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Hudson River Almanac October 8 - October 15, 2010

OVERVIEW

The onset of fall color always reminds me of the stunningly colorful finale to a fireworks show. It cascades from north to south, from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks where peak color is past to the lower estuary where peak is just now arriving.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/10 - Valley Cottage, Rockland County, HRM 33: As I was driving to work I passed within a few feet of 8-9 turkey vultures clustered around something on the side of the road. Only one bird looked up as the traffic whizzed by. There's something about their size, color, and red heads that makes me shiver.

- Doug Maass

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/8 - New Windsor, HRM 60: Is it just me or are there a lot of stink bugs around this fall? They seem to be everywhere!

- Joanne Zipay

[The brown marmorated stink bug is an invasive species. Native to Asia, they were accidentally introduced into the United States in 1998 and are considered to be an agricultural pest. They become most noticeable when they make their way into homes and other structures as winter approaches. Tom Lake.]

10/8 - Croton Point, HRM 34: High-flyers were making wonderful goose music from on high, all morning long - flight after flight Canada geese. In the forest canopy, jays and robins were moving with purpose, nobody talking much, just getting on with that movement to the southwest point, jump off for the Palisades. See you in May!

- Christopher Letts

10/8 - Yonkers, HRM 18: We have caught young-of-the-year [YOY] oyster toadfish on three occasions this fall, the most recently was today. All have been about the same size, 30-40 millimeters [mm] in total length. The salinity of the river has been about eleven parts-per-thousand.

- Susan Juggernauth

10/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I have now lost count of the number of stink bugs that I have had to release out the door over the last week. At one point I was seeing 5-6 a day; now the number has increased. A stink bug was in the coffee maker this morning.

- Tom Lake

10/9 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Our annual night-seining program drew two dozen attendees. After sundown we walked along the beach with lanterns to a spot that seemed prime for netting. There, we hauled our 250' seine, built by Henry Gourdine, out into the dark of Croton Bay. We run this event rain or shine. One year we hauled during a tropical storm when the waves were crashing over the heads of the seiners, and yet ended up with one of our best catches. Night fishing with long nets is a tradition that began in the deep past of the Hudson Valley, probably thousands of years ago. More recently, commercial haul seiners fished Haverstraw Bay in the early to mid-20th century. On this night our catch was meager, mostly white perch and striped bass. But the magic of the show was the dark of night, the hiss of the lanterns, and recapturing a slice of history.

- Christopher Letts

["Henry's net" was built to exacting specifications: his own. He considered the one he made for us 19 years ago to be a "toy." Henry Gourdine of Ossining once built a 2,600-foot-long commercial haul seine that used a quarter-mile of head rope. One day, fifty-five years ago at Crawbuckie, Henry and his crew caught 14,000 pounds of American shad and striped bass. He was not altogether happy about the haul; it took the crew so long to weigh, box, and ice the fish that they missed the opportunity to set on the next tide. Christopher Letts]

10/10 - Feura Bush, Albany County, HRM 135: This afternoon I was hanging out laundry when I heard a familiar "honking." Way high in the sky was a huge V formation of Canada geese heading straight south. The migration was really on.

- Roberta S. Jeracka

10/10 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: We had our first frost last night coinciding with the arrival of the first juncos, a winter bird. We know what this means!

- Bill Drakert

10/10 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We headed out to Esopus Meadows Lighthouse this morning for one of the last volunteer work days. On the way out from the marina at Norrie Point, we saw an adult bald eagle flying near Staatsburg, a double-crested cormorant heading north, and four mute swans in the mud flats west of the lighthouse. We kept busy working in the lighthouse all day. On the return trip to Norrie Point, as we turned into the marina, a great egret flew off - the second one I've seen this week.

- Phyllis Marsteller, Ed Weber, John Ralston, Sam Pierce

10/10 - Manitou, HRM 46.5: We have been inundated with brown marmorated stink bugs around our house. However, we have a secret weapon. An eastern phoebe has been picking them off the sides of the house. He sits on a tomato stake or the back of a patio chair and watches for them. Then he flies in for the kill.

