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Hudson River Almanac September 8 - September 15, 2011

OVERVIEW

On the tenth anniversary of 9-11, we look back at a few of the more poignant moments we endured.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/9 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: It had been a few days with no gray seal sighting so I spent some time at the boat club this morning, searching. The river was still extremely high, even at low tide. The turbidity has not lessened but has changed from reddish-brown to coffee-double cream. After more than an hour of looking and listening, with no success, I was about to leave until once again I heard heavy breathing below me from the south boat dock. I looked down and there he was less than five feet away looking up at me. Over the next ten minutes I watched him gracefully cruise, dive, surface, breach out of the water, and generally behave in a very healthy manner. It is amazing how he is coping with visibility that is measured in millimeters.
- Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/8 - Cheviot, HRM 106: This morning three sodden bald eagles sat in the tree at the end of the earthen jetty that juts halfway out into the river, barely visible through the fog and rain - two adults and one immature hunkered down, vocalizing to each other. This is the first I've seen them since Irene blew through. The boat launch was congested with huge piles of washed-up water chestnut along with assorted debris, making kayak launching almost impossible.
- Jude Holdsworth

9/8 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: Another two or three inches of heavy rain fell last night. As I took our dogs out for an early morning walk I noticed that another "lake" had formed in our back yard, in a repeat of the day Irene struck, flooding the barn once more. Water in the well has been turbid due to sediment and it seems like it has rained for weeks on end, producing a bumper mosquito crop. I cannot go outside for five minutes without a mass of mosquitoes descending on me. They have been the worst in my memory.
- Kathy Kraft

9/8 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The flood waters came over our Rabbit Island seawall for the first time in 32 years and our gravel path was 20" underwater. Despite the flood waters, it has been a banner week for birds who fish for a living: Three snowy egrets, a great blue heron, several black-crowned night herons and my personal favorite, a belted kingfisher, visited this week. With last night's pounding rain, and with portions of our land completely submerged for two tide changes, our thin layer of soil is as saturated as it will ever be.
- David Cullen

9/8 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After four days of relentless downpours from tropical storms Irene and Lee, we had accumulated six more inches of rain. Yet, as midnight neared, even with heavy rain, two barred owls were serenading in a Norway maple. The storm intensified as thunder and lightning swept across the area and the owls immediately went silent, like turning off a switch.
- Tom Lake

9/8 - Croton River, HRM 34: Nearly five inches of rain had fallen since yesterday. The northern wheatear was still here and birders from Cape May, to Long Island, to Connecticut were showing up. There have also been many terns about but most have been too far out in the river to identify.
- Christopher Letts

9/8 - Manhattan, HRM 12: The salt front, which had started to push back north as Irene's runoff slackened, was driven downriver again by Lee's contributions. By the end of the day the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System [HRECOS] sensors at the George Washington Bridge were not detecting salt.
- Steve Stanne

[While the peak discharges for Irene were generally greater (in the Hudson and its tributaries) than for Lee, Lee pounded the Hudson Valley for a longer period of time and may have contributed greater quantities of water to the Hudson because of the saturated soil conditions that enhanced runoff in most parts of the watershed. This can be seen as a wider (longer-lasting) peak associated with Lee's discharge at the USGS gauging station at Green Island, just north of the Troy Dam. Visit the HRECOS website www.hrecos.org for fuller descriptions of the impacts of the two storms. Dennis Suszkowski.]

