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Hudson River Almanac October 1 - October 7, 2011

OVERVIEW

Autumn oddities in the air, in the water, and even in the forests, possibly attributable to the twin tropical storms of late August, continue to occur.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/4 - Beacon, HRM 61: Taking photos by the Beacon Metro North train station, I captured a digital image of a leg-banded double-crested cormorant. On the right leg was a yellow tag that read Y80. On the left leg was a silver U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band.
- Terry Hardy

[This cormorant was banded by Dave Capen on Young Island in Lake Champlain as an adult in 2003. Susan Elbin, New York City Audubon.]

[Please keep an eye out for banded birds. In addition to the band information, please record the date, location, and number of (other) birds. These data will help us better document the dispersal pattern of banded birds in the Hudson River watershed. Please e-mail data to Susan Elbin, New York City Audubon: selbin@nycaudubon.org. Rich Guthrie.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/1 - Beacon, HRM 61: Twenty educators hailing from New York City to Albany gathered at Scenic Hudson's Long Dock Park for a river monitoring workshop to learn skills and field methods to pass on to their students for the Day in the Life of the Hudson River (10/18). We seined the beach and caught many young-of-the-year [YOY] river herring, bay anchovies, golden and spottail shiners, and a bluegill sunfish.
- Chris Bowser, Steve Stanne, Sarah Mount, Rebecca Houser, Susan Hereth

[Rebecca Houser and I took a group of teachers to the end of Long Dock where two anglers were having a productive day. A bucket contained half a dozen large eels, and a mesh trap hung in the river held two large channel catfish and a big carp. All three of these species have keen senses other than sight to help them forage in the turbid waters of the Hudson after so much rain. I wondered how many of the eels might be "silver," on their way back to the ocean to finally spawn after surviving a decade or more in the Hudson watershed - so close and yet so far away. I completely respect the angler's right to catch and eat the Hudson's fish, something I do myself. But with American eels I pause. This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service announced they're reviewing the specie's status, leaning toward listing it as endangered. I was also concerned that such a long-lived predator-scavenger in the Hudson might have high levels of PCBs in its tissues. Chris Bowser.]

10/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: In the wake of tropical storms Irene and Lee, terns have been a nearly constant presence here. In fact, I have seen far more in the past five weeks than in the last 25 years combined. The problem is, even with a spotting scope, they tend to be at extreme range, and identification is difficult. There has been much speculation about what they are diving on, especially inside the Metro North railroad bridge where the river meets Croton Bay. Atlantic silversides would be my guess, possibly bay anchovies. As many as a dozen terns or more can be seen feeding together. The common loon on the Croton River just a few hundred yards upstream was still on station today, doing much more preening than diving.
- Christopher Letts

10/2 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: We enjoyed the antics of a black bear as it ended my bird feeding activities until winter. After standing on its back legs and jamming its claws into the hardware cloth squirrel-guard, it licked out the seeds from the small bird holes. Finally the feeder came down and the bear spent another 45 minutes rolling it around the yard and licking up the trickle of seeds as they slowly fell out. We've been feeding birds here year round for over 40 and this is our first bear.
- Betsy Hawes, George Hawes

10/2 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 68: After not seeing one for nearly ten years I came across a four-inch-long praying mantis in my garden. The little critter put up his "fists" to fight me but I moved along, knowing not to disturb this graceful insect.
- Jen Kovach

10/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Another storm overnight left 1.05 inches of rain. This would be the last day we had hummingbirds - two females, one on each feeder - getting their fill for the long migratory flight to come.
- Tom Lake

10/2 - Fishkill, HRM 61: After the overnight rains we had a grand day of October's bright blue weather. Nature's palette of colors included bright reddish purple leaves displayed on the sassafras and the yellow leaves of the black walnut tree twirling and swirling to the green grass of the lawn. And there beneath our white pines was a colorful array of mushrooms: the blue of Lactarius indigo mushrooms, the brown of the Nidularia farcata mushrooms, the gray of the Amanita porphryia mushrooms, and the bright orange-red of the Amanita muscaria mushrooms with their many white warts. In a day's time the latter gradually changes shape and color to a yellow-orange cap.
- Ed Spaeth

[The Amanita porphyria and A. muscaria mushrooms can be poisonous. However, in some northern European cultures Amanita muscaria mushrooms are eaten in small doses for ceremonial purposes or to heighten one's mood. These cultures realized this could be so when they noticed their reindeer, after having eaten these fungi, had bursts of energy and took high bounding leaps. One wonders, if this is how western European culture incorporated the idea of "flying reindeer" to pull the sled of that benevolent red-suited fellow that comes around later in the year. Ed Spaeth.]

