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Hudson River Almanac June 24 - June 30, 2011

OVERVIEW

While we've been paying close attention to bald eagle nest NY62C, it is only one of more than two dozen active nests along the tidewater Hudson, most of which have had similar stories, albeit untold, for the last three months. It will pay to look skyward frequently in the weeks ahead, from Westchester and Rockland County north to the Capital Region of Albany, for the new bald eagle Class of 2011.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/29 - Queens, New York City: Flights were delayed and a runway was temporarily closed at John F. Kennedy International Airport today as 150 northern diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin), mostly females, crossed the runway from Jamaica Bay to nesting grounds in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie: As the sun set and the forest lost its color, we expelled our collective breaths as the two fledglings from NY62C completed their first day in their new world and successfully made it back to their nest. One of the adults, probably the female, was perched nearby, adding her comforting presence.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

6/24 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Fawns abound. We counted no fewer than six in the company of three adults making their way slowly though the woods. When still, the dappled coloration of the new white-tails makes them nearly invisible in the sunlight and shadows. It's when they move that they are vulnerable. It is troubling to sense a lessening of concern when they are in the relatively nearby presence of people. Wildlife should never trust us. Despite our often good intentions, we are the principle danger to their well-being.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

6/25 - Germantown, HRM 108: Late in the afternoon, I was delighted to see an immature bald eagle soaring over our house. With a solidly dark head and a lot of white coloring underneath, I thought perhaps it was recently fledged. The bird circled above the river, each time descending lower and lower, and even extended its talons a few times. This went on for a while until it flew north in the direction from which it first appeared. It was truly a magnificent sight to behold.

- Cynthia Reichman

[Cynthia's accompanying digital photo suggested a new eagle fledgling. Tom Lake.]

6/25 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: The two wild turkey hens and their poults were back. They tried to do a "dust bath" but given all the rain we had yesterday, the ground was very soaked. There wasn't much dust flying around. The group moved on fairly quickly. I got a better count of the poults: 13.

- Reba Wynn Laks

6/25 - Clinton Point to Foundry Cove, HRM 69-53: From a west-facing window seat on Metro North this time of the year you can note the emergence of water chestnut across marshes, bays, and backwaters, any place where the current is weak and the water is fresh and generally less than 10-12 feet deep. Depending upon water temperature, beginning in early June tiny, leafy rosettes appear, grow, and slowly cover the shallows.

- Tom Lake

[Eurasian water chestnut (Trapa natans) is an invasive aquatic plant that was introduced into the Hudson River watershed in the late nineteenth century. In shallow water habitats it can form thick floating mats that deny access to canoes, kayaks, and other vessels. However, these same "green carpets" create feeding perches for wading birds like herons and egrets. Water chestnut has poor nutritional value for migratory waterfowl and it competes with native, and more nutritionally important, aquatic vegetation such as wild celery. Beaver and white-tailed deer will sometimes feed on the rosettes, stems, and seeds. Intolerant of salt, water chestnut is seldom found below the Hudson Highlands. The fruit is a four-spined seed, green when first developed, turning black with age and remaining viable for years. This lessens the long-term effectiveness of mechanical harvesting, a form of removal that is works in enclosed water bodies, but in tidewater such as the Hudson is largely ineffective. Water chestnut seeds can be found cornfields twenty miles from the Hudson River, deposited by visiting waterfowl that find the spiny seeds caught in their leggings as they leave the river but manage to shed them as they stop to feed in ponds, lakes, and farmer's fields. Students call them "devil's heads" and, if asked, they will explain in great detail the fearsome head and horns. Regardless, the sharp spines of water chestnut have all but eliminated going barefoot on Hudson River beaches. Tom Lake.]

6/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Fledge day plus one at NY62C. At one point, both fledglings were flying around the nest tree. We did not see the adults drop off any food, but the babies hung around the nest most of the day.

- Terry Hardy, Bill Steele

[While we have not publicly identified the location of NY62C as a safety precaution for the eagles, a small group of serious birders and photographers has monitored the nest and the birds from a respectful distance with long-reaching lenses and never-ending patience. Their stories, collected from many hours of careful observation, have resulted in important new insights into eagle behavior. Tom Lake.]

