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Hudson River Almanac March 24 - March 31, 2011

OVERVIEW

The first week of spring brought with it the first daffodils, forsythia, river herring and glass eels - signs of spring all unmistakably driven by a warming sun, earth, and river.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/27 - North Germantown, HRM 109: I walked into my yard and startled a couple of crows that had been in the low branches of a tree on the riverbank. Then I heard something resembling a cat crying from the same direction and looked more carefully. On a high branch of the tree was an immature bald eagle. I was close enough to see that it was not calling, but then saw an adult eagle on a lower branch, clearly vocalizing. I watched, listened, and then tiptoed back to the house. Watching from my window, I realized that my initial sighting was incorrect, there were actually three eagles in the tree. Two immatures were above the adult, and the adult was enjoying a very fresh white sucker. The crows had been waiting for droppings from the meal, a good strategy because the adult was a very messy eater - bits of fish were constantly falling to the riverbank. The three stayed for ten or more minutes. We left the fish, just over a foot long, where it fell hoping that they might return to finish the meal.
- Kaare Christian

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/24 - Albany, HRM 145: While out on my noontime walk along the bike path near the Corning Preserve I noticed an interesting black-and-white swimmer in the main channel of the Hudson. After approaching, I watched the swimmer go diving for fish and return to the surface, confirming that common loons were migrating towards their summer home as the northern waters open up.
- Rick Tuers

[Most of the common loons that use the Hudson Valley as a migratory route spend the winter along the Atlantic coast from Long Island Sound south to the DelMarVa region of Chesapeake Bay. In April and early May, they head north, many of them to breeding areas in the Adirondack's High Peaks. By the time they move through our area, most of them have molted into their striking black-and-white breeding plumage. Tom Lake.]

3/24 - Columbia County, HRM 135: There was open water now south of Castleton-on-Hudson between the mainland and Schodack Island State Park. The river ice hung on for a long time and then disappeared fast.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

3/24 - Gardiner, HRM 73: The snow had stopped, and I was again walking along the Shawangunk River at the confluence with the Wallkill River. Like yesterday, I found three tree swallows hawking insects over the river.
- Paul Osgood

3/24 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: Despite waking up to snow, by afternoon we had installed the first of our season's fyke nets in Poughkeepsie's Fall Kill Creek. This net, which roughly looks like a twelve-foot-long funnel staked to the stream bed, is designed to catch tiny juvenile American eels as they journey from ocean to estuary to stream. We hope to have six of these nets up and fishing by early next week. Teams of volunteers and students will check the nets every day to count, weigh, and release the baby eels, and also note the presence of herring and record water quality parameters. For more information on DEC's American Eel Project, including how you can volunteer, check out the Eel Project website.
- Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

[A fyke net is a collection device used most often for fish, but occasionally for turtles. Most are a series of several hoops connected by mesh netting leading to a "cod end" where captured fish accumulate. When used in a Hudson River tributary, fykes are set facing downstream to collect fish, such as eels, heading upstream. Wings of netting angle away from each side of the net's mouth, forming a V that encourages fish to take the path of least resistance toward the opening into the net. Tom Lake.]

3/24 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Two inches of spring snow and a cold wind brought birds back to the feeders that I had not seen in weeks, even months. At dawn they were shoulder-to-shoulder: white-throated sparrows, Carolina wrens, house finches, juncos, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, goldfinches, and a purple finch. The trees were filled with blackbirds, hundreds of them, mostly grackles but a few brown-headed and red-winged blackbirds mixed in.
- Tom Lake

3/24 - Cortlandt Manor, HRM 39-38: What's this? Red maple blossoms in the driveway? Skunk cabbage thrusting up in the valleys? Another snow cover notwithstanding, the sun will have its way, and spring steps closer.
- Christopher Letts

3/25 - Ulster County, HRM 85: We met glass eel volunteers at Black Creek to put in a fyke net. We were sloshing through the stream, banging in re-bar, sewing up nets, when we all took a moment to just pause and be quiet. With so much stress throughout the world, it was nice to focus on running water, towering trees, and thoughts of age-old migrations. The pursuit of knowledge can be heart-warming.
- Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

3/25 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: Our first day of eel sampling on the Fall Kill yielded four beautiful "glass eels." This early in the season, they're almost completely see-through, so with a good eye or hand lens you can see eyes, gills, heart, and even a digestive tract. Hard to say what they'd been eating, but other researchers have found that very young glass eels feed primarily on tiny crustaceans nicknamed "water fleas." Also surprising was a small (20 millimeters long) banded killifish. When was this little fish born? I'd expect to see killifish this size in May or June, but today's water temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit seemed a long way from springtime.
- Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

[Freshwater eels have survived global cataclysms for millions of year but now some populations appear to be diminishing, even disappearing, worldwide and scientists are not quite certain why. While American eels are considered freshwater fish, they are born at sea and many of them spend much of their lives in tidewater. Glass eels are one of the juvenile life stages of the American eel. They arrive by the millions in the estuary each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the greater Sargasso Sea area where they were born. This is a particularly vulnerable time for them and little is known about this period in their life history. In anywhere from 12-30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea where they will spawn once and then die, or so we think. Tom Lake.]