10/3 - Greenport, Columbia County, HRM 119: I wasn't expecting to come upon a barred owl in the middle of the afternoon, but there it was - taking flight as I startled it while walking with my dog. The getaway flight was short and it perched in a white pine tree no more than 30 yards away. My green eyes locked with its brown eyes for a long stare. I decided to try a conversation and vocalized a few "hoots." The owl immediately turned and flew away from me, high-tailing on silent wings through the woods. As I pondered my failed owl call, I realized I hadn't really failed at all. In my surprised encounter, I had vocalized a great horned owl call, rather than a barred owl. There was no wonder that it took off!
- Fran Martino

10/3 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: I saw an immature bald eagle perched at Esopus Meadows today, my first one ever.
- Jen Kovach

10/3 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I'm still having frequent sightings of great blue herons and great egrets fishing, as the visibility of the water ever so slowly improves. Today, two monarch butterflies busily worked over the flowers on a late-blooming buddleia bush as I worked nearby. I finally live-trapped the woodchuck, using slices of Granny Smith apples, that had been mowing down our garden. He was released into an area where he will have more room to roam, none the worse for wear. Now if I could only have some luck relocating the dozens of chipmunks who terrorize our small property on Rabbit Island.
- David Cullen

10/3 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was a show of short duration but sweet music nonetheless. We stood in rapt attention for fifteen minutes, enjoying the series of high-flyers passing over. Our best guess was that the Vs of migrating waterfowl were all Canada geese, although snow geese will also be in the clouds soon.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

[We call them "high-flyers" because that is, indeed, what they do. Skeins of migrating geese, Canada and snow, miles high, strung out in Vs and large check-marks, always in flux, birds constantly changing their position in the geometrics of the sky. It always reminds me of volleyball team members switching after every point. A strong north breeze was pushing these flocks south, allowing the geese to save on "fuel." Tom Lake.]

10/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The seine was nearing the beach when I glanced up to see a huge bird overhead, an immature bald eagle. The students waiting on the beach for the net to land were able to get a good view before it wheeled past Enoch's Neck and out of sight.
- Christopher Letts

10/3 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I spotted two kestrels this morning but only one monarch. The action was on the service road on the south side of the landfill where a steady stream of migrating songbirds kept the bushes rustling. Tanagers, warblers, vireos, wrens, finches, sparrows, kinglets, and catbirds, several dozen in not more than an hour - every thicket, every clump of conifers was like another birthday present.
- Christopher Letts

10/3 - Ossining, HRM 33: While driving in Ossining I spotted a white-and-black bird fly across the road, land, and start feeding on the side. I drove up next to it several feet away. It was a predominantly white parakeet with dark bands on the wings and dark eyes, and was not an albino.
- Scott Craven

[This may have been a budgerigar, also known as the common pet parakeet (Melopsittacus undulatus) a small, long-tailed, seed-eating parrot native to Australia. Budgerigars are popular pets because of their small size, low maintenance, mimicry, and playful personality. Our best guess is that this bird was a local escape from captivity. Tom Lake.]

10/4 - Croton Point, HRM 35: This autumn's seining programs with schoolchildren were markedly different than any I had experienced here in the past three decades. All the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), food and shelter for river animals, was scoured out when the twin tropical storms hit at the end of August. As a result we have had no sticklebacks, juvenile blue crabs, elvers, or pipefish, all to be expected here in this season, as well as no measurable salinity. Instead, we have been catching more YOY river herring than I have seen in years. YOY catfish, including channel catfish, white catfish, and brown bullheads, never found here before, have been in every seine haul, as well as sunfish of several species in unprecedented numbers. It is as if every population was moved several reaches away from home ground, down the river.
- Christopher Letts

10/5 - Highland, HRM 76: We started out on the Walkway Over The Hudson with Fran making it all the way across; I stopped at the first bench. We spotted two monarchs, one woolly bear caterpillar, one gull, and two trains. The payoff was a beautiful day and a wonderful view.
- Bill Drakert, Fran Drakert

