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Hudson River Almanac April 1 - April 7, 2011

OVERVIEW

Flowers were beginning to bloom in the uplands and river herring were arriving from the sea. So begins another glorious spring in the Hudson River Valley.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/4 - Town of Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: We had our first pair of common mergansers spending the day on the small stream out back that feeds into the Wappinger Creek. Our pond in the front has already been claimed by a pair of mallards; we get them every year like clockwork. Tonight, the peepers and wood frogs were so loud even our 17-year-old dog took notice, and he doesn't stir for the UPS truck any more.
- Naomi Brooks

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/1 - Columbia County, HRM 119: Out here at the edge of the Taconic Mountains we finally got the weather that amphibians would respond to. Although we have not heard any frogs calling yet, we were able to find wood frogs and triploid (all female) Jefferson's salamanders crossing the road. We found three leeches on one of the salamanders, one each in the axil (armpit?) of the front legs and one in the axil of the right hind leg. We were going to try to identify the leech, but we suspect it is Placobdella picta, a small leech known to be a temporary ecto-parasite on amphibians.
- Bob Schmidt, Alec Schmidt

4/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie: By mid-morning, heavy snow had changed to a bone-chilling cold rain. In an odd juxtaposition, the male eagle was in the nest and the female was perched on a limb forty feet away. It is uncommon to see both adults at the nest for any period of time during incubation, other than change-over, so we might have something going on. By late afternoon, both adults were standing in the nest, each with a branch in their beak, rearranging the accommodations.
- Tom Lake

4/1 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: It was the trout season opener and there was not much good to say about the weather. I ran into Midgie Taub, who had one little brook trout, less than ten inches long. "Here's breakfast," he told me, and I thanked him profusely. How I wanted that little fish in the pan, fins and tail crackling, orange flesh still moist, the breakfast of all breakfasts for an angler. But noblesse oblige. I carefully cleaned and washed the fish and froze it in a bag filled with water. This spring, 200 Westchester elementary school children would have their first ever opportunity to go eye-to-eye with their State Fish. The brookie was in good condition, lots of fat considering the time of year, and a stomach crammed with over 100 tiny crustaceans.
- Christopher Letts

4/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: After a pleasant walk in light rain I arrived at the mouth of the Croton River to enjoy the view and a cup of hot tea. A forsythia bush on the south side of the Point had begun to bloom. Up on the landfill half-a-dozen kestrels had come in overnight. George Hatzmann arrived to share the knowledge that "No one is catching nothin!" But what we did have, just outside the railroad bridge? It was a red-throated loon, just drifting with the tide.
- Christopher Letts

4/2 - Rensselaer County, HRM 152: I saw the leucistic red-tailed hawk again today (see 3/26). The tail had two "stripes" that I thought were the legs showing through the tail feathers when I first saw the bird. Today I got a much better look and saw that it was actually two red tail feathers in an otherwise completely white bird with yellow legs. One tail feather was completely red, while the other appeared to be only partly red or, perhaps, shorter - giving the appearance of being only partially red. These are in the center of the fanned out tail. When it flew, four crows mobbed it. What a unique bird.
- Jesse Jaycox

4/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie: As I watched the eagle nest through my spotting scope from 300 feet away, it occurred to me, once again, that this drama was being played out in two dozen other eagle nests in the Hudson Valley. Both adults were in the nest (NY225) and the best description I could think of for their behavior was one of amazement. This may be the pair's first nestling (yet to be seen). The female carefully tore small pieces from a fish and lowered her head into the bottom of the nest.
- Tom Lake

4/2 - Peekskill, HRM 43: Now that spring migration is underway, I know it's important to take a close look at the birds visiting my yard, as something new can pop up any day. I put the binoculars on some sparrows foraging about and among them was a beautiful swamp sparrow - a first for my yard. (The bird was confirmed by Michael Bochnik).
- Carol Capobianco

4/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Post Road School in White Plains has been participating in river education programs with me for 27 years: fall seining, spring "Funny Fish" (fish morphology), and for every one of those years convening on a Saturday early in March to clear the flotsam and jetsam of winter from the bathing beach. This year, in the teeth of a chill north wind, about 60 souls showed up wearing old clothes and gloves and ready for duty. Some families were represented by three generations. Two-thirds of the participants were under 8 or over 60. Nine large garbage bags were filled with "people trash": plastic picnic-ware, beverage containers, chunks of Styrofoam, disposable lighters, swim goggles, cups from shotgun shells, fishermen's junk, balls in every size and color, boater's junk, three tires and a couple of plastic shipping pallets. Next the driftwood - if it was too large or heavy for raking, it was hauled above the storm tide line and stacked. We raked a quarter-mile of beach clearing it of cones, seeds, pieces of bark, small tree branches, corn cobs, and water chestnut seeds by the blue millions.
- Christopher Letts, Anthony Russo, Lori Mollo

