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Hudson River Almanac March 8 - March 15, 2011

OVERVIEW

Two heavy rainstorms with accompanying snowmelt and flooding swept many thousands of land-locked alewives ("sawbellies") out of the Croton Reservoir and down the Croton River toward the Hudson a few miles away. While this was only moderately bad for the alewife population, it was a major opportunity for waterfowl and other birds to forage on the tiny fish.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/12 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: We were watching a raft of about 100 canvasbacks with a dozen ring-necked ducks mixed in floating on the north end of Mills Cove. A bald eagle appeared from behind the trees northeast of the cove, and we were treated to the spectacle of over 100 ducks diving simultaneously, sending up fountains of spray. The eagle, however, wasn't interested in ducks at that moment. It was an immature, lazily floating on the breeze with a stick in its beak. As it loafed across the river, it repeatedly transferred the stick from its beak to its talons and back again.
- Linda Lund, David Lund

[This brings back memories of a similar sight at the Croton Point landfill (river mile 34.5) a few years ago. Christopher Letts and I heard an incredible roar, like a jet preparing for takeoff. Up over the summit of the landfill came hundreds of frantically calling Canada geese - we estimated 350-400 birds. In their wake a single immature bald eagle, showing no interest in the geese, slowly flying toward us. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Yesterday's storm total was 16.6". The surrounding communities seemed to get larger totals, even into the two-foot range.
- Charlotte Demers

3/8 - Minerva, HRM 284: Yesterday's storm walloped us with 20" of snow. Indian Lake had 24"; North Creek 19".
- Mike Corey

3/8 - Town of Knox, HRM 143: A barred owl landed next to our bird feeder. It was surrounded by birds both on the feeder and the adjacent ground. In typical owl-like fashion, it rotated its head 180 degrees in each direction looking at all the birds. After fifteen minutes it moved to a branch on a nearby tree and stayed there for another twenty. It is very unusual to see an owl during the day, on the ground, near a house.
- Pat Price, Bob Price

3/8 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: I woke up to an amazingly loud mass chirping, threw open the curtains and looked up into a huge silver maple across the meadow, glistening with a flock of 40-50 blackbirds. The branches were all budded out bright red; black bodies and wings pulsed as the whole tree shone with early morning sunlight. What a gladsome sign, for under the tree we still had a two-foot snow cover.
- Joanne Engle

3/8 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: The snowdrops and crocus are up and almost open!
- Bill Drakert

3/8 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: It had been a few years since I'd seen a peregrine falcon, and now I've seen two in one week. Early this morning I saw one gliding to the south over the parking lot on the west side of the Poughkeepsie train station. It turned to the west and started flying in earnest, flapping its wings and gaining a bit of altitude as it went.
- David Lund

3/8 - Cortlandt Manor, HRM 38.5: The generally placid Furnace Brook had turned into a raging torrent, overflowing roads and banks, a braided white-water ribbon far outside its banks. The spate was caused by a relatively warm 3" of rainfall and accompanying meltwater down every watercourse. The bottom went out of the yard, the lawn greened overnight, and tiny nubs of spring flowers grew as much as 6" in 24 hours. The songbirds are all enthusiastically singing, changing their tune to suit the changing season.
- Christopher Letts

3/8 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: In the gray of late afternoon, I saw a large dark bird perched in the bare lilac bush at the back door. It was facing away from me, teetering on a thin branch. It had a longish tail, banded with black. Its head was small, black-capped with a dangerous-looking pointed beak. I couldn't see its breast or claws. The bird kept trying to settle, but its perch wasn't steady. Suddenly it dropped to the ground, out of my sight. I don't know if it caught anything, but the little birds that spend their time scuffling in the leaves and twigs under the bush flew up in a frantic cluster. The hunter was a goshawk! A first for me.
- Robin Fox

3/9 - Minerva, HRM 284: The dogs and I have been snowshoeing quite a bit in the old back forty. There's a good four to five feet of snow out there, which is pretty amazing. My snowshoe fell off at one point, and into the depths I went. No tracks out there except for the white-tailed deer that have developed some impressive thoroughfares through the woods. We inadvertently spooked a couple yesterday, and they had a very tough time loping through the four feet of fluffy.
- Mike Corey

3/9 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: I spotted an Egyptian goose in a flock of Canada geese feeding in a field in Blooming Grove.
- Carol Coddington

[We see, from time to time, exotic ducks and geese within flocks of native waterfowl. These are almost always escapees from game farms or other captivity. Egyptian geese are found along the sub-Saharan Nile River and were considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians. In more recent time, they have been introduced nearly worldwide. Tom Lake.]

