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Hudson River Almanac May 16 - May 23, 2011

OVERVIEW

This was a week when the sun did not shine. For all or parts of eleven days, it rained. Flood warnings along the river's tributaries were almost a daily event.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/19 - Columbia County, HRM 129: Near Stony Kill Creek, my dog, Loki, seemed to be having a standoff with an adult red fox on the other side of the stream. Both canines sat erectly watching each other as I enjoyed watching five young kits frolic along the opposite bank.

- Fran Martino

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I saw my first bluebird of the year this morning. It was a beautiful male sitting in the neighbor's paper birch. He was making quick little forays onto the ground, feeding on some small insects. If the bluebirds are here, the blackflies are not far behind.

- Charlotte Demers

5/16 - Athens, HRM 116: A jack-in-the-pulpit plant on the main trail that leads to the river at the Cohotate Preserve was by far the largest I had ever seen. It stood over a foot high and its distinctive leaves were about eight inches long. The spadix - "Jack" - was well over three inches high as it stood protected beneath its pulpit.

- Fran Martino

5/16 - North Germantown, HRM 108: Although it was decidedly gray and intermittently rainy, the day was made considerably brighter by sightings of a black-and-white warbler making its way up a tree trunk, as well as a yellow warbler, a common yellowthroat, and a Baltimore oriole. The noisy and delightful singing of numerous gray catbirds was also a nice addition to my rather damp walk.

- Cynthia Reichman

5/16 - Town of Esopus, HRM 88: We began our DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit haul seine season today near Port Ewen. Along River Road we caught a walleye, 20 striped bass, chain pickerel, black crappie, and freshwater drum.

- Rachel Lowenthal, Robert Adams, Kris McShane

[Freshwater drum are not a native fish in the Hudson watershed. They probably arrived here in the last twenty-five years through the New York State canal system and the Mohawk River connecting the watershed with the Great Lakes. In Lake Erie they are known as sheepshead - they have that look. Freshwater drum are lovers of mollusks and in the Great Lakes are known to consume large quantities of zebra mussels. Other members of the drum family found in the Hudson River are marine species; they include northern kingfish, croaker, spot, black drum, silver perch, and weakfish. Tom Lake.]

5/17 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We had seventh graders today at Norrie Point learning about the estuary. Our seine net caught five different species of fish: tessellated darters, bluegills, pumpkinseed sunfish, spottail shiners, and one fourspine stickleback. One of the highlights of the day was being able to spot the quarter-size baby snapping turtle that was found the day before swimming in the cove.

- Rebecca Houser

5/17 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Several weeks ago I mentioned seeing a solitary beaver swimming in the river off Rabbit Island at the mouth of Wappinger Creek. Last night at dusk there was another sighting of the beaver swimming with a small stick in its mouth. Upon seeing us he smacked his tail on the water with a sharp report, apparently to warn us of his presence. Swallows flying through the raindrops snatching insects out of the air made for an interesting end to the daylight hours.

- David Cullen

5/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The two seven-week-old eagle nestlings in NY62C were perched upright on the rim at opposite ends of the nest. They looked huge and reminded me why bald eagles build such large nests. The nests are like playpens for babies, and when mom and dad are present, there is barely enough room to turn around. As the eaglets grow and the fledge date draws nearer, mom and dad will spend less and less time in the nest. While the parents love their offspring, the self-absorbed nestlings will begin to drive them crazy with their demands to be fed.

- Tom Lake

5/17 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This is a particularly good year for dogwoods, so different from last year when I could count the few isolated blossoms on nearby trees. This year, the well-kept lawn trees both white and pink are thickly draped in flowers, and in the woods, the dogwoods appear like snow-covered leftovers from winter.

- Robin Fox

5/17 - Croton River, HRM 34: The drama of the Croton River continues to amaze and capture our souls, even after having had the privilege of witnessing its changes and mysteries for more than 35 years. This spring the cavorting acrobatics of our neighbors, a pair of bald eagles whose aerie is on the far shore, continued to entertain and delight us. Missing, however, were our cracked corn-loving mute swans with their young cygnets. Also missing is a solitary great blue heron that has feasted on our koi in years past. So far, I have not seen a single cormorant or beaver. The waters have been high and the currents stronger than I have ever seen, displacing large boulders and causing serious erosion to the shoreline.

- Sandy Plotkin

[Koi are a domesticated breed of common carp. They are usually white, orange, with black patches. Tom Lake.]

5/18 - North Germantown, HRM 108: On a walk this morning I was delighted to spot a beautiful adult male chestnut-sided warbler, singing vociferously. He flitted around the branches of a small tree, seeming to shelter himself from the rain beneath the leaves as he sang. There was not much shelter for me, but it was well worth getting wet while observing this gorgeous little bird.

