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Hudson River Almanac February 23 - February 29, 2012

OVERVIEW

A major "blowout tide" produced some interesting observations, in particular an opportunity to see the bottom of the river where it is rarely seen. Huge flocks of blackbirds continue to move up the valley along the river, arriving days if not weeks early.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/26 - Yonkers, HRM18: The Science Barge crew set our eel mop about 300 feet upstream from where the Saw Mill River meets the Hudson. Chris Bowser and his crew pulled the eel mop four days ago and found 3 glass eels. We pulled it today and got five. The water temperature was 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Bob Walters

[Freshwater eels have survived global cataclysms for millions of year but now some populations appear to be diminishing, even disappearing, world-wide and scientists are not quite certain why. While American eels are considered freshwater fish, they are born at sea and many of them spend much of their lives in tidewater. Glass eels are one of the juvenile life stages of the American eel; "glass" refers to their lack of pigment and near transparency. They arrive by the millions in the estuary each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the greater Sargasso Sea area where they were born. This is a particularly vulnerable time and little is known about this period in their life history. In anywhere from 12 to 30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea, where they will spawn once and then die. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/23 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: The first red-winged blackbird was at the feeder today. Several others were in the trees making their usual sound. From looking at past records, they occasionally arrive at the end of February but more often early to mid-March.

- Carol Coddington

2/23 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: It was another spring-like day with air temperatures in the 50s. The river was flat as glass, the breeze out of the south was warm, and the cardinals were busy singing their spring song, "birdie, birdie, birdie."

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

2/23 - Rockland Lake, HRM 33: This glacially formed lake near the Hudson is always a good stopover to see winter ducks. Three days ago Pat and Bill Joel reported spotting two rafts of American coots, about fifty in each, and they were still on the lake today. The comical pairs of gadwalls - dabbling ducks that continually "tip up" to forage, males displaying their black rumps with each tip - were also still there.

- Tom Lake

2/23 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The goose wars had begun. A paucity of proper nesting sites makes the competition fierce. Interlopers are shown no mercy; if honking and hissing and wing flapping don't get the message across, real violence can occur. Every year, hopeful pairs perch on the ridgepoles of the house and garage and honk their hearts out. The resident pair of Canada geese in Pine Lake ignores all of that, but if they glide down to the embankment or into the water, things get ugly fast.

- Christopher Letts

2/23 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 5.5: The rufous hummingbird continued through today at the West 81st Street entrance to the American Museum of Natural History. Look for it at the feeder to the right of the entrance.

- Tony Lauro, Tom Burke

2/24 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: They arrived just after dawn and lasted all day, streams of them, red-winged blackbirds and common grackles, moving through the forest, often filling every branch in the canopy. The raucous sound was nearly deafening. By midday the grackles, both male and female, had taken over the feeders, making off with ten pounds of black-oil sunflower seed in ten minutes, necessitating a refill. The juncos and goldfinches had fled. A single white-throated-sparrow had mustered up enough courage to feed among the bullies. We tried to count those closest to us but lost it after 50. Another 250-300 waited in the trees. By sunset the stream of birds had stopped. Blackbird migrations of this magnitude are generally mid-March events.

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

2/24 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Tulips had pushed up 3-4" in the cutting gardens. Hardy cyclamen were in bloom. Maple syruping is a challenge and a mystery this year; the sap is just not running the way it should and at 50-60 degrees; what does run will sour in the pails in 24 hours. I should have tapped on New Year's Day. How's that for hindsight?

- Christopher Letts

2/24 - Oscawana Point, HRM 38.5: A snowstorm during the night transformed everything into a winter wonderland. As we surveyed the glassy gray waters of the Hudson at the Oscawana overlook this morning, we spotted a beautiful adult bald eagle skimming over the water in the inlet. Landing in tree, we thought it might have been feeding on something it caught but, with closer observation, saw that it was just staring out over the open water.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/25 - Philmont, Columbia County, HRM 120: That funny, Styrofoam-like snow called grapple, or grauple as spelled by some, piled up on the furry back of Loki, my husky-mix dog as we walked along Claverack Creek. Grapple are snowflakes that melt a bit, and then re-freeze before they hit the ground. They lose their six-sided flake shapes and turn into tiny balls, or pellets. It sounds a bit noisy when grapple snow hits the leaves that are still left on some of the trees.

- Fran Martino

2/25 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 84: I heard my first song sparrow singing in the woods this morning. That seems kind of early; I am guessing the warmer winter is playing a role despite the couple of inches of snow that fell yesterday. Nice to hear them!

