Hudson River Almanac September 16 - September 23, 2011
After two months of residence along the Hudson in Hyde Park, an amazing and unpredictable event, the gray seal has apparently moved on, hopefully seaward. Odd bird occurrences continued with a second sighting of a great kiskadee in the Bronx. The autumn migration in the air and in the river began in earnest.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
9/17 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: In mid-afternoon the gray seal was "playing with his food" again, just offshore, tossing a fairly large fish in the air like a sea lion at the circus. Several hours later boat club members came upon a dead sturgeon on the dock adjacent to where the seal had been performing. The dead fish turned out to be a shortnose sturgeon (length 76.5 centimeters [cm], 30 inches).We wondered if the seal had come too close to the dock, tossed the fish in the air, and then watched it land out of reach.
- Tom Lake
[The shortnose sturgeon had no talon marks that I could see, so we can somewhat safely assume that it was not an "eagle drop." There were some anterior abrasions, however, that may have been teeth marks. Tom Lake.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
9/16 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The Sandy Hook "Bio Blitz" was well attended. I led a plant walk to a back trail I'd always wanted to explore. Among the better sightings that day were several nice specimens of blue curls, a mint with the most extravagant of flowers: bright cobalt blue, with the most outrageous curled stamens emerging from the base of the flowers and bending gracefully back to the base. It was hard to imagine how many evolutionary mistakes it would take to make a blue curls curl properly.
- Dave Taft
9/16 - Moodna Creek, HRM 58: In the post-Irene world of the Hudson River watershed, it seemed that evidence of flood damage would be long-lasting. The lower Moodna, not more than a mile from the Hudson, looked like a fallen-tree forest, with scores of trees on their sides, deadfalls having been washed downstream. As Christopher Letts once remarked in a similar setting, it appeared that "Giants were playing at jack straws."
- Tom Lake
9/16 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: This was my first visit to the Boat Basin since the twin tropical storms, with plenty of evidence that they had been there. Storm surge and runoff had floated picnic tables and anything buoyant as much as fifty yards west right up against the base of the Palisades. There was still no visibility in the water: at hardly more than ankle depth I could not see the toes of my waders. This early beach seining program was one I had looked forward to annually for more than two decades. In mid-September, the water here is usually as salty and warm as it ever gets and we often reap a bonus harvest of animals that are more marine than river dwellers. Flounders, kingfish, sea robins, tautog, weakfish, crevalle jack, silver perch, and many others have graced our nets at this time of year. Not this year. Salinity, usually between 10-20 parts per thousand (ppt), was not apparent; my taste threshold is 4.0 ppt, making it less than that. The seine came up with dozens of small bay anchovies, and three blue crabs, all in the realm of normal. We also caught a gizzard shad and a tiny channel catfish along with a brown bullhead, all new from this beach. Moon jellies and comb jellies can clog the net here, but we found just one moon jelly, the size of a pinky fingernail. The iron guard rail around the fishing pier was completely gone, and the center concrete slab was broken and caved in. Irene was no lady.
- Christopher Letts
9/16 - Staten Island, New York City: Late this afternoon Ranger Graham and I were standing at the end of Mont Sec Avenue at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. Mon Sec Avenue is bordered by a row of nineteenth century officer's houses left from the days when the Army protected the Lower Bay. We were looking out over the Narrows down below us when we heard a sharp "cheep cheep" call, and there it was, an osprey soaring over the trees. Against a clear blue sky, the osprey swooped out over the Narrows carrying a decent-sized fish head first in its talons. What a perfect place for an osprey to appear, above a New York City Park and a National Park.
- Dan Meharg, Park Ranger, Fort Wadsworth Gateway National Recreation Area
9/17 - Albany County, HRM 153: Three weeks ago today we were in the teeth of Hurricane Irene; on this day, we have frost on the ground and a faint tinge of smoke in the air from a nearby wood stove.
- David H. Nelson
9/17 - Kingston, HRM 92: As visits to the Rondout Lighthouse near their end for the season we had a good birding trip today. Besides the many cormorants and gulls, we saw two immature bald eagles, a belted kingfisher, great blue herons, and great egrets. Rondout Creek was still high and running to the river even though the tide was coming in, making for tricky docking at the lighthouse.
- Bill Drakert
9/17 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: We hadn't had a hummingbird since just after Hurricane Irene. But just when we thought they were gone, we had a solo female visitor this morning!
