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Hudson River Almanac January 1 - January 7, 2011

OVERVIEW

Eagles get major play in the Almanac, and not only in winter. While in recent years sightings have become common, not so long ago they were rare. From 1897 to 1997, one hundred years, we had no breeding pairs along the 154 miles of estuary for a variety of reasons including shootings, poisonings, habitat loss, and DDT. When I was a child, a benevolent neighbor who knew I loved eagles would show me turkey vulture "eagles" soaring over Dutchess County's Mount Beacon in his spotting scope. We now have close to 30 breeding pairs (since 1997) along the estuary south of Troy. But while eagles have become rather common, they will never be taken for granted.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Winter has yet to be on firm footing this season in Newcomb. All of the winter storms have seemed to pass to the north or east. Snow depths had been hovering at or below 6 inches since mid-December when the warm weather on January 1 melted away most of the snow. Snow banks and well-shaded spots harbored what little snow was left on the ground. One welcome sign of winter, however, has arrived - the irruptive migrant birds from the northern forests of Canada. Over 80 common redpolls, with a few hoary redpolls mixed in, descended on my feeders this week to dine on sunflower and nyjer seeds. Evening grosbeaks were also abundant at other local bird feeders.
- Charlotte L. Demers

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/1 - Nutten Hook, HRM124: My first paddle of the New Year was a noisy one on the river in my little red kayak. Ice chunks floating downriver met channel markers and other chunks of ice causing sounds like drums and cymbals on an otherwise quiet winter river.
- Fran Martino

1/1 - Chester, HRM 55: Today we saw a male merlin [falcon] perched on a Japanese maple a foot from our window. We had never seen one up close and it was exciting. Another extraordinary event was the sudden appearance of a large male tiger swallowtail butterfly in the living room near our wood stove. We wondered if it hatched from one of the houseplants or came in on firewood. Our grandchildren were here to witness its appearance.
- Paula Spector

1/1 - Peekskill, HRM 43: There was ice, albeit small floes, in Peekskill Bay. From China (also called Fleishman's) Pier, I spotted eight adult eagles each riding its own floe, spaced over several hundred yards of river - eagles on a conveyer belt, a nice sight.
- Christopher Letts

1/1 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: We were returning home at dusk when I happened to see a gray shape speeding toward us from a woodlot. We quickly hit the brakes just as a screech owl hurtled over the hood of the car, brushing the windscreen with a wingtip. I have been told by wildlife rehabilitators that you just can't believe the number of owls in northern Westchester County. I suppose that our penchant for filling up our lives with noise, and reluctance to spend time outdoors after dark, accounts for our lack of knowledge on the matter.
- Christopher Letts

1/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Ducks and more ducks were here: common goldeneye, buffleheads, greater scaup, canvasbacks, black ducks, mallards, ruddy ducks, and many common mergansers. Yesterday's ice floes were pretty much gone from the Tappan Zee, and I saw many fewer eagles.
- Christopher Letts

1/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: A dozen of us leisurely paddled canoes on the Croton River upstream from the train trestle at the Hudson past Paradise Island to No-name Island (a.k.a. Fireman's Island) and back. During the two and one-half hours on the Croton, we were treated to many birds including two great blue herons, buffleheads, common mergansers, American coots, mallards, Canada geese, belted kingfisher, mute swans, a sharp-shinned hawk, two red-tailed hawks (together on the same branch), and bald eagles (one immature, two adults). All-in-all a truly nice way to bring in the New Year.
- Lenny Grefig

1/2 - New Paltz, HRM 78: As we drove to the Walkway over the Hudson for a family trek, hoping to see an eagle on an ice floe, we spotted an adult bald eagle in a tall maple overlooking the river just past the rapids on the Wallkill River at Libertyville. It would be the only one we saw that day.
- Lisa Munzer, Bill Munzer, Melanie Munzer

1/2 - Chester, HRM 55: The male tiger swallowtail butterfly was flying around the living room again today. But once he disappeared from sight, we did not see him again.
- Paula Spector

