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Hudson River Almanac October 16 - October 23, 2010

OVERVIEW

Our natural history entries this week include a few more from the Day in the Life of the River on October 14. The arrival of winter birds, from raptors to waterfowl to songbirds, continues to signal the change of seasons.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/21 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: I went to open the front door this morning and found two black vultures perched on my front porch rail. As I opened the door, they flew down into the front yard where they walked around for a few minutes before walking away. From their droppings (and the tracks they made walking through those droppings) it was obvious that they had landed in the front yard, hopped up the front steps, lingering a while there, then walked across the porch and hopped up onto the rail.

- David Lund

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/14 - Hudson River Valley: A Day in the Life of the Hudson River. On this day, some 70 student groups, totaling about 3,000 students, headed to the Hudson River to sample and observe in order to learn firsthand from this piece of our ecosystem. Students from Breezy Point and Jamaica Bay, south of the Verrazano Bridge, to Lock 5 in Schuylerville, north of the Troy Dam, participated in this event.

Similarities and Differences:

HRM 18 -188: Great blue herons emerged to greet the samplers at several sites. At Beczak Environmental Center in Yonkers (river mile 18), a heron was rummaging in the marsh when the students arrived to sample; about 170 miles upriver in Schuylerville, a great blue checked out the student group as a flock of about 200 Canada geese took flight.

HRM 0-76: Tidal currents at Fort Wadsworth (eleven miles southeast of the Battery), under the Verrazano Bridge, were clipping along at 210 cm/sec at 10:00 AM while at the same time, 87 miles upriver in Poughkeepsie at the Children's Museum, the currents glided along at leisurely 6.6 cm/sec.

HRM 2-120: Oyster toadfish dominated the catch at The River Project in lower Manhattan while students at the Saugerties Light House, 100 miles upriver, found their net filled with spottail shiners.

HRM 61-116: Students at the Beacon Waterfront Park and at Cohotate, 55 miles upriver, both watched dense fog rise off the water as they began their sampling on the river. Around 10:30 AM, the sun broke through the mist for a brief visit only to be overtaken by clouds at lunch time as a storm descended on the area by late afternoon.

HRM 25-30: Students at Piermont and Nyack Memorial Park measured salinity levels that made them question their sampling technique, equipment, and where they had placed their decimal points! Students had projected 7.0-8.0 parts-per-thousand [ppt] salinity based on prior year's sampling data, only to find actual salinity levels of less than 1.0 (0.85 ppt at Piermont ; 0.7 ppt at Nyack). The low levels were the result of recent heavy rains in the watershed.

- Margie Turrin

10/14 - Brooklyn, New York City: We had rough, windy weather for our Day in the Life of the Hudson River at Canarsie Pier. Whitecaps were breaking across the bay and the tide was coming in so strongly that it uprooted one of our tide sticks, tumbling it back to shore. Our seining catch was slim, containing only blue crabs and comb jellies - no fish. The students were more interested in the enormous horseshoe crab shell we found along the beach - nearly 16 inches wide - so large that one student asked if it was the shell of a turtle. Then there was the great egret that calmly stalked through the bending reeds. Ultimately, the forbidding clouds held off and the students enjoyed a full day of fieldwork along the water.

- Ann Pedtke

[One of the best ways to demonstrate tidewater on a beach is to insert a tide stick at the water's edge and then observe, over time, as the water "moves" in or out, up or down, depending on the tide. Tom Lake.]

10/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The High Peaks were white with snow from the weekend. In northern Essex County, the towns even had their snowplows out.

- Ellen Rathbone

10/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: We were exhausted from clearing the recent blowdowns on the Wappinger Greenway Trail. We were lugging chainsaws, loppers and safety equipment when we were rewarded with the site of a small flock of wild turkeys. They amused us by easily sprinting around the brush and up the terrain we so struggled to clear.

- Frank Barresi, Wilfredo Chaluisant

10/16 - Ossining, HRM 33: Gino Garner caught a foot-long-plus oyster toadfish in one of his crab pots today. That is about as big as we ever see them.

- Christopher Letts

10/16 - Manhattan, HRM 5: As I was heading toward my Metro North train on Track 38 at Grand Central Terminal (underground), I spotted a monarch butterfly on the platform. He likely hitchhiked into the city on the commuter train.

