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Hudson River Almanac February 23 - February 28, 2011

OVERVIEW

It is interesting as well as heartening to read of the many unique signs of spring recognized by individuals. Robins, red-winged blackbirds, snow drops - we all have our favorites. For me it is always the huge mixed flocks of blackbirds that sweep up the river, hopping from creek to creek, moving through the trees like a troop of squirrel monkeys.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/23 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I was on the Lighthouse Trail for a late afternoon walk out to the Saugerties Lighthouse. The close proximity and brilliant low-angled sunlight perfectly illuminated 21 ring-necked ducks, 18 common goldeneye (the lighting conditions nicely emphasizing their golden yellow eyes - no scope required), four bufflehead, two hooded mergansers, a dozen common mergansers, and six resting mute swans. With the exception of the all-male buffleheads occupied with diving, the ducks were mixed hens and drakes and very vocal, with some males displaying. One of the resident adult bald eagles made an appearance over the lighthouse, then proceeded to perch on a dead snag and vocalize from the east side of the river. I also encountered a winter wren low to the ground at the exact same location along the arched boardwalk where a winter wren has been seen regularly throughout this winter.
- Steve M. Chorvas

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/23 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The air temperature was near zero at dawn when I arrived at the park but had warmed to ten above by the time the three classes of sixth-graders from Vail's Gate Elementary arrived. It turned into a blue-sky and frigidly cold day, the kind of day where, predictably, we saw little wildlife. However the story along the river is always "Who was there last night?" Amidst the hundreds of domestic dog tracks, we did find one clear set of coyote prints and another of fox, presumably a red fox. These were running perpendicular to the dogs, heading to and from the woods and the river. During a mid-morning low tide, we listened to the sounds of the river, a symphony of making ice, shifting ice, rising tide, and flooding current.
- Sharon Gerald, Tom Lake

2/23 - Peekskill Bay, HRM 43: We took Metro North into Manhattan with another couple to catch a matinee of Spiderman. We lost count of eagles somewhere around two dozen, including an eyeful at Peekskill Bay. Amazingly, I did not detect anyone else in a full rail car acting like they noticed. We heard many more "Oohs" and "Aahs" when Spiderman was battling the Green Goblin over our heads in the theater.
- Peter Fanelli

2/23 - Croton Reservoir, HRM 34: I saw something on the Croton Reservoir today that I don't remember ever seeing before. The reservoir was a completely frozen white expanse and I saw a dark heap out in the middle, the carcass of a deer surrounded by masses of tracks. There were no scavenging birds, just tracks. Further on I saw two more carcasses out on the frozen white. On my return trip, I went to the edge of the road to see that the lone deer had been dragged out on to the ice on something that made a precise path. Roadkill, perhaps - probably dragged out by someone and left to be devoured by creatures and finally to sink into New York City drinking water.
- Robin Fox

2/23 - Piermont, HRM 25: We took an early afternoon walk to see the two long-eared owls reported by Rockland Audubon and were excited to find four! The two original birds, spotted by Mike Dolan on February 18, were still present. Now, two additional birds were there. All four appear to roost in close proximity. They are often found 4-8 feet off the ground in brushy tangles, frequently within feet of passing pedestrian traffic. If that wasn't enough, we got great looks at a peregrine falcon at the top of a tall tree towards the end of the pier.
- Linda Pistolesi, Margie Turin

2/24 - Town of Knox, HRM 143: We looked up from our lunch to see a raft of turkeys crowded around the bird feeder twelve feet from our sliding glass doors. They were really going at it to claw the snow and ice from the surface to get to the large quantity of shelled sun flowers and other debris that has accumulated all winter. The squirrels were not happy about that and all left in a hurry.
- Pat Price, Bob Price

2/24 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: The cove at Norrie had been opening up for a few days, but this morning had a glassy sheet of quarter-inch ice on it. A ship must have passed by, because the wake began to break the continuous ice-sheet up into large door-sized pieces. We could track the ice breaking from channel to shore, making a symphony of sounds. With the first ripples, reverberating twangs echoed across the ice. As it broke into smaller pieces, a higher pitched chattering arose. Finally, as the wake settled, a deeper wind-chime sound came up from the largest pieces clanking together - perfect conditions for the ice orchestra.
- Chris Bowser, Jean McAvoy, Laurie Fila, James Herrington

