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Hudson River Almanac September 1 - September 9, 2010

OVERVIEW

Much of the focus this week, in addition to fish falling from the sky, was on a "red tide" that appeared on Labor Day in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. A red tide is an algal bloom that colors the water for a period of time before dissipating. This red tide was not considered to be a threat to humans or wildlife.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/5 - Palisades, Rockland County, HRM 23: My home is in the woods beside the Hudson, about 50 feet above the river. Twice in the last week striped bass have landed on my lawn, apparently coming from the sky. A few days ago my tenant, Danny Lehrecke, had just stepped outside when he spotted a bald eagle flying overhead. The eagle dropped his catch, a 15-inch-long striped bass, nearly hitting him. He picked up the fish and rushed inside to show his wife. A short time later he ran down the stone steps to the river and returned the fish to the water. The fish swam away. This morning I looked out the window and saw a fish lying on the lawn. It was another striped bass, about 12 inches long, recently dead (still fresh). The osprey and the eagles have been having a fish war, which probably explains the presence of the striped bass. The osprey perch on a dead tree near the water and dive, quite successfully, for fish. The eagles hang around and try to steal the fish from them, although they also catch fish on their own.
- Alice Gerard

[This is one of those river stories that sounds like fiction when, in fact, they are true! Chris Letts has been at the Englewood Boat Basin twice in the fall when osprey were forced by eagles to drop their catch ("bunker," or menhaden). Then the rush would be on as anglers, recognizing the free bait (bunker is prime striped bass and bluefish bait), raced into the talus at the base of the Palisades to recover the fish. At Croton Point we watched as an osprey dropped an eel onto the grass near a group of anglers, sparking cries of "Anguilla, Anguilla!" - Spanish as well as Latin for eel - as they, too, raced to recover another prized bait. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/1 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: During a lunchtime walk on the pier we glanced down and noticed hundreds of small glass "minnows" swimming vigorously against the flooding tide. The tiny fish appeared in wave after wave as they worked their way along the end of the pier. Several "plops" in the area provided evidence of larger fish, possibly in pursuit. As we returned back down the pier we watched four osprey circling and diving just outside the mouth of the Sparkill Creek. At least one emerged successfully with some small catch in its talons.
- Margie Turrin, Linda Pistolesi

[Given the description, location, and present river conditions, the small glass "minnows" were probably Atlantic silversides, a rather small brackish-water fish generally loved by all predatory species. Tom Lake.]

9/1 - Manhattan, HRM 5: As the atypically hot summer weather continued, the air temperature reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit in New York City.
- Tom Lake

9/2 - Green Island, HRM 153: With recent rain in the watershed, the volume over the spillway at the federal dam was significantly greater than it had been two weeks ago. The river was rising quickly at the head of tide and three shoreline anglers had to reset themselves every 15-20 minutes. They were using fresh-frozen shrimp. When I asked them what they were hoping to catch, they recited a list of a half-dozen species, only a couple of which would they take home to eat. They reminisced of springtime and catching and releasing three-foot-long sturgeon (very likely shortnose) on shrimp. An osprey passed by heading south and a couple of great egrets were foraging in the ever-decreasing shallows as the river neared high tide.
- Tom Lake

[Shortnose sturgeon are a federally endangered species and therefore protected by law. Possessing either species of Hudson River sturgeon, shortnose or Atlantic, is prohibited. However, they are not infrequently caught and released by anglers as unintended bycatch while fishing for other species. Tom Lake.]

9/2 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: After having a relatively "bat-free" summer, there have been bats around the last few days as well as swifts flying over.
- Bill Drakert

9/2 - Kerhonkson, Ulster County, HRM 78: Snapping turtle hatchlings have been crossing Berme Road for the past few days, navigating out of the sandy corn field and across the baking hot blacktop road toward the nearby marsh. This evening I picked up one that had been slogging down the road and had come to a halt a hundred yards shy of its watery goal. The little creature was stoically quiet in my hand until I held it up over the water; then it started wiggling vigorously, as if it could smell the nearness of the soothing element it had been trying to reach. I dropped it into the marsh pool and was able to watch it right itself and take its first refreshing swim, which it did with a zest that had all the appearance of delighted enthusiasm.
- Sarah Underhill

