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Hudson River Almanac September 17 - September 24, 2010


The autumnal equinox arrived this week, all decked out in sunny skies and summer warmth as the seaward and southward flight of fish and birds continued. Data has verified what our instincts told us, that this was one of the warmest summers on record.


9/21 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 19: We were under sail on Nonesuch, a small sailboat, near what the old charts called "Bombay Hook," when we heard a distinctive "croak" from the forest on the talus slope beneath the Palisades. The sound carried sharp as a bell across the water: a common raven. We kept looking. We could tell from the occasional repeated croak that it was moving about in the canopy, but we never saw it. We've seen ravens in that area before while hiking, but it was fun to hear one from the river.
- Eric Nelsen


9/17 - Croton River, HRM 34: The peregrine falcon came in fast and low, in and out, gone in a dozen wingbeats, leaving pandemonium in its wake - geese, gulls, ducks, pigeons, starlings, cormorants - everybody wanted to get out of town, now!
- Christopher Letts

9/17 - Manhattan, HRM 5: From June through August, this was the warmest summer in recorded history for Central Park in Manhattan. The long-term average air temperature for this period is 73.9 degrees Fahrenheit; for summer 2010, it was 77.8 degrees. It was also the fourth warmest on record for the continental United States.
- Northeast Regional Climate Center

9/18 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was out with the dogs in the "back forty" this evening, walking along a dirt road when we heard a "snorting" sound out in the swamp. I scanned the area and heard another snorting, snuffling sound not far away. About two hundred feet out in the swamp, where the water was three inches deep with floating water shield, I saw three heads gliding along with an occasional head popping up above the surface attached to a long, dark, and shiny neck. There was more snuffling with heads disappearing underwater, and then popping up again. I finally realized that these were river otters. I hadn't seen any sign of otters in the swamp in ten years, and it was purely a pleasure. These might have been passing through, but I know I've seen freshwater mussels in this wetland; something must have attracted them.
- Mike Corey

["Back forty" is a colloquial or slang expression meant to convey wild or rough terrain adjacent to a developed area. In the instance of a farm, for example, it might be a small percentage of the land left uncultivated or natural, frequently in the back of the property. Tom Lake.]

9/18 - Kowawese, Orange County, HRM 59: Twenty-two of us gathered at midday for our eleventh annual Hudson River Valley Ramble beach seining program. The storm winds of two days ago had left a thick line of wild celery high up on the beach. At low tide we found that barnacles and zebra mussels were still sharing the substrate. Each haul of our net collected scores of fish, among them a seven-inch-long smallmouth bass and young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass and American shad. The former ranged from 50-125 millimeters [mm] long while the latter averaged close to four inches (100 mm) in total length. Our prize catch was two thumbnail-size hogchokers. The river was a warm 72 degrees and the salinity was close to 3.0 ppt.
- Dick Manley, Louise McCoy, Amber Drake, Autumn Drake, Matthew Annan, Penny Risinit, Camellia Risinit, Mike Resinit, Ron Halbreich, Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake

9/18 - Senasqua, Westchester County, HRM 36: There was plenty of sunshine and the sky was a vibrant blue with patchy puffs of clouds. We watched monarch butterflies glide by on their way to Croton Point where they will cross the Hudson to continue their journey south. At one point, we gazed out from the beach and were thrilled to see a young double-crested cormorant perched on a solitary piece of driftwood that was sticking out of the water right in the center of the inlet. Its wings were spread out, its head was tilted up, and its whole body seemed to sparkle in the sunlight.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

9/18 - Croton River, HRM 34: Blue crab and bluefish catches were excellent, with the bluefish running up to 17 lb. Channel catfish were becoming a more pronounced by-catch for the bait anglers fishing for striped bass and blues. The striped bass are "schoolies" rarely reaching 5 lb. in weight. There have also been more reports of striped mullet, up to a foot long, being caught in cast nets.
- Christopher Letts

["Schoolies" is a colloquial expression for small striped bass, usually less than five years old and five pounds in weight. Smaller striped bass travel in schools, possibly as a survival strategy; once they reach maturity, they tend to travel solo or in smaller congregations. Tom Lake.]

