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Hudson River Almanac February 8 - February 15, 2011

OVERVIEW

Winter was hanging on with numbing cold and impressive ice on the river. In most years we would be noticing a thinning of wintering eagles by now, with some beginning to drift north as water opens. This week, however, consistently open water north of the Highlands was still rare.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/14 - Staatsburg, HRM 85: Last night late I opened my second story window to let some fresh air in. As I glanced out into the near three-quarter-moon light I saw two dark animal figures below me against the snow cover. The noise of the window startled them and they quickly "made tracks" out of there. As my eyes adjusted to the night light I saw their two forms side-by-side moving away with swift fluid motion. They appeared to be about the size of a fox but did not run with a canine-like gait. Curious to see the tracks, I went out with a flashlight and found the shallow prints on the thin soft surface of the ice crusted snow. The pattern and shape of the tracks were new to me; although otter-like, they were slightly more oblong laterally. Upon examining a field guide, and based on the characteristics of the sighting, my estimate is that the animals were fishers.
- Daniel Seymour

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/8 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: As I was looking up at the roof of my garage to get an idea of the amount of snow and ice on top of it, an adult bald eagle flew past only 40 feet above me, heading toward the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. It was a beautiful specimen, one that looked just like the symbol of the U.S. Postal Service.
- Phyllis Marsteller

2/8 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: A week after sighting a pair of robins rummaging about my front yard, I counted six eastern bluebirds flitting about between maple limbs some 15 feet off the ground; at least one was checking out a holly bush. They stayed 20 minutes before leaving, hopefully to where they'd find something more to eat. Similar to the robins, the sunflower seeds at the hanging feeder and on the ground below seem to be of no interest to them.
- Don Pizzuto

2/8 - Quaker Creek, HRM 45: We were heading through Orange County's "Black Dirt" region. Scores of black crows dotted the stark white snow pack; here and there the ebony black soil peeked through giving the landscape an "Oreo cookie" appearance. We slowed as we crossed Quaker Creek, spotting a small raptor twisting and twirling in the air in pursuit of another bird. It was a merlin, a medium-sized falcon. Both pursuer and pursued disappeared downstream.
- Tom Lake; T.R Jackson

[This part of Orange County between Florida and Pine Island, known as the "Black Dirt," is an important agricultural area, growing enormous amounts of produce such as onions, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, cabbage, carrots, corn, pumpkin, and squash. The soil is highly organic; in some places it is essentially a compost heap. The black dirt, topsoil measured in "feet deep," originates from a late Pleistocene lake and swampland and is filled with bones of extinct animals like mastodont, ground sloth, horse, peccary, and stag-moose that died here 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Tom Lake.]

2/8 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: Liberty Marsh, near the headwaters of the Wallkill River, was frozen over and snow-capped. Amidst a hazy snow squall, we spotted a harrier, or marsh hawk, cruising the hummocks for small mammals. It looked like a ghost in the fog - dipping, darting, teetering, and hanging in the air. In the nearest tree line we spotted a bald eagle perched in a sycamore. Except for the fact that it was an adult - its head glowed like a light bulb - we would have missed it.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Knee-deep snow was everywhere in the yard except under the hemlocks where a herd of white-tailed deer had trod the snow bare to the grass. The hemlocks lacked branches, twigs and leaves for as high as the deer could reach. Several burning bushes were also trimmed (browsed) back.
- Tom Lake

2/9 - Peekskill, HRM 43: If you do not watch it every day, you might think of river ice as a uniform sheet as on ponds and lakes. It is anything but uniform. High winds coupled with the increasing angle of the sun and warmer air temperatures had turned Peekskill Bay into a jumble of open water bordered by a strip of craggy ice chunks and a wide swatch of fractured flat plates of ice that looked like a shattered plate glass window floating on the water. The open water/ice interface was as near to shore as it has been all winter, drawing the eagles in closer to their preferred hangout. Why fly further with a fresh fish meal than one needs to?
- Peter Schecter

2/9 - Palisades, HRM 21: Two turkey vultures were perched outside my office window this morning. The low sun really caught the silvery white on the undersides of their wings.
- Linda Pistolesi

