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Hudson River Almanac December 16 - December 23, 2010

OVERVIEW

The winter solstice was made even more meaningful this year with a full lunar eclipse, even though it was largely obscured by clouds. The winter pastime of watching eagles on ice floes began, as both ice and wintering eagles arrived.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/21 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 27: Shortly after 7:00 AM, the beginning of a vivid sunrise heralded the first day of winter. Only minutes before I had watched as a golden full moon sank behind the Palisades, dragging autumn down with it.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/16 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5: This morning my deck was covered with a layer of white, powdery snow. In the past, it would have been a "blue wax" day on the old, wide, wooden Nordic skis. Yesterday would have been a "green wax" day. I can remember when we could put blue wax over green without bothering to remove the green with the blowtorch. Now we have the thin, no-wax skis we can skate on. However, skiing was out of the question today and I started the drive to work. To compensate, the deciduous and evergreen trees on Route 9H between Valatie and Hudson were covered with snow, creating a winter wonderland.
- Wilma Johnson

12/16 - Croton Point, HRM 35:It was a bit milder this morning at Croton Point and our walk was rewarded by an eastern meadowlark and a great blue heron.
- Jane Shumsky, Elky Shumsky

12/16 - Croton River, HRM 34: There was a red-breasted merganser today at Black Rock on the Croton River. There are beaver there as well, as evidenced by several gnawed trees.
- Jane Shumsky, Elky Shumsky

12/17 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5: I still have manual roll-up windows but I am intrigued with the external temperature reading on the dashboard in my new car. Leaving my driveway this morning at 7:00 AM, it read 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Driving south on Route 9 it soon read 9 degrees and then 8 degrees a while later. When I pulled into a parking lot in Hudson, it read 11 degrees. Just think of the millennia of humans who did not have these numbers.
- Wilma Johnson

12/17 - Valatie, HRM 129: Traveling home in the dark, I opted to drive through the cornfields, north by northwest, on the rural roads between Route 9 and the river. A white-tailed deer ran across the road and I could see several others. I stopped and waited as each of the five deer stopped and looked when they got to the road, to see that it was safe.
- Wilma Johnson

12/17 - Blue Point, Ulster County, HRM 74: A serious sign of impending winter is the arrival of common mergansers in the Mid-Hudson reach of the river. In late afternoon I spotted a acre of mergansers, both hens and drakes, in the lee of Blue Point, perhaps as many as 200 birds. Their late fall arrival from northern breeding grounds usually coincides with the arrival of wintering bald eagles. They are a favorite prey for eagles and the connection is pretty clear. The drake merganser is among the most strikingly beautiful of all waterfowl. The equally gorgeous hen, with her fly-away red-feathered head, always reminds me of the Bride of Frankenstein. Common mergansers will be here by the thousands, in rafts large and small, from now until late March when they will depart for points north, just ahead of the eagles.
- Tom Lake

12/17 - Town of Wappinger: One of the signature sounds of winter is that of frigid wind blowing through pine boughs. It has a cold, almost ethereal sound. As I watched the eagle nest at NY62 from my blind today, the whistling pines reminded me of the long, cold winter to come before eggs will be incubating in this nest.
- Tom Lake

12/18 - Dutchess County: The Waterman Bird Club's Christmas Bird Count had a few interesting sightings, among which were 2 adult male white-winged scoters in the river at Poughkeepsie, 46 horned larks at Plankenhorn Farm, and 2 white-crowned sparrows at Peach Hill. The winter crow roost along the river at Poughkeepsie had an estimated 20,000 American Crows and 1300 fish crows.
- Herb Thompson

12/18 - Crugers, HRM 39: We went looking for the great blue heron that has entertained us all year long on Ogilvie's Pond. We spotted it standing on the ice in the middle of the pond, its reflection clearly seen below it. As we watched it walk in circles over the pond with its neck stuck out straight in front, we were reminded of an ice skater gliding over the ice. It occasionally stopped to peer down into the ice, but never made a move to grab anything. Perhaps it sensed that it wouldn't be able to get anything under the frozen surface of the pond.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/18 - Westchester County, HRM 23: We spotted three beautiful adult bald eagles soaring above us along the Old Croton Aqueduct trail right at the point along the Hudson in Dobbs Ferry. It was just the way we like these morning winter walks!
- Ann-Marie Mitroff

