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Hudson River Almanac August 16 - August 23, 2011

OVERVIEW

Although we always give thanks individually to Almanac contributors, we have rarely given a collective thanks to everyone involved. Without your tales, adventures, observations and reflections, the Hudson River Almanac would not exist. We thank you.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/23 - Defreestville, Rensselaer County, HRM 142: The historic Van Alen House shook for about ten seconds this afternoon from a 5.8 (on the Richter Scale) earthquake in northern Virginia. It was the strongest earthquake in the Northeast in 67 years and was felt as far north and east as Burlington (VT) and Boston (MA), more than 500 miles from the quake's epicenter.

- Roberta S. Jeracka

[The Richter Scale was developed in 1935 and named for one of its creators, Charles Richter. The numerical scale quantifies in a single number the energy contained in an earthquake. The scale ranges from 2.0 (almost undetectable) to 10.0 (massive; probably never achieved). Those in the range 5.0-5.9 are considered moderate but can cause major damage to poorly constructed buildings. This earthquake demonstrated that we are not only connected to faraway places in the air and water, but seismically as well. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/16 - Minerva, HRM 284: While walking my goofy dogs in the back forty this morning, we unintentionally flushed a green heron. There had been no sign of the heron all spring and summer, although we did have plenty of American bittern and pied-billed grebe activity, so the green heron flushing out of some swamp emergent vegetation was a welcome surprise.

- Mike Corey

8/16 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I caught the seal lounging on the rocks today. It has been great having the gray seal here for almost a month, but I can't imagine that this would be a long-term habitat.

- Chris Bowser

8/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: I am very excited to be seeing lots of hummingbirds coming to my feeders this summer. I know that color on feathers is due to refraction of light and not pigment, but it seems as though I'm only seeing females and juveniles.

- Jane Shumsky, Elky Shumsky

8/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There were hundreds of big darner dragonflies in the air in the early evening. There seemed to be a hatch of some small insect coming from either the grass or soil in the lawns of the neighborhood. While the mini-fighter-pilot show of the dragonflies was amazing enough, the real jaw-dropper was when four kestrels showed up and started picking off the dragonflies. The dragonflies were about 20-35 feet in the air and the kestrels were eating them in flight.

- Charlotte Demers

8/17 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: Ten of us met at Mills Mansion State Park to check on the birds. We reached a cove near the river close to the water and spotted a cormorant struggling with a large catfish (at least a foot long). The size of the fish made it difficult for the bird to keep it above the water. The fish and bird repeatedly went into and out of the water. We hypothesized that the commotion caused by the splashing attracted an immature bald eagle. The eagle flew toward the cormorant, circled, and then flew back into the trees. We were so busy watching the eagle that we didn't notice that the cormorant no longer had the catfish. At the end of our walk, we returned to the same cove and had a close observation of two immature bald eagles with an adult. The adult flew a short distance away but the two immatures perched near each other and began to call back and forth.

Among the birds we observed: Canada goose, (7), mute swan(4), mallard (5), double-crested cormorant (4), great blue heron(1), green heron (1), bald eagle (3), spotted sandpiper (1), ring-billed gull (4), red-bellied woodpecker (4), downy woodpecker (2), pileated woodpecker (2), eastern wood-pewee (1), great crested flycatcher (2), red-eyed vireo (3), American crow (3), tree swallow (3), northern rough-winged swallow (3), barn swallow (6), black-capped chickadee (5), tufted titmouse (1), white-breasted nuthatch (3), Carolina wren (2), blue-gray gnatcatcher (1), eastern bluebird (1), chipping sparrow (3), Baltimore oriole (2), American goldfinch (5).

- Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club

8/17 - Hyde Park, HRM 82 - The tide was in but the seal was out. As time goes on, what we have come to view as his "predictable" behavior now has us seriously rethinking, and finding it comforting. It keeps the "wild" in the animal.

- Tom Lake

[We have had a month to compare the behavior of the gray seal with the harbor seal which is much more common in the Hudson. Both seals frequently "haul out" (if you have ever watched a seal struggle to inch its way up onto shoreline rocks you would appreciate the phrase) to rest when not hunting or traveling. However, the gray seal so far has hauled out only on rocky shoreline rip-rap and not on any of the readily available wooden docks. While harbor seals can be found lounging on rocks and jetties, they are equally fond of docks. We have watched them get a good running start and then "launch" themselves out of the water and come skidding to a halt on a boat dock. Tom Lake.]

8/17 - Holmes, HRM 65: In the early evening while out walking his dog, John Pereira noted that there was a lot of noise in his neighbor's yard and his dog was quite agitated, but he wasn't able to see anything. Hours later, when both he and the dog were home, John was alerted by his dog's continual barking. It was then that he saw the black bear wandering in his yard outside his window.

