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Hudson River Almanac January 8 - January 15, 2011

OVERVIEW

The thirty-third annual New York State Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census was conducted January 9-10. On these days, as part of the state-wide survey, we tried to count all of the eagles, both bald eagles and golden eagles, in the wintering, roosting, and congregation areas of the Hudson River watershed. The recent surge of rugged winter weather had driven many birds south from Canada and points north and east, most seeking open water south of the Hudson Highlands.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/12 - Ravena, HRM 134: As a result of last night's snowfall, I was home sitting where I could get a good view of the "flying circus" around the bird feeders. We've been getting the usual mix this winter: juncos, jays, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, and downy woodpeckers. Today we saw something different, a male red-winged blackbird. He showed up at the feeder a couple of times; his wing flashes were not very prominent - a gust of wind picked them out for a moment.
- Larry Roth

[The red-winged blackbird is another "sign of spring" that seems to be losing its place. While the major migratory push of red-wings into marshes and wetlands still occurs in early March, there are places in the Hudson Valley where some red-wings remain all winter, perhaps due to the increased availability of backyard feeders. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/8 - Moreau Lake State Park, HRM 202: I spotted an adult bald eagle on the Hudson River in midday at the Sherman Island dam area in Saratoga County. It had been seen several times in the past week.
- Gary Hill

1/8 - Town of Wappinger: The female from eagle nest NY62 continues to be all alone. Today she was perched in the top of a black locust a few hundred feet from the nest with a panoramic view of the river. She was intently looking south and as I followed her line of sight I could see a raven crossing her field of vision a quarter-mile away. In previous years, the breeding pair would be making winter renovations to the nest. However, the NY62 male has not been seen since last May. Eagles mate for life but if one of them is lost, the survivor will look for a replacement. If she has no success this winter, and the missing male does not return, the nest will be abandoned.
- Tom Lake

1/8 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: The trees around Steamboat Dock were coated in white amid snow flurries. We marveled at the calmness of the gray river. Eight double-crested cormorants were perched on the channel marker, many ring-billed gulls crowded together on the little beach, and various ducks and geese scooted up and down the river. We were delighted to count eight bald eagles in the trees near the Stony Point State Park lighthouse across the river and, at one point, we watched as a pair of adults interacted in a courtship display high in the sky above the treeline.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/8 - George's Island, HRM 39: We spotted two bald eagles perched across the cove on Dogan Point. Before long, a third flew in to join them. Interestingly, below them in the bay, more than fifty common mergansers drifted, seemingly oblivious to the eagles perched above them.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

[This is a recurring theme for eagles and "eagle food" such as common mergansers. Waterfowl seem to be able to sense when eagles are on the hunt and when they are sated. Tom Lake.]

1/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We picked up several more inches of snow this week but at the lower elevations, the total snow on the ground was still below a foot. This is still enough snow to make for good cross-country skiing at Santanoni Preserve and the wearing of snowshoes a must. White-tailed deer have slowly moved to their winter yards in the conifer habitat along the river corridor. A fair number of deer stay at the edge of town to take advantage of what the local neighborhood provides: few predators, plowed roads, tasty landscaping plants and bird feeders. At least five deer are regular nighttime, and sometimes daytime, visitors to my bird feeders.
- Charlotte L. Demers

1/9 - Mid-Hudson Valley, HRM 70-45: The Hudson above the Highlands was 95 percent ice-covered and across 25 miles of river I did not see a single duck or goose. The tributaries, marshes and backwaters were frozen. At my first stop I spotted an adult eagle (the female from the Town of Wappinger nest, NY62) perched in a hardwood on Cedarcliff across the river in Orange County. Shortly thereafter she took off and, pushed by a northwest wind, soared over Soap Hill south to Danskammer Point. At that point I could have gone home - there were no others.
- Tom Lake

1/10 - Washington County, HRM 192.5-191.5: This rural stretch of the river, a mile-long wide spot in the Hudson below the Lock 6 spillway, is a major stopover for migrating waterfowl. In addition to several large rafts of Canada geese, there were hundreds of common goldeneyes, as well as many black ducks, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, lesser scaup, a few ring-necked ducks, hooded mergansers, and common mergansers. The most impressive sighting was a pair of redhead ducks, a relatively uncommon sighting.
- Tom Lake

1/10 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: Several large but loose groupings of common goldeneye were hugging the shoreline just below the Route 125 bridge. Scores of black ducks shared the quieter inshore waters. Out in the deeper and swifter current, pairs of buffleheads were diving.
- Tom Lake

1/10 - Cohoes Falls, HRM 157: The seventy-foot-high face of the Falls at Cohoes looked very much like the leading edge of a glacier. Indeed, Ice Age glaciers and the huge volumes of water released when they melted did more to shape the Mohawk River valley then did the present river, though the falls themselves are the result of erosion by the Mohawk. A quarter mile below the falls in quieter water, several large rafts of lesser scaup hugged the shoreline, out of the current. A Cooper's hawk came out of the woods on one side of the river, crossed over - flap, flap, glide - and disappeared into the woods on the other side.
- Tom Lake