9/9 - Minerva, HRM 284: After several days of near steady rain, we finally got an excellent weather day so the dogs and I took a hike along the road in the back forty. The first thing we saw was a great blue heron standing in shallow water forty feet away. After a few seconds, the large bird lifted off, leisurely flying another fifty feet, where it lit and watched us warily. Further along, we flushed a pair of wood ducks along with a pair of mallards. The peeping sound of a feeding spotted sandpiper caught my ear as we moved along the road. White water lilies were still blooming out in the swamp; it was altogether a quiet and pleasant visit. On the way back, the diversity of mushroom species was spectacular, especially in terms of color. Days of rainy weather had resulted in a veritable festival of fungi: coral fungus, destroying angels, assorted brown ground mushrooms, and a species of mushroom that only seemed to grow from beneath the scales of partially buried old white pine cones.
- Mike Corey

9/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: More than a dozen common nighthawks crisscrossed the sky a hundred feet overhead, feasting on "popper-bugs" (a colloquialism). I was reminded of Ed Spaeth's entry from 9/5 regarding their erratic yet seemingly purposeful flight.
- Tom Lake

9/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: A week and a half after Irene the spillway at the Croton Dam was still a mighty Niagara. Every stone was wet and all but the few at the edge of the spillway were part of the massive, white billow of roaring water. The air was filled with mist, flashing with rainbows. The river was tearing through the Croton Gorge at a gallop. It had over-run its banks, and swamped the nearby houses. Perhaps, before the dam and reservoir was built, the Croton River was a real river, a wide, swift sweep of water rushing to the Hudson.
- Robin Fox

9/10 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: Before the drastic reduction in bat populations due to white-nose syndrome, I would see four or five of them setting out at dusk and flying back and forth above the small field outside our house. Then I saw none at all for several years. This summer I've seen one, occasionally two, but tonight was a three-bat night. It's a good thing too, with all these mosquitoes.
- Edwina Williams

9/10 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I saw the gray seal briefly raise his head near my boat last evening. Then, at 1:00 AM this morning I stepped off my swim platform on my way to the car and he startled me because he was right there! And, I was barefoot!
- Jim Broderick

9/10 - Mohonk, HRM 78: Hoping to catch the peak of the broad-winged hawk migration, we hiked up Millbrook Mountain and then we waited. It didn't take long for the winds to pick up, bringing the migrants with it. After a few hours we tallied more than 60 migrating turkey vultures, 20 black vultures, 24 broad-winged hawks, two sharp-shinned hawks, ten chimney swifts, one ruby-throated hummingbird and four monarch butterflies. In addition to the migrants, we were visited by a beautiful pileated woodpecker, an immature red-tailed hawk with lunch, chickadees, blue jays, goldfinches, and a "confusing fall warbler" that I suspect was a pine warbler. Two ravens also passed by. We were thrilled, having been up there the previous weekend in dense fog that never burned off, sighting only three migrating hummingbirds.
- Jess Andersen, James Prockup

9/10 - Manhattan, HRM 2: We caught a skilletfish in one of our traps today. This is the River Project's second skilletfish in less than five months. The first, caught on April 11, 2011, was 52 mm long and taken in an oyster cage over an oyster reef.
- Nina Zain

9/11 - Cheviot, HRM 106: There were eight great egrets today at Cheviot Landing. I've had the occasional egret on the river, but this, to me, was very unusual.
- Mimi Brauch

9/11 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A lively morning hour saw sharp-shinned, Cooper's, red-tailed and broad-winged hawks moving through. A half a dozen osprey were visible at a time, and blue jays and cedar waxwings were accompanied by monarch butterflies, all working their way south along the railroad tracks.
- Christopher Letts

9/11 - Croton River, HRM 34: We found what we thought was a baby eagle grounded below our cedar tree. We called the Nature's Kingdom Emergency Help Line and were referred to a local Yorktown raptor rescuer. Nancy Goldmark and her son, Brian, promptly responded to our call. They calmly approached the bird that had defiantly spread its wings. Nancy distracted the wounded bird and with lightning speed deftly grabbed both its legs. She quickly turned the bird upside down and gently placed it in a large cardboard box. The bird was not a baby eagle, but an adult red-tailed hawk. Nancy would assess its condition and provide for its care.
- Sandy Plotkin

