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Hudson River Almanac February 15 - February 22, 2011

OVERVIEW

Spring was slowly moving up the river. Ice in the lower estuary began to loosen while ice boaters found frozen reaches well upriver above the Hudson Highlands. Eagles and hawks were staking out territories and were into their spring courtship prior to nesting. Red-winged blackbirds and other songbirds were starting to sing in a new season.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/15 - Rhinecliff, HRM 88: We stepped off the train at the Rhinecliff station just as the late afternoon sun was lowering. We saw an ice boat skim by, then a family cluster - two adults, two children - walking on the ice about half-way across the river. We continued to scan the river, counting ten ice boats in all zipping upriver toward the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. It was a thrilling sight: the billowing white sails resembling graceful ballet dancers inscribing the ice; the combination of speed and silence was awesome.
- Pat and Bill Joel

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/16 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5: As I headed down the hill to the river this morning, I had to slow down so I would not hit a skunk crossing the road. He looked healthy enough as he scrambled up the snow bank. As I headed south, the river was still frozen between the shore and Schodack Island.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

2/16 - Saugerties, HRM 102: We spotted a common raven vocalizing over Esopus Bend Nature Preserve while conducting an emerald ash borer survey. The survey revealed substantial infestation on dozens of ash trees. As evidenced by the multitude of bark flaking and ground accumulation, the affected trees are providing a feeding bonanza this winter for woodpeckers and other bark-gleaning birds, but also serve as an ominous indicator for the future of ash trees in the Preserve.
- Steve M. Chorvas, Alan Beebe, Chris Florsch

2/16 - Town of Shandaken, Ulster County, HRM 90: Four ravens were dipping, diving and chasing each other directly overhead. My companion said they made her think of death, but for me they always make me think of mountains and wilderness, despite the fact that the very first time I saw a raven was on a dumpster outside a motel window in Maine.
- Reba Wynn Laks

2/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 69: Fortunately the town speed limit is 30 mph, so I had plenty of time to brake for four wild turkeys that sauntered across the road like they had the green light. Each one had a 7-8 inch-long "beard," indicating that they were probably males.
- Tom Lake

2/16 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Nearly three weeks ago, our cardinals began performing their spring songs. A week ago, the doves began calling. This morning, as I hauled stove wood into the house, the tufted titmice were warming up for their stage turn.
- Christopher Letts

2/17 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: I came upon a hatch of midges while walking along the trails near the remnants of the historic ice house at Nutten Hook. Anglers use the word "midge" to describe what are actually several families of insects in the order Diptera, two-winged flies. Midges that make up the most important portion of a trout's diet are the chironomids, members of the family Chironomidae. What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers.
- Fran Martino

2/17 - Ulster County, HRM 90: Following a visit to Ashokan Reservoir, where we saw one of the resident adult bald eagles perched and vocalizing from the top of a roadside Norway spruce, we stopped at the compost piles out on the Lomontville-Hurley Flats to check for pipits, longspurs, larks, and snow buntings. None were present during our brief visit, but we did have nice looks at two first-of-year killdeer foraging around the base of the compost and on surrounding snow and ice, providing a rather unusual photo opportunity for "killdeer on snow."
- Steve M. Chorvas, Frank Murphy

2/17 - Mohonk Preserve, HRM 78: Our peregrine falcon observations began yesterday when Joe Bridges spotted a pair in what appeared to be nuptial flight in front of the Millbrook Cliff. No falcons were observed at the Trapps. Today, a single falcon was seen flying along the Trapps cliff and another was observed perched on the ledge of the 1999 and 2009 eyrie at Millbrook. As observations progress, I will continue to post our findings. If anyone would like to follow our observations in a more timely fashion they can contact me (thomas.sarro@msmc.edu) and I will add them to our listserv. This listserv typically posts observation findings within a day of their being made and alerts others as to when and where we will be going out. Any interested person is more than welcome to assist.
- Thomas J. Sarro, PhD

2/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Standing again in the snowy blind, we watched a surprising scene: an immature bald eagle was sitting in the NY62 nest. The female was not around. Was this just a passing bird that happened to see an eagle nest? This pair's last fledglings left in 2006; they would be five years old now, adults, so this was clearly not an offspring. We try not to be surprised by eagles; they do it so often and so well.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

