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Hudson River Almanac November 24 - November 30, 2010

OVERVIEW

It was a mixed bag this Thanksgiving week with the usual bald eagles and wild turkeys. However two events made it notable: a golden eagle in the Catskills and a seal, hauled out in Westchester County. Icy winter is not far away as winter ducks continued to arrive in numbers and a ring-billed gull left Montreal for the relative warmth of Orange County.

HIGHLIGHT OF A RECENT WEEK

11/18 - Sandy Hook, NJ: Brookdale Community College oceanography students left the Atlantic Highlands Marina aboard the 50 foot-long NOAA research vessel Nauvoo. We otter-trawled all day in Sandy Hook Bay; most of the time we were netting in water that varied from 20-30 feet deep. We hauled in some interesting animals; among the fish were silver hake, red hake, spotted hake, a seven-inch tautog, a little skate, several winter flounder, and bay anchovies. Crustacea and mollusks included lots of large spider crabs and blue crabs, surf clams, razor clams, and moon snails. Surprisingly, we caught no garbage. We also had a harbor seal pop its head out a few times around the boat.
- Valerie Leone

[An otter trawl is a collection device used by researchers, educators, and commercial fisheries to capture marine life. These nets are generally pulled behind a vessel under way, operating much like a seine hauled along the shore. The trawl has a "bag" at the end where marine life collects, with the mouth or sides of the net held open by pressure exerted on two rectangular boards, or "doors" - one on either side. The depth it fishes can be regulated depending on the speed of the vessel and how much line is played out between the vessel and the trawl, called the scope. As the scope increases, the net fishes deeper. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/24 - Gardiner, HRM 73: On my walk today, I saw a forsythia hedge along the road with buds and sunny yellow blooms. Shaking off my disbelief, I recalled an early storm, one Thanksgiving about ten years ago, that made for great snowboarding in the Catskills over the long weekend. It is difficult to imagine after this week of balmy November temperatures.
- Laura Heady

11/24 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: A trophy male channel cat! I caught, measured, and released nice 24.5 inch-long channel catfish. There were quite a number of bait-stealing bites and a couple of hook-pulls on lightly hooked fish, but the catfish was the only one I landed.
- Bill Greene

11/24 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The usual gang of feeder-birds have been mobbing our feeders and I guess the word is out because we had two visitors today. We looked out the window just in time to see one red-tailed hawk fly away, but a second one stayed perched in a black cherry tree for several minutes, surveying the feeders and surrounding woods. Needless to say, all the little birds had scattered, and didn't come back for at least an hour after the hawks flew away.
- Susan Butterfass, Ariel Butterfass

11/24 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Wind was the word for the day, lots of it, 35 mph gusting 45. The north and west areas of the Point were devoid of birds. All the action was along the sheltered south side, in the lee and in the morning sun. Hundreds of cedar waxwings and robins, in about equal numbers, were noisily stripping the bushes and vines of berries. I spotted a dozen black and mallard ducks in Croton Bay close to shore playing at being diving ducks. They would completely submerge for 5-10 seconds and pop up with some delicacy in their bills. Distance sun glare prevented the identification of their breakfast choice.
- Christopher Letts

11/25 - Riverlight Park, Cornwall, HRM 56: Among the hundred or more ring-billed gulls on the pond Thanksgiving morning was one that looked a little odd. Closer examination revealed a thin antenna wire trailing from a tiny transmitter yoked onto its back. The bird also had a color-coded band on one leg, by which I discovered that it was banded June 23 at a breeding colony of 48,000 pairs of ring-billed gulls on Deslauriers Island in the St. Lawrence River just east of Montreal. According to Professor Jean-Francois Giroux of the University of Quebec at Montreal, this gull was still near Montreal the day before Thanksgiving, but sometime after noon it decided to head south. Based on data from the transmitter, the bird was near Taghkanic Lake State Park in southern Columbia County at midnight. After its stopover in Cornwall, the bird flew on to Warwick by noon, and then spent Thursday and Friday nights near the Warwick Airport.
- Mike Pogue

[The gull's position is recorded at midnight and noon each day. Thus in no more than 12 hours this gull flew approximately 225 miles from Montreal to Taghkanic. Data from the transmitter is downloaded once a week. We hope to learn more about this gull's travels in coming weeks. Steve Stanne.]

11/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: It was fitting that my walk in the woods on Thanksgiving Day would include a flock of nine wild turkeys. I sat on a deadfall and watched them for twenty minutes as they foraged, a few of them not more than a hundred feet away. They were oblivious to me and, a bit surprising, did not ruffle a feather to a Cooper's hawk that glided over us in complete silence, disappearing into the forest without a single wing beat. On the way out of the woods I watched the same Cooper's hawk (or another, I suppose) in full pursuit of a small flock of starlings.
- Tom Lake

11/26 - Knox, HRM 148: The day after Turkey Day we were enjoying the fire when four mallards, three drakes and a hen, landed on the house pond on what they probably thought was open water. But there was ice just below the surface and the four birds skidded along before coming to a halt with their feet wet and resting on the ice. They walked around as if that was normal for November.
- Pat Price, Bob Price