3/25 - Crugers, HRM 39: We looked out our window this morning to see the return of another winter wonderland day, even though spring officially arrived earlier this week. Tree branches and budding forsythias were coated in white with an emerging green lawn under a blanket of snow. Twenty juncos came out to feast on the ground under the feeders, joined by four red-winged blackbirds, a grackle, two blue jays and numerous chickadees and sparrows. A beautiful red-bellied woodpecker enjoyed the suet. This may be the last time this season that we will have the pleasure of viewing such a gorgeous snow scene.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/25 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: In what was surely the high point of the day, the first osprey of the year circled little Pine Lake a dozen times. It hovered, made an aborted stoop, and flew off to the north and east. Welcome back!
- Christopher Letts

3/25 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: We met with Ossining High School students and teachers to put in a fyke net in Furnace Brook. The water was chilly, but the students were excited, as was a belted kingfisher that repeatedly chattered by.
- Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

3/25 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 37: The NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit's Juvenile Sturgeon Tagging program caught, tagged, and released a juvenile shortnose sturgeon. The shortnose, an endangered species, is one of two species of sturgeon in the estuary, Atlantic sturgeon being the other.
- Rachel Lowenthal

3/25 - Croton River, HRM 34: Pussy willows were in full bloom, and cottonwood buds were about to burst open. The tree swallows were in full career, breaking away from their feeding flights over the water from time to time to dive on a mature peregrine perched at the tip of a big cottonwood. A "dirty bird" flew over - an eagle that had almost attained adult plumage but still had some dark feathering in head and tail. Most of the latest fall of snow was gone but the wood stove never gets a rest.
- Christopher Letts

3/26 - Rensselaer County, HRM 152: I spotted a pure white red-tailed hawk perched in a tree on a field edge on the east side of Route 22 just south of Berlin. Eventually the hawk flew from its perch, soaring south over the fields before I lost sight of it. I've heard of "white" red-tailed hawks before, but this was the first one I'd ever seen. (It was likely leucistic rather than albino.) What a stunning raptor.
- Jesse Jaycox

[Leucism is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird's feathers. As a result, the birds do not have the normal, classic plumage colors listed in field guides, and instead the plumage have several color changes, including white patches where the bird should not have any, paler overall plumage that looks faint, diluted or bleached, and overall white plumage with little or no color discernable. Leucism affects only the bird's feathers and typically only those with melanin pigment - usually dark feathers. Birding.about.com]

3/26 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: Our first coltsfoot was finally peeking out.
- Bill Drakert

3/26 - Black Creek, HRM 85: This was a field training day for about 30 volunteer river herring and glass (American) eel monitors. With air temperatures well below freezing the creek ran clear and cold (39 degrees F), free of snow melt. It was also a breezy day with turkey vultures teetering on the wind at every quarter of the sky. Near the end of the session, Susan Hereth spotted an adult bald eagle soaring nearly overhead at the confluence of Black Creek and the Hudson River.
- Chris Bowser, Rachel Lowenthal, Tom Lake

3/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie: This was incubation Day 26 for the mated pair in nest NY 225. Taking great pains to appear non-threatening, I kept my distance; even so, the female, ever curious as well as diligent, peered over the rim at me with those huge, baleful yellow eyes.
- Tom Lake

3/26 - Indian Point, HRM 42: While traveling to Verplanck to look for eagles, we encountered a large flock of wild turkeys, twenty of them, at Indian Point. It was fantastic watching them. At Verplanck, the eagles never showed.
- Kristy Bartholomew

3/26 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The first river herring of the spring, probably an alewife, was reported by a bait dealer in Croton-on-Hudson. The owner reported a lot of debris in the water as a result of rain and runoff, so this might also be limiting the catch rate due to lack of desire to set the net and then clear out all the "junk."
- Rachel Lowenthal

3/27 - Minerva, HRM 284: I taped four sugar maples and put up buckets ten days ago. But within a day the cold weather came and the sap has been thoroughly frozen since. I have two gallons of sap in a distinctly solid state scattered about the four buckets. We still have three feet of snow in the woods. It is great, though, because there's only a thin two inches of soft snow over a very tough, crusty surface. We do not even need snowshoes; sneakers are fine and you can stay on the crust. Spring would be nice, however. We were still hearing red-winged blackbirds and chickadees performing their spring songs.
- Mike Corey

3/27 - Troy, HRM 152: We were leaving Troy, crossing the Menands Bridge over the Hudson, when my colleague noted a large bird flying north alongside the river. It was an adult bald eagle! The very first I've seen in this area.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

[There is good evidence that a mated pair is nesting not far from the Capitol District at Albany. Tom Lake.]

