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Hudson River Almanac October 1 - October 7, 2010

OVERVIEW

A moose visit to the Mid-Hudson Valley began this week. While they are rare along the estuary in recent historic times, this is actually part of their ancestral range. The presence of moose predates the first humans, some 12,000 years ago. A more typical autumn phenomenon, a tropical storm called Nicole, created much natural character in the river this week through heavy rains, storm surges, and high tides.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/6 - Englewood , NJ, HRM 13.5: "Savory tuna" and "chicken in sauce" [canned cat food] seems to work well for animals other than felines. After a two-hour soak, the killifish trap was loaded with three dozen shore shrimp with body lengths up to three inches long. Several small fish called naked gobies were also in the trap, each nearly two inches long, about as big as I have seen them, as well as a quart of tiny moon jellyfish, shining like pearls and about the same size.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/1 - Albany County, HRM 145: I just returned from a brisk walk in my Albany Pine Bush neighborhood. A sugar maple's gold and orange leaves were so beautiful against the clear blue sky. A lone monarch rose from a patch of marigolds and flew as high into the sky as I've ever seen one fly.
- Christine Dooley

10/1 - Esopus Creek watershed, HRM 92: Rainfall totals from tropical storm Nicole were impressive: 7.54 inches at West Shokan and 8.22 at Phoenicia.
- National Weather Service

10/1 - Kowawese, HRM 59: There had been storm winds overnight and a tidal surge from tropical storm Nicole. The river had risen over the beach, across the flood plain, and into the tree line. In the Mid-Hudson region, Nicole left us with 6.60 inches of rain. Adding to this delightfully wild scene were a half-dozen spotted sandpipers, in winter plumage, trying to find the water's edge to feed.
- Tom Lake

10/1 - Chester, Orange County, HRM 50: Looking out the window in the early morning, I saw two mature white-tail bucks locking racks and tussling one another. They seemed to be playing at it, stopping and starting.
- Jerome Spector

10/1 - Yorktown Heights, HRM 43: Perhaps the last hummer? I spotted a female hummingbird happily feeding in late afternoon.
- Helle Raheem

10/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Driving to Croton Point I spotted an avian stampede: a peregrine falcon was slicing through a flock of pigeons. No feathers flew, so maybe it was just testing them. A few minutes later, as I hiked up the hill toward the oak grove, a merlin blasted into a locust top that held scores of starlings. Again, no feathers. At the base of the landfill there seemed to be a kestrel [that made three falcons!] on every well marker, with more in the air. They were feasting on the wing, on cabbage whites and similarly-sized sulphur butterflies, taking a break now and then to bother the several harriers coursing the marsh and meadows.
- Christopher Letts

10/2 - Tivoli, HRM 101.5: On a perfectly windy day, while on a barn tour beginning at Kaatsbaan in Tivoli, we spotted an adult bald eagle along with what appeared to be a smaller "immature" bald eagle soaring in wide circles overhead. Through the entire day we saw hawks and eagles soaring about so high in the sky.
- Roberta S. Jeracka, Joanne Engle


[By the time young birds take flight, they are similar in size to their parents. A buteo, such as a red-tailed hawk, can sometimes be confused as being an "immature" eagle. Tom Lake.]

10/2 - Croton Point to Englewood, NJ, HRM 35-13: My high daily count on monarchs so far this season had been six. But in my travels today I saw forty: first nectaring on Croton Point; then lofting over the Tappan Zee Bridge and following the Palisades Interstate Parkway south; and later drifting across the flats at Englewood Boat Basin. It was not a great showing, but a delight nevertheless.
- Christopher Letts

10/2 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: I keep an eel pot in the Hudson River off the 79th Street Boat Basin to collect fish and other aquatics for my students at Elisabeth Morrow Elementary in Englewood, NJ. Hot dogs often work well and today the pot produced a foot-long oyster toadfish!
- Leslie Day

[These are a handsome fish, a bottom dweller, with strong sharp teeth that they use to crush shellfish. They are also called oyster crackers or, as Dery Bennett used to remind us, "sally growlers." They are quite common in the salty and brackish waters of the lower estuary and New York Harbor; adult oyster toads are renowned as territorial nesters with a variety of vocalizations - whistles and grunts. Tom Lake.]

