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Hudson River Almanac June 15 - June 24, 2011

OVERVIEW

The summer solstice arrived with reports of "summer" fish and shellfish such as menhaden, bluefish, and blue crabs. With some reluctance bald eagle nestlings finally fledged. While outside our immediate area, a rare visit of a green sea turtle to nearby coastal waters deserves note.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/23 - Columbia County, HRM 118: Dog owners probably would have been terrific letter carriers back in the days when mail was actually delivered to your home. Through wind, sleet, snow and rain, we're out there walking our dogs, so we are able to see the woods with different perspectives. A walk in the rain with my dog today on the Ridge Trail at Olana State Historic Site gave me the opportunity to come within fifteen feet of a small fawn, not yet learned enough to seek shelter from the rain. The leaves of poison ivy seem to be the shiniest of all the leaves in the woods when they are wet. My eyes captured an eerie landscape composition of the mist from the Hudson River as it rose behind a field of mullein. I sat for a while to compare the difference in the sound of raindrops falling on the leaves from those falling on the hood of my rain jacket. Things I would not have experienced on a dry and sunny day.
- Fran Martino

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/15 - Hampton Bays, Long Island: Our Riverhead Foundation team responded to the report of a large sea turtle crawling on the sand at Ponquogue Beach. It was a female green turtle (Chelonia mydas). We watched her for two hours and although she traveled about 230 feet on the beach, she was not seen clearing a site for a nest. A tag on her left fore-flipper identified her as a nesting female tagged on Padre Island National Seashore in Texas on June 27, 2006. This was only the second green turtle "nesting" activity documented for New York State (the first was August 13, 1998 at Napeague, East Hampton, Long Island). Reports and photos indicated that the female had crawled up and gone through the nesting steps although there was no confirmation of egg dropping.
- Kimberly Durham, Rescue Program Director

[Green turtles can grow four feet long and weigh nearly 450 lb. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers the green turtle populations that nest June through September in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the coastal Southeast to range from threatened to endangered primarily due to human activities. In the five years that this sea turtle was free, it traveled at least 2,500 miles and, most recently, likely swam through or near the Lower Bay of New York Harbor on its way up the coast to a spot 90 miles northeast of Coney Island, Brooklyn. Tom Lake.]

6/16 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: Archaeology students are taught to look at a scene and try to strip away the modern landscape to see the world as it once was. There are few better or more challenging places to try this than on the Walkway Over the Hudson. It takes a good measure of imagination but it can be done. After considerable erasing of city, bridge, railroads, jet-skis, and even kayaks, we were left with the cries of the gulls, the croak of a raven, the stoop of a peregrine falcon, the timelessness of a warm westerly breeze, and a transformation to a time of ecological tranquility.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

6/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 77. Both adults were around the eagle nest today and the nestlings gave no indication that they were leaving anytime soon. The adults, soaring overhead, parried with a red-tailed hawk.
- Terry Hardy

[Red-tailed hawks, like most raptors, are very territorial, particularly in the vicinity of their nests. This mated eagle pair has been negotiating air rights with red-tails over their nest for eleven years. Tom Lake.]

6/16 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The "warm weather blues" have begun to show up. Bluefish up to five lb. were being taken on chunk [fish] bait, and decent-sized blue crabs have also been caught on several nearby waterfronts
- Christopher Letts

6/17 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: At first I thought I saw a wild turkey in the field near my house but it was too bulky in the shoulders so I thought turkey vulture. When it raised its red leathery head I knew I was right. It was peacefully snacking on something that had probably been hit on the road and crawled into the field before dying. Out of nowhere came two crows dive-bombing and I had a chance to see the vulture's amazing wingspan as it flew to the roof of a house. In the air they are as graceful and powerful as any eagle. It sat there watching the crows for a minute, probably thinking about whether or not to go back, then flew off in search of another meal.
-Wendy Bohlinger

[The featherless heads of turkey vultures are a good example of natural selection. Since they spend much of their time feeding with their heads inside rotting carcasses, the process of natural selection favors birds with fewer feathers - feathers collect insects and bacteria, thus potentially disease. Over time, vultures with fewer feathers lived to produce offspring with fewer feathers until the bald heads we see today are a diagnostic trait. Tom Lake.]

