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Hudson River Almanac September 1 - September 7, 2011

OVERVIEW

This week's issue describes a watershed and its wildlife still coping with the aftermath of tropical storms Irene and Lee. There were several more avian "accidentals," sightings that could be attributable to the cyclonic winds of these storm events, drawing birds from far away places.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/6 - Croton River, HRM 34: As I drove into the parking lot at the mouth of the Croton River early this rainy morning a small bird with a white rump flushed in front of me. It foraged along the tide line and I watched it find and eat a worm. I had the place to myself, and for about 15 minutes I enjoyed watching my first northern wheatear. I returned with Charlie Roberto a couple of hours later, and we again found the bird, poking along the beach and flitting over to perches across the railroad tracks.

- Christopher Letts

[The northern wheatear is a rare vagrant here. The species breeds across northern Eurasia south to the Middle East and North Africa, and in North America at the continent's northeastern and northwestern corners. The population from northern Quebec and Labrador does not migrate south along the US coast; instead, these birds fly east past Greenland and Iceland, on through Europe and over the Sahara to winter in western and northern Africa. Birds that breed in Alaska and the Yukon head west to the same wintering grounds, across the Bering Strait, Asia, and the Middle East. Steve Stanne.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/1 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: A walk along the tidal Wappinger today suggested that there was plenty of competition for the fish in the creek. I counted four great blue herons, belted kingfishers, double-crested cormorants, and a lone great egret, all within a short distance of each other. Watching over the avian anglers was a vocal immature red-tailed hawk.

- Jamie Collins

9/1 - Peekskill, HRM 43: This evening just after dark, sitting in what is my "bird observation room," a place to watch the birds in our yard, we heard calling from the woods in nearby DePew Park a barred owl: "Who cooks for you?"

- Carol Capobianco

9/2 - Ulster County, HRM 106: I was traveling Route 28 near Pine Hill to deliver some donations to the storm shelter set up at Belleayre. With roads partially washed away and devastation visible I knew life had changed greatly for many in the area and that the digging out, rebuilding and cleanup would take a long time. As I thought about the loss and flood waters, I wondered if any monarch butterflies or caterpillars had survived Irene. I am happy to report that within minutes I found an egg and three caterpillars. Even though they were on milkweed in a ditch that obviously had been flooded they all must have weathered the storm. Monarch eggs hatch in three days which meant the egg I found had been laid after Irene. Thank heaven for small wonders.

- Betty Boomer

9/2 - Saugerties, HRM 102: We were kayaking on the river in a bay just south of Saugerties lighthouse watching "peeps" on the water chestnut when we noticed a larger bird. We were amazed to find a whimbrel working the water chestnut. The bird moved around a bit, but stayed in the area. It was still there as it was getting dark.
- Peter Schoenberger, Susan Rogers

[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 are so similar in appearance that they often defy casual identification. The whimbrel (formerly named the Hudsonian curlew) is a large wading bird that is much more common along the coast; this individual was possibly another stray pushed here by tropical storm Irene's cyclonic winds. Tom Lake]

9/2 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: In the wake of so much tropical storm flooding, I had no expectation of finding the gray seal. He was not there. Predictable tides when he would haul out and rest had become irrelevant. The inshore shallows were so sediment-laden that they had a "syrupy" consistency and the Hudson, running fast seaward, was the color of tomato soup. While the mallards, dabbling among the duckweed were coping well, I wondered about the survival of the multitudes of tiny, young-of-the-year river herring, such as bluebacks, being flushed out of the Mohawk.

- Tom Lake

[My guess would be that the high water and seaward movement of young fish will be detrimental to year class production. Even if the young survive the trip, they will probably face diminished food. All of that said, fish are amazingly resilient to natural environmental extremes and often prove my predictions wrong. Andy Kahnle, Hudson River Fisheries Unit, NYSDEC.]

9/2 - Piermont, HRM 25: The water level remained high to flooding. The storm had brought large rafts of water chestnut downriver; they had caught on the north side of the pier and given a resting place to groups of ducks who floated on them as they drifted up against the rocks. The small shorebirds, including least sandpipers and juvenile sanderlings, were looking for places to scavenge for food with the water level so high. They had taken over the large rafts of water chestnut at the end of the pier, using their beaks to scavenge among the plant material. One juvenile sanderling was running up and down along the end of the pier, crossing practically over our toes in an effort to look for food. Off on the pilings a Caspian tern had taken up surveillance.

- Margie Turin, Linda Pistolesi

[While the Caspian tern is found throughout the Great Lakes and south along the Atlantic Coast into the Southeast, it is uncommon to rare in the Hudson Valley. Its presence at Piermont may have been the result of tropical storm Irene. Tom Lake.]

9/3 - Catskill, HRM 113: With my house located on lower Catskill Creek, I rescued two pumpkinseed sunfish, a white perch and a spottail shiner from the pit of my cellar's sump pump during my recovery mission from Irene. The basement water was eighteen inches higher than ever before in 35 years. Catskill Creek's water color was improving and I would expect it to be just about "fishable" in another three to four days.