1/2 - Westchester County, HRM 43: I slogged through a foot or more of slushy snow on Loundsbury Pond, a dammed up stretch of a Hudson River tributary called Dickey Brook in Blue Mountain Park. I drilled a few holes through nine inches of ice, and started the New Year right. A nice black crappie hit my lure on the first drop, and in less than 45 minutes I was sitting on all the panfish I wanted to clean. Courting pileated woodpeckers whooped and hollered on the wooded slopes, and a great blue heron ghosted over the pond.
- Christopher Letts

1/2 - Peekskill, HRM 43-39: I counted eight adult bald eagles on the floe ice of Peekskill Bay from China Pier. Four miles south at George's Island, I enjoyed the energetic buffleheads, the goldeneyes, and the regal, graceful canvasbacks out in the bay below Dogan Point. There were a half a dozen more eagles out on ice floes as well.
- Christopher Letts

1/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I could close my eyes and let 50 years slip away: I was a young bluejacket from Michigan, stationed on Kodiak in the Aleutian Islands, and it was a wonderful new world. This morning I didn't even have to squint to achieve the flashback. The view across floe ice on Haverstraw Bay, to the Palisades on the western shore, was close enough to my memories of Old Woman Bay in early winter. A pair of ravens was harassing a bald eagle, "Gronk Gronk Gronk." The eagle was ignoring the ravens. The ducks and gulls were not the same species I had enjoyed in the Aleutians, and we were short some magpies, but close enough.
- Christopher Letts

1/3 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I spotted an adult bald eagle at Cheviot Landing today. There was a beautiful sunset.
- Billy Shannon

1/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: It was new moon minus one day which meant no moon to brighten the night. It was bitter cold, made even more so by the breeze coming across miles of ice. Although I could not see them, the river was choked with floes, some no doubt acres across, all moving upriver in the start of the flood tide. The range of ice music was hitting on every register as floes collided. Orion was rising in the east making this a perfect winter night.
- Tom Lake

1/3 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 46.5: There were lots of eagles out on the river. Maybe it's the ice. It always seems like there is an increase in eagle presence and activity in the three miles between Con Hook and the Bear Mountain Bridge for a couple of days after a storm. I spotted a raven soaring above Anthony's Nose this morning. I always tell my sons, "if you see a big crow soaring like a hawk, or acting like a person, it's a raven."
- Scott Craven

1/3 - George's Island, HRM 39: I counted a dozen eagles this morning on the ice of Haverstraw Bay. There were still about two dozen canvasbacks in the bay off George's Island.
- Christopher Letts

1/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: With a couple of warmer days the volume of ice had increased, drawn down from upriver, but its grip had loosened. Mid-river floes were still heading upstream in the last of the flood tide while the inshore ice was beginning to creep downriver in the start of the ebb.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

["Mahicanituk" is a written approximation of an Algonquian word describing the estuary that has been interpreted as "the river flows both ways." Since Hudson River Indians had an oral language, this word has been spelled with as many variations as it has had interpretations. The most common interpretation is that "flows both ways" refers to the four, approximately six-hour, tides of the estuary each day, two floods and two ebbs. But there is another interpretation that is never more obvious than with winter ice: As each tidal current slows, there is a brief period of time where the momentum associated with the volume of deep water takes longer to stop and turn than shallow inshore water where the lesser volume succumbs sooner. During that narrow winter window today, the river, and its ice, flowed both ways, at once. Tom Lake.]

1/4 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 52: The winter sunlight reflecting off the snow onto the undersides of gliding ring-billed gulls turns them into pale apparitions. Standing crows become so black, they almost look purple.
- Eric Lind

1/4 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: A thoroughly delightful winter sight: bluebirds, sometimes six, sometimes seven, feasting on the lavender-purple berries of beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) in my garden. Why these birds chose one particular shrub I don't know; maybe some flock/herd phenomenon. Another bluebird was checking out a nest box some 30 feet away. In the past I've seen these berries also attract mockingbirds, robins, and house finches.
- Nancy P Durr

1/4 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: I like to walk across the Bear Mountain Bridge each morning for exercise and to catch some glorious views. Today was the first day I saw two immature eagles floating northward, each on their own ice floe. As they neared the bridge, they soared close to the water toward Iona Island. As I returned home, a pileated woodpecker was attacking a tree along the Old West Point Road. What a great morning for bird watching!
- Kathie Kourie

