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Hudson River Almanac December 25 - December 31, 2011

OVERVIEW

On the brink of the New Year there was still little sign of real winter weather. The tidewater Hudson was free of ice and the southward trickle of winter birds had little urgency.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/29 - Croton Point, HRM 35: It was truly a "jubilee" of eagles at the Croton Point Park Nature Center this morning. As I made my daily winter recess trip through the park I saw our adult pair flying east on a mission across the beach. Since I am volunteering for the Saw Mill River Audubon's Project Feeder Watch at the nature center, I wanted to go up anyway to check on a new feeder and pole and replace the suet. As I watched the birds at the feeders something large and dark and white moved in the sky, heading east to west over the center. It was the two adults. A first-year bird joined them; then their ranks swelled as a fourth, fifth, and sixth adult joined the convocation. I tried to take pictures, but they were too close as they soared in the winds directly above my head. Shortly a seventh swirled above me with the others. It was a third year white-extreme, very white underneath and just getting its "bald" head. I had seen the bird three days before flying west over the river to Haverstraw and also perched in the trees at the boat ramp. Our festival of eagles has begun!

- Bonnie Talluto

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was Christmas morning and we had three inches of new snow.

- Charlotte Demers

12/25 - Minerva, HRM 284: We also had a white Christmas, an inch-and-a-half of white on the ground. I've seen some white-tailed deer tracks and a red squirrel or two in the new snow and we've been able to walk on the frozen water (4-5 inches of ice) in the open area of the swamp in the back forty.

- Mike Corey

12/25 - Wyomanock Creek, Columbia County, HRM 120: I came upon a beaver lodge today that reminded me of the charcoal mounds that were used to keep the furnaces "in blast" during the iron-making days of the 1700s and 1800s. The beaver lodge was about the size of an average charcoal hearth, 30-40 feet in diameter. Charcoal hearths were constructed with an 18-foot-long center pole of green wood called a "fagan" driven into the ground in the center of the hearth. Three layered tiers of 3-4 foot-long timbers were placed around the center pole and a shovelful of live coals were added to start the burn. The skillful four-legged colliers found a perfect fagan to build their lodge around - an alder tree growing nearing the stream bank.

- Fran Martino

12/25 - Staten Island, New York City: All good things must come to an end, even blooming seasons. Being an odd one to begin with, the autumn coral root (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) blooms when most plants are finished for the year. Plants were still sending up occasional flower spikes through Thanksgiving and into early December on Staten Island this year, but a quick Christmas Day walk with my wife, Debbie, our daughter Abby, and our friends Dave and Nancy Avrin revealed only flooded trails and dried stems. The days have been warm, but heavy frosts at night must have been the orchids' final undoing this year. Interestingly, there were several dandelions still blooming in a sunny patch nearby.

- Dave Taft

12/26 - Port Ewen, HRM 91: Having just returned from a chilly Black Creek hike, I was mulling some cider when frenzied eagle activity over the river caught my eye. I thought I was watching four eagles swirl and dive for some prey. But binoculars revealed that it was three eagles (2 adults, 1 immature) teaming up on a large gull mid-air (the gull had no fish). After minutes of chase-and-corner, an adult eagle tackled the gull in mid-air, flipped it, and then drove it down into the water. The other eagles circled overhead as the eagle struggled to hold the gull underwater in his talons. Minutes went by and then finally the eagle launched off the water leaving a dazed but live gull to pop up and float alone. The immature eagle came back to circle and hover with talons poised, but couldn't react and eventually flew off. The gull floated with flapping wounded wings and I lost track of it when a Coast Guard cutter steamed through.

- Patti Ellis

12/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: Overhead along the waterfront at New Hamburg, just after sunset, we could hear a flock of Canada geese heading downriver. The most incredible sight was the waning crescent moon very near a brilliant Venus. The sky in the west was a light turquoise fading to midnight blue overhead.

- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

12/27 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: A lone drake canvasback bobbed in the chop a few hundred feet offshore of the boat club at Chelsea. During winter waterfowl migratory season, a single duck found away from its flock is often one that may have been wounded or injured and unable to keep up.