4/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There was still just over a foot of snow on the ground, but with some open patches on the south-facing slopes. The Hudson River opened up this week on both sides of the Route 28N bridge but continues to be frozen just above the Lake Harris inlet. Tree sparrows and song sparrows were now arriving at bird feeders. Two robins were seen last week but there's been no sign of them since some additional snowfall. Snow melt has been very slow with air temperatures consistently in the 20-30 degree Fahrenheit range.
- Charlotte Demers

4/3 - Minerva, HRM 284: What a difference 200 miles makes this time of the year. I just visited New Paltz (Ulster County) and was surprised to see no snow on the ground and hear spring peepers calling. In Minerva we still have a couple of feet of snow, with very little uncovered ground, and today it was snowing. Even the few robins and flocks of red-winged blackbirds that have been around have piped down. I did hear a brown creeper this morning, though. I wonder if these birds are beginning to show signs of depression.
- Mike Corey

4/3 - Catskill Creek, HRM 113: We saw an adult bald eagle standing on the ice, peering into the open water at Franklinton Vlaie. It had adult plumage and I couldn't be sure, but thought I saw "speckles" [possibly a "newly moulted" adult.]
- Lorraine Whiting & Dee Strnisa

4/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The sun and warmth drew us out for a walk in Franny Reese Park this afternoon. After just a few steps along the trail from the Mack's Lane trailhead, we came upon bright yellow coltsfoot blossoms pushing through the flattened leaves of winter. They are the first native wildflowers (other than tree flowers) that we have seen this year. Farther on we heard the high exclamations of spring peepers and the low-pitched gabble of wood frogs from a wetland off the trail.
- Lynn Bowdery, Allan Bowdery, Ruth Elwell

4/3 - Beacon, HRM 61: As always, I was fishing for carp, but there were none to be had. I did manage to catch, admire, and release a 20-inch, 2 lb. 11 oz. female channel catfish. It was a very nice looking fish, clean and well-proportioned, olive-brown upper body, silvery-white sides. The channel catfish are always welcome.
- Bill Greene

4/3 - Stony Point, Rockland County, HRM 40: While driving through Stony Point near Route 9W, I counted twenty black vultures hanging out in the trees, possibly a night roost.
- Wendy Widmann

4/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Although the northerlies were brisk and with bite coming off Haverstraw Bay's chilly waters, it was a day to offer hope. I saw skirmishing lines of robins advancing against retreating winter, phoebes were back, and killdeer were calling; flocks of double-crested cormorants beat their wings against the wind, and three great blue herons arrived in formation, making tough work of it but disappearing to the north in a few minutes, nonetheless. Cardinals, robins, doves, and redwings were all in good voice. The trump was a pair of bluebirds, foraging in the lee of the landfill. Oh, how I hoped they might find an irresistible nesting spot. They may have come late to the real estate market, however, as tree swallows have been in possession of the bluebird nesting boxes for almost a week.
- Christopher Letts

4/4 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Less than an hour into the flood tide, Clearwater staff and crew pulled a beach seine in the cove just below the Environmental Education Center. Among the fish caught was a central mudminnow (35 mm total length), along with some banded killifish, tessellated darters, and small pumpkinseed sunfish. The beach seine was one part of the Clearwater crew's training program as the sloop begins another sailing season on the Hudson River.
- Dave Conover

[Mudminnows are easily mistaken for killifish, sharing many of their physical attributes. Central mudminnows are a nonnative species probably having arrived here through the New York State canal system from the Midwest. Our native mudminnow, the eastern, is known to hybridize with the central minnow. Tom Lake.]

4/4 - Putnam County, HRM 55: I hiked up above the old quarry on Mount Taurus across from Little Stony point. I was halfway around the rim and looked up to see a red-tailed hawk fifteen feet away me on a nearby branch. He was surveying the open clearing below, surely looking for something to scurry by. He turned and stared at me for several seconds. I was very surprised to be this close to such a big raptor. I figured I'd leave him to find dinner and went on my way, feeling glad those talons and beak were not meant for creatures my size.
- Ryan Van Buren

4/4 - Putnam County, HRM 54: Wood frogs were heard calling in a few shrub swamps in Clarence Fahnestock State Park. One adult was also found in the woods, still somewhat lethargic. Although we've heard spring peepers already this season, these were our first wood frogs of the year.
- Jesse Jaycox, Kevin Clarke