- Hugh McLean

10/17 - Wynantskill, HRM 149: Walking in a field I spotted two black vultures fly over. They appeared to join a small kettle of other vultures that were too far away to tell if they were black or turkey vultures. The moral: Always bring binoculars! These were the first black vultures I'd ever seen, even though I know their range is moving north.

- George Wilson

10/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: While enjoying a beautiful October afternoon in our "back 40," a sharp-shinned hawk arrived like a cruise missile with folded wings and all business. Shortly thereafter we heard frantic vocalizations and watched our resident red-bellied woodpecker flying for his life. The normal rolling flight pattern was gone; it was replaced by arches, dips and anything else to throw off the pursing raptor. It was over in fifteen seconds - the sharpie sitting in a maple wondering what happened to lunch; the red-bellied flying (and calling) in the opposite direction into thick canopy. We had ten raptors migrate over the yard today and a red fox cross the yard only twenty feet away. Later in the afternoon, we were visited by a red-breasted nuthatch - first one in several years.

- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart

10/17 - Cornwall, HRM 58: The sunlit yellow hues of autumn were helped this morning by a lone male evening grosbeak. The visit was a bit early for this winter finch!

- Bob Kakerbeck

10/17 - Orange County, HRM 36: As I walked in Sterling Forest this weekend, bright sunlight streamed through the gold, red, and green trees and reflected off the fallen yellow leaves, giving a sense of walking through yellow light. It was quite a magical October experience.

- Mary Yrizarry

10/17 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: This was definitely a raptor day! We spotted a beautiful red-tailed hawk sitting on one of the landfill field markers. The tail was a strong rufous color and the underparts looked almost pure white. The red-tail stayed there for a long time, blowing a little in the strong breeze. We also watched a northern harrier for at least ten minutes hunting across the landfill, flying very slowly and occasionally appearing to hover a couple of feet off the ground. There were plenty of other birds around, too, but the raptors stole the show. Now we just have to wait for the eagles and the owls to arrive.

- Steve Butterfass, Susan Butterfass

10/17 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: It was early afternoon at the landfill when I spotted two small falcons, kestrels, perched on nearby field markers. One of them dove and caught something, then flew back to the pole and started eating. Later, as I walked up to the top, an immature bald eagle flew overhead being chased by a red-tailed hawk. In the same binocular field-of-view, two sharp-shinned hawks circled above them. With those four raptors still in sight, a Cooper's hawk entered, giving me five in the same view. While I'm still catching my breath after this awesome sight, a female northern harrier flew low across the landfill not twenty feet in front of me.

- Helle Raheem

10/17 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Three days into an onslaught of heavy north-northwest winds, the river was just not doing what the tide table predicted. In fact, our seining program was cancelled almost two hours before the fact. Blowout tides had struck; the water was blown offshore and down the river. We cannot seine mud flats. A steady stream of migrating songbirds was passing through; kinglets, warblers, flickers, sparrows, winter wrens, all catching the last train out of town.

- Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

10/17 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Anglers fishing off the seawall at the boat basin were grumping, one and all, about "oyster crackers" taking their expensive bait (marine worms). From Haverstraw Bay to the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, oyster toadfish were having a breakout year. Some combination of environmental and ecological conditions have come together to favor a population increase. Given the vagaries of an estuary, there is no guarantee that it will last.

- Tom Lake

10/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Even though peak fall color in the High Peaks occurred nearly two weeks ago, there was still color, golds and russets, looking great in a golden glow as the sun set - practically molten.

- Ellen Rathbone

10/18 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: A strong push of migrating passerines [songbirds] kept me entertained for the past few days. Kestrels were still working the landfill, though fewer in the past week. I had not seen any harriers here for a week and suspect that the kestrels were staying for just a day or two, and then being replaced by later migrants. Although the winds have scoured fully half of the leaves off the trees at home, five miles northeast, color change is barely perceptible here. Is it the warm river influence? Recent weather changes, most notably heavy rains, are being blamed for the fact that bluefish and striped bass fishing have dropped off to zero since the middle of last week.