2/17 - China Pier to Verplanck, HRM 43-39: The river was filled with ice floes from Verplanck's Steamboat Dock to this historic pier, and beyond. I counted 72 eagles across that distance, my high count for the season so far.
- Christopher Letts

2/17 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: I got out of the truck at the mouth of this tidewater stream to get a better view of some ducks. What a treat: a pair of hooded mergansers, swimming with a pair of wood ducks, all resplendent in spring plumage. As I climbed back into the cab, "Okaleee" drifted out of the march, the first red-winged blackbirds I had heard this season.
- Christopher Letts

2/18 - Defreestville, Rensselaer County, HRM 142: On a warm and sunny day, I was hanging out sheets and a few honey bees buzzed around my basket.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

2/18 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Among the many usual bird species at the feeders in my snow-covered yard was an unusual one: American pipits with a brown-streaked underbelly were feeding on seed at a low platform feeder. These brown, slender birds with their pointy bills were bobbing their tails frequently and walked, not hopped, when they moved about. They were migrating north to their usual habitats, the tundra and alpine slopes and made a brief stop to refuel.
- Ed Spaeth

2/18 - Croton-on-Hudson to Manhattan, HRM 34-13: I must seem like quite the country gawk. While other commuters on our train slid into their various "E-worlds," I sat by a panoramic window on the river-side with a binocular in my lap. A bald eagle on Croton Bay was perched on an ice lump so small that the bird looked like it was walking on water. I spotted a flock of greater scaup; buffleheads were everywhere, splashing, chasing, displaying and acting like it was Valentine's Day. I counted four discreet flocks of canvasbacks. By the time we dove into the darkness that led to Grand Central Station, I had 22 species of birds. Nice commute.
- Christopher Letts

2/18 - Piermont, HRM 25: Two long-eared owls were spotted by Mike Dolan along Ferry Road in Piermont.
- Carol Weiss, Scott Baldinger

2/18 - Brooklyn, New York City: We had important business today at historic Plymouth Church School where two of our granddaughters are pupils. I had noticed two large maples in the school playground area and suggested to the principal that we might arrange a tree-tapping program and some sap boiling. And so, with the whole school at my back and my heart in my throat, I bored a hole in the big old tree. Whew! Before I could clear the wood bits from the hole, sap was rolling out, and by the time the spike was in and the pail hung, we were enjoying some of the finest music of spring: "plunk plunk plunk."
- Christopher Letts

2/19 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: We were awakened at 6:30 AM by the calls of red-shouldered hawks. Looking out the front window, we were just in time to see the local pair of red-shoulders copulating in the cottonwood tree across the street from our house. It was very windy and the branches were moving around quite a bit, but it didn't seem to bother the hawks at all. Afterward, the hawks sat a few feet apart on the same branch for a few minutes. We've noticed that, when they're "downtown" in Staatsburg, the female red-shoulder seems to prefer a fairly high branch in the cottonwood while the male is more apt to be on a lower perch in the black walnut.
- David Lund, Linda Lund

2/19 - Town of Wappinger: It takes a lot to make a 90-foot-tall tuliptree sway, but the 45 mph northwest winds were doing just that. This nest (NY62) has not successfully produced young in the last three years - the only three years it has been used at this location - and its exposure to the wind and wind-chill of late winter may be part of the reason. The female was there for a while until her perch began listing too far for her liking and she left for denser cover in a stand of pines.
- Tom Lake

2/19 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Having just filled my bird feeders, I was gingerly making my way along the icy paths in my snowbound yard, when a sharp-shinned hawk, coming from behind, silently whizzed past me, its wing brushing my sleeve. It was that close. No other birds were visible as it swiftly disappeared around the corner of the house. On this very cold and windy day, with such an encounter and its accompanying adrenalin rush, I warmed up rather fast.
- Ed Spaeth

2/19 - Tompkins Cove, HRM 41: Early this morning we counted 26 bald eagles, adult and immatures, on the river very near where the "mothball fleet" used to be anchored. It was spectacular. After months of eagle watching we hit pay dirt!
- Kristy Bartholomew

[The mothball fleet, or U.S. Navy Reserve Fleet, consisted of a number of Liberty and Victory cargo and troop ships that were used during World War II to ferry supplies to Europe. Following the war, from 1946 to 1970, they were decommissioned and anchored in the Hudson at Tompkins Cove. Tom Lake.]

