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Hudson River Almanac September 24 - September 30, 2011

OVERVIEW

It rained nearly every day this week - on most days dropping enough for two. The river continued to slowly recover from the tropical storms' assault, more than eighteen inches of rain having fallen in the Mid-Hudson Valley over the last four weeks. Despite wildly fluctuating salinities and passing storm fronts, fall migration in the air and in the water continued.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/26 - Brooklyn, New York City: Jamaica Bay still surprises. I'd had my eye on a particularly wet, particularly abandoned meadow not far from my office in Brooklyn - my interest in orchids attracting me to the field like a bee. Again and again, brief visits revealed nothing but goldenrods, plantain, and ragweed. But today my faith and instincts were rewarded: I found nodding ladies tresses (Spiranthes cernua) that may be the first native orchid recorded for Brooklyn in many, many years. A fitting Brooklyn native, its name belies the fact that it is anything but fragile. It is not uncommon, not particular about soils or other plant company; it is a simple beauty with its flowers held in a neatly arranged, icy white spiral.
- Dave Taft

[The scientific name Spiranthes cernua comes from Latin, and translates as "nodding whorl," which describes the nature of their gorgeous white flowers. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/24 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: We keep waiting for the last hummingbird to migrate through. Today there was a lone female dodging what seems to be the daily downpour (0.85" of rain).
- Tom Lake

9/24 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: On our way to a teacher training workshop in Manhattan, we stopped at the Alpine Boat Basin for one quick seine to collect fish for the program. Given the massive freshwater flows into the estuary in recent weeks, we were not expecting anything in the way of marine species. As the seine came up onto the sand we at first saw just bay anchovies (8), young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass (4), and one YOY bluefish ("snapper"). Then a six-inch-long silvery fish that at first we thought was another bluefish turned out to be a sleek Spanish mackerel; flipping about nearby in the net's meshes was a lovely little crevalle jack (35 mm). You can count on the Hudson for surprises.
- Steve Stanne, Margie Turrin, Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount

9/25 - Saugerties, HRM 102: We had a booth at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival for the last two days. It was cloudy on 9/24 and we casually counted more than 60 monarch butterflies heading south; it was sunny on 9/25 and we noted only six. Had the clouds the day before kept them low and more easily visible to earthbound eyes?
- Harriet Zbikowski

[9/24 was a "flight day" for birds and butterflies. While flight days occur during both spring and fall migration, they are most often recognized in autumn following the passage of a cold front. Brisk winds shift to northwest, providing a tailwind boost to migrating birds and butterflies. With conservation of energy a foremost priority, they are able to cover long distances with a minimum expenditure of calories. Tom Lake.]

9/25 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 68: After not seeing one for nearly ten years I came across a four-inch-long praying mantis in my garden right after a rainstorm today. The little critter put up its "fists" to fight me but I moved along, knowing not to disturb this graceful insect.
- Jen Kovach

9/25 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I stopped filling the hanging bird feeder this summer because a clever but pesky squirrel figured out how to get to it. He would leap from the back door to the feeder and either hang there, upside down, or just knock cups full of seeds to the ground. All summer long the occasional songbird would investigate the feeder, peck hopefully and give up. The other morning, several chickadees scolded from the nearby lilac bush so I decided to fill the feeder again. By afternoon the crowds had returned; there were titmice, nuthatches, fading yellow goldfinches, a pair of cardinals who sat and fed each other, a tiny wren, one blue jay, a red-bellied woodpecker, several mourning doves, and a host of chickadees. No squirrel - yet.
- Robin Fox

9/25 - Brooklyn, New York City: A group of fifty adults and children gathered to participate in a seining program in Brooklyn Bridge Park, under the Manhattan Bridge. The bulk of our catch consisted of Atlantic silversides, bay anchovies, striped bass, comb jellies and assorted jellyfish, along with one white fingered mud crab and two blue crabs. We were thrilled to find an oyster toadfish and a skilletfish as well.
- Kathy Gurland, T.J. Ryan, Cynthia Fowx

9/26 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: At first light I noticed an odd bump on one of my hummingbird feeders. It was a tiny gray tree frog. How it got to the feeder, 15 feet off the ground, 25 feet away from the nearest tree, was a mystery. The hummingbirds were hanging on; an immature and a female dueled for the best perches today.
- Tom Lake

9/26 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: The egret exodus continued. We counted four great egrets and one green heron in flight across the quiet bay on the east side of the Point this morning. There was not a ripple on the water; the fish were not advertising their whereabouts. An osprey sat perched in the crown of a cottonwood at the base of the bay. Monarchs fluttered south in single file.
- Tom Lake, TRJackson

9/26 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I counted four hummingbirds this morning so I filled their feeders once again. How much longer?
- Robin Fox

9/26 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Two weeks ago I found no discernable salt in the river here, which was a first for me. And the fish I caught could have come from Albany harbor - ocean and brackish water dwellers were nowhere to be seen. Today, however, I noted that the salt front had begun to move up the river and the salinity was 6.0 parts per thousand [ppt], very low for this site in autumn. The fish were still candidates for upriver: bay anchovies, white perch, silversides and YOY river herring. Only the killifish traps hung off the end of the dock showed any suggestion of normalcy with several dozen shore shrimp - some of them large and bearing eggs - as well as a dozen naked gobies and a handful of comb jellies. There was a huge increase in flotsam and jetsam, many tons of it blocking access to the beach and scattered across the fields.
- Christopher Letts

