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Hudson River Almanac August 7 - August 15, 2011

OVERVIEW

More information became available this week on the incredible, albeit tragic, journey of the mountain lion from South Dakota. Signs of approaching autumn were becoming more apparent.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/8 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The sky cleared just a bit even as the rain still misted the air and, like magic, there was a small rainbow rising out of the ferns at the edge of the lawn. Or was it falling from the dogwood tree a few feet away? What magic to have a private rainbow right in my yard! It vanished after I made my wish.
- Robin Fox

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Last year's poor crop of both soft and hard mast has resulted in a lack of small mammals this summer. There has been a reduction in summer numbers of mice, squirrels, chipmunks, voles and shrews compared to the past few years as revealed by yearly trapping on Huntington Wildlife Forest. However, this year's wildlife food crop is shaping up to be a good one. Wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca) were in abundance (and very large) this summer along with a number of species of blueberry (Vaccinium spp.). There seems to be an excellent crop of dewberries, blackberries and black raspberries (Rubus spp.) developing as well. The only berry species that didn't produce much this summer was the red raspberry. Some other mast species like white ash (Fraxinus americana), mountain ash (Sorbus sp.), eastern hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) and the maples (Acer spp.) seem to be having a good seed year while the cone crop on the spruces (Picea spp.), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), and northern white cedar look excellent. The results are not in yet on the American beech (Fagus grandifolia), our biggest hard mast producer in the central Adirondacks. There are good quantities of husks and nut casings on the trees but so far there doesn't seem to be meat in the casings. We'll keep checking on the beechnuts but it looks like the small mammal populations will be on the rise this fall and the little critters should be abundant by next summer if the beech crop is a good one.
- Charlotte Demers

[Mast crop, in this instance, refers to wild nuts and fruits such as acorns, hickory nuts, and berries that ripen in late summer and fall providing forage for wildlife and sustenance for the coming winter. Tom Lake.]

8/7 - Beacon, HRM 61: I have noticed that the behavior of grackles has changed over the past week. Gatherings of fifty or more birds at the feeders have waned. Yesterday evening hundreds talked from the tops of trees until taking off together.
- Harriet Zbikowski

8/7 - Lake Meahagh, HRM 40.5: Right at dawn I paused to watch a trio of fishermen tending a battery of rods at the spillway leading to the river. They had the look of an all-night fishing party with rods equipped with elaborate rod holders and jingle bells. After a few minutes one of them picked up a rod, hooked a fish, and fought it for a long ten minutes. I walked over to have a look and arrived to see a five-pound carp netted. The fish was deposited in a large cooler, which was very nearly filled with carp that appeared to run from less than a pound up to about eight pounds. I asked what they did with the fish. They weren't very communicative but one finally answered "fry them." Lake Meahagh was built at the juncture of a brook with the Hudson River back in the eighteenth century, and served as an ice-harvesting pond for perhaps a hundred years. It was shallow then and has been losing depth ever since. Even for locals, it is not known as a quality fishing lake. This has been a hot, rainy summer and Lake Meahagh has a mud bottom and a weed problem. I mused about this on the way home. Mid-August fish from Lake Meahagh would have a deeply developed and non-to-subtle amalgam of weed and mud in their flavor, and the flesh from that too-warm pond would surely be soft. I had to wonder how they sauced their fish to mask those qualities, or if they just had different tastes than me.
- Christopher Letts

8/8 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Stopped by Rogers Point in early morning and found the gray seal doing just fine, lounging on a flat rock just above the waterline as usual. He scratched his nose a few times, but otherwise was content to look around, close his eyes, fidget, and look around some more.
- Chris Bowser

8/8 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was a dull, muggy morning, but there was a sense of coming changes in the scene. Out in the channel a common loon in breeding plumage was foraging and keeping a curious eye on me. A dance troupe of great egrets did their ballet through the shallows and the boat launch was wheel-spinning slick with a first thick mat of wild celery, a sight most often not seen until after Labor Day. Spotted and peep sandpipers were probing the wild celery for tiny tidbits, and the first tern I have seen here this season zipped past without giving me a chance to raise my binocular.
- Christopher Letts

