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Hudson River Almanac November 1 - November 7, 2011

OVERVIEW

Birds are reliable indicators of impending winter. Our autumn warbler and songbird migrations lead to those of raptors, high-flyer geese, and the final piece, winter ducks. Birds that have an overwhelming dependence on ice-free open water, such as eagles and diving ducks, become more common on and along the river as November wears into December. Knowledge that lessening daylight leads to frigid nights and frozen dawns is genetically imprinted into these migratory birds. Our first winter ducks arrived this week.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/5 - Germantown, HRM 118: I looked out the window at midday to an incredible sight: a bobcat was in the driveway. It was larger than I had imagined, with its stub of a tail tipped in black. He stood for a minute or so looking around, before walking away into the brush. It was amazing and thrilling!
- Cynthia Reichman

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/1 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: It was a day for blackbirds. Several large flocks of mixed blackbirds, more than half of them red-wings, moved frenetically from field to field at Stony Kill Farm. They would touch down, linger for a second, and then off again. Each flock numbered a hundred birds, yet they flew as one. During the breeding season, these blackbirds are separate entities, but were now communicating communal behavioral cues unique to migration time.
- Tom Lake

11/1 - Kowawese, HRM 59: This is a sample of the poetry written by sixth graders at Vail's Gate Tech Magnet School based on a field trip in February 2011. It foreshadows the season soon to come.

At Kowawese Park, New Windsor, HRM 59:
All I see are squirrels running,
Tracks of bobcats, rabbits, and wild dogs.
Abandoned fox holes,
Trees with no leaves,
Birds with no homes,
River with no water, just ice.
I saw my breath brrr, it was cold.
All on my trip to Kowawese Park
- Alexis Thornton, Sixth Grade, Vail's Gate Tech Magnet School

11/1 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: The sky across the narrow east-west river crossing from Verplanck Point to Stony Point was filled with blackbirds. Flocks of red-wings and even some grackles were moving across this convenient portage.
- Christopher Letts

11/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35: We seined "Mother's Lap" at Croton Point with elementary school students from Ossining. We caught six species and twenty fish. This was far fewer than we caught a month ago, but the season was winding down, the river cooling off, and the fish moving elsewhere. Many of the fish were yearlings, second-year fish, such as gizzard shad, white perch, and various sunfish. The highlight was a nice little cluster of young-of-the-year American shad, the last of the migrating millions. It was so good to see them, and to hope for better days for this wonderful fish.
- Christopher Letts

[Mother's Lap is a colloquial name for a small, sheltered cove on the northwest end of Croton Point. When commercial fishing was in its heyday in the mid-twentieth century, fishermen knew they could find refuge from wind and tide in this little bay as their nets worked offshore. In that regard, it reminded them of the calm and solace of sitting in "mother's lap." Tom Lake.]

11/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Flocks of robins were everywhere, hundreds of them, and they seemed to move in a northerly direction. I spotted a warbler here and there, a Carolina wren, but little else. On the landfill, three harriers were hunting, one of them a splendid male. A flock of fifty pipits foraged at a walking pace up the service road across the landfill. A single brant landed on the brown hillside but then took off again when I approached. It seemed to be flying normally.
- Christopher Letts

11/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: An hour later, at the railroad bridge at the mouth of the Croton River, I spotted another brant. Or was it the same bird from a half-mile away on Croton Point?
- Christopher Letts

11/2 - Hyde Park, HRM 85: While cleaning up debris from our early snow storm, we were surprised to see a beautiful, chestnut brown, thick furred bat attached to the east-facing foundation of our house where siding meets cement.
- Barbara Wells

11/2 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Sunrise was just a rumor. Heavy fog blanked the river skyward to a point far beyond where I could see. The air was dead still; wood smoke was rising straight up from nearby chimneys. Well overhead, heading south, I could hear high-flyer geese, likely Canadas, flying above the fog or through it. Geese fly at night and in fog, using navigational cues that are poorly understood by ornithologists.
- Tom Lake

11/2 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5 When the wild goose flies, I get the ache, the need to hike and wander and explore. But domesticated as I seem to be these days, I opted to stay home and deal with chores. Not a bad choice, as it turned out. As I was unloading the truck from seining programs, a flock of two dozen bluebirds swept in and stopped me dead in my tracks. Taking in the paper recycling bins, a pileated woodpecker ranted at me for a good five minutes. On my way out to the compost pile with the compost bucket, I was stopped again, first by several black vultures spiraling overhead, and then by the prolonged harassment of a red-tailed hawk by a merlin [medium-sized falcon]. This went on for ten minutes and the red-tailed was out-flown at every turn. We rarely see merlin here, and rarely have I seen such a determined and prolonged attack.
- Christopher Letts

11/3 - Hyde Park, HRM 85: Our bat was still hanging there, very much alive, in its traditional sleep position. Is it possible that it will hibernate there? The bat is brown and measures four inches from his nose to his hind feet (hanging position). His snout appears normal (no obvious sign of white nose syndrome).
- Barbara Wells

[From the description, this sounds like a little brown myotis, or little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus). The space it occupied was probably a day roost. Little brown myotis are among the species of bats that have been adversely affected by white nose syndrome, a fungal growth that appears on their nose and snout. First noticed in 2006 in Schoharie County (Mohawk drainage), white nose syndrome has spread from Canada to North Carolina. While causes, cures and prevention are still unknown, it is suspected that this disease disrupts the bat's natural cycle of hibernation and it may be associated with climate change. Tom Lake.]

