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Hudson River Almanac October 7 - October 15, 2011

OVERVIEW

In the same week that record high air temperatures made the lower estuary feel like summer, winter was coming to the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. In a watershed that stretches well over 300 miles from north to south, with an elevation change of more than one mile, different seasons coexist in spring and in fall.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/11 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: A group of us went out for our full moon kayak, our fourth one this year. The moon was on the horizon when we started at 6:30, got lost in the clouds, and then reemerged above us so we had a nice moon glow to paddle by and comfortable air temperatures in the mid 60s. Several fish (carp?) were jumping - that can be a real surprise in the dark. We finished up with a bonfire by the river. The water was still very brown with a lot of debris on the shoreline and in the water, especially at high tide.
- Peg Duke

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/7 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The first hard frost of the season came yesterday morning with temperatures dipping down to 31 degrees Fahrenheit. There were two light scattered frost events in September but this was the first large scale damaging frost. The foliage is beyond peak at this elevation (1500 feet) although there are still spots of beautiful, glorious color. I think every fall is fantastic and lovely in its own way 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 lovely fall, vibrant colors or not.
- Charlotte Demers

10/7 - Croton on Hudson, HRM 35-34: Hiking on the new shoreline trail at Croton Point, monarchs were passing me at the rate of two dozen per hour.
- Christopher Letts

10/7 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: Northerlies had produced a blow-out tide that made it impossible to put a seine into the water. Between storm surge, barometric pressure, and wind, it makes the tide table a suggestion, rather than a sure thing. If any salinity was present, it was below 4.0 parts per thousand [ppt], my taste threshold for salt.
- Christopher Letts

10/8 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: I counted three separate mourning cloak butterflies during a three-hour period. Hopefully either the population is recovering or once again some are setting up home here locally. Aside from daily sightings of monarchs - more than I've seen in some years - other typical fall species of sulfurs and alfalfas are brightening the place with their fall colors.
- Don Pizzuto

10/8 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: There was a trickle of blue jays, robins, flickers, warblers passing the Point this morning. The raptors followed, including six kestrels and three marsh hawks (harriers), all immature.
- Christopher Letts

10/9 - Rhinecliff, HRM 88: The day was perfect, sunny with a slight breeze, as we left the dock for a benefit jaunt on the Spirit of the Hudson, a large luxury yacht based in Manhattan. Huge logs and other flotsam dotted the heavily muddied river. As we traveled south toward Vandenburg Cove, I spotted an immature bald eagle winging alone. Several of the passengers noticed monarchs passing by as well. It turned unseasonably warm, plus the autumn colors had not yet peaked, but we were still happy with our short cruise.
- Joanne Engle

10/9 - Kowawese, HRM 59: In the lee of the hills that shield the beach to the west, monarchs fluttered past as we seined. There is always something magical about hauling a net, watching it come ashore, and then opening it to view the catch. It can be likened to opening a birthday present. River herring dominated our catch today, the most prominent being young-of-the-year [YOY] blueback herring 58-60 millimeters [mm] long. Many of these fish had traveled hundreds of miles over the last several months from areas in the Mohawk River far to the west of Albany. It was somewhat surprising to find YOY alewives (75-90 mm) as well - not nearly as many, but more than we ordinarily see in the fall. The final surprise was the total absence of young American shad. Seining with a small net (85'), however, is a chancy proposition and we may have simply missed them. The air was a warm-up 75 degrees F and the river was a cool 67.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

10/9 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Four falcons showed up this morning, two kestrels perched 20' apart in the crown of a black locust and two peregrines on the prowl. Perhaps because of this, blue jays and robins were not present.
- Christopher Letts

10/9 - Newark, NJ: The air temperature reached 88 degrees F today, a record high for the date. The old record had been 87.
- National Weather Service

10/9 - Staten Island, New York City: Standing in the cemetery during the burial of my great-aunt, I noticed an adult bald eagle flying high overhead. It was a fitting tribute for a woman who had rebounded back from many of life's challenges and who had lived a full life.
- Reba Wynn Laks

10/10 - Town of Esopus, HRM 83: We spotted a large black rat snake along the banks of the river just south of Pitch Pine Point in the Black Creek Preserve. It moved across the trail and onto the rocks as we approached. It appeared to be more than four feet long, one of the largest I had ever seen.
- Alan and Robert Thomas

