Hudson River Almanac February 1 - February 7, 2012
It would difficult to describe this week in the watershed as a spring thaw, with so little to melt. But we did have two record high air temperatures in the Mid-Hudson Valley as shirt-sleeves in February became adequate dress.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
2/2 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: As a city dweller [New York] I enjoy reading about my neighbors to the north and their sightings of bald eagles and other wildlife. Today I saw my first bald eagle as I drove north on the Palisades Interstate Parkway just south of Bear Mountain State Park. The white coloring of the head and the tail feathers were unmistakable as the bird circled above a hilltop on huge dark wings.
- Caleb Davison
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
2/1 - Fort Miller, HRM 192.5: Approximately 120 snow geese were still hanging around on the river at Fort Miller.
- Curt Morgan, Jeff Nadler
2/1 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Arriving before dusk at the Shawangunk Grasslands, we were treated to two rough-legged hawks, eleven short-eared owls, and fifteen northern harriers.
- Joe Giunta, Sy Schiff
2/1 - Town of LaGrange, HRM 78: I watched five bald eagles soaring together. Although it didn't quite compare to seeing ten at once (eleven total) over Nuclear Lake on New Year's Day, it was still a sight that took my breath away.
- Adrienne Popko
2/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 61 degrees Fahrenheit today, eclipsing the previous record of 54 degrees.
- National Weather Service
2/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The pair of red-tailed hawks on the north side of the Point continues to behave as though it's going to be an early spring. A week ago I watched them breaking branches out of one tree and then flying to a large white pine to build their nest. Two eagles were chattering at each other on the west side of the point and there was a peregrine falcon perched in the trees near the south side of the landfill.
- Stephen Seymour
2/1 - Bronx, New York City, 12.5: The sky was gray, the river gray-brown, and the Palisades monotone-brown as my Metro North commuter train rushed along to Manhattan. I looked at the dull landscape searching for birds, or ruffling on the water, but it was a quiet morning. Then, as the train turned away from the Hudson and started down the Harlem River, I saw a glorious sight: a patch of blue sky, a puff of clouds, and the dazzle of "iridescence." The clouds were tinged with magenta, lime-green, deep and light blues, gold, and orange brilliance. After Marble Hill I lost sight of the iridescence, and the sky became gray-brown again.
- Robin Fox
2/1 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 5.5: The rufous hummingbird at the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center has made it to February. Of course, with a high of 62 degrees F in Central Park today, it felt more like spring than February.
- Joe DiCostanzo
2/1 - Queens, New York City: I was headed home from work on the Belt Parkway, reveling in the fact that the sun was still setting. Even with the warm weather this winter, nothing means spring's coming like leaving work with some sun still left in the sky. At that point in my musings, I looked up at the Erskine Street sign and noticed the end of what must have been quite a drama directly over the east bound lanes and 35 feet above the sign. A merlin had just finished with one of its daily harassments, in this case of a peregrine falcon. The peregrine seemed to be shaking off the annoyance. Rolling, and then spreading its wings, the larger falcon flew off, parallel to the highway, half-heartedly chasing the smaller merlin.
- Dave Taft
2/2 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: With dusk closing in on darkness at the Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park, I first heard and then spotted a woodcock passing overhead heading north, the first of the New Year.
- Ed McGowan
2/3 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: I spotted a snowy owl today at Esopus Meadows.
- William Richard Drakert
[Some snowy owls fly south from their Arctic breeding grounds each winter, but this one has seen a rare large-scale migration known as an "irruption." The current event is likely linked to lemmings, a rodent that accounts for 90 percent of the diet of snowy owls during breeding months that stretch from May into September. Snowy owl populations are believed to be in decline overall, possibly because a changing climate has lessened the abundance of vegetation that lemmings rely on. However, an especially plentiful supply of lemmings last summer likely led to a population boom among owls that resulted in each breeding pair hatching as many as seven offspring. That compares to a typical clutch size of no more than two. Greater competition for food as winter set in may have then driven mostly younger, male owls much farther south than normal. Denver Holt, Owl Research Institute.]
2/3 - Poughquag, Town of Beekman, HRM 71: While walking this morning I heard the distinctive call of red-winged blackbirds. There was a large flock flying from tree to tree.
- Patti Mackay
2/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We watched the mated pair in eagle nest NY62C for a while today from a respectable distance. Both adults were at the nest, looking absolutely exquisite in the bright sunshine and cloudless blue sky. In late morning as the tide continued to drop, both took off and flew toward Clinton Point (HRM 69) where the warming sandy shallows at the mouth of the Casper Kill tend to attract both marsh ducks and gizzard shad.
- TR Jackson, Tom Lake
[John Scott noted that there has been a light tan top layer added to the nest. One of the last things the adults do before incubating is to bring in some fine material such as bark shavings, grasses, even pilfered underwear that has dropped off clotheslines, for an "egg cup." Tom Lake.]
2/3 - Newburgh, HRM 60: I saw two fish crows at the Newburgh waterfront today, along with mallards, geese, common mergansers, three double-crested cormorants, and gulls. We also had three bald eagles (two adults, one immature) across the river at Hammond's Point and a couple of adults at Denning's Point. One of our eagle monitors saw an immature eagle trying repeatedly to capture a common merganser.