9/3 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We went looking for signs of a storm surge from Hurricane Earl that was passing offshore of the New York Bight. A strong south wind was blowing a gale straight up the Hudson through the Highlands. At high tide, the river was about ten feet farther up the gentle slope of the beach and marked by a very heavy tiderow of uprooted wild celery. It was not easy to discern if the high water was wind-driven or Earl-driven. Schools of young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass 60-75 millimeters [mm] long were foraging in the breaking waves. The water was 78 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

9/4 - Kowawese, HRM 59: What a difference 24 hours made. Hurricane Earl was gone to the northeast and the wind was now blowing a gale out of the northwest, off shore, and the river down through the Highlands was capping over. The water temperature had risen back to 80F.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

9/4 - Croton Point, HRM 35: As we walked along Croton Point on a gorgeous day, we were buffeted by gusting winds out of the northwest that made it difficult to proceed up the path. The river had a menacing look, with whitecaps dotting its dark surface, and numerous puffs of clouds causing a palette of different colors on the water. We were excited to see a great black-backed gull perched on a rock wall that borders a small inlet along the walkway. In the protected waters, three mallards swam and several ring-billed gulls flew overhead. We spotted five mockingbirds facing the sun atop a fence and three turkey vultures high up in the sky.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

9/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: We spotted two great blue herons across the Croton River where it meets the Hudson. Three double-crested cormorants flew over in the company of many gulls. Near us, along the shoreline, two goldfinches sped by and landed in one of the trees. The highlight of our day was the unexpected appearance of an immature bald eagle that flew right over our heads - a beautiful sight against the clear blue sky.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

9/5 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: As the work barge left heading to the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, two miles upriver, an adult bald eagle flew over the marina at Norrie Point. Heading north to the lighthouse, we counted a group of nine mute swans in the shallow waters near Ulster Park. For most of the day we worked indoors on balusters and window frames, but when we left for the return trip to Norrie Point, we saw about two dozen double-crested cormorants resting on the framework of a duck blind under construction in the shallows west of the lighthouse. Then, like "bookends" on the day, the same (or another) adult bald eagle gave an aerial show, soaring on thermals over the river.
- Phyllis Marsteller

9/6 - Ulster County, HRM 97: Monitoring SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation) beds in the tidewater Hudson River has been a Cornell University research project since 1995 on behalf of the NYS DEC. Volunteer monitoring is carried out each field season, July 15-September 15, to update information on the continually changing SAV beds.

The dominant species across my assignment, north and south of Ulster Landing, was wild celery (Vallisneria americana), with only a few of the invasive aquatic plants such as water chestnut (Trapa natans).We work two hours before and after low tide, outside of rain events, for optimal conditions. On a typical day, I go out in my kayak armed with a GPS unit to locate established points in the plant beds, take water clarity measurements using a Secchi disk, and then identify species and density of each type of vegetation.

If you are interested in volunteering (having your name added to the list) for summer 2011, please contact Cathy McGlynn at catherine_mcglynn@yahoo.com. Training for the summer season takes place in late May and June 2011.
- Peg Duke

9/6 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I was fishing for carp (I've only caught one this season) but instead caught an American eel. This eel was so big, nearly 4 feet long, that my hands could not fit fully around its belly. I did manage to catch quite a few channel catfish and saw one river otter.
- Glen Heinsohn

[Glen's eel was likely what is called a "silver eel," a colloquial name given to female American eels, perhaps 20-30 years old, that have undergone physical changes preparatory to spawning. Their eyes become enlarged and they go from the green-and-yellow coloration of their "yellow eel" phase, to dark black dorsally and stark white ventrally. These changes are adaptations to traveling in the deep, dark waters of the North Atlantic to locations and a spawning ritual that are still a mystery. Tom Lake.]

9/6 - Manhattan, HRM 0-2: A nearly ten-mile-long "red tide" was reported, extending upriver from the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. (The Upper Bay of New York Harbor is eleven miles long.)
- United States Coast Guard

[Red tide is a common name for an outbreak or bloom of reddish-brown algae discoloring the water. These massive concentrations of microorganisms tend to occur in times of little rainfall, as well as high salinity and high water temperature. Tom Lake.]