2/19 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The warm air was a snow-eater yesterday. In 24 hours we went from 100% snow cover to about 80%. I know there was a thick layer beneath the shrubs at the back door, but this morning bare earth was visible, and several dozen snowdrops were nodding their white heads.
- Christopher Letts

2/19 - Northern Sterling Forest, Rockland County, HRM 33: Back to colder and windy weather after the short thaw but the single red-winged blackbird that had made a couple of short visits to our feeder earlier in the week must have met up with the rest of the flock since 14 males and one female showed up this morning. Another visitor was the first chipmunk of the year, looking a bit bedraggled and seeming very glad to find the bird seed just where she knew it would be.
- Mary Yrizarry

2/20 - Fishkill, HRM 61: I was making the rounds to clear out my bird houses. At one where bluebirds generally have nested, I forgot to tap the box first before opening it and, sure enough, it was occupied. A tufted titmouse, seeking shelter from the cold night air, had already settled down for the night and flew out as I opened it. I will hold off clearing the nest boxes until the temperatures warm up a bit as they are still being used for nighttime shelters.
- Ed Spaeth

2/20 - Quassaick Creek to Moodna Creek, HRM 60-58: Along the river between these two Orange County tributaries, I spotted three pairs of red-tailed hawks in aerial courtship. These mated pairs will be sharing the local sky this spring with a pair of bald eagles, something that will almost certainly generate some territorial disputes. While red-tails are smaller than eagles, they are more maneuverable in the air and are highly intolerant of what they consider intrusions into "their" space.
- Tom Lake

2/20 - Putnam County: I took a long walk in the woods this afternoon; conditions seemed just right: warm sunshine, snow melted around trees and stones, sap running from maple wounds. But where were the snow fleas?
- Ralph Odell

2/20 - China Pier to Croton River, HRM 43-34: A few days ago, over this same route, I counted 77 eagles. Today, with lots of ice and ideal viewing conditions, only seven.
- Christopher Letts

[One of the joys and mysteries of watching wintering eagles is their predilection to come and go, appear in great numbers, then almost disappear, for reasons that are not always apparent. Wildlife would lose much of its magic if it was entirely predictable. Tom Lake.]

2/21 - Highland, HRM 76: My husband spotted a fox sneaking up on a flock of wild turkeys. As the fox approached, three deer that had been browsing nearby came quickly up into the middle of the flock and seemed to stare down the fox. The fox then veered off and went down the hill. We see white-tails and wild turkeys together almost every day. We think that pawing by the deer dislodges the snow and the turkeys then scratch those spots to find food.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

2/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The habitat in which a bird is seen is often very helpful in its identification. For example, birds typically found in wetlands, woods, fields, mountain tops, or seashore. In late afternoon, a slim, brown raptor coursed through the woods calling "pee-pee-pee." The first time it passed, I had only seconds to gather field marks - not nearly enough time. But then it reversed course and flew past again. One unmistakable field mark stood out: a white feathered rump. Coupled with a few others, that made this a female northern harrier, a "marsh" hawk likely in migration, behaving like a Cooper's hawk, totally out of its usual context.
- Tom Lake

2/22 - Averill Park, Rensselaer County, HRM 145: I saw tracks today in the Stewart Preserve that I am pretty sure were bobcat. I know that people have seen them there before.
- George Wilson

2/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Two years ago, a mated pair of bald eagles built a small nest along the river in a tall tuliptree. For the last two springs they have acted as though they were serious about nesting. Each time, however, they left the nest in May with no success. Newly matured pairs sometimes take a while to get it right. This winter they have renovated the nest - it is now twice the size that it was two years ago - and are looking serious once again - the female spends many hours in the nest each day and the male has been perched nearby.
- Tom Lake, Barbara Butler, Barbara Michelin

2/22 - Oscawana, HRM 39.5: We took friends from Florida out to see eagles this afternoon. Although bald eagles are not uncommon in Florida, the sight of three at Oscawana Point and eleven more at George's Island thrilled them as much as it did us.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/22 - George's Island, HRM 39: On a late-afternoon paddle, the wind was stiff and from the north-northwest. Two pairs of adult eagles at George's Island and Oscawana Point were perched in the treetops facing the river. I have noticed that when it begins to get dark, they all seem to head for their inland roosting areas.
- Steve Butterfass

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