6/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 78. The nestlings have begun to display personal characteristics that might translate to their sex. One nestling ventures on a stout limb far up to the crown of the tuliptree and seems very "assertive." The second nestling appears more "passive," always perching below the other and tending to defer to the assertive eaglet during feeding.
- Tom Lake

[With bald eagle nestlings, assertiveness often indicates a male while passivity may indicate a female. These are roles that will reverse in the years ahead. When banding a nestling, measuring a rear talon offers about 75% accuracy in identifying gender: a female, on average, has a longer talon. Among adults, females tend to be a bit larger and heavier, but that is typically noticeable only if you are studying a mated pair. Most of the time, sex is best determined by observing their behavior, particularly over a period of time. Tom Lake.]

6/17 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The diversity of life found in the Hudson was in evidence as we seined to stock the aquarium displays at this weekend's Clearwater Festival. On the south shore of Croton Point we caught a number of typical estuarine species: white perch, bay anchovy, young-of-the-year bluefish and Atlantic menhaden - both freshly arrived from coastal waters - and lots of small hogchokers, along with many tiny blue crabs and one large snapping turtle. After clearing small fish out of the way, we flipped the turtle on its belly and watched it quickly crawl back into the river. Moving to the mouth of the Croton River less than a mile away, we netted species more typical of fresh water: red-breast sunfish, rock bass, and black crappie, along with plenty of mummichogs and one yearling striped bass. Adding in the American eels, spottail shiners, tessellated darter, and white sucker also collected, we recorded 14 species of fish this evening.
- Laura Heil, Margaret Stanne, Steve Stanne, Lan Tran, Emily Vail

[With reference to Peter Relson's and Carol Anderson's June 8 Ulster Park observation ("... two large snapping turtles were doing a rather inelegant dance. I don't envy turtles trying to mate while swimming, as these were doing"), Erik Kiviat offered this comment: "Two large, approximately same-sized, snapping turtles interacting were probably males fighting or at least engaged in dominance behavior. A large snapping turtle with an obviously smaller individual more likely is a pair courting or mating. It is much more common to see males interacting than to see a mating pair." Tom Lake.]

6/17 - Croton River, HRM 34: At daybreak I was sipping coffee and watching the spawning carp roll amid a pelting rain punctuated by impressive lightning and boisterous thunder. The first I knew of an osprey's presence was when it smashed into the river 40' from my truck. The bird floundered for several seconds and then took off with its catch. It was so close that I could see the white barbels of a white catfish about a foot in length. Later, a damp and flustered Gino Garner motored under the railroad bridge from Croton Bay and beached at the boat launch. He had assumed the weather was over and had been presiding over a drift net set for menhaden when the latest round of thunder and lightning sent him scurrying for cover. In half-an-hour he filled a small cooler with very large bunker, including one measuring just over 14" that I brought home for a school program.
- Christopher Letts

[Atlantic menhaden are a species of herring that spawn in salt to brackish water. Adults are known regionally as bunker, mossbunker or pogies. Young-of-the-year, often called peanut bunker or penny bunker, are found by the millions in coastal waters and the Hudson estuary spring through fall, providing forage for striped bass, bluefish, harriers, osprey, eagles and seals. Tom Lake.]

6/18 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: The two wild turkey hens were back, this time with about eleven little ones [poults] in tow. It was hard to get an exact number of young as they kept moving around. One of the hens decided to take a dust bath and a couple of the chicks joined her. I couldn't figure out how they all fit in the one small scooped out area. It was funny to see one big set of wings flinging the dust and then 2-3 smaller pairs copying her behavior.
- Reba Wynn Laks

6/18 - Staatsburg, HRM 87: This morning I finally got a good look at the strange swallow that I usually see whizzing by. When one landed I saw that it was a cliff swallow. The "Birds of Dutchess County" states that "frequently fewer than 10 are seen all year" and "...only one to three pairs nest together in Dutchess County." I went looking and found six nests under the rafters towards the west end of the south side of the Dinsmore Hose Company firehouse. Swallows were seen entering, leaving, and sitting in all six nests.
- David Lund

[Our thanks to David Lund for checking for cliff swallow nests. This is a great illustration of how books like ours become out of date. Their numbers were just beginning to increase as we were working on it. A few years ago we discovered cliff swallows nesting on the big blue barn at Southlands Farm just north of Staatsburg. When we see cliff swallows nesting in other places where they are more numerous, the nests touch each other and in some cases appear to be a big mass of mud with several entrance holes. In Dutchess County, all the nests we've seen were separated from nearby nests by at least several feet. Are the Dinsmore firehouse nests separated or touching? Barbara Butler, Waterman Bird Club.]

