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Hudson River Almanac February 8 - February 14, 2012

OVERVIEW

It was another "winter" week that felt like early spring: Some flowers were blooming, maple sap was running, raptors were courting, and our first call for spring river herring monitors was posted. As the calendar catches up with the weather, the Hudson River Estuary Program will offer many opportunities for citizens to contribute to scientific understanding and stewardship of the Hudson ecosystem.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/14 - West Point, HRM 50.5: For the second time in four days I saw a banded ring-billed gull in the river from the South Dock at West Point. It had a metal band on its left leg and a dark blue or black band with white letters on its right leg with the letters UT3. It appeared to be smaller than its peers. Can you find information on the bird?
- Doug Gallagher

[On January 22, Jesse Jaycox spotted a banded herring gull at Beacon. With information from the band we were able to discover that the gull had been banded seven months earlier nearly 800 mile northeast in Nova Scotia. So far we have no information on who may have banded Doug's gull (UT3). Please let us know if you have any leads. Tom Lake.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/8 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This was the first time I have spotted black vultures. There were four altogether, with dark gray heads and legs.
- Pete Pavone

[Digital photos showed four black vultures handing out in a hardwood tree, possibly roosting. While the gray heads were not entirely diagnostic - immature turkey vultures also have grayish heads - their short tails and gray legs were. Tom Lake.]

2/8 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: With days staying lighter longer I was back at Stony Kill Farm walking after work. I came upon two perfect, white snowdrop flowers blooming amidst the leaf litter on the south side of an eighty-foot-tall tuliptree. A few minutes later a full-sized red fox meandered out of the woods, settled down on the road leading from the manor house to the cow barns, and just watched me. On my last loop, I spooked two red-tailed hawks "cozying" up in the grove of black locust trees. They flew off squawking and annoyed that I interrupted their quiet time. Heading to my car, two pileated woodpeckers swooped overhead. Simply magic!
- Andra Sramek

2/8 - Fishkill, HRM 61: While waiting for a traffic light, I enjoyed watching a red-tailed hawk glide up from a grassy embankment to a nearby telephone pole with its prey tightly clutched in its talons. Even as traffic whizzed by the hawk seemed unflustered and promptly engorged itself with its "pulled prey" dinner. With dinner over, it fluttered its feathers and flew off to roost on a tree farther away.
- Ed Spaeth

2/8 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 47: As I was raising the flags this morning next to the Fort Montgomery State Historic Site visitor's center, I was greeted with my best peregrine falcon sighting in more than six years on the job. As the flags were halfway up the pole I heard a high-pitched squawking. I looked up and saw two peregrines; one was chasing the other that had a small mammal in its talons. They flew through the glade that covers the battlefield site like the high-tech craft in Star Wars movies, dodging trunks and limbs rather effortlessly. They made their way over the river and to the Bear Mountain Bridge. Was this the veteran nesting pair of the bridge, and had I witnessed courtship in progress?
- Peter Cutul

2/8 - Furnace Woods, HRM 28.5: I saw the northern goshawk again this morning. It is huge. I get such a kick out of having one around. There must be larger game about.
- Christopher Letts

2/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I spotted some small, fresh black bear tracks in the snow today, most likely from a yearling. The mildness of the winter continued to have an impact on the wildlife in the Adirondacks with some bears remaining active and white-tailed deer not moving to winter range. Feeder activity has been heavy with American goldfinches, pine siskins and evening grosbeaks. Another exciting sighting was a pair of white-winged crossbills in the woods. The pair was with a flock of pine siskins feeding in a stand of hemlocks. The excellent cone crop on the conifers has resulted in some great irruptive bird species both in the woods and at the feeders.
- Charlotte Demers

2/9 - Woodstock, HRM 102: The turkey vultures were back - about thirty of them - this time circling a little west of the center of town.
- Reba Wynn Laks

