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Hudson River Almanac July 24 - July 31, 2011

OVERVIEW

After many years of having the status of myth, a mountain lion from the wild was verified just 60 miles east of the Hudson. The juvenile gray seal at river mile 82 continued to be a highlight if for no other reason than being the first of its species ever documented for the river.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/27 - Millford, CT: On June 11, we reported the death of a 140 lb. mountain lion less than 60 miles east of the Hudson River in Connecticut. With no reproducing mountain lion population in either New York or Connecticut for nearly 150 years, it was thought to be an escape. Today the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced that DNA analysis revealed that the mountain lion was not an escape, but rather a wild animal that had traveled 1500 miles from South Dakota. The cat was determined to be less than six years old and was theorized to have traveled east through southern Canada before heading south through New England. This is twice the distance of travel ever reported for a mountain lion.
- Tom Lake

[Mountain lions are known by many common names, including puma, catamount, painter, panther, and cougar. To scientists they are Puma concolor. The Almanac receives a dozen "sightings" each year, none of which ever have conclusive evidence. However, in October 2009, we noted that "We have had a spate of mountain lion 'sightings' this year in the Hudson Valley, and one of these days one of them might turn out to be true." Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Like most sites along the Hudson River Valley, the weather was record-breaking hot up here at the High Peaks headwaters. Temperatures were well into the 90s most of the week with high humidity adding to the discomfort of both man and beast. Many white-tailed deer were seen in the lakes, ponds and rivers attempting to cool off as well as getting away from the horrendous deer flies. Many people have commented that this is the worst deer fly season that they can remember. After 25 years of working in the woods in Newcomb, I concur. The good news last week was provided by our loon nesting success rate. At least three chicks on three different lakes in the local area have been confirmed. Somehow the loons managed to have successful nests in spite of the extreme rainfall in May and June.
- Charlotte Demers

7/24 - Ulster Park, HERM 85: Our first katydids of summer announced themselves this evening.
- William Drakert

7/24 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I was on the river early this morning in Hyde Park to check on the gray seal. It was high tide and I found him swimming - light chocolate body with white splotches - in the slough between shoreline rip-rap and the boat docks. From a respectable distance, one that he seemed to be comfortable with, he looked very healthy. He would dive for five minutes - I could see him swimming along the bottom foraging - and then surface with a series of snorts and exhales. Once he dove and did not reappear. I waited and waited. Then I heard some heavy breathing beneath my feet. I looked down between the planks into the airspace under the dock and there he was, inches away, looking up at me.
- Tom Lake

7/24 - Haverstraw Bay to the Tappan Zee, HRM 43-33: During the heat of this very hot day I took the easy way, and made a pickup truck tour of known favorite fishing spots. Sitting in a semi comfortable air conditioned pickup I drove from the Ossining waterfront to historic China Pier in Peekskill, stopping at a dozen places along the way. There were anglers and blue crabbers employed at every stop. The anglers were not doing much, and I saw no fish caught, but the crabbers were busy. It was striking that in some places, the blue crabs were small, 2-3" from point to point. In other places they were real #1 Jimmies, a crab you could proudly take home. Big or small, they were beautiful, clean, brightly colored, and very much alive. The "river rats," seasoned crabbers, were storing their catches in tubs or coolers kept in the shade and covered by wet towels - those crabs would be alive and snapping when they reached home. Here and there, though, I saw crabs in buckets of water, a tyro's mistake. Those crabs would not last long; as the buckets heated and the oxygen depleted, the crabs would die. We don't recommend cooking dead crabs.
- Christopher Letts

[Blue crabs have several colloquial names known mainly to rivermen, crabbers, and the fish market: Adult males are called "Jimmies," mature females are called "Sooks," and immature females are known as "Sallys." A #1 Jimmy might be more than 7 inches carapace width. Tom Lake.]

7/25 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The oppressive heat had left with just some heavy humidity. Nearly an inch of rain fell in a very short time. The gray seal was hauled out as we arrived but soon vaulted into the river to go fishing. We saw it surface once more, softly snorting, whiskers looking like a bristle brush, before diving under the docks and heading out to the river.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

7/26 - Columbia County, HRM 119: We were entertained on our trip from Great Barrington (MA) to Bard College (checking the eel ladder) by a sub-adult female katydid that was clinging to my windshield. It held on for the entire trip. We were impressed with its tenacity. Today we had a female sub-adult katydid hang onto my passenger side mirror from the Roeliff-Jansen Kill to Great Barrington. We were excited by the symmetry of these events. We think this is a good example, however, of how much we may be moving organisms around the environment without thinking about it. Even though we replace one katydid with another of the same sex in Great Barrington, chances are we changed the gene pool ever so slightly.
- Bob Schmidt, Haley Oller

7/26 - Croton River, HRM 34: Gino Garner tells me that 15-20" channel catfish are getting so common that they are getting in the way of his white perch fishing. He sells the white perch for blue crab bait. It is interesting to see this happening: a normally plentiful native species being crowded by an invasive from the Midwest.
- Christopher Letts

