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Hudson River Almanac January 24 - January 31, 2012

OVERVIEW

Despite the still mild weather, many more bald eagles arrived in the Hudson Highlands this week from points north. Bobcat sightings - two this week - are uncommon; the rufous hummingbird - hanging on in Manhattan - is rare. Perhaps a sign of an early spring, several flocks of male red-winged blackbirds were back.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/24 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: As I tramped through a couple inches of wet snow I was impressed by the number of deer tracks, and yet there were more coyote tracks everywhere I walked on the peninsula. One set was huge, as big as any coyote tracks I had ever seen - some as big as wolf tracks. When I looked up to the ridgeline, there were two of the bad boys, side by side, sitting in the snow, watching my slow progress. Cardinals were singing spring songs.

- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/24 - Albany, HRM 145: As I was on my lunchtime walk along the Hudson in Albany's Corning Preserve, I saw a wooly bear caterpillar crossing the trail. I thought about what it meant when I saw it. Seeing one in late January kind of throws the whole folklore thing - predicting winters' severity - on its head. What would it even be predicting at this point? It was kind of an unusual one: the black band at the front was average width, but then the brown extended pretty much all the way to the tail with little or no black at the tail end. I don't know what that signifies. Anyway, there is no sign in the forecast models of a shift to a snowy weather pattern. I don't keep measurements, but I believe at my place in Bethlehem-Selkirk we have had less than ten inches of snow for the entire season so far.

- John Kent, NYSDEC Air Pollution Meteorologist

1/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie: For nearly two hours this morning I watched the mated pair from bald eagle nest NY62C. One perched on a branch above the nest for twenty minutes before flying down to an ice floe in the flood tide moving along the east side of the river.

- John Scott

[This is nest refurbishing time for Hudson Valley bald eagles. The mild winter thus far has given them comfortable conditions to strengthen their nest and prepare for mating. By about March 1, most pairs will be incubating eggs. Tom Lake.]

1/24 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: As I passed by Stony Kill Farm I scanned the fields and saw what appeared to be a house cat just sitting on a hill. But it could not have been a house cat as it was far too large. I circled back and by now the animal was walking like a house cat, but I could see that it was large. I stopped to look at this creature: it had dark markings on "blondish" color fur. It was a bobcat.

- Wayne Theiss

1/24 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Several inches of snow had melted during the overnight rain leaving no more than an inch in sheltered locations. The prodigious tracery of small rodent tunneling was laid bare. It was most impressive; where there was snow, I could not find a square yard unmarked by the tapestry of tunnels. And the air was almost balmy, with the feel of late winter rather than the shank end of January.

- Christopher Letts

1/24 - Croton Point, HRM 34: A perched pair of bald eagles, spotted from my window of a southbound Metro North commuter train at a distance of some 200 yards, resembled weirdly misplaced Tootsie Rolls.

- Zach Rodgers

1/25 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: There were more singing cardinals today, accompanied by clucking robins. A flock of male red-winged blackbirds passed over, two dozen of them, headed north. Off the bathing beach I spotted two pied-billed grebes diving for breakfast. The morning travels and observations yielded just three bald eagles. Apparently the recent winter storm was not potent enough to move more wintering birds south as far as Westchester.

- Christopher Letts

1/26 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: There was still some snow on the ground this afternoon when I spotted four bluebirds sipping water at an opening in the ice on Hannacroix Creek near where it meets the Hudson. Their blue against the snow was especially striking. They were trailed by a flock of robins.

- Barbara Heinzen

1/26 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I counted six adult bald eagles, three on the ice and three perched in riverside trees. Jim Herrington noted that earlier an adult flew in from Esopus Island, directly at the environmental center as if to come inside, before veering off at the last instant and flying over the roof.

- Tom Lake

1/26 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: The rufous hummingbird in the shrubbery outside the American Museum of Natural History was still present this afternoon.

- Hugh McGuinness

[The rufous hummingbird is an uncommon to rare stray in the Northeast. Their breeding range is from southern Alaska to northern California and east to Idaho. They winter in Mexico. Previous Almanac records have always been in late fall (2001-2002, 2006), from Yonkers and Manhattan. Eric Lind.]