2/9 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Turkey vultures regularly breed somewhere in the rocky woods behind our house. This morning a pair sat in their usual viewing tree while others soared overhead. Was this "our pair" back for the season?
- Barbara Wells

2/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie: A pair of adult eagles was perched above the NY62C nest. The morning haze had not burned off and it was difficult to see them clearly. Not far away, at Clinton Point (river mile 69), another pair of adult eagles were perched. These may be "new" adults since I could see some white-and-brown mottling on the underside of their bodies.
- John Scott

2/9 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 68.5: A pair of eagles was perched at midday along tidewater fifty feet apart in creek-side sycamores. Each had a fat fish clamped to the limb with their vise-like talons, but it seemed odd that neither was feeding. Even from a distance I could make a good guess that the fish were gizzard shad. I've eaten gizzard shad so I could appreciate the eagles' apparent reluctance.
- Tom Lake

2/9 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: I checked the maple sap buckets in mid-morning and they were overflowing. An hour's hard work with my bucket yoke on my shoulders and all of the pails were empty. But I was out of storage room; some seventy gallons of sap were waiting to feel the heat of a wood fire and the sap was still dripping like a plumber's happy dream.
- Christopher Letts

2/10 - Woodstock, HRM 102: I was driving back from Woodstock today and spotted three large birds flying in a spiral. There was no mistaking those wings - these were turkey vultures.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

2/10 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Three mute swans made an early appearance on our pond. They were clearly in a mating mode and the aggression of one toward another was surprising. A great blue heron stood his ground amidst the commotion, while mallards swam casually nearby. The Canada geese were intimidated enough to stay out of the water.
- Diana Salsberg

2/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Signs of spring take all forms, and this one was as much of a surprise as any. In partial sunlight amidst a scattering of decaying leaves was a single dandelion, a fully opened and blooming yellow flower. There were no others around. Possibly the heat generated by the decaying leaves had sufficiently warmed the soil.
- Tom Lake

2/10 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A male eastern bluebird was inspecting our nest box today. Our previous earliest bluebird sighting was on February 23, 2004 when a pair of bluebirds spent the day investigating the nest boxes.
- Ed Spaeth

2/10 - Manhattan, HRM 13: A wonderfully pensive great horned owl has decided to spend some time in the woods of Inwood Hill Park. Each day I greet him "Hello," as he peers down at me with one open and alert eye. I wonder if he has a mate nearby, nesting.
- Sgt. Sunny Corrao, Urban Park Rangers

2/11 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Several dozen of us peered with teary eyes through spotting scopes and binoculars into a frigid northwest wind to watch a pair of eagles in aerial courtship over the river. But the tide was high and the eagles were mostly elsewhere - across five hours we saw only five eagles. There were some common mergansers around and, in an odd winter sighting, we watched a single male and a single female fly in close tandem upriver. Possibly a breeding pair but were they a long way from a nest?
- Tom Lake

[Both Larry Federman and Rich Guthrie report that common mergansers breed in parts of Dutchess, Ulster, and Greene counties, with improved stream quality and maturation of trees (offering more nesting cavities) being contributing factors. Rich Guthrie adds that both common and hooded mergansers nest along some of the higher elevation streams and ponds such as the Catskill Creek. Tom Lake.]

2/11 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: In a light snow, a pair of pileated woodpeckers was busy dining on a large dead oak. They've been nesting here for the past several years. They are especially dramatic swooping over the trees during the feeding and fledging process. Our feeders were being regularly visited by red-belled woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers. This past week the red fox strolled along the rocky ridge. I haven't seen any since early last spring, so was delighted to see one, and looking well.
- Barbara Wells

2/11 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: With all of the hopeful signs of spring reported in the Almanac, there are some moments that remind us of the true season. A half hour after sundown, tens of thousands of crows were massing in the twilight along the mile of riverfront south of the Mid-Hudson Bridge. This winter crow roost is occupied each night from December through early March, filling up every available limb of cottonwood, sycamore and other hardwoods along the route.
- Tom Lake