- Ed Spaeth

8/17 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I finally saw a bat this year as I paddled up the tidal reach of the Wappinger Creek at dusk. In this stretch of the creek, I've been used to seeing dozens of bats flying overhead early in the evening in years past. I have never been so happy and relieved to see a bat - relieved that at least this one bat has not succumbed to white-nose syndrome.

- Wilfredo Chaluisant

8/18 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: About 5:30 this morning I looked up at the moon and saw six bats flying overhead. Earlier in the summer there might have been swifts instead of bats, but it's nice to see that at least some of the bats have managed to avoid white-nose syndrome.

- Phyllis Marsteller

8/19 - Rhinecliff, HRM 88: As I returned home this evening, my car lights caught a feral kitty curled up with Mr. Skunk. Startled by my headlights, the cat sprang up while the skunk proceeded to calmly follow to the field at the side of the road. I turned my car around and aimed the lights to find them snuggling once again shoulder to shoulder with tails entwined like a scene out of a Warner Brothers cartoon.

- Erin Millus

8/19 - Norrie Point RM 85: It was a beautiful day for a "Day in the Life" workshop with a wonderful group of Student Conservation Association members. The wild celery beds were pumping oxygen into the water, keeping it fully saturated and supporting a healthy catch of fish including 16 species ranging from banded killifish, carp, pumpkinseed, tessellated darters and young-of-the-year [YOY] herring to American eel.

- Margie Turrin, Steve Stanne, Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

["Day in the Life of the Hudson River" is a single date each fall - October 18 this year - on which school classes investigate the Hudson in their own communities and then share their data with thousands of other participants, putting their local results in the context of the entire estuary. Steve Stanne.]

8/19 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Shortly after high tide and just before first light, the stars were twinkling off and a faint glow was growing in the east. For the sixth straight day the gray seal appeared to be absent. As I walked the docks searching I inadvertently rousted an immature bald eagle that had been fishing just offshore as well as a green heron that had been perched on the stern of a vessel. A half-acre of dimples gave away the presence of a school of YOY herring, and the occasional loud smack in their midst signaled a predator, likely a striped bass.

- Tom Lake

8/19 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A maintenance employee at Sharpe Reservation took a somewhat blurry, end-on, digital image photo of what appeared to be a "mountain lion."

- Tom Smith

[After carefully viewing the digital image, John Stowell, a naturalist with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, concluded that it was bobcat, and a healthy one at that. Tom Lake.]

8/19 - Town of Warwick, HRM 41: While at the overlook on Oil City Road that traverses the Liberty Marsh area of the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted a stately great egret standing in the shallow waters, as well as an indigo bunting singing from his perch on the overhead wires. Later, a previously unseen great blue heron flew gracefully across the scene to land in another water channel and stand of reeds.

- Ed Spaeth

8/19 - Sussex County, NJ: I walked part of the Pochuck Valley Trail that crosses a large marsh and the Pochuck Creek, a tributary of the Wallkill River. It is a special place as it is also part of the Appalachian Trail. On my brief trek on the boardwalk across this extensive marsh of mostly cattails, I also enjoyed the bright colorful wildflowers: purple loosestrife, yellow goldenrod, white Queen Anne's lace, orange jewelweed and red cardinal flowers. A ruby-throated hummingbird was feeding at the jewelweed and several butterflies - monarchs, viceroys, black swallowtails and tiger swallowtails - were also visiting the various flowers. There were many unidentified dragonflies, some very large ones at that. One dragonfly that landed on a handrail was identified as a ruby meadowlark.

- Ed Spaeth

8/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: All three common loon chicks on the local lakes were healthy and getting large. Two are at least half the size of the adults. Staff from the Biodiversity Research Institute captured two of the chicks and put PIT tags in them (similar to what they do with cats and dogs); the chicks were too small for leg bands. Their parents were too clever and evaded capture although each chick has one parent that was previously captured and has unique colored leg bands. At this point, the chicks can find food for themselves. Data from Huntington Wildlife Forest in Newcomb indicates an 80 percent fledging success for loon chicks in the central Adirondacks.

- Charlotte Demers

[Loons authenticate the wilderness, at least what is left. The day we stop hearing loons it will mean we have lost the battle with ourselves. Tom Lake.]

8/20 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: After not seeing the gray seal for six days, I was surprised when he popped up right next me on the boat docks this morning. His eyes were filled with curiosity even though he had seen me pretty regularly for the last month.

- Robert Sage

8/20 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Our neighbor, Richard Birney, told us that when he went to check on his honeybee hives in a distant part of his heavily wooded property he noted that some animal, likely a bear, had destroyed one of his beehives. We'll now be more cautious when out walking in the neighborhood.

