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Hudson River Almanac April 24 - April 30, 2011

OVERVIEW

The first hummingbirds of spring arrived this week as record flooding from rain and snow melt inundated the upper reaches of the watershed.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/29 - Lake Luzerne, HRM 206: The Hudson River at Lake Luzerne crested at 7:00 AM today. The river had reached its highest level since 1913 (98 years) due to the combination of heavy thunderstorm rain and high temperatures causing rapid snow melt in the Adirondack High Peaks. The quantity of seasonal and year-round homes that exist today did not dot the river in 1913. I am fortunate that my dwelling sits up on a small hill from the river. Nonetheless, the water came within inches of making it over a retaining wall and knoll. Others were not so fortunate. Widespread flooding near the Route 9N bridge in Lake Luzerne isolated many homes as they sat in several feet of water. For the past three days, large trees and logs, pieces of docks and decks, and runaway kayaks and canoes have floated by. This will go down in the record books as the second worst flood on this part of the Hudson River watershed.
- Mike Meyer

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/24 - Columbia County, HRM 118: It was Easter Sunday and we finally saw our first butterfly of the season. There were three spring azures fluttering around our grape hyacinths. We found another, less welcome, insect as well, a small bright red beetle with black head and legs - very attractive - which we identified as Iliocerus ilii, a European pest of lilies that appeared in the U.S. in 1992. I guess anyone who is a lily enthusiast already knows about this beetle, but a patch of lilies we planted were devastated last year and now we know the culprit.
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

4/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The two nestlings in eagle nest NY62C were all alone for more than an hour this morning. The adults were out fishing. The female came back with a fish (a catfish?) and the nestling's "chirping" enthusiasm echoed through the grove of tuliptrees.
- Tom Lake, Terry Hardy

4/24 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A spring azure butterfly was flitting about our lawn, still moist with dew.
- Ed Spaeth

4/24 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The window in front of my desk looks out over our feeder area and today the centerpiece on my desk was a stunning orange-red tulip in a vase. The tulip was within inches of the glass, and I looked up to see a hummingbird hovering on the other side of the window, trying to figure out how to get to the flower. The colors of the bird mimicked the flowers; it could only have been a male rufous hummingbird.
- Nancy Letts

[The rufous hummingbird is an uncommon to rare stray in the Northeast. Their breeding range is from southern Alaska to northern California and east to Idaho. They winter in Mexico. Previous Almanac records have always been in late fall (2001-2002, 2006), from Yonkers and Manhattan. Eric Lind.]

4/24 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: While walking at Croton Point we were delighted to see several kestrels perched on the landfill well markers as well as a killdeer on one of the gravel paths.
- Ariel Butterfass, Susan Butterfass

4/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The first warm, rainy night of spring left 1.2" of rain and brought out the amphibians. Spotted, two-lined, and red-backed salamanders were all seen meandering in the forest tonight. The spotted males were heading to the vernal pools and small ponds to wait on the female's arrival. This was the first night that we also heard wood frogs and spring peepers vocalizing. There weren't any egg masses observed in the pools and ponds, so things were just underway.
- Charlotte Demers

4/25 - Minerva, HRM 284: This was a big day for signs of spring: The alien, yet fairly benign, plant known as coltsfoot was blooming from a roadside ditch. I heard an eastern phoebe singing away in a tree and a trip to the pond in back of our home revealed it had finally experienced ice-out. Our returning resident pied-billed grebe was somewhere out there in the reeds, unseen but very much heard and I could see a single common goldeneye, swimming along a few hundred yards away in the shallow water. It rained last night and that was great news for the small amphibians. I heard our wood frogs for the first time this year along with spring peepers.
- Mike Corey

4/25 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: With binoculars in hand, I was treated to the sight, as well as the ethereal upper decibel singing, of a blue gray gnatcatcher as it outmaneuvered flying insects among the lower branches of trees at the shoreline of the Hudson.
- Daniel Seymour

4/25 - Gardiner, HRM 73: On our walk this evening we were delighted to see an osprey sitting on a branch devouring a catfish. Yellow warblers, thrushes, orioles, house wrens, and one of my favorites, catbirds, have all been seen in the past few days.
- Rebecca Houser

4/25 - Rockland County, HRM 41: While on a short loop hike from the Elk Penn in Harriman State Park, we stopped off at a favorite spot at Island Pond. We spotted two osprey soaring in the wind high above us. One of them came circling lower and lower and began a typical dive into the water for a fish, but at the last minute changed its mind and flew up in a tree.
- Corinne Brown