2/24 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: Under the Furnace Brook bridge we spotted a beautiful hooded merganser pair and watched as they swam around and then dove under the water to fish. The colors of the male matched the white and black landscape around the water.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

2/25 - Pattersonville, Schenectady County, HRM 157: We have a small front porch with large cedar trees on each side. Since we don't use the front door, it's a perfect place to put out extra birdseed, corn and peanuts when the snow is deep. When I looked out today, I saw a red-tailed hawk calmly eating a blue jay. It left only a pile of feathers and a stripped piece of leg bone. A week before the red-tail had nabbed a squirrel.
- Dee Strnisa

2/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie: One of the adults brought soft "grassy" material to the nest in the tuliptree along the river today (see 2/22), the type of material that the birds use to create an "egg cup." This is one of the final tasks prior to laying eggs. Hudson Valley bald eagles lay their eggs, on average, during the first week of March.
- Barbara Butler, Barbara Michelin, Tom Lake

[There is concern that this nest's tree, a tuliptree, has some heart-rot, i.e., the heart wood is decaying. Heart-rot can occurs when the tree suffers physical damage, such major limbs torn off in a storm or lightning strikes. A fungal disease can enter the tree, cause decay, and weaken the structure. Since this tree is near a thoroughfare, there is some concern about public safety. Tom Lake.]

2/25 - Palisades, HRM 21: The snow had melted enough to reveal what I can only assume are the tunnels a tiny rodent dug out while foraging beneath the many inches of snow. They circle around and criss-cross, and more than one ends at the base of some tree.
- Linda Pistolesi

2/25 - Albany, HRM 140: A new Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System [HRECOS] station has been installed in the Albany Pool. The station monitors water quality parameters including dissolved oxygen, depth, and conductivity, as well as weather conditions including air temperature, dew point, and wind speed. The Albany Pool communities have 92 combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that discharge to the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. This new station will allow regulators to monitor the impact of these CSOs on river conditions. Hudson River pilots guiding ships to the Port of Albany will also benefit from this station. Dew point values will help predict fog conditions and water depth measurements will help pilots to navigate and dock in this shallow section of the river. Visit www.hrecos.org for live and historical data.
- Alene Onion

2/26 - Minerva, HRM 284: We had somewhere between three and four feet of snow on the ground. I was out this afternoon on my snowshoes with the dogs and had a winter travel encounter: We ran into three x-country skiers and four snowmobilers, all around the same time. I was impressed by the fact that there were three different means of getting around on the snow. It just sort of struck me as pretty neat.
- Mike Corey

2/26 - Gardiner, HRM 73: We saw an unusual animal walk by outside our house this morning - a fisher. Our house faces an open field of fourteen acres, surrounded on all sides by dense forest. Below the field is wetland, going down to the Wallkill River. The fisher was passing near the stone wall between our house and the field, forty feet away, heading for the woods a few feet farther on. We also have an unusually high population of box turtles that like to nest on the aqueduct. I've been monitoring them for six years with Joe Bridges and have transmitters (with DEC license) on three of them.
- Anne and Ray Smith

2/26 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Just above the flood plain of the Wallkill River, some of the local songbirds have been singing for a few weeks: house finches, chickadees, Carolina wrens, and cardinals. Even the woodpeckers have been drumming. This morning the usual mixed flock of winter residents was busy eating, including seven female and five male cardinals. One male cardinal picked a seed from the platform feeder, flew to a female perched in the nearby shadbush, and delicately offered her the seed, which she accepted. More than spring is on the way.
- Lynn Bowdery

