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Hudson River Almanac November 1 - November 7, 2010

OVERVIEW

Following a spring and summer of concealment, with leaves now off the trees the singers of birdsongs are visible. With binoculars, a field guide, and some time, we can watch the autumn migration of raptors, songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/3 - Bear Mountain, HRM 45.5: While at our post on the Bear Mountain Hawk Watch, we were thrilled by four golden eagles making an appearance. The first one went low and behind some trees making a decent photo impossible. Then a second golden arrived, coming in from the river. This was a young bird with a lot of white showing beneath its wings. Flying in good light, it was close enough to afford good photos. While we were all excited about the first two, a third and then a fourth appeared within the next few minutes. These birds were making a strong flight south. Roger Tory Peterson uses the term "majestic" to describe the golden eagle, and he was right!
- Sharon Baker, David Baker

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/1 - Castleton on Hudson, HRM 137.5:
- November Blessing
Yellow tamarack
needles fall swiftly from
a sacramental tree.
- Wilma Johnson

11/1 - Ulster County, HRM 78: I was driving west of the Shawangunk Ridge between Alligerville and High Falls when I spotted a six-point white-tail buck, a red fox, and the biggest coyote I'd ever seen.
- Lisa Gutkin

11/1 - Town of East Fishkill, HRM 61: A red fox had left his "calling card" on a rock by our path that goes up the mountain in Wiccopee. The scat had blueberries and seeds in it. Further along in the woods we came across bobcat scat that was very blackish with lots of fur in it. We have also heard the coyotes yipping as they are out hunting along the ridge on these cold clear nights.
- Connie Mayer-Bakall, Bob Bakall

11/1 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Three "killing frosts" in a row, and the gardening season came to an end. In 26 years, this was the latest first frost date recorded at this site. The freezers were full of the fruits of summer, the firewood stacked high, and the bird feeders bustling with hungry little birds. It was time to enjoy the next season.
- Christopher Letts

11/1 - Upper Nyack, HRM 31: This was the last seining program of the season, and it was cold at Nyack Beach State Park. After we hauled the net, I had no thoughts of taking off the chest waders - it was relatively cozy in there. The haul was difficult. All of the shallow-water vegetation was long gone and the tide was a dead low blowout. Happily, my seining partner, the mother of one of the students, was fit and strong, but we struggled mightily to get the seine in. No wonder: we landed what must have been 150 lb. of black mud, along with a barnacle studded two-liter soda bottle and a paving stone sized rock. Embedded in the mud were several dozen fish, among them young-of-the-year [YOY] menhaden and gizzard shad, white perch, tiny striped bass, and a dozen tiny blue crabs surely no more than a month old.
- Christopher Letts

11/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Two male downy woodpeckers, one at each feeder, were having their way with the "finch food." This was not a common occurrence - woodpeckers after thistle - but since the suet feeders were empty, they took the initiative. They dwarfed the chickadees and goldfinches that perched nearby with the patience of the meek.
- Tom Lake

11/2 - Fishkill, HRM 61: I spotted a hermit thrush probing the lawn for insects. It appeared to be stomping its feet in order to provoke any insects to move from cover.
- Ed Spaeth

[A few hermit thrushes stay late in fall, and even all winter. I've seen them on Christmas Bird Counts. A number of ground-feeding birds, most notably sparrows, find food by using a double-footed hop/scratch that kicks leaves (or snow) aside to reveal food underneath. Steve Stanne.]

11/2 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Autumn cleanup, clearing gardens, mulching leaves, turning the compost one last time - it all feels good, getting ready for (as I choose to regard it) the next growing season, though that is half a year away. Through the day I paused, my senses pulled upward by that song of autumn songs: goose music. Sometimes hidden by clouds, always rendered thin by the filtering through a couple of thousand feet of air, the calls have lifted my eyes and my senses for more than 60 years. City or country, day or night, I simply cannot resist the tug, and when they are gone, I wonder what it was of me that went with them, and what it was of them they left behind.
- Christopher Letts