3/9 - Westchester County, HRM 46-28: From the Bear Mountain Bridge to the Tappan Zee Bridge, there was not enough ice in the Hudson to chill a pitcher of lemonade. I spotted only seven eagles, two of which were adults.
- Christopher Letts

3/10 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Just after twilight this evening I stopped by the hayfields off Lauren Tice Road to listen for American woodcock. Fields on both sides of the road were very active with several vocalizing and displaying males. At one point I could hear twelve distinct individuals, flying and/or vocalizing, and there were likely more silent females on the ground.
- Steve M. Chorvas

3/10 - New Paltz, HRM 78: As we had hoped, the steady rain and mid-40s evening temperatures lured some amphibians out from their forested shelters, to migrate to woodland pools for breeding. We donned our rain gear, reflective vests, and head lamps to survey a 1.75 mile stretch of road in New Paltz. Between 7:45 and 10:06 PM, we recorded 45 live spotted salamanders crossing the road and 18 dead; 3 live Jefferson-blue spotted salamander hybrids; 21 live spring peepers and 20 dead; and one lone, but live, wood frog. With migration distances of some species reaching 0.25 to 0.5 miles, it's inevitable that they will cross roads on their spring journeys. Many volunteers throughout the Hudson Valley are poised to survey amphibian migrations on upcoming warm, rainy evenings, to help these species move safely across roads on their way to breeding pools. To find out how you can help, visit the Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings project website
- Laura Heady, Lan Tran, Joe Murray, Amy Bloomfield, Lisa Masi

3/10 - Highland, HRM 76: The honey bees living in my siding were buzzing around checking for signs of spring. Then they went back in and I have not seen them since.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

3/10 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: As we drove by Oscawana Point we didn't expect to see any eagles since it was raining hard. The river was dark gray and a heavy mist hung over the hills of Rockland County. However, we spotted a beautiful adult, perched way out on a tree branch near the end. As we left, we noticed an immature perched only a few yards away. We were so happy to get a close-up view of this beautiful bird, since it won't be long before most of the eagles return to the north country.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/11 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I experienced a very impressive flight of blackbirds at the Great Vly Wildlife Management Area. As I was leaving, shortly after sunset, flocks of blackbirds started streaming in from the south and settling in the trees directly overhead and along the ridge. I stopped trying to get an overall estimate when the numbers exceeded 10,000. Most (at least 80 percent) were red-winged blackbirds, including a small percentage of females; the rest were common grackles. The sound was deafening as the males were vocalizing non-stop. It was truly an impressive sight and sound to be standing in the middle of such a large gathering.
- Steve M. Chorvas

3/11 - Ulster County, HRM 93: While driving north on the New York State Thruway (I-87), I spotted several hundred snow geese in a flooded field adjacent to the east side of the highway.
- Jesse Jaycox

3/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Streams were running high but flooding has been minimal. Signs of spring included the arrival of red-winged blackbirds and European starlings at local bird feeders. Some of the irruptive finch species that had been visiting feeders seem to be diminishing as well, returning to their traditional ranges in the boreal forests to our north. The warmer temperatures this past week (low 40s) have had the raccoons on the prowl, visiting bird feeders for an easy meal.
- Charlotte Demers

3/12 - Croton River, HRM 34: Gino Garner walked up to my truck and pushed a Styrofoam coffee cup in the window. It was full of two to three inch alewives he had picked up on the high tide line at the boat launch at the mouth of the Croton River. After two dramatic rain events in less than a week, the Croton River was churning. The millions of gallons of rainwater, swollen by snowmelt, apparently washed large numbers of the alewives, colloquially called sawbellies, over and through the dam at the Croton Reservoir. By the day after the end of the first big rainfall, gulls in the hundreds had gathered near the mouth of the Croton, scooping up the tiny fish. I estimated more than 400 gulls - other estimates went as high as 1,000. Only during the autumnal seaward migration of tiny herring-like fish do we see gulls in anything like the numbers present this week.
- Christopher Letts

3/13 - Beacon Landing, HRM 61: I tried carp fishing today, with no luck. Smaller fish kept biting at my carp bait strongly enough to ring the warning bells perched on my rod tips. I never managed to hook one. My best guess is that they were golden shiners.
- Bill Greene

