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Hudson River Almanac March 1 - March 7, 2011

OVERVIEW

With two weeks until spring, the signs were aligning right on time. Flocks of snow geese were migrating north through the Wallkill River valley and male red-winged blackbirds seemed to be everywhere. The huge snow pack in the High Peaks promises high flows in the upper Hudson as the weather warms and rain falls this spring.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/3 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: While driving by Oscawana this morning looking for eagles we spotted a dead baby sturgeon on the road. We could not believe our eyes. We are guessing that an eagle dropped its meal.
- Simone Kukla, Ethan Kukla, Violet Kukla

[Several digital photos revealed that it was, indeed, an immature Atlantic sturgeon, perhaps 15 inches long and weighing about a pound and a quarter. While fish are the number one prey choice of eagles, sturgeon with their bony plates (scutes) might be a challenge. Coupled with the weight, the bird may have decided it was just not worth the effort. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/1 - Philmont, Columbia County, HRM 120: Snow fleas were hopping in the greater Stockport Creek watershed (Agawamuck and Claverack Creeks). Snow fleas, also known as springtails, help to recycle organic matter by feeding on decaying plant material. A male bluebird was already collecting nesting material. Male bluebirds bring home the building materials for nest building, but it is the females who do all the construction.
- Fran Martino

3/1 - Milan, HRM 90: The red-winged blackbirds arrived today - about a dozen. Can spring be far behind?
- Marty Otter

3/1 - Accord, HRM 78: I woke this morning to find a small flock of eight red-winged blackbirds beneath our feeder. For me it's a true sign that spring is near.
- Peter Nelson

3/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Following a day of deluge (two inches of rain in one hour) the morning shined bright and blue. The bald eagle nest in the heart-rotted tuliptree along the river has not been given an official designation by the DEC for several reasons, chief among them the fact that there has not been a serious attempt at incubating eggs since it was built three years ago. That may change this year. As the sunshine crested the forest canopy, the female's head glowed like a light bulb. Hunkered down in the nest, she was giving every indication that she was incubating eggs.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

[Hudson Valley bald eagles, on average, begin incubating eggs during the first week of March. What may be occurring here may also be happening in no fewer than two dozen others nests along the river. Incubation lasts for 32-35 days. The adults share incubating duty with the female handling about 18 of the 24 hours. During that time, no food will be brought to the nest for the same reason we do not eat in our tents when camping: it encourages nighttime visitors; for us, black bears, for eagles, raccoons. In early April food will be brought to the nest for the first time. That will signal that there is another mouth or three to feed. Tom Lake.]

3/1 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: During today's daily one-hour walk at Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center I saw six bluebirds checking out the housing situation, heard a chorus of red-winged blackbirds singing in the marsh, and saw three pairs of Canada geese fussing around on the defrosted stream that runs through the cow pasture. All this and a late-winter sunset to knock your socks off!
- Andra Sramek

3/1 - George's Island, HRM 39: The water was calm at George's Island, with the reflection of the pink setting sun shining over it. Three bald eagles were perched high in the trees on Dogan Point, but whether they were adults or juveniles was hard to tell in the waning sunlight. The sky around them was a pale blue, dotted with tufts of purple and gold. Another eagle, an adult, flew in low over the bay and disappeared in the trees. Out on the ice floes we spotted two more eagles. In the inlet, three hooded merganser pairs kept ducking underwater for their dinner as the eagles watched from high above.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/2 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: It was one month since Groundhog Day, and this was my first sighting of these creatures this season. Two groundhogs ran past the front door, one right after the other. (They have a burrow alongside the house.) It seemed amazing that they were out with all the snow still covering the ground. I can't imagine what they are eating though it looked like they still had plenty of fat stored up. They were quite roly-poly. I wonder if one was chasing the other because "spring was in the air?"
- Reba Wynn Laks

3/2 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: There was no sign of last evening's bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds or Canada geese at the Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center. Despite a stiff north-west wind blowing across the fields, there were two mourning doves cooing in a naked larch tree, four mallards mucking around in the defrosted stream, a pair of killdeer "bobbing for apples" in the soggy cornfield, and eleven white-tail deer chowing down at the "all-night-cafe" perennial garden, enjoying the evening's blue-plate special: winterberry twigs. Spring's slow but steady approach continues.
- Andra Sramek

3/2 - Town of Waywayanda, Orange County, HRM 60: I was gathering firewood yesterday evening on the windy and cold first day of March when I heard a familiar sound and looked up to see the first red-winged blackbird of the season. I spotted three more that morning. This morning there were ten and they had settled quite nicely into their wetland territory behind my house.
- Ann Reichal

3/2 - Pine Island, Orange County, HRM 45: Rob Stone estimated that he saw 4,500 Canada geese, 2,500-3,000 snow geese, and 9 greater white fronted geese in the Pine Island area near the headwaters of the Wallkill River today.
- Curt McDermott

[The Wallkill River valley tends to be a preferred migratory corridor for geese, particularly snow geese. Tom Lake.]

