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Hudson River Almanac August 1 - August 6, 2011

OVERVIEW

It was a hot mid-summer week in which river activities were most comfortably accomplished at dawn or dusk. The gray seal continued to appear unaffected by the warm river water. Readers will be cooled off with a winter poem by an Orange County sixth grader.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/5 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: One of the great opportunities afforded by working at the Norrie Point Environmental Center is the commute by kayak. Launching from Esopus Meadows, I made my way past a trio of stunning white great egrets, stationed like sentinels, acres of water chestnut between each. I passed close enough to see their sharp yellow beaks, the color reminding me of school buses. Crossing the river I was greeted on the east side by the "chirp" of an adult bald eagle. A half mile later, an immature eagle kept an eye on me. I met with a dozen high school students from Mill Street Loft in Poughkeepsie for a river program. The students grimaced at the thought of muddy boots and water snakes but after a half hour of coaxing and peer pressure, we were waist-deep in the water chestnuts and snacking on the smaller, tender seed pods. "Tastes like cucumber!" said the same young man who had earlier claimed "I'm not going any deeper!" when the water barely reached his knees. Several seine hauls supplied a summer spread of young-of-the-year fish, including tessellated darter, bluegill, pumpkinseed, banded killifish, yellow perch, American eel, spottail shiner, and largemouth bass. My favorites were two-inch long smallmouth bass, their faces masked in camo-stripes but their tails a bright orange flare. "If you were a little fish," I asked the students, "which end of your body would you want a predator to snap at first?"
- Chris Bowser

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/1 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Without a closer look, the daily routines of wildlife often seem serendipitous. But after nearly two weeks of scrutiny, it appears that during daylight hours, the gray seal likes to haul out near high tide to nap and sleep, and then go fishing near low tide. The tide was near high today and he was basking in the warm sun. He is partially moulted and his new pelage, or fur, has begun to fill in. Gray seals moult annually each spring in their more typical range in the North Atlantic.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[At high tide today the Hyde Park river temperature was 82 degrees Fahrenheit. One mile offshore from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where a gray seal would feel much more at home, the water temperature was 67. Tom Lake.]

8/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: As he was angling for white perch for blue crab bait, Gino Garner hooked a channel catfish and fought it carefully for long minutes. At boat side it did a power dive and "Snap!" When asked, Gino estimated "At least 8, maybe 10 lb." That is much larger than any other channel cats we've seen in the Tappan Zee/Haverstraw Bay reach of the estuary.
- Christopher Letts

8/2 - Kowawese, HRM 59: This is a sample of poetry from Vail's Gate Tech Magnet School sixth graders, based on a February 2011 field trip. The poems were entered in a River of Words competition and just now have become available.

___Crack___
Crack, the ice is cracking.
First a crack then another
Then finally it breaks and breaks
Into smaller pieces.
It's such a sight to see.
One by one all that was
Big pieces of ice are now smaller pieces.
Soon small pools of water will appear.
Then animals will come to have a drink of nice, cool
Fresh water.
- Jessica D'Alo

8/2 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Yesterday, as the thunderheads were building, we headed out into the yard to collect the drift of gear and clothing that is the aftermath of visits from small grandchildren. The boomers and flashers got closer; we ducked into the back door as the first of a series of squalls hit. It was "4th of July" in spades, celestial mortar practice, shells loaded with ice pellets and hailstones. When I did the morning walkabout today, I noted that nearly two inches of precipitation puddled the rain gauge. Slits and shot holes were visible in corn and tomato leaves. A yard newly cleared of limbs and twigs had to be faced again. If you have to pick it up, it's time for another grill out. So tonight, mixed grill: chicken (not from the garden) and the wonderful wealth of produce that comes from the midsummer garden, all flavored with the windfall gift of sugar maple limbs and twigs.
- Christopher Letts

8/3 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: On the east side of the river the brilliant dawn was at my back. It was not perfect, but it was still magic. The woods along the river sounded like a rainforest from the incessant chatter of scores of blackbirds flocking for fall. I found the gray seal alternately fishing and lounging offshore. During the late afternoon high tide, in a steady drizzle, he was hauled out and napping on the rip-rap. A boat passed, a wake came in, and he got a snout-full of river, waking him. He yawned and stretched and yawned and stretched. He seems fine, very alert. He has established a considerable "safe zone" between us that we both understand. If he ventures within, and he does from time to time, he does of his own accord.
- Tom Lake

[This gray seal, a yearling, was likely "pupped" in January or February of this year. The word "yearling" is generally used with any seal six months to two years old. Kim Durham.]

8/3 - Peekskill, HRM 43.5: The marsh mallow was in full bloom at Camp Smith. It is a lovely perennial plant that shows its pink flowers in July and August.
- Zshawn Sullivan

8/3 - Ossining, HRM 33: From the overlook at Mariandale in early afternoon, the river was very still and shone like silver under a cloudy sky. The scene came alive as we spotted an adult bald eagle flying off Croton Point a mile north. As we watched, it eventually crossed the river and disappeared into the hills of Rockland County.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

8/3 - Piermont, HRM 25: After spending a few hours out on the river sailing we came back into Piermont, very close to low tide, and found an osprey scoping out the bay. I guess the "owl" and "shiny CDs" didn't deter him or keep him from his perch and his quest for a meal.
- Wendy Widmann

8/4 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 68: A co-worker found a burrow in his yard with an opening the size of a half dollar. Thinking it was a chipmunk hole, he started to fill in when a wasp emerged holding an immobilized cicada under its body. The wasp was an inch-and-a-half long. It was the shy but determined cicada killer wasp, a beautiful and interesting insect that I believe we see only when the cicadas are here.
- Lisa Cline

8/5 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: The apples on my delicious tree were just starting to get reddish, and some have rotten spots. A couple of my blue jay visitors fly into the yard morning and evening, announcing their arrival, and peck away at the apples. Anything soft enough is fair game, apple pieces fly all over, as they feed woodpecker style. I hope I have a few left at the end of the month!
- Joanne Engle

8/5 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I spotted the gray seal swimming in the slough this morning and then settling down on his back underwater, resting on the rocks on the bottom. It was very interesting to see that behavior, like he was sleeping on his back on the bottom. When he scratched at his muzzle I got a glimpse of those sharp teeth. Wow!
- Jesse Jaycox

[Depending upon circumstances, a gray seal can stay submerged for at least 20 minutes and, in some instances, nearly an hour. Tom Lake.]

