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Hudson River Almanac May 24 - May 31, 2011

OVERVIEW

This was a week for noteworthy birds: The spring brant migration was impressive in its scope at a time when the numbers of such bird migrations seem to be dwindling. Two uncommon birds, black-bellied whistling-ducks and sandhill cranes, also appeared. And most bald eagles nestlings were within two weeks of fledging from more than two dozen nests along the estuary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/27 - Germantown, HRM 108: For the past two weeks, a pair of hairy woodpeckers has made frequent visits to our suet feeder and then carried pieces of suet into the woods. Several days ago, we heard the sound of "begging calls." After some persistent searching I was able to locate the nest cavity in a tree. From a safe distance, I have been watching both parents feeding the nestlings numerous times during the day. Today, a couple of the nestlings, at least one of which has a distinct red patch on its head, peered out of the cavity opening, calling repeatedly.
- Cynthia Reichman

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/24 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Twenty six middle-schoolers from Red Hook, at the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center for river programs, watched as angler James Grimes hauled in two white catfish within a few minutes of each other. These were gravid (with eggs) females, both nineteen inches long and weighing several pounds. After discussing the value of these fish in the river as opposed to in the frying pan, Mr. Grimes released the fish back into the river to the cheers of the students. The river was 62 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, Kristen Pavese, Rebecca Houser, Jean McAvoy

[The white catfish (Ameiurus catus) is a native species - it was here in 1609; the channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is an invasive species, a twentieth century canal immigrant from the Midwest. From 1985 through 2001, white catfish comprised more than 99 percent of the DEC Fisheries Unit's haul seining catfish bycatch from our annual study of American shad and striped bass spawning stocks. However, beginning in 2003, the percentage of white catfish decreased from 81 percent in 2003 to 15 percent in 2009. At the same time, channel catfish increased from 19 percent in 2003 to 85 percent in 2009. It is unclear if they are direct competitors or something else is accounting for the drastic change in abundance. Kris McShane.]

5/24 - Gardiner, HRM 73: While we were watching a bird house intended for purple martins but inhabited by tree swallows, a kestrel [falcon] dashed in and landed on one of the house porches. It didn't seem to be targeting any one individual, but a bunch of swallows flying around the house attacked the kestrel and chased it a good distance away.
- Peg Lotvin

5/24 - Battery, HRM 0: Peter Minuet bought Manhattan Island from the Lenape (Algonquian) Indians 385 years ago today, for 60 silver Dutch guilders - $72 at the time - $1,000 today.
- Tom Lake

5/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: And on the twelfth day, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and the world had not ended as some had predicted [see May 21]. For all or part of the preceding eleven days, moderate to heavy rainfall had caused tributary flooding and the suspension of "glass" eel monitoring by DEC Hudson River Estuary Program volunteers. Rainfall amounts ranged from 3-5 inches.
- Tom Lake

5/25 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: Sandhill cranes and black-bellied whistling-ducks were at Liberty Marsh. A pair of sandhills has been there several times in the past two months, each time flying through or circling overhead. When I heard the calls, I was very surprised. The continued presence over the last months of this pair may well indicate territorial behavior. It is perfect breeding habitat for sandhills.
- John Askildsen, Ken Witkowski, Sean Sime

[The black-bellied whistling-duck is native to the south-central U.S., breeding mainly along coastal regions of Mexico and southern Texas. In recent years, stray sightings have occurred along coastal New Jersey, Jamaica Bay, Brewerton (Oneida Lake), and the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area in New York. Sandhill crane sightings in 2010 included the Town of Saugerties (Steve Chorvas), New Paltz (Brian Houser), and Liberty Marsh (Michael McKenna). The species nests in northern Canada and Alaska and from Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho eastward to the Great Lakes states, including a few sites in western and central New York. Tom Lake and Steve Stanne.]

5/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: My golden retriever heard them first in early evening and he wasn't sure whether to bark or just listen: a large flock of brant passed over followed by another both heading upriver. An hour later a third, even larger, flock flew past.
- Tom Lake

5/25 - Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, HRM 96: I spotted a large flock of brant flying north this evening. The birds were heading north along the west side of the river, flying above the bridge in several loose formations. This is the most brant I've seen in some time and they were visible from a distance. I'm not sure exactly how many, but probably several hundred.
- Jesse Jaycox

5/25 - Saugerties, HRM 102: We had front row seats at the Saugerties Lighthouse to witness the best-ever, huge, spectacular, migration of brant. We arrived at 6:15 PM and immediately heard a flock flying overhead. Then we spotted more flocks flying low over the water. The next two hours were spent watching large flocks, each containing hundreds of brant, fly right over our heads - one flock after another. We estimated at least 15,000 birds. We could see them coming up the river with the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge in the background. We figured they flew higher to get over the bridge then dropped down to get closer to the water. As far as we can tell, brant do not often land on the river during migration. One flock we saw circled around the lighthouse cove twice but then continued on their way. Driving home after sunset, I saw another flock, and as I started typing at 9:00 PM they were still going over.
- Frank Murphy, Steve Chorvas