12/19 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Shortly after midnight I woke to a faint but familiar sound. Stepping outside in the cold dark night I could hear coyotes, more than one, fewer than many, their voices echoing through the black woods.
- Tom Lake

12/19 - Orange County, HRM 57: I came across four birders working on the Christmas Bird Count by Moodna Creek in the middle of Washingtonville. Grabbing the car binoculars, I walked over to join them and was rewarded with the sighting of a snow goose feeding on a lawn with a flock of Canada geese.
- Betsy Hawes

12/19 - Crugers, HRM 39: We saw the great blue heron standing on the ice at Ogilvie's Pond again this afternoon, its head scrunched down into its body and not moving very much. When we drove around the corner past the pond we were amazed to see another great blue, a bit smaller than the one in Ogilvie's, walking around the ice with its head stuck way out. We had previously thought that there was only one great blue in the area that just kept moving from one pond to the other, since the ponds are about 60 feet apart. Today we confirmed that there are, indeed, two great blue herons in our neighborhood.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/19 - Croton River, HRM 34: In a flock of diver ducks was one whose identity I could not be certain of, so I went home for the spotting scope. Sure enough, it was a handsome red-breasted merganser.
- Christopher Letts

12/20 - Round Top, Greene County, HRM 113: I just finished up deer season during which I saw lots of interesting things, such as fishers, black bears, lots of white-tailed deer, and an acorn crop like no other I have ever seen. This afternoon while sitting in one of my tree stands I saw one of the prettiest little birds, a golden-crowned kinglet.
- Jon Powell

12/20 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5: From the river road in late afternoon I could see the yellowish-orange moon rise over a Castleton hill, on what will be a special night of lunar observation.
- Wilma Johnson

12/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: Eagles on ice floes, one of the true joys of winter. With the first ice floes have come the first wintering eagles. The ebbing tides and currents had drawn ice out of marshes, tributaries and from upriver with the result being hundreds of small ice patches drifting downriver. On four of them were immature bald eagles.
- Tom Lake

12/20 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Several cardinals visited our feeders today. However, one that we first saw yesterday was quite unusual as it blended in with the snow-covered ground, so much so that we had a hard time locating it. It did not have the usual grayish tone of the female cardinal, but was quite white with a small amount of red tipping on the wings and crest - a leucistic cardinal [see 12/10 for a description of leucism].
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

12/20 - Crugers, HRM 39: As we approached Ogilvie's Pond, to our surprise both great blue herons were there taking in the waning rays of the sun, one on the ice and the other on top of a tree along the shore.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/20 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: As we drove past Oscawana, we noticed a striking male hooded merganser swimming out from under the bridge over Furnace Brook. As we watched, the female, with its fancy spiked hairdo, appeared and swam behind the male.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The night of the lunar eclipse was long and cold. At 1:38 AM the full moon of the winter solstice was beginning to show a shadow but was also becoming shrouded by thin clouds that formed a glowing ring. Before long, clouds covered the moon, obscuring the eclipse. For the duration of the night the only sound under the dark sky was a great horned owl. At 6:30, nearly fully-restored, it came out of the clouds and by 7:15 the full and gorgeous moon was perched on the low hills of Orange County.
- Tom Lake

[This was the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the winter solstice (Northern Hemisphere) since 1638, and only the second in the last 2000 years. The next one will occur in 2094. Tom Lake.]