9/7 - Hathaway's Glen Brook, HRM 63: Dawn was imminent as I slipped on my snorkel and mask and drifted over the three-foot-deep shallows. Large schools of banded killifish seemed to carpet the bottom; blue crabs of all sizes scurried away as I occasionally touched down. The inshore shallows, chilled by the overnight, had fallen to 75 degrees F. In contrast, Hathaway's Glen Brook, dropping down the fall line to the river, was 63 degrees. The tide was rising and so was the sun. The rich red and gold colors of the clouds refracting through a foot of water looked spectacular. Drying off in the warmth of sunrise, we hauled a seine and caught a dozen or more YOY American shad (85-95 mm).
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

9/7 - Yonkers, HRM 18: We caught another YOY oyster toadfish, also about 25 mm TL, in our seine at the Beczak Center. The salinity has been in the 10-14 parts-per-thousand [ppt] range. One of my coworkers who has been at the Beczak Center for more than five years had never seen one in the seine before.
- Susan Juggernauth

[F.D. Martin's Development of Fishes of the Mid-Atlantic Bight (1978:348), states that juvenile oyster toadfish are found in salinities ranging from 13-29 ppt. Seawater at this latitude is approximately 32-33 ppt. Tom Lake.]

9/7 - Manhattan, HRM 0: Yesterday, the water surrounding the Battery reminded me of the movie, The Ten Commandments, when the Nile River turned red. Today, on a different tide, the waters look blue-green again.
- Dennis Suszkowski

9/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Monarchs continued their migration, not in large numbers like we saw a decade ago, but in ones and twos. It is impressive to watch them hug ridgelines as they travel south, tacking like sailing ships when the wind shifts to one quarter or another.
- Tom Lake

[Monarch butterflies bred in the Hudson River watershed migrate south as much as 2,700 miles to a wintering location in a mountain forest near Mexico City. They arrive in large numbers to the same roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their wintering location is threatened by deforestation, increased agriculture and other human activity. The Mexican government is attempting to save the monarch's winter habitat by establishing wildlife refuges and tourist parks. The length of the journey far exceeds the lifetime of a single monarch, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer. The last generation of the summer lives up to seven months, during which it migrates to the wintering location. This generation does not reproduce until it leaves the following spring. How monarchs manage to return to the same wintering locale over a span of several generations is a mystery. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall. Tom Lake.]

9/8 - Manhattan, HRM 0: We looked out of our window near the Battery today to notice that our very own Upper Bay of New York Harbor was distinctly red. This maroon-red color was especially visible to us in the water next to Pier A. I'm sure this must have happened in the past, but this is the first time I have ever seen it myself.
- Helena Andreyko

[In late July and early August 1995, there was a red tide in the upper Tappan Zee and lower Haverstraw Bay (see Hudson River Almanac, Volume II), river miles 33-36. It may have been more widespread but that seemed to be the epicenter. Summer 1995 was dry, and the Hudson River was warm and salty, prime conditions for an algal bloom. We hauled our seines through water the color of weak tea, caught many comb jellies, moon jellyfish, and YOY marine fishes. We called it a "mahogany tide!" Tom Lake.]

9/8 - Manhattan, HRM 0: I sampled in a little cove north of Pier A at the Battery. The water looked like tomato juice. The organism involved in the red tide is a photosynthetic ciliate (Myrionecta rubrum) that contains symbiotic algal chloroplasts and other organelles.
- Michael Levandowsky

[Myrionecta rubrum (formerly named Mesodinium rubrum) is a ciliate. Most ciliates are thought of as micro-zooplankters, that is, they live "zooplanktonically" by eating other organisms - mostly bacteria, algae and other zooplankters. In that sense they are animal-like in their nutrition, though ciliates are, evolutionarily speaking, not close to the line that gave rise to multicellular animals. However, unlike most ciliates, Mesodinium contains chloroplasts, and therefore can photosynthesize; thus its nutrition is more plant-like. Functionally, it can be considered a phytoplankter. Many marine planktonic ciliates can concentrate chloroplasts from their algal prey and maintain them in their cells for varying periods of time. Mesodinium just made that relationship a permanent one.

I have not often seen Mesodinium in the Hudson River. Blooms like this one do occur in many parts of the world. I suspect the estuarine system became ecologically unbalanced somehow because of the high water temperatures just before the bloom. Mike Levandowsky, Pace University.]

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