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Hudson River Almanac December 8 - December 15, 2010

OVERVIEW

Weather permitting, the thirty-third annual New York State Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census will be held on Monday, January 10, 2011. However, either January 8 or 9 can be canvassed in lieu of January 10. This is the day when we try to count all of the eagles, both bald eagles and golden eagles, in the major state flyway, wintering, roosting, and congregation areas.

Given the Hudson River Almanac's geographic focus, we're interested in reports from the entire watershed, including the mainstem Hudson from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to the Upper Bay of New York Harbor as well as the Mohawk River and all tributaries. For 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be including New York State's count in a national database. E-mail your bald eagle and golden eagle sightings, including date, time, location, age (immature or adult), to the Almanac ( trlake7@aol.com ). Details of what the birds were up to are also welcomed!

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/8 - Albany, HRM 145: The first of the morning's three peregrine falcons - a male, I was thinking, from its relatively small size - was flying past the Egg as I approached the Empire Plaza on foot. Once atop the plaza, I saw two others - both fairly large birds, females I guessed - one with prey and seeming in labored flight, the second close beside, one or the other or both squawking loudly. I watched both fly in a circle out over downtown Albany and return directly overhead. The one with prey landed atop the Agency 4 building on the north end of the plaza, the second disappeared from view. The squawking continued, and with it came a flurry of white pigeon feathers caught up in and scattered by the wind. I had a tuft of feathers picked out while it was still quite high, and, being on the plaza, I had room to drift with it, and then stood there as it settled into my hand. From a peregrine's beak to my hand! I was a happy camper. The squawking continued and echoed throughout the deserted plaza, a yawning, and for this moment very wild, canyon of steel and cement.
- Dennis Mildner

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/8 - Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, HRM 52: I spotted a pair of hooded mergansers in the marsh today. Pine siskins, fox sparrows and tree sparrows are all coming to the feeders. A few weeks ago, we had a white-winged crossbill spend a few hours at the feeder, munching on black oil sunflower seeds.
- Eric Lind

12/8 - Crugers, HRM 39: We've been searching for the resident great blue heron on Ogilvie's Pond for the past two weeks and, since we've seen no sign of it, we just assumed that it migrated to warmer climes. However, late in the afternoon on this frigid, windy day, we spotted it in a corner of the pond, perched on a log and all scrunched up with its head into its body. Hopefully it plans on wintering here. On the far side of the pond, we were attracted by the vivid black and white colors of a male hooded merganser with its crest fully extended. Its reflection was a mirror-image on the clear water. As we watched, it kept flipping its crest up and down. Although we looked for its mate, the female was nowhere to be found.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/9 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Bird activity has been high around the feeder area and the Cooper's hawks have lost no time in finding their feeding station - the fine old sugar maple that anchors our backyard, supports some of our feeders, and overshadows all of them. Every day I find another puff of feathers on the ground. We sited the feeders as best we could: in and under the maple, in and under the thicket of evergreen shrubs close to the house. I see that the accipiters have mastered the technique of using the house profile and wind currents to pop up at close range, make a game plan, and plunge - or not. Depending on the hunger factor, I suppose, there are days when the raptors sit and watch. On other days, they are through those shrubs like a beagle after a rabbit.
- Christopher Letts

12/10 - Orange County, HRM 60: We were driving south on Sandfordville Road in late afternoon and as we came out of the woods we glimpsed a large white bird perched on a bluebird house in a field to the side of the road. Our first thought was snowy owl, but the body shape didn't seem right. As we drew even with the bird, fifty feet away, it took off and flew to a power line tower back up the hill. Its shape and flight were those of a buteo and the coloring, while mainly white, showed irregular brown splotching in the secondaries [inner wing feathers] and a deep red stripe in the center of the tail with white bands on either side - a leucistic red-tailed hawk.
- Michael McKenna

[See 12/6 for another example. 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.]

12/11 - Valatie, HRM 129: Driving south on Route 9 above Valatie in Columbia County, I noticed the purple dawn clouds giving way to beautiful shades of pink and hence the following above poem (Gaudete means rejoice).