2/11 - Rockland County, HRM 23: On a short evening hike down Tallman Mountain to the marsh below, I heard my first red-winged blackbirds of the season. With the setting sun turning the phragmites golden, it almost felt like summer. From a higher spot I was able to finally see them, twenty males milling about. Flying just above the phragmites was a juvenile northern harrier. Several large flocks of Canada geese were overhead, all heading west and close enough to hear their wing beats. A quick jaunt out to the pier at dusk produced several hundred gulls, two pairs of ruddy ducks, and three pairs of buffleheads. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the common raven seen flying over the Palisades Parkway last week.
- Ania Grzesik

2/11 - Brooklyn, New York City: Beginning in the late morning at Coney Island, we spent much of our time scanning birds at the edge of the jetty at West 37th Street. From an observation at the fishing pier, it appeared that Atlantic herring were running, so we assumed that was why many birds were feasting in the water between the jetties. Among the thousands of gulls, gannets, long-tailed ducks and mergansers were three razorbills and three red-necked grebes. We also spotted a single male surf scoter. On the jetty were fourteen purple sandpipers. It was the "birdiest" we've seen it all winter.
- Heydi Lopes, Rob Jett

2/12 - Minerva, HRM 284: It's mid-February and we have five inches of nasty, crusty snow out in the woods. We get light dustings of snow, just enough to see if the snowshoe hares have been out (and they have). Our back 40 pond-swamp is quite frozen and lovely. Now it is time to think about making maple syrup.
- Mike Corey

2/12 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: A coyote interrupted my search for bald eagles from the Mills-Norrie State Park Mansion Park overlooking Esopus Meadows. He was large and healthy looking as he scouted Canada geese resting on the lawn. On this chilly morning (10 degrees F), while no eagles were sighted near Esopus Meadows, the nesting pair of bald eagles not far away were again snuggled together in one of their favorite day perches, a scraggly white pine.
- Dave Lindemann

2/13 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Since it was a gorgeous day (sunny and mild) and the tide was low, we decided to do our first Norrie Environmental Center beach seine of the year. The results: twelve banded killifish, one yellow perch, and two wet educators.
- Zoraida Maloney, Sarah Mount

2/13 - Moodna Creek, HRM 58: Following two days of strong northwest winds, we had a blowout tide in mid-morning. As Moodna drained into the river, the bottom of the creek and Cornwall Bay emerged like a sunken city of deadfalls and snags. Hundreds of trees swept downstream by storms and then covered by the tide were now rising eerily from the bottom. Adding to the ambience was a Cooper's hawk crossing the creek without a sound: flap-flap-glide, flap-flap-glide.
- Tom Lake

2/14 - Hammond's Point, HRM 59: A small flock of Canada geese took flight from the marsh at the delta of Fishkill Creek and headed downriver. As they approached Hammond's Point and the specter of an adult bald eagle perched in a cottonwood, the flock executed, as one, a perfect 45 degree course change to the west. Once they passed the eagle they made a 45 degree course correction to get back on their initial heading. Respect.
- Tom Lake

2/14 - New Windsor, HRM 59: My snowdrops were up and in full bloom on Valentine's Day!
- Joanne Zipay

2/14 - Oscawana Point, HRM 38.5: The skies were gray and cloudy and the river shone like a mirror in late afternoon. Since we had been searching for eagles, but hadn't seen any in quite a while, we were delighted to spot a beautiful adult perched in a tree out on the point. We watched it for several minutes as it looked all around, and then followed it through our binoculars as it flew out over the river. What a great Valentine's Day gift!
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/14 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Whenever we see bald eagles along the river, they are always in tall trees or some other perch that gives them a towering vantage over the water. As I passed the Croton-Harmon rail yard this morning, I was very surprised to see an adult eagle perched in a small tree not even four feet off the ground, watching Haverstraw Bay very intently.
- Tom Lake

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