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Hudson River Almanac October 23 - October 31, 2010

OVERVIEW

Peak fall foliage has passed and in most areas the leaves are ready to go. When they finally fall, it is like a curtain coming down at the end of a stage performance and we begin the countdown to spring. This was a week of notable sightings: a "white" turkey vulture, a bobcat and kittens, and the rare sighting of a cave swallow, a stray from the Deep South.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/23 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Since the landfill vegetation has been cut so low, Bedford Audubon's Tait Johansson doubted we would see many sparrows on our bird trip. He was right; the number of sparrow species was considerably below what we recorded around the same time last year. But other sightings made up for the diminished number of sparrows. Several flocks of American pipits flew low over the landfill. Kestrel, red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, northern harrier and an adult bald eagle were spotted, and ruddy ducks and black ducks were swimming in the inlet. The highlight, however, was a cave swallow circling above the meadows, slowly enough to catch in the scope. This Texas native was a "lifer" for most of the participants.
- Helle Raheem

[The cave swallow is a locally common swallow of Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean. True to its name, it often roosts and nests inside the entrances to caves, sharing the space with bats. Roger Tory Peterson described the cave swallow as an "Accidental from the Tropics," a stray in our area. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.]

[Adding "lifers" to a "life list" is a common activity for many naturalists. Typically these are compilations of related species, like postcards from one's travels through life. Some people keep bird lists, for others it is fish, flowers, insects, mushrooms, fungi. Anyone can keep a list of almost anything that ultimately gives them a context and appreciation for the natural world. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: The Boyz at the Bridge were all abuzz about today's catch - a 32 lb. striped bass and a 17 lb. bluefish - bragging fish for the night.
- Christopher Letts

10/24 - Cheviot, HRM 106: At low tide this morning, an adult bald eagle landed on the jetty, sat there for a few minutes and then flew on up river, flying low over the still water. His white markings reflected in the dark gray river. It was beautiful.
- Jude Holdsworth

10/24 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: I was driving along Old Post Road on the north end of Mills-Norrie State Park this evening when I caught a glimpse in the dusky light of a bird flying above my car over the road. It passed and landed in a brush lot of grey dogwood and goldenrod, where a second look confirmed it to be a woodcock. While hiking in the past I have flushed other singular birds in this location during migration.
- Daniel Seymour

10/24 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Sixty percent of the leaves were down and one windshield scraping frost later, I had to deal with the annual leaf disposal chore. In mid-afternoon, a lone female monarch wafted past. I leaned on my leaf blower, thought of August tomatoes, and wished her Godspeed and following winds.
- Christopher Letts

10/24 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The Point was seething with birds this morning, including warblers, finches, sparrows - sparrows - sparrows, and at least three flocks of pipits totaling well over 300 birds. A glorious male harrier, several immature bald eagles, and kestrels were overhead.
- Christopher Letts

10/24 - Croton on Hudson HRM 34: A great blue heron just landed on the fence around our pool, sat there for five minutes looking around, jumped from the fence to the deck of the pool, walked a short distance, and then took off in flight over the Hudson River. He looked very tall and large in surroundings more familiar to smaller birds. We often see herons and egrets at Black Rock and along the Croton River but this is the first time one visited our yard. It was a wonderful guest!
- Dan Ferguson, Bev Ferguson

10/24 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Interns Jeff Montes and Aron Roson were dismantling some floats that we had used for a turbidity study at the mouth of the Saw Mill River when they saw that the wood in the submerged portion of the float had been bored by teredos, or "shipworms." The wood was easy to break open in its weakened condition and we could dig out the "worms." A piece of pressure-treated lumber in the float was not bored. It has been speculated that as water quality in the Hudson improves, the shipworms would return.
- Bob Walters

[Shipworms (Bankia gouldi) are actually a bivalve mollusk - a boring clam. They are commonly referred to as the "termites of the sea." There was a time in the Hudson, particularly in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, where the poor water quality would not support these mollusks. They have returned and are a significant problem for wooden piers and pilings on New York City's waterfront. Tom Lake.]

10/25 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Not long after sunrise a slight breeze diminished and the river went flat calm. The brilliant fall foliage of northern Orange county, the reds and golds of oaks, maples, and cottonwoods, were replicated in a perfect mirror image on the water.
- Tom Lake

10/25 - Bear Mountain, HRM 45.5: During a hawk watch up on Bear Mountain, we watched and photographed a leucistic vulture. It was among a group of 37 mixed black and turkey vultures. The longer tail and pronounced dihedral told us this one was a turkey vulture. From our angle, the bird appeared almost pure white. On photos we took, however, it did show a little gray on the underside of the wings. It truly looked like the proverbial rose among the thorns - gorgeous! We watched it fly over Peekskill, then north towards Highland Falls, and then back to the south. It remained over Dunderberg for quite a while with its "kettle" before heading south.
- Sharon Baker, David Baker

[Leucism is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird's feathers. As a result, the birds do not have the normal, classic plumage colors listed in field guides, and instead look faint, diluted or bleached - their plumage white overall white with little or no color discernable. Leucism affects only the bird's feathers, and typically only those with melanin pigment - usually dark feathers. Birding.about.com]