10/3 - Lake Luzerne, HRM 206: We had 5-7 inches of rain in the region across two days last week. This caused the National Weather Service's Hudson River flood stage at Hadley to reach "Action Stage" two days ago, peaking twelve hours later. There was some minor flooding on the river between Lake Luzerne and Corinth. Quite a bit of debris consisting mainly of tree branches and partial trees could be seen regularly on the river yesterday. I also saw a white plastic table and part of a dock float by. The water level was approaching normal by late in the day on today.
- Mike Meyer

10/3 - Beacon, HRM 61: Steve Seymour kindly alerted me to a moose in Beacon. In mid-afternoon I found the moose, a male or bull, taking a respite, bedded down just south of the city, just north of Fishkill Creek, in a forest of mixed hardwoods. As I stepped around some multi-flora rose and the moose came into view a short distance away, my first impression was that of an animal "out of place." The moose was immense even from 100 feet away. While they can weigh up to 1,300 lb., this one appeared to be somewhat less. Still, I thought, "mega-fauna," a term paleontologist use to describe the huge mammals that lived in the Hudson Valley 12,000 years ago, such as mastodonts, mammoths, elk-moose, and moose. His head was the size of an ice chest and his antlers were like a roof rack on an automobile. It was very "Pleistocene." Later, a white-tailed deer browsed past; neither the deer nor the moose seemed to acknowledge the other. The deer looked small by comparison, almost like a lawn ornament.
- Tom Lake, Beverly Whalen

[This moose had been reported a few days earlier near White Pond in Putnam County, then yesterday near the river in southern Dutchess County moving generally in a west, northwest direction. It is speculated that the moose has wandered over from western Connecticut. Managing a moose on the move focuses on trying to steer it from heavily populated areas. Moose are not normally aggressive, however, they can be very aggressive when hungry, tired or harassed by people, pets, and traffic.

When Europeans first arrived in the Hudson Valley 400 years ago, moose were common. Although infrequent, there have been documented moose sightings in the upper Hudson Valley and High Peaks area of Essex County for the last decade or more. Along the estuary, however, they are still uncommon to rare. The source of moose in our watershed appears to be small populations in western New England, Vermont and northern Massachusetts. Tom Lake.]

10/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Wild celery was piling up on the beaches. After the rains, some of the turf grass was greening, but the sere fields of mugwort, goldenrod, and milkweed were browned to a crisp. Among the migrant songbirds today were northern flickers, mockingbirds, robins, and several flocks of common grackles. Up on the landfill more than a dozen kestrels were hunting, and being hunted by that dark thug, the merlin. They are so quick - flip-flip-flip, in and out, leaving chaos in their wake.
- Christopher Letts

10/4 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: A male red-bellied woodpecker landed on the roof of the kiosk at the access road to the public canoe launch. It climbed around until it found the proper roof shingle and tucked an acorn underneath to store for winter.
- Nicole Vente

10/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: Following the deluge from Nicole in the watershed, the river was the color of café-au-lait (coffee with milk) and running hard to seaward on the ebb.
- Tom Lake

10/4 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 61: During the night the moose moved north, northeast into the Town of Fishkill, away from densely populated areas, where its exact location was lost.
- Matt Merchant

[In 1994, the first year of the Almanac, we received a note from a librarian in Newcomb, Essex County, with a simple, albeit cryptic, message: "Moose, big, big moose!" Until now I was unable to fully appreciate the clarity of those few words.

Moose are found in circumpolar regions from North American to Asia. Like white-tail deer, moose are browsers. While they prefer aquatic and marsh plants, they will also eat grass, lichens, plants growing on the forest floor, peeled-off bark and leaves from willows and poplars. According to the literature, moose can weigh up to 1300 lb. Tom Lake.]

10/4 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: With a storm surge, spitting rain, and a school bus full of Yonkers second graders, it was not exactly a winning hand. But the savvy teacher and half a dozen can-do parents saved the day: The big rain had sent down many tons of heavy debris. One huge wharf timber had gone out with the ebb and systematically taken out every one of the handrails on the fishing pier at the Englewood Boat Basin, installed in the 1930's by WPA workers. The entire parking lot was flooded. But, helping hands got the students safely to the beach, and the seine went in. My partner and I wallowed into the chop dragging the net. It wasn't the haul we wished for. Just ahead of disaster from drifting logs, we landed the seine filled with anchovies, silversides, peanut bunker, pipefish, shrimp, two fat hogchokers, a foot-long eel, and a dozen blue crabs, from tiny half-inchers up to #1 jimmies. We moved to the picnic tables to examine and talk about our catch. What could they take back, what could they keep, in their five gallon classroom tank? That turned out to be three killifish and a handsome piece of driftwood covered with mussels, barnacles, and two spat oyster. The kids were naming them as they left.
- Christopher Letts

[The jargon of blue crab size (carapace width) among crabbers: Jumbos are the biggest and the best of the catch, the prime market crab (more than 7"); #1 jimmies are the next largest crab and most commonly caught size (more than 6"); #2 are smaller crabs but marketable; the minimum market size (5-5½"); throwbacks are less than 5."]