4/25 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I was gazing with admiration at the small patch of early red tulips when I realized I was also seeing a male ruby-throat hummingbird feeding. I stood transfixed as he sampled each tulip and then fed at the lovely light-purple blossoms of the azalea.
- Robin Fox

4/25 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Shadbush was in bloom, and a score of chimney swifts winnowed the air for breakfast bugs. These are the first I had seen this season.
- Christopher Letts

4/25 - Croton Reservoir, HRM 34: We were at the Croton Dam to watch the "waterworks" from the recent flooding. As we were walking up the road to the dam, a large raptor flew over the spillway toward the trees that line the hillside above the waterfall. Once up to the dam and enjoying the view, we looked to the trees to see if we could spot the bird. There it was, an osprey, sitting on a branch and preening.
- Hugh McLean, Annie McLean

4/26 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Last night's storm brought with it some wood warblers: Black-and-white, black-throated blue, and yellow-rumped warblers were heard and seen. Savannah sparrows, rose-breasted grosbeaks and great blue herons were also in the bird mix this morning.
- Charlotte Demers

4/26 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: As it was just getting light this morning, I awoke to the nearby song of a chuck-will's-widow. I have heard them in Missouri along with whip-poor-wills, where it is common to hear dozens singing at a time. These birds have a magic all their own.
- Dan Seymour

[The chuck-will's-widow is uncommon to rare in upstate New York State, but the Breeding Bird Atlas shows a few confirmed and probable nesting records on Long Island. Steve Stanne.]

4/26 - Gardiner, HRM 73: Despite friends discovering a nest of four woodcock eggs over a month ago on their property, tonight I was still hearing "peents" and full courtship displays. The warm, humid weather seemed conducive for many species to make themselves heard. I also listened to gray tree frogs, spring peepers, and a barred owl calling.
- Laura Heady

4/26 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 59: I heard a loud thump against my kitchen window this morning. To my dismay a beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeak, was lying upside down, quite disoriented, on top of a small maple tree. I gently picked him up and placed him on a branch. The bird sat on the branch for an hour and seemed alert. I hope that this handsome bird will survive.
- Elizabeth Athanasiou

4/26 - Kowawese, HRM 59: There was a warm and strong southwest wind blowing up through the Hudson Highlands. In the days when we'd be out drifting our light-weight shad nets, we cross our fingers and hold our breath on days like these in the face of what we called the "striper wind." That warm spring wind seemed to pull huge schools of spawning striped bass upriver and the result would often be torn and wrecked shad nets.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

4/26 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: We watched an immature bald eagle trying to handle the strong winds over the low-tide shallows of Cornwall Bay. While strong winds are welcome when raptors are soaring, they can be difficult to negotiate when precision is needed while fishing. The eagle stooped several times for an unseen fish, each time withdrawing from the moving target. It looked like he was trying to land on the deck of pitching vessel. After a few minutes he took off for the stability of a riverside cottonwood.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

4/26 - Orange County, HRM 39: The "weather dam" broke and the heavens opened up with a great mix of migratory passerines. Two outstanding birds that dropped in at our feeders were a Lincoln's sparrow and a white-crowned sparrow as first time spring visitors. But the most amazing sightings I had were a monarch butterfly and a buckeye butterfly. Is it possible that the violent weather patterns to the south and west of us brought these summer butterflies here in April?
- John Yrizarry

4/26 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: A chilly Earth Day morning found me on a secret little gem of a Hudson tributary, lower Furnace Brook, awaiting two monitors to count incoming glass eels. Ossining High School students Amanda Bernstein and Pam Brigleb were old pros who waded into the flow, unhooked the cod end of the fyke net, and carefully counted 54 glass eels and one elver, all fresh from the Atlantic Ocean. Afterwards I explored the marsh farther downstream and watched an eagle circle, scrutinizing the brook's wide estuary, probably for alewives.
- John Waldman

4/26 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Orchard orioles and catbirds had arrived to put in "first of the season" appearances. Wood ducks were paddling in several pools and spotted sandpipers foraged on the beaches.
- Christopher Letts

4/26 - Manhattan, HRM 2: While sitting on a bench in City Hall Park in Manhattan this morning, I heard a distinctive song. Out from under a shrub popped a very handsome eastern towhee.
- Joanne Zipay

4/27 - Town of Knox, Albany County HRM 143: An ambitious pair of Canada geese had taken advantage of the high and dry top of a large muskrat mound in our marsh to build their nest. They can readily see all around them.
- Pat Price, Bob Price

