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Hudson River Almanac November 16 - November 23, 2010

OVERVIEW

The first flurries and skim ice reached south from the Adirondacks into the lower Hudson Valley, providing a gentle reminder to migratory birds that while the climate may be "changing," it is not changing so much that they should linger. Winter ducks seemed to have doubled their presence from just below the Hudson Highlands to the Tappan Zee in only one week.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/20 - Minerva, HRM 284: The dogs and I had gone for a hike out in the back forty in late afternoon, walking along a flooded dirt road after a night of mid-20's and daytime air temperatures in the low 30s. There was a half-inch or less of ice on the open water area of our swamp. I heard the sound of ice shifting and cracking. It was way too early for these kinds of settling and shifting ice sounds. They became a little more intense and focused, and out from the ice cover popped a beaver head, followed by the rest of this large rodent. It splashed around, cracking more of the thin ice, then disappeared. The dogs were oblivious to this activity no more than a couple hundred feet out into the swamp. Beavers in the area have been wreaking water-level-havoc for weeks. They flood the dirt road after each attempt at beaver dam disturbance, i.e. the beavers build up the dam at the north end of the swamp as soon as the humans try to tear it down. Frustration ensues, I believe.
- Mike Corey

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: There is nothing like a storm of starlings to scatter the locals. Seemingly out of nowhere, a late-afternoon wave of starlings, at least 100 of them, descended on the feeders, ignoring the thistle but zeroing in on the seed scattered on the ground. They stayed for no more than five minutes and then took off as one, heading south. With the "storm" over, the chickadees returned.
- Tom Lake

11/16 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: It was a swell day to be sipping warm cider in front of a hot stove while the fog rolled in outside and cold rain drummed on the roof. As I left for home, a dozen snow buntings rose in front of me, settling 100 yards further on. I put them up three times before they went off to a different quadrant of the moonscape that once was the General Motors parking lot. It has been quite a season for snow buntings. I generally count myself lucky if I see them twice in a season.
- Christopher Letts

11/17 - Albany, HRM 145: At 4:00 AM a weather front came through with heavy rains and winds gusting to 65 mph.
- National Weather Service

11/17 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I woke up well before dawn this morning to a very sudden onslaught of heavy rain and strong wind battering the west wall of the house, followed by cloud to ground lightning strikes that soon had the village fire whistle sounding. But the thunder was different from that of summer storms. Echoing off the cliffs of the Shawangunks, each thunderclap rolled on and on like the chord at the close of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" from the Sergeant Pepper album. I'm guessing that the sound was sustained because the trees had lost their leaves; in summer, the thick foliage probably absorbs the sound.
- Steve Stanne

11/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: At 4:00 AM I awoke to the sound of a train coming through my yard. The metaphoric "train" with sustained winds 30-40 mph slammed tree branches into the side of the house and pelted horizontal rain against the windows. An inch of rain collected in the gauge in thirty minutes. By first light, all of the hardwoods had been stripped of their leaves.
- Tom Lake

11/17 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: A big front had come through and the wind was south-southwest at 20 knots [23 mph]. Waves were breaking against the base of the Tarrytown Lighthouse and I hung onto my watch cap as I struggled across the bridge. I immediately began to build a fire in the wood stove to take the chill off for the school classes that would soon arrive. When I walked out the door half an hour later it seemed that, if anything, the wind had strengthened. A small flock of brant was riding easily in the lee of the lighthouse. We know that thousands of them migrate down the Hudson each fall, but I rarely see them. They seem to prefer to fly low on the water, well out in the stream, and come close to shore only when there is a major wind event.
- Christopher Letts

11/18 - Croton River, HRM 34: Midge, Big John, and Carlos [Boyz at the Bridge] were fishing for white perch when I arrived at the bottom of the ebb. They were all excited. Apparently I had just missed a dramatic moment. A small flock of buffleheads (they call them "buffalo-heads") was feeding in the middle of the Croton River when two bald eagles arrived. The ducks dove, the eagles circled above, taking turns and seemingly hunting as a team. It took a few minutes, but one of the little ducks came up out of sequence and an adult eagle snatched it off the water. As I arrived, it was in a riverside tree plucking and eating it. There was no mention of what its partner - an immature eagle - had for lunch.
- Christopher Letts

11/18 - Sandy Hook, NJ: We took a short walk on one of the beaches at Sandy Hook where we saw a single fly fisherman in the surf and several conventional fishermen (using eels and clams as bait) sitting in chairs, their fishing rods in PVC pipes they'd stuck in the sand. None of the fishermen we talked with had had any bites other than crab nibbles. All were hoping for striped bass. Several cormorants close to shore seemed to be finding something to eat, but two greater black-backed gulls that were patrolling the beach seemed to be waiting for the fishermen to catch something or share their bait.
- Phyllis Marsteller, Dorothy Obropta

11/19 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The first harbingers of winter waterfowl arrived, among them a few female common mergansers and a couple of drake hooded mergansers. Male hooded mergansers are impressive looking with their stark white "fan-shaped white crest," as noted by Roger Tory Peterson. Hooded mergansers generally favor tributaries and appear to be uncommon on the mainstem. Audubon warden Jim Rod used to measure the severity of winter by how much cold and ice it took to drive hooded mergansers into the open river.
- Tom Lake

11/20 - Hammond's Point, HRM 60: An adult bald eagle was perched in an "eagle tree," an oak directly across the bay from Denning's Point at the mouth of Fishkill Creek. Its white head glowed in the soft even light of a cloudy morning. As the seasons change we lose the herons but gain the eagles.
- Tom Lake

["Eagle trees" are easy to spot, even when eagles are not in them. They are large, open canopy trees, like cottonwoods, oaks, tuliptrees, sycamores, and white pines, on or very near the river or tributary, with a view of the water. Some of these trees have large horizontal limbs that make perfect feeding perches. Many are in sheltered locations, out of the prevailing wind, with a sunny exposure. The formula for an eagle tree is easy in, easy out. White pines are favored as night roosts as they afford shelter from the wind. Tom Lake.]