- Tom Lake

12/27 - New Windsor, HRM 59: While driving on Route 207 this morning, we were amazed to see an adult bald eagle perched on a tree overhanging the road. It seemed to be looking down at the traffic. We've been looking in our usual spots along the Hudson for the eagles that come south this time of year, but haven't seen any, so this was a great treat for us.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/27 - Lake Meahagh, HRM 40.5: While several pairs of both hooded and common mergansers were enjoyable to watch, I soon became aware of another dynamic: three great blue herons were chasing each other around the shore of the lake. More accurately, one was chasing the other two, and wherever they landed, the aggressor was soon there to move them on their way.

- Christopher Letts

12/27 - George's Island, HRM 39: The heavy undergrowth was thick with songbirds: dozens of white-throated sparrows, song and tree sparrows, cardinals, titmice, and nuthatches. They all seemed concentrated along one heavily brushed stretch of trail. In a red cedar I spotted at least three yellow-rumped warblers, the bird of the day.

- Christopher Letts

12/27 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: This peninsula is often an "early warning" sign that wintering eagles are arriving from points far north and east. Usually by now, the south-facing hardwoods and white pines are filled with birds. I saw my first one of the season today, a single immature. It was not very convincing.

- Tom Lake

12/27 - Ossining, HRM 33: It appeared that only a dozen of the 80-90 canvasbacks reported by Larry Trachtenberg on December 12 were still present. The twelve, mixed hens and drakes, were close to shore, and appeared to be resting rather than diving/feeding.

- Tom Lake

12/27 - Irvington, HRM 24.5: More than 100 Canada geese had found some quiet near shore backwater to rest. It was not a rare find to see a lone snow goose mixed in.

- Tom Lake

12/27 - Hastings, HRM 21.5: It was a day for "lone birds." A long-tailed-duck, formerly called oldsquaw, was riding high in the water a hundred feet offshore, looking much like an ornate decoy.

- Tom Lake

[The name oldsquaw was dropped from common usage in favor of long-tailed duck for reasons detailed by the American Ornithologists' Union's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature in 2000: "The Committee was petitioned by a group of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska to change the English name of Clangula hyemalis from Oldsquaw to Long-tailed Duck, the name used for the species outside of North America. The basis for the petition was that the species is declining in numbers in Alaska, and conservation management plans require the help and cooperation of Native Americans. The biologists were concerned that the name Oldsquaw would offend the Native Americans. Requests to change the name had been made to the Committee in past years by some who consider the word ''squaw'' to be offensive. The Committee declines to consider political correctness alone in changing long-standing English names of birds but is willing in this instance to adopt an alternative name that is in use in much of the world." Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

12/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 69: It is not often I get to see a white-tailed deer running full out, like a thoroughbred racehorse; but here was one tearing across the field, head down in serious flight. Several hundred feet behind, a long coyote trotted out of the tree line. With no hope of catching the yearling whitetail, it slowed to a stop.

- Tom Lake

12/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: We were surprised to see a "daylight" bobcat slowly amble across the road in front of us. Like coyotes, but unlike white-tailed deer, road-killed bobcats are rare - perhaps owing to their much fewer numbers or more cautious road crossings.

- Jeanette Duran, Chris Lake

12/29 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: After a few days of strong winds we had a "blow-out" tide. This morning, some areas of the tidewater Wappinger and Fishkill creeks were exposed that only see (feel) the air a couple of times each year. Yet, the predicted tidal variance for the Hudson had only been 4.6 feet above sea level, quite middling and once again proving how serendipitous extreme tides can be. Two adult bald eagles on the Wappinger were "gizzard shad hunting."

- Tom Lake

12/29 - George's Island, HRM 39: A lot of folks in the lower Hudson Valley are itching for their annual winter "eagle fix." I have only seen 1-3 most days, and since those have been around for a while, my assumption has been that they were locals. Today, nine sightings made it the most productive day since last March, and some of the birds were at known winter perches such as Stony Point, Verplanck Point, Dogan Point, and Oscawana Island. Perhaps the birds are finally on the wing.