[David Lund's reply: The nests are separated from each other by the roof's exposed rafter tails. There's one nest in each bay defined by the rafters. There are now seven nests. The new nest is built in the same rafter bay as an existing nest and shares a mud wall with the earlier nest (i.e., they are touching).]

6/18 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 79. In early afternoon, the adult male, greeted by whistling eaglets, brought a fish to the nest. He gingerly hovered several feet over the nest, just long enough to drop the fish and make his escape - a common occurrence lately.
- Tom Lake

6/18 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I had just begun my morning walk on a foggy, misty, humid day when a gray fox trotted across my path. I was still thinking about it some fifteen minutes later when a large coyote crossed in front of me. When coyotes first established a presence here more than a dozen years ago, big changes were in store. Raccoons were everywhere, tipping over garbage cans and getting into buildings. Skunks were abundant. On an autumn morning at dawn, you might have seen a half dozen or more foraging, trying for that last pound that would take them to hibernation weight. Woodchucks were common. On an early spring morning when they were cleaning out their burrows, half a dozen fresh dirt piles could be seen before you reached the park entrance and there was a burrow under every building on the Point. Deer were everywhere, eating everything. I estimated a herd of more than 70 at that time. Since the arrival of the coyotes, the deer herd is under 20. Spotted fawns are rarely seen. There is still a raccoon presence, and once in awhile a skunk, but those populations have been dramatically reduced. I can't recall the last time I saw a woodchuck or an opossum. They have been extirpated. And the fox I saw this morning was the first for at least a dozen years.
- Christopher Letts

6/19 - Annandale-on-Hudson, HRM 92: We spent a leisurely Father's Day afternoon at Montgomery Place. The grounds were open so Bill brought his watercolor kit and I brought my binoculars. In the aromatic herb garden, a male ruby-throated hummingbird approached a potted plant with white tubular flowers. It came within two feet of me and took off like an arrow when I moved. In the tree canopies surrounding the garden I saw orioles and a scarlet tanager. I also got to take home a watercolor of the potted plant - minus the hummer. A fine day.
- Pat Joel, Bill Joel

6/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 80. The two eaglets were high above the nest on the northwest-reaching limb. On a warm mid-morning, they had heavy eyes, nodding off. I'm guessing they will not be leaving today. While long periods of nest monitoring include much inactivity, it does afford an opportunity to look around at the rest of the world. Today I spotted yellow warblers, counted half-a-dozen bluebirds, and then one that was a more vibrant blue, an indigo bunting.
- Tom Lake

6/19 - Cornwall, HRM 58: This evening we were treated to a luna moth resting on a window screen at a cottage at the edge of a hardwood forest. She was very quiet for a few hours and then flew magically away. It was a sight I shall never forget!
- Mary Lewis

[The luna moth (Actias luna) is a member of the giant silkworm moth family. They are readily recognizable by their light green color, 3 to nearly 5-inch wingspread, and a long "tail" on each wing. They are primarily nocturnal and not often seen. Tom Lake.]

6/21 - Cementon, HRM 108: While fishing for black bass my attention had repeatedly been drawn to calls from a raptor. Finally the bird, a peregrine falcon, was spotted on one of the tall loading silos referred to as the "tramway" by local fishermen. These are located at the terminus of a very long earthen pier on the south end of Inbocht Bay. Barges are loaded directly from the huge funnels at the bottom of each silo. The falcon seems to have taken the silos over as its own aerie. The "feathered devil" was having a field day yelling at, and performing for, any fishermen angling there.
- Tom Gentalen

[The term "black bass" is largely a colloquial expression not nearly as much in use today as it was a decade or more ago. In the Hudson River watershed, black bass refers to largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. Elsewhere in the country it may include other related species as well. Neither largemouth nor smallmouth are native to the Hudson, having arrived here from the Midwest in the nineteenth century through stocking programs designed to enhance sport fishing. Tom Lake.]