- Zsahwn Sullivan

10/10 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The first frost of the season had come overnight. It was a light one, to be sure, barely whitening the crests of the grassy tussocks in the low lying edges of the marsh. Loose flocks of blue jays streamed across the Point, following the canopy line for the most part. Robins were everywhere, clucking and "tut-tutting" as they foraged and flew, ever south and west. A peregrine made a pass at some prey in the canopy and then perched in the morning sun no more than 50 yards away, a rare close-up pose that I can call up from my memory even now.

- Christopher Letts

10/11 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: I saw a great egret on a pond here this morning, the third one I've seen in less than a week. I also saw my first junco this season, a small arrival to replace the great egret that is departing.

- Phyllis Marsteller

10/11 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: During a walk around the landfill, two immature bald eagles soared peacefully overhead. I have noticed them on several occasions. Periodically, two red-tailed hawks mobbed them over the course of an hour or so. Several kestrels hovered over the shrubs.

- Tony Ianniello

["Mobbing" is a cooperative activity that animals (usually birds) use to drive away potential threats. I've seen chickadees and other small birds team up when they find a black rat snake sliding around in a tree, so it's not just bird-to-bird. Red-winged blackbirds and others go after turkey vultures - no threat to them at all - so it seems like a compulsion. My favorite mobber is the Eastern kingbird. They chase away the threat, sometimes even landing on the backs of the larger bird, like a red-tailed hawk, and peck away. When successful, they flutter back to a favorite perch, chest out and exhilarated, chattering away. Eric Lind.]

10/12 - Saugerties, HRM 102: We've seen huge acorn production this year yet virtually no hickory or walnuts at all. I do not ever recall seeing that. Friends in Dutchess and other parts of Ulster County have seen similar. Others have seen plenty of hickory nuts but almost no acorns. I had no idea this varied on such a micro-regional level. I thought it followed much broader weather patterns.

- Dan Marazita.

[This is one of those observations that creep up on you. We have received many such reports since late summer of the abundant mast crop (acorns and other nuts). Individually they do not always register, but collectively they tell a story. My own driveway has been like a roller-rink with pin oak acorns and our colony of "collector" gray squirrels has been rivaled only by the stink bugs. Tom Lake.]

10/12 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: I took a walk along the tideline at dawn, mentally preparing for a school program later in the day. Mixed among the sand, gravel and cobbles at the end of the point was a small, round, palm-size piece of sandstone with an indentation pecked on two sides. This was a prehistoric stone net sinker, used by Algonquian people to anchor their nets, made of natural fiber cordage, as they fished (the top of their nets were likely buoyed by gourds). This was also Columbus Day, and I reflected on the myth of Columbus "discovering" America. There had been complex societies of indigenous people in the Americas for at least 400 generations before Columbus arrived.

- Tom Lake

10/12 - Little Stony Point, HRM 55: Cathy Law's New Paltz High School Advanced Placement Biology class helped us sample the shallows at Little Stony Point today to see who was home. The river was still a comfortable 63 degrees Fahrenheit and the salinity was near zero. Over the course of a dozen hauls of our seine we caught several hundred fish, the most notable of which were "giant" spottail shiners, many reaching 130 mm total length. We also managed to capture three species of seaward-migrating herring: YOY alewives, blueback herring, and American shad. Some of the shad were spectacular, as large as I have ever seen this time of the year at 115-120 mm total length.

- Charlotte Bloom, Brian Busby, Fiona Robbins, Rebecca Houser, Tom Lake

[Spottail shiners were first described by De Witt Clinton in 1824 between his two terms as the seventh and ninth governor of New York State. Although these minnows are found throughout much of northern mid-America, as well as on the Atlantic slope, their scientific name, Notropis hudsonius, denotes them as being of the Hudson River. Tom Lake.]

10/13 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: I spotted a pair of semipalmated plovers along the water's edge at Steamboat Landing. They gave me enough time to take notes on field marks and then rush home to consult my field guide.

- Viki Goldberg

10/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: American pipits had returned; a flock of nearly 100 foraged on the slope of the landfill. Black ducks had also returned to the marsh. There was a modest flight of monarchs, perhaps 6 per hour all day.