- Kathy Kraft

2/25 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 68: While driving home late at night I spotted a pair of red foxes. I was in awe of their beautiful red fur and white-tipped tail. They were running into a yard and the lead fox moved quickly into some bushes. The second one stopped dead in his tracks and stared into my eyes just a few feet away. Then he turned and disappeared into the dark bushes. It was an incredible moment that I will never forget.

- Richard Alamo

2/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The river was whipped to a froth in midday as the flood tide butted strong northwest winds gusting to 50 mph. Standing alongside the river in mid-afternoon, as the tide dropped and the current sped seaward, it was easy to get the feeling that the ebb tide might never stop.

- Tom Lake

2/26 - Bethlehem, HRM 138: I happened to walk down to the river at Henry Hudson Park this afternoon at the time of low tide, and it was by far the lowest I have ever seen. Apparently a blowout tide from the north-northwest winds of the last two days. The Albany river gauge got down to -3.55 feet. The record low there is -4.50 feet on March 8, 1986.

- John Kent

2/26 - Clermont, HRM 103.5: I was at the Livingston estate in Clermont and spotted two adult bald eagles perched on a tussock in the river, likely the same ones I have spotted at Cheviot, less than four miles upriver.

- Mimi Brauch

2/26 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: The tide was out at Esopus Meadows this morning, way out. We had never seen it so low. Even the lighthouse was surrounded by now-exposed river bed - a blowout tide. Two immature bald eagles were picking at things, perched on newly exposed logs. An adult eagle flew to a tree on our side of the river and called.

- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

2/26 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: Extremely low tides, most often blowout tides, expose the many derelict docks and piers along the waterfront. Except on days like today, you might never know they were there. But this is essential summer habitat for largemouth bass, in some instances smallmouth bass, as well as other species. Some of the pilings were adorned with rusted artificial lures, bearing testament to anglers' efforts.

- Tom Lake

2/26 - Manitou Marsh, HRM 47.5: We had an extremely low tide today. The shoreline and shallows showed rocks not seen for a long time. The high tide of the day looked more like a normal low tide.

- Zshawn Sullivan

2/26 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Granddaughters Thalia (6) and Sage (5) were helping me with the sugar bush chores, largely in the form of carefully sampling sap, from caught on the tongue to the almost finished product. There had been a hard freeze overnight and they were fascinated by the crunch of frost crystals underfoot. I told them how they were formed, and that people who study cold weather call them "pipcrakes." That turned out to be an extremely funny word to little girls, and I heard it used, often and variously, through the day. At lunch, "more pipcrakes, please" and later "have you seen my pipcrakes?"

- Christopher Letts

2/26 - Rockland County, HRM 36: Tiny Four Corners Pond, cradled in the woods of Sterling Forest, might not have warranted a second look except for the expanse of waterfowl on the mirrored surface. I counted forty brilliantly-colored hooded mergansers, the most I had ever seen in one place, along with eight ring-necked ducks, a dozen or more mallards, and two "psychedelic" wood ducks.

- Tom Lake

2/26 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: The blustery wind of the last few days had cleared the sky for a late winter spectacle: The brilliant crescent moon with bright Jupiter above to her left, and Venus, shining and glorious, hanging below.

- Robin Fox

2/27 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: As I was walking at dusk I heard the unmistakable call of a male woodcock in a brush lot. I could hear three or four birds as I listened. I hear them there every year, this year not so surprisingly earlier than in the past.

- Dan Seymour

2/27 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 84: At noon today, a pair of bluebirds came in to inspect our backyard nest boxes. Didn't they know that the forecast is for snow on Thursday?

- John Mort

2/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Just when we were ready to declare that the eagles were on eggs, they left the nest (NY62) unattended for ten minutes, a sure sign that they are not quite ready. The male was in the nest at midday but left and headed down river to the "24-hour deli" at Danskammer Point. The female flew in carrying a long train of soft nesting material, the consistency of which is used for the nest's "egg cup." She perched in the tip-top of a tamarack for ten minutes before circling into the nest with her final touch of preparation.

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

2/27 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Bald Eagles on the Hudson - notes from Francis B. Robinson, February 27, 1922: "For over forty years, Andrew Templeton has watched the winter visits of the bald eagles to the Hudson River at Beacon and Newburgh, where the ferry between these cities keeps the water free from ice in the coldest days. When the days begin to soften, great fields of ice break off with the changing tides, and these the ferry cuts into small blocks and a eventually a big open space is formed where the gulls, mergansers and other ducks gather and wait the breaking up of the ice.