1/10 - Green Island, HRM 153: My favorite place on the river, for many reasons, was icily quiet. While some water was cascading over the spillway of the federal dam, the river below was nearly frozen over. A single hen goldeneye had found an open lead near shore and was conserving energy in the eddy flow of the current. I wondered if the duck knew that this was a winter haunt for eagles and not a good spot to linger.
- Tom Lake

1/10 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66-64: I counted seven adult and seven immature bald eagles roosting or resting in trees along the two-mile shoreline from Danskammer Point to Roseton. It was a beautiful cold and clear morning, perfect for counting eagles.
- Eric Shaw

1/10 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: Two eagles, one adult and one immature, were out on ice floes in the lower reach of the creek.
- Phil Picciano

1/10 - Charles Point to George's Island, HRM 43-39: We counted a dozen eagles across four miles: one on the ice at Charles Point, two in the trees at Stony Point State Park, two in the air, and seven at George's Island. At Verplanck, we counted 68 common mergansers.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/11 - North Creek, HRM 257: While enjoying lunch with friends we were startled to see a very large brown bird with beautifully marked feathers land in a hemlock just outside the window. It turned its head and stared back at us with its huge barred owl eyes. We felt sure it knew we were watching it!
- Betsy Hawes

1/11 - New Windsor, HRM 58: As we emerged from the parking lot of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, we noted several black forms perched on the bare trees. Four of these were larger than the others - black vultures all hunkered down against the cold. The others were crows and some were haranguing the vultures.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

1/11 - George's Island, HRM 39: Having determined that my kayak will slice through ice if it is not too thick, I launched into an inlet to the river. The air temperature was below freezing. An adult bald eagle was perched in a tree as I passed, apparently ignoring the dozens of ducks that inhabited the inlet. As I paddled further into the river, three more eagles (two adults) streaked overhead, circling and hunting before landing on an ice floe in the channel. On the way back, I saw three more immatures for a total of seven. Before I drove out of the park, I spoke with birders with spotting scopes who reported seeing fourteen eagles.
- Steve Butterfass

1/11 - Croton River, HRM 34: On a snowy night, the beauty of a single swan on the black Croton River is breathtaking,
- Sandy Plotkin

1/11 - Westchester County, HRM 27: While walking the Eagle Hill Trail loop at the Rockefeller State Preserve, I spotted an adult bald eagle flying very low. I hike the Preserve a couple of hundred times a year and this is my first sighting in ten years.
- Tony Usobiaga

1/12 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: We have a pair of ten-foot-tall rhododendrons on our sidewalk just outside the gate and arbor. As I opened the gate there was a calamitous flurry of wings: a sharp-shinned hawk was attacking a male cardinal in the bush. Fortunately for the cardinal, the rhododendrons are wrapped in deer netting. The hawk made an attempt to grab the cardinal but was rebuffed by the netting. Undaunted, he flew over the driveway and returned to strike again, this time just missing my head in another futile attempt. The hawk flew off; the cardinal exited at the top where there is no netting, only to fly directly toward the hawk that once again attempted to score, but the cardinal flew safely into a thick spruce tree. I had mixed emotions. I was glad the cardinal survived to return to our feeders, but sorry the hawk missed his meal.
- Darrell Chlystun

1/12 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: Ten inches of snow brings crowds around. We had a fox sparrow, unusual at our feeder, and a leucistic blue jay made a rare appearance. We also still have song sparrow hanging around.
- Bill Drakert

1/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Sunrise came one minute earlier today (as if we could see it through the snow) for the first time since June 19. A quick clearing around the feeders was all it took for scores of songbirds to arrive. There were three white-throated sparrows on the thistle feeders, a first from what I can recall; they are always foraging on the ground. The single white-crowned was still around. The "Starling Brothers" had taken over the suet feeders. Bullies.
- Tom Lake

[Total daylight is a combination of sunrise and sunset. Our first extra minute to sunset occurred on December 14, our first extra minute of daylight since July 2. Tom Lake.]

1/12 - Fishkill, HRM 61: With a gray sky overhead and snow blanketing the ground, the tree branches were still white from an earlier foot of snow. There was a flurry of activity in our yard as the birds made a last minute visit to the feeding stations before nightfall. Suddenly, the birds scattered as I heard the sharp "keeerrr" call of a red-tailed hawk overhead, and not far behind was a sharp-shinned hawk riding the same thermal. The two raptors moved on and the passerines once again came out for a late-evening feeding.
- Ed Spaeth

1/12 - Riverdale, Bronx, HRM 15: We have windows, two small balconies, and a large deck overlooking the Hudson, which is just yards away on the other side of the Metro North tracks. This morning we spotted an unusual flock of birds on the river, 35 canvasbacks in a tight group facing north into the wind, nearly all of them diving and resurfacing in beautiful alternating patterns. From our view, their striking black-and-white bodies were beautiful in the sun against the blue water, but with binoculars we could clearly see their reddish-brown necks and heads. We saw them again later, this time all but two were bobbing up and down in the chop but with their heads tucked under a wing. Two had their heads up - handsome birds! We could now see that nearly all of the flock was males, with maybe three females.
- Jen Scarlott, Julia Scarlott