- Bill Drakert
9/17 - Manhattan, HRM 0: I had always hoped that an eagle would someday fly over one of my downtown Manhattan bird walks. It did not seem like an extraordinary wish - after all, the enormous birds are becoming common in the Hudson watershed from points north and west, to Manhattan Island, to Jamaica Bay. Why not downtown? Still, I was unprepared for what unfolded on our Battery Park City Parks Conservancy bird walk today. Steve Kugel pointed to a large bird over the river. Changing the focal point of our "how to focus binoculars" exercise, we were treated to a view of an osprey that was soon joined by another. They dove amid the ships and harbor buildings and we were even more excited when one came up with a fish. The osprey, still struggling to control his catch, was joined by a much larger, darker bird, an immature bald eagle! The two flew off into the distance, the eagle in hot pursuit over one of the world's busiest ports. We turned inland to the nearby conservancy foliage and saw several ruby-throated hummingbirds buzzing in and out of the dappled light and gaudy flowers, as if swimming through a painting. Not to be outshone by mere eagles, one sat patiently on the end of a dogwood bough just four feet away, flying up every two or three moments to forage, only to return for a gentle landing, never disturbing a leaf. If there was a bird in the world in greater contrast to the massive, dark beauty of an eagle, here it was - not pirating fish from osprey, but sipping nectar from rose mallows. I've never walked out on a hummingbird before, let alone several this cooperative, but on a day like this, where anything seemed possible in lower Manhattan, there were other treasures to find in other fields between the high rises.
- Dave Taft
9/18 - Kowawese, HRM 59: This was our twelfth annual Hudson River Ramble program at Kowawese. Our attendees helped us put a net in the water to see "who" was home. Our catch was impressive, 300 fish of a dozen species, but it was the types of fish that made it very unusual: Many of them seemed to be fish that had been flushed out of Moodna Creek, a half-mile south, by the floods of tropical storm Irene. Included were a school of golden shiners (75-95 millimeters [mm]), black crappie (7"), 18 young-of-the-year (YOY) brown bullheads (55 mm), and a dozen YOY white catfish (50 mm). All were rare catches on this beach. Among the expected fish were YOY blueback herring (43-59 mm), alewives (80-90 mm), and a few striped bass (70 mm). The river temperature had dropped to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, Dick Manley
[Young-of-the-year aptly describes the multitude of recently hatched fauna found in the Hudson River each spring, summer and fall. The progeny of shad, river herring, striped bass, white perch, blue crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, and many others, are present by the tens of millions. So many references are made of their presence that scientists and educators have taken to abbreviating the phrase to YOY. Tom Lake.]
9/19 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A flurry of butterflies, mostly monarchs, drifted down the beach toward Storm King Mountain the Hudson Highlands. It was a "flight day" for birds and butterflies making progress south, channeling the breeze in the lee of the uplands.
- Tom Lake
9/19 - State Line Lookout, NJ, HRM 18: Our lunchtime visit to Palisades Interstate Park's Lookout Point yielded a small parade of monarch butterflies rising up the face of the Palisades and lifting over the top, headed off in their migration. We also spotted a immature bald eagle soaring over the cliffs.
- Margie Turrin, Linda Pistolesi
9/19 - Staten Island, New York City: It was a good year for an orchid, nodding ladies' tresses (Spiranthes cernua), in the south of the island. No doubt its success was one of the benefits of a wet season.
- Dave Taft
[Note: In the interest of orchid preservation, we do not give exact locations where they are found. Tom Lake.]
9/20 - Haverstraw, HRM 37: Despite the wet weather, an intrepid group from Nanuet High School's AP Environmental Science Class visited Bowline Park to train for participation in Day in the Life of the Hudson River (October 18). The river remained a chocolate brown from Irene ("Willy Wonka-ish"). The turbidity tube settled out to a staggeringly low 8.2 cm of visibility! The seine yielded one young menhaden, five other small herring, and a young striped bass. The salinity was an incredibly low 1.16 ppt, and we were sampling at the salt front!
- Margie Turrin, Chuck Barone
9/20 - Yonkers, HRM 18: Mary Smeltzer and her third grade students from Dalton School in Manhattan helped us sample the river today at the Beczak Center with our thirty-foot-long seine. Among the usually-caught species - Atlantic silverside, striped bass, menhaden, white perch, and blue crabs - we caught a 30-inch-long carp!