11/20 - Oscawana Point, Westchester County, HRM 38.5: The wind came in strong gusts from the northwest, making paddling a kayak into the wind an exercise in upper body stamina. As I struggled north past Oscawana Point, three immature bald eagles appeared overhead, effortlessly soaring on that same wind.
- Stephen Butterfass

11/20 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: We do not have purple finches and pine siskins every winter, and rarely this early in the season, but they were on the feeders this morning along with house finches and goldfinches. A yellow-bellied sapsucker was there as well. Every year for the past five, a yellow-bellied sapsucker has appeared just about this time of the year and stayed for the season, sometimes being joined by one or two more. I always like to think it is the same bird (an adult male) but if that were true, it would be a very senior bird indeed. Good to have it here in any case.
- Christopher Letts

11/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I took a walk to northwest point, sometimes called Potato Rock or Enoch's Neck. This is where archaeologist Louis Brennan excavated ancient oyster mounds in the 1960s. The point is long gone, chewed off by ceaseless river erosion. If "Potato Rock" is still there, no one has been able to show it to me. There are still jumbles of cobbles and boulders, and some may be construed to look like a potato. Suit yourself. What interested me more this morning was the small shorebird perched on one of the boulders: a purple sandpiper, not a common visitor to this site. It was quite unafraid, and I enjoyed a satisfyingly long time to observe it.
- Christopher Letts

[In the 1960s, archaeological excavations of shell middens at the northwest end of Croton Point, called Kettle Rock by Louis Brennan, uncovered remains of "giant" oysters with shells up to eight inches long. These valves were radiocarbon dated at nearly 6,000 years old and represented a time when the salinity and other ecological factors in Haverstraw Bay were optimum for shellfish growth. The oysters had been harvested by pre-ceramic hunters and gatherers of the lower Hudson Valley during what is called the Late Archaic period. They may have been ancestral to the Algonquian people who met Henry Hudson more than 4,000 years later. Tom Lake.]

11/20 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The quartering wind had strung out large rafts of ruddy ducks and buffleheads into a line from Croton Bay to Ossining, nearly a half-mile downriver.
- Tom Lake

11/21 - Hoosic River, HRM 172:
Now it is tamarack time
In the tamarack barrens.
We think it's all over when
The gaudy red and orange leaves
Of the swamp maples are gone.
Then late autumn larch leaves turn
And it is tamarack time
As golden conifers reign
In boggy, remote places.
Deciduous evergreens'
Yellow needles are ready
To fall in the snow showers
Of a raw November day.
We sense that foreverness
Is not only in the green
Of spruce boughs, balsam and pine
But in the yellow that falls
And in roots and bark as well
Or at last perhaps just in
The memory of beauty
Past and the expectation
Of eternal perfection.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

11/21 - Harriman State Park, HRM 41: Hiking down from the treacherous Pyngip Mountain in Harriman State Park on Old Woods Road, we were enjoying the beauty of a small brook and mountain laurel when we heard a single gunshot. A moment later a beautiful adult back bear came barreling out of the laurel 75 feet away! The bear took a look at us and made a hard left, then a hard right, and was out of there. We laid back and screamed to the hunters "Hikers here!" Three more shots and we were gone too. The hunters were close but we never saw them. We called State Park Police and they informed us that they were poachers, there is absolutely no hunting in Harriman State Park; only a small section of Sterling Forest is permitted for hunting. This was our first bear sighting in ten years of hiking the local parks. Short of the gunshots, it was a fabulous hike.
- Eric Johanson, Regina McCue

11/22 - Town of Wappinger: A year ago today I stood in the blind and watched the two adult eagles in nest NY62 "cuddle," touching each other, and I had high hopes for their tenth year (they had tried but not had a successful fledge three years in a row). But 2010 was another failure for reasons unknown. Today, the female was perched alone. I look toward 2011 with much concern.
- Tom Lake

11/23 - Minerva, HRM 284: It was a "Minerva whiteout," really just a dusting of snow. Meanwhile, 280 miles downriver, people in Manhattan were walking around in shirtsleeves - same river, different worlds.
- Mike Corey

11/23 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: It was a mild day and a good one for yard and garden chores. As I worked in the afternoon I was bedeviled by insect bites and had to use repellent. The critters were fast, small, and devious. I rarely saw them and killed only one that I know of: a very small mosquito. I am guessing these are the Asian tiger mosquito, which appeared on Long Island about four years ago. Their company was not enjoyable.
- Christopher Letts

11/23 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The sun rose crimson and set in a aureole of pink mist, presaging a big weather front due tonight. It may be the end of shirtsleeve weather! Hundreds of robins were the major presence this morning, one last wave of redbreasts headed for warmer climes. Off the bathing beach, two pied-billed grebes were diving along the break wall. The dives were brief; I wondered what they might be feeding on in four feet of water.
- Christopher Letts

11/23 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: I walked down to the lower road this afternoon for the first time in some days and was pleased to see six ruddy ducks mixed with a small flock of buffleheads. Observers have told me that the early rafts of winter ducks have moved through to lower reaches, and perhaps out of the watershed. I wonder how much the gathering strength of wintering eagles has to do with this?
- Christopher Letts

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