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Hudson River Almanac January 16 - January 23, 2011

OVERVIEW

We had multiple sightings of a harbor seal this week across four days and 23 miles. It takes something special to keep a harbor seal from being the Highlight of the Week, but an immature bald eagle from Massachusetts, identified fortuitously from a leg band, made the grade.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/21 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: I had a rare and extreme honor bestowed upon me today: An immature bald eagle brought me a fish. I was making my usual eagle stop on Furnace Dock Road at midday and saw an adult eagle perched in a tree across the small bay. She had two immatures with her. I had just gotten out of my car when one of the immatures took off downriver. It returned almost immediately with a fish and landed in a tree right above me. I felt like I could almost touch the fish and the bird. We watched each other for a few minutes before it took its prize back to the sunny tree on the west side of the railroad tracks. The bird was wearing an orange leg tag with the code K over 4, vertically, three times around the band.
- Bonnie Talluto

[This seven and one-half month-old bald eagle, with band number 0679-04004, K/4 orange, was banded in its nest on Onota Lake, Pittsfield, Berkshire County, MA, on June 8, 2010. It was one of two nestlings. The nest is approximately 115 mile northeast of Oscawana. Tom Friench.]

[The lower estuary is a winter destination for eagles as the Northeast locks up in ice. It is likely that "unattached" eagles, including new adults or adults who have lost their mate, use this occasion to find one. An example is the mated pair from nest NY62 in the Town of Wappinger. The female (leg band N42) is from a nest along the Delaware River in Sullivan County. She was born in 1995, wintered along the Hudson in 2000, and met her mate, a non-banded, presumed to be a Canadian, bird. In what may have been a compromise, they built their nest midway between their origins. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/16 - Ulster County: Nine participants in four field parties conducted the Ulster County segment of the annual New York State January Waterfowl Count, encountering a total of 2,940 individual birds of eight species (plus one hybrid) during a 9.5-hour effort. Consistently freezing temperatures during the preceding week resulted in relatively few areas of open water and factored in a general scarcity of waterfowl. The 2011 survey produced our lowest diversity and abundance of waterfowl, well below the six-year average of 13 species and 5,391 individuals. Air temperatures dropped to an early morning low of -7 degrees F at sunrise, climbing to a high of 29 by mid-afternoon. The Hudson River was predominately solid ice with small scattered areas of open water along the main channel, which had frozen over the previous night. The Wallkill River was generally frozen with occasional pockets of open water. Two Hudson River field parties observed a remarkable 32 bald eagles during the count, including 15 individuals en masse on the river ice off Malden, and five eagles spotted from Ulster Landing.
- Alan Beebe, Lynn Bowdery, Allan Bowdery, Mark DeDea, Susan Rogers, Peter Schoenberger, Selden Spencer, Irene Warshauer, Steve M. Chorvas

1/16 - Beacon, HRM 61: I went out to the City Park today to look for eagles near one of the remaining patches of open water. I spotted a red fox, at least a quarter mile offshore, evidently looking for a meal on the fast ice. It homed in on wherever crows were, probably figuring they might have scraps for the taking. At one point it looked to be near mid-channel, disappearing among the jagged ice, only to re-emerge into view 50 feet away.
- Stephen Seymour

1/16 - Hudson Highlands, HRM 57-43: For the last week we have been making counts at nighttime eagle roosts. These are primarily migratory wintering birds with some locals mixed in. At one site we counted no fewer than 120 eagles.
- Ed McGowan

[During milder winter weather, bald eagles will often spend the night along the river in sheltered areas. However, on typically frigid winter nights, they tend to fly inland to stands of conifers where they form communal roosts. These communal night roosts are usually in conifers where the warmth of numbers and the shielding of leaves (needles) offer some windbreak and comfort. Tom Lake.]

1/16 - Haverstraw Bay to the Tappan Zee, HRM 43-34: For the second day in a row, the temperature registered zero at daybreak. No matter: I shrugged into my ice fishing suit, picked up the spotting scope, and headed out to lead a winter bald eagle program. I met my group at the Croton River railroad bridge and we headed north along the river, making half a dozen stops en route to Charles Point in Peekskill. The farther north we traveled, the more ice cover there was on the Hudson, and the more eagles we saw. At Verplanck, eight eagles crowded a small ice floe 100 yards from shore, where an adult bird was dining on a just-killed catfish. Another mature bird flew over our heads and landed 30 yards away in a locust top, pretty much ignoring the dozen people "googling" at it. By the time we reached the trip terminus at Charles Point, we had seen 60 eagles, and were replete. To crown it all, there was the lightest of breezes, and we were spared the teeth of the northerlies that have made outdoor viewing so uncomfortable over the past month. A good time had by all, and fine appetites for breakfast to boot.
- Christopher Letts