6/25 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: Above the Hudson Highlands we tend to see osprey mostly in migration, heading north in spring and then south in autumn. Yet there was an osprey perched above a mid-afternoon low tide, feeding on what appeared to be a gizzard shad.

- Tom Lake

6/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Fledge day plus two. The two fledglings seemed more comfortable with their new freedom. The adult female shadowed the immatures all day, perching so they could land close by, following them when they went for solo flights. For the first time that we can remember, the fledglings were not being mobbed by jays or crows. One of the visually interesting, almost humorous, aspects of inexperienced eagle behavior is their difficultly in landing. Taking off and flying seems to be quite natural; coming in for a landing is an adventure. We watched as they crashed and bumped into perches, frequently spinning around almost toppling off the other side, gripping the branch to gain purchase with their huge yellow feet.

- Terry Hardy, Ed Solan, Tom Lake

6/26 - Crugers, HRM 39: The sky was blue with the exception of a few large clouds that occasionally blocked out the sun. As we glanced skyward, we noticed a very large bird soaring higher and higher. At first we thought it might be a turkey vulture but, since the dihedral silhouette was absent, we realized it had to be a bald eagle. It looked extremely large, even when it was way up in the clouds. Eventually it soared higher and finally disappeared from sight.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

6/26 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: As we were heading out to celebrate my daughter Annie's fifteenth birthday, we saw a bit of commotion on the corner of our block. My neighbor and his daughter were carrying a cardboard box and looking at the lawn of the house on the corner. We stopped and asked what was going on and they told us there was a large snapping turtle along the edge of the lawn. That seemed odd since we are relatively far from water. Sure enough, there was a snapping turtle with an 18-24 inch carapace. I lifted the hissing turtle (10-15 lb.) and placed it in the box. My neighbor and his children then took it down to the Croton River where it meets Croton Bay and set it free.

- Hugh McLean

[Snapping turtles are well-known for their slow and steady hikes to locations well above water to dig holes and deposit their eggs, after which they must negotiate the return trip. I had a similar-sized snapping turtle in my backyard several years ago, and we live a half-mile away and 250 feet above the river. Tom Lake.]

6/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The two eagle fledglings may have learned how to fly three days ago, but today they were hungry. Both sat in the nest squealing loudly - we could hear them from two hundred yards away. Both adults arrived at different times with fish, and the begging continued. The youngsters may wonder if the deliveries will cease now that they can leave the nest.

- Bob Leak, Tom Lake

6/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie: After hours of watching the eagles of NY62C, I was fortunate enough to see both of the juveniles and at least one adult. The adult flew in from the river carrying a catfish for the fledglings. I walked a wide circle around the nest tree and saw quite a few bluebirds, both adult and fledglings. I also watched swallows feeding young in nest boxes, their nestling's heads sticking out - very sweet!

- Jamie Collins

6/27 - Fishkill, HRM 61: The lilacs by our kitchen door have passed their blooming time, but now we have a different color show. A pair of cardinals had chosen this lilac shrub to build their nest. The female has been carrying nesting materials to the bush, which happens to be next to our outdoor grill. We'll curtail our use of the grill until any youngsters have fully fledged

- Ed Spaeth

6/27 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This was a day for biggest and littlest birds: I woke to watch a very large, plump wild turkey hen urge her five poults across the lawn. They pecked, scurried, and wandered as she led the way to the woods. Before breakfast, I filled the hummingbird feeders that had been emptied overnight. As I ate, I watched the morning hummingbird feeding frenzy. At one point, there were five tiny diners sitting on the fence waiting, while four others swooped and parried with each other for feeding spots.

- Robin Fox

6/28 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: A doe and her spotted fawn walked across my lawn headed towards the road. It was the first fawn I had seen this season.