Every year that these conditions have prevailed, during the mild days of winter, a pair of bald eagles has come to the Hudson River and remained in the ferry pathway for several days, attracting much attention. It was some surprise to me in passing over on the ferry (February 24) to find eight bald eagles on the ice - six mature birds and two immature.
Crows appeared like chickens beside their hens, but later, when we had a pair of eight-power glasses on the birds, we were unable to discover that they found any food, although mergansers were diving and splashing not far away. The eight birds were here for one day only but the pair now here have been leaving every evening before dusk for the Highlands south, flying toward Storm King Mountain. The two mature bald eagles are yet with us, but the gathering of eight birds on the river seems of enough importance to me to report to Bird-Lore, for it seems as if the protection of these birds was now bearing fruit."

- Robert DeCandido

2/27 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Red-winged blackbirds were singing and displaying; grackles were cackling in the trees, and (oh, happy day) a bluebird, perched and facing me, the bright light of morning full on it. The blue, red and white coloring was exquisite; the light made the blue of the head seem iridescent.

- Christopher Letts

2/28 - Claverack Creek, HRM 120: Two exciting things happened today while training a new volunteer Stream Spotter for the Greater Stockport Creek Watershed. We had an incredibly long look at a fisher on the opposite side of the creek. The fisher walked with a fast purpose, and my guess would be it was a male judging from its size. Fishers are one of the few predators of porcupines, and their young are born around March-April. Keep your chickens locked up! We also saw the sub-imago stage of several mayflies that had lit on a rock. Very cool stuff - if I only had a camera.

- Fran Martino

2/28 - RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, HRM 112.2: As if seeing mama eagle on her nest wasn't enough, five fox sparrows were hanging out near the bridge over the RamsHorn Creek. This is the same place I saw them in November. Early migrants or did they never leave? Approx ninety minutes later we watched two adult eagles over the RamsHorn marsh - one seemed to be chasing the other. They broke off the chase when the eagle doing the chasing turned to go after another adult eagle. All of this activity was under the watchful eye of the female sitting on the nest. The assumption is that her mate was doing the chasing.

- Larry Federman

2/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It became pretty conclusive today by early afternoon that the mated pair in eagle nest NY62 was incubating eggs. NY62 is only one of more than two dozen nests along Hudson River tidewater, and the timing for most is pretty much the same. Average incubation time is 32-35 days, so many of our nests will have "hatchlings" by April 1, coinciding perfecting with the arrival of alewives, river herring from the sea, that provide much of the sustenance for the baby birds.

- Debbie Sheehy, Dan Tatta, Tom Lake

2/28 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Crow on my plate and pie on my face, that's the way I feel after an entire month in denial. Most of January was fine maple syrup-making weather but I simply could not credit that it would last. So I tapped my sugar bush just about the time I should have been taking down the pails and putting the evaporators away. We had low 20s last night and 60 degrees by noon today. The sap should have been running like a broken faucet, but instead, a very slow drip-drip. The sap that was flowing had darkened in color over the past few days. A look at the tree's canopy shows swelling, pinky-green hues. It was over. I doubt the final product will reach two gallons and it will be a dark and murky brew even after a final trip through a thick felt filter. The only consolation is that I will have lots of maple sugaring company.

- Christopher Letts

2/29 - Greene County, HRM 108: We walked out of our house on the Hudson this morning to an astonishing sight: There were at least sixteen immature bald eagles perched in our big trees overlooking the river, flying overhead, and perched along the water. They were all immature although one was nearly an adult with a white head but not yet a fully-white tail.

- John Delaney, Pat Delaney

[From December through February the Hudson Valley hosts significant numbers of wintering eagles from Ontario, Quebec, northern New England, and the Canadian Maritimes. At some point in late winter to early spring, these birds get the message that winter is waning and it is time to return to their now ice-free home territories. Many of these eagles were probably heading north and east. Tom Lake.]

2/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The mated pair was now seriously "on eggs," hunkered down in the nest when on duty. The female will incubate, on average, for about eighteen hours a day, including overnight. The male will take the other six. At 9:00 AM we watched the classic changeover as the male arrived to relieve the female. She flew off to feed, groom and rest.

- Debbie Sheehy, Dan Tatta, Tom Lake

2/29 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Driving home last evening I counted a flock of 23 mute swans feeding on Lake Meahagh. The mild winter prevented solid ice from forming on the shallow lake - it always had open patches of water - and we had no ice skating.

- Pat Korn

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