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Hudson River Almanac February 1 - February 7, 2011

OVERVIEW

While the hard winter continues with ice, snow, and bitter cold, the wildlife seems to have settled in, coping well with available resources. There also seems to be a gentle stirring among birds and mammals as daylight continues to lengthen. The word "spring" is beginning to creep into observations.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/2 - Yonkers, HRM 18: For as long as I can recall, canvasbacks and ruddy ducks have come to feed at the mouth of the Nepperhan [Saw Mill] River in late January and early February. The boardwalk along the Yonkers Pier has allowed up close views of these ducks while they feed along the bottom. This past week there were 3 ruddy ducks and anywhere from 6 to 41 canvasbacks, certainly a treat for the downtown waterfront.
- Jeff Weber

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/1 - Cheviot, HRM 109: An immature bald eagle was killed at the railroad crossing, apparently hit by a train. The bird did not have a leg band.
- Don Westmore

[This fatality was reported to the NYSDEC Endangered Species Unit. Trains are the leading cause of mortality for Hudson Valley bald eagles. Eagles are opportunists when it comes to diet. While they prefer fish and waterfowl, they will take advantage of white-tailed deer and other animals that are struck by trains and left between the rails. As the eagle feeds on the carcass, they lower their guard and can get hit by trains. Tom Lake.]

2/1 - Milan, HRM 90: We had no fewer than five pairs of cardinals at our feeders. One of the females had an unusual coloration - salmon-colored from her rump two-thirds of the way down her tail. She also had a salmon stripe on each wing - a very pretty bird.
- Marty Otter

2/1 - Rhinecliff, HRM 88: The scenery along the river seemed pretty stark at first, but seeing dried wildflowers, berries, and weeds against the white background with the brilliant blue sky took my breath away faster than the freezing temp. I spotted a pair of bluebirds in a frozen backwater. Out on the Hudson I watched a tanker cut through the ice and it seemed like the river was freezing over almost immediately behind it.
- Pat Kanouse

2/1 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: In mid-morning, during the height of the snowstorm, I looked out the kitchen window to see who was visiting the feeders. There was nothing out of the ordinary except to say that I was a bit surprised to see any birds at all with so much snow falling. There were the usual, five or six pairs of cardinals, a few chickadees, and a single red-bellied woodpecker who would disrupt the party every few minutes when he stopped by. Then there was a pair of robins, on the first of February during a snowstorm - that seemed a bit odd. One flew to a holly bush but paid no attention to the berries and showed no interest in the sunflower seeds at the feeder. What do they find to eat? I have heard that not all robins leave for the winter, but this was a first for me.
- Don Pizzuto

2/1- Croton Point, HRM 34: Lately I have been seeing coyotes here on a fairly regular basis but always just one. Today was my first group encounter. Three coyotes were walking the shoreline of Croton Bay during the afternoon low tide. Maybe a family group?
- Tony Usobiaga

2/2 - Cheviot, HRM 109: I spotted a white-tailed deer resting (or collapsed) on the ice nearly half-way across the river. An adult bald eagle was standing nearby, presumably waiting for the deer to die. Then a barge came along and the eagle took off. The deer stood up and walked toward the eastern shore, albeit with some difficulty.
- Don Westmore

2/3 - West Hurley, HRM 95: As I was driving on along Route 28, a red-tailed hawk flew across the road in front of my car. It had something furry in its claws. From the hanging tail, I think the prey might have been a squirrel but it was too quick to know for sure.
- Reba Wynn Laks

2/3 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A mink graced us with its presence along the quiet cove next to the environmental education center. It appeared to be chasing a red squirrel!
- Rebecca Houser

2/3 - Highland, HRM 76: It was cold on the Walkway over the Hudson in late afternoon, so I was traveling with my head down and only looked up at the last moment. A raven had been perched on the railing and flew right beside me. Then its mate joined and they flew under the bridge and then south. On my way back to the Highland side, the ravens were on the railing again. They took off as I approached. One landed in a tree at eye level and called; its deep voice was not answered. I could see his huge strong beak and individual feathers at his neck. Very black. Very large. Very loud. Very beautiful.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

2/3 - Gardiner, HRM 73: Driving home from work this evening, I was reminded that our snow-covered deep freeze won't last forever. A striped skunk was walking down the snowy road, presumably with thoughts of breeding season, not ski season.
- Laura Heady

2/3 - Verplanck to George's Island, HRM 41-39: It was a wonderful surprise to see an immature bald eagle soaring high above our yard this afternoon, its body outlined against the clear, blue sky. At Verplanck, we spotted an immature eagle on a tree limb near the parking lot, seemingly oblivious to the handful of people looking up at it. Three more were flying around, two of which were interacting high above the trees, tumbling and turning in a wonderful courtship display. At George's Island we counted seven eagles perched high in the trees at Dogan Point and two more pairs soaring and swooping together over the bay - a sixteen eagle day.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/3 - Palisades, HRM 21: Crystal trees lined the ridge line today along the peak of the Palisades sill. As the sun rose behind the icy treetops they appeared as sparkling crystal figures, each one glistening and reflecting in the sunlight. They looked fragile, like figurines in a china cabinet.
- Margie Turrin

