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Hudson River Almanac March 14 - March 20, 2012

OVERVIEW

A winter ended that was barely noticeable in most areas of the watershed. The week leading up to the vernal equinox was punctuated by record-setting warmth as well as continued early arrival of migratory birds and blooming of spring flowers. Year eighteen of the Almanac ended on the equinox, reminding us that it stays alive only through the wonderfully generous natural history contributions from all of you. The Almanac goes out to more than 3,000 people each week, all of whom share in ongoing discovery and learning about our Hudson River watershed.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/14 - Staten Island, New York City: A road-killed river otter was found on the west shore of Staten Island about a month ago. Wildlife biologists speculated as to whether it was a stray or a sign that otters were re-establishing themselves. Today a DEC Conservation Officer recovered a second (also road-killed) river otter in the same vicinity. It looks like the river otter, not seen in New York City in a hundred years, may have a population on Staten Island. Now, if we can only get cars to stop running them over...

- John Fitzpatrick

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/14 - Saratoga National Historic Park, HRM 177.5: About 200 snow geese were spotted next to the Hudson River on the Saratoga Battlefield.

- Steve Abrahamsen

3/14 - Chatham, Columbia County, HRM 125: I have been hearing so many woodpeckers in the Borden's Pond Preserve. Yesterday I spotted a female pileated, but not her mate. They are regulars in the area, but it's been several months since my last sighting.

- Nancy Castaldo

3/14 - Yorktown, HRM 44: Wood frogs were "quacking" away in the little wetland at Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park. This is the earliest that I can remember hearing them. If you kneel down, stay still, put your hand palm-up in the water, and wiggle your fingers just enough to make small ripples, sometimes a male frog will come over and swim onto your palm. Then he realizes that you are not a female frog and he swims away very fast. This only works at this time of year.

- Susan Butterfass

3/14 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Three 70 degree-plus days in a row. Our daffodils bloomed today, easily two weeks earlier than usual and a month earlier than last year. Also, trillium has popped up in the woods.

- Christopher Letts

3/14 - Croton Point, HRM 35: "Gronk, gronk, gronk." For the second morning I heard a raven calling; this time it was perched in plain sight and I passed it. In the presence of ravens I am always transported to wilder, more natural places - a magic bird.

- Christopher Letts

3/14 - Ossining, HRM 33: There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the outline of Croton Point and the hills of Rockland County were so perfect that they seemed unreal. Two robins, the first I've seen this season, skittered past. Clumps of bright yellow daffodils danced in the warm breeze.

- Dorothy Ferguson

3/14 - Manhattan, HRM 2: We spotted a woodcock perched at the corner of William and Wall Street today. I cannot recall ever seeing one in Manhattan before.

- Matt Klein

3/15 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: A spitting rain turned to light rain near dusk. We spotted three northern harriers including an adult male, a brown-tone male, and an adult female. At the perfect time for owls, it stopped raining. We sighted six short-eared owls, one of which was an extremely light-colored adult male.

- Dan Furbish

3/15 - Catskill, HRM 113: Today was definitely the earliest date that we have ever logged the annual spring arrival of river herring in Catskill Creek. Furthermore, it was the first time we ever saw striped bass here prior to St. Patrick's Day (they arrived today as well).

- Tom Gentalen

3/15 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: With air temperatures in the 70s the past few days, spring arrived early. This morning I heard my first eastern phoebe calling, joining the chorus of cardinals, song sparrows, Carolina wrens, chickadees and tufted titmice.

- Kathy Kraft

3/15 - Fishkill, HRM 61: I enjoyed watching a Carolina wren gather moss and other nesting material so that it could build nests inside my hanging tomato plant containers outside the back door. There are two containers and it brought nesting materials to both of them. Guess I won't be planting tomatoes in those containers.

- Ed Speath

3/15 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: The Andromeda was coming into bloom. According to someone who has kept phenologic [phenology] records of such events since 1993, Andromeda ordinarily come into bloom between April 15 and April 25, some 30-40 days hence.

- Nancy P Durr

3/15 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: I was much taken with the spring finery of the weeping willows: delicate golden-green blossoms and tiny leaves gave the branches the look of having a fresh spring hairdo. Coltsfoot was blooming in great profusion on the roadsides.

- Christopher Letts

3/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Tree swallows were zipping around the nesting boxes (bluebird boxes, actually, but the swallows always seem to prevail) and this morning they were in and out of the boxes and getting serious about it.

- Christopher Letts

3/16 - Saratoga County, HRM 208: Ice is "out" on Moreau Lake and northern shovelers have been seen on the open water this week.

- Gary Hill

3/16 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Forsythia was in full bloom, about three weeks earlier than usual.

- Christopher Letts

3/17 - Rondout Creek, HRM 92: River herring had arrived in Rondout Creek about two weeks early. My son, John, was kayaking and saw quite a few, and local fishermen were already collecting them. This may mean that striped bass are not far behind.

- John Neidhardt

3/17 - Hyde Park, HRM 80: While dining at the American Bounty Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America, we watched from our table as a sharp-shinned hawk dined on a starling in the inner courtyard of Roth Hall. It stripped the feathers of the kill, moved the kill under a pine tree, carried it up into the tree, brought it back down to the ground and then finished consuming it. It took all of about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, at various times, crows flew overhead showing their annoyance at the hawk's presence. It was an extraordinary "fine dining" experience for us and other diners.

- Erin Murphy, Tim Murphy, Ed Spaeth

3/17 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38: Magnolia was in full bloom, at least a week early.

- Christopher Letts

3/18 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: While our family was having a picnic dinner at the Norrie Point Marina, we finally saw the occupants of the beaver lodge. They were swimming under and around the long broad walk near the shoreline. One was large and the other was about three-quarters the size. They did not seem to be concerned about us leaning over the railing watching them, and they gave us a nice show before they departed.

- Steve Hesse and Family

3/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This was the last week of winter and forsythia was in bloom along the river, hyacinths flowers were opening, magnolia was showing color, and daffodils had long been in bloom. These were all, in terms of an ordinary year, two weeks early

- Tom Lake

3/18 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 61: The air temperature reached 74 degrees Fahrenheit today, a record high for the date.

- National Weather Service

3/18 - New Windsor, HRM 59: The last couple of days have exploded with birdsong and nest-building activity in my yard. I was serenaded in turn by passionate and enthusiastic song sparrows, cardinals, robins, mockingbirds, mourning doves, and my personal favorite - purple finches. I couldn't locate to identify the joyous and insistent singer of "Peter,Peter,Peter." Isn't it early for Baltimore orioles, or is this a different bird?

-Joanne Zipay

[The "Peter, Peter, Peter" call is most likely the clear song of the tufted titmouse. The purple finch, indeed a wonderful singer, is not as common as it once was in the Hudson Valley, and as a nesting species it is usually associated with conifers. Its close relative the house finch, also a marvelous songster, is very common in suburban and urban habitats. The "purple" of a male purple finch is more raspberry red than purple and covers much of the bird's body. Color - a more crimson hue - on male house finches is concentrated on the crown and breast. Tom Lake & Steve Stanne.]

3/18 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: We spotted two male yellow-rumped warblers on a walk in the woods behind our house - our first warblers this season. Phoebes have been singing in many spots as well.

- Betsy Hawes

3/18 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Phoebes had returned and the sky was clouded with high-flying tree swallows.

- Christopher Letts

3/18 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: A red-tailed hawk was devouring an unidentified bird high up on a black locust while a companion red-tail squawked from a nearby branch. Feathers floated down as he ripped away at the meal and sparrows snatched them as they fell. Nest lining?

- Elizabeth T. Martin

3/18- Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: I was surprised by a commotion on our glass-enclosed front porch this afternoon. Flapping desperately against the taped-shut-for-winter corner windows was a bird with gray wings, sharply curved beak, strong legs, business-like claws, patterned belly, and black under-eye markings - a male merlin. As it slipped down the glass onto a plant stand for a still moment, I managed to cup its wings in both hands and carry it outside where, thankfully uninjured, the falcon soared to freedom - a magical moment. It likely had been hunting sparrows at our front yard feeder and pursued one through the open porch door (but no evidence of the hapless victim).

- MJ Madigan

3/19 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: At dusk, we positioned ourselves at Hyde Park wetland #1 (HP-1 on the State Wetland Map) about a mile east of the Hudson River, to observe the display of the woodcock (which did not occur). The temperature was near 70 degrees F and the gray tree frogs were voicing loudly with spring peepers joining in the background. A few mosquitoes appeared and so did a couple of little brown bats flying their erratic flights over our head. Venus and Jupiter were shining brightly high in the southwestern sky.

- Bill Jacobs, Judy Kito

3/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 78 degrees F today, a record high for the date.

- National Weather Service

3/19 - Chelsea, HRM 65.4: On the last day of winter we sat in 79 degree sunshine watching a small duck blind drift downriver in the current. The small, square wooden frame was covered with tied-down, now-brown, cedar branches. It had likely come loose from a waterfowl-season mooring upriver, and seemed to connect the seasons from fall to spring.

- TR Jackson, Tom Lake

[Duck blinds are floating platforms used by hunters to camouflage their presence on the water. Simple duck blinds are often made with floats on a wooden frame adorned with conifer branches. If they are well done, ducks and geese generally pay little attention to them or the hunters. Tom Lake.]

3/19 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: The river was 45 degrees F, considerably warmer than usual for the last day of winter. Anglers on the dock were having a slow but steady pick of small striped bass (16") and channel catfish (16-18"), caught on bloodworms. All fish were released.

- Tom Bouchard, Tom Jackson, Tom Lake

3/19 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: Danny Messina and I went to Liberty Marsh to look into a 3/17 report of cinnamon teal. While we did see a small group of green-wing teal and several northern shovelers, we did not see the hoped-for cinnamon teal. However, we did see two sandhill cranes on the south side of the marsh. They were definitely pair-bound as they never looked to be more than eight feet from each other. This was our earliest sighting date ever in Orange County, topping last year's on 4/13.

- Ken McDermott

3/19 -Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 72 degrees F today, a record high for the date.

- National Weather Service

3/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The vernal equinox arrived while most of us were asleep (1:14 AM). Today was another, albeit now official, spring day (70 degrees F), and one that was fairly filled with cabbage white butterflies. Like confetti in the air, it seemed to be an entirely fitting way to conclude the eighteenth annual volume of the Hudson River Almanac.

- Tom Lake

3/20 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: American toads were calling this morning.

- Jesse Jaycox

3/20 - Hyde Park, HRM 81: We found both bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) blooming amidst large, warm rocks on a hill in a park just south of Hyde Park. Populations of Dutchman's breeches in lower-lying areas were leafing out, but not yet blooming. This is a very early flowering date for these spring ephemerals.

- Kali Bird

3/20 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 62: Since early March I have had two red squirrels making quick forays into my yard from a wooded area just above Tin Brook. My first sighting was very exciting as I have never had them before. Smaller, more lithe and agile than the gray squirrels, their rich red fur seemed to be on fire in the sunlight. Even more interestingly, I noticed that they would stretch out spread-eagle on the trunk of a maple tree and chew the bark. At this time of year, red squirrels start running out of stored energy from the winter and turn to the sap of maples to get a quick fix of sugar.

- Patricia Henighan

3/20 - Town of Newburgh, HRM 61: The air temperature reached 80 degrees F today, a record high for the date.

- National Weather Service

3/20 - Crugers, HRM 39: Ogilvie's Pond, on the first day of spring, seemed to have been transformed overnight. Spatterdock was beginning to poke out of the water and we spotted more than 100 orange fish, averaging about six inches long, swimming very close to the surface. Two turtles were basking in the sun on a large log and a pair of Canada geese stood quietly on the cement wall of the pond. A perfect start to spring!

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

[Goldfish, even bright orange ones, swim in the Hudson, but most often those we find are brassy in color; the orange ones catch the eyes of predators. These six-inch-long "orange fish" (more than 100) may well have been pre-spawning or even spawning golden shiners. Tom Lake.]

3/20 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I looked out the window yesterday to see a large dark bird marching across the feebly-green lawn. It was a huge wild turkey that paraded on through the daffodils into the camouflage of the woods. I watched the shape of its body disappear in the dark shapes of fallen trees and leaf piles. I followed its passage only by the flashes of its red wattle. This morning, to my delight, the bird made another strut across the lawn into the woods, in what may become a new daily treat.

- Robin Fox

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