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Hudson River Almanac March 28 - April 2, 2012

OVERVIEW

This was the warmest March on record for Albany and the second warmest for New York City. The mild weather no doubt contributed to traditional spring flowers such as pussy willow, daffodils, magnolia, forsythia, hyacinth, azalea, and shadbush blooming days to weeks early. Less noted until recently has been the lack of precipitation. In combination with low humidity and gusty winds, this led the National Weather Service to issue Red Flag wildfire danger warnings over much of the region late in March.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: There appears to have been a hatch at the bald eagle nest (NY62). Perhaps the best indicator is when the adults first bring food (small fish, probably a river herring) to the nest as they did this afternoon. While incubating, food at the nest might attract predators. However, once a third, fourth or even a fifth mouth needs food, they have no choice. If there is more than one egg, they may not all hatch the same time. It would appear that the initial hatch came in 29 days, a bