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Hudson River Almanac January 16 - January 23, 2012

OVERVIEW

This was a week of highlights, including a harbor seal, rufous hummingbird, snowy owl, and slaty-backed, glaucous and Iceland gulls. Perhaps the best was a marked herring gull on the Beacon waterfront that had been banded seven months ago at Sabine Island, Nova Scotia.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/22 - Beacon, HRM 61: While looking for the slaty-backed gull, I noticed a herring gull with pink wing bands ("AAF") plus silver and pink leg bands. I searched the Internet for this code and found a herring gull with similar wing bands from Sable Island, Nova Scotia (see http://sableislandgulls.wordpress.com/ ).

- Jesse Jaycox

[We received a response to our inquiry from Rob Ronconi, Department of Biology, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia. AAF is their first herring gull to be re-sighted in the U.S. This adult female was captured and banded at its Sable Island breeding colony during the incubation period on June 9, 2011. After the breeding season she was spotted twice in early October at Beacon Street Dam in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Her next stop was Beacon, NY, 768 air miles to the southwest (Sable Island is 732 miles). Jesse Jaycox, Deb Kral.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/16 - Northumberland, HRM 161: About 200 migrating snow geese had set down to rest on the river.

- Alan Mapes

1/16 - Selkirk, HRM 135: It was three above zero at dawn and there definitely was some ice on the Hudson River. Our archeologists were bundled up this morning when they left for the field and the latest talk was about Kohl's half-off sale on long underwear.

- Roberta S. Jeracka

1/16 - Cheviot, HRM 106: Two adult bald eagles were perched side-by-side on the pier; another, an immature, was on the wing. Drifting among a few common mergansers was a white-winged scoter.

- Mimi Brauch

1/16 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: It was a bone-chilling nine degrees at first light and with it came a couple of firsts for the season - ice floes on the river and eagles on ice floes, six of them, three adult and three immatures. Overhead, a large V of Canada geese was determinedly heading south.

- Tom Lake

1/16 - Beacon, HRM 61: At the waterfront near the Metro North Train Station, we spotted an Iceland (Kumlien's) gull and an adult lesser black-backed gull.

- Curt McDermot, Clara Montenegro

[Currently considered to be a subspecies of Iceland gull, Kumlien's gull breeds around Baffin Island and the northern reaches of Hudson Bay. Typical adult Iceland gulls lack the black wingtips seen on our common adult ring-billed and herring gulls, but the wingtips of Kumlien's gulls have varying amounts and intensities of gray. The lesser black-backed gull nests in Iceland and Greenland. Sightings have been increasing in the northeastern U.S.; there is a record of an adult male mating and raising young with a female herring gull in New Hampshire. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

1/16 - George's Island to Croton Point, HRM 39-34: We counted six eagles on our journey today, three each at George's Island and Croton Point. At Croton Point we watched a large and beautiful coyote hunting on the ridges of the landfill. The coyote was patrolling the top of the hill, appearing and disappearing in the swales, all the while keeping an eye on us. In the bright sunlight, the color of his coat was amazing.

- Bob Rancan, Janet Rancan

1/16 - Manhattan, HRM 4: In mid-afternoon, a flight of fifty brant circled for a minute and then landed on the water between two piers at West 24th Street, joining two Canada geese and a double-crested cormorant. A short while later they went ashore to the grass beyond the footpath of Hudson River Park. Abundant droppings on the path suggested that they had been there before.

- Thomas Shoesmith, Donna Mendell

1/17 - Selkirk, HRM 135: A beautiful finch came to our feeder today and we have been unable to agree on its identity.

- Roberta Jeracka

[The bird in the accompanying digital photo was a purple finch, not nearly as common as the similar-looking house finch. Roger Tory Peterson describes the purple finch as looking like "a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice!" Tom Lake.]

1/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 69: Large raptors perched in roadside trees are common and even more noticeable during leafless seasons. As I approached this one I was certain that it was another red-tailed hawk, regularly seen year-round. I was surprised, as I passed, to see that it was a gorgeous, rosy-breasted red-shouldered hawk.

- Tom Lake

1/17 - Beacon, HRM 61: The adult lesser black-backed gull was still present, but now there were two Iceland (Kumlien's) gulls as well as a juvenile (first year) glaucous gull.

- Curt McDermot, Clara Montenegro

1/17 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: As I began my walk this morning, an immature bald eagle, apparently a first-year juvenile, flew directly overhead. A few minutes later, I heard an eagle screaming on the south side of the landfill. As I rounded a bend in the trail, an adult bald eagle lifted off from a perch followed closely by a first-year bird. For the next half hour, through the course of my walk, I could hear that shrill, high pitched cry from more than a mile away.

- Christopher Letts

[Observations like these highlight the relationships between adult eagles and their fledglings. While most first-year eagles left the nest six months ago, some juveniles take longer to break the bond of dependency with their parents. Tom Lake.]

1/18 - Catskill, HRM 113: This morning I watched a two-year-old bald eagle fly north at the mouth of Catskill Creek. I followed the bird's flight from Dutchman's Landing Park and was surprised to see it join three others on an ice floe near the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Two of them were feeding. They were soon joined by three more, plus one that didn't land. Eight eagles! One of the adults tried unsuccessfully to catch a great black-backed gull - the action was amazing!

- Larry Federman

1/18 - Brooklyn: The backyards of the brownstones of Brooklyn make for accidental block-sized arboretums. This January, as usual, a flock of 10-12 house finches have been moving through the leafless canopies of backyard hardwoods, following the daily progress of the sun. In the past week, they have been spotted daily in the collective backyard of a block at the top of a hill in Carroll Gardens, about 700 yards up from Buttermilk Channel and the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. By late afternoon, they move from the lower limbs on the west side of the block, to the upper limbs on the east side. By sunset, they sit quietly together in the treetops, huddled against the cold wind, bathing in afternoon's last golden sun, the light slowly firing the red on each bird's throat, head and breast until dark.

- Robert Sullivan

1/19 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 62: At Riverfront Park along the Wallkill River, I heard the calls and drumming of a pileated woodpecker but didn't see the bird. I came upon a mostly dead tree with a large oblong cavity half-way up. The knocking was very loud and I saw some movement from inside. A head protruded slightly and then retreated. It was a pileated at work inside the trunk. I watched for awhile as the excavating continued with the bird's large head visible in the opening.

- Patricia Henighan

[Given the odd weather we've been having, I wouldn't be surprised if it was a nesting cavity. That said, it isn't really serious nest-hole-building and territory-claiming-time, yet. Many bird species will go through warm-ups and practice their respective roles before the onset of actual nesting activity is ready to begin. So, we will hear song sparrows singing and see cardinals courting and hawks dancing in the air as a prelude to spring. Rich Guthrie]

1/19 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: I was treated to a "birds and beast" show today. The beast was an impudent gray squirrel that hopped as if it was on springs. I don't remember ever seeing a squirrel bounce like this one did. Just as I was leaving I heard, high in the sky, "scree, scree," the unmistakable cry of a hawk. There were two hawks soaring so high that I couldn't tell what kind - a truly lovely sight.

- Robin Fox

[This is the start of the mating season for raptors. These may have been courting red-tailed hawks. Tom Lake]

1/20 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: When I arrived in mid-afternoon, I found three eagles sitting in the trees on Esopus Island. They were shortly joined by four more - three adults and four immatures. Flying near the north end of the island one bird began to glide just off the water and many of the mergansers present took flight - in a hurry. However, the eagle decided on fish for lunch and settled on a rock to feast on its catch.

- Jim Prockup

1/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We saw the mated pair from bald eagle nest NY62C fly to and land on the tuliptree and then in the nest. It was a beautiful sunny day and their heads and tails shone brightly. These were our first eagle sighting of the year.

- Roland Ellis, Alice Ellis

[This is spring renovation time for our Hudson Valley bald eagle pairs. They will spend this month and next courting, replacing material, reinforcing their nests, and mating, and will be on eggs by about March 1. Tom Lake.]

1/21 - Columbia County, HRM 119: We have had our quota of woodpeckers at our wildlife feeder in Hillsdale: downy, hairy, red-bellied, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker. I have seen pileated woodpeckers in my yard but I guess I need to put out a big pile of dead ants to attract that one. We also briefly attracted a flock of 25-30 common grackles - very boisterous. This year we have a melanistic (black) gray squirrel. Through binoculars, it is quite pretty with chestnut color on its chest and face. Over the Taconics from us, black squirrels are fairly common, but this is the first I've seen in eastern Columbia County.

- Bob Schmidt

1/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Each evening at about 4:30 PM, individual and small groups of crows arrive from all directions and gather, some on the ground and others in trees, on the eastern shore of the river south of the Mid-Hudson Bridge. At 5:00 PM, the assembled mass, numbering in the thousands, fly into trees to roost for the night. They leave at daybreak. If you stand in the along the river facing east for a few minutes, you will feel like you are in a Hitchcock movie. It's like watching a squall of black snowflakes.