- Cynthia Reichman

5/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 66-64: American shad, our largest herring, had been a staple of Hudson River fishing since colonial times and before. As a result of a century of over-harvesting and poor coast-wide management decisions, shad have become fully protected in New York State waters. Do we miss commercial fishing for shad? I miss the good times, like when we shared a dark-of-night river with migrating loons in full song. I miss the golden dawns when the river was quiet and the nets caught only shad. I miss the camaraderie of family and friends in sharing those moments. I do not miss the "Nantucket sleigh ride" we had one night off Danskammer Point when a giant sturgeon hooked our net on the ebb tide and dragged us a quarter-mile upriver before breaking through and leaving us with a twenty-foot-long hole to be repaired. Or the dawn when we were hit with a violent rain squall, high winds, four-foot seas, and an eight-foot-long sturgeon rolled up our net that had to be cut free. Or getting hung down in the "cinder beds" off Chelsea and feeling our net get torn to shreds by the current. On balance, however, it was the love of the river and its fish that kept us going back regardless of the dangers and ecstasies.

- Tom Lake

["Nantucket sleigh ride" is a term coined by New England whalers years ago. The ride commenced once a whale was harpooned. Their long boat would go cascading across the waves, dragged in the wake of the fleeing whale. Tom Lake.]

5/19 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: In the last year, we have had reports of leucistic turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, cardinals, and blue jays. Either this condition is becoming more common, or we are becoming more observant. Today I watched a large, gorgeous "white bird" fly along the edge of the woods. In the binoculars, after it landed on a pine bough, I could see that it was a leucistic American crow - a white crow!

- Tom Lake

[Leucism is a genetic mutation that prevents melanin from being deposited in a normal fashion on feathers. The greater the leucistic effect, the more white the bird appears. Tom Lake.]

5/19 - Kowawese, HRM 59: From winter 2011:

- Night

Night is the time when animals come out

And scurry to find their prey.

When birds take flight to catch a snack in the icy cold water.

If you were to venture through at this time

You might see bright eyes - and boy do they shine!

In the dark there are mysterious stories being played out,

The animal's favorite time of the day

When they're free with no worries

The only light being the lights of a passing ship,

And the only noise being the chirps of a bird,

Or a squeak of a mouse,

The taste of the moisture blowing from the fresh water.

But with dawn around the corner the animals must go back home to their families.

- Sarah Loutis, Sixth Grade, Vails Gate Tech Magnet School

5/20 - Town of Stuyvesant, HRM 127: Some fields are filled with dandelion ghosts while neighboring fields are filled with yellow crucifers as wild mustard now reigns.

- Wilma Ann Johnson

5/20 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: As I walked my dog on a misty morning I spotted "Bob," a 12-14" carapace-length snapping turtle that seems to make a couple of migrations per year across the field next to my house. I have always assumed that she was migrating between the swamp on the one side of a hill and a pond on the other. My neighbors and I often played traffic cop as Bob usually chooses to cross the road on a blind curve. When I did not see her at all last summer I thought something had happened. But there she was today, on her first migration of the year. Welcome back, Bob!

- Wendy A. Bohlinger

5/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: White suckers were migrating out of the lakes to spawn in the swift moving water of streams and smaller rivers. A few more spring wildflowers were now in bloom: wild oat, goldenthread, and - in the open fields - bluets carpeting the ground. Judging from the number of flowers, it might be a great year for wild strawberry and blueberry - Yum! Only bad thing this week was my first blackfly bite; looks like they are going to be thick and fierce this year. Stock up on "Bye-Bye Blackfly" if you are heading to the Adirondacks.

- Charlotte Demers

5/21- Delmar, HRM 143: It was World Turtle Day and I was doing a turtle program for the public at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center. I also used it as a day to release five "unwanted" pet painted turtles. I had been working with them for months to get them eating natural food and strong enough to swim in deep water. I had lots of help for the release. The kids took turns carefully carrying each turtle in a shoe box and releasing them. They all took off into the pond and we even found a hatchling from last year - a great day for "turtle freedom."

- Dee Strnisa

5/21 - Town of Stuyvesant, HRM 127:

- May Haiku

Dark clouds across the sky

Drumbeats on the mountain tops

Lightning striking-crash!

New growth on pine tree

Candles stand upright and strong-

Nature's birthday cake.

A maidenhair fern,

Rocks covered with liverworts-

Slippery, dark gorge.

- Wilma Ann Johnson

5/21 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Seventy eager anglers, both adults and children, lined the patio and boardwalk at the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center for a day of fishing. Despite our modest bait (nightcrawlers) we caught 66 fish of ten species on rod and reel: white perch, yellow perch, spottail shiners, golden shiners, brown bullheads, American eels, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, and small striped bass. The largest and most handsome fish - burnished gold with crimson fins - was a 12-inch-long rudd. The river temperature was 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Indie Bach, Jim Herrington, Ryan Coulter, Tom Lake

[Rudd are large minnows - up to 18" long - native to Europe, introduced in Columbia County probably in the late 1920s.While they have been known primarily from the Roeliff Jansenkill watershed (HRM 111) - there is a spawning population in Robinson Pond near Copake in Columbia County - they have become rather widespread along a 30 mile reach from Catskill south to Esopus Island. While closely resembling a golden shiner, they grow much larger. Their most distinguishing characteristic is their blood-red fins. Their brassy-to-silvery sides have earned them the colloquial name of "pearl roach." John R. Greeley collected four specimens in the Roeliff Jansenkill in his 1936 faunal survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed. Tom Lake.]