2/10 - Hudson River Valley: Temperatures have been below freezing for most of the past two months. We can see the impact of these cold winter temperatures on our river's water level. Average water depths have dropped by approximately six inches since early November. This drop is caused by river and coastal waters contracting in the cold. A contraction of even 0.2% in a large body of water such as the Mid Atlantic Bight can cause a significant drop in water level. For a more detailed description, visit www.hrecos.org .
- Alene Onion

2/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It was bitter cold at first light (14 degrees F), and there was that haunting sound of winter again: cold wind blowing through pines. Scattered in a row for more than a hundred feet just inside the tree line, I counted nineteen white-tailed deer bedded down in the snow.
- Tom Lake

2/10 - Canopus Lake, Town of Philipstown, HRM 55: One of the most unsettling sounds to someone who is unfamiliar with spending time on a frozen pond is the loud boom and fracture of the ice. These are often mistaken for signs of unsafe conditions; the reverse is actually true. The pond is making ice. As water freezes, its volume increases, pushing outward and upward, causing the ice to sigh, moan, and boom. Jagged cracks will frequently snake across the ice as two plates shear and expand. These are called expansion cracks, and are a welcome sign to veterans on the ice. However, anglers and ice skaters alike will always remember the first time one passed between their legs at 50 mph. No measure of assurance could dull the apprehension that you were about to fall through.
- Tom Lake

2/10 - Newburgh, HRM 60: In late afternoon I watched a male and female red-tailed hawk silently surveying the snowbound fields near Stewart Airport. This feathered pair were closely perched on a tree limb, keenly aware of all that moved about in those fields. Although no nest was seen nearby, it would be likely that there is, or will soon be one, in the vicinity.
- Ed Spaeth

2/10 - Oscawana Point, HRM 38.5: It often take a closer look to really see all that there is to see. This afternoon we spotted an immature eagle perched on the Point overlooking the river. Looking closer we saw an adult just below it. A second immature flew in and landed near them. There was another immature in a nearby tree and two more flying past. Six eagles where we initially spotted just one.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/11 - Castleton-on-Hudson to Hudson, HRM 137-118: It was five below zero this morning as I left home. On the river road heading south the air temperature kept dropping, minus 7, minus 8, minus 9, and then minus 10 at Schodack Landing. Continuing south, it had "warmed" back to five below zero by the time I reached Hudson. These numbers captivated me as I drove along.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

2/11 - New Paltz, HRM 79: Over the past several weeks our open compost pile has attracted a coyote with mange, steadily losing hair but still apparently moving well. We've also seen a healthy looking coyote, apparently mange-free. Yesterday a fox arrived, beautiful but with a tail beginning to show signs of mange. Several weeks ago we saw a pair of foxes moving up from the Mill Pond, with beautiful bushy tails. We're hoping that this fox is not one of those.
- Shirley Warren, Jason Warren

2/11 - Middletown, HRM 55: I have had the pleasure of watching two male and female cardinals at my bird feeder this winter. I work in a facility that donates stale bread to feed my birds; they certainly enjoy a nice mixture of stale bread stuffed into a suet feeder with bird seed. When I go out in the morning the birds make a loud ruckus, making sure I do not forget to put out breakfast. I have to say the cardinals add such a nice splash of color to this white landscape we have had for the past few months. I wait for the red-winged blackbirds to return, signaling spring is here.
- Ann Reichal

2/11 - Town of Chester, Orange County, HRM 46: Awakening at 5:30 AM, I went to the window and was wowed by the starry sky, the snowy landscape, and then in a flash a meteor streaked through the sky. What a special gift!
- Jerome Spector

2/11 - Croton River to Peekskill, HRM 34-43: It was zero degrees at 7:00 AM in northern Westchester County, and the eagles were, frankly, everywhere: In trees, flying over towns and highways, dotted on the ice floes in groups of dozens, or singly. On the "morning run" from the Croton River bridge and ending at historic China Pier in Peekskill, I counted 66 birds. And I wasn't even getting out of the truck to set up the spotting scope. How many eagles? There had to be 300 from Albany south to the Tappan Zee.
- Christopher Letts