3/2 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: When we headed for a brief visit to warmer climates, a little more than a week ago, we left behind a world that was 90% snow-covered. A few snowdrops had poked through the snow and were in bloom; a few crocus on the side of the house were pushing up. We came back to 40% snow-cover, with daffodils and hyacinth shoots everywhere, and magnolia buds that have swollen prodigiously. A flock of grackles swept into the feeder area this morning, the first I had seen since November.
- Christopher Letts

3/3 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I spotted two adult bald eagles this morning on the ice beyond the dock at Cheviot. They were feeding on something, perhaps a fish.
- Gregory Esch

3/3 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: All winter long I've often seen as many as eight pairs of cardinals at or around the hanging feeder. They flit down from the trees to pick sunflower seeds from the feeder and the ground. They have made quite a spectacle against the white backdrop of the snow, gray woods, and rock wall. But even eight pairs, which I thought quite a good number, can't compare to the large flock I spotted this afternoon - probably 100 birds. They flew over the front yard and were gone immediately - quite a thrill as this winter wanes.
- Don Pizzuto

3/3 - Peekskill to Croton Bay, HRM 43-34: Following an absence of a week I drove the "eagle route" along Haverstraw Bay and the Tappan Zee this morning. Where I had been seeing three score and more two weeks ago, I saw just two birds. One was an adult at Dogan Point; the other, in first year plumage, was not far away - possibly last year's young. This seemed typical of observations from other years: The wintering birds begin to depart during late February, and by mid-March any adults still around are likely involved in a local domestic program.
- Christopher Letts

3/3 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: This afternoon, the bare trees around my house "leafed out" with red-winged blackbirds. The huge red-wing flock was mixed with grackles, all of them perching in the trees defining the tree-shapes in squawking, shiny black. When something startled them, it caused a dramatic whooshing and clamorous rising flecked with red and yellow to the next branch.
- Robin Fox

3/4 - Wynantskill HRM 149: I heard the season's first redwings here. We've have had a small flock of female common redpolls at the feeder for the last few days as well as robins and a few bluebirds that have been here all winter.
- George Wilson

3/4 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: I was thrilled to hear my very first red-winged blackbird singing his "konk-er-ree" in the trees in my woods this morning. He was joining a couple of cardinals and song sparrows singing their songs, a sign spring is on its way.
- Kathy Kraft

3/4 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: The whole gang was there this evening: lots of Canada geese, the killdeer, the bluebirds, and the mallards, all keeping me company as I walked and enjoyed the thick purple/pink/gray clouds after sunset. I was heading to the Stony Kill Farm manor house when an adult bald eagle flew just ahead of me, heading north - perfect ending to a very nice walk.
- Andra Sramek

3/4 - Peekskill Bay, HRM 43: A good scattering of floe ice seemed to create an attractive site for eagles. Fourteen of them were lined up on one large floe, only one of which was an adult. The navigation tower was thickly studded with perhaps 50 cormorants, both double-crested and great cormorants, and a raft of more than 100 common mergansers was feeding off the end of China Pier.
- Christopher Letts

3/4 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Ah, crocus; such a tiny flower but what a tremendous impact on the senses in these dreary late winter days. As I took the first garden stroll in many weeks, dodging shrinking drifts and persistent patches of ice, spring seemed, well, possible. In the feeding area outside the kitchen window a mixed flock of blackbirds raised my spirit. Brown-headed cowbirds, common grackles, and male redwings held a raucous brunch discussion as they gleaned newly uncovered seed, deposited under the feeders and revealed as the snow pack has dwindled.
- Christopher Letts

3/5 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: Ah, bluebirds and pussy willows - hope for spring grows!
- Bill Drakert

3/5 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: Early this morning the birds in downtown Staatsburg were letting us know that spring was imminent. There was a black vulture on top of the church spire; it had been there off and on for the last two weeks. The cardinals and titmice have been singing for a while, but today they were joined by house finches and the first red-winged blackbird we've heard this year. There was finally a small patch of grass showing through the snow, and in that patch crocus leaves were emerging. Down on the river we spotted common mergansers and, farther out in the river, common goldeneyes, several pairs of mallards, a dozen or so black ducks, and one pair of buffleheads.
- Linda Lund, David Lund

3/5 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: There were still three bald eagles about at Norrie Point, one adult and two juveniles. The ducks were mostly common mergansers, though one small group included a male hooded merganser, something usually seen only in the more sheltered waters of the creek or marina. There was also a pair of ring-necked ducks. The real treat came just as we were leaving, when a peregrine falcon coasted south along the edge of the river at tree-top height. We got a good look as it went across the mouth of the Indian Kill.
- Linda Lund, David Lund

3/5 - Crugers, HRM 39: This morning we had a single fox sparrow rummaging through the black oil seeds below the feeder, and more brown-headed cowbirds at the feeder.
- Jim Grefig

3/5 - George's Island to Croton Point, HRM 39-34: On a windy paddle this afternoon, I passed the body of a dead Canadian goose floating in the river, its long neck mostly under the water. On the way back, gulls were flying over the area near the carcass and a turkey vulture soared above, though I doubt that bird would have any chance at it.
- Steve Butterfass

[This goose could have died under many circumstances, such as succumbing to old age, weather, sickness, injury, or an over-zealous eagle. Bald eagles are rarely seen taking geese along the Hudson River, opting rather for much easier prey such as fish and ducks. This could have been an eagle kill that became unwieldy prey afterwards. In contrast, in the Catskill Mountain (New York City) reservoirs, wintering eagles prey on geese out of necessity, given limited options. Tom Lake.]