- Christopher Letts

12/29 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The feeder birds had been unusually edgy all day, and we knew why. In late afternoon, a female Cooper's hawk was busily plucking a dove fifty yards from the feeder area. The feeders were swamped with dozens of birds of several species. Threat averted, tension gone? How do they know?

- Christopher Letts

12/29 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I wandered into a nice little aggregation of songbirds and came away with a dozen species without moving ten feet: sparrows, finches, and a refreshing showing of golden-crowned kinglets, all in loose brush, full sun from behind me, and on the north side of the Point for a change.

- Christopher Letts

12/29 - Queens, New York City: There is something absolutely incongruous about the loud, tropical squawking, and bright greens of the parrots on 165th Street in Howard Beach. The sub-freezing weather and wind made even staring at the twig structure nests uncomfortable. It is latest monk parrot nest I know of in New York City.

- Dave Taft

12/30 - Ulster and Dutchess counties: The inaugural Ulster/Dutchess Christmas Bird Count was held December 28. The circle's center is located in the Town of Saugerties, covering nearly thirty miles of Hudson River shoreline, the Tivoli Bays complex, the mouths of two major river tributaries, and various quality green spaces like Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, Ferncliff Forest, Kingston Point Park, Ulster Landing County Park, and Clermont State Park. All bodies of water were free of ice.

Thirteen parties with forty-nine observers (along with two feeder watchers) in the ten sectors tallied 83 species. Highlights included a blue-winged teal, ruby-crowned kinglet, and lesser black-backed gull in the Town of Rhinebeck, two gray catbirds at the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, six pine siskins in the Town of Woodstock, a rusty blackbird in the Town of Red Hook, two wood ducks in Tivoli Bays, three long-tailed ducks on the Hudson, and a orange-crowned warbler, snow goose, and cackling goose from the Town of Ulster. Two additional species were spotted during the count week, a common yellowthroat at the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve and a merlin in the Town of Ulster.

Bald eagles made a good showing with 31 individuals. Thrushes were also well represented with 164 eastern bluebirds, 1034 American robins, and 10 reclusive hermit thrushes. Blackbirds, still able to forage on cornfields, made up approximately a quarter of all birds seen including a staggering 6,678 common grackles. Disappointing misses included peregrine falcon, red-breasted nuthatch, and the Hudson's overall lack of any substantial waterfowl numbers.

- Mark DeDea

12/30 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: A lovely sunrise, constantly changing, was embellished by overflights of Vs of Canada geese and other waterfowl, and one lone eagle on the hunt. The resident red-tailed hawks were courting, sometimes pair-flying, often perched in separate trees a dozen or so yards apart. Who says you can't have romance while you check out the breakfast menu?

- Christopher Letts

12/31 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67: It was the first time I had seen a male wood duck, other than photos, and it was beautiful. At first, I thought it was a mallard on Wappinger Lake; then I realized it moved differently. There were many mute swans on the lake as well as common mergansers, and one pair of hooded mergansers.

- Terry Hardy

12/31 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: On New Year's Eve day, it was warmer outside my house (60 degrees Fahrenheit), than inside (55).

- Christopher Letts

12/31 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: For our last great bird of the year we came across a palm warbler at the otherwise very quiet and deserted former General Motors facility this morning. Having participated in three local Christmas Bird Counts in the last two weeks, and being surprised that so few warmer-weather birds have decided to stick around with the mild weather we've had these last few months, it was quite a treat! Charlie Roberto commented that it was the only time he's seen one so late, and never before into December.

- Matt McCluskey, Cathy McCluskey, Christine McCluskey, Charlie Roberto

12/31 - Brooklyn, New York City: As I walked along Fifth Avenue approaching the entrance to the Greenwood Cemetery, a bald eagle appeared overhead. The eagle was flying low and its white head was unmistakable for a few seconds before it disappeared over the cemetery. It was a fine end to the year.

- David Maggiotto


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