December sunrise
Lavender clouds
Give way to the
Monochromatic mauves
Of an Advent sunrise
And my heart sings
Gaudete.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

12/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: Bowdoin Park along the river is one of those places in the Hudson Valley where, if conditions are right, you can view two cherished symbols of natural wildness. In late afternoon, from the rocky escarpment of the north rockshelter, I could see two coyotes walking slowly through the field below as an adult bald eagle glided silently past. It was one of those moments that could have occurred any time in the last ten millennia.
- Tom Lake

12/12 - Stuyvesant, HRM 127: I spotted a single lesser scaup off the river park by the Post Office.
- Mimi Brauch

12/12 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: Off Ferry Road at Nutten Hook, I spotted a pair of common mergansers.
- Mimi Brauch

12/12 - Town of Wappinger: This was yet another strong nor'easter with wind gusts near 50 mph, dropping an inch and a half of rain. The female eagle in NY62 took the deluge for a short while before leaving to head deeper into the forest and shelter. The interior of an eagle nest looks sturdy and snug, yet they are constructed to be naturally porous in order to drain melting snow, ice and rain. At the height of the downpour, there was a steady flow-through of water.
- Tom Lake

12/13 - Germantown, HRM 105: The eagle(s) on the island off the Germantown anchorage landing are the locals. I checked this morning and it appears that one of them not only has a favorite area but a favorite branch. It is almost a guaranteed sighting.
- Mimi Brauch

12/13 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The tidewater Wappinger was beginning to collect winter ducks. Along the lower mile I counted no fewer than a dozen common mergansers, half-a-dozen hooded mergansers, and six ring-necked ducks.
- Tom Lake

12/14 - Minerva, HRM 284: We got three inches of fluffy snow this morning - not much, but it sure looked nice outside.
- Mike Corey

12/14 - Warrensburg, HRM 237: My son, Max, and I saw an even dozen wild turkeys hanging out in the fresh snow on the Golf Course Road. One large bird (likely the tom) stood in the road, apparently "protecting" his hens from danger; the hens were mostly on the road side, lurking. We laughed - what protection will said tom provide if he's squished in a two-dimensional manner in the road? Meanwhile, the harem looked a little safer to us. The Hudson River frazil ice fields haven't quite "fraziled" yet.
- Mike Corey

12/14 - Ulster-Greene counties, HRM 1133-113: This was the fiftieth annual Audubon Society Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Bird Count. Data compiler Rich Guthrie estimated that the two dozen birders, grouped into ten teams, spotted 3,500 snow geese and 8,605 Canada geese. Jory Langner said that seeing the geese glide overhead was "like watching huge flakes of drifting snow." Altogether, they recorded 79 species and a total of 27,173 birds during the annual census. The count day record is 84. Among the uncommon sightings were a Baltimore oriole and a merlin, a medium-sized falcon. Chief among the raptors sighted were 21 bald eagles. Since the Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Bird Count began back in 1960, they have documented 144 species.
- Rich Guthrie, Larry Federman

12/14 - Columbia County, HRM 133: This morning my son reported a pair of immature bald eagles at Schodack Landing.
- Mimi Brauch

12/14 - Verbank, Dutchess County, HRM 75: This morning I was deluged by a flock of starlings. They sat along my deck railing, peered in the glass sliders, jumped around the deck. One banged into a kitchen window. Then whoosh, they all left after doing their hyperactive dance moves. Impressive!
- Audrey Walker

12/14 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: This evening we enjoyed our first extra minute of daylight since July 2. While sunrise will continue to creep forward until January 12, retarding the increase in total daylight, this evening I spent my extra minute to sunset watching a raft of common mergansers bobbing in the river off New Hamburg.
- Tom Lake

12/14 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I joined Tait Johanson and the Bedford Audubon Society for some birding and was delighted to see snow buntings, horned larks, snow geese, and ruddy ducks.
- Jane Shumsky, Elky Shumsky

12/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: At Black Rock, on the Croton River, we spotted a pair of northern shovelers as well as hooded mergansers
- Jane Shumsky, Elky Shumsky, Tait Johanson

12/15 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: This had to be the coldest "autumn" day I can recall. The windchills were single digits and skim ice was quickly forming on inlets and creeks along the river. As I watched the ice crystals mingle and fuse, a shadow passed over. Looking up I could see a broad-winged hawk close overhead, climbing in tight spirals.
- Tom Lake

[While common in summer, and seemingly abundant in fall migration, the broad-winged hawk is a rarity in winter in the Hudson Valley. Aside from a small population that winters in the southernmost part of Florida, this species spends the cold months in Central and South America. According to the Birds of North America Online, it is occasionally reported in eastern North America north to New England through early winter, but these are probably sick birds or late migrants rather than true winter residents. The broadwing's propensity for consuming amphibians might account in part for its migration and wintering habits. Steve Stanne.]

12/15 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Two adult male yellow-bellied sapsuckers have been the stars at our feeders. They visit several times a day. They seem very tame and are undisturbed when I split my daily wheelbarrow full of wood. Their soft calls from a few feet away make wood splitting a pleasant task.
- Christopher Letts

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