8/9 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: I was measuring eels collected in our eel-ladder on Saw Kill today. We caught 22, a record for 2011. As I was measuring, a cicada plopped into the water right in front of me, buzzed a little, and then died. It was a male and I guess it had just run out of energy. All that singing must take a lot. These insects are well worth looking at if you get the chance. Their big wide head, short body, and long stiff wings give them an alien appearance. This specimen was a swamp cicada (Tibicen tibicen), a species of annual cicada (not the periodical brand), and is the one making most, if not all, of the noise in the Hudson Valley this year. I was struck by its coloration: a dark moss green on the back of the head (not a color you see on animals), lime green on the base of the wings, and a mottled white underside.
- Bob Schmidt

8/9 - Rondout Creek, HRM 92: I caught a channel cat in the Rondout today that had a blue crab's leg in its mouth as I pulled it up. It was a nice fish but not as big as the 13 pound channel cat I caught on a herring chunk outside the Rondout on Esopus Flats at the end of May.
- John Neidhardt III

8/9 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 68: A storm was approaching as I watched barn swallows flitting about for insects over the East Fishkill Community Library. These birds are likely a few of the swallows that recently fledged from a nest that was under the eaves of one of the library's entryways. In the shelter of that same entryway was another unoccupied bird nest, a possible robin's nest.
- Ed Spaeth

8/9 - Croton Landing, HRM 35: In early evening, after heavy rains and wind, the scene at Croton Landing was spectacular. The river shone silver with the backdrop of blue haze over the hills of Rockland. The tide was extremely high and overflowed across the area where the walkway began. As we proceeded, we saw that the beaches along the path had disappeared and the rocks that separated the inlet from the river were just barely visible. Mallards swam around in the inlet area while the silhouettes of gulls and other shore birds appeared on the tops of the rocks. In some areas, there were pools of water on the side of the path opposite the river.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

8/9 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It is high summer and the markers are everywhere. The huge blossoms of the rose mallow light up the marsh. Birdsong has all but stopped; even the mockingbirds have gone monosyllabic. A new generation of geese has found its wings, and the skies are full of hundreds of new frequent flyers. The whitetail bucks are well antlered, although still in velvet. Starlings, redwings, and cowbirds are flocking; and so are the doves. And this morning I paused long to watch a dozen cedar waxwings gorging on still ripening pokeberries.
- Christopher Letts

8/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: I spotted a river otter swimming in the Croton River between the old Quaker Bridge and Silver Lake Park this evening. Quite large (about 4 feet long) with dark fur, it was curious about me, enough to take a second look before swimming away.
- Daniel Cummings

8/10 - Germantown, HRM 108: Monarchs and other butterflies were starting a pretty good push through and enjoying the butterfly bush blossoms.
- Mimi Brauch

8/10 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I checked on the gray seal in late afternoon and found him resting on his rock, his head in the water most of the time. He occasionally looked up, but seemed rather content lounging. A boat club member reported that he saw the seal bring in a foot-long striped bass yesterday.
- Jesse Jaycox

8/10 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Hummingbirds were all over my yard: they're in the bushes, darting in and out of the trees, perching on every twig, bobbing on the tall grasses, clustering in the flower garden, and draining the feeders several times a day. Their wild antics are made even wilder now as the yellow jackets have also found the feeders. Every time I look to see what's going on, there's some hummingbird action. But at dusk the real show begins: I can't be sure how many flock to the feeders - I count eleven, or is it twenty-seven - swooping, colliding, soaring breast-to-breast straight up and out of sight, fluffing their feathers, spreading their tails, "chitter-chitter-chittering" loudly, seldom pausing. It is wonderful and dizzying.
- Robin Fox

8/11 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: For several mornings past, after at least one heavy rainstorm, I've seen a large yellow-and-black garden spider (Argiope aurantia) in a circular orb web. Except for spiders I've seen in Madagascar, it's the biggest spider I've ever seen in the wild.
- Phyllis Marsteller

8/11 - Hyde Park, HRM 82:.I checked for the gray seal early this morning with no luck. The tide was low and he was probably out foraging. I checked again in late afternoon, again at low tide, and again no seal.
- Jesse Jaycox

