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Hudson River Almanac November 8 - November 15, 2010

OVERVIEW

One of the magical elements of the estuary is how unpredictable notable phenomena can be. Over the last couple of weeks, several contributors have reported the presence of red-breasted nuthatches, which - while they nest in a few places in the Hudson Valley - are more typically a "winter bird," whose call Roger Tory Peterson wonderfully describes as sounding like a "tiny tin horn."

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a lovely morning here in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. A hard frost gilded the edges of all the vegetation this morning and the rising sun made it all look like a confectioner had been through and candied everything.
- Ellen Rathbone

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/8 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Twenty knot northerlies, gusting to 30, had a precession of white-capped rollers slamming the little Tarrytown lighthouse. Once inside the building the second-grade class from Ossining enjoyed the snug coziness: hissing Coleman lanterns, the warmth thrown from the wood stove, and the candlelight, as they tried to picture what life would have been like for lighthouse children one hundred years ago.
- Christopher Letts

[As a measure of wind speed, one knot equals 1.15 miles per hour. Chris Letts' estimation, in miles per hour, was 23, gusting to 35. Tom Lake.]

11/9 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 68.5: The cumulative effect of the steady seaward winds had pushed the morning ebb tide out and out until the mouth of the tidal Wappinger was nearly all mud flats. Skeletons of old barges, docks, and piers rose out of the water like ghostly apparitions.
- Tom Lake

[These winds were even stronger just off the coast, moving water away from shore and thus temporarily lowering sea level off the New York/New Jersey coast and - in turn - in the Hudson. This effect is the opposite of storm surge associated with nor'easters and other major coastal storms - see below. Steve Stanne.]

11/9 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: The north-northwest blow continued into the third day. Swirled by the wind, a large flock of snow buntings - maybe 150 birds - looked like a snow squall moving across the broad parking lot of the defunct General Motors plant.
- Christopher Letts

11/10 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: We have lived here for 18 years and we just had our first red-breasted nuthatch on our suet feeder. We have no trees close to the house and the nearest woodland is about a quarter-mile. We get white-breasted nuthatches regularly, but this is a first.
- Bill Drakert

11/10 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: I spotted four snow geese in the Hudson in Cornwall Bay today. There were Canada geese around as well but the snow geese did not stay with that group; they tended to stay in a line, quite close to shore. I saw snow geese a couple of years ago mixed in with Canada geese in a flooded corn field in New Paltz.
- Roland Ellis

11/10 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The first "mobbing of the bird feeders" of the season was underway, with dozens of titmice and chickadees leading the charge. Goldfinches, house finches, pine siskins and purple finches were also present in smaller numbers. From past experience, we know that once the hawks locate this concentration of prospective meals, there will be daily depredations. By winter's end, the numbers will be halved. It happens every year.
- Christopher Letts

11/10 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: The savage northerlies continued to blow for yet another day, and the warmth from the Tarrytown Lighthouse wood stove was welcome. A flock of about 40 snow buntings flushed in front me on the broad plain of shattered concrete that is the former General Motors parking lot - same birds, different configurations? I had no way of knowing.
- Christopher Letts

11/11 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 68.5: The late afternoon high tide was up in the trees, which seemed odd given the time of the month and the fact that we had just come out of a series of northwest windy days. It also looked odd to see a small raft of mallards dabbling on the hillside and a half-dozen black ducks swimming in the woods.
- Tom Lake

11/11 - Beacon, HRM 61: There seemed to be an unexpected surge of tide today at Long Dock. A large portion of the site, as well as parts of Metro North's property, were under water. Do you have any ideas or knowledge as to why?
- Susan Hereth

[The usual causes did not seem to be in play here. The wind had been north to northwest for several days, which should have pushed the river out. The predicted tidal variance (difference from high to low) was only 4.8 feet. Serious high tides, or "flood tides," begin with a tidal variance of about 6.0 feet. It was also neap tide, occurring midway between new moon and full moon, usually producing more even tides. Tom Lake.]

[As on 11/9, we look to offshore conditions for an explanation. While it didn't figure much in the weather conditions we experienced here in the Hudson Valley, there was a stalled, multi-day, low pressure system off to the east in the North Atlantic. Offshore, winds were out of the northeast. According to Nickitas Georgas, Senior Research Engineer, Center for Maritime Systems at the Stevens Institute of Technology, it "created moderate to strong and persistent winds along the New York and New Jersey coastline. Like in a classic nor'easter, water was pushed shoreward, hence the persistent surge. Depending on the location, significant swell may have also contributed. High tide at the Battery (river mile 0) was 64% higher than predicted; high tide at Poughkeepsie (river mile 76), was 57% higher than predicted." Steve Stanne.]