11/2 - Croton Point, HRM 34: For the first time in many weeks, the landfill was bare of raptors: No kestrels, no harriers, not even a red-tailed hawk. The flow of blue jays, robins, and other small migrants has dwindled to a trickle. A raft of several hundred winter ducks, scaup and buffleheads, rode the waters of Croton Bay.
- Christopher Letts

11/3 - Orange County, HRM 46: Walking on the rail trail near Monroe, I was treated to the sight of a flock of a dozen or so bluebirds feeding. They flew down near the trail, up again in to the trees and eventually passed overhead to the southeast. There were also many juncos. I could not tell what was attracting them, perhaps multiflora rose fruits.
- Betsy Hawes

11/3 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: There were swarms of robins today, on every bush, tree, and patch of yard. Skirmishing, foraging as they moved, they were always headed south.
- Christopher Letts

11/3 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: A thin line of vines and weeds veiled the chain-link fence that separates the river from the former General Motors plant parking lot. A continual parade of small birds followed the fence line, foraging and keeping under cover as they looked for a place to cross. Often a few would fly out a couple of hundred yards, but then fly for the shelter of land. Sparrows, chickadees, warblers and kinglets were feasting as they went on weed seeds and fruits of vines. Out on the Tarrytown Shoals - the reason the Tarrytown Lighthouse was sited here 130 years ago - a single immature long-tailed duck (formerly called oldsquaw) rode the waves, diving and then feasting on whatever provender the Tappan Zee bottom had to offer. Fish crows squabbled, and an eleventh-hour flight of double-crested cormorants shuffled past, headed south.
- Christopher Letts

11/3 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: A week ago, with third-graders from Bank Street School looking on, the Hudson River sloop Clearwater's otter trawl caught two YOY "mystery fish" in the river off of the Seventy-ninth Street Boat Basin. We have since identified them as silver hake.
- Maija Niemisto

[While the silver hake is perhaps better known by its colloquial name "whiting," some anglers to refer to the larger adult fish as "baseball bats." They are firm, round in cross-section, and have that look and feel. As John Waldman reminds us, while they were once common, a mainstay of the autumn-winter party boat fishery out of Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay, their coastal population has dwindled dramatically over the past 20 years. Whiting are one of eight members of the cod family (Gadidae) documented for the Hudson River estuary. Among the other seven are some familiar names, such as the Atlantic cod, the Atlantic tomcod, and pollock, as well as spotted hake, red hake ("ling"), white hake, and the ephemeral fourbeard rockling. All are considered to be marine strays except for the tomcod, a migratory diadromous species that enters the estuary each fall to spawn under the winter ice. Tom Lake.]

11/4 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: As I was raking leaves on a cold morning I heard dozens of birds in the nearby trees. There were more birds than I can ever remember seeing around Warwick. It reminded me of summers long ago when noisy starlings would fill the night air in Rochester. I kept raking and listening. Then, as if some cue had been given, the noise stopped all at once. Not a chirp more. The flock flew away. The silence was deafening.
- Daniel Mack

[The list of suspects for this mystery flock is fairly long. The noise level would suggest blackbirds, including grackles, cowbirds, and red-wings, but perhaps even more likely would be starlings, with an outside chance of cedar waxwings. Tom Lake.]

11/4 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Blustery winds and a driving rain made the Tarrytown Lighthouse's woodstove-warmed interior a cozy place to be. Waves sloshed against the iron base of the structure and the winds whistled at the door, but the students all agreed that they felt safe, cozy and warm, as they listened to stories of lighthouse keepers of long ago. Almost as many small birds were braving the wind and rain to log a few more miles on the journey south.
- Christopher Letts

11/5 - Rhinebeck, HRM 95: For years, we've had at least one pileated woodpecker visit the dead trees on our land. Their work excavating insects from trees is impressive, given the huge rectangular holes they can make. Last spring, I was saddened to find a dead pileated under one of our power poles, a likely victim of electrocution. After a few weeks of no activity, another one moved in and this one now frequents our trees on a daily basis. We have an 18-inch-diameter dead cherry tree that has been thoroughly pockmarked with so many holes that I will need to have it removed before it falls on my house! Not to worry though, there are plenty of other trees for its drilling pleasure on our land.
- Ted Fink

11/5 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Lately it seems as though there is something special to see every day at Kingsland Point. As my first school class arrived, a flock of 100 cedar waxwings swirled off the old General Motors property and out over the Tappan Zee. They got about 200 yards off shore and 200 feet up, and had a change of heart - back to the safety of land.
- Christopher Letts

[The Hudson River at this point in the Tappan Zee is about 2.5 miles wide. In the face of a west wind, this can be a daunting crossing for songbirds. Tom Lake.]