9/27 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: I spotted my first flock of brant today, flying not more than a few hundred feet off the water, heading right down the river. Dery Bennett used to (unofficially) welcome them to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, by the thousands by Columbus Day. They will likely spend the winter there.
- Tom Lake

[The brant is a smaller relative of the Canada goose. Like Canadas, they can fly at night and migrate to and from the Arctic Circle where they breed. Haverstraw Bay riverman Cal Greenberg recalls that in autumns past, he would see almost unbroken lines of brant flocks passing over for hours at a time. Tom Lake.]

9/28 - Croton River, HRM 34: Two loons improved the scene this morning. One of them, a common loon, had been a fixture in the Croton River in the quarter mile between the Route 9 bridge and the railroad bridge for more than a week. Today he was on his customary station, vigorously preening. Outside the railroad bridge on the flats a red-throated loon was diving. Several terns were foraging at the extreme end of the Inbuckie, too far for certain identification but about the size of a common tern.
- Christopher Letts

[Riverman Gino Garner shared with me that for the past two weeks up to three dozen terns have been working the shallows on the south shore of Croton Point. Terns, never common this far up the estuary, have been markedly prevalent since the twin storms of Irene and Lee shuffled the deck. Christopher Letts.]

9/29 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: There had been continuous strong thunderstorms from dusk to dawn and by first light we had 6.4" of rain. Local flooding was extensive; the streams were well up and out of their banks; flood plains were drowned. During the day we had more monsoon rains adding 0.55" inches for a total of 6.95" in 24 hours. Added to Irene's (8.03) and Lee's (3.5) totals, we have had more than 18" of rain in less than a month.
- Tom Lake

9/29 - Beacon, HRM 61.5: A small, intermittent stream that falls down from Mount Beacon toward Fishkill Creek is called Dry Brook by the natives, Hidden Brook by others. Following the monsoon deluge of the last twelve hours both names were ironically inappropriate as it was neither dry nor hidden. The stream was now a torrent redefining its flood plain.
- Tom Lake

9/29 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I'm no fan of hot and muggy. Somehow this morning brought a hint of pending change. The temperature was above 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a light drizzle, but there was also a "liveliness" in the air. For the second morning I saw more than a dozen migrating monarchs, active even during the drizzly dawn hour. Warblers and flycatchers and blue jays were all on the move. Kestrels were up to their tricks on the landfill. A merlin passed close overhead and then plummeted straight into the crown of a tall mulberry on the margin of the landfill. It did not reappear, and after five minutes I concluded that it had probably secured a morning meal. Merlins remind me of pirate vessels: they come with a bad attitude and are fast, dark, and dangerous. I have seen them drive a raven, squawking and croaking, right into the ground. A day with a merlin at Croton Point is a special day.
- Christopher Letts

9/30 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: We had set two eel pots overnight to secure some live fish for a public Hudson River program. The identical pots were both baited with river herring and rudd, a tried and true recipe, and set 25 feet apart. When they were pulled today, the first on was empty but the second one had 20 eels, from foot-long juveniles to 20-inch-plus "silver" eels heading to the sea. The fickle vagaries of the river are one of those mysteries that keep us honest.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

9/30 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Three days ago, there were no kestrels. Two days ago there were a half-dozen. Today there were twenty at the least as well as a merlin, three harriers, sharp-shinned hawks, and Cooper's hawks. It has been a middling year here for monarchs with the high count yesterday at 15 butterflies.
- Christopher Letts

9/30 - Croton Point, HRM 35: This was our thirteenth annual Night Seining program at Croton Point. After sundown we line the beach with lanterns and haul our 250' net, built by Henry Gourdine, out into the dark of the Hudson River. This was a cloudy, sultry, wind-free night, perfect for seining, although we run this event rain or shine. One year we hauled during the pitch blackness of a tropical storm when the waves were breaking over the heads of the seine haulers and yet we ended up with one of our best catches. Night fishing with long nets is a tradition that probably originated thousands of years ago, far back in the deep past of the Hudson Valley. More recently, commercial haul seiners fished Haverstraw Bay using similar techniques in the early to mid-20th century.

The river was 70 degrees F and the salinity was barely measurable at less than 2.0 ppt. So it was not surprising that our catch was modest and consisted almost entirely of freshwater species (9): blue crab, channel catfish, white catfish, gizzard shad, white perch, striped bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, American eels, spottail shiner, and the most interesting, a YOY (56 millimeters long) goldfish.
- Violet Kravitz; Sean Bugara, Hugh McLean, Christopher Letts, Tom Lake

["Henry's net" was built to exacting specifications: his own. Henry Gourdine of Ossining once built a 2600-foot commercial haul seine that used a quarter-mile of head rope. One day, more than fifty years ago at Crawbuckie Beach, Henry and his crew caught 14,000 pounds of American shad and striped bass. He was not altogether happy about the haul; it took the crew so long to weigh, box, and ice the fish that they missed the opportunity to set on the next tide. Christopher Letts]

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