3/13 - Croton River, HRM 34: Several hundred gulls were still dipping and scooping in the quarter mile between the Route 9 bridge and the Metro North railroad bridge. I decided to have a look upstream and made my way a couple of miles to Black Rock Park, arguably the head of navigation and the first place the Croton changes from the raging white-water torrent at the base of the dam, to something a little closer to smooth water. Even more gulls were in the air here, and at least 100 common mergansers were on the river. They seem to have moved as far upstream as practicable, to be closer to the source of alewives.
- Christopher Letts

3/14 - Gardiner, HRM 73: I've been enjoying the woodcock displays in my backyard for the past few days. They lift my spirits with their amazing flights!
- Sharon Gambino

3/14 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Several of the lawns on my street have turned into ponds with the heavy snowmelt and the seemingly endless rain. When I drove by yesterday, there was a large murder of crows at one of the deepest lawn-ponds. I know it's anthropomorphizing to say that they looked like fat cartoon ladies at the baths. Several birds were breast deep in the water flapping and bobbing around, obviously delighted with their bathing. Others waded at the edges - cawing, splashing, flapping, surely frolicking as they washed away winter.
- Robin Fox

3/14 - Palisades, HRM 23: We noted some early markers of spring as we walked through Tallman Park. A healthy chorus of spring peepers serenaded us from the wetlands along the western edge of the park, but as we moved into the interior of the woodlands in the area of the vernal pools the sounds shifted to the throatier calls of what appeared to be a pair of wood frogs.
- Margie Turrin, Linda Pistolesi

3/15 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: As I was walking along the river by moonlight I saw the shattered pattern of the last ice sheets covering the cove. From the open water beyond I heard what sounded like the splashing arc of a very large fish. I wondered if it could have been a sturgeon. This morning a Cooper's hawk (looked like a female) took post near the white pines where a pair has nested for the past three years.
- Daniel Seymour

3/15 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Slogging through the mud on a late run to the compost pile I heard a faint peep, stopped to listen closely and sure enough, heard a few peeps more. It was definite, the spring peepers were out! They were not at full chorus yet, but the warm-up was great to hear.
- Susan Maresca

3/15 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: At 4:55 AM, I heard my first peepers of the season. Two of them: I heard the first one, then the second one, just two lovely spring peepers starting the symphony for the season.
- Andra Sramek

3/15 - Croton River, HRM 35: The railroad bridge at the mouth of the Croton River has been a favorite launch site, fishing spot and just plain gathering place for locals for many decades. The confluence of the Croton and Hudson Rivers has always been a dynamic place for wildlife and the attendant sports of fishing, crabbing and fowling. I came late to this feast, only three decades ago, enchanted at once by the activity, the history, the sociability that was a constant through the seasons. Always, always, it seemed on any accommodating tide, boats were headed in or out under the bridge. Back then you could park and walk across the tracks to fish and crab along Crawbuckie Beach. You had to work hard with a push-net in the weedy shallows in summer heat, but if you had the moon tides right, the reward was some jumbo soft-shelled blue crabs for dinner. It was the place for a dozen "snapper" bluefish in August, and just about anything that swam in other seasons. The men and women I enjoyed sharing time with back then had grown up within a stone's toss of the Hudson. It was their playground, their training ground and their grocery store. As the decades passed, changes came. A chain link fence now keeps us from crossing the tracks to toss a plug for the big stripers and blues that frequent the bridge channels on the ebb tide. We all got older, and a few moved away. A few died. The impetus of "let's go do it" trended toward "do you remember when?"
- Christopher Letts

3/15 - Croton River, HRM 35: Today was the opening day of striped bass season, and I went down to the railroad bridge to see what was happening. On a nice day, the parking area would have been jammed with trucks and boat trailers, and the "mosquito fleet" would have been clearly visible off Croton Point. But it was a cold, raw day with an east wind. The parking lot was empty; not a fishing boat was to be seen on the Hudson. I headed for home and a warm fire, feeling disappointed and maybe a little older.
- Christopher Letts

3/15 - Town of Warwick, HRM 41: After glimpses at a distance and a number of "maybes" a week or so ago, I got a good look at the leucistic red-tailed hawk I saw last fall right where I first saw him. I spotted two or three buteos circling fairly low over the fields and turned into a side road to get closer. One of the hawks flew into a tree line, stopped on a branch momentarily, and then dropped, almost fluttered, to the ground right. It was taking prey, I thought, but whatever it was, it was giving the hawk a good fight - movement and the occasional glimpse of a wing went on for a minute or two. Then, just as several crows flew in to watch the fight, two hawks flew out - one was the leucistic bird!
- Michael McKenna

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