7/27 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The first comfortable morning in two weeks had me in good spirits, and bird activity seemed to have increased. I watched an immature bald eagle plunge for a fish from well over 100' above the water. It looked like a first year bird; it missed the prey. I generally see half a dozen turkey vultures during the course of the morning, but today a kettle of more than fifty was worth looking at. In the kettle, rising with the turkey vultures, was another large raptor - an immature goshawk. It was definitely worth getting out of bed early for. Later at the mouth of the Croton River, I saw scattered and flighty flocks of "peep" sandpipers, the vanguard of the fall migration. The least sandpipers were easy enough, but there were other species, and those flocks defied my efforts to get a close look. Three great egrets were keeping company with several beach combing white-tails at the south end of the Inbuckie.
- Christopher Letts

[Inbuckie and Crawbuckie are colloquial names used to describe the mile of shoreline between the mouth of the Croton River and the village of Ossining (river miles 34-33). The origin of the names is hazy but they have been commonly used by local commercial fishermen for well over a century. Crawbuckie is the low-tide beach facing Croton Bay, made famous in the 1960s and 1970s by striped bass anglers, when catching one of any size was big news. Inbuckie is the adjacent tidal bay inside the railroad tracks. Prior to the early nineteenth century, they were one. Tom Lake.]

7/27 - Nyack Beach State Park, HRM 31: We were in a night race on our sailboat offshore of Nyack Beach State Park when I saw a thin, two-foot-long fish (shaped like a barracuda) jump out of the water and splash back down. I am quite certain that it was a juvenile sturgeon because of the height, the angle of the jump, and the resulting splash.
- Caleb Davidson

7/28 - Roeliff-Jansenkill, HRM 111: We visited the mouth of this tributary to collect small eels for a food habits study. In addition to catching the eels we needed, we saw two blue crabs, one small (2 inch carapace width) and one that was pretty close to being legal catching size.
- Bob Schmidt, Haley Oller

[To be "keepers" under New York State regulations, blue crabs must be at least 4.5 inches hard-shell carapace width. Tom Lake.]

7/28 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Following a two day hiatus, the gray seal reappeared at dawn. He came out from under the floating docks, perhaps having moved in from the river, and swam toward the shore snorting and exhaling - a welcome sight. For more than a half-hour he traversed the 200-foot-long slough, taking long, graceful dives, making 360-degree spins in the unusually clear water, foraging, seemingly at home with the river. All the while I stood stock-still, fifty feet away, watching. Just as I was about to leave, and of his own accord, he surfaced directly below me in the water. He had a crown of wild celery draped over his head, remnants of his rooting along the bottom. Then he dove and I left him to his schedule.
- Tom Lake

7/28 - Manitou, HRM 47: I first came upon the smallish adult black bear while driving. When it saw me it turned, went into Manitou Marsh, and then came out on a side road. Lumbering up the hill, it kept turning around looking at me. Later in the morning it was on the river [west] side of the railroad tracks, got "spooked" by a few track workers, and went back into the marsh. This may be the same bear that had been spotted in Garrison the past few weeks. The bear had no tags. The last bear here had a radio collar and both ears tagged.
- Zshawn Sullivan

7/28 - Croton River, HRM 34: The marsh at the mouth of the Croton River had "peeps" by the dozen, killdeer, and out on the tide flats, yellowlegs. We watched a young osprey swerve, commit, and plunge into the water across from the launch ramp. It seemed surprised, floundered in the water for several minutes, and finally got airborne, sans breakfast.
- Christopher Letts, Gino Garner, George Hatzmann

[Some use the word "peep" to describe any of several small shorebird species - sandpipers, sanderlings, and even plovers. However, in birding circles peeps are small sandpipers of the genus Calidris that, due to similar appearance and somewhat ambiguous field marks, often defy casual identification. Semipalmated and least sandpipers are the most common peeps along the river. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

7/29 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: I visited the eel ladder on the Saw Kill at Bard College. The usual array of eels was present in the bucket (six in the 11-13 cm size range) plus one larger eel. This moderate-size eel (35 cm) was a repeat user of the ladder. We put tags in the larger eels, similar to the chips that people put in their pets. The eel tags are much smaller and, although they have a number on them, the technology does not allow us to read the numbers electronically. However, we can detect the presence of the tag and its location on the eel with a metal detector. This eel had been tagged previously from the eel ladder, but not this year. While I was waiting for the eels to recover from the anesthetic (the only way you can measure a live eel) I wandered around the Saw Kill. I noticed a white patch on a large rock, somewhat larger than the tip of one's thumb. This is an egg mass from a dobsonfly. The females lay their eggs on boulders in streams above the water level, sometimes several feet above. I recall seeing lots of dobsonfly egg masses on boulders in the Wallkill River. Most people who fish Hudson Valley tributaries for smallmouth bass know larval dobsonflies as "hellgrammites," elongate dark critters with big jaws.
- Bob Schmidt