- Jesse Jaycox
2/4 - Woodstock, HRM 102: Air temperatures were in the low-to-mid 40s as I watched thirty turkey vultures circle over the middle of Woodstock. I'm sure the warmer February weather had something to do with their presence, though what attracted them specifically to this spot could not be discerned.
- Reba Wynn Laks
[Vultures are not powerful fliers like eagles, but they are expert at soaring. They often circle in thermals - updrafts of warm air - to gain height. Winter ordinarily produces few warm thermals and, as a result, vultures tend to migrate south to find more moderate daytime air temperatures and better scavenging. Tom Lake]
2/4 - Kingston, HRM 92: A snowy owl was at the Rondout Lighthouse this morning. The best way to view the bird, from a discreet distance, was from the tracks at Kingston Point Park.
- Deb Ferguson, Denny Droica
2/4 - Kingston, HRM 92: I saw my first snowy owl this afternoon near the Rondout Lighthouse. A bald eagle flew over the six of us as we watched the owl.
- Frank Margiotta
[The photographing of snowy owls this winter has been the subject of much debate among birders. Some photographers are thoughtlessly intrusive in getting close to the subject. This obsession can have serious consequences for the owls. Regardless of how regal and glowing a snowy owl looks, many that visit us in winter are stressed, a point made on Ebird http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/the-winter-of-the-snowy-owl: "In Kansas and Missouri, Mark Robbins is performing necropsies on the dead birds he receives, and can report that most have been immature birds that have been food-stressed (or starving), but that so far cause of death has always been collisions (with cars, powerlines, and even trains!). There is no question that birds turning up this far south have a difficult time finding enough food to survive the winter and make the long trip back north." To force the owls to fly needlessly to escape our intrusion burns whatever few calories they have and can ultimately lead to their demise. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]
2/4 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Despite a beautifully warm day (in the 50s) with no wind, as well as no ice on the river, our annual bald eagle program was still memorable. In a little more than an hour, fifty of us saw six bald eagles and all were performing. Across in the river in spotting scope range were two pairs of courting eagles: one pair perched, cuddled intimately, in the crown of a hardwood, while another pair performed an aerial ballet just above the horizon. This is their mating season and they were busy at it. Between them we also spotted a pair of red-tailed hawks engaged in a similar sky show. Just offshore over Esopus Island, an adult quite suddenly materialized with repeated dives in the rocky shallows, catching fish at least twice, and then landing on the rocks to feed. An odd aspect of this encounter was the raft of common mergansers that remained on the water within a short distance of the feeding eagle and showed no alarm. Eagles seem to have some type of non-verbal communication with potential prey that either makes them take flight or calms their nerves. As the day ended, an immature eagle arrived and put on an acrobatic display over Esopus Island.
- Tom Lake, Dave Lindemann, Catherine Roberts, Mike Risinit, Lyn Burnstein, and others
2/4 - Millbrook, HRM 82: I counted a flock of 72 American robins at Cary Arboretum today.
- Adrienne Popko
2/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Eagle nest NY62C was empty this morning. Soon, however, an eagle flew in and landed. It was not one of the adults but rather a first year bird. It perched on the very branch I had seen the male adult eagle perch on so often last year. It must have been one of the fledglings from last year. What a treat to see it once again.
- Margie Robinson
[In the last decade, this mated pair's offspring have frequently returned the following spring for a short visit before moving on. Tom Lake.]
2/4 - Denning's Point to Bannerman's [Pollepel] Island, HRM 60-58: I spotted three bald eagles in the air, one adult and two immatures, all three circling above, bouncing up and down.
- Eva Lyons
2/4 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The goshawk was back at the feeders this morning. It is amazing to me that such a large bird is so agile, threading through the rhododendron and taxus trunks at speed, never brushing a feather, big wings flashing, filling up the whole space. Only small birds were present, and the chickadees and titmice were able to handily avoid the big bird.
- Christopher Letts
2/4 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: We came upon a dead Atlantic sturgeon washed up on the beach at Kingsland Point this afternoon. Measuring 54 inches long, it was a real surprise, and one of the most exciting things we've ever found on a beach.
- Eva Lyons, Vicky Garufi, Susan Hereth
2/4 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: Fourteen of us hiked the Shore Trail from Alpine Boat Basin to Forest View and back. It was warm and nothing was flying. However, as we passed under the Palisades cliffs approaching the old Forest View piers, I saw some bright red-and-blue objects up on the cliffs. I pointed out what I thought was a hiker or two above us but it turned out to be a bunch of balloons. As I took a closer look with my binoculars, on the edge of a crag near the colors sat a peregrine falcon. Everyone got a good look and after some discussion agreed it was not an inanimate object but a live falcon on a perch 500 feet above us.
- Bob Rancan, Robyn Lowenthal, Phil Brown, Herta Dousebout
2/4 - Queens, New York City: I went out to Breezy Point for what I assumed was a slim chance at finding a snowy owl. To my surprise and delight I saw not one owl but two. The first was a bit smaller and slightly mottled with black. It was sitting on some old chunks of wood on a dune back from the beach. The second owl was more to the west and also on a dune. This owl was larger and was completely white.