4/27 - West Hurley, HRM 95: I put out my hummingbird feeders today. Normally, we don't see hummingbirds until the first week of May, but I wanted to be early in case of migrants that may show up sooner. Today, a male ruby-throated hummingbird arrived at the feeder.
- Ray Spiegel

4/27 - Milan HRM 90: On my way to work this morning I stopped to help a large snapping turtle across the road. Tonight there was a rose-breasted grosbeak on the feeder.
- Marty Otter

4/27 - Gardiner, HRM 73: I spotted a mourning cloak butterfly in my yard today as well as a rose-breasted grosbeak vying with a red-bellied woodpecker at my feeder.
- Peg Lotvin

4/27 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: I was sitting on deck of the schooner Mystic Whaler at Waryas Park early this morning enjoying the peace and the morning fog when I saw something unexpected: A red fox came running through the park at a brisk clip. It stopped thirty feet from the head of the dock, stuck its ears up, gave a listen for a moment, and then bolted up the hill and into the woods. It was a nice way to start the day.
- Captain John Eginton

4/27 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The woods had a soft glow to them as the shadbush was finally in bloom.
- Tom Lake

4/27 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: It was two hours into the flood tide, nearing dusk, when a school of alewives swam past me heading upstream. I could not see them and they would have passed unnoticed except for a large predator that appeared in their wake. Instantly, the herring were leaping every which way to escape. Deep and heavy swirls appeared among them and one or more may have been taken. I guessed that it was a large striped bass, but other high-end predators also swim the tidewater creek such as chain pickerel and the occasional northern pike.
- Tom Lake

4/27 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 59: I spotted a male evening grosbeak, a very handsome black, white and yellow bird, this morning in my locust tree. This was my second species of grosbeak this week, the other being a rose-breasted, and is the first time I have ever seen this species in seven years of feeding birds.
- Elizabeth Athanasiou

4/27 - Manitou, HRM 47: This morning was the first time I heard the bull frogs at Manitou Marsh. Nice long vocals but sounding a little hoarse, or maybe a "frog" in its throat. There also seems to be fewer spring peepers this year, or not nearly as many vocalizing.
- Zshawn Sullivan

4/27 - Warwick HRM 43: A male ruby-throated hummingbird arrived at our feeder today. This was at least four days earlier than I've ever seen them here.
- Ranny Dykstra

4/27 - Crugers, HRM 39: Early shoots of spatterdock were visible on Ogilvie's Pond today as a great blue heron stood in muddy water in front of some Phragmites, its neck curled in anticipation of striking out for its late-afternoon meal.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

4/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The ice went out today on Rich Lake, one of the headwater bodies of the Hudson River.
- Charlotte Demers

4/28 - Milan HRM 90: I just spotted our first "hummer" of the season, as a male ruby-throated made a quick stop at the feeder.
- Marty Otter

4/28 - Town of Esopus, HRM 85: The toads were singing. Hundreds of toads had converged on a small pond beside Swartekill Road. The sound was loud and as joyful as spring itself, not to mention the amusing jockeying for position by the males that looks like a rugby scrum. The most surprising aspect was the variety of colors toads sport: ochre, rust, chocolate, and gray.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

4/28 - New Paltz, HRM 78: At the bottom of our field above the flood plain of the Wallkill River there was a loud outcry of crows this morning. They kept up their noisy siege so later I walked to the top of the field where I could see several crows hopping about in the thick branches of a large pin oak. They were focused on something, a great horned owl, which spread its huge wings and flew into another tree across the marsh, taking its entourage of crows with it.
- Lynn Bowdery

4/28 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: It was still dark at 5:00 AM and I could barely make out the fyke net that Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount, Laurie Fila, and students from Mount St. Mary's College had set the afternoon before. The air felt incredibly heavy, a fresh breeze was rising, and a tornado watch was in effect. As I sat on the bank swatting blackflies and waiting for first light, I could hear river herring, alewives, scurrying upstream creating foamy disturbances on the water. "First light" never came to the west as huge black clouds settled on the horizon. I pulled the net out rather than lose it to a possible flood. Overnight it had captured 22 glass eels and 12 elvers. The creek was 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 Fahrenheit). Several hours later the storm hit. Multiple strikes of lightning accompanied thunder, high winds, and a driving rain, and the creek began to rise up on the shore.
- Tom Lake