10/10 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I watched a pair of rufous-sided towhees [now known as the eastern towhee] in a parking lot on the campus of Dutchess Community College. They were almost robin-size and were hopping about on and under a row of burning bush at the edge of the lot. I thought they might be feeding on the berries to get energy for their migration south.
- Alice McGovern

10/10 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: The organic gardens at Stony Kill Farm are a magnet for butterflies in autumn. They were present today in numbers too great to count and diverse enough to make note-taking necessary. Among them were monarchs, several species of swallowtail including tiger, black, and giant, mourning cloak, red admirals, cabbage whites, yellow, orange, and clouded sulphurs, coppers, and others we could not identify at a distance.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson, Phyllis Lake

10/10 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: During these last couple of Indian summer days, it has really become fall time. Driving through the golden curtains of turning leaves along the roadsides you can see the change coming. The landscape around the Croton Reservoir is changing almost by the hour, as green becomes gold becomes rosy - on the way to brilliant red.
- Robin Fox

10/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I saw two adult bald eagles sitting on a rock in Catlin Lake. The eagles took off after spotting my co-worker and I, but one circled back to the rock and picked up a very large, fully feathered solid dark wing with bone and meat still attached. The draft from the eagle's wings sent white downy feathers floating up into the air before they settled on the lake surface - feathers were everywhere. I was curious about what it could have been eating that looked so large, with a predominately dark wing but with light colored smaller feathers so I kayaked out to the rock. I'm almost certain it was a juvenile common loon. There was a chick on the lake in August and the feathers seem to match a late fall, pre-migrant juvenile loon's plumage. I couldn't get to see all the feathers from the kayak so I'll be going back with a rowboat this week to see if any other parts can be identified. It is possible they just scavenged the bird and it was dead already, but I find that unlikely.
- Charlotte Demers

10/11 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The tidewater delta of Wappinger Creek continued to be a convenient way-station for migrating great egrets. Today we counted four great egrets, two great blue herons, and one green heron. An eighth heron, either a black-crowned or a yellow-crowned night heron got away before we could get a good look.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

10/11 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was a lively dawn, presaging an end to a glorious stretch of warm autumn weather. I encountered lots of robins, blue jays, and warblers on my walk. There was a nice surprise on the Croton River, a female merganser, normally uncommon this early in the season. A black-crowned night heron flew overhead. Kestrels, Cooper's hawks and harriers were hunting on the landing. As I watched, a single monarch wafted past.
- Christopher Letts

10/12 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: The monarchs continue to go by but dwindling numbers now. A few stop at the butterfly bush and the few flowers that are still blooming. A steady migration of boats are heading south under the flocks of Canada geese going the same way. The squirrels and chipmunks are so abundant this year and are going crazy gathering nuts. Does this portend another winter like last year?
- Peg Duke

10/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The "call of the wild" began just after midnight. It sounded so real I thought at first I had left the radio on. These were not just yips, but full-throated calls. And while these were only "brush wolves," and not gray wolves, the authenticity was amazing. I could distinguish at least four different voices calling from three directions, some very close. The calls continued under the near-full moon for fifteen minutes and then started up again an hour later at a bit more distance.
- Tom Lake

[Coyotes were often called brush wolves by the first Europeans in the Northeast. Never having encountered them before, the cries of the eastern coyote, a larger version of the species Canis latrans, seemed quite wolf-like. Tom Lake.]

[Genetic studies in 2010 by Roland W. Kays, curator of mammals at the New York State Museum, and Jonathan Way, wildlife biologist with Eastern Coyote Research, indicated that our "wild dogs" are actually coyote-wolf hybrids, carrying both wolf and coyote DNA. So I like to think of them as "Woyotes." Tom Lake.]

10/12 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The misty, drizzly morning came with a paucity of bird life. Everything in singles today: one phoebe, one harrier, one robin, one kestrel, one blue jay. Down at the Croton River railroad bridge, anglers were enjoying a fall run of hickory shad, renowned for the tendency to take the lure and then take to the air. Not as large as American shad, these flashy fighters are fun to catch. Several years ago I made a batch of pickled hickory shad, following the same recipe I have always used for American shad and river herring. They were delicious.
- Christopher Letts

[Hickory shad, a large herring, 12-16 inches long, are seasonally common in the New York Bight but their presence in the river is more sporadic. In the southern part of their range, Delaware Bay to North Carolina, they are anadromous, ascending tidal rivers to spawn in freshwater. Their life history in the estuary is largely unknown but may be connected to population abundance in the Atlantic and subsequent overflow. While a few adult hickory shad will be found in spring mixed with migrating American shad, more typically they appear in late summer and fall along with schools of YOY bluefish (snapper blues). In dry autumns, they have been caught by anglers as far upriver as Diamond Reef at New Hamburg (river mile 68). Tom Lake.]