10/5 - Beacon, HRM 61: This has been a autumn of unusual sightings both in the air and in the water, and the flock of high-flyer snow geese, stark white against the turquoise-blue sky, was yet another. They were about a month early in their migration by most estimates but they seemed to fit right in with the many oddities this late summer and early fall.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

10/5 - Croton Point, HRM 35: It was downright balmy with a sprightly breeze and low humidity, all of which made for a delightful autumn day. Monarchs were moving through and for the first time this season, I heard high-flying flocks of Canada geese overhead. The net gave us YOY river herring, bay anchovies, a gizzard shad, several bullheads, some tiny stripers and white perch, and more sunfish. No fish was more than four inches long - more booty from upriver. There were still no blue crabs, shore or sand shrimp, sticklebacks, or pipefish, all staples here in early October.
- Christopher Letts

10/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had our first hard frost of the season this morning with temperatures dipping to 31 degrees Fahrenheit. We had two light and scattered frost events in September but this was the first large scale damaging frost. The fall foliage was beyond peak at this elevation (1500 feet) although there are still spots of beautiful, glorious color. I think every fall is fantastic and lovely but I will concur with others that the reds and vibrant oranges just were not there this year. Many trees just seemed to turn a dull yellow or light brown and some trees did not even have a foliage color change but had leaf fall of green leaves. Even the red and sugar maples were not as eye-popping as I have seen in past autumns. I would estimate that close to 50% of the leaves are on the ground in the Newcomb area. It is still lovely and this Indian Summer is making for a beautiful fall, vibrant colors or not.
- Charlotte Demers

10/6 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was not easy trying to sleep through a symphony of night sounds: Just after dark last evening, two flocks of Canada geese came over. Then, just after midnight, several more flocks flew over for twenty minutes (geese can fly at night). Although they were high-flyers they were noisy enough to wake me up. At 3:00 AM, two barred owls began, one near, one a ways off, in relentless conversation questioned "who" would cook for "whom." Near dawn, two coyotes were on the prowl outside, being just loud enough to rouse me, once again, from sleep.
- Tom Lake

10/6 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: As we waited for our Metro North commuter train, an adult bald eagle silently drifted past us at tree-top level, sending a flock of mallards along the edge of the river into a noisy frenzy.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

10/6 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: At ten minutes to ten this morning, with much effort, a night roost of turkey vultures along the river emptied skyward. Thirty-one of them rose, gained some height, found a thermal, and then drifted west across the river towards Crow's Nest and beyond. For the first five minutes, all of them were teetering not much more than a hundred feet over our heads.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

10/6 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: In the course of my morning walk, four high-flying flocks of geese passed over, their calls thinned to a distant whisper by the distance between us. Several kestrels were perched on the landfill and small groups of blue jays and robins continued to pass overhead. The numbers of all the birds are diminishing as the days pass.
- Christopher Letts

10/6 - Upper Nyack, HRM 31: In seasons past at Nyack Beach State Park, dense stands of wild celery have made seining here very difficult. Not so today - not a strand of celery was to be found. Again the catch was atypical: gizzard shad, a few small striped bass and white perch, and a score of tiny river herring. There was no measurable salinity, no shrimp, nothing that I would expect to find at this season.
- Christopher Letts

10/6 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: For the last two days, we have seen a black squirrel scampering around between the science building and the auditorium of Dwight-Englewood school. Talk about diversity in schools!
- Diane Langmuir

[Black squirrels are a melanistic color phase or form of the gray squirrel. While uncommon, they are not rare and in some locations are fairly common. Tom Lake.]

10/7 - Mid-Hudson Valley: The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) has made quite an autumn impression in many areas of the Mid-Hudson Valley, invading homes, businesses, schools, garages, and automobiles in overwhelming numbers. Also called the shield bug, they are invasive insects native to Asia introduced in the Northeast in the 1990s. They are considered agricultural pests since in large numbers they can suck plant juices and damage crop production. So far this week I have had one land on an ice cream cone, another make its way into my mashed potatoes, and several were inadvertently cooked with eggplant in the oven.
- Tom Lake

10/7 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: Earlier this year, I noted that I had not seen a mourning cloak butterfly in many a year, hoping that some reader would notice and hopefully report a sighting. No one ever did, but now I can report they are indeed in the area. Although in the past I was more likely to see them in the very early spring, I have also seen them in the fall. A mourning cloak passed through the back yard mid-afternoon today. In fact, it "circled" the area several times, without alighting, before heading on its way.
- Don Pizzuto

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