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Hudson River Almanac August 24 - August 31, 2010

OVERVIEW

After last week's deluge, we were back to a warm, dry summer with water temperatures likely to stay near 80 degrees Fahrenheit into September. Signs of autumn were becoming more obvious with shorter evenings, as well as migrating monarchs, osprey, wading birds and shore birds.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/28 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: I had the pleasure of seeing 15-18 nighthawks overhead, drifting south in early evening. When I was growing up in Putnam County, I used to watch them hunting and listen to their odd "breeep" calls in the afternoon and evening sky. It seemed like a foreign phenomenon now as I witnessed the rowing action of their narrow oar-like wings. The group moved leisurely as a unit in wide overlapping meandering arcs and circles. Their distinctive flight pattern was punctuated by the slightly accelerated wing beats of an abrupt maneuver, and an almost defiant pause in mid air as they took high flying insects. I have missed them over the years.
- Dan Seymour

[According to DEC's fact sheet on the common nighthawk, "It is suspected that this species is experiencing declines throughout many parts of its breeding range including New York. However, it is important to note that many survey methods, including those used for the New York State Breeding Bird Atlases, are not conducive to the detection of this species. Local increases have been reported in some states (North Dakota, Utah and Vermont)." Steve Stanne.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/24 - Ulster County, HRM 97: This morning I saw a bird perched on the dock. He stayed there long enough for me to watch him take off in flight over the river. It was a belted kingfisher, one that I had not seen in a while.
- Peg Duke

8/24 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The morning light was still dim as I started my walk. I headed up the hill towards the oak grove and heard the whinny of an eastern screech owl, so much like the sound of a pony that it can fool you. This is just the third time that I have heard that call on the Point in the three decades that I have frequented this peninsula.
- Christopher Letts

8/25 - Croton River, HRM 34: Not for the first time this hot dry summer I found comb jellies in my killifish pot when I hauled it up this morning. Speculation is rampant about what strange beasts will be caught this fall by our fishermen; excitement is building.
- Christopher Letts

8/25 - Tappan Zee: While kayaking today [location purposely vague], I spotted two osprey at their nest on a navigational tower: one was on the tower, the other was perched on the nest (an immature spotted previously had fledged). They kicked up quite a ruckus as I paddled toward them, so I kept my distance (see 8/10 for earlier sighting).
- Harold Potischman

8/26 - Mohawk River, HRM 159: On a SUNY-ESF river herring sampling trip, we seined at the Barge-Erie Canal Lock 6 boat launch where the water was high and turbid, and it was windy enough to create whitecaps. We only found a few young-of-the-year [YOY] blueback herring, but numerous spottail shiners, large and small, largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill sunfish, logperch, tessellated darters, white suckers and emerald shiners. These were all usual species. What was unusual, however, was picking up a YOY gizzard shad and a trout-perch. That was the first trout-perch I've seen there, though it appears from C.L. Smith's Inland Fishes of New York that they've been recorded in the vicinity before.
- Karin Limburg

[Trout-perch (Percopsis omiscomaycus) are small, minnow-sized fish and are the single member of their family found in the Hudson River watershed. Their common name reflects the fact that they have an adipose fin, like trouts and salmon, yet also have also spiny fins like perches. While not common, they do occur in northern areas of the watershed where they feed primarily on insects. Tom Lake.]

8/26 - Kowawese, HRM 59: After nearly four days of rain and gloom, the sun came out. At dawn, huge fog banks were lifting off South Mount Beacon across the river. I inadvertently startled three heavy-bodied "sea ducks" and they took off from Cornwall Bay and headed upriver. Even though they were only a couple hundred yards away, with the sun in my eyes and my binoculars buried in the bottom of my bucket, I could only see a silhouette. My first thought was red-throated or common loon (they were not cormorants), but they could have been almost anything. At the minimum, they were not local. With a 4-day nor'easter, I suppose anything might have been blown here. The tideline of wild celery and duckweed was much higher up on the beach than usual, pushed by the full moon tides. The water temperature in the shallows had fallen to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake

8/26 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: I had a lovely field walk today, during which I counted 7 monarch butterfly caterpillars eating, 4 monarch butterflies "nectaring," hundreds of small orange and white butterflies "puddling," one white-tailed fawn "pronking" (scared), one red-tailed hawk soaring and scolding. And what fabulous weather it was after rain for 4-5 days, well over five inches in our gauges.
- Betsy Hawes

