Hudson River Almanac May 1 - May 7, 2011
For many people, there is so substitute for the colors of fall foliage. There is no argument that they are gorgeous, but for me, the colors of May have no equal. From wildflowers to warblers, the rainbow of spring colors echo a season of rebirth.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
5/1 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Over the last two weeks, large flocks of black-capped chickadees have been sighted at the Saugerties Lighthouse. Chickadees by the dozen darted from the underbrush to two maple trees at the dock. From there, they launched into the wind and flew over the lighthouse, presumably crossing the river. After watching this over several days I asked a local birdwatcher about it. He explained that the chickadees use the Lighthouse Trail as a migration path to cross the Hudson River. By following this spit of land jutting out into the river, the birds shorten their flight over the river, conserving energy along their journey. He suggested that the Lighthouse Trail be renamed "Chickadee Path."
- Patrick Landewe
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
5/1 - Hudson River Valley: Last week's Almanac highlight described major flooding along the upper Hudson, cresting on 4/29. What effect did it have in the estuary? With regard to high water, not much. Water levels in the estuary are controlled by sea level; flooding due to runoff rarely occurs south of Catskill. The river did rise at Albany (HRM 145) from 4/28 to 5/1, peaking on 4/30 about three feet above the levels a few days before and after. Fourteen miles downriver at Schodack Island this crest was only about a foot and a half above the levels of the preceding and following days. At Norrie Point (HRM 85), no peak was apparent. While the runoff had little effect on water heights in the estuary, its impact on the salt front was another story. From 5/4 to 5/9 salinity was below detection limits at Piermont (HRM 25), testing the ability of the Piermont marsh's brackish water species - saltwater cordgrass, diamondback terrapins, and ribbed mussels, for example - to tolerate wide swings in salt concentrations. And off Castle Point in Hoboken, New Jersey (HRM 3), average daily salinities were in the range of 3-5 practical salinity units during that period - very low levels little more than 4 miles from the Statue of Liberty.
- Steve Stanne
[The websites of the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System www.hrecos.org and U.S. Geological Survey http://ny.water.usgs.gov/projects/dialer_plots/saltfront.html post near-real-time data from instruments placed in the river. Check out historical and current river conditions on these sites. Steve Stanne.]
5/1 - Black Creek Preserve, HRM 85: Along with Annie, our group leader, Jason, Alice and her son Julian, we found 41 glass eels, three elvers, and four banded killifish in our Black Creek fyke net on an amazingly beautiful morning. The creek was at low tide and crystal clear. I went a short distance downstream to the bridge and spotted what I believe were as many as ten migrating river herring. What a great day for nature watching.
- Elizabeth Athanasiou
5/1 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A couple of rough-winged swallows were chasing insects over the river this afternoon. We saw a hummingbird come in from the river, apparently crossing over. As we were watching a pair of unidentified songbirds cross from west to east, their casual flight suddenly turned into something more like a dash. It didn't take long to find out why: an accipiter (sharp-shinned hawk, we think) was behind them and visibly closing the distance. They all disappeared behind the trees at the mouth of the Indian Kill, so we never did find out how the chase ended.
- David Lund, Linda Lund
5/1 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: As we ate our lunch we were treated to a vision of black-and-orange among the white Bradford pear blossoms: Baltimore orioles! We had our first spring sighting of a hummingbird at our feeder today as well.
- Barbara Wells
5/1 - Philipstown, Putnam County, HRM 54: Over the years I have wondered about the source of brook trout I occasionally catch in Clove Creek. I fished a small southward-flowing tributary to the creek today and saw several small brookies chase a lure. These are too small to interest anglers; evidently the water is pure enough and holds enough flow in the summer for the brook trout to exist but food is limited. While there I spotted an adult wood turtle on the stream bank and heard the "Bronx cheer" call of a blue-winged warbler.