1/16 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: I was knee-deep in snow with my dog, Bracken, this afternoon. A flash of brown fur zoomed by not fifteen feet away. I saw just the haunches and a furry tail, but enough to know it was a coyote. It happened so fast. At nearly the very same moment I looked up and saw an eagle, not twenty feet from the ground. Bracken backed away, barking in the direction of fallen branches where the coyote had gone. I was thrilled. I'd never seen anything like this, and was grateful for the experience.
- Diane Maass

1/17 - Selkirk, HRM 135: This morning I woke up to the singing of a bird. I looked out the window and there was a brown creeper. What a wonderful start to my day. The ground was snow covered but I noticed no animal tracks. I wonder where they are in the deep snow. There were no rabbit, deer, fox, or "woyotes" tracks. Not even squirrels
- Roberta S. Jeracka

[The word "woyotes" comes from 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. Those studies indicate that our "wild dogs" are actually coyote-wolf hybrids, carrying both wolf and coyote DNA. Tom Lake.]

1/17- Highland, HRM 76: For most of the week one or two adult bald eagles have perched in a tree in our neighbor's yard. I took a photo of one and sitting near it was a mourning dove. We have watched the eagles fly by, but none perched in our trees. Only turkeys seem to like spending the night with us. We did watch an immature eagle sitting below and south of us eating his lunch. A sharp shinned-hawk shared our view last week.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

1/17 - Town of Mount Hope, Orange County, HRM 60: Now that the water-soaked snow is frozen solid and new snow forecasted, wildlife has to go into survival mode. The flocks of wild turkeys have learned to climb into the flora bunda rose bushes and pick the rose hips. It is interesting to watch 4-5 birds in each bush trying to balance on the thin branches to pick the berries. It must burn so much more energy. The cow manure we spread on the fields does contain corn remnants, so they do get to pick through that daily. The herds of deer have yarded up, keeping movement to a minimum. Pawing thru the crusted snow becomes harder and harder.
- Frank Ketcham

1/17 - Verplanck, HRM 39.5: A sunny day turned cloudy and grey by late afternoon. But this would be the best day we've ever had for eagle sightings. There were seven immatures and five adults constantly flying overhead, back and forth over the river, touching down from time to time on ice floes. One adult sat in a large tree behind us. We didn't know where to look next. There were 15 cormorants on the channel marker and below them more than 60 common mergansers and quite a few buffleheads. The eagles would swoop down near the mergansers, almost touching the water, but never picking off any.
- Kay Martens, Ed Stinson, Joan Wheeler, Dianne Picciano

1/18- Blooming Grove, HRM 55: I have watched a flicker fly onto the bottom tray of our hanging bird feeder, 20 feet from our house, for four days. What makes this special is the full spread of wings and tail showing the gold color of the feathers before it lands on the tray.
- Carol Coddington

[The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) was long considered to be two distinct species, the (eastern) yellow-shafted and the (western) red-shafted flicker. However, interbreeding occurs where their ranges overlap in the Midwest and this led to a change in taxonomy. Carol's description of the "gold" display is typical of the "yellow-shafted" flicker. Tom Lake.]

1/18 - Verplanck. HRM 40.5: In mid-morning I counted 80 common mergansers swimming upriver off Steamboat Dock.
- Viki Goldberg

1/18 - Crugers, HRM 39: We have had red-winged blackbirds at the feeder throughout the fall and early winter. Today we had a brown-headed cowbird.
- Jim Grefig

[The December Dutchess County Christmas Bird Count documented 54 brown-headed cowbirds. As part of the spring and fall blackbird migration, they tend to hand around with red-winged blackbirds, grackles, and occasionally rusty blackbirds. Their lingering presence in winter may be the result of the increased presence of backyard bird feeders. Tom Lake.]

1/18 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Some days just don't look so good: Gloomy light, haze and mist, slippy-slidy snow under foot, just a bleak scene. In mid-afternoon, I happened to be in the kitchen, and glanced out the window. Wow! Could these be the same goldfinches I had enjoyed just yesterday? The older males were clearly showing the beginnings of the "wild canary" colors we love so much in spring and summer.
- Christopher Letts

1/18 - Croton River, HRM 34: I was up on Croton Dam late this afternoon with binoculars in hand and much to my glee, eight bald eagles flew over, three adults and five immatures. What a sight!
- Mary Noll

1/19 - Cheviot, HRM 106: Red-wing blackbirds have been around all winter, with or without bird feeders. We also have red-tailed hawks nesting on the cove, one of which spends a lot of time in the trees facing the cove. Bald eagles likewise stop by to eye the fish in the cove, as will great blue herons, later in the year.
- Don Westmore

1/19 - Haverstraw Bay to Tappan Zee, HRM 43-34: The viewing was terrible with heavy ice fog and low clouds, yet I still counted 41 bald eagles from Peekskill to Croton Bay.
- Christopher Letts