8/5 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: This afternoon the gray seal was ensconced and sunning on his rocks. Then a quick slip into the river turned his coat incredibly smooth and dark.
- Dan Wolff

8/5 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I found an empty cicada exoskeleton on the rim of a flower pot. Then I noticed a large dark cicada nearby clinging to the foundation of my house. It was strangely beautiful.
- Sharon Gambino

8/5 - New Paltz, HRM 77: The marsh below our house by the Wallkill River floodplain was almost totally green this week. Three years ago it was almost solid magenta, colored by purple loosestrife, an invasive wildflower that thrives in wet or rich damp soil. Two years ago I noticed that the loosestrife had not grown as tall as the dead stems of the previous year. Then last year I noticed that there were large patches of cattail and tall sedges where the loosestrife had previously been dominant. Looking closer at the loosestrife, I found that the leaves were almost totally eaten away by small beetles. This year, almost every purple loosestrife plant I examined has been heavily chewed on, apparently by the same little beetles. Some areas previously filled with purple loosestrife are now filled with cattails and branched bur-reed (Sparganuim androcladum).
- Lynn Bowdery

[Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a flowering plant native to Europe, Asia, northwest Africa, and southeastern Australia. The purple loosestrife bio-control program is about 20 years old in New York. It principally uses golden loosestrife beetles (Galerucella pusilla and Galerucella calmariensis) that feed on the leaves. The beetles were widely released in large numbers and about three years ago began to colonize many sites where they had been - and had not been - released, in enough numbers to inhibit the loosestrife. Now we are seeing many wetlands where there appears to be less loosestrife. The beetle effect, where strong enough, tends to inhibit flowering, cause wilting of the grazed leaves, and make the loosestrife shorter and more spreading. In some places other plants are indeed becoming more conspicuous among the stunted loosestrife. Erik Kiviat.]

8/5 - Beacon-Newburgh, HRM 61: Certain forms of wildlife in the Hudson River Valley have become so predictable that we tend to assume their identity without really looking. For example, we believe the gray seal at Hyde Park is the river's first ever. But have there been others that observers assumed were the relatively common harbor seal? In a net full of "herring," whoever checks for the hickory shad? Gulls are another example, often collectively called "sea gulls" when, in fact, there is no such gull. In the midst of gulls we tend to assume that they are one of the few common species. Early this morning, we took a round-trip on the Beacon-to-Newburgh commuter ferry across a calm river, taking a close look at the gulls. There were dozens and we tried to identify them all. Almost all were ring-billed gulls, but we did see two greater black-backs and at least one herring gull. But there was satisfaction in looking because the next time we might see gull species number 12 for the river.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

[In 18 years of the Hudson River Almanac, we have recorded 11 species of gulls along the tidewater Hudson: black-headed gull, Bonaparte's gull, Franklin's gull, glaucous gull, greater black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull, laughing gull, herring gull, Iceland gull, ivory gull, and ring-billed gull. Tom Lake.]

8/6 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Sixty eager anglers, both adults and children, lined the patio and boardwalk at the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center for a day of fishing. The warm water (81 degrees F) and the lull of summer may have contributed to our meager catch (only 16 fish of six species) the fewest fish and least diversity we had seen all summer. Nearly half the fish were rudd, a gorgeous golden minnow with crimson-red fins. However, the star of the day was a green sunfish 95 millimeters [mm] long.
- Jim Herrington, Indie Bach, Ryan Coulter, Tom Lake

[Green sunfish are native to the Great Lakes region and upper Mississippi, but have been introduced into several Atlantic coastal systems. Since 1994, only one green sunfish has been documented in the Almanac. That one (60 mm) was captured in 2000 in Columbia County by Tom Coote and Bob Schmidt while electro-fishing in the rapids just above the fall line in the Roeliff-Jansen Kill. However, Schmidt notes that there is a robust population of green sunfish in the Wallkill River (a Hudson River tributary) and some of its tributaries including the Dwaarkill in Orange County, where it may be the most common fish. Tom Lake.]

8/6 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Just after first light, the tide was high and the gray seal was hauled out on a flat rock ... sleeping. I knew he was alive because he was softly snoring and his exhales were causing ripples on the water beneath his head. I then sidled away and left him. Daily checking has become somewhat standard - we have seen all of his tricks and maneuvers. And while they still delight, it is very unlikely he is performing for us, but rather for his own enjoyment. So, in a matter of a minutes, I was there and gone. The mystery of his presence persists.
- Tom Lake

8/6 - Crugers, HRM 39: We looked out the window this morning to see some different visitors at our feeders: a tufted titmouse and a white-breasted nuthatch were feeding along with cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, grackles, mourning doves and all kinds of sparrows. But we were totally surprised at the colorful male ruby-throated hummingbird that hovered over the red hummingbird feeder that's been outside for several months. Since we hadn't attracted any hummingbirds, we just emptied the feeder last week, so this tiny visitor was out of luck. After the bird left, we refilled the feeder with hopes that it will return.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

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