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Hudson River Almanac February 15 - February 22, 2012

OVERVIEW

Mid-February was masquerading as mid-March with crocus and other early spring flowers in bloom, the first "glass" eels arriving from the sea, considerably ahead of schedule, and chipmunks stirring in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. Huge flocks of spring blackbirds were beginning to sweep northward over the valley.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/15 - Battery, HRM 0: Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration water temperature monitor at the tip of Manhattan told the story of our mild winter, in contrast to last winter. Between 1/15 and 2/15 last winter, water temperatures there ranged from 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit. In the same period this winter, they ranged from 40 to 43 degrees F.

- Steve Stanne

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/15 - Galeville, Ulster County, HRM 75: Short-eared owls and northern harriers continued to put on a show at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. We saw at least five short-ears and perhaps a dozen harriers late this afternoon. A highlight came when harriers starting harassing a short-ear with a small animal in its talons, the birds circling higher into the darkening sky. The owl finally let go of its prey - a tiny speck dropping toward the ground, followed by a harrier with wings folded back in a headlong dive. In the distance and darkness we couldn't see the details, but the harrier nailed its target, pulled out of its dive just above the grass, flew on a few hundred feet with another harrier in pursuit, and then landed on the ground to eat its purloined dinner.
- Steve Stanne, Beth Roessler, Laura Heady

2/15 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 61: I finally saw my first adult bald eagle of the season at Riverfront Park in Montgomery. I had barely walked into the parking area when I saw a flash of white and froze. Despite bitter cold winds and no gloves, I watched through binoculars for more than thirty minutes. There was a chaos of crows all around, but the eagle sat steadfastly on a limb near the Wallkill River and continued to tear up and eat something. After its meal, the eagle flew off and only then did I dare to walk down near the tree where it had perched. Below it, I found some fish guts and a few scales.

- Patricia Henighan

2/15 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: From the Verplanck waterfront, the two adult bald eagles perched across the river at Stony Point were so close to one another that they seemed fused.

- Christopher Letts

2/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Simply happenstance? The nesting red-tail pair changed perches several times, but they always perched together, close together. On the Croton River, two adult bald eagles were similarly perched.

- Christopher Letts

2/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Mourning doves were cooing, songbirds were singing to each other, the early azalea's buds were showing pinky-lavender at their tips, yet snow was falling. A little bit of everything.

- Robin Fox

2/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We were standing in a sleet-storm watching and discussing the adult pair of eagles in nest NY62 when we heard a raw "gronk" overhead. Looking up we saw a pair of ravens passing by. Judging by the body-bumps and wing-touches, they were probably engaged in courtship.

- Tom Lake, Debbie Sheehy

2/16 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The process of turning maple sap into syrup is essentially one of removing about 39 gallons of water from 40 gallons of sap. Sugar content varies and so too do the methods used to get rid of the water. My operation, a typical back-yarder, is about as low tech as they come. One barrel stove sports two stainless steel restaurant pans. Cold sap goes into the front pan; when hot, it is ladled into the rear pan. Once boiling, that sap is further ladled into a larger pan on an adjacent barrel stove - the object being to never "kill the boil" in the big pan. I fire with wood, and it takes a lot of it.

A few days into this and I have exhausted my store of scrap wood, limb wood, anything I chose not to burn in the wood stove in the house. The go-to places for a quick resupply are north-facing river beaches where everything from the tributaries and the upper Hudson is tide-deposited twice daily. Croton Point is a good example, collecting flotsam and jetsam from half the width of the estuary. Every wood-gathering expedition is as well a treasure hunt - you just never know what you are going to find.

It is fascinating that the combined currents of wind and tide conspire to sort objects. With similar current resistance and specific gravity, disposable lighters, peach pits, and soda bottles often end up near each other, or at least in the same strata running along the beach. Today's collection included several beaver-gnawed sticks, a shotgun blasted duck decoy, a coconut shell neatly halved, plastic cups from shot shells, and swimming goggles (child sized - this is a bathing beach). There were also water chestnut seeds - "devil's heads" to river kids - and all manner of other seeds, tubers and rhizomes. It takes less than an hour to load the truck with enough fuel to boil for several days but I'm rarely in a hurry to give up this added feature: Wood for free, and all the other reasons we love to walk on beaches even when we are not gathering fuel.