[Since the middle of the last century, canvasback numbers in North America have fluctuated a great deal, but in the last decade they have been above the long-term average. According to the Birds of North America Online, increases in population generally correspond to periods of high water levels, which increase their available nesting habitat - prairie potholes and wetlands - and reduce predation, and to restrictive limits on hunting. Loss of their breeding habitat remains a concern. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

1/13 - Hudson River Estuary: Yesterday's snowstorm came with strong northwest winds. This caused a dramatic blowout tide in the Hudson Estuary that could be seen for 135 miles, from Schodack Island to the Battery. Water levels dropped by four feet or more. Fortunately these conditions were foreseen by the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NYHOPS). One Hudson River pilot was particularly grateful: "The ship was loaded to 31 feet; the channel is normally 32 feet. A dramatic drop in water level has a significant effect. You might be scraping the mud as you go along and it handles very, very poorly." For a more detailed description, visit www.hrecos.org
- Alene Onion

[The Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System (HRECOS) is a real-time monitoring network on the Hudson River estuary. Every fifteen minutes, stations at nine sites - including a mobile station on the sloop Clearwater - record data about an array of environmental conditions and relay the information to our website for viewing (www.hrecos.org). Alene Onion.]

1/14 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The river's ice was a frozen mosaic, like shifting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. One moment the channel was open and the next all leads were sealed. The midday ebb tide was drawing ice downriver from marshes and backwaters, opening here and closing there. Seven immature bald eagles dotted a quarter-mile-long sheet of ice riding the current like carnival bumper cars, colliding with smaller floes and pushing them aside. They passed us offshore like commuters heading for the city.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

1/14 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: We were looking for eagles perched in the trees on the point. Just as we were leaving, we were amazed and thrilled to see an adult bald eagle right over our heads on a tree branch that extended over the road! We stopped to see it more closely and did get a good look at its beautiful, shiny feathers and bright yellow beak and talons.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

[The Fergusons observed the cardinal rule of eagle watching: Never leave your vehicle if the bird is closer than the length of a football field. Eagles have an "alert distance" of 250 meters, although their eyesight is so keen that they probably see you far sooner. More importantly, they have a "flight distance" of 125 meters. These are averages and some birds will show more tolerance than others; they will always show more tolerance if you do not step outside your vehicle. Invariably, however, people will try to get closer for a variety of ill-advised reasons, accomplishing nothing more than flushing the bird and causing it to expend energy. In winter this can be incredibly wasteful to the eagle. Stay in your vehicle if the eagle is close, and use binoculars, spotting scopes, and zoom lenses on cameras. Tom Lake.]

1/14 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: In fourteen years of bald eagle watching from my window overlooking the Tappan Zee, whatever birds I spotted, either in trees, flying, or on floating ice, would disappear by noon. Near sunset today a dark spot on an ice floe in the middle of the river bloomed into an adult eagle when enlarged by my 20X binoculars. This fellow remained on this tiny piece of ice well into the twilight before disappearing in the darkness.
- Doug Maass

1/15 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Single digit air temperature at dawn did not bode well for our bald eagle program. The river looked as though you could walk across on the ice if you were so inclined. Fifteen of us made the effort but there were no eagles. The river was no less than 95% ice-covered. Out in the channel we could see a narrow band of slushy ice drifting downriver in the ebb current. There were seven common mergansers in the slush, five drakes, two hens - beautiful birds - but that was all.
- Tom Lake, Dave Lindemann, Pat Joel, Barbara Butler, Jess Anderson, Mark Anderson, Jim Peockup

[We schedule bald eagle viewing programs in October without the aid of a crystal ball. As a result, the nearly shoreline-to-shoreline ice was unattractive to eagles whose primary forage is fish and waterfowl; finding both requires open water. The eagles had moved forty miles south. Seven years ago in February, we had an eagle program at Norrie Point where the ice cover was just right. The eagles were there that day along with a raven and two river otters. Tom Lake.]

1/15 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: It was a comedy day at our bird feeders. One junco spent most of the day trying to get seeds from the thistle feeder, at times almost hovering in front of the tiny hole. Our Carolina wren joined titmice, chickadees, goldfinches and others at the sunflower seed feeder. Juncos, a house sparrow, blue jays, and a cardinal were all on the suet feeder, briefly, along with the woodpeckers. The cardinal also has taught himself how to land on the vertical sunflower seed feeder. The adaptations are both comical to watch and amazing to ponder!
- Betsy Hawes

1/15 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: A lone adult bald eagle stood on the brash ice 150 yards from the eastern shore from mid-afternoon until after sunset. Studying the bird with my 60X scope, I could see his semi-circular talons, front and rear, each nearly big enough to encircle a roll of silver dollars, but having nothing on the ice to grip. I wasn't able to see if he was banded. This "night owl" seems, to my observations, to be an unusual individual, an outlier or maverick.
- Doug Maass

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