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Hudson River Almanac January 23 - January 31, 2011

OVERVIEW

This was a bitterly cold and snowy week. Coast Guard ice breakers were busy every day as air temperatures combined with heavy snowfall to freeze the river bank-to-bank in many areas.

HIGHLIGHT FROM A PREVIOUS WEEK

1/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: The 32 participants in Bedford Audubon's outing to the Croton Dam were in for a rare treat. Several eagles flew overhead soon after we arrived; one juvenile swooped down and grabbed a common merganser. It flew low over the ice with the heavy prey and then landed not far from the dam. Within minutes, 14 other eagles, adults and juveniles, flew in from everywhere trying to partake of the meal. Earlier, at Black Rock Park on the Croton River, we spotted common mergansers, hooded mergansers, ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, black ducks, mallards, pied-billed grebe, mute swans and Canada geese.
- Helle Raheem

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Today's air temperature dipped to 26 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
- Charlotte L. Demers

1/24 - Hudson River Estuary: Air temperatures along the river dropped to their lowest point so far this winter, yet they were still warmer than air temperatures recorded at nearby terrestrial stations. For example, the Albany Airport had a minimum temperature of -13 F while our Hudson River station at Schodack Island, 13 miles downriver, had a minimum of -11.5 F. Similarly, Poughkeepsie had a low of -14 F while our Hudson River station at Norrie Point, ten miles upriver, had a low of -11F. The National Weather Service's Steve DiRienzo explains that this temperature difference could be caused by heat fluxes from the water through cracks in the ice. Normally this would only be a slight influence on air temperature but on that particular day winds were very calm, allowing the air to stratify. To view the raw data, visit the "Current Conditions" page using the HRECOS link: www.hrecos.org.
- Alene Onion

1/24 - Columbia County, HRM 109: The air was six below zero as the sun cleared the horizon. The extremely cold air had a mid-winter clarity. Rime ice covered every limb, branch, branchlet and twig, creating a "crystal forest." With knee-deep snow and a flimsy crust, it was good terrain for snowshoes to make the going easier, but the show demanded slow travel: Brilliant male cardinals appeared like gemstones in the pure white snow; the newly-colored male "gold" finches were illuminating; and the coal black crows provided a stark contrast.
- Tom Lake

1/24 - Cheviot, HRM 106: The river appeared to be frozen bank-to-bank. Earlier in the morning the air temperature was 14 below zero. As I headed out, a hundred feet offshore, I cut a hole with my auger and found 18 inches of hard, if uneven, ice. I kept walking, intrigued by all of the wildlife tracks in the snow. White-tailed deer and assorted bird tracks were the most common, followed by fox, and several sets parallel to shore that were likely coyote. Oftentimes, the fox and coyote are looking for half-eaten fish or ducks left by eagles. I was nearing the halfway point on the ice when the 65-foot-long USCG harbor tug "Line" came upriver, convincing me that I had taken this walk far enough.
- Tom Lake

1/25 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: Two adult bald eagles have been hanging out - more or less together - across from New Baltimore. Let's hope that, if they are not a mated pair, they fall in love. This afternoon, I picked up the croaking sounds of a raven flying over, but couldn't find it. Tonight I enjoyed hearing the sounds of the ice creaking and crunching, coyotes singing, and foxes barking. From the deep recesses of the darkest hours of the last two nights, I have heard the distinctive "tooting" of a saw-whet owl from somewhere out there.
- Rich Guthrie

1/25 - Fishkill, HRM 61: I awoke at 2:00 AM to peer out the window to see about the impending weather. There, in the heavily snow-covered backyard, I saw new snow lightly falling. As I gazed at the wintry scene, a bobcat, with its boldly striped fur, pointed ears and bobbed tail, was gracefully bounding across the yard. The scene was mystical as there was an alpenglow-like air enveloping the yard that one sees when snow is falling at night. The next morning, we could plainly see the bobcat's tracks cutting directly across our yard from one wooded area beneath the low hanging branches of a massive black walnut tree to another wooded area.
- Merrill Spaeth

1/25 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I had visit from a pair of bluebirds. They drank voraciously from my heated bird bath, took off, and then returned to drink again. I know they are around in the winter but still it was a pleasure. I did have a pair that nested successfully last summer.
- Anne P. Strain

1/25 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: As I walked into the Oscawana Island Preserve at noon, I was concerned about what the dog was frantically trying to rub onto her back. Upon looking closely, I picked up about a half pound of catfish head that had probably dropped from an eagle resting in one of the tall oaks on the shore. When I finally got to the peninsula, I spotted eight eagles perched on an ice floe. It was a wonderful sight.
- Paul Buckhout

1/26 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: In early evening, thousands of crows were arriving for their night roost, one that extends several miles along the Poughkeepsie waterfront. One interesting aspect is the pre-roost behavior of many of the birds: hundreds if not thousands land on river ice just offshore. It is easy to see this as a queue, an assembly point for "friends and relatives" prior to committing to the trees for the night.
- Tom Lake

1/26 - West Point, HRM 52.5: The serenity of shifting ice floes and a hint of ice fog across the snowy riverscape was quickly interrupted by a peregrine falcon. Flying low out to mid-channel, it put up a few gulls and mergansers then turned back, flew high, and stooped several times on a hapless red-tailed hawk flying by. Peace returned, but the sight of a peregrine riverside in mid- winter seemed incongruous.
- Bob Kakerbeck