9/19 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: A much dispersed flock of northern flickers (yellow-shafted) came through headed southwards. My casually recorded notes indicate they're pretty much on schedule. Some have stayed around in the local woods.
- Nancy P Durr

9/19 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 36: I was away for two days and when I returned, the hummingbird feeders were still filled. The hummingbird "circus" in my garden was over for this year. It is amazing how they just vanish from one day's thirsty emptying of the feeders to the next when the feeders hang full with only bees to feed.
- Robin Fox

9/19 - Alpine Boat Basin, HRM 18: From the porch of the historic Kearney House, we saw a flash of movement as an osprey dropped headlong into the river just outside the entrance to the boat basin. The bird heaved itself back up into the air, barely, and began to labor toward the far side of the river - the fat silver fish gleaming in its talons was almost scraping the top of the waves. We lost sight of the osprey and its catch as it neared the old power plant in Yonkers. Why it chose to cross the river, almost a mile across, rather than take advantage of the forested shore so close at hand we couldn't quite figure.
- Eric Nelsen

[One possible explanation for the osprey's apparent reluctance to take a shorter route to a feeding perch is that the Palisades cliffs generally have an eagle or two perched and ready to play "pirate" with the osprey's catch. There are fewer eagles in Yonkers. Tom Lake.]

9/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had our first frost overnight. It was 29 degrees at my house. Autumn had arrived ... early.
- Ellen Rathbone

9/20 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 68: A great egret flew from upstream with a purpose toward the open river a quarter-mile away. But as it crossed the roadway bridge, low-slung power lines came into play. When the bird was almost upon them, he suddenly veered, turned, and then flew back upstream.
- Phyllis Lake

9/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The wild wind and jumbo high tide from storm surge were all that we would see of the massive storm Igor as it churned toward the North Atlantic. School seining programs were canceled. Raptors, however, seemed to be enjoying the opportunity for aerobatics: kestrels were hovering and harriers were tipping and tilting as they skimmed the tops of the grasses. The pace of the monarch migration seems to have picked up slightly, though daily numbers are still in single digits. Robins, absent here for several weeks, are now moving through in waves. Turkey vultures continue to flow in from the north and east, spiral up to about a thousand feet, and then slope off for the Rockland shore and the "Vulture Interstate" we call the Palisades.
- Christopher Letts

9/20 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: The parking lots were under water from the Igor storm surge. As at Croton Point, all school seining programs were cancelled.
- Christopher Letts.

9/21 - North Germantown, HRM 109: Bob Schmidt's Invertebrate Zoology class from Simon's Rock College hauled their 100-foot seine hoping to catch a few YOY striped bass. Among the invertebrates they were looking to study were parasitic copepods, often found on the fish's gills. As is usual at this site, the most fish and highest diversity, nine species, were netted right in the boat launch over a hard, featureless bottom. Very puzzling. Among the most interesting were many YOY redbreast sunfish as well as some very healthy-looking YOY American shad (90-100 mm). The water temperature was 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake

9/21 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: A mother coyote and her two medium-sized pups, both with pretty, black-tipped tails, were at the field margin at dusk. The three scampered off into the woods when they spotted me in a golf cart. A few years ago, I reported a mother and two smaller pups in the same area playing like puppies.
- Nancy P Durr

9/21 - Croton Point, HRM 34: A wire killifish trap came up, as expected, with banded killifish and mummichogs, but also with a pint of grape sized moon jellyfish. I watched several kestrels pester a red-tailed hawk, but then saw the tables turn as a dark merlin gave the kestrels a hard chase. Out over Croton Bay, two osprey stooped repeatedly on a juvenile bald eagle, prudently pulling out of the dives a good ten feet above the bigger bird.
- Christopher Letts

[Stooping is a term that is used by birders, primarily for raptors, to describe a dive. Webster's Dictionary defines it as "to dive down swiftly; to attack prey." Tom Lake.]