11/5 - Alpine, HRM 18: We were schedule to seine with the Tappan Zee High School Environmental Science Class at Piermont this morning but the tide was too high. So we traveled seven miles south to Alpine. It was a beautiful day but the river was very turbid - visibility was only 98 millimeters [mm], not even four inches! Salinity was 7-8 parts-per-thousand. We caught a nice assortment of fish, small striped bass, Atlantic silverside, Atlantic menhaden, and a foot-long bluefish. But the big excitement was a YOY Atlantic moonfish, only 35 mm long. I had to fight to get it back in the water - they totally wanted to take it with them.
- Margie Turrin

[Atlantic moonfish are a member of a tropical-looking family of fishes called the jacks. Other jacks in the Hudson include crevalle jack, permit, lookdown, and the round scad. These are temperate-water marine strays and are typical late summer and early-autumn visitors to the lower, brackish estuary. Moonfish get their name from their profile, a bright silvery-white rhombus that looks to some like a full moon. This one probably looked more like a shiny, brand new silver quarter. The last moonfish recorded in the Almanac was caught by Christopher Letts at Englewood (NJ), river mile 13.5, on October 23, 2008. Tom Lake.]

11/6 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Two delights today: Six, maybe seven, bluebirds were in a nearby small orchard catching bugs and checking out their two nest boxes, perhaps for winter shelter. Later in the day when I was adding material to the compost bin at the wood margin, a very small bird with a red crown alighted on a rake handle two feet from my hand - a ruby-crowned kinglet. Later I book-verified my guess and found that I had noted having seen one on October 24, 2002 nearer to my garden.
- Nancy P Durr

11/6 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I counted six flocks of cedar waxwings this morning, nearly 400 birds in all. Robins were everywhere, as well as many kinglets, and a single snow bunting was consorting with a flock of pipits. Yesterday's rain had brought on a fresh flush of shaggy mane mushrooms, and I came away with more than a gallon. Simmered in bouillon to stabilize them, they will be frozen to enhance winter soups and stews.
- Christopher Letts

11/6 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: The site of the former General Motors plant is a dreary moonscape, more than 100 acres of cement, asphalt, twisted steel and mounds of crushed concrete. Weeds, vines, scrubby brush and scraggly trees have found footholds here and there; the overall effect is anything but verdant. But it is a migratory route for many species of land and water birds, and over the past 30 years I have enjoyed some nice sightings here. Today, the "special" was a flock of 30 snow buntings trying to glean breakfast on the old parking lot. When they flushed their bold pattern made a fine sight against the somber November sky. Sparrows, warblers and kinglets continued to move south, following the shoreline fence.
- Christopher Letts

11/7 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: The seed feeders and suet were up, the mornings have been frosty, and a "sharpie" [sharp-shinned hawk] has been zooming through to check our diner!
- Bill Drakert

11/7- Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: We call them "high-flyers" because that is, indeed, what they do. Skeins of migrating geese, Canada and snow, miles high, strung out in Vs and large check-marks, always in flux, birds constantly changing their position in the geometrics of the sky. It always reminds me of volleyball team members switching after every point. A strong northwest breeze was pushing this flock south - the geese no doubt saving on fuel - but I could not hear them. The wind had carried their soft voices past me when I wasn't listening.
- Tom Lake

11/7 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A single snow bunting flushed just about where I had a singleton yesterday. Half an hour later and a mile away, I flushed three more. Four "mystery" birds scurried up the gravel service road ahead of me as I tried to get a good look at them. At last I got close enough to see that they were Lapland longspurs. Nice! Robins and assorted small songbirds were moving through in diminished numbers, and one flock of more than 100 cedar waxwings swirled overhead, then lighted in a huge bare cottonwood.
- Christopher Letts

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