6/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 82 .The summer solstice arrived at 1:16 PM on a very warm day. We watched the two eagle nestlings perched side-by-side high in the crown of their tuliptree, facing the river, seeking a breeze, panting like puppies. They are rarely in the nest except to eat. When one of the adults arrives with an offering, they scamper down the big limb twenty feet to the nest, squealing, whistling and chirping.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

6/22 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: We have had a downy woodpecker visiting our saucer-like hummingbird feeder at Linwood. With a bit of gymnastics, he secures one leg around a center post - then reaches out with its beak to drink the hummingbird juice. Hummingbirds feed as well but we've never had a woodpecker until the last few weeks.
- Kathy Donnelly

6/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 83. While my visit to the eagle nest was very early, calling it "first light" would be relative; the western horizon was black as night with approaching thunderstorms. I was ready to believe that the eaglets were not there until I spotted two black silhouettes peeking up from the bottom of the nest. No adults in sight. Then the storms hit: a monsoon-like deluge that dropped an inch-and-a-quarter of rain in thirty minutes. Rivulets of rainwater ran off their beaks as the eaglets sat perfectly still - masters of resiliency. I returned five hours later. The assertive nestling that we are thinking is a male was perched high on a limb over the nest. The second, more passive bird was in the nest. Mama arrived and then left, bringing no food. The fact that there had not been a raucous outcry from the nestlings suggested that they are still well-fed.
- Tom Lake

6/22 - Newburgh, HRM 61: In a parking lot near the Newburgh Free Library and overlooking the Hudson, I watched two mockingbirds going to and from a stubby tree just barely holding its own in the paved-over world. I was unable to see a nest but youngsters were likely hiding therein. Even though the sky was overcast and a storm was looming, I also enjoyed the high flying antics of several chimney swifts maneuvering every which way above the city buildings.
- Ed Spaeth

6/23 - Ravena, HRM 124: In late afternoon I had the pleasure of looking into my back yard and seeing a bluebird. It caught my eye when it first flew up to a good lookout perch on the end of a pine branch. From there it jumped to several vantage points on the fence around my garden over the course of the five minutes I had it under observation. I was able to get my binoculars on it for a good look at its red and blue plumage. I'd guess it was foraging for food for nearby nestlings; it always amazes me how birds can pick out their much smaller prey. This was the first bluebird I've seen on the property this summer. I hope it'll be back.
- Larry Roth

6/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 84. It was a second morning of torrential rain. From thunder and lightning came hail the size of peas pelting the forest canopy. Across the last two days, four inches of rain had fallen. In the dark wooded setting, the nestlings were hard to see except for an occasional peek they made above the rim of the nest to see if their world was still out there.
- Tom Lake

6/23 - Rockland County: A State of Emergency was declared due to extreme flooding.
- National Weather Service

6/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 85. The rain ended but the clouds remained. It was a quiet morning, the air felt soft, and into a cool breeze the nestlings fledged. We did not see them leave but our best guess was that the first nestling left between our nest-watch visits after dawn but before 9:00 AM. This seems to be a popular time for maiden voyages. Terry Hardy may have witnessed the second nestling's first flight around noon. For this pair of mated eagles, following four straight years of failed nests, this was a wonderful accomplishment.
- Terry Hardy, Ed Solon, Peter Relson, Tom Ferber, T.R. Jackson, Tom Lake

[This pair had now fledged 9 immatures over 11 seasons. Day 85 matches the longest time to fledging in that history(2002). The shortest was 69 days (2006). Given our collective observations over the last 85 days, we assume that the assertive nestling went first, stepping off its perch on the limb near the canopy into open air and instinctively flapping and gliding to a close-by oak tree perch that his mother favored. The passive nestling followed some time later, less assured, but trusting a sense of caution that will serve her well throughout her life. Tom Lake.]

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