- Vicky Garufi
9/20 - Palisades, Rockland County, HRM 23: A colleague, Ted Koczynski, reported that at as he arrived at work this morning - the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory - he saw a "baby eagle" harassing a wild turkey. According to Ted, "He [the eagle] was tormenting the turkey just in front of the Geoscience Building. He would dive in and the turkey whopped him with his wings. I was 30 feet away and watched three swooping attempts at which point the eagle flew away toward the Seismology Building." Ted's description loosely fit an adult red-tailed hawk rather than an immature eagle, though he insisted that if it was a red-tail, it was the biggest one he's ever seen!
- Linda Pistolesi
9/20 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 14: Philip and Alice Brickner photographed a great kiskadee from their apartment window at Spuyten Duyvil on the Hudson River just north of Manhattan in the West Bronx. This is the second occurrence of this large tropical flycatcher (8.5") along the Hudson. The previous sighting was 8/31 at 46th Street near the Intrepid Museum on Manhattan's west side, about nine miles south.
- Angus Wilson
[The great kiskadee is most commonly found in tropical and semi-tropical forest settings from Central America into South America. They are occasionally found along the Gulf States of the U.S. with very rare strays into the Mid-Atlantic. For some context on their preferred habitat, the only great kiskadees I have ever seen were in the Amazon rainforest of eastern Ecuador. Tom Lake.]
9/21 - Kingston, HRM 92: The current in the Rondout had just recently slowed down considerably, but there was still quite a bit of flotsam making its way to the river. The tropical storms brought a variety of items downstream that included two unmanned sailboats, many pumpkins and a small car. Trees had to be extracted from underneath boats - logs, lumber, and debris have been commonplace. But the flow is nearly normal and the other day I spotted great egrets all roosting together in a single tree - four large white shapes bouncing peacefully in the wind - a terrific sight.
- William Murray
9/21 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Six great egrets, gorgeous white waders, were spread out along less than a mile of the tidal Wappinger. As the turbidity lessens from the floods, their prospects improve. The migration of great egrets seems busier than usual this fall and I wonder if there was migration "bottleneck" caused by Irene's turbidity? Monarchs fluttered bank-to-bank in ones and twos.
- Tom Lake
9/21 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Just before sunrise I walked the beach in a pea-soup fog in almost total silence. I estimated visibility along the western shore to be about 100 yards. On the swimming beach, I followed a straight line of fresh coyote prints in the wet sand. A coyote chorus would have been splendid and timely, but it did not happen. When the coyotes took up residence here about 15 years ago, sirens would regularly set them to howling even in the middle of the day, but since then they have gone silent - at least I have not heard even a yip from them for a dozen years minimum.
- Christopher Letts
9/21 - Westchester County: A wet season seemed to be just what the fringed gentian wanted. Plants were scattered through the meadow, opening their eye-lashed, blue-satin flowers to reflect the clear fall sky. Mixed with goldenrods of every type, and the white spires of nodding ladies' tresses, the show almost hurt the eyes.
- Dave Taft
9/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: For our ruby-throated hummingbirds, each day threatens to be their last here. Today, one female (the males, migrating first, left a couple of weeks ago) was dodging the yellow jackets trying to get her fill.
- Tom Lake
9/23 - Port Ewen, HRM 91: I spotted a trio of black bears on Kline Lane this morning - one large one and two smaller ones. I gave them plenty of room to get off the road and snapped a quick photo of them climbing into the woods. I zoomed around the corner for more bear tracking, but lost them.
- Patti Ellis
9/23 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: It has been a week now with no gray seal sighting. Over the last two months, daylight has shortened, river visibility has lessened, and river temperature has dropped significantly, although for a boreal marine mammal, cold water held no difficulties. But it may be that the message to move on was finally heard.
- Tom Lake, Skip Kilmer, Jim Broderick
9/23 - Gardiner, HRM 73: We all know that the chicken crossed the road, but with all the rain, frogs were becoming road-crossers as well. Unfortunately, their small size makes them easy to overlook. I accidently hit one despite taking great care.
- Hal Chorny
9/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: For each solstice and equinox I try to sense a change at the precise moment it occurs, but I never have. This autumn equinox required an early morning step-outside at 5:05 AM. The sky was clouded over, the air was sultry and still, and a skunk was fifteen feet away in my yard. These were messages of the changing season, I suppose, but as the skunk's fragrant contribution reached me, I figured that I needed more obvious indicators to make the connections.
- Tom Lake