5/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The two eaglets in NY62C were perched on the rim of the nest, shoulder-to-shoulder, staring out at the river. They were all alone. The adults were off hunting and fishing. The forest floor all around the nest tree was covered with purple and white Dame's rocket.

- Tom Lake

[One of the signs of the waning spring season is the appearance of Dame's rocket along the river and its tributaries. This non-native wildflower comes in white, pink, violet, and purple. Carried by spring breezes, its wonderfully sweet fragrance fills the air from mid-May to early June. Tom Lake.]

5/21 - Manhattan, East River: In deference to a combination of ignorance and sales, New York City newspapers called it a "Sea Monster!" It was, in fact, a seven-foot-long Atlantic sturgeon that had washed up on the shore beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. No evidence was cited as to cause of death, but traffic in the East River - barges, tugs, tankers, freighters - might easily have resulted in a collision of fish with propeller. This was, in all likelihood, a female, on her way inland, probably up the Hudson River, to spawn.

- Hugh McLean

5/22 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While working on my woodshed, I noticed a flittering and splashing going on in a shallow, intermittent wetland 25 feet away. It sounded like a bird taking a longer-than-usual bath. After five minutes I decided to see what was creating the noise. I couldn't quite make out what it was, but it was unusual, so I asked my three children to investigate. They shouted to me that the noise was a catbird in distress and "stuck" in the water. Without thought, I suggested they pick it up to see if there was something wrong with it. All of a sudden my oldest son yells "Ouch, it's a snapping turtle, it bit me." The snapping turtle, which was about a foot in diameter, had caught the bird by the leg (as a meal, I suppose), and then turned his appetite to my son's finger and bit him pretty hard. The bird subsequently died, and my son had a gash on his index finger. We were grateful my son still had five digits on his right hand. There are plenty of lessons to be learned by this story, including a lesson for Dad.

- Scott Cuppett, Ben Cuppett, Aidan Cuppett, Cole Cuppett

5/22 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: As I was working on a presentation I glanced up from the computer and looked out the window to see a white-tail doe and the first fawn of the season. Thirty seconds later, I saw a coyote emerge slightly downhill from the mother and fawn. The doe bolted, the fawn laid down, the coyote circled. Within seconds he'd found the fawn who made one bleat. The coyote then trotted across the meadow with his kill.

- Naomi Brooks

5/22 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released two carp and four channel catfish today. The carp was in the 8-9 lb range, and the channel catfish were nice two-pounders. My experience with the second carp was similar to one I had only once before in the Hackensack River about 15 years ago. The fish fought like a demon, would not come to the surface, and appeared during the fight to be a much larger fish. This one had a very hard, muscular body. When I finally got him to shore, I had a feeling that someone underwater had unhooked a big fish and substituted this one on my line.

- Bill Greene

5/22 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Driving past Indian Point, I spotted a coyote trotting across the road and up a small slope to the security fence. I pulled over. This was a very healthy, well-fed coyote with an orange-sable-and black grizzled coat. That area is prime wild turkey hunting area and it's not unusual to spot flocks of them pecking in the grass in front of or inside the security fence. Along with the wild turkeys, there is a large white-tail deer population - lots of food and woodland to support a wild canid population.

- Pat Korn

5/23 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: I spotted another piebald white-tail deer today at Mills-Norrie State Park. This time there was not much white except for the head, but it was exciting to see nonetheless.

- Jesse Jaycox

5/23 - Green Island, HRM 153.4: Do we miss sport fishing for shad? When American shad were removed from the list of Hudson River fish eligible for rod and reel fishing, we lost an impressive connection to the river. While shad seemed easy to catch at times, they actually have a very narrow window of availability. Across a season that lasted only a month to five weeks due to optimum water temperatures, sportfishing for shad has some very specific limitations: Daylight hours only; clear water not common in the turbid runoff of spring; artificial lures, and small ones at that; light, narrow diameter fishing line; and a fish that does not feed on its spawning run. Unlike other gamefish, shad strikes and hookups result from other factors that are poorly understood: Competition? Territoriality? Agitation? Curiosity? Green Island was arguably one of the best spots on the river to catch shad, both from shore or in a boat. Although the recovery of the coastal shad population is paramount, that opportunity is sorely missed.

- Tom Lake

5/23 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Across two hours on a beautiful morning, fourth graders from Horizons-on-the-Hudson caught eight different species of fish on rod and reel with nightcrawlers. Among them were a foot-long striped bass, a 6 lb. carp, a beautiful yellow perch, bluegills, pumpkinseed sunfish, spottail shiners, and a brown bullhead.

- Rebecca Houser, Ryan Coulter

5/23 - Croton Point: Under a lowering sky and a misty day, bird life was everywhere. The dawn chorus was almost deafening. I stopped to watch as two common loons passed over at about 100' heading north. As I strained to hear their calls a flock of 150 brant bumbled over, same altitude and direction, but a bit more voluble, with their barking calls.

- Christopher Letts

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