- Pat Joel, Karen Becker

1/21 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Our first real snow of winter, about six inches, covered the ground in pure white. While the tidal Wappinger Creek had ice bank-to-bank, albeit very thin, the river was still ice-free. The floes of five days ago were gone. High overhead we saw a long and loose check-mark moving south. They were high-flyers, and this time they were snow geese, no fewer than a hundred of them. We heard no sound - the strong north wind carried their calls away from us.

- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake

1/21 - Beacon, HRM 61: Visiting the Beacon shoreline has been our ritual for the past week. Earlier we had a lesser black-backed gull, Iceland gulls, and a first year glaucous gull. Today was the grand prize, an adult slaty-backed gull.

- Curt McDermott, Clara Montenegro

[In North America slaty-backed gulls are most often seen in Alaska when visiting from Asia. They are rare in the eastern U.S. and the Hudson River watershed. Before today we had three records, all in Sullivan County, in 2002, 2007, and 2008. These sightings were three of only half-a-dozen accepted records for New York State. I believe Curt McDermott's bird will be the seventh. John Haas, Steve Stanne.]

1/22 - Town of Halfmoon, HRM 161: The Mohawk River had great ice for skating this week, about 3-5 inches and getting thicker. It is a bit late for ice skating season here, so expect a few slabs of ice coming down the Hudson in the spring.

- Ivan Vamos

1/22 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: A brown seal was seen attempting to haul out on a green buoy off Coxsackie. When it was unable to make the leap, it left and headed south.

- Crystal Hildebrant

[Winter is perhaps the best time to spot seals as they haul out on the ice. Most that we see in the river are harbor seals - they are much more common in coastal waters. Others seen very infrequently are harp and hooded seals, and a gray seal hung out in Hyde Park last summer and fall. Their presence, particularly in late winter and spring, reflects the abundant fish populations in the estuary. Tom Lake.]

1/22 - Milan, HRM 90: The wild "tom" turkeys visiting my feeding stations this weekend were wearing decorations in their beards. Due to the single-digit temperatures, each had several golf ball size snow balls swinging at the ends of their beards. It looked very strange and very uncomfortable.

- Marty Otter

1/22 - Beacon, HRM 61: The number of Iceland (Kumlien's) gulls at the waterfront rose to five.

- John Haas

[In 18 years of the Almanac, we have recorded 12 species of gulls in the Hudson watershed: black-headed gull, Bonaparte's gull, Franklin's gull, glaucous gull, slaty-backed gull, great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull, laughing gull, herring gull, Iceland (Kumlien's) gull, ivory gull, and ring-billed gull. Tom Lake.]

1/22 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I think the cardinals have been hiding somewhere, waiting for snow. As the fluffy stuff fell, it clung to the bushes, making the boughs billowy white perches. From somewhere cardinals appeared, in various stages of red brilliance, to sit in the white softness.

- Robin Fox

12/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Snow totals and accumulation on the ground continued to be below average. Only seven-inches were on the ground today, with rain falling. In the last ten years, the average snow depth on this date has been fourteen inches. It has been a very mild January.

A trip out in the forest found that while some white-tailed deer had migrated to their winter yards around January 13, many were still hanging out on their summer ranges. With no thermal advantage provided by the coniferous habitat of their winter yards, some deer were not yet moving. I saw fresh black bear tracks from at least three different bears on the 20 plus miles of road that I traveled. It appears that the mild temperatures and lack of snow have resulted in some bears not going into hibernation or possibly arousing after a brief sleep. It is not unheard of for bears, particularly males, to be active all winter, but it is not common in the central Adirondacks. Hopefully more winter-like temperatures and some snowfall will adjust their winter clocks. In addition to deer and bear tracks in the snow, there were lots of grouse, mouse, red squirrel and shrew tracks verifying that the big seed crop this summer/fall resulted in low mortality and high reproduction for some of our other species.

- Charlotte Demers

1/23 - Town of Pleasant Valley, HRM 84: A snowy owl was spotted at Salt Point. This may be the same owl as seen three weeks ago in Poughkeepsie.

- Diane Dembicki

1/23 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: I watched a rufous hummingbird preening in the bushes on the eastern side of the planetarium entrance outside the Museum of Natural History this morning.

- Lila Fried


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