A look back at 9-11-2001 from Hudson River Almanac VIII


9/11 - Croton Point, HRM 35: We were on the beach at Croton Point and had left our truck radios on as we prepared for our morning school program [American Airlines flight 11 hit the North Tower at 08:46.26]. The school bus arrived with second graders from Coman Hills Elementary in Armonk. They disembarked and were led across a wide grassy field to where we waited on the beach [United Airlines flight 175 hit the South Tower at 09:02.54]. After introductions, we began to haul our seine through the grassy shallows. We positioned the children facing us, away from downriver. A rising trace of smoke, just a smudge on an otherwise brilliant blue sky, was on the horizon from thirty miles away. Young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass dominated our catch along with a dozen yearling tautog. Each of the tautog, or blackfish, told a story of its habitat: those caught in the beds of wild celery were a perfect match of lima bean-green; those from the beds of water milfoil were a darker green; and those from the fringes of the light-and-dark sandy bottom flecked with white oyster shell were mottled brown with white specks [the South Tower collapsed at 09:59.04]. From the open water adjacent to the grass beds we caught a half-dozen YOY bluefish with their snapping, toothy jaws. The water temperature was 77 degrees Fahrenheit; the salinity was 7.8 ppt. By the time the children left us for their ride back to school, their innocence was still intact. They were not aware of anything other than the adults were in a tizzy [the North Tower collapsed at 10:28.31].
- Christopher Letts, Elise Feder, Amy Sher, Tom Lake

9/11 - New York Harbor, Upper Bay: What to say and what to do when the unspeakable happens? On a boat heading back from Ellis Island, jet black plumes of smoke issued up from hell itself where the World Trade Center once stood. It was still smoking after ten hours. The triage center I'd help staff at Ellis Island went completely unused. There was no need for one - the saddest truth of all.
- Dave Taft, National Park Service

9/11 - New York Harbor, Upper Bay: Meanwhile, watching from the boat, dozens of tree swallows careened through the hideous smoke. I felt physically ill wondering how the birds maneuvered through the burning papers that still fell through this mess. My mind wandered almost drunkenly, somehow coming to rest upon the subject of places I'd fished all through this besieged harbor. In my mind, stripers took flies, sand worms, and eels off this wall or that abutment, this rip or that hole. Back in reality, thick smoke billowed over one particular "hot spot" where bass hit bait presented "just so" against a seawall last November. It was all oddly engrossing, but there was still no comfort in any of it.
- Dave Taft

9/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The quarter moon and Venus were sharply etched overhead when we arrived. We climbed to the highest point on the landfill to offer our prayers at sunrise: peace for those who were lost, succor for those still trapped, solace for all of us in this hard, hard time. The sun rose, a flock of bobolinks called from overhead, a monarch butterfly flexed its wings on a clump of goldenrod. We turned toward home. The commuter parking lot at the Croton-on-Hudson railroad station was half-filled with vehicles at a time when it should have been almost empty. Parked there less than twenty-four hours before, their owners had not been able to return to them at the end of the workday. We said another prayer.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

It was 392 years ago on September 11, 2001, in a relatively idyllic time, that the residents of Manhattan, indigenous Algonquian people, marveled as Henry Hudson and his crew sailed the Half Moon to the edge of their island. On that day, the native people suffered a loss of innocence and, eventually, a grievous change to their lifeways. Today, on that anniversary, the island's residents suffered yet another profound loss of innocence amidst the smoke and destruction in lower Manhattan. September 11, 2001, will continue to remind us of how fragile we are within the realm of our community of life: We can perish while eagles soar; we can crash and burn while shad and herring swim past on their way to the sea. We survive. Nature endures.