11/3 - Fishkill, HRM 61: With a few patches of the recent snowfall still remaining in our yard, I went about making a damage assessment of our trees and other plantings. In passing one snow patch, I noted a hand-sized paw print marking the snow. The print was larger than my hand with the first two finger joints curled under. It distinctly indicated that a bobcat had passed through our yard at some point in recent days. Identification points of the paw print indicated four fore cushion marks without claw marks and a larger hind cushion print with indented top. Last winter, my wife, Merrill, saw a bobcat bounding across the snow in our yard (see Almanac, January 25, 2011).
- Ed Spaeth

11/3 - Garrison, HRM 51: On an otherwise clear morning, a persistent fog bank hung over the river from Storm King Mountain south to West Point. Gulls and cormorants flew in and out - visible one moment, absorbed by the mist the next. A large flock of Canada geese drifted in the channel extending from the South Dock at West Point to Garrison Landing. The down tide carried less debris than it had two weeks ago and the color of the river had returned to a more usual color.
- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

11/4 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38: A raven flew over the house this morning calling loudly, and, although it doesn't happen often, it is always wonderful to see and hear. One "gronk," one glimpse of the wedge tail, and I'm hiking in the Adirondacks, canoeing a Michigan lake, transported from the suburbs to wilder lands.
- Christopher Letts

11/4 - Port Chester, Westchester County: While cleaning fish at my boat dock on September 22, I noticed one lone brown pelican taking advantage of the fish carcasses amid the gulls. But I was even more surprised when I saw him again today - assuming it was the same pelican - despite the snowy nor'easter of last weekend. In 35 years of fishing and boating on Long Island Sound, this was my first brown pelican sighting.
- Tony Usobiaga

[Port Chester is eleven miles northeast of where the East River meets western Long Island Sound and about the same distance due east of Hastings-on-Hudson. While brown pelicans are not common in the New York Bight, they are annual summer visitors in small numbers from Mid-Atlantic coastal areas of Delaware Bay and the Delmarva Peninsula. Tom Lake.]

11/4 - Sandy Hook, NJ: A strong north wind buffeting a flood tide current had the surf in shambles. The few striped bass anglers were casting into spray 15 feet offshore - more exercise than angling. There were many hundreds of brant in the salt ponds and sheltered backwaters and bays. This is their wintering locale. While it seemed too early for winter ducks, I did see a few ring-necks.
- Tom Lake

11/5 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: A group of volunteers took the work barge to Esopus Meadows Lighthouse to install a new flagpole and to take a photo for the holiday greeting card. The flagpole was made possible by gifts in memory of Carol Fletcher, who was the wife of the last Coast Guard keeper at the lighthouse. While we were there, we saw an adult bald eagle flying high above the tide flats to the west, and on our return to the marina at Norrie Point, where only a few docks remain, we saw an immature double-crested cormorant on the rocks at the north end of the harbor.
- John Ralston, Pat Ralston, Barbara Ralston, Ed Weber, Betty Tabor, Barbara Lewis, and Phyllis Marsteller

11/5 - Croton Point, HRM 34: There they were out in the bay, the first winter ducks of the season: buffleheads. As always I get a big grin on my face and spend minutes watching them. They seem to be the fun ducks with their enthusiastic splashing, diving, bathing, and later, courtship extravaganzas. Welcome back.
- Christopher Letts

11/5 - Sandy Hook, NJ: The sun rose inside a narrow cloud bank on the horizon. Where the clouds thinned, the first light shined through as a fluorescent orange. Sunrise over the sea never fails to please. The wind had not abated; the wind-chill brought tears to my eyes. The flood current ran along the beach heading toward New York Harbor into the teeth of a 25-30 mph cold north wind. Yesterday morning there were 200-250 scoters just outside the breakers, both white-winged and surf scoters. This morning their numbers had tripled; as many as a thousand birds were strewn along a quarter-mile of waterfront just offshore. With patience to watch them for a good half hour, I could tell, through field marks such as size, posture, color pattern, and behavior that all three local species were there: white-winged, surf, and black scoters.
- Tom Lake

[Scoters are marine ducks that breed in northern Canada and the Arctic and winter along the Atlantic coast. They are commonly seen as spring and fall migrants in the New York Bight and, on occasion, in the lower estuary. Of the three, surf scoters may be the easiest to identify with their white bills and white patch on the back of their heads. When seen through binoculars in the dim light of dawn, bobbing between swells, they looked like "double-faced" ducks. Tom Lake.]

11/6 - Cold Spring, HRM 55: Fewer than ten Canada geese were scattered across a Little League field foraging. Off to the side, but still within the group, were two snow geese. Seeing snow geese mixed in with Canada geese is not uncommon but usually occurs in larger flocks and much later in the fall or winter.
- TR Jackson, Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

11/7 - Hyde Park, HRM 85: After five days, the bat had left. Yesterday, when I gently stroked him, he presented a startle reflex. Later he spread his wings a bit. In late afternoon I saw he was on the ground and figured that he'd died. But when I checked again after dark, he was gone.
- Barbara Wells

11/7 - Beacon, HRM 61: This poem describes what fourth graders saw on Day in the Life of the Hudson River - October 18 this year - at Long Dock Park.
- Tery Udell, Rebecca Houser

Down by the River we see
Children learning,
Birds flying,
Monarch fluttering,
River flowing,
Cormorants fishing,
Tides changing,
Fish struggling,
Fish jumping,
Wind blowing,
Eels slithering,
Students singing,
Leaves rustling,
Waves splashing,
Nets dragging,
Kids observing,
Adults teaching,
Trees swaying,
Herring dying,
Gulls squawking,
Water scorpion swimming,
Man kayaking,
Train speeding,
Bridge rising,
Gardeners planting,
Life on the Hudson River!
- Written by the students in Room 12, James V. Forrestal Elementary School, Beacon

[A special illustrated Almanac was compiled from the observations and data collected by students, teachers, and other participants in this year's Day in the Life of the Hudson River event. Steve Stanne.]

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