11/26 - Town of Durham, Greene County, HRM 115: My mom and I sat chatting in the living room in the foothills of the northern Catskills, overlooking Catskill Creek, when something in the air at the end of the drive caught my eye. White tail. Bald eagle! Dihedral flight profile. Oh well, turkey vulture. I guess my eyes were seeing what they wanted. White flash on the underside of the wings. "Hurry!" We bolted through the sliding door onto the porch in time to see the immature golden eagle soaring just above the trees. Before it drifted from view, we both got a good look at the bird's white tail with broad, dark terminal band and the splash of white in the underwings at the base of its primary feathers. A few years ago, again at the end of November to the beginning of December, I saw an adult golden eagle - in perfect light - from the woodpile in the yard. That was the first and only time I've seen the golden leading edge of the specie's wings, a feature that field guides never quite capture in all its beauty.
- Angelina Mildner, Dennis Mildner

11/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: We enjoyed a brisk walk at Croton Point today and were happy to see a snow bunting at the top of the landfill. We were only about ten feet away, it was not very concerned about our presence, and it stayed until we decided to leave after about 10 minutes. It was thrilling to see this beautifully designed bird - the markings and color were exquisite.
- Jane Shumsky, Elkie Shumsky

11/26 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: An immature bald eagle was perched in a bare-limbed cottonwood hanging out over the bay. A mixed flock of ruddy ducks and buffleheads foraged below in the shallows apparently unconcerned. I've always wondered if waterfowl can instinctively tell when an eagle is hungry, or not.
- Tom Lake

11/26 - Crawbuckie, HRM 33.5: A half-mile below the mouth of the Croton River a huge raft of black ducks was spread out over the lower reaches of Croton Bay. After decades of seeing few if any on the river due to habitat loss, it is still difficult to believe the increasing numbers. Tom Lake.]

11/27 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: We were standing, watching, amazed at the half-dozen dark-eyed juncos (well-known "ground feeders") that were taking thistle seed from our feeders. Darwin's natural selection would argue against a junco's thick beak being a useful adaptation to the tiny openings in the feeders. Yet, this has become a pretty common sight in recent winters. The show ended when an immature Cooper's hawk arrived, posting itself on a maple limb not twenty feet from the feeders. The juncos immediately remembered their genetics, that they were really "ground feeders," and scattered.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

11/27 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: On a blustery day, amid a short flurry of snowflakes, I spotted a juvenile bald eagle perched in a treetop on the south side of Oscawana Island. (Because of railroad landfill, the "island" is now a peninsula.) Hopefully, the eagle was the first of what will be many more sightings there this winter.
- Dianne Picciano

11/28 - Wappinger Lake, HRM 67.5: This shallow man-made impoundment is two miles upstream from tidewater and has always been a favorite stopover for migrating waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks like mallards and blacks. On this sunny and bright day, in addition to the several dozen mallards and blacks, I spotted four hooded mergansers, two drakes, two hens. Each group of waterfowl had their own patch of water - the old creek channel held a small group of common mergansers, all hens preening, their shock of red head feathers flashing in the breeze.
- Tom Lake

11/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34: At the mid-morning low tide, we spotted a seal hauled out on the rocks, basking in the sun at Sarah's Point. What a surprise! At first we thought it may have been an otter but after studying it longer, it was a seal. Our first thought was harp seal, since one had been sighted there last spring, and in checking newspaper photos from that event, it looked similar. Among the three of us, however, we could not come to a consensus as to whether it was a harp seal or the more common (but still quite uncommon) harbor seal.
- Jane Hackenburg, Paula Myers, Elise Lentz

[It is a little early for harp seals to be in the estuary, but our aerial surveys have indicated that harbor seals and gray seal have returned to their haul-out areas along eastern Long Island. Kimberly Durham, Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.]

[The list of Hudson River marine mammals is lengthy and includes seals, dolphins, porpoises, and even a one-time visit from a manatee in summer 2006. Among the seals we've recorded in the estuary in the 17 years of the Almanac, as far upriver at Albany (river mile 145), are gray, harbor, hooded and harp seals. However, the overwhelming majority of seal sightings, as high as 95%, are harbor seals. Tom Lake.]

11/29 - Sleightsburg, Ulster County, HRM 91.5: In mid-morning I spotted a pair of bald eagles hunting a duck - possibly a mallard - in the air. They circled and swooped until one of the eagles hit it and both went into the water. The eagle hung on, used the bird as a raft and "swam" to shore. When they hit a sandbar off Sleightsburg Park, the eagle stood on its prey and continued its meal. The whole process took 20 minutes.
- Marion Zimmer, Port Ewen

11/30 - Milan, HRM 90: I was finally able to definitely identify what has been an elusive raptor that frequents my property. Unlike the smaller sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks that I often see, this bird played hide and seek from spring through fall. It would fly low between trees and never called. I never had a clear view because of the leaf cover until now morning. Crows drew my attention to the bird perching high in a leafless tree and I had a good and lengthy view of the field marks on a mature hawk. In addition, the bird was frequently vocal, a loud "kee-yer" confirming what I had suspected all along, a red-shouldered hawk.
- Frank Margiotta

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