8/11 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: I noticed a bird foraging on the ground under my feeder this evening that looked like a blue jay but was an unusual color: the lower half of its body had the normal blue markings but its shoulders and head were a slate gray. It was a juvenile blue jay. I had never seen one before. I have seen many a juvenile cardinal feeding (or asking for its parents to feed it) but never a blue jay and this one was alone, at least when I was looking.
- Kathy Kraft

8/11 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Despite the over-development at the intersection of Route 9 and Interstate 84, one can still find some interesting bird life on portions of the Westage Business Center that even as late as 20 years ago were covered in corn. Tonight, I enjoyed watching several species of birds, including the ubiquitous Canada geese on the lawns and some mallards, a common merganser, a great blue heron and even two green herons in the pond. A few barn swallows still made passes over pond and field, while two eastern kingbirds, several killdeer, and a few families of mourning doves foraged among the grasses or near parking lot puddles. Other birds spotted: robins, downy woodpecker, rock dove, common grackles, goldfinches, crows and mockingbird. As the full moon peeked out from behind some trees and night's curtain began to fall, a lone deer came into view. It, and other unseen wildlife, holds nocturnal sway over these lawns, fields and parking lots.
- Ed Spaeth

8/11 - Crugers, HRM 39: I heard the call of a pileated woodpecker this evening and, as I looked toward the source of the call, three pileated woodpeckers flew overhead.
- Jim Grefig

8/11 - Piermont, HRM 25: Outside the window of my second story office I detected intense motion in the vines draped through the trees. A group of three northern flickers were gorging on the porcelain berry laced over the branches. One was almost flipped upside down to grab the berries. The markings were so striking with the red on the head and the black on the breast and on the cheeks (I noted in the literature that it is referred to as a "mustache" but it looked more like war paint). They were so beautiful. I guess there is at least one benefit to an invasive vine outside the window.
- Margie Turin

8/12 - Corinth, HRM 202: As a few bathers enjoyed the sandy shore of the Corinth Town Beach and the cool, clear waters of the Hudson River, and still others enjoyed boating on the river, I noted other movements in the water. Near the eastern shore, a flotilla of birds were rapidly moving downstream and approaching the town's bridge over the river. From my vantage point on the bridge, I could see this flotilla consisted of several families of common mergansers. It was fun to watch as the birds made their downstream journey and then encountered the cable strung across the river's surface south of the bridge. Here the adult birds made the crossing over the cable with ease and would wait as the youngsters anxiously made similar endeavors. Once all were safely across, the feathered flotilla continued its downstream passage along the wooded coves on the west shore.
- Ed Spaeth

8/13 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The gray seal was hauled out and lounging at the midday high tide.
- Chris Bowser

8/14 - Delmar, HRM 143: The NYSDEC Wildlife Pathology Unit released findings from a December 16, 2010, mountain lion occurrence (bedding area) at Lake George (HRM 218). Evidence collected included tracks and hair samples. DNA analysis of the hair concluded that it was the same mountain lion that had traveled 1500 miles in 18 months from South Dakota and was killed by a vehicle in Connecticut (see Millford, CT, June 11 and July 27 for more details on this mountain lion).
- Chris Bowser, Tom Lake

8/14 - Kowawese, HRM 59: This is a sample of poetry from Vail's Gate Tech Magnet School sixth graders, written during a field trip in February 2011. The poems were entered in a River of Words competition and just now have become available. The ice is gone, the students have moved on, but the spirit of their words linger.

___At Kowawese Park___
All I see are squirrels running.
Tracks of bobcats, rabbits, and wild dogs,
Abandoned fox holes,
Trees with no leaves,
Birds with no homes,
Rivers with no water just ice.
I saw my breath - brrr, its cold.
All on my trip to Kowawese Park
- Alexis Thornton

8/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Apple production has been excellent this summer. We had a black bear in our backyard last night, filling his belly with the drops. I love to watch him but he climbs in the trees on occasion and breaks the branches - then he is not so welcome.
- Charlotte Demers

8/15 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: A green heron spent several minutes walking on the railing of my deck this evening, a short distance from a pond. The heron had the yellow feet and speckled breast of an immature and it acted like one when it watched the comings and goings of several hummingbirds using a feeder hanging just a few feet above the railing. They might have been the first hummingbirds it had ever seen.
- Phyllis Marsteller

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