2/26 - Hudson Highlands, HRM 45-44: The strengthening late-winter sunlight and some mild days had loosened the ice's grip on the river. While the river was iced bank-to-bank down through the Hudson Highlands, it was still moving, rising in the flood tide current. In the one-mile reach from Iona Island to Fish Island, I hurriedly counted 40 bald eagles on the ice as my Metro North car passed, three-quarters of them immatures. I also spotted four black scoters in the lee of Fish Island. These are ordinarily sea ducks, but are occasionally found in the lower estuary.
- Tom Lake

2/26 - George's Island to Croton Point, HRM 39-34: The Hudson seemed covered with ice from bank-to-bank when I went out with my kayak. But it was not solid, just thousands of chains of ice, like floating islands of various shapes and sizes. It was easy to weave around and through the chunks of ice, as there was open water to maneuver. The river current was calm and slow. By Croton Point, at least six eagles were lifting off from the ice, flying around and landing again.
- Steve Butterfass

2/27 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: A group of turkey vultures sailed over today. But so far, no red-winged blackbirds!
- Bill Drakert

2/27 - Chester, Orange County, HRM 55: Yesterday a flock of 50-60 robins arrived. They were still here today finishing off all of the crab apples left on our tree; then they left. Their bright red breasts were a sight to behold!.
- Paula Spector

2/27 - George's Island to Croton Point, HRM 39-34: Today was sunnier and warmer and there was much more open water than yesterday. I spotted only one eagle keeping a vigil on the ice. I passed by one gull that was feasting on the remnant of a small fish [eagle leftovers?].
- Steve Butterfass

2/28 - Albany, HRM 145: I arrived at work in the University Heights neighborhood of Albany and found a flock of two to three dozen robins hanging around the building. It seemed that they'd found the ornamental cherries from last summer, and didn't have anywhere better to go. While I have robins year round where I live out in the hills, seeing a flock of them in the middle of Albany was a sign that spring is on the way.
- Larry Roth

2/28 - Hudson River Estuary: HRECOS was detecting early hints of spring! Warmer water temperatures in the third week of February caused a small melt in the Mohawk River. We could see a spike in both water discharge and turbidity on 2/21 recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] station at Cohoes, a later spike at the HRECOS station in Albany, and even later at Schodack Island. These levels are much lower than we will see during the spring melt but they are a hint of what's to come. As Gary Wall of the USGS put it, "this is just an early blip; the mother load is coming."
- Alene Onion

2/28 - Athens, HRM 118: I watched a coyote trot downriver this afternoon between the west shore at Athens and the Middle Ground Flats. The river was frozen solid on the west side of the Middle Ground Flats and the coyote was in the middle of the river. He kept moving south for a quarter mile, stopped once, looked around, and kept going.
- Michele Tarsa

2/28 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: They did arrive after all in February! Last evening a large flock of mostly grackles but some red-winged blackbirds arrived in our yard. They are quite late by my schedule.
- Bill Drakert

2/28 - New Paltz, HRM 78: During the past few days of wet weather, the brick chimneys in downtown New Paltz have been ornamented with flocks of black vultures with wings spread, tails ruffling, warming up and drying off. Just delightful.
- Lisa Gutkin

2/28 - Gardiner, HRM 73: On one of the first days above 45 degrees, I got out in light rain to check my two bee hives for population and need for early season feeding. Bad news: winter kills. Both hives have no live bees. One hive has a large mouse nest in bottom brood chamber, big holes eaten on brood chamber honeycomb, and abundant bee bodies with heads eaten off. My rookie mistake was leaving the hive on ground. The other hive had no mice, but the bees were still all dead in a fist-sized cluster in lower chamber. Good news: both hives left behind 50 pounds of honey in upper box that I had left for winter food, so I have lots of honey. But I do need to order more bees, new queens, and try again this spring.
- Joe Weber-Hayes

2/28 - Peekskill to Poughkeepsie, HRM 43-75: On my Metro North train ride home, the "river that flows two ways" was so apparent. The ice chunks were streaming towards the New York City and the sea for a while - then stillness, or seemingly unmoving water. The mist and gathering twilight made for a romantic scene as gulls and other birds swooped and danced. The beautiful Hudson Valley welcomed me back from a quick trip to Florida.
- Diana Salsberg

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