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9/12 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 153: My early morning swims are becoming a bit more challenging as the water temperature in our 15-acre mountaintop beaver pond drops with each passing day (now at 65 degrees F). The air was 58 degrees F this morning when I stepped into the pond. I listened to the calls of a pileated woodpecker and a phoebe, and watched as a catbird flew across the narrow stretch of the pond by our house. Looking east into the pre-sunrise fog, I was surprised to see not the usual head of a beaver swimming toward me, but that of an otter. Apparently he was just as mystified by my presence as I was by his. He circled back a number of times, alternately diving and resurfacing, occasionally craning his head higher in an attempt to figure out what I was. With only my head above the surface, I remained motionless; he eventually came within thirty yards, and then disappeared into the rushes along the pond's shoreline. As I stepped out of the pond and climbed the stairs into the yard, a brilliant orange orb peeked over the trees in the wood lot to the east, just beginning to burn off the fog.
- Dave Nelson

9/12 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The three of us sat and watched the show, no movement, no sound, just theatrics as the gray seal cruised along the slough between the docks and rip-rap, doing roll-overs, dives, snorts, and stares, locking eyes with us framed by his outrageous whiskers and round, brown head. He looked healthy and contented.
- Lou Wood, Walter Betz, Tom Lake

9/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The last time I saw kestrels and harriers at Croton Point was May. Now here they were again, in migration, hunting the landfill. Several monarchs were flitting and feeding, a reminder that their migration is on as well, but probably not a very strong one. A good indicator was that the butterfly bushes on the Point were devoid of monarchs.
- Christopher Letts

9/13 - Rondout Creek, Ulster County, HRM 92: While driving near the Rondout, a "gull" flew over, followed shortly after by a larger bird. Upon a closer look, the first bird was not a gull but an osprey, and the larger was an immature bald eagle. The eagle chased the osprey as the smaller bird went through its evasive maneuver repertoire, but eventually must have dropped its fish as the eagle swooped down to retrieve it and then flew off.
- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

[Autumn "pirates" on the river! One of the best shows each fall is watching eagles watch osprey. While eagles are among the best hunters of fish, they often allow the migrating osprey to do the heavy work, then swoop down and steal their catch. Tom Lake.]

9/13 - Town of Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County, HRM 84: Here in Salt Point, at the confluence of the Wappinger and Little Wappinger Creeks, there are more mosquitoes than I've experienced in 32 years. Yet traveling to the Catskills (Woodstock and Boiceville) last week, there were few if any. I'm wondering what was different. Is it that the steeper land sheds water more quickly, so there is less standing water in which mosquitoes can breed? Is it a few degrees cooler there? Is it that the coniferous forests and acid soils there create a less hospitable environment? Whatever the reason, it was a pleasure to sit outdoors in the evening without being eaten alive.
- Santha Cooke

9/13 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Late this evening I walked the north docks with a flashlight looking for the gray seal. I saw nothing along the rocks but something next to the docks on the riverside splashed my leg. Twenty minutes later, in the nearly full moonlight, something floated south against the gentle north tide. When I tried to get the flashlight on it, I heard a snort. I'll take a wild guess that it wasn't another piece of driftwood.
- Jim Broderick

9/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: Our front row seats, on the shores of the Croton River, continue to reveal an ongoing drama of mystery, majesty and surprise. The effects of Hurricane Irene left us with us with a graphic reminder. The Croton shoreline has been scoured white of soil, limbs, and debris. Stone walls were toppled, trees uprooted, boulders relocated and all that was not secure, washed away .Our neighborhood has been swept clean by a fastidious housekeeper. The river's white froth polished ancient stones of moss, weeds and small trees. Somehow, despite the devastation, a young red maple that had sprouted from the crevices of the huge Black Rock survived. Though underwater during the height of the flood that had washed away many larger winter berries, magnolias, maples, sycamores, and hemlocks, the scrawny maple, with her bright red leaves intact, survived.
- Sandy Plotkin

9/15 - Ulster County, HRM 92: My daily commute south was typical, but beautiful, with the near full moon setting into pink clouds to the west and the bright red sun rising over the Hudson to the east. Crossing over Rondout Creek, I looked up to see a magnificent great egret heading east to the river. Just when I figured that my commute couldn't possibly have gotten any better, five more great egrets flew past toward the river. When I looked back for one more fleeting glance, three more were in the group that I hadn't initially seen, making it a nine great egret morning!
- Jess Andersen

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