7/29 - Town of Esopus, HRM 85: The sun had not quite set this evening at Shaupeneak Ridge. The cloud and fog were just thick enough that you could see the whole sun, shielded so that it was no brighter than the moon might have been. With binoculars, we were delighted to see spots (sun spots). Usually the sun is way too bright to get such a view. It was a nice completion to a day that was marked by our first ever giant swallowtail in the yard, enjoying the flowering butterfly bushes.
- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson, Ulster Park

[We strongly advise never looking at the sun without the substantial protection of dark filters, dark translucent lenses or, in the case of Peter Relson's experience, heavily shrouded cloud cover. Looking at the sun directly without protection can cause blindness, ranging from temporary to permanent. Tom Lake.]

7/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: The North Rockshelter at Bowdoin Park sits 147 feet above the river facing due west. It is a difficult place in winter as the frigid northwest wind can be numbing. In summer, however, particularly on a warm day (it was 88 degrees Fahrenheit) you can catch a cool westerly breeze. When the first Europeans arrived 400 years ago there was an Algonquian village along the river below and as I walked there today (now an athletic field) not a leaf stirred. It was stifling. There is archaeological evidence that people have been escaping to this naturally air conditioned spot for more than 7,000 years.
- Tom Lake

7/29 - Crugers, HRM 39: The scene at Ogilvie's Pond in early afternoon was truly a treat. As dragonflies flitted over the water, bees were busy with the hibiscus blossoms that grow near the wall of the pond. Several mockingbirds flew in and out of the trees and white cabbage butterflies joined the bees on the hibiscus. The great blue heron was proudly perched atop a flat bushy tree overhanging the pond where we had seen it the day before when it seemed to be watching a young heron that was nearby in the water. On the side of the pond near some Phragmites, a log attracted our attention: it held five painted turtles basking in the sun, all with their heads sticking out. The largest of them had pond moss and dirt all over its carapace.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

7/30 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The tide was low and after a few traverses of the shallow shoreline slough the gray seal shot under the docks and headed out to the river leaving a plume of sediment in his wake. A while later, just offshore, he surfaced with a 15-inch carp that he proceeded to "play with" before diving with the fish in his jaws. Co-observers Jim Broderick and Seth Allt told me that he had put on the same show with a carp last evening. A few minutes later the seal came back under the dock, hauled out on a rock in the sun, and slowly closed his eyes.
- Tom Lake

7/30 -Town of Poughkeepsie: The eagle nest (NY62C) was truly empty. Over the last month, the two immatures had expanded their universe at least three miles downriver and two miles upriver. The forest was now near-filled with flocking grackles and assorted blackbirds. It may be mid-summer for us, but they already sense the lessening daylight and the autumn to come.
- Tom Lake

7/30 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was mid-morning when I noticed a large soaring bird overhead, less than a half-mile from the river. Fortunately my binoculars were close by and I was able to confirm that it was an osprey.
- Harriet Zbikowski

7/31 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: Though the red-shouldered hawks remain in town, they seem to move their nest site every year. Last year they nested close enough to my house that I could hear the nestling calling for breakfast every morning. This year I have no idea where the nest is, but I'm sure there is a nest and that it was successful, because this morning in red-shoulder fashion, a youngster was making quite a racket. It didn't take much imagination to translate its calls into "What does it take to get a little breakfast around here?" Breakfast was not forthcoming and the bird eventually left for the woods to the west. Our cliff swallows have all fledged and the birds, adults and young, have left town. One of their nests has already fallen off the firehouse, leaving just an outline stuck to the wall.
- David Lund

7/31 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: As the gray seal swam effortlessly alongside the docks a large water snake (Nerodia sipedon) appeared, swimming with just its head above the surface and a long narrow wake. Its path was destined to intersect the seal's and as they neared one another the seal just edged aside and let it pass. Later, we watched the seal "play" with a foot-long white sucker like a toddler would play with a toy. He never seemed as though he would eat it, but maybe saw it as "security" against catching another carp. A few hours later, after he had once again "gone to sea," I spotted the white sucker floating belly-up in the slough.
- Tom Lake

7/31 - Hathaway's Glen, HRM 63: Artists have long revered sunsets; but for me I'll take sunrise on an east-facing beach at dawn. The growing glow from first light to sunrise is a study in anticipation: rebirth, renewal, dawn of a new day. The beach at Hathaways's Glen is the terminus of a small, cold water brook that spills down the fall line into a short run to the river. Even with today's higher new moon tides, the inland reach of the river was only a couple of hundred feet. The shallows just outside the brook were 80 degrees F. Less than 200 feet upstream, in a small pool in the shade of cottonwoods and box elders, the water was 67. In the warmth of the new sun we hauled our seine and caught scores of killifish, the males with their incredibly iridescent lavender bands and females in drab "camo" - breeding colors. Mixed in with the killifish were many hundreds of young-of-the-year striped bass (50-65 millimeters total length).
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

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