3/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A huge winter storm that swept over the High Peaks and into Vermont, where in some place 30" of snow fell, left only 16.5" of snow in Newcomb.
- Charlotte Demers

3/6 - Ulster County, HRM 88: Over the past couple of weeks, my children and I have noticed millions of snow fleas dotting the melting snow in our yard. Snow fleas aren't true fleas and are completely harmless to people or pets. Their common name is springtails (Hypogastrura nivicola). Springtails have a little forked tail (furcula) that they fold under their body and use to spring up many times their body length. Their bodies contain a protein that acts as natural antifreeze, allowing them to appear on top of the snow where they're easy to spot on warm days.
- Steven H. Schimmrich

3/6 - Dutchess County, HRM 67: While northern areas in the watershed received heavy snow, along the tidewater Hudson it was a few inches of snow and heavy rain, 3" in much of Dutchess County, causing heavy flooding in both the Wappinger and Fishkill Creek watersheds. Frost in the ground did not allow for absorption; as a result most of the water ran off into headwater streams.
- Tom Lake

3/6 - Tompkins Cove to Stony Point, HRM 41-40: This past week we saw a dozen eagles around Tomkins Cove. A friend saw several more both in trees and on the ice at Stony Point.
- Kristy Bartholomew

3/7 - Chatham, Columbia County, HRM 125: I spotted my first flock of robins today. It seems a little late to me.
- Nancy Castaldo

3/7 - Columbia County, HRM 118: The rain of the previous day had turned to ice and all the trees and shrubs shimmered in the afternoon sun, crackling as the northwest breeze grew. I visited a meadow near Claverack Creek and spotted a killdeer, red-winged blackbirds, tree sparrows, three bluebirds and half-a-dozen robins. I also saw a medium-sized bird flit about the briars with clear yellow markings on its body. Then I saw another one - yellow rump, yellow patches near the shoulder, and a yellow spot on its head - yellow-rumped warbler. It is possible that these birds, like the bluebirds they appeared to cavort with, never went south for the winter.
- Greg Esch

3/7 - Orange County, HRM 55: This morning on Monhagen Brook (a tributary to the Wallkill River), there was a very large flock of snow geese mixed in with the usual Canadas.
- Frank Ketcham

3/7 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A raft of at least 100 common mergansers was milling around at the mouth of the Indian Kill. Like the eagles, as the river thaws they will also begin their spring migration to breeding areas further north and east. Along the shore south of the point, we counted four immature bald eagles, all in the air, at least two of which were playing "eagle games."
- Sarah Mount, Chris Bowser, Tom Lake

["Eagle games" are almost always played by immatures. One will pick up a stick or a shell and others will try to take it way as they fly in circles or in hot pursuit. Sometimes they will mimic adult courtship by grabbing talons in mid-air or by body-bumping. Eagle experts believe that these activities provide exercise, education, and social interaction. Tom Lake.]

[While most common mergansers migrate to areas well north and east of the estuary, they do nest along many Catskill streams and a few in the Taconics. Steve Stanne.]

3/7 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Today brought a lucky raptor sighting at Croton Point. It was striped in deep chestnut-on-white on its breast, solidly chocolate on its back, with simply enormous brown eyes. Happily for me, a fellow bird-watcher is a professor of ornithology and he made the identification: a female merlin. In late afternoon the bird perched atop one of the white hilltop poles, preening and stretching her long, delicate and deadly toes. She watched us watching her for ten minutes, and then resumed her grooming. The little falcon stayed for a wing stretch and then she was off.
- Jane Shemin

3/7 - Yorktown, HRM 44: I was driving south on Route 100 and spotted a bald eagle in flight over the Croton Reservoir. It landed on a limb of a tree and watched as crows, ducks, and a few other smaller birds flew over it. I turned around and pulled over at this point. The crows seemed to be flying closer and closer to the eagle but the eagle was not overly concerned. After five minutes, the eagle took off, swooped down to the water, grabbed something off the surface, and then flew off.
- Dave Whalen

3/7 - Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: This morning for the first time I saw a red fox at the bird feeder. The birds had flown and the squirrels were scrambling in the branches of the trees. The fox stood and sniffed, circled around the feeder, then scampered away.
- Barbara Morrow

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