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Hudson River Almanac December 1 - December 7, 2010

OVERVIEW

It is time for the annual Christmas Bird Count throughout North America, when birders and ornithologists take a day to survey and document all of the bird species in their designated area - a county, a township, or just a village. While this activity is 111 years old, and certainly contributes to population and range data, it also comes at a time when it is most needed. After three seasons of enjoying abundant warmth and wildlife, some folks need encouragement to get out and about.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/6 - Selkirk, HRM 135: I walked out to the woodshed this evening; the snow was coming down as silent as can be. Then I heard a lone howl up in the woods. I was transfixed in the moment as the howl continued several times then stopped. Coyote. Winter is here.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/1 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: This summer I missed the antics of the red fox family that had delighted us so during the summer months of 2009. I mourned their loss. Today, as the wind blew and the rain pelted the windows, a movement in our woods caught my eye. There, sheltered in the rocky overhangs of our backyard, beautifully camouflaged by the red and gold of oak leaves, was a red fox. He made my morning.
- Bobbie Wells

12/1 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In the colloquial parlance of farmers, today's nor'easter was a "chicken soaker!" By late in the day we had two-and-a-quarter inches of rain, much of it delivered horizontally by 40 mph winds gusting to 80. At the height of the storm I watched a light gray and charcoal coyote slowly walk across a field of short grass, pausing, listening, hunting. Through the binoculars, much like water off a duck's feathers, I could see the rain bead up and run off its outer guard hairs leaving the insulating soft under-fur relatively dry. They truly authenticate what wilderness remains.
- Tom Lake

[Recent genetic studies by Roland W. Kays, curator of mammals at the New York State Museum, and Jonathan Way, wildlife biologist with the Eastern Coyote Research, indicate that our "wild dogs" are actually coyote-wolf hybrids, carrying both wolf and coyote DNA. So I like to think of them as "Woyotes." Tom Lake.]

12/1 - Blooming Grove, Orange County, HRM 55: Our Carolina wrens might be better named "house wrens." For the third year in a row a pair is sheltering in our open garage. Last spring they raised at least one brood of chicks. Every morning at dawn they serenade us with a pleasant but not particularly tuneful song. If I happen to interrupt their exit from the garage, I get quite a scolding. A couple of years ago they sang outside the living room window during a snowstorm!
- Betsy Hawes

12/1 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: In late afternoon on an extraordinarily windy, rainy, surprisingly warm day, I saw the sky to the west, through the trees, turning a luminous, peachy, and gold-to-pale-orange. The glow caught raindrops still hanging on the bushes, making them glitter like tiny little lights. The horizon grew rosy as the light faded slowly. I couldn't see it, but I knew the sun was setting through the storm clouds.
- Robin Fox

12/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had a lot of rain. I didn't realize just how much until I drove through Newcomb and over the bridge. The Hudson was way up and the ball field was flooded.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: After yesterday's deluge, Wappinger Creek tidewater was across the flood plain and into the woods. The tide was not yet high, yet it was still impressive. A pair of hooded mergansers was paddling among the saplings.
- Tom Lake

12/3 - Town of Wappinger: The female from NY62 was again all alone on a horizontal limb just above her eagle nest. For a while I watched her preen her legs, with her back to me, until I realized that she actually had a small food item between her feet. The glare of the setting sun made identification very difficult, but it may have been a small mammal.
- Tom Lake

[This female eagle has a blue band on her leg with number N42. She was one of three nestlings fledged from a nest on the Delaware River in Sullivan County in 1995. She will be 16 years old next spring. If she remains healthy, she can live to be 30, possibly even older. Tom Lake.]

12/4 - East Schodack, HRM 135: Late on a bright cold afternoon there was a thud on the doors that lead out to the deck where there is a busy feeding station and heated bird bath. A chickadee and a hungry sharpie had hit the glass together as the accipiter grabbed a meal. The chickadee was killed instantly but the sharpie sat stunned for a moment then flew off, only to return 10 minutes later to retrieve his dinner. At least a representative of my favorite bird species didn't die in vain.
- MaryEllen Grimaldi

12/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: From the parking lot of Croton Harmon High School I saw a kettle of vultures containing at least 40 birds. They were swirling around, rising and falling on the stiff breeze. Some of them were riding the wind and being swept all the way over the school. For 10-15 minutes, I was able to watch as some drifted directly over my head no more that 20-30 feet high and others were just above the school's roof.
- Hugh McLean

12/5 - Minerva, HRM 284: I spotted a barred owl cruising the roadside near Minerva. I took it as a good sign, a good omen for the days ahead.
- Ellen Rathbone

[The presence of owls has had mixed reviews in human culture. In most Western societies, they are generally viewed ominously as portending misfortune. In most tribal cultures, owls are revered harbingers of harmony, peace and good will. Tom Lake.]