4/28 - Brooklyn, New York City: A few feet off the East River shore of Brooklyn Heights, at the dead end of State Street, in the rectangular cove made by the two not-yet-refurbished piers of the new Brooklyn Bridge park, a small squadron of laughing gulls swam along the edges of a little island of floating bits of plastic and reeds, khaki colored flotsam and jetsam. The gulls were bobbing in the choppy water - a torrential rain was about to begin - encouraged by several other laughing gulls who called loudly from the utility polls on the piers.
- Robert Sullivan

4/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Rain and snow melt had caused catastrophic flooding in the region. Lake Harris, just west of the Hudson, was over the road on Route 28N. Newcomb Central School and neighboring Long Lake Central School canceled classes today as many of the area roads were closed due to the flooding.
- Charlotte Demers

4/29 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: A seal was reported to be on the marina dock at Shadows on the Hudson restaurant this afternoon. While the species was not noted, it was probably a harbor seal.
- Steve Stanne

[The list of Hudson River marine mammals is lengthy and includes seals, dolphins, porpoises, and even a one-time visit from a manatee in summer 2006. Among the seals we've recorded are gray, harbor, hooded and harp seals. However, the overwhelming majority of seal sightings are harbor seals. Almanac records include sightings as far upriver as Albany (HRM 145). Reports are frequent in spring, when the estuary is teeming with migratory herring. Tom Lake.]

4/29 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I watched the male from the NY62C eagle nest fishing in Wappinger Creek late this afternoon. He is a little bit smaller than the female. I was counting the number of great blue herons (6) across a few hundred yards of tidewater when he came down the creek towards me, not more than ten feet off the deck, with an alewife in his talons.
- Tom Lake

4/29 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: Along a small wooded stream above Hessian Lake, in a near-debilitating haze of blackflies, I spotted two warblers, a yellow-rumped and a black-and-white, both of which breed in the State Park. Shadbush was in full bloom and flowering dogwood just beginning. In late afternoon the sky grew dark and threatening and a pair of black vultures silently drifted just over the forest canopy.
- Tom Lake

4/29 - Yonkers, HRM 18: While under sail off the dock in Yonkers, the Hudson River sloop Clearwater hauled their otter trawl and pulled up an incredible variety of fishes. One of the thrilling discoveries was a juvenile striped cusk-eel (180 millimeters total length).
- Maija Liisa Niemisto

[The striped cusk-eel is slender eel-like fish that is closely related to the codfishes. They are bottom dwellers in coastal waters but have been found occasionally in the lower Hudson both at Indian Point (HRM 42) and the Arthur Kill in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. C. Lavett Smith.]

4/30 - Stuyvesant, Columbia County, HRM 127: In the tidal marsh at the Lewis A. Swyer Preserve at Mill Creek, tiny, delicate spring beauties and showy, bright yellow marsh marigolds were blooming profusely.
- Wilma Ann Johnson

4/30 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Seventy eager anglers lined the patio and boardwalk at the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center for a day of fishing. Another serious "fisherman," an osprey, circled overhead for most of the afternoon. Despite our modest bait, nightcrawlers, we caught 58 fish of 11 species on rod and reel: white and yellow perch, spottail and golden shiners, brown bullheads, American eels, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish, and small striped bass. The largest and most handsome fish was a 14-inch-long channel catfish; the most unusual was an 11-inch-long yellow bullhead. A nest of black racers - we counted four snakes, each maybe 18-20" long, basked in the sun in the brush along the boardwalk next to the water. The river was 57 degrees F.
- Jim Herrington, Ryan Coulter, Tom Lake

4/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The NY62C eagle nest had drawn a small group of admirers, inching closer to the base of the tree, heightening the anxiety among the birds in the nest. The two nestlings were perched near the rim and it would not have taken much of a start (e.g., a loud noise) to send one or both tumbling out of the nest in fright.
- Tom Lake

[It is not uncommon for eagle-admirers to try to get just a little bit closer to the birds, to somehow realize some unfathomable experience, perhaps to become their friend. As much as we love them, eagles do not want to be our friends. I've held eagles in my arms and I can tell you that they are just as special at 300 feet through a spotting scope, a camera's zoom lens, or binoculars. The "flight distance" for eagles is 125 meters and they become uncomfortable when we are any closer. During breeding season, unnecessary intrusion can cause adults to abandon their nests with eggs or nestlings. We work very hard to keep nesting locations out of mainstream knowledge for the very reason that some people are incapable of tempering their enthusiasm, of understanding that the birds need their "space." Tom Lake.]

4/30 - New Windsor, HRM 59: At dusk, a bird that I had never seen before flew down my street. I noticed white spots on both wings and, when I looked it up in my field guide, I determined that it was a common nighthawk
- Joanne Zipay

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