4/5 - Pattersonville, Schenectady County, HRM 157: On clear days with the snow about gone, I see hundreds of blackbirds in the cornfield stubble. On snowy days with the ground covered they are all at my feeders. Today it snowed pretty hard and although it didn't really stick, they weren't taking any chances and were all at the feeders along with the winter birds that are still here.
- Dee Strnisa

4/5 - Woodstock, HRM 100: Woodcock have begun their annual mating flights. We had been searching fields and swamp margins and our persistence paid off. We found two locations with woodcock performing their aerial mating ritual, usually beginning around 7:30 PM and going until dark; it is as exciting as Fourth of July fireworks!
- James Munson, Laura VanVlack

4/5 - Ulster County, HRM 95: Along the east end of Ashokan Reservoir this evening I spotted a common loon riding some pretty high rollers near the shoreline. Overhead, soaring into a stiff wind, was an immature bald eagle.
- Krista Munger

4/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie: A cold front swept through in mid-morning, bringing cold rain, tree-swaying winds, and thunder. The female in NY225 was hunched down in the middle of the nest, wings cupped, feathers fluffed, looking very much like a protective mom. Her body warmth along with the water repellency of her feathers provided a snug shelter for the nestling(s).
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

4/5 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: As I tried to turn the soil in my garden, the digging fork hit solid, hard, cold mud six inches down. Yet, the weeping willows at Croton Point have shaken out their golden tress-like branches and were waving them in the wind this morning. At the Nature Center, a witch hazel bush planted close to the building was in full frothy flower, coltsfoot was blooming along the roadside, and legions of chipmunks and squirrels have emerged from winter hiding places. As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, "...well appareled April on the heel of limping winter treads...."
- Robin Fox

[Our native witch hazel typically blooms in fall. However, an Asian species commonly planted as an ornamental does bloom in late winter and early spring. Steve Stanne.]

4/6 - Poesten Kill, HRM 151.5: Local tributary watchers reported that river herring, migrating from the sea to spawn, had arrived there today.
- Tom Gentalen

4/6 - West Sand Lake, Rensselaer County, HRM 145: I spotted a golden eagle perched in a tree just outside my kitchen window this morning. I almost dropped my pot! He didn't stay long, just stretched a beautiful blonde leg out, partially spread his wings, and left.
- Kristen Northrup

[This location is about 50 miles due north of Stissing Mountain in Dutchess County where golden eagles are known to winter. Tom Lake.]

4/6 - Catskill Creek, HRM 113: Spawning walleye have been "bedding" in the creek for almost a week now. The water temperature was just about 42 degrees F. While Rondout Creek to the south and the Poesten Kill to the north have reported river herring, none have been reported here as yet.
- Tom Gentalen

4/6 - Weehawken, NJ, HRM 3.7: Several brant were foraging at the New York Waterway Terminal today.
- Chris Murphy

[Brant are a small goose closely related to the Canada goose. Like Canadas, they can fly at night and migrate to the Arctic Circle to breed. Haverstraw Bay riverman Cal Greenberg recalls that in springs past, he would see almost unbroken lines of brant flocks passing over for hours at a time. Dery Bennett had their migration timed perfectly at Sandy Hook, NJ, arriving to spend the winter on Columbus Day and leaving by Memorial Day for their breeding grounds. Tom Lake.]

4/6 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Fields and lawns were carpeted with hundreds of robins this morning and flickers were plentiful - calling, drumming, flirting with their white rump patches; it was nice to have them back. Most of the well markers up on the landfill were crowned with kestrels. The star of the morning was an elegant male harrier, gliding toward me from the crown of the landfill and out across the marsh toward the railroad tracks.
- Christopher Letts

4/6 Croton River, HRM 34: A kettle of turkey vultures was rising over the river. I took a look with the glasses and found that two osprey were in the mix.
- Christopher Letts

4/7 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: The winter night roosts for crows along the waterfront are well-known, often hosting 10,000 birds or more. Their "caw, caw, caw" is a common sound. I heard a few of them today on the Walkway Over The Hudson, and mixed in was another call from an even larger black bird, a raven: "Croak, croak, croak." While related to the crow, they are truly a bird of a different realm.
- Tom Lake

4/7 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The first river herring of the season, alewives, arrived in Wappinger Creek today.
- Eli Cohen

4/7 - Upper Bay, New York Harbor: Buttermilk Channel, by Governor's Island, has been full of goldeneyes, buffleheads and common mergansers all winter. Most of them appear to be diving on or around our new oyster reef, which our student divers will inspect later in the spring for mortality and growth. The diving ducks seem to indicate that we've created great habitat there!
- Murray Fisher

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