1/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I watched as five crows scuffled and pecked around under the bird feeder, a sixth hopped along the rim making the seeds scatter. For them? They all flew off, squawking, cawing, and calling loudly. One landed on a nearby branch where it was backlit by sunlight. To my surprise, and delight, I could see its vaporous foggy breath burst out of its mouth in puffs with each declarative caw. Although I'd never seen this before, I've suspected that crows, like most politicians, are full of hot air.
- Robin Fox

1/5 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I've seen an immature eagle flying over and on the ice the last couple of days. An accipiter (sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk) has been hanging around in the trees around the cove.
- Chris Bowser

1/5 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While walking with our dogs I came upon a small flock, perhaps a dozen, of bluebirds. Some were feeding in red cedars and the others were facing the rising sun from the tops of ash saplings in a field. As we made our crunchy way across the field, the entire flock flew in their undulating style to the top of a mature ash in the tree line at the edge of the field. All of them now had their orange breasts facing the sun.
- Bill Munzer

1/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: One of the goals of the Hudson River Almanac is to document moments that define the season. While these can be quite impressive, such as the eight-foot wing-span of the sandhill cranes in December, they often come in small packages. In early December we reported two immature white-crowned sparrows at Foundry Cove (river mile 53). This was an unusual sighting since these birds are usually not seen here outside of spring and fall migration. The Dutchess County Christmas Bird Count then spotted two more in late December, two more were seen in New Paltz (Ulster County) in New Year's Eve, and today, one immature white-crowned perched on my fence. In less than one month, this little 7-inch-long bird had become a defining part of our winter season.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

1/5 - Peekskill, HRM 43: I went eagle "hunting" today. An adult and an immature flew over me at Peekskill Bay and then I "shot" six on an ice floe between Charles Point and Indian Point. Great photos!
- Kathie Kourie

1/6 - Minerva, HRM 284: The dogs and I were walking on the ice in the back forty in mid-afternoon (about eight inches of ice) when we spotted some suspicious tracks in the fresh snow. River otters! I knew it because of the pattern of the loping thing they do and also because of the slides that were associated with those tracks: lope, slide, lope, slide. There seemed to be two of them (unless it was a Heffalump; see Winnie the Pooh). They had cruised around the perimeter of the wetland, ducking in an out of snowy openings under tree roots and stumps, having fun.
- Mike Corey

1/6 - New Hamburg, HRM 68: When I see an adult eagle and an immature sharing a meal on an ice floe I always believe that they must be kin. It takes the patience of a parent to put up with the poor manners of most immature eagles. Immatures tend to have no patience, are self-absorbed, and have a limited attention span. This may sound anthropomorphic, but decades of watching their antics have convinced me. Among the jig-saw towers of ice near Diamond Reef I watched an adult and an immature share a duck with much tolerance from the adult.
- Tom Lake

1/7 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: More snow; more wind; much fog. Looking out at the river at dawn, it was impossible to tell where the fog, the whiteout, and the ice met. It was seamless. It was the last of the ebb tide and the ice-covered river was still. If you did not know better, it could have been an Antarctic ice field and not a river at all. Not far offshore I could barely make out three brown dots on the ice - immature bald eagles waiting for the conveyor to start up again.
- Tom Lake

1/7 - Crugers, HRM 39: As we looked out at our feeders this snowy morning, we were faced with a winter wonderland. Tree branches were dressed in white and all was peaceful and serene. We were delighted to see a total of 12 cardinals flitting from our olive tree to the feeders. We've never had this many before and, since they were moving about so quickly, we couldn't count the number of males and females. Joining them for breakfast was a male red-bellied woodpecker on our peanut feeder, a male downy on the suet, many juncos, sparrows, mourning doves, and four blue jays. Unfortunately, one of the blue jays was captured by a large Cooper's hawk that took it away for a meal. The other birds at the feeders had scattered when the hawk took its prey, but returned while the hawk was eating a few yards away. We guess they realized it would be satisfied for a while. However, after it had finished eating, the hawk continued to keep watch over the feeders from a high branch of a nearby tree.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/7 - New York Bight: A coastal low pressure system caused a slight storm surge in the estuary January 7-8. Slightly higher water levels were observed from the George Washington Bridge to Schodack Island. Wind speeds are typically stronger in the late fall and winter months so we can expect more storm surges during this season. For a more detailed description see www.hrecos.org
- Alene Onion

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