed the ground to soften and open up. As a consequence we had very little in the way of runoff or erosion. When I stepped outdoors this morning it was still raining. The rain gauge recorded 4.5 inches, the heaviest one-day rain since Hurricane Floyd dumped eleven inches on us in 1996. I can already see the landscape greening.

- Christopher Letts

8/23 - Palisades, Rockland County, HRM 23: I woke up early this morning (4:00 AM) to the sounds of coyotes carrying on in the woods behind my house. Could there be a connection between them and the dwindling number of turkey poults who have been regularly wandering through my backyard with their mother? At the beginning of the summer there were four chicks, then three about 2 weeks ago, and then only two yesterday. I have also seen a red fox, another candidate, traipse through my yard once earlier this summer.

- Diane Langmuir

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