9/21 - Ossining, HRM 33: We scanned the river on a clear day from a hill overlooking the Hudson at Mariandale. We spotted two immature bald eagles soaring at almost eye-level. One was near Croton Point. The other, close by, gave us a show flying back and forth, from north to south. At one point it swooped down to the river to catch a fish and then flew off behind the trees.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Dorothy Casey

9/21 - Manhattan, HRM 1: A group of students from the Battery Park City Park's Marine Education Program were having fun learning to fish in the Hudson River near the Battery, directly north and adjacent to Pier A. After an hour and a half, using worms as bait, they had caught 7 black sea bass, one winter flounder (blackback flounder), 6 scup (porgy), 2 tautog (blackfish), 6 cunner (bergall) and one jellyfish. And to think that some people believe there is no wildlife in Manhattan!
- Helena Andreyko

[Many of our fish have secondary common names, for example menhaden and bunker, summer flounder and fluke, spot and Lafayette, goosefish and anglerfish, silver hake and whiting, red hake and ling, freshwater drum and sheepshead. To avoid confusion, most professionals involved in fisheries use their scientific names, expressed in Latin or Greek. Tom Lake.]

9/22 - Feura Bush, Albany County, HRM 135: It has been four days now and not a single hummingbird has come to the feeder nor been seen in the flower bed. There has been a real lack of males lately as well.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

9/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: The eleventh hour before the equinox was warm (86 degrees) and very humid. Monarchs were trying to make headway into a summer-like southwest breeze. In late evening a cold front came over the area and a thunderstorm broke out. The pyrotechnics were brief but fierce: loud thunder and bright flashes lit up the sky. Then, at 11:00 PM, the near-full moon came out and the landscape glowed as autumn arrived.
- Tom Lake

9/22 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Late monarchs were passing through and were very attracted to my perennial ageratum, or mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum). I have read that it is referred to as "chocolate cake for monarchs." It is a beautiful, if somewhat aggressive, addition to the garden with or without the monarchs' attention.
- Nancy P Durr

9/22 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 36: Gino Garner took me out for a day of crabbing. The air was clear and warm and we could easily see the Tappan Zee Bridge; with binoculars, the east tower of the George Washington Bridge, 25 miles downriver, was also visible. The blue crabs were cooperative and rarely did we pull a trap that had no blue-claw in it. Doubles were common and on several occasions, we caught three crabs in a trap. In less than two hours, we had 65 - all #1 jimmies - in the cooler, and called it a day. Crabs and sweet corn for dinner!
- Christopher Letts

9/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It is simply good fortune to have a clear sky on nights of the full moon, and even more so in autumn for the Harvest moon. Sunset and moon rise occurred within a few minutes of each other and as the moon cleared the horizon it was lemon-yellow and partly shrouded in clouds. As it rose higher it became whiter and seemed to grow smaller, an illusion due to less atmospheric distortion and the nearness of the horizon. As the night grew darker, it still seemed like summer: every peeper, squeaker, cricket and cicada was chorusing, turning the night into a random symphony of sound.
- Tom Lake

[The Harvest moon, the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox, has many names used by Native Americans. Among them are the Hunting moon, Corn Festival moon, Moon of Drying Grass, Nut moon, and the Black Butterfly moon. All of these allude to the end of the growing season, the onset of seasonal migration, and preparations for winter. Tom Lake.]

9/23 - Crugers, HRM 39: We spotted the resident great blue heron standing at the far edge of Ogilvie's Pond. Another wading bird was near a stand of phragmites at the other end of the pond. It was a beautiful green heron, probably a juvenile, since it had white streaks on its neck. It lifted its head and looked toward the other heron. The crest on its head rose, it began flapping its wings, and then plucked a fish out of the water. It flew wildly across the pond, keeping very close to the surface, and landed on a branch twenty feet from the great blue. It calmed down, its crest disappeared, and it had its meal, content to perch quite close to the great blue.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

9/24 - Kowawese, HRM 59: On the first full day of autumn, it felt like a midsummer's dawn. With heavy cloud cover on the Highlands, first light was late to come. As the clouds lifted, a strong, warm, southerly wind kicked in. The overnight full moon tide had left its mark high on the beach with a broad line of uprooted wild celery. Not unlike a sailing ship, a few monarchs were tacking against the warm wind making headway south. The air temperature would reach 86 degrees.
- Tom Lake

9/24 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 52: There have been several juvenile sora [one of the group of marsh birds known as rails] in the marsh, strutting around on their long toes and squeaking irritably at us when we canoe past.
- Eric Lind

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