12/5 - Greene County, HRM 124: On a cold, blustery afternoon I stood on top of a hill overlooking forests and farms that eventually reached to the banks of the Hudson River. Strewn underfoot and for acres around were the chips, flakes, pebbles and cobbles of a prehistoric stone quarry. It was not difficult to sense the antiquity of the place where, as long ago as 11,000 years, aboriginal people quarried chert from the bedrock with which to fashion tools to hunt, harvest, and process the flora and fauna of the Hudson Valley - it was the Stone Age.
- Tom Lake

12/5 - North Germantown, HRM 109: Frigid 20-25 mph northwest winds blowing onshore, coupled with a strong new moon spring tide, had the river up and across the parking lot of the boat launch. The only bird life I could see was across the river in the lee of Inbocht Island. Peering through the scope with teary eyes, I found an adult bald eagle perched in a cottonwood and a raft of mixed diving ducks, ring-necked, scaup, and common goldeneye, congregated in the quiet sheltered waters.
- Tom Lake

[Windward and leeward are terms that are often used to provide color and accuracy to the description of a location or condition under which a sighting is made. These are sailing terms used to denote wind exposure: windward being in the face of the wind, leeward meaning sheltered, as in the lee of a point or an island. Tom Lake.]

12/5 - Cheviot, HRM 106: Snow squalls wrapped the Catskill Mountains in a cottony swirl. Duck blinds were set out near the channel, continuing a 300 year-old tradition on Hudson tidewater.
- Tom Lake

[Various seasons for a variety of hunters and waterfowl run from September 18, 2010 to April 15, 2011. See the 2010-11 Waterfowl Seasons for season and possession details for hunters and game. Tom Lake.]

12/5 - Milan HRM 90: My attention was drawn to the calls of crows and blue jays along with the unmistakable cry of a captured bird. Thinking it was perhaps a fox, I was surprised to see something brown fall from a tree. I watched as a hawk, probably a Cooper's hawk, attempted to fly off with a blue jay. A couple of the crows made attempts to steal the prize or just harass the hawk while on the ground. The hawk again tried to take off only to fall back into the small stream that runs through the valley. It stayed there awhile until the blue jay stopped moving and the crows left. It then flew a short distance to dry ground to enjoy its meal.
- Marty Otter

12/5 - Newburgh, HRM 62.5: Living as we do on a solitary piece of land that juts out into the river about a half-mile north of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, we see a lot of migrating birds. One high point last winter was a snowy owl who warily perched on our shoreline for the better part of a day until he took off flying low over the water. This afternoon our "eagle tree" hosted a pair of raptors that came to perch for a while - one very large and one quite small. The smaller of the two was medium greyish-brown, probably an immature Cooper's hawk. The bigger of the two landed on a higher branch and was tremendous, close to 28 inches tall. It had a dark head, dark grey back, a wide white chest with barring, and a long tail with barring. After some consulting, we concluded that it was an immature northern goshawk.
- Lisa Maria Cline

[While not common, northern goshawks are certainly not rare, particularly in autumn and spring migration. Each year the Almanac records a couple of goshawks coming and going throughout the Hudson Valley. Related to the sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks, goshawks are our largest accipiter. This one distinguished itself from a similar-sized raptor, a northern harrier, by its robustness; harriers are much more slender. Tom Lake.]

12/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We are in real winter form at last; lots of large, dry flakes were blowing and billowing about. By this morning we four inches of snow.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/6 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: This afternoon I saw the "seven-swans-a-swimming." It was a lovely wintry scene on a nearby pond, with silvery water and some snowflakes drifting down. Made Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men seems almost possible.
- Joanne Engle

[I advised Joanne to be on the lookout for "six-geese-a-laying." Even though this is far from goose nesting season, you never can tell. Tom Lake.]

12/6 - Highland, HRM 75.5: For quite a while now I have been watching a near-white raptor, probably a red-tailed hawk. It apparently lives nearby, because I've seen it off and on for at least six months. Recently it has been perching along Route 299 or by Central Hudson's depot. Today it was on the ground in my field, showing some dark mottling on the wings, feeding on something.
- Ron Crovisier

[After some discussion, it was decided that this raptor was not a true albino, but rather leucistic. Leucism is a genetic mutation that prevents melanin from being deposited in a normal fashion on feathers. The greater the leucistic effect, the more white the bird appears. Tom Lake.]

12/7 - Hudson Valley: The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is held throughout the country around this time of year. It replaces the Victorian era "side-shoot," in which guests went out to shoot as many different bird and mammal species as one could on Christmas Day. In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman organized a group of friends to observe, count and share information about bird species without shooting them. The National Audubon Society, which Chapman helped organize, now sponsors this annual tradition. As an enlightened alternative, thousands of people go out to count and publish as many bird species as their group can in a sporting, competitive way. The result has been the gathering of significant data which has monitored changes in bird populations and distribution over the years.
- Rich Guthrie

[For details on Christmas Bird Counts in your area, go to: http://www.nybirds.org/ProjCBC.htm. Tom Lake.]

12/7 - Coxsackie, HRM 128: There are few things that brighten a cold and dreary day more than a flock of bluebirds. While I could not locate any waterfowl, the understory along Coxsackie Creek teemed with songbirds, the brightest of which were the bluebirds.
- Tom Lake

12/7 - Cold Spring, HRM 53: Seventy-five miles downriver, more bluebirds were filling the underbrush at the edge of the West Point Foundry Cove Preserve. These were feeding on red barberries, while white-crowned sparrows and Carolina wrens feasted on bittersweet berries.
- Tom Lake

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