- Tom Gentalen

9/3 - Kingston, HRM 92: We went to the lighthouse on the lower Rondout today and there were pumpkins in the water everywhere. I think these are Irene "wash aways" from a pumpkin farm upstream. There was a bald eagle in the trees along the lower Rondout and measureless "junk" (flotsam) in the slack water by the jetties.

- Bill Drakert

9/3 - Kowawese, HRM 59: From the tide line out through the littoral zone to waist-deep water, the beach was thickly strewn with uprooted vegetation and driftwood that had been lifted off shorelines and flood plains. We were resigned to the fact that each haul of our 85-foot-long net would collect several hundred pounds of floating debris. With much deliberation and effort we dragged the seine ashore and worked our way through branches, limbs, water lily roots, and wild celery to the bottom of the net where more than 100 fish squirmed in the wet mesh. In the belly of the net we found many young-of-the-year fish, including blueback herring (all about 50 millimeters [mm] long), alewives (65 mm), American shad (70 mm), and striped bass (70-85 mm). Many small dime and penny-sized blue crab scurried over the greenery. The river was 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

9/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: I crossed the Walkway Over the Hudson for the first time today and was amazed to see how reddish-brown the river was still. The first thing that occurred to me was: how do fish survive in water that turbid?

- Tom Andersen

[In terms of color, the river was reddish-brown owing to the red sediments of runoff from the Mohawk and Schoharie systems and other tributaries with sources in the Catskills. In historic times, the Hudson watershed has been vulnerable to such flooding and the resident fish have either developed a resiliency or moved elsewhere. Fish that feed by sight would have difficulties, but many river fish use other methods to find food - the barbels (whiskers) of catfish and sturgeon, for example. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

9/4 - Yorktown Heights, HRM 43: As I headed out to raise the flag at the FDR Park office, I came across my first wooly bear caterpillar this season. It was about 2 inches long, little less than an inch wide from bristle tip to bristle tip, and completely black, including spiracles and inter-segmental rings. If folklore is correct, we're in for a really harsh winter.

- Susan Butterfass

9/5 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: In midday, the gray seal was bobbing about in the river just offshore of our Labor Day party at the Rogers Point Boat Club.

- Skip Kilmer

9/5 - Fishkill, HRM 61: As the sky darkened with storm clouds moving in from the west, a flock of 20 nighthawks were actively pursuing the unseen insects swept before them by the winds. Their movements, high aloft above my yard, seem so erratic, yet in reality they are amazingly adept and agile in their maneuverability in catching their insect prey.

- Ed Spaeth

9/5 - Moodna Creek, HRM 58: The lower, tidal reach of the Moodna was running hard to the Hudson. "Low tide" was a relative condition when the inundation of the floodplain receded ever so slightly. The low-lying areas along the creek had become a collection point for trees, blow-downs, and snags. In the last mile of the creek leading to the river there was not a single quiet pool or backwater where a duck or goose could rest.

- Tom Lake

9/6 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I've been keeping an eye on the gray seal, making certain that no one behaves inappropriately toward him. Post-Irene, he no longer hauls out to sleep on the north end of the boat club but tends to favor the south end. I see him almost daily, very briefly, but often with a fish in his mouth despite the color of the water.

- Jim Broderick

9/6 - Spuyten Duyvil, HRM 12.5: According to the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] Hudson River salt front website, the salt front had been pushed downriver to a point [HRM 12.7] just north of the mouth of the Harlem River. Given that the model used to predict the front's location was not calibrated with actual river data south of Hastings on Hudson at HRM 22, USGS won't vouch for the accuracy of model results south of that point. However, it wasn't far off - the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System [HRECOS] sensors at the nearby George Washington Bridge reported salinity levels close to zero during the ebb portion of the tidal cycle.

- Steve Stanne

[The websites of the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System (www.hrecos.org) and U.S. Geological Survey (http://ny.water.usgs.gov/projects/dialer_plots/saltfront.html) post near-real-time data from instruments placed in the river. Check out historical data and current conditions on these sites. Steve Stanne]

9/6 - Manhattan, HRM 1: The effects of hurricane-turned-tropical storm Irene have finally reached the lower Hudson and are floating in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. The river is brown, brown, and brown with sediment.

- Helena Andreyko

9/7 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The already incredible seaward flow on the ebb tide was augmented with two days of relentless rain (3.5 inches), remnants of tropical storm Lee. While the gray seal seems to be coping, it is a mystery how he is able to successfully fish and forage with zero visibility.

- Tom Lake

[Pinnipeds or "fin-footed mammals" such as seals and sea lions have been documented as being quite adept in utilizing secondary senses to acquire food. Kim Durham, Riverhead Foundation.]

9/7 - Highland, HRM 76: For the second night this week we had at least four bats (probably more) feeding on the insects attracted by our house lights. It was nice to see them back.

- Vivian Yess Wadlin

9/7 - Croton River, HRM 34: Yet another rainy morning and the northern wheatear was still present. However, I assuredly did not have the place to myself. Lavishly equipped birders were there, with an array of binoculars, cameras, and spotting scopes. All of them were tweeting out messages to other birders, some of whom were on their way. It was a nice bird to watch, cleanly outlined, pleasingly marked, very active with lots of short flights and much tail bobbing. It is a long way from home and I hoped things would end well for it.

- Christopher Letts

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