- Christopher Letts

2/17 - Ulster County, HRM 102: I heard the cries of a red-shouldered hawk today and presumed that it was our friend from the last two seasons returned to his neighborhood on the Sawkill and Tannery Brooks. A broad-winged hawk was seen nearby at the Woodstock elementary school, two days in a row, and that kettle of vultures still circled over Woodstock (as of this afternoon).

- Krista Munger

2/17 - Galeville, Ulster County, HRM 75: Near sundown a visit to the Galeville Town Park, part of the Shawangunk Grasslands, produced at least four short-eared owls flying, along with several northern harriers. The spectators outnumbered the owls. Earlier today a belted kingfisher was heard but not seen along the Shawangunk River at its confluence with the Wallkill River.

- Paul Osgood

2/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: We were snuggled into the edge of the woods in Bowdoin Park facing a long, wide and contoured grassy field, hoping to catch a coyote on its early morning rounds. None appeared, but before long we were surrounded by bluebirds - in the air, the trees, shrubs, brush, and on the grass - a kaleidoscope of bluebird blue and burnt orange. In our experience, Bowdoin Park is one of those places where you can find bluebirds nearly anytime of the year.

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

2/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: After several hours of fruitless search for eagles, we had given up and were content to watch downy woodpeckers defacing the tiny openings in our thistle feeders (soon cardinals and squirrels will have access). We thought we heard a thin cry from high overhead. We looked up and saw a pair of adult eagles, specks in the sky, spinning in the high altitude crosswinds at 2,000 feet.

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

2/17 - Newburgh, HRM 60: Have you ever seen Canada geese dive? I had two today dive under and pop up like mergansers. I think they were "washing" themselves. One repeatedly turned on its back. Later a Cooper's hawk flew over the geese, swooping down at them, in an interesting maneuver.

- Jesse Jaycox

2/17 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 5.5: The rufous hummingbird continued its extended visit at the American Museum of Natural History, near the entrance area to Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium.

- Tom Burke, Tony Lauro

2/17 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 4.5: Just after dusk near Columbus Circle at the south end of Central Park, the air became filled with blackbirds. We watched a steady flow of red-wings, cowbirds, and grackles stream off of the tall buildings on 57th Street, filling the trees to the northeast along Fifth Avenue, many hundreds of blackbirds forming a night roost.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

2/18 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Crocuses were in bloom on my lawn this morning. This beats last year's bloom date by sixteen days, and was the earliest since we've lived in Hyde Park.

- Peter Fanelli

2/18 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I wonder if there is a new eagle nest near here. I have been walking along the railroad tracks every day recently and have seen a pair of adult bald eagles in the same general area. I cannot see a nest but I watch them flying to the same place somewhere behind the trees. Today one of them was carrying nesting materials.

- Jude Holdsworth

2/18 - Palisades, HRM 23: Walking up the driveway I looked across the road and did a double-take. I thought I saw my neighbor's chimney move. Looking closer I could see that the chimney was moving, or what was resting on top of it was moving: two big black birds with their backs to me. Finally one turned and revealed its bald red head - a turkey vulture. They dawdled a bit basking in the warmth. The second bird turned and I saw that its head was blackish-gray, an immature turkey vulture. Back along the driveway, little purple vinca pinwheels were peeking through the ivy.

- Diane Langmuir

2/18 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 4.5: The lingering rufous hummingbird was again making a visit to a nearby area in Central Park, before coming back in to the flowering shrubs at the American Museum of Natural History.

- Tom Fiore

2/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The non-typical winter continued. A work colleague reported seeing chipmunks while climbing Goodnow Mountain, about four miles west of the Hudson River. Looking back through the records, the only other observation of chipmunks in February was in 1975. Snow measurement at the snow stake today was nine inches; in 1975 it was twenty-two inches.