10/26 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: I just came in from sitting on the deck on this late-summer-like afternoon. A pair of black vultures "thermaled" past, north to south. Not that long ago, black vultures would have been a very rare sighting in Ulster County, but not now!
- Bill Drakert

10/26 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Like an echo of summer, the air temperature was 77 degrees and the inshore shallows were still warm at 61 degrees Fahrenheit. A strong south wind was pushing the tide creating a high-energy zone just a few feet off the beach. That is where we netted scores of young-of-the-year striped bass 50-140 millimeters [mm] long.Three anglers on Plum Point were catching similar-sized striped bass, and getting frustrated because the small fish were gobbling up their expensive bait (blood worms, Glycera sp.).
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/26 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Good numbers of songbirds were moving through - raptors as well. A lone osprey was nice to see on my morning walk. Autumnal changes were apparent in the golden grape vines, crimson sumac, and bare branches of cottonwoods.
- Christopher Letts

10/27 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: I was approaching the Bear Mountain traffic circle this afternoon when I noticed an oddity among a half dozen circling turkey vultures - one was white! It was probably not a true albino as there was some light gray on the under wings; but unique nonetheless. It may be at a disadvantage if it stays north for the winter since turkey vultures rely on their dark coloration to absorb the sun's heat and give them a "jump start" on cold mornings.
- Stephen M. Seymour

10/27 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: A week with temperatures in the 70s had been a gift. Raspberries and tomatoes were still yielding fruit of good quality though in much diminished quantity. A monster cold front sweeping across the country will end that a couple of days from now. When the first advanced edge struck, the winds woke me. The maple leaves were falling so thickly on the roof that it sounded like heavy rain. This morning, the ship of autumn is running under bare poles, and the ground beneath our maples is thickly carpeted with fallen gold.
- Christopher Letts

10/27 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The myriad small passerines that were such a joy yesterday were gone today. There must have been a huge avian exodus overnight. Just one kestrel was left, lord of all the hunting perches on the landfill. There were no harriers. The exception was robins - many hundreds of them, everywhere I walked, foraging in fields and woods, taking up the next big phase in their journey crossing Haverstraw Bay. Flocks of cedar waxwings were feeding in trees and shrubs and vines, their net movement always south and west, toward the jump off spot on Sarah's Point. A single monarch beat ineffectually, blown back by the strong southwesterlies, and finally settling on a butterfly bush that still bore blooms, and I hoped, nectar to fuel the monarch on the next leg of its journey.
- Christopher Letts

10/28 - Hamilton County, HRM 218: It was an overcast day with an air temperature of 53 degrees F. While walking on the east side of Piseco Lake I spotted an unidentified dragonfly patrolling a stand of conifers. I didn't expect to see one this far north and this late in the season. In the evening, when the air had chilled somewhat and the sun had long since set, a red fox was busy making its rounds in the darkened southern Adirondack woods.
- Ed Spaeth

10/28 - Columbia County, HRM 120: A little north of the Mill Creek Lewis A. Swyer Preserve, I saw an adult bald eagle flying over the river. Photosynthesis has ceased, chloroplasts have disintegrated, and the pigments that were there right along, purples, reds, oranges, and yellows have had a few fall days to themselves.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

10/28 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Fall colors were busting out all over at Norrie Point. While seining with Tom Lynch's Marist College ecology class, we caught a baker's dozen of fish and crustacean species, including a very large spiny-cheeked crayfish. An adult male blue crab came up missing 5 of its 10 legs, including both front claws, but still lively. This year's crop of gizzard shad was visiting the cove. We caught a handful of the bullet-nosed herring, like silver leaves in the seine among the red and gold. A few days ago the crew from Dutchess Community College caught several dozen, as well as a 34-inch northern pike that might have been snacking on them!
- Chris Bowser

10/28 - Chelsea, HRM 65: A heavy, well-defined fog bank covered the middle of the river as a raft of Canada geese settled along the shore at dawn. I quickly counted forty. How many more were there? It was hard to tell; the raft extended out and was swallowed up by the fog bank.
- Tom Lake

10/28 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 47: As we were cruising slowly along a less traveled road we spotted a "cat" running across the macadam in front of us. We quickly realized that it was a bobcat. When it reached the far side, it sat on top of a boulder and stared at us. We stopped and watched, wondering why it had not simply run off. In a moment our question was answered as three bobcat kittens bounded across the road following Mom. Once she had her brood in tow, she was gone and disappeared into the forest. What a great way to end a beautiful day!
- Sharon Baker, David Baker

10/28 - Manitou, HRM 46.5: A large kettle of vultures circled overhead this afternoon, a mix of black and turkey vultures. Among them was a white vulture, possibly an albino. It was too high to tell if which species it was, but if I had to guess, I would say it was a black vulture. Earlier, when they were lower, the tail seemed on the short side, possibly indicating a black vulture.
- Zsahwn Sullian

10/28 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: It was a morning low tide and hundreds of black ducks were sprinkled over the bay, from the mouth of the Croton River south nearly to Ossining. Many were "tipped up" feeding, or dabbling. A dozen assorted herons and egrets lined the beach at Crawbuckie, always stalking.
- Tom Lake