- Ed Spaeth

8/21 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: I got a good enough look to confirm that it has been a giant swallowtail butterfly that has been feeding on my butterfly bush for the last couple of days. There was even a tiger swallowtail nearby that offered a nice contrast and comparison. The tiger swallowtail is more yellow with a smaller amount of black. The giant swallowtail is blacker with distinctive yellow striping. This is the first giant swallowtail that I have seen in New York.

- Reba Wynn Laks

8/21 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: On the trip from the Norrie Point State Park marina two miles upriver to the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse we saw a large flock of swallows, 40-50 of them, flying south over the Hudson. Unfortunately, we didn't have binoculars. One of them definitely was a barn swallow, but most of the rest had white breasts, possibly rough-winged, bank, tree, or cliff swallows. As we approached an adult bald eagle took off from the roof of the lighthouse. That was the first time that we've seen an eagle at the lighthouse.

- Phyllis Marsteller, Ed Weber

8/21- Hyde Park, HRM 82: After searching the river for nearly an hour I was close to giving up when I saw what looked like a basketball with whiskers bobbing just offshore. Seals can give you comical as well as cuddly looks, belying their behavior as a truly wild animal. I met Skip Kilmer who was eager to show me his latest seal photos.

- Tom Lake

[Like a few others, Skip Kilmer has created a photo album of the gray seal, quite likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Several of the photos show the seal alternately playing with and then chomping on a foot-long white catfish. Tom Lake.]

8/21 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: A funnel cloud was reported in early afternoon only minutes after the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for parts of that area [a funnel cloud is a tornado aloft that doesn't reach the ground].

- National Weather Service

8/22 - Manitou, HRM 47.5: We turned on the outside lights by the vegetable garden in late evening and, to our surprise, a 14" snake was warming itself on the slate. We went to investigate and captured the snake in a small bucket. It was a milk snake, identified by the markings and the "y" on its head and neck area. Research on milk snakes reveals that they are rarely seen, are nocturnal in the summer, can live up to 20 years, and feed mostly on rodents. Milk snakes do not get milk from cows (as the common name suggests) but are so named from living in or near barns where rodents are plentiful and therefore are very good snakes to have around. We let it go in hopes that it grows and eats some of the chipmunks that are feasting on the garden tomatoes.

- Owen Sullivan, Zshawn Sullivan

8/23 - Ulster County, HRM 102: While walking around the village of Woodstock, my mom and I spotted a giant swallowtail. It was flying around and sometimes landing on the leaves of a peony. This was rather strange as the peony was long past the time of blooming. I watched closely, but did not see any evidence of egg-laying or any other specific activity. Is it just me or are giant swallowtails suddenly appearing and becoming more common? After many years of butterfly watching, this is the first year I have seen them in New York. I am wondering if this is a result of climate change.

- Reba Laks

8/23 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: There was a touch of autumn in the air at dawn with temperatures in the high 40s. The first indication that the gray seal was out foraging was the four hen mallards quietly dabbling in the wild celery along the slough between the shoreline rip-rap and the boat docks. Ordinarily, when the seal was present, the ducks would be scarce.

- Tom Lake

8/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: The midday ebbing tide was drawing the wading birds back into the marsh - two great blue herons and one green heron - as the river slipped away from the shore. From deep in the forest at Bowdoin Park we heard the unmistakable sound of crows mobbing something - almost always a raptor. An immature bald eagle cruised out of the canopy followed by a half-dozen squawking crows. This common scene can invoke a feeling of pity for the poor eagle except that their relationship - crows agitating eagles - dates to a time before our species was around to see it. To the eagle, it is nothing new or terribly upsetting.

- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

8/23 - Yonkers, HRM 18: During today's "Day in the Life" workshop we measured salinities in the range of 5.0 parts-per-thousand, a result of one of the wettest Augusts on record. The water measured a warm 78 degrees Fahrenheit, matching the temperature of the air. Our seine caught several small blue crabs (one no larger than a thumbnail), white perch, juvenile striped bass, Atlantic silverside, American eel and a small naked goby.

- Margie Turrin, Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

[Ocean salinity, at this latitude in the Western Atlantic, ranges from 32 to 35 parts-per-thousand (ppt). Throughout the year, the salinity at any point along the Hudson estuary depends upon the volume of freshwater flow from the watershed as well as the vagaries of wind, tide and current. In the aftermath of a prolonged storm or Adirondack snowmelt, salinity may be very low all the way south to New York Harbor's Upper Bay. However, at times of drought you can find dilute seawater seventy-five miles upriver. Salt water is denser than freshwater, so river water is generally saltier at the bottom than at the surface. Tom Lake.]

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