1/27 - Verplanck to Oscawana, HRM 40.5-38.5: We saw a lone eagle from Verplanck's Steamboat Dock, soaring over the Stony Point State Park lighthouse across the river. At George's Island, we were delighted to see five eagles in three trees surveying the open water in the bay below Dogan Point. Two more flew in, one adult and one immature, doing a tandem show in the sky before disappearing behind the point. The snow in the trees made identifying adults, with their white heads and tails, difficult. Lastly, there were two more at Oscawana perched close together on the end of the point. They were faced into the sun, keeping a watch on the open water. The scene was breathtakingly beautiful.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/28 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: A slight warming of the air loosened the river's grip on the ice. Six immature eagles were riding the edge of a huge floe slowly upstream in the current. Thousands of crows were arriving in early evening for their communal night roost. However, unlike two days ago when hundreds gathered out on the river, today the ice was empty. The difference? Today the ice was moving. It may be that pre-roosting crows prefer frozen, stationary ice so as not to lose sight of their roosting spot along the river.
- Tom Lake

1/28 - Peekskill to Croton Bay, HRM 43-34: This nine-mile eagle run produced 86 birds! Of these, perhaps a dozen were in trees. The rest were riding the big tidal moving sidewalk, an always popular deep winter pastime. Haverstraw Bay was a wonderful, crazy, patchwork quilt of jumbled ice, shattered and shattered again by the tides, winds, and current, with open leads there and here. The Tappan Zee was half frozen, replete with floe ice. On Route 9 near Croton-on-Hudson, I spotted a handsome adult eagle perched 50' above the roadway in a black oak - surveillance duty no doubt. I was inclined to wonder how many of the thousand rushing commuters saw the bird, or even knew what it was.
- Christopher Letts

1/28 - The Battery, HRM 0: Ice floes from upriver reached the end of Manhattan at the head of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. This does not occur every year. With ice floes and "snow mountains" everywhere from our latest 19" snowfall, it has been a great winter on the Hudson and in New York City.
- Helena Andreyko

[New York City has received 56" of snow for the season, 36" of it in January. National Weather Service.]

1/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Snow depths were still hovering around 17" with all of the significant snowstorms continuing to hit areas to our south and east. My recent forays into the woods have shown moderate to high snowshoe hare and American marten activity. In addition, areas that typically do not harbor white-tailed deer in the winter months still seem to have significant deer activity. The lack of snow depth may be keeping the deer from having to migrate to their traditional winter yards ... so far.
- Charlotte L. Demers

1/29 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: We had a beautiful adult Cooper's hawk in the tree out back, checking the feeders for breakfast. I am usually hesitant to identify an accipiter but this bird was almost as big as a red-tailed hawk, probably a female, facing us, showing all the field marks.
- Bill Drakert

1/29 - Fishkill, HRM 61: While raking snow off the roof in mid-afternoon a black-capped chickadee kept fluttering about me. I stopped what I was doing and rested the long-poled rake on the roof to chat with the bird. It landed on the handle of the rake and very sweetly asked me to fill the feeders. So I did. I couldn't refuse such a sweet request.
- Ed Spaeth

1/29 - George's Island to Oscawana, HRM 39-38: We spotted two adult bald eagles in the trees on Dogan Point as well a big immature hanging out on a branch nearer the water. There were many others out on ice floes and across the river, on the Rockland side. We could see movement but they were too far out to determine if they were fishing or just jumping around. Three more flew into the trees at Dogan Point and two others flew past. There were two adults and one immature in the trees at Oscawana.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/30 - Fish Island, Westchester County, HRM 44.5: The Hudson was bank-to-bank ice south to Con Hook (river mile 48.5). As I came abreast of Fish Island, near the southern gateway to the Hudson Highlands, I counted six immature eagles huddled together on the tiny rock island.
- Tom Lake

[Fish Island, a rocky river stick-up, less than 100 square feet in area, is a sometimes haul-out spot for harbor seals. The tiny island, across from Dunderberg, is adjacent to the deep water of the Hudson Highlands, reaching 90-140 feet just off shore. Tom Lake.]

1/31 - Anthony's Nose, HRM 45.5: I watched the USCG cutter "Penobscot Bay" heading down through the Hudson Highlands this morning. They came under the Bear Mountain Bridge and charged through about an acre of floating ice. It was quite a sight. I could hear the ice crunching against the hull 400 feet up on the Route 6/202 overlook - I cannot imagine what it sounded like on the ship. The Coast Guard does a great job on this river despite little recognition and less funding.
- Scott Craven

1/31 - George's Island, HRM 39: We were on an eagle count this afternoon at George's Island. With a wonderful sunset and the eagles flying and swooping about it was magnificent. I had my first opportunity to hear their calls which was not what I would have expected out of our national bird. I got to see five immature birds along with four adults.
- Andrea Schechter, Herb Chong

[The call of the bald eagle, while not as robust as you might expect, is nonetheless very distinct. The most common call is a high-pitched, repeated chortle. It is so distinct, that if you are engaged in a conversation riverside, and an eagle calls, you will immediately recognize it. It is a conversation stopper. The only other call that comes close to it for immediate recognition is the yodel and tremolo of the common loon. Tom Lake.]

1/31 - Crugers, HRM 39: We had starlings in breeding plumage at the feeder today: yellow bill and blue base.
- Jim Grefig

1/31 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: We saw a lone adult bald eagle silhouetted against the golden sky on a branch overlooking the Hudson at Oscawana Point. The brilliant red sun was just about ready to disappear behind the hills of Rockland as it cast its pinkish glow on the glassy surface of the water. This bucolic scene would be the calm before the storm predicted for the next day.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

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