- Stephen M. Seymour
5/1 - Rockland Lake, HRM 33: The painted turtles were out in full force today around the edges of the lake. Every log seemed to be covered with 5-8 turtles ranging from dinner-plate-size to tea-saucer-size as they soaked up the sun. The water was still fairly clear as it is early in the growing season, so periodically we would see others glide by just under the surface as if looking for an opening to crawl out and bask for awhile. We must have seen 35-40 turtles hauled out or swimming along the western edge of the lake.
- Margie Turin, Brent Turrin
5/2 - Poesten Kill, HRM 151.5: Anglers were taking both alewives and blueback herring - about equal amounts of each - from the tributary. Some were tossing back gravid females [bearing eggs] One angler offered that over the past two years he has seen more herring - both alewife and bluebacks - in the Poesten Kill than in previous years.
- Lance Biesele
5/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Bald eagles have a complex vocabulary of clucks and chortles. The male arrived at the nest at 9:45 with a large fish which may have been a striped bass. The ensuing enthusiasm of the nestlings was audible 200 feet away.
- Tom Lake
5/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: A small, spring-fed brook runs down to the fall line at the south end of Bowdoin Park. In prehistoric times it likely had a small fish run of white suckers, white perch, yellow perch, even river herring. Today it meets the river in a sediment trap formed inside the railroad tracks. A newly-constructed muskrat lodge stood only a few yards offshore topped by a great blue heron. A pair of orchard orioles flitted through the brush, leapfrogging their way northward.
- Tom Lake
5/2 - Highland Mills, HRM 50: Yesterday we had a male rose-breasted grosbeak by our feeders and today there were two males but only one female. All three were hanging on the suet and seed baskets and eating their fill. They are very beautiful birds; they even chased the hairy woodpeckers away in order to eat in peace.
- Alan Groth, Janice Groth
5/3 - Milan HRM 90: I was treated today to the courtship flight of the male ruby-throated hummingbird. I heard it before I was able to locate it. A series of pendulum arcs over my flowering quince, almost too fast to see, they were so precise the bird seemed to be on a wire.
- Marty Otter
5/3 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We electro-fished on Esopus Flats out of Norrie Point the last two days. We were targeting striped bass, not river herring, but occasionally they would show up, including blueback herring. The bass were not really there in numbers yet - we only tagged 29 over the two days.
- Rachel Lowenthal, Robert Adams, Kris McShane
5/3 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: I spotted our first hummingbird of the season this morning.
- Bill Drakert
5/3 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: This year we did a pilot study on Quassaick Creek (4/26-5/3) as a part of the DEC Estuary Program and Research Reserve's citizen science eel project. Students from Mount Saint Mary College checked a fyke net for juvenile eels just entering the Hudson and its tributaries. Across just six days between 500-1000 glass eels were caught. The last day's catch was 295 baby eels!
- Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount
5/3 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I noticed a very different bird near my feeder this morning. I watched it scratching intently in my flower beds and herb garden. It was a rufous-sided towhee [now called eastern towhee]. I have never seen one here before even though my property seems to be a favored habitat. It was a great way to begin the day.
- Lynn Krugman
5/3 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: It was "audio overload" this morning with many species of birds singing. Both orchard and Baltimore orioles were flashing like flames through the canopy and both house and Carolina wrens sang enthusiastically. That dear bird, the white-crowned sparrow, which I see only during migration at this spot, was busy on the ground, gleaning what it could and keeping quiet, for now.
- Christopher Letts
[Naturalist and ecologist Aldo Leopold described the oriole as "like a burst of fire." Tom Lake.]
5/4 - Milan HRM 90: The Baltimore orioles arrived today, five or six males. I have not seen that many in years. They quickly devoured the orange halves I put out for them.
- Marty Otter
5/4 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: Two green herons searched for food at the edge of a pond here while five or six rough-winged swallows circled and swooped over the water, almost like bats.
- Phyllis Marsteller
5/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie: One thing about watching an eagle nest: you get plenty of time to relax and notice the world around you. It helps you become a more careful and astute listener to the sounds of the forest. For an hour today I was serenaded by at least one wood thrush in full flute-like song. Later, our first hummingbird arrived, or at least the first we'd seen.
- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake
The small fruits
on the cottonwood
have split open
exposing seeds attached
to thread-like strands.
A breeze picks up,
the almost heart-shaped
and the seeds disperse
from this female tree.
Some blow in the window
And land on my desk;
while others continue downward
of cotton on the asphalt,
to be swept away.
- Wilma Ann Johnson
5/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie: A mid-morning low tide out in the river made for prime hunting. Both adults brought fish back to the nest: one may have been a catfish while the other looked like a gizzard shad. With the increase in leaf cover, prey identification was becoming problematic.
- Tom Lake
5/5 - George's Island, HRM 39: At the end of a six program series of spring bird walks, the students from Irvington schools had seen nearly 50 species of birds. There was something special for each class, it seemed: the mute swan on her nest at Whoopee Lake; the spotted sandpipers along the seawall; the kiting red-tails, turkey vultures, and black vultures, all at once; glorious orioles, warblers, and vireos; a yellow-billed cuckoo peering at us from a thicket while calling; and for the final class, a wood thrush in plain sight in a dead ash, serenading us: "Here I am ... over here ... loving you."
- Christopher Letts
5/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Our best guess is that today was Day 36 for the pair of eagle nestlings in NY62C. They were both peering over the lip of the nest, probably not too sure what it was they were seeing out there in the forest.
- Tom Lake
[Eagles in the Hudson Valley begin incubating their eggs, on average, the first week of March. Hatching occurs around the first week of April (32-35 days). The nestlings in NY62C hatched after 32 days. "Fledging," or the day the nestlings leave the nest to fly for the first time, occurs, on average, between Days 72-90. N62's seven nestlings, across ten years, have averaged 74 days. That would predict a fledge date for these nestlings of about June 13-14. Tom Lake.]
5/6 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: All through the past few weeks, spring has been flirting with us, teasing us, but now it seems as though we have arrived. The first goslings have made an appearance, tiny yellow fluff balls that can't be more than a day out of the shell. A tiny gray squirrel, about the size of a chipmunk, scurried across the yard and up a tree, and then clung and stared as I walked past not three feet away. Twice during my morning walk I found empty shells of songbird's eggs. And the clincher for me: the Pine Lake bullfrog had found his voice and was "chuga-rumming" to beat the band.
- Christopher Letts
5/7 - Minerva, HRM 284: The last bit of snow was gone from our backyard. In early morning, I was able to identify a few bird songs coming from the woods and swamp out in the "back 40." Among them were ovenbird, black-and-white warbler, hermit thrush, winter wren, robin, yellow-rumped warbler, and red-eyed vireo. At the swamp I heard one of the best sounds ever, our returning American bittern, somewhere out in the emergent vegetation,sharing the wetland with male redwinged blackbirds, a couple of wood ducks, and a pair of common goldeneyes. Painted trillium was in bud.
- Mike Corey
5/7 - Delmar, Albany County, HRM 143: I was heading south from Delmar and happened to see a flash of blue. I got a good look for several seconds as an indigo bunting flew down next to the road, paused, and then flew back into the brush along a power line right of way. I'm still waiting to see a bluebird this spring, but the bunting certainly counts as the "other" blue bird.
- Larry Roth
5/7 - Ulster County, HRM 104: We saw many warblers at Wilson State Park today: black-and-white, yellow throated, myrtle [yellow-rumped], male and female yellow warblers, American redstart, Louisiana waterthrush, and ovenbird. In addition to the warblers, we spotted yellow-bellied sapsuckers.
- Laura Van Vlack, James Munson
5/7 - Red Hook, HRM 96.5: What impressed me today at the Poets' Walk Park was the plethora of blooming jack-in-the pulpits under the trees on both sides of the trail and the number of false-Solomon-seal flowers, in their terminal clusters, about to open. Flowering dogwoods were also in bloom throughout the property while the leaves on other trees revealed so many different shades of spring green.