10/29 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: Fourth and fifth grade students from Krieger Elementary school braved the chilly weather to begin a pilot program "A River through the Seasons." Students will observe and sample the river from the Mid Hudson Children's Museum in each season, making comparisons through water samples and seining. Today, 57 students caught five species of fish: striped bass, spottail shiners, tessellated darters, bluegills, and pumpkinseed sunfish.
- Rebecca Houser

10/29 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 52: American black ducks wheeled above the marsh in small flocks, wings flickering against the blue sky and sun-orange hills. It was like peeking through a keyhole back into time when the valley was truly wild. It's an illusion, sure... but still beautiful to see.
- Eric Lind

10/29 - Westchester County, HRM 30: Walking in Rockefeller State Park, we had a remarkable experience with pileated woodpeckers. Rockefeller is a great place to see them, but this was unprecedented. One took off from a tree trunk beside Swan Lake, just a few feet away, and flew off down the trail at eye level, calling. Then, a little further along, a pair was sidling up and down a tree trunk. The male displayed by flicking his wings, and then the two of them went through a ritual, pretending to peck at each other while making chuckling sounds. As we watched, a third flew in to the next tree, and then a fourth onto yet another nearby trunk. For a couple of minutes, we were watching four huge, beautiful woodpeckers in plain sight in a single view. (A red-bellied woodpecker joined the crowd, but he couldn't compete.)
- Joe Wallace, Sharon AvRutick

10/30 - Sandy Hook, NJ: As the sun set behind me, flock after flock of brant passed overhead from the open ocean to inland bays for the night. Brant are a small goose closely related to the Canada goose and like Canadas, they can fly at night. As darkness fell and the headlamps came on, anglers were catching two-foot-long striped bass in the swell more than 100 feet off the beach.
- Tom Lake

[One of the joys of life for Dery Bennett was marking the return of brant to Sandy Hook in mid-October from their Arctic breeding grounds. Tom Lake.]

10/31 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: The inshore bay at Denning's Point, covered all summer with mats of water chestnut, was now open. Earlier in the day I was getting light, bait-stealing bites, and finally caught one of the apparent culprits, a golden shiner about 6 inches long. Later I caught, weighed, and released a 9 lb. 15 oz carp.
- Bill Greene

10/31 - Monmouth County, NJ: Dawn was quick and modest in its reach of the horizon, but most notable because it was bright pink. The sun, at the moment it peeked above the water, was a deep reddish-pink. Within a few minutes it turned to yellow. During that time, however, it occurred to me how appropriate the pink sunrise was. This was the final dawn on the last day of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the nearly fluorescent pink sky was a fitting reminder.
- Tom Lake

10/31 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Two dozen anglers were evenly spaced across several hundred yards of beach. Everything seemed perfect: the weather, the surf, and the tide. But the striped bass were not cooperating. Small schools of mullet occasionally stirred the surface just offshore, driving the gulls into a frenzy. Red-throated loons were scattered a little further out, fishing. I was daydreaming about stripers and sandpipers when a fish hit my lure, a fifteen-inch-long summer flounder, a reminder of the season past. By mid-morning the beach was deserted and flocks of "peeps," small shorebirds, had taken over the water's edge.
- Tom Lake

10/31 - Hyde Park, HRM 78: The afternoon was windy, the sky a dark gray. As is our Halloween tradition, we visited the grave of one of the twentieth century's most renowned naturalists, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was also a Jesuit theologian and one of the very few clergy of his day who was able to reconcile his faith with Darwin's theory of evolution. Teilhard de Chardin died in 1955 and is buried on the grounds of the Culinary Institute. In keeping with the uneasy spirit of the day, the large, brooding branches of Norway spruce hung down like the arms of a giant. The forest edge had a contradictory mixture of colors and shadows - the Japanese red maples glowing scarlet while the red oaks were a leathery brown. The theme of such visits is natural history; visitors pay homage by leaving appropriate offerings such as fossils, flowers and shells. We had collected two moon shells from an ocean beach earlier in the day, symbolic of a spirit of kinship with the earth.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake, Cody Lake

10/31 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: This afternoon at low tide [2:30 PM] the water was so low at Esopus Meadows Lighthouse that we could have walked from the lighthouse building to the small island where the original lighthouse stood from 1839 to 1871. The docks were being stored for the winter, so it took some doing to move the work barge from a temporary mooring to the stone steps we're using to enter and exit the lighthouse - lots of lines, pulleys, and cleats involved, and lots of mud.
- Phyllis Marsteller, Ed Weber, John Ralston


[Three days of north-northwest winds culminated in a blowout tide. Blowout tides are not common. They occur most frequently following several days of steady and strong north-northwest winds. According to Dr. Alan F. Blumberg, director of the Center for Maritime Systems at the Stevens Institute of Technology, blowout tides result from these winds acting on the ocean off New York Harbor, causing extremely low tides there and in turn up the Hudson. It culminates in an ebb tide that seems to go seaward forever, draining tidemarshes and inshore shallows to allow us a glimpse of seldom seen parts of river bottom. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne]

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