11/11 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I had a red-breasted nuthatch at my feeder today. That was the first time I've had one there.
- Jane Shumsky

11/12 - Denning Point, HRM 60: With the water temperature dropping, I wondered how long the fishing would continue. During the six hours I fished, I only saw one carp splash at the surface, but the results certainly indicated that they were there, and feeding: I caught, weighed and released a 10 lb. 5 oz. carp. Two others were in the 5-6 lb. range.
- Bill Greene

11/12 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: In our scope we spotted an immature bald eagle in the back of Liberty Marsh. Nearer to us we saw fox sparrows, golden-crowned kinglets, and pintails.
- R. Cramer, J. Cramer

11/13 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: There were hundreds of crows outside, populating the field on the hill behind my house, looking darker against the dry and brown grass of fall than they ever did against the green of summer. I knew they were there when I could hear their cacophony, even with the windows closed, as they strutted around, occasionally arguing with one another when some prized morsel was under contention. When I left the house to run an errand, they took to flight; the sound of their wings beating the air was almost as loud as their cawing had been.
- Wendy A. Bohlinger

11/13 - Town of Waywayanda, Orange County, HRM 51: It took some searching but we finally spotted at least twenty snow geese in the shady end of a stubble-covered corn field. Snow geese have been migrating south for a while now, generally favoring the Wallkill River valley.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

11/13 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 42: We had to stop and go back after we passed a small farm pond; at first glance it had looked like an optical illusion. This one-acre pond was so filled with Canada geese, hundreds wing-to-wing, that they were unable to swim, except in unison. Another 200-250 birds were pacing the bank waiting their turn. The nearly empty Wallkill River was only a mile down the road but this pond, despite the close quarters, must have looked more inviting.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

11/13 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: Once the first serious winter weather arrives, Liberty Marsh, near the headwaters of the Wallkill River, will be a great place to consistently see snow geese and other waterfowl. The marsh was quiet today with the only notable sightings being two rough-legged hawks. One was the usual color - we watched it hunt - and the other was a dark-phase perched in a tree close by.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

11/14 - Columbia County, HRM 138:
- South of Kinderhook
Russet rows of oak trees
line the road sides.
The garish of maple is gone
and I experience
the different dimensions
of leaves red, rust and brown,
no longer chlorophylled
green and flexible;
leaves shriveled, stationary,
clinging to branches
awaiting winter when
stationary shrivel becomes shiver.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

11/14 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: In 2009 (2/22) I reported a first for us, a red squirrel. We hadn't seen him over last winter and into spring, but occasionally got a glimpse (possibly the same red squirrel) this summer. Now, he seems to have taken up residence in our yard within a natural area. This morning I was lucky enough to watch him retrieve an apple from a crotch high up in a tree covered with woodbine (I had thrown some damaged apples nearby). He carried it down the trunk, then set up for a lunch on the wood pile. Later, with the uneaten remainder, he scampered back up the tree to a small limb, lower down.
- Jean Bush

11/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: The sun had set but the last of daylight still filtered through the woods. For the third time in two weeks I could hear a faint "ank, ank" from just behind the tree line. This unassuming call could have been lost on the wind except for the stillness of dusk. It was a red-breasted nuthatch. And while it was delightful, its call gave me shivers with visions of ice storms and snow squalls to come.
- Tom Lake

11/15 - New Hamburg, HRM 68.5: For birders on the Hudson River, it is the season for silhouettes. Even with a spotting scope, rafts of winter ducks seem to find the middle of the river, right in the channel, to set down. With the often poor light of late autumn, birders are left to discern species based on head characteristics, body angle, and shades of gray and black that might provide a clue. Vague field marks like "black-white-black" with regard to body plumage may narrow the list somewhat. But distance can be the great equalizer, where Class A birders share the handicaps with the rest of us.
- Tom Lake

11/15 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Gino Garner's red Jeep pulled into the driveway just as I was climbing out of my truck. He handed me a 14 lb. striped bass, just caught. I carefully filleted, skinned, and cut away the dark meat. Broiled, served under shaggy mane mushrooms poached in a rich broth, it made for an ambrosial meal. I also carefully cleaned the backbone and took the gills out of the head, and poached the bones. A wonderful bass chowder resulted - this is the season and the weather for soups and chowders. Thanks, Gino!
- Christopher Letts

11/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34: There was wonderful light this morning under the lowering sky. A great egret seemed almost luminous as it flew over at tree-top height, a sight to recall through the cold, egret-less months to come.
- Christopher Letts

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