- Archer Midland
2/5 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I heard a mourning dove calling on the north side of the Point this morning, a sound not heard here for many months. An hour later, on the south side, two more doves were calling, the real deal, with all the flourishes and grace notes.
- Christopher Letts
2/6 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: Just after midnight I was still up reading in bed before going to sleep. From the low ridge behind my house I heard a howl. There was silence for a few seconds, then a whole chorus of yips, yaps, and more howling broke out. It was a small pack of coyotes on the prowl over the bare ground a hundred yards away, with the moon not quite two days shy of being full. While I continued to listen, the cat that had been curled up next to me stood up, turned, and stared in the direction of the noise. This is one reason we don't let our little guys run outside, especially at night. After three minutes the howling stopped and I turned out the light. Ten minutes later there was another brief chorus farther down the ridge.
- Larry Roth
2/6 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Traveling on the New York State Thruway just north of Saugerties, I spied a dark hawk on the ground. As it flew up to a tree limb, I saw a flash of white in its wings. Its face also seemed to have a pale spot. Perhaps this was a melanistic version of one of our more common hawks. A little further up the road an adult bald eagle flew directly overhead.
- Reba Wynn Laks
[While the red-tailed hawk is the most common raptor along the Thruway, in winter one may see rough-legged hawks - like the snowy owl, a bird that breeds on the Arctic tundra. Their color varies, and very dark birds are not uncommon. In flight, these "morphs" are striking, as white patches at the base of the primaries and tail contrast sharply with their otherwise dark plumage. Steve Stanne.]
2/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 54 degrees F today, eclipsing the previous record of 53 degrees.
- National Weather Service
2/6 - Verplanck Point, HRM 40.5: I missed the pre-sunrise assault by what I assume was an eagle looking for breakfast. Two great black-backed gulls had taken notice, however, and were looking to finish the job the eagle had started. A drake common merganser was injured and trying to keep with the rest of the flock. Unable to fly, it was still able to dive and agile enough to give the twin gulls the slip over and over. The gulls were relentless and would lift off the water only to drop again trying to secure the duck. They'd sometimes sit for a few minutes, tracking the duck, but never let it get too far away before again attempting to get their prize. A grim reminder of how nothing goes to waste in nature and that not all "birds of prey" have talons and hooked beaks.
- Ed McKay
2/6 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: For as long as I can remember, backyard maple syrup makers knew when to tap their trees: President's Day. That went out the window ten years ago, but this year I could have tapped the trees Christmas week and I wish I had. By now I would have put behind me the best season ever with the tranquil weather and plenty of the "right" days - below freezing at night, upper 40s or warmer during the day. The danger of tapping too early is that after a week or so without running sap, the tap holes begin to dry up. But, I decided to take a chance and started hanging buckets. Sap drops "plinking" into the galvanized pails made the years roll back, freshened memories of other times and other sugar bushes and the joys of making syrup. As I was tapping the trees, the goshawk flew over, quite high. Until now I had seen it only when it raided the feeders. I thought for an instant that it was an eagle as it glided across the lake and into the canopy on the far side.
- Christopher Letts
2/6 - Palisades, Rockland County, HRM 23: Returning from a walk to the State Line Lookout, I noticed that the witch hazel shrub outside my office building was blooming. As I was gazing out the window in late afternoon at the rising, nearly full moon, an adult bald eagle flew in low from the river and headed northwestward over the building.
- Linda Pistolesi
2/6 - Queens, New York City: Frustrated with the lack of progress on my daily route through the Belt Parkway, I headed up Conduit Avenue, a service road for the Belt Parkway. As I negotiated a lane change, a narrow-winged bird flew quickly overhead and landed in a large locust on the median of the parkway. As it banked for a landing I got a great view of the rich rusty red tail of a male kestrel. Tail bobbing and nervous head movements followed, confirming my suspicions.
- Dave Taft
2/6 - Hudson River Estuary: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service has listed five distinct Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhincus) populations under the Endangered Species Act: The Chesapeake Bay, New York Bight, Carolina, and South Atlantic populations of Atlantic sturgeon will be listed as endangered, while the Gulf of Maine population will be listed as threatened. This listing appeared in the Federal Register today and will become effective April 6, 2012. See www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2012/01/31_atlantic_sturgeon.html .
- National Marine Fisheries Service
2/7 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: I listened to a lone cardinal singing his song in the woods this morning. It was music to my ears. Perhaps he is broadcasting that we will have an early spring.
- Kathy Kraft
2/7 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: The rufous hummingbird was still present today at the American Museum of Natural History.
- Peter Scully
2/7 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Despite the partial overcast the full moon glowed, looking luminescent behind the thin layer of clouds. The full moon of February was given many different names by Native Americans, but the Indians of our area, the Algonquian speakers, called it the "Snow Moon." Other names are the "Full Hunger Moon," with winter storms making hunting difficult, and the "Ice in River Is Gone" moon, appropriate for our mild winter.
- Tom Lake