1/27 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: A powerful-looking, stubby-tailed cat marched across the yards in our development this morning, wary, yet seeming to be in complete control of all he viewed. It was a bobcat.

- Carmine Mirtuono

[It is possible that many of the mountain lion "sightings" in our area are actually bobcats. While mountain lions are substantially larger with a long tail, a bobcat is still very impressive, especially for observers who have never seen mountain lions in the wild. Tom Lake.]

1/27 - Poughkeepsie to Beacon, HRM 75-61: On my daily commute to Beacon I see many interesting things. Today I spotted three bald eagles, one immature and two adults, on separate patches of ice. I guess the ice just brings them closer to their breakfast.

- Tom O'Dowd

1/27 - Hudson Highlands, HRM 60-45: An inch of rain, torrential at times, erased most traces of snow in the Hudson Highlands. The warm air temperatures were loosening the ice in the backwaters and the ebb tides continued to draw floes into the river.

- Tom Lake

1/27 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I spotted yet another early flock of male red-winged blackbirds heading upriver today.

- Christopher Letts

1/27 - Palisades, Rockland County, HRM 23: Great rolling billows of condensation swept along the surface of the Hudson in mid-afternoon, the result of the warm winds connecting with the cool water surface. The dense white fog that resulted masked us from the eastern sides of the river and the nearby bridges (Tappan Zee and George Washington). One half expected a large sailing ship to emerge from the fog, bringing new visitors onto land.

- Margie Turrin

1/27 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: I saw the rufous hummingbird in her usual area around the entrance of the Rose Center planetarium building this morning. She was resting and preening on the branches of a bare bush on the east side of the entrance, with short bouts of feeding at the yellow-green flowers of the ornamental plants on the west side of the entrance.

- Ed Gaillard

1/28 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Out on a late morning walk, I passed the Indian Kill by the railroad bridge and watched it gurgling and racing downhill towards the estuary as it would on any spring day. Skunk cabbage shoots were popping up. On the river I saw a raft of common mergansers that have been between the marina cove and Esopus Island for a couple of weeks - twenty-five males and six females. I startled a female swimming under a dock in the marina and she shot out like a noisy arrow toward open water.

- Pat Joel

1/28 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: With the abundance of eagle sightings it hardly seemed worth adding several we have seen in recent weeks, until this morning. An immature bald eagle landed on a branch of a large red oak that leans out over the river just ten feet from our home. He sat with the wind riffling through his feathers, his body still speckled, not yet fully dark brown. We could see him although he could not see us through the tinted glass of the window. He sat and perused the river for a time then flew off across the Hudson. In our driveway later, I noted fairly large canine tracks in the soft mud - coyote.

- David Cullen

1/28 - Peekskill Bay to the Tappan Zee, HRM 43-34: The eagle-hunting hopefuls were from far away - central New Jersey and Queens - and had come to see Hudson River eagles. We began at the Croton River railroad bridge and by the time people were out of their vehicles three eagles were chasing each other over the tide flats. A big first-year bird was the aggressor (or initiator) with two adults. A near-shore raft of mixed waterfowl gave us three species of ducks, geese and swans. A single coot hugged the shelter of the railroad bridge. Perhaps the single survivor of the four dozen that arrived in October, it had learned of the one place that eagles could not reach it. Five miles upriver at George's Island, two adult eagles flew directly overhead and we spotted a red-shouldered hawk being harassed by a flock of fish crows. At Verplanck, an extraordinary look at a perched adult was made even better when another adult landed next to the perched bird. A flock of mixed cormorants, double-crested and great cormorants, at China Pier was the icing on the cake.

- Christopher Letts

1/28 - Pleasantville, Westchester County, HRM 32: Robins, robins, beautiful robins galore were munching on several ornamental apple trees that are (were) loaded with fruit. They were also chugging down water from my bird bath. Are these darlings wintering here or just hanging out while there is food? Whatever, they are a delight to see.

- Joan Coffey

[Some species of birds, including waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds, have adapted to milder winters by modifying or cutting short their migration. Robins are a good example of a songbird that will move south only as far as necessary to find adequate food and comfortable surroundings. Tom Lake.]