- Charlotte Demers

2/19 - Crugers, HRM 39: In fifteen minutes, while counting backyard birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count, we saw two European starlings, two blue jays, four house sparrows, one white-breasted nuthatch, one red-bellied woodpecker, one junco, and two mourning doves. The best surprise was our first red-winged blackbird of the season

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/19 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Pouring sap into a gathering pail, I glanced down to see a tiny blue gem at my feet - a myrtle flower, far and away the earliest ever here.

- Christopher Letts

2/19 - New York City: Notes on the bald eagle in winter near New York City in 1907, from The Wilson Bulletin 59:71-72:

In severe winters like the past one the bald eagle is a common bird in the Hudson River Valley near New York City. They come down the river upon large ice floes, and when they reach the northern limit of ferry traffic they fly up-stream again. If there is no ice in the river no eagles are likely to be seen. Ebb tide is also necessary to bring them down. Occasionally they perch upon the cliffs of the Palisades on the New Jersey shore of the river. They have also been reported as flying over the city.

It is interesting to notice the actions of the herring gulls, abundant in the river all winter, in the presence of eagles. They do not mind young eagles at all, but if an adult bird comes close they scatter to all points of the compass. Probably only old birds attack and rob them, the young not being courageous enough for that. Immature birds predominated this past winter. Of the six or seven seen by the writer on two trips along the Palisades, only one was an adult. February is the month in which they occur in the largest numbers. George E. Hix.

- Robert DeCandido

2/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I heard a chickadee this morning singing its "fee-bee" song. Up until now I have only heard the "chickadee" call. The fee-bee song is mostly associated with the male chickadee starting to look for a mate and setting up a territory. According to the Stokes Birding Blog, "Chickadees are in a flock of 6-10 or more birds in the winter that has a fixed winter territory. In spring, the flock breaks up and only the most dominant pair in the flock gets to breed in the winter territory area. The other chickadees have to go elsewhere and find their own territory."

- Charlotte Demers

2/20 - Furnace Woods: Purple and yellow crocus had leapt into bloom between breakfast and lunch, the earliest ever here.

- Christopher Letts

2/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: For more than an hour scores of blue jays filled the trees, heading south to north. Their raucous calls were not unlike a screechy door that needs its hinges oiled.

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

2/21 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: At the Furnace Brook marsh near Oscawana Point, we saw a hooded merganser pair swimming around and a female belted kingfisher watching them from a branch overlooking the water. At Ogilvie's Pond, another hooded merganser pair hung around the shoreline, their colors so vibrant in the late afternoon sun.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/21 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Over the years, I have found many peculiar things in sap buckets, besides sap. Wind and rain make deposits, and the sugar content is a draw for some small creatures. Invertebrate visitors run largely to ants, crane flies, and towards the end of the season, inch-long brown moths. While the moths have already appeared many weeks earlier than in the past a new and unwelcome insect arrived this year - the marmolated stink bug. I battled them in the gardens last year, and fervently hope this is not an omen for the coming season. But don't fret; the sap gets filtered before it goes into the evaporators, and then twice again when it is syrup. The final filtering takes place at about 218 degrees F through a thick felt filter, and I will vouch for the purity of what goes into the syrup jars.

- Christopher Letts

2/22 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: Right on schedule, large flocks of red-winged blackbirds appeared on George Washington's Gregorian birthday (he celebrated it on February 11).

- William Drakert

2/22 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: The first red-winged blackbird of the season was at the feeder today. Several more were in the trees making their usual sound. I noticed from past records that they sometimes arrive at the end of February but more usually in early to mid-March.

- Carol Coddington

2/22 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The eels are here! The Science Barge put out an artificial habitat collector (a.k.a. "eel mop") at the mouth of the Saw Mill River and today we shook out three transparent glass eels. These were the first of the season on the Hudson, and possibly the vanguard of a very early spring migration; we usually don't start sampling until late March. The fourth floor of the gorgeous Yonkers public library gave us a good view of the recently daylighted Saw Mill River.

- Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount, Zoraida Maloney

[It is tempting to say that this is the earliest that glass eels have ever arrived in our tributaries, except that we really don't know. To my knowledge we have never checked mid-to-late February. In most winters, the streams and creeks are frozen over and gear cannot be set. Tom Lake]

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