10/13 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: An old, gnarly tree sits alone atop on a small hill at Stony Kill Farm. It is a perfect roost for turkey vultures. It was so perfect today that nineteen birds were clumsily vying for a dozen spots, stepping on each other's feet, flapping their wings, and exchanging dirty looks.
- Tom Lake

10/13 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: It was a lovely warm day, but I had a front porch full of brown marmorated stink bugs. I have found these pests in too many wrong places this year: eating dahlia flowers, red raspberries, and green beans. I suspect them of being the culprits taking big chunks out of the few prime tomatoes we raised during the monsoon season. The little dust-buster vacuum handled them nicely, but somehow several found their way into a fairly tight house. I could hear them from the next room; they almost sounded like hummingbirds.
- Christopher Letts

[See Mid-Hudson Valley, October 10/7, for details on this invasive insect. I have watched them queue up around doors leading inside and then make a dash as the opportunity arises. Most recent odd locations: floating in my coffee cup, in the refrigerator crisper alongside the celery, inside a half-empty quart of ice cream in the freezer. Tom Lake.]

10/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: I can readily remember witnessing three encounters between eagles and wild turkeys. One was a golden eagle and two were bald eagles, including today's. Six wild turkeys were foraging in a small field when an immature bald eagle stooped on them. It was a silent dive, wind in his face, sun at his back, perfect tactics except that the target knew, without looking, that he was coming. They easily side-stepped and dodged the eagle, making him miss and climb away empty-taloned. Wild turkeys are quick and very tough. When you watch them, you could believe that they are also clairvoyant. In a match of wits between a wild turkey and an eagle, the raptor almost always comes in a poor second.
- Tom Lake

10/14 - Buchanan, HRM 39.5: An adult bald eagle flew over our house and perched on top of a tall pine across the road. Our neighbor's grandchildren got a good look. This was a first for them as well as us.
- Viki Goldberg

10/14 - Bronx/Manhattan, New York City: I counted six great egrets foraging the shallows at low tide along the Harlem River. There was a seventh "white" heron that may have been a snowy egret, but it never lifted off to show its "golden slippers" and I could not get a positive read on the color of its legs. Birding has its frustrating moments when the birds do not cooperate.
- Tom Lake

10/15 - Milton, HRM 72: Strong northwest winds made this a classic autumn flight day for migrating birds. Skeins of Canada geese could be heard before they were seen as their voices carried to us on the wind. It was also a great day to be a turkey vulture; we spotted a score or more teetering in the occasional gusts. Several streams of blue jays came screaming through the forest, migrating as well, with a wary eye out for Cooper's hawks.
- Tom Lake

10/15 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A lone monarch butterfly was winging its way over our white pine trees in a southwestward direction. It had made no stops to replenish in our yard that I could see. This was a latecomer for our latitude. As noted on Monarchwatch.com, the peak time for 41 degrees North latitude is September 8-20. Hope you make it to Mexico.
- Ed Spaeth

10/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was a lovely dawn and it is always a pleasure to walk here on autumn mornings. Shortly after dawn, monarchs began to fly. Not many, about four an hour, but a joy to see. The count was slack until I stopped to have a chat with a gray squirrel on the corner of the landfill. I have seen this squirrel (or another, who can tell) more than once in the past two weeks. I stop and chide them - arboreal creatures - about the dangers of wandering strawberry fields. After I passed by, wondering what delicacy or necessity drew them out into unprotected fields, a harrier [marsh hawk] screamed past, scant feet above my head, headed for the squirrel. The squirrel rolled, the harrier moved on, and all of the sudden we had birds. At least six "sparrow hawks" [kestrels] appeared in a cluster just off the ground. They dove and feinted and moved on into the trees. I began counting kestrels and ended with fifteen of them on the remainder of my walk. These birds were all newly arriving at daybreak, and were hungry.
- Christopher Letts

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