1/29 - Peebles Island, HRM 158: I spotted an adult bald eagle perched along the Hudson River at Peebles Island. Inland along the Mohawk River at Lock 6, I counted 50 gulls on the ice including multiple herring gulls, greater black-backed gulls, ring-billed gulls, and one juvenile Iceland gull.

- Jesse Jaycox

1/29 - Crugers, HRM 39: For the second time this week, a Cooper's hawk snagged a pigeon from the bird feeder. He came down like a bat out of hell and pounced on his prey. He sat on the pigeon for a long while, and then took off with his catch when the neighbor's cat approached.

- Dianne Picciano

1/29 - Queens, New York City: I saw a Eurasian wigeon at the south end of the East Pond of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge today. Only a few feet away was a "Eurasian" green-winged teal (Anas crecca crecca), in the company of a pair of "American" green-winged teal (A. crecca carolinensis). Both of the "Eurasian" birds were males. The West Pond at the refuge held eight canvasbacks.

- Doug Futuyma

1/30 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: A strong north wind was creating a biting chill as we watched four eagles cavorting overhead, two adults and two immatures. They appeared very comfortable as the wind pushed and pulled them in a tight spiral. A large raft of common mergansers was in the river off Wappinger Creek with a few lesser scaup, goldeneyes, and buffleheads on the fringes.

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

1/30 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2 I guess it is courting time again for the local bald eagles. Two immatures appeared right over our heads and started doing slow circles. They had identical markings and may have been nest-mates from our local nest (NY62C). They were soon joined by two adults who engaged the immatures. I have observed this behavior many times over the years but most of the time it is one adult engaging one juvenile.

- Ed Solan, Rodney Johnson

1/30 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Through my spotting scope from the west side of the river I found two immature eagles on the northwest side of Denning's Point. One had a sizable prey item that I saw it fly in with, but all I could make out was something "orange" (mallard legs?) hanging down. I had 6-7 mixed-age eagles at one time over the point.

- Jesse Jaycox

[We should keep a sharp eye out for golden eagles as well. I have heard that the pair that has wintered in past years on Storm King Mountain may have returned. I thought for a second that two of the eagles I spotted at Denning's Point today may have been goldens, but more likely immature bald eagles. Anyhow, I lost them before I could get a real good look. Jesse Jaycox.]

1/30 - Hammond's Point, HRM 59: Two adult and two immature bald eagles, were nearly clutching each other as they rose in a turkey vulture-type spiral catching the cold wind rather than a warm thermal.

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

[Someone once said to me, rather derisively, "Eagles, eagles, eagles, how many eagles do you have to see before you can say that you have seen an eagle?" The answer is, as many as possible. While bald eagles have become somewhat common along Hudson tidewater in the last decade, I have yet to find anyone who has grown tired of sharing their observations. Tom Lake.]

1/30 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM35: For the last few days I have seen a number of Cooper's hawks flying overhead. They seem to be very interested in the flocks of sparrows that take shelter in the trees. At times, when the sparrows are in flight, they sometimes seem to turn on the hawk, perhaps as an evasive maneuver.

- Bobbi Buske

1/31 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: I heard two tufted titmice calling today in their spring fashion. In the past I have heard them around the first of February, even when with the temperatures have been in the teens. A very heartening sound as they practice for the mating season competition.

- Dan Seymour

1/31 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: I was at the base of the Point watching the river at first light [hiking trails are closed Dec. 1-Mar. 15 to protect bald eagle wintering habitat]. I estimated that there were at least 200 common mergansers spread across a mile of mid-river. About thirty of them, in a small raft, were closest to me. From the opposite shore an immature bald eagle began a low, slow crossing heading directly over the mergansers. When viewing a group of diving ducks, it is common to see about one-third of them underwater at any one time and two-thirds on top catching their breath or swallowing their catch. As the eagle flew closer, the entire raft of ducks dove as one, and stayed down for nearly thirty seconds as the eagles passed over. By the time I left, the air temperature had risen to 57 degrees Fahrenheit and it felt like spring.

- Tom Lake


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