1/19 - George's Island, HRM 39: In late afternoon I was able to get in some kayaking. The inlet to the river was free of ice, as was the river in the vicinity. The wind was negligible and the temperature was above freezing. I went upriver to see six eagles perched in the trees of Dogan Point. Traveling south, several others circled over the water, sometimes flying by me, low and close. One of them launched from and returned to a tiny ice floe, seemingly the only visible piece floating. As the light began to fade, I could see several of the eagles flying toward the roosts others had already occupied.
- Stephen Butterfass

1/19 - Yonkers, HRM 18: I saw a seal lying on the dock at Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club this evening. I came upon it as I prepared to put my kayak in the water on my commute back across the river. It looked healthy, good sized, and in the dark, black and shiny, like a seal in a circus. It slipped into the water and watched me for thirty seconds before dipping out of sight.
- Richard Scott

1/20 - Columbia County, HRM 137-119: What a beautiful morning. Heading west to the river early this morning I could see the near-full moon through the snow-covered tree branches. Further south the moon stood alone over Schodack Island. Still later, almost to Hudson, I looked east to see pink clouds over the Taconics. The next time I looked a beautiful pink orb was rising.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

1/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It was an especially gorgeous moon-set at 7:30 AM. The clear, cold air lessened the atmospheric distortion on the horizon. American Indians called this the Cold or Snow Moon - very appropriate. As we watched, nine white-tailed deer raced across the yard, barely denting the crusty snow.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

1/20 - Haverstraw Bay to Tappan Zee, HRM 43-34: I followed the same nine-mile route as yesterday. The viewing was perfect but today only 21 eagles. The bay inside Dogan Point at George's Island was filled with canvasbacks, the consummate elegant, winter duck.
- Christopher Letts

1/21 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: Despite the bitter cold, snow, and ice, there were still robins around.
- Bill Drakert

1/22 - China Pier to Croton River, HRM 43-34: Seventeen of us from the Hackensack River Canoe and Kayak Club took a nine-mile trip along the river in Westchester County looking for eagles. We counted 41 bald eagles. Other sightings included a Cooper's hawk at Verplanck, more than 125 canvasbacks at George's Island. A gentleman with camera and zoom lens showed us a photo of a harbor seal he had seen at Verplanck earlier in the day.
- Bob Rancan, Janet Rancan, Alec Malyon, Hilary Malyon, Robyn Lowenthal, Laurie Cochran

[These are almost always immature seals and, unlike dolphins or porpoises, tend to be loners. We seem to get an overflow of harbor seals from Long Island Sound, young seals lured into the lower estuary by the abundance of fish. Most of the time they are very healthy even if they appear to be in distress by the odd way they haul out and lie on rocks, docks and ice floes. Tom Lake.]

1/22 - Haverstraw, HRM 36: I spotted a harbor seal near the Haverstraw ferry launch. It was at the landing at the north end of the parking lot in the cove at a small marina where "bubblers" are running to keep the water moving and not freezing. It was hauled out on a stationary low dock. At the same time there were five bald eagles perched in trees at the north end of Emline Park that could be seen with binoculars from the ferry landing. It was an extravaganza of unusual sightings.
- Dorice Arden Madronero

1/22 - Manhattan, HRM 1.2: I was walking north along the Hudson River Park in Manhattan near Canal Street in early afternoon when a larger than usual bird for this area gracefully glided out onto the Holland Tunnel air vent pier and landed on the railing not 50 yards from shore near a group of four ducks I took to be mallards paddling in the river. I suspected it was a raptor by its grace, wing size and gray/brown color but was not certain which one. I waited while it seemed to taunt the group of four ducks for a few minutes while uttering a few high pitched cries and it soon took off revealing a rusty fantail of feathers before it winged it back to land and perched on a light pole over the busy west side highway.
- Caleb Davison

1/23 - Staatsburg,HRM 85: The local female red-shouldered hawk has been in the habit of perching in the upper branches of some cottonwood trees across the street from our house to catch the earliest rays of the rising sun. She's been there alone through the late fall and early winter. In the last week or so she's been occasionally joined by the male. Sometimes he sits quite close, just five to six feet away from the female in the same tree. Other times he's 50 feet away in a black walnut. With the temperature in the single digits, this is a welcome sign of spring.
- Linda Lund, David Lund

1/23 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: It was an arctic dawn. With the temperature at eight degrees below zero, the air had an incredible clarity and brightness. Two huge plumes of steam from Danskammer and Roseton power generating stations dwarfed the horizon and the Hudson was frozen bank-to-bank. Across the river an adult bald eagle was perched in a hardwood facing the warmth of rising sun. I had to wonder where she was finding her meals.
- Tom Lake

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