5/25 - Catskill, HRM 113: At 8:00 PM, the first of several large flocks of brant were seen over the Hudson River. I estimated the first flock at 200 birds. Five minutes later another 300 brant passed over. Ten minutes later I spotted a third flock of about 300 birds in front of the "Wall of Manitou," the eastern face of the Catskills.
- Larry Federman

[Dery Bennett used to mark the season by noting how the brant, a small species of geese, left Sandy Hook on Memorial Day, "shoving off for the Canadian Arctic where they will breed, fledge young, and return around Columbus Day." In contrast to upriver observers who report that brant prefer to fly over bridges, riverman Cal Greenburg from the Haverstraw Bay/Tappan Zee area notes that "They will often fly right on the deck, preferring to fly under bridges rather than lifting over them." We would be interested in hearing from our observers about brant behavior when migrating flocks encounter bridges and power lines over the river. Tom Lake and Steve Stanne.]

5/25 - Turkey Point, HRM 98: In our DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit haul-seine today we caught a 47 inch-long tiger muskellunge.
- Rachel Lowenthal

[Tiger muskellunge, known colloquially as "norlunge," are a member of the pike family of fishes. Tiger muskies are almost always a hatchery-bred hybrid resulting from a cross between northern pike (Esox lucius) and muskellunge (Esox masquinongy). They tend to grow faster than either parent and therefore are an attractive sport fish. Tiger muskies are occasionally caught by anglers at Green Island near the head of tide. Tom Lake.]

5/25 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was a glorious morning with birdsong everywhere. The striper fishermen along the west seawall were glad to be there, but not many stripers were in the catch. White catfish were the catch of the day and now and then a white perch or eel. Orioles were everywhere, it seemed. In the mulberry grove half a dozen Baltimore orioles and at least two orchard orioles were singing. Warblers and blue jays were moving through, following the tree line. In the past three days, I have seen at least a dozen flocks of cedar waxwings, ranging in size from 6-150 birds - a nice spring showing for this location. Formations of great blue herons have also been evident, flying in groups of three to seven. It was pretty evident that the waters had warmed; great carp were breaching and rolling, flashing their yellow underbellies, sometimes leaping all the way out of the water. It was most emphatically SPRING.
- Christopher Letts

5/26 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught, weighed, and released an 11 lb, 14 oz carp, two other carp estimated at 7 lb and 9 lb, and a 2 lb channel catfish. These channel catfish are very pretty fish, with typical olive coloration and small black-pepper-spots on their sides.
- Bill Greene

5/26 - Beacon, HRM 61:
Hudson River.
Hello to the river that was formed by the great glacier from the last ice age
Good-bye to that glacier that melted away and changed the landscape
Hello to the river that travels 315 miles south to the Atlantic Ocean
Good-bye to Lake Tear of the Clouds, on Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks, where it begins
Hello to a clean, healthy remarkable Hudson River that flows both ways
Good-bye to the polluted, repellent river that flowed past our city and down to the sea
Hello to the Clean Water Act that stopped the factories from polluting
Good-bye to the companies that once dumped wherever they pleased
Hello to the forest and animals living peacefully on Storm King Mountain
Good-bye to the threat of a power plant cut into the mountain at our river's edge
Hello to Pete Seeger and his friends who created Riverfront Park's green space
Good-bye to Beacon's revolting dump that once sat on the bank of the 'People's River.'
- Aleyah and Molly, Mrs. Udell's 4th grade class in Room 12, James V. Forrestal Elementary

5/26 - Fishkill, HRM 61: On a wooded hillside I came upon an eastern wood turtle sitting in a paved roadway. It must have come down slope through the woods and was resting after what I would imagine to be an arduous journey for a turtle. It was unscathed by vehicles or predators, so I placed it in the direction it was heading on my lawn so that it might continue down slope. I monitored it off and on for 15 minutes with it not moving from where I placed it. Then on my final visit, it was gone without a trace.
- Ed Spaeth

5/26 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: The five black-bellied whistling-ducks were still present at Liberty Marsh today. They flew in from the New Jersey side at 7:40 AM and landed in the impoundment on the north side of Oil City Road where they became hidden in vegetation.
- Angus Wilson

[Liberty Marsh National Wildlife refuge, near the headwaters of the Wallkill River, is a marsh restoration project of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and others, dedicated in October 2005. Tom Lake.]