12/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Just after 5:00 PM the full moon rose from beneath the hills of eastern Dutchess County. Free of the clouds that had obscured the lunar eclipse fifteen hours earlier the moon appeared as a huge golden globe. As the winter solstice arrived at 6:38 PM, the moon, clear of the horizon, morphed from yellow gold to snow white. To some Native Americans, the full moon of December is called the "snow moon." The woods were silent, there were no night-flying geese; it was just the earth, the sky, and a gorgeous full moon on the winter solstice.
- Tom Lake

12/22 - Town of Wappinger: Nineteen days ago I watched the female eagle from nest NY62 feeding on a nearby limb. At the time I could not figure out what her meal was. I walked under the limb today while she was out on the river ice a half-mile away. I found the lower maxilla (or mandible) of a catfish that, from its size and conformation, appeared to have been, in life, a foot-long white catfish.
- Tom Lake, Chris Lake

12/22 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: The timing can be tricky at Liberty Marsh, near the headwaters of the Wallkill River. If a visit is made just before ice-in, you can see squadrons of migrating waterfowl crowded into the open water. We had clearly missed it, however, as the marsh was frozen over and duck-free. In the far tree line we spotted an adult bald eagle. But the prime entertainment was watching a harrier hunt the hummocks, dipping and darting, teetering and swaying, showing off its incredible aerial dexterity. We counted a dozen huge flocks of geese overhead, equally at home in cornfields or open water. Nine of them were Canada geese and three were snow geese.
- Tom Lake, Chris Lake

12/22 - Westtown, Orange County, HRM 47: We watched 100 Canada geese descend almost as one into an old cornfield. Although we always look, but rarely see, it was there today - a single snow goose waddling around among the Canadas. I've never seen the reverse, a Canada among snow geese. In theory, the snow goose gets separated from its flock for reasons unknown, and finds migratory comfort with the loosely-related Canadas.
- Tom Lake, Chris Lake

12/22 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I was in the right time and place on the southwest side of the landfill to see a huge disc of silvery moon drop out of sight to the west as the pale gold of the sun popped up over the Ossining hills. For a few seconds I was the fulcrum in a universal teeter-totter. Around a curve six white-tailed deer stared intently, but not at me. They were looking transfixed to the ridge west of us where four coyotes peered down at us. There have been sightings of five in a pack and the deer numbers on Croton Point have been dropping for a dozen years. So are some birds and smaller mammals. The half-dozen breeding pairs of bobolinks of twenty years ago are gone. Riverman Cal Greenburg has told me of seeing coyotes trotting along with male bobolinks in their jaws during early spring.
- Christopher Letts

12/23 - Albany, HRM 145: A gray fox was rescued from a Hudson River ice floe, capping a four-and-a-half-hour mission. The fox was first seen beneath the Dunn Memorial Bridge in midday. During the rescue attempt, the ebb tide turned to flood and the force of wind against tide began to erode the fox's floe with large pieces floating away. While gray foxes can swim, and may have made it shore on its own, the cold water (low 30s Fahrenheit) would have made that problematic. In the end it was Averill Park firefighters in an air boat who scooped the fox to safety. Later, the fox was reported to be doing well at a wildlife rehabilitation center.
- Jordan Carleo-Evangelist

[Gray foxes, perhaps owing to their largely nocturnal habits, are less commonly seen than red foxes. The gray fox is more of a forest dweller than the red fox, which tends to be more of a "farmland" species. The gray fox is the only "dog" (canid) that can climb a tree, albeit not with the skill of an opossum. Tom Lake.]

12/23 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The season for "eagles-per-trip" aboard the Metro North commuter train to Manhattan has arrived. Today was a "nine-eagle" trip aided by ice floes on the river south to the Hudson Highlands. Seven of the nine were out on the ice; eight were immature, with one adult perched on the south end of Constitution Island near World's End across the river from West Point. Passing Manitou Marsh, just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge, an immature eagle paced the train for several hundred feet, a spectacular view for those who noticed.
- Tom Lake

[Eagle sighting: The key to spotting eagles, especially out on the river ice, is developing a "sight image." Eagles are often discounted as being crows because they look small at a distance against the broad expanse of the Hudson. Bald eagles look small, but crows look tiny. Tom Lake.]

12/23 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: It was windy, dreary and dark. Where was all the wind coming from? It seems like it has been blowing, hard, for two months. It was easy to find the waterfowl riding close to shore under the lee of Croton Point. There were about 200 birds, mostly black ducks and mallards with some buffleheads. Out on the farthest edge were a dozen canvasbacks and forty scaup.
- Christopher Letts

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