2/11 - George's Island Park, HRM 39: I was able to get out on the river twice this week when the temperature moderated enough to melt most of the ice at the inlet launch site. But temperatures had again dropped and a large expanse of ice was present today. As I checked out the conditions, I noticed five eagles soaring overhead, flying into and out of the inlet. As I continued to watch, another immature landed on the ice about 25 feet from me with a fish in its talons. It proceeded to devour it furtively, occasionally looking up to see if the others who were in the air had noticed his catch.
- Steve Butterfass

2/12 - Catskill, HRM 114: On my morning walk to get a newspaper I saw a group of seven bluebirds around a holly bush. I know that some bluebirds overwinter in the area, but I have never seen them in February before. I have also seen upwards of 30 red-winged blackbirds at my feeders in the last week.
- Barry Wolven

2/12 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I happened to be up during the early morning hours, looking out the window, when I saw the unmistakable silhouette of a large raccoon against the snow. He ambled along, sat for a bit, gave himself a scratch, and then disappeared into the woods.
- Barbara Wells

2/12 - Manhattan, HRM 5: This was the fifth anniversary of the "Blizzard of 2006," when New York City received 26.9 inches of snow.
- Hudson River Almanac

2/13 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: There has been an enormous influx of barred owls. Unfortunately, many of them are winding up hit by cars and trucks along roadways as they hunt down the occasional mouse on the highway. The snow crust is too thick for them to find food under the snow. Many are also being spotted in daylight, unafraid of being seen.
- Rich Guthrie

2/13 - Palenville, Greene County, HRM 109: The early spring date for turkey vultures in this area has been Valentine's Day, but I saw one today flying over the center of the hamlet.
- Larry Federman

2/13 - Peekskill, HRM 43: A tight group of 12 bald eagles - 4 adults, 8 immatures - were out on the ice this morning. I had never seen such a large group so close together. There were two pairs of adults and no clear relationships among the immatures. One of the immatures was finishing a meal. Within five minutes, half the group had relocated elsewhere.
- Peter Schecter

2/13 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I spent twenty fascinating minutes today watching an immature hawk devour a rabbit. I was in my car less than 10 feet away.
- Jane Shemin

[Several digital photos were independently examined by Rich Guthrie and Eric Lind. They were in agreement that it was an immature red-shouldered hawk. Tom Lake.]

2/13 - Croton River, HRM 34: At the Croton River train trestle we were amazed to see an immature eagle perched on a branch jutting out of the Croton River. More than 30 gulls surrounded it and many crows flew overhead. It eventually flew off, landing across the river near where two adults were already perched. A lone female common merganser was swimming in the area, and we were happy that it escaped being dinner for one of the eagles.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/14 - Castleton Bridge, HRM 135.5: The Hudson was still frozen from shore-to-shore this morning. I imagine that may change after this week's predicted mid-winter thaw.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

2/14 - Defreestville, Rensselaer County, HRM 142: This morning the entire lawn and backyard area at the Van Alen house was filled with robins. Here they were, but the next thing I knew, they were all gone. What a scene. I wonder what it was all about.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

2/14 - Crugers, HRM 39: The birds were singing and so was I! It was a sunny Valentine's Day, gorgeous blue sky, a slight breeze, and warm enough to finally break up the ice on my porch. Small shoots of daffodils were poking up next to the house where the sun had melted the snow.
- Dianne Picciano

2/15 - Town of Wappinger: We stood in the snowy and chilly blind and watched "Mama." The female eagle from nest NY62 was perched, as she has been lately, alone on a limb just above her nest. As we looked at her, she looked out to the river a quarter-mile away and a couple of hundred feet below. This has been a vigil for her for many months. It is unclear if she will have a mate this spring. She seems hopeful, resolute, but that may be a reflection of our wishes.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

2/15 - Westchester County, HRM 43-34: I looked pretty hard for eagles this morning on my Charles Point to Croton run. I only counted 16, a big drop from yesterday, but the weather and the ice patterns had changed dramatically.
- Christopher Letts

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