2/4 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: For a long time, I was convinced that red-tailed hawks - and buteos in general - primarily target small mammals. Then a decade ago, Manhattan's "Pale Male" got me thinking when he made a name for himself catching pigeons. Today, I watched a red-tail stoop on a mix of birds - blue jays, cardinals, and starlings - that were feeding on cracked corn and sunflower seeds I had set out. The hawk missed, but not for lack of trying. White-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos, confirmed ground feeders, continue to mob the thistle feeders along with a couple of downy woodpeckers. It all seems very strange, like a "Darwin moment."
- Tom Lake

[Charles Darwin theorized that life adapts to its environment through favorable mutations, particularly when stressed, thus sustaining its lineage through a process called natural selection. For example, juncos that can feed from thistle feeders might gain a competitive breeding advantage over those who will not leave the ground when snow cover makes feeding difficult. Tom Lake.]

2/5 - Fishkill, HRM 61: "Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat!" Even with our windows tightly closed we could hear the distinctive drilling of a woodpecker somewhere in the vicinity this morning. Gazing out the window, we could see through the falling snowflakes, the bright red crest and white blazes of a large pileated woodpecker working its way up and down a dead snag in our woods. A woodchuck may not be able to "chuck wood," but this woodpecker certainly made the chips fly as it searched for insects under the tree bark for thirty minutes before flying off through the woods.
- Merrill Spaeth, Ed Spaeth

2/5 - George's Island, HRM 39: The scene was reminiscent of four to five years ago when we attended formal bald eagle programs held by river naturalists. There were fifteen cars in the parking lot and people were all over the place, most with binoculars and spotting scopes. The attraction was a beautiful adult bald eagle on Dogan Point a couple hundred yards across the bay
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/5 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I counted 13 eagles frolicking on the ice just out from the bathing beach as I drove into the Point this morning. In the course of the next hour, as I worked my way eight miles upriver to Charles Point, I counted a total of 60 birds, almost all of them riding the jumbled ice. Broken and re-frozen over and over again, many thousands of tons of ice could be heard grinding and crunching as the flood tide moved it northward.
- Christopher Letts

2/6 - Clermont, HRM 103.5: I am thinking (hoping) that the birds know the weather forecasts better than us humans. I have been seeing wild tom turkeys, with tails at full spread, challenging other males. Over the last week on two occasions, I have watched a male bluebird fly out of a nest box mounted near my driveway. Maybe spring is near?
- John Walters

[Spring for wildlife is not the same as ours. We focus on our calendars and until the March 20 equinox, it is still winter. Wildlife is much more tuned to length of daylight for seasonal cues. As we moved past the winter solstice and into January, daylight began to lengthen, usually only a minute or so per day, but cumulatively noticeable to wildlife. Bald eagles are doing spring renovations on their nests and many songbirds are trying out their mating calls. Tom Lake.]

2/6 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I went to Norrie Point today to enjoy the sun and look for eagles (saw none) but on my way out, I spotted a white (gray) squirrel up in a tree by the parking lot. It was not albino - it had dark eyes and a bit of gray on the ears - but it had a beautiful white tail and body. What a nice unexpected treat!
- Jude Holdsworth

[This winter we have noted several examples of other leucistic animals, among which have been a blue jay, a cardinal, and two red-tailed hawks. These are not true albinos, but rather have a genetic mutation that prevents melanin from being deposited in a normal fashion on feathers. Tom Lake.]

2/6 - Crugers, HRM 39: A red-bellied woodpecker was with our usual feeder birds today and was joined by a male red-winged blackbird, the first one we've seen this season. Could spring be far behind?
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/6 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: The river was like glass today; the reflection of the Rockland County hills were very clearly outlined. Three eagles were riding an ice floe. Although some melting occurred in recent days, the eagles still had some ice to ride.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/7 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: Black Rock Park on the Croton River was a hub of duck activity today. I was able to identify northern shovelers, black ducks, canvasbacks, common goldeneye, common mergansers, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, and mallards. I was surprised that I have not seen a ruddy duck or pintail there yet this year. Just down river at the railroad bridge and Croton Bay, bald eagles were present both in flight and in the trees, along with a great blue heron that gracefully landed on the mud flats.
- Scott P. Horecky

2/7 - Sparkill, Rockland County, HRM 24.5: I was driving north over the trestle bridge in Sparkill in early evening while a ridiculous number of turkey vultures were soaring slowly but steadily southward. My best guess was 100 birds. They were not in a single file, but in a loose line maybe 4-5 individuals wide. They were not flying particularly high and I didn't note any black vultures, but then again I was driving so I couldn't really say for sure. I slowed down as much as I safely could just to try to get an estimate of the numbers. Is there a term for "flock" of vultures?
- Linda Pistolsei

[Writer Edward Abbey, who fervently hoped he would come back some day as a turkey vulture, referred to "flocks" of vultures as being like a "convocation of undertakers." Tom Lake.]

2/7 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: For a week now we have enjoyed the spring song of the cardinals. It isn't the first daffodil, but it gives joy, and makes chopping ice out of the driveways a little easier.
- Christopher Letts

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