5/26 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Thirty-five species of birds in an hour put a smile on my face. The "Bird of the Day" was an American bittern, headed north at about 100' elevation. Blue jays and cedar waxwings continued to move through. Out in Croton Bay, the carp were enjoying their spring carnival, rolling and jumping and making huge wakes in the shallow waters along the south shore, a vast display of piscine energy.
- Christopher Letts

5/27 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: It seemed like cement blocks were dropping out of the sky along a mile reach of tidewater. Carp were spawning. There were explosions, eruptions here and there, as groups of 5-15 lb. carp rushed into the shallows to consummate their goal.
- Tom Lake

[For years there has been a legend of a Loch Ness-type "monster" in Lake Champlain that the locals have dubbed "Champ." There were photos and video, always grainy, of a long sinewy shape just below the surface of the lake, undulating in a serpentine manner suggesting the neck of a long-extinct plesiosaur. Twenty-five years ago, Dr. C.L. Smith of the American Museum of Natural History investigated the claims and, after many hours of viewing photos and conducting freeze-frame on video footage, discovered that these "monsters" were simply huge congregations of carp, climbing over each other in a spawning frenzy. Tom Lake.]

5/28 - Rensselaer county, HRM 135: I had the rare opportunity today of seeing a wild turkey sitting on her nest. The hen was incubating a clutch of 13 eggs. Her nest was well hidden in brush, but in plain view from my friend's home surrounded by sprawling lawn.
- Ed Spaeth

5/28 - North Germantown, HRM 109: Enjoying the first true summer-like day, as well as my birthday, I watched from my porch as an immature bald eagle circled overhead. I looked down at my peach-colored geraniums and saw a beautiful male hummingbird feeding, the earliest I had remembered seeing one. I was surprised by his attraction to the peach, not red or magenta flowers.
- Ripley Hathaway

5/28 - Ulster County, HRM 78: What has become an annual spring pilgrimage to the Mohonk Preserve did not disappoint. We counted 48 pink lady slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) blooming along the trail of one of our favorite hikes. The average length of the startlingly-beautiful pink flower was 2", and a few blooms were slightly larger. Clusters of four, five, or six plants blooming together were not unusual. Sweet.
- Andra Sramek, Jim Brown

5/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Both of the eaglets were flapping their wings in wild anticipation as the adult male dropped off a striped bass that appeared to be, through the scope, all of 20 inches long.
- Terry Hardy, Ed Solon, Tom Lake

5/29 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: We have three mated pairs of Canada geese with gosling counts of two, three, and five.
- Nancy P Durr

5/29 - Fort Montgomery, Orange County, HRM 46.5: My nephew, Henry, and I had a nice treat this morning as we went out for a ride in my jeep. As we turned onto Firefighter's Memorial Drive, within the historic perimeter of the Revolutionary War fort, we saw a black bear standing in the road. We stared at each other for a couple of minutes before it ambled off into the woods. It was not a cub but it certainly wasn't a full sized adult. The bear looked healthy and had small light-colored tags, one in each ear.
- Scott Craven

5/29 - Manitou, Putnam County, HRM 46.5: I cannot remember a more memorable locust blossom season. The trees were loaded with the sweet-smelling blossoms this last week. Now the blooms are beginning to fall and it looks like snow in spring.
- Zshawn Sullivan

5/29 - Brooklyn, New York City: At the intersection of Hoyt and Bond Streets, both of which dead end in the Gowanus Canal, a snowy-white great egret came in for a wide, slow landing on the rocky bank of the canal, its white feathers fluttering in the warm afternoon wind. The canal is wide here and the egret fished successfully.
- Robert Sullivan

5/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Mom brought a fish to the nest today and as she tried to lift off to leave, one of the eaglets grabbed her foot with his beak. We could not tell if this was intentional or the nestling was simply overcome with joy by the striped bass Mom had just delivered.
- Terry Hardy, Ed Solon, Tom Lake

5/30 - Ossining, HRM 33: A fellow yacht club member reported that he and his family were kept awake all night by spawning carp slapping against the hull of their sailboat, as well as a couple of dozen other docked boats. Exhausted, they spent the following vacation night at home.
- Doug Maass

5/31 - Town of Poughkeepsie: One of the eaglets got really brave today. During a strong breeze, it began to flap its wings and jump, and then ran toward the rim of the nest and jumped onto a huge limb. He only stayed a few seconds and then jumped back down. This was the first time I have seen either of the nestlings go that far.
- Terry Hardy

[As fledge time nears, the nestlings will be more and more inclined to teeter on the rim as if to take that first step into thin air, but will step back, deciding that today is not the day. Tom Lake.]

5/31 - Crugers, HRM 39: As I was driving today, a male eastern tiger swallowtail flitted by my windshield. This is first one I've seen this spring.
- Dianne Picciano

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