- Wilma Ann Johnson
5/7 - Putnam County, HRM 54: I was walking through the old Cold Spring Foundry site this afternoon along Margaret's Brook with teachers from the Ossining school system. At the old office building, a red fox passed directly in front of us. He looked as though he was carrying some type of small critter in his mouth and didn't seem particularly concerned about us. We saw him later on our way out by Foundry Cove. The old ruins in that woodland valley must make great hunting for that fox.
- Scott Craven
5/7 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: There were more white-crowned sparrows, warblers, vireos, and assorted thrushes today. I saw many more orioles as well and lilacs in bloom. As I walked, I thought, "I should be seeing eastern kingbirds." No sooner was the thought complete than there they were, two of them, and pretty certainly a pair from their behavior. A single ring-necked duck was loosely associating with several male mallards off the bathing beach.
- Christopher Letts
5/7 - Westchester County, HRM 30: We had a lovely "migration walk" at Rockefeller State Park. It was a day to see birds with red and orange in their plumage: American redstarts; cardinals; a rose-breasted grosbeak singing in full sunlight; both orchard and Baltimore orioles in the same flowering apple tree; and, best of all, a stunning scarlet tanager. Next time, maybe we'll encounter a Blackburnian warbler too. We did have one non-red/orange highlight - a pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers in and around their nest above the Pocantico River.
- Joe Wallace, Sharon AvRutick
5/7 - Hudson River Estuary: The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center on Chesapeake Bay is asking for citizen scientists to help detect the presence of Chinese mitten crabs (Eriocheir sinensis) in Atlantic coast estuaries.
Chinese mitten crabs are native to East Asia and have only recently been discovered along the East Coast of the United States. To understand the status of this crab, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center has launched a new website http://mittencrab.nisbase.org/ that makes it easier to report mitten crab sightings. Understanding where these crabs are located and their abundance is a critical first step in controlling their spread and mitigating future impacts.
Chinese mitten crabs have been introduced into Europe and the United States. In the U.S., they are established in San Francisco Bay where they have been present since the 1980s. Since 2005, over 100 mitten crabs have been found in mid-Atlantic estuaries, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Hudson River. Based on its environmental tolerance, this crab has the potential to spread south to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Chinese Mitten Crab is listed as Injurious Wildlife under the Federal Lacey Act, due to the economic and ecological impacts reported in other regions, including effects on fisheries and the structural integrity of banks and levees resulting from burrowing. Due to their recent arrival in the mid-Atlantic, potential effects of mitten crabs have not yet been studied in this region.
The key identifying characteristics of Chinese mitten crabs are their "furry" claws. All adults and juveniles over an inch long have furry white-tipped claws that are equal in size. They have light brown to olive-green round bodies and carapaces that are three to four inches wide in adults. The carapace is smooth and has four lateral spines; the fourth spine may be small. Between the eyes sits a u-shaped notch. Unlike the more common blue crab, mitten crabs have no swimming legs, but instead have sharp-tipped walking legs.
Mitten crabs can be found in both freshwater and saltwater environments. They go downstream to brackish water in late winter to breed. Their larvae develop in marine environments during the spring and summer, and then the juvenile crabs migrate into freshwater tributaries where they live for two to five years before returning to brackish water to breed. Thus younger crabs can be found in freshwater year-round and breeding adults can be seen in brackish water in late winter and spring.
We need the help of citizen scientists to determine the current distribution and status of the Chinese mitten crab in the region. If you catch a mitten crab, please do not throw it back alive. Specimens are best frozen or kept on ice. Please report any mitten crab sightings to us, along with details (date, specific location, size) and a close-up photograph or specimen if possible.
Log in to our new website: http://mittencrab.nisbase.org/ and then go to the tab "My Crabs" to report your catch and upload your photos. These reports are critical to helping us understand the extent of the mitten crab invasion and will help in control efforts.
- Leslie Surprenant, Director, NYSDEC Office of Invasive Species Coordination