- Reba Wynn Laks

6/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: "Mom" was trying to teach her "baby" eagles to fly to their food. She flew in this afternoon, circled around the nest carrying a large catfish, and landed in a tree a few hundred feet away. One juvenile reached her flying from tree-to-tree. Then the second one went, also flying tree-to-tree. Mom dropped the fish to the ground and flew away. The message was clear but the fledglings did not get it. We waited almost two hours to see if Mom or the juveniles would go for the fish, but nothing happened. Mom has patience; the babies will learn.

- Terry Hardy, Tom Ferber

6/28 - Montrose, HRM 40.5: I noticed a large bird being followed by crows this afternoon. Having seen crows harass various raptors in the past I didn't think much of it until I noticed the size of the bird they were chasing. A second, closer look revealed them attempting to catch up with a great blue heron. This was a first for me. The crows had considerable difficulty matching the speed of the heron that lazily flapped its wings. Those wings carried it along more quickly than the crows apparently anticipated given their frantic flapping and squawking.

- Ed McKay

6/28 - Crugers, HRM 39: Ogilvie's Pond is filled with decaying spatterdock and brown muck, not a pretty sight. Today, however, as we passed by we noticed a beautiful female wood duck taking in the afternoon sun. A large shadow passed over as the pond's resident great blue heron flew in and landed only a few feet from the wood duck. Neither seemed to care about the other; the heron slowly made its way to the other side of the pond, its crooked neck and long beak pointing the way. The wood duck flew off and disappeared amid the pond vegetation.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

6/29 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: The two wild turkey hens were back with their 13 young, feeding as they moved along the edge of the lawn. The hens seemed to be stripping the seed grains from the tips of the long grass beyond where the lawn mower goes.

- Reba Wynn Laks

6/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The more assertive fledgling (likely a male) flew across a field from the nest tree - his longest flight so far. He started off from a branch in the nest tree that broke as he began causing him to fall until he got his wings going. He flew off with the branch still in his talons.

- Terry Hardy, Bill Steele

6/29 - Westchester County: After reading David Lund's cliff swallow observation (6/18) and Barbara Butler's response from Dutchess County, I recalled seeing cliff swallows at the Cross River Reservoir Dam. I checked with Bedford Audubon's naturalist, Tait Johansson. Here is his reply:

- Helle Raheem


[There is a fairly large colony of cliff swallows nesting on the dam at Cross River Reservoir. I'm almost certain there are also some nesting under the small bridge where Route 35 goes over Muscoot Reservoir just west of the turn into Katonah. I've been seeing them flying around as I drive past. Tait Johansson]

[Rough-winged swallows also regularly nest on dams and bridge abutments, using the crevices and gaps between blocks of stone (cliff swallows make gourd-like nests of mud, attached to walls under overhangs). Like the cliff swallow, the rough-winged swallow has a dark throat patch, but it has brown upper parts and lacks the buffy rump patch seen on the bluish back of the former species. Steve Stanne.]

6/30 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: We were gathered at the mouth of the Saw Kill at Bard College to install our American eel ladder. We noticed a brilliant red, male scarlet tanager in the trees. This was the first we had seen in quite some time.

- Dan Miller, Bob Schmidt, Haley Oller

6/30 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: A female wild turkey was right in front of me as I headed out into our backyard. She had her wings out a bit in a posture that reminded me of the "broken-wing" display that some birds do to distract possible predators. I froze and she walked around in the high grass clucking softly. After a couple of minutes I noticed movement in the nearby grass. At least ten less-than-pint-sized poults came out of the grass where they had been hiding and joined her. Then they all headed off into the woods.

- Peter Relson

6/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Fledge day plus six. In late afternoon, both eaglets were perched near the top of the tulip tree, one slightly above the other as has been the case since they discovered the limbs of the nest tree. Both appeared to be looking to the west, awaiting delivery of dinner.

- Bob Leak

6/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Oh, how they vocalize! The forest echoed of incessant "baby talk." The topography of the land forms a sound chamber that projects their squeals, chirps, and chortles out to the river. I do not envy the adult birds; it is difficult to please the nervous fledglings: the food is never on time; there is never enough of it; catfish can get tiresome; and then the all important one, what happens next? Until the juveniles learn to hunt for themselves, the adults will be working overtime.

- Terry Hardy, Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

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