8/26 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 52: While enjoying the weather this afternoon following the recent storm, I spotted a belted kingfisher, hunting. I like it when they point into a breeze, pull up, hover for a few seconds, and then punch into the water - a blue fist. My father once told me they were his favorite bird. When I asked him why, he couldn't say, they just were.
- Eric Lind

8/26 - Croton River, HRM 34: The common loon, breeding plumage and all, has remained here for at least two months. It seems somewhat habituated and surfaces just a few feet from the boat launch and the "Liar's Bench" where the Boyz at the Bridge gather each morning. Folks who didn't know a loon from a loony now comment on it, and when it dives, all hands check watches to see how long it will remain submerged. There was an animated discussion a couple of days ago after the loon was seen eating a blue crab. Was it a buckram (paper-shelled crab)? Was it a hard crab? Did it eat the whole crab or just body parts? What do loons use to hold the crab while they peck at it? Such fun!
- Christopher Letts

8/27 - Garrison, HRM 51: I was admiring a hummingbird visiting on the last of the Rose of Sharon when my daughter came home from work excited that she had seen a snow white bird in our wetlands. We investigated and discovered that it was a snowy egret. The last time I saw one was in North Carolina.
- Kathie Kourie

8/28 - Crugers, HRM 39: We spotted the Ogilvie's Pond great blue heron today in water up to its body, its long legs completely submerged. As we watched, a male kingfisher flew across the pond. The heron flew to the concrete wall of the pond and began walking toward us with very leisurely steps, closer and closer, lifting its muddy feet quite high. It came within 20 feet as we stood like statues. With binoculars we could clearly see streaking on its breast and neck and shades of pink under its wings. Our reverie was interrupted when the heron opened its huge wings and flew back to the pond.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

8/29 - Minerva, HRM 284: I spotted a dead furry creature in the middle State Route 28N in the flats area of Minerva where the highway passes through the Moxham Pond wetlands. The critter was quite brown and pretty done for. It turned out to be stunningly beautiful mink, likely a male given its dimensions. The fur was really quite amazing, with a shine or luster that's hard to describe. I put him off to the side of the road, on the grassy shoulder. I've seen road-killed short-tail weasels, and even a fisher or two, but a mink? Never before.
- Mike Corey

8/29 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Stan Fletcher, the last U.S. Coast Guard keeper of the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, paid a short visit while volunteers were working on restoration of the building, preparing it for public tours this fall. He departed as keeper in 1965 when the light was replaced by an automated navigational aid mounted on a pole outside the building. Since 2003, there has been a 250 mm lens in the original lantern room.
- Phyllis Marsteller

8/30 - Wynantskill, HRM 149: There is a small shallow beaver pond near here where I usually see wood ducks, a great blue heron, an occasional green heron, and other wildlife. About ten days ago, I discovered a new visitor, a great egret, that I have seen preening in the same dead tree every evening. We've never had one here before.
- George Wilson

8/30 - Highland, HRM 76: In early evening, two adult bald eagles flapped and soared and glided over the river, eventually drifting south to The Walkway Over the Hudson.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

8/30 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67: With regard to the question of robins by Melinda Mousouris of Manhattan (see 8/19), both my daughter (river mile 75) and I have also noticed their sudden disappearance 2-3 weeks ago. They had been very vocal and numerous from pre-dawn to dusk on all the lawns in our neighborhoods. We wondered if the prolonged heat wave had driven them north or did they start an early migration south. Most other songbirds such as cardinals, chickadees, phoebes, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, and various sparrows have still been visiting our feeders regularly.
- Robert Leak

8/31 - Kowawese, HRM 59: It was time to do some "beach maintenance." Areas of the shallows that we seine, for some reason, occasionally become cluttered with rocks and other debris, "hang downs" to our seine. Many of the rocks we removed were covered with hundreds of zebra mussels. Nestled among them were dozens of barnacles, a perfect example of freshwater meets brackish water. The river was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the salinity was barely detectable. Our seine caught many fish, but nothing unexpected: spottail shiners; white perch, tessellated darters, bluegills and pumpkinseed sunfish, banded killifish, alewives (68 millimeters [mm]), blueback herring (67 mm), striped bass (70-75 mm), and many blue crabs of all sizes, both male and female.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

8/31 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: The Hudson Highlands were a hazy, humid expanse on a sultry summer morning. As the tide dropped, bringing the shallows into clearer focus, an immature bald eagle was cutting circles in the sky over the bay. A small flock of "peeps," probably sandpipers, made a quick trip down the beach, foraging at the water's edge.
- Tom Lake

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