3/27 - North Germantown, HRM 108.5: Since February of 2010 we have seen both adult and immature bald eagles in almost every month of the year, often in pairs. One day last October, we saw six soaring above us at one time. This morning we spotted two immatures soaring overhead. They seemed to be playing. At one point, one was above the other extending its talons.
- Cynthia Reichman

3/27 - Crugers, HRM 39: We have been hearing "jungle-type" bird sounds within our neighborhood for a while now, but could never find the source of all the squawking. Finally, today, we saw a beautiful pileated woodpecker that has graced our area with his presence.
- Dianne Picciano

3/28 - Adirondack High Peaks, HRM 315: More than five feet of snow was on the ground at the headwaters of the Hudson River. Lake Tear of the Clouds was frozen over and Mount Marcy, also known as Tahawas, or "Cloud Splitter," was snow-covered. Winter showed no sign of letting go. Brilliant rainbow-colored, wind-whipped cloud puffs were sailing across the sun.
- Doug Reed

3/28 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We counted nine male and five female ring-necked ducks in a woodland pond near here. This was a first sighting of the ducks for us. They were accompanied by a pair of skittish hooded mergansers and a single Canada goose.
- Roland Ellis, Alice Ellis

3/28 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 37: The NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit's Juvenile Sturgeon Tagging program caught, tagged, and released two juvenile Atlantic sturgeon.
- Rachel Lowenthal

3/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie: This was incubation Day 29 for the mated pair in eagle nest NY 225. We were lucky enough to be there, discreetly, to witness a changing of the guard. Like a runner handing off a baton in relay race, the male left the nest and the female took over incubation.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The adults share incubation responsibilities. While it may vary from pair to pair, on average, the female incubates 18-20 a day getting relief once or twice a day in order to go and forage for food. For the same reason that we do not eat cheese doodles in our tents when camping in the High Peaks, no food is ever brought to the nest until a hatching occurs. The scent of food attracts unwanted visitors. However, once there is another mouth to feed, one that cannot fend for itself, the adults bring small fish and other food to the nest. Tom Lake]

3/29 - Beacon, HRM 61: Passing by on Metro North, I saw an adult eagle soaring low above the south end of the train station. It did not seem as big as those I usually see; perhaps it was a somewhat smaller male.
- Glen Heinsohn

3/29 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Coltsfoot was in bloom in southern exposures. With nighttime low temperatures at 20 degrees F and below, spring seems to really be dragging its feet this year. As I walked around the gardens early this morning, I was surprised at how many plants and shrubs have begun putting out new growth. This could be a year when everything pops at once, when tulips and daffodils overlap. But this morning, "pipkrakes" crunched underfoot in the yard, and tiny sap-sickles dangled from winter damaged sugar maple twigs.
- Christopher Letts

[Pipkrakes refers to the crumpling of soil due to moisture freezing and heaving upwards. It makes for crunchy walking, plays havoc with lawns, but probably has benefits in allowing air and water to penetrate. Christopher Letts.]

3/29 - Croton River, HRM 34: We visited Black Rock Park and watched two pairs of common mergansers and a lone male hooded merganser as they glided through the dark green water. Several Canada geese congregated in the water nearby and, at one point, a pair of them noisily skipped and skidded over the water together and moved away from the rest of the geese.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/29 - Palisades, HRM 23: I was walking with a friend at Mount Tallman State Park when a large adult red-tailed hawk landed on a branch not 15 feet away. The hawk focused intently on the leaf-covered ground. Ignoring us, it cocked its head left and right listening to whatever was beneath the leaves. We turned to watch and our patience was rewarded as it dropped to the ground, shuffled in the leaves, picked up its catch (a mole, I think) in its beak, and flew to a nearby tree to enjoy its meal.
- Linda Pistolesi

3/30 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: Drifts of daffodils were just beginning to bloom at the 79th Street Boat Basin. In a sheltered spot far upslope from the shore, several forsythia were brightly splashed against the drab end of winter background.
- Christopher Letts

3/31 - Town of Poughkeepsie: This was incubation Day 31 at NY 225 and, for the first time, food was brought to the nest. The delivery, a medium-sized fish, seemed like an afterthought, a formality, with the both adults hovering, expectantly, over the middle of the nest. Had a hatch occurred? It is very difficult to see into this nest - there is no good vantage - so the behavior of the adults will have to tell us.
- Tom Lake

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