10/5 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The great blue heron "sentinels" spread out on deadfalls up the tidal Wappinger last week had been replaced by a similar number of gorgeously white great egrets. They perched on the lower limbs of creek-side trees on high tide and hunted the shallows at low tide.
- Tom Lake

10/5 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 61: There was no further word on the moose whereabouts - a good sign. There have been three moose sightings along the estuary in the last five years, including two in 2009: September 2005 at Tivoli North Bay (river mile 100); September 2009 at North Germantown (river mile 109); and November 2009 (same animal?) at Wicopee (river mile 61), not far from the present moose.
- Tom Lake

10/5 - Yorktown Heights, HRM 43: This must be the last hummer! Unperturbed by the rain, a female ruby-throated hummingbird was back at my feeder today.
- Helle Raheem

10/5 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The landfill was lively this morning with kestrels everywhere, a dozen in sight at one time. I saw three Cooper's hawks in the same tree and northern harriers were rocking and rolling in their morning hunt. I am not seeing much in the way of songbirds other than blue jays and robins. The high point of the morning was a raven flyover, a bird I see but rarely at this site.
- Christopher Letts

10/5 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Storm surge had sent the river over the seawall and across the parking lot at the boat basin. It was a wet proposition reaching the fishing pier but a couple of adventurous anglers were already there. In the hour that I watched, they caught two three-foot-long striped bass on cut menhaden or "bunker." Salinity has dropped precipitously in the last couple of weeks. Prior to Hurricane Earl in September, it was 18 parts-per-thousand [ppt]; prior to tropical storm Nicole it was 12 ppt; today it was down to 8.0 ppt. The river was 67 degrees Fahrenheit, and falling.
- Tom Lake

10/6 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: I saw a great egret at the edge of a pond in one of the condo communities this evening. Since I had not seen it here before, I figured that it must be heading south.
- Phyllis Marsteller

10/6 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: There are few better ways to create a "Wow!" moment for elementary school students than to unveil a two-foot-long American eel. The eel pots I set in the river often provide a ready supply of catch-show-and-release eels for education. Since Nicole, however, eels have been scarce. Today, the only pot that contained the prime bait, "Friskies Ocean Feast," was filled with gorgeous, little 4-6-inch-long channel catfish. They swam around in my bucket, with contrasting shades of light and dark gray, all speckles, whiskers and grace. Since I was heading south into brackish water I decided that these little freshwater gems would be happier here, so I tipped the bucket over and they splashed back into the river.
- Tom Lake

10/6 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: For the second morning running, a raven croaked its way overhead. At least two dozen kestrels were on the landfill and several harriers as well.
- Christopher Letts

10/6 - Englewood , NJ, HRM 13.5: Seining has not been wonderful this fall for mostly weather-related reasons. Today our catch included one large white perch, one very large blue crab and a score of tiny ones, a few shore shrimp and several dozen little silver fish (bay anchovy, silverside, herring). By the time we had stretched the net to dry and gathered at picnic tables to discuss the catch, the large blue crab had moulted, right there in the bucket, and was now a soft-shell crab. The children were impressed.
- Christopher Letts

10/7 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67: Now that we may have reported our last hummingbird of the season, it is time to consider how much longer we will see monarchs. Generally the first "killing frost" of autumn marks the beginning of the end for those who have not made it past. Today was a "flight day" and I counted 14 busily on their way south.
- Tom Lake

10/7 - Croton River, HRM 34: Gino Garner [one of the Boyz at the Bridge] tells of bluefish up to 14 lb. and increasingly large striped bass. The bottom of the river is crawling with big blue crabs, a truly banner year for these feisty crustaceans.
- Christopher Letts

10/7 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Monarchs were fluttering bye at the rate of 15 per hour. The second graders from Yonkers watched as two osprey climbed a thermal to harry an adult bald eagle. Lots of Cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and turkey vultures were moving down the Palisades. The pier anglers had 37 to 40-inch striped bass on their stringers. Thanks to the remnants of Nicole, salinity continues to drop.
- Christopher Letts

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