- Christopher Letts

10/18 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The northwest winds continued, and once again it was impossible to put a net in the water due to the minus tides occurring a good two hours ahead of the tide tables. Still, the visiting Yonkers schoolchildren had a solid hour of Hudson River fish programs, including mummichogs [killifish], shore shrimp, blue crabs, hogchokers, naked gobies, four-spine sticklebacks, white perch, and various sunfish. The passing procession of passerines continued; we looked in vain for monarchs. It has been almost a week since any have been spotted. Out on the stone fishing pier, a departing angler showed off two monster bluefish, a three-footer and another even longer. I picked up a three-inch long oyster in good condition on the beach. It had been newly separated from a wooden piling and still had wood fibers attached to the lower valve.

- Christopher Letts

10/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had some snow flurries, but nothing stuck. However, the High Peaks were still white. There was a real hard frost last night and this morning the world was all glittery.

- Ellen Rathbone

10/19 - Ossining, HRM 33: What a wonderful surprise we received as we approached the fence overlooking the river at Mariandale this afternoon. An adult bald eagle soared past us, almost at our eye level since we were up so high, and proceeded upriver. Later, an immature eagle flew into the trees along the railroad tracks. As if this weren't enough of a treat, a single monarch butterfly glided past, a straggler, and perhaps the last.

- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

10/19 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: For the third day in a row, an unpredictable tide curtailed a beach seining program. According to the tidal variance, nearly perfected over more than 20 years of seining at this site, the time to put the net in the water was 11:15 AM. Instead, we found ourselves hurrying to seine to a point where it would have been impossible. The winds this morning were southwesterly but the effects of blowouts were still with us. The catch was meager but well received: two blue cabs, several young-of-the-year striped bass, a handful of spearing [silversides], and one bay anchovy.

- Christopher Letts

10/20 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: To our delight, we watched as thirteen hen wild turkeys crossed the road to one of their favorite feeding areas.

- Dianne Picciano, Kay Martens

10/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The Point was seething with small songbirds this morning; every bush and canopy was loaded with warblers, kinglets, and sparrows headed south. Harriers had departed the landfill but several kestrels were still on patrol. I always enjoy cedar waxwings, and small flocks of them are now present here every day. The blow last weekend piled the last of the wild celery in windrows on the beaches; seining is not going to be productive for the rest of the season, I'm afraid.

- Christopher Letts

10/20 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: Pop goes the Ruddy Duck! At lunchtime, we took a walk along the pier and noted our first ruddy ducks of the season. A small number were bobbing under water and back up in a regular sequence. We stood still to collect a count and each time we got a tally going one would pop down and another would pop up in a new location. After numerous attempts we decided we would never manage to get a true count, but there were at least 5 and it seemed probable there were more!

- Margie Turrin, Linda Pistolesi

10/21 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I was thinking of James Deetz's book, In Small Things Remembered, today as I sat in the soggy phragmites for a half an hour watching a black-crowned night heron feed along the receding tideline. With meticulous grace, he slowly stalked a school of killifish, stabbing the water with successful precision, holding them crossways in his bill so that I could see their iridescent bands. It was a small thing, the kind of moment that is often lost this time of the year with eagles pirating fish from osprey and ten-pound bluefish coming over the seawall. But it was the kind of moment that, when remembered, gives substance to the season.

- Tom Lake

10/22 - Knox, HRM 135: While eating our lunch we watched 15-20 wild turkeys wandering through our raised vegetable beds and around the hoop house pecking away at the remaining grasshoppers and then off around the pond and into the woods. Yesterday, we watched a small otter wander around the edges of that pond.

- Pat Price, Bob Price

10/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The dog and I both stopped, ears pricked. Here was a sound that we had not heard in a long time: Roger Tory Peterson's "tiny tin horn," a red-breasted nuthatch. Another "winter bird" had arrived.

- Tom Lake

10/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We woke to snow this morning - a lovely white world with a lovely pink sunrise!

- Ellen Rathbone

10/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: People tend to ascribe many odd occurrences to full moons. Tonight's was the "Hunter's Moon," in the parlance of Colonial America. At the height of the moon in the middle of the night, three coyotes leisurely crossed the yard and two barred owls, not 50 feet from the bedroom window, contributed synchronized calls. None of this was odd; indeed it was magical.

- Tom Lake

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