- Christopher Letts

[Water pipits have been "split" into two distinct species: the water pipit (Anthus spinosa) of Eurasia, and the American pipit (Anthus rubescens) of our world. Ours is a unique species, descendants of some ancestral colonists long ago. Their constant tail-wagging mannerism gives name to their family group Motacillidae, from the Latin, motacilla, meaning "wagtail." They get their common name from their flight call: repeated "pip-it pip-it." In migration, they're a bird of the open grasslands, such as the Croton Point landfill cover, and can occur in flocks of a dozen or more. Rich Guthrie.]

10/13 - State Line Lookout, Palisades Interstate Park, HRM 18: While on my lunch hour, I ran in to Stiles Thomas and John Perkins who were hawk watching. They were having a great couple of hours. The most notable sightings were two low flying red-shouldered hawks. Before I had to leave, we had another adult and an immature red-shoulder fly over.

- Linda Pistolesi

10/14 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: This was year eight for the "Day in the Life of the Hudson River" program, formerly known as "Snapshot Day." Over the years, student and volunteer participation has increased to over 3,000 people at sixty estuary sites. Today we had four classes of fourth graders from Sheafe Road Elementary, about 100 students, to help us measure one day in the life of the river.

Near low tide, leaves alongshore were drifting upriver while those farther out in current were steadily drifting downriver. In the Algonquian language of the original residents of the area, this was "Mahicanituk," generally translated as "the river that flows both ways." This phenomenon is not an illusion, but rather is caused by the physics of water depth and current velocity. The river was 61 degrees Fahrenheit while the water exiting the nearby Fall Kill was 53 degrees.

Seining in the shallows just off the shoreline rip-rap, through the last of the wild celery, we caught seven species, primarily YOY fish, including largemouth bass, striped bass, bluegills, pumpkinseed, white perch, spottail shiners, an American eel, and a half-dozen baby blue crabs the size of pennies and nickels.

- Jen Rubbo, Ethan Kravitz,Violet Kravitz, Jenna DiMarzo, Melissa Zeffer, Simone Kukla, Kate Daley

10/14 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: White-throated sparrows and juncos, winter birds, had returned. In a mixed flock of sparrows, I saw several white-crowned sparrows, a lovely bird that I see only during migration at this site.

- Christopher Letts

10/14 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The Beczak Environmental Education Center participated in the annual "Day in the Life of the Hudson" program with Saunders Technical School of Yonkers. As I walked down the beach with the students, I was very pleased to see our "resident" great blue heron wading in our marsh. It is always a wonderful sighting when I see the great blue, but on this occasion it was especially awakening for the students to see such an incredible looking bird right here in Yonkers. None of them had ever seen a great blue heron before and they thought it was pretty cool to see something other than a gull or a Canada goose. It just goes to show how important this event is in the lives of our students.

- Susan Juggernauth

10/15 - Wappinger Lake, HRM 67.5: Scanning the shoreline of the shallow lake, essentially Wappinger Creek above the falls and tidewater, I counted seven great egrets. This has been a good season for sighting these beautiful white herons in migration. Overhead, two separate skeins of Canada geese were high-flying, their calls barely audible.

- Tom Lake

10/15 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Yesterday we lived in a woods suffused with a warm yellow-orange glow. Most of that is gone this morning. An inch and a half of heavy rain and strong winds pulled most of the color off the branches and onto the ground. Sigh.

- Christopher Letts

10/15 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I was visiting friends whose house is in a grove of healthy, mature oak. Conversation was difficult because of the loud, non-stop "attack of the acorns" on the roof. The constant sharp clatter must make trying to sleep a challenge; it sure made the visit nerve-wracking!

- Robin Fox

10/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35: This has been a frustrating seining season for school programs, with weather and holidays getting in the way of the best tides. But it has been a sovereign year for shrimp as the opened net pulses with shrimp after most hauls. These are a mix of shore shrimp (Palaemonetes) and sand shrimp (Crangon) but we tell the students that they are "popcorn shrimp." It has been an amazing year for four-spine sticklebacks as well. After years of seeing none, or only a few, as many as two dozen come in with one haul of the net through beds of submerged aquatic vegetation. I point out their elegant appearance, the delicious green-and-gold pigmentation, and announce that I will have earrings made from two of the fish, and wear them to all seining programs. Small herring are showing up in the net in the best numbers in a half a dozen years. Small American shad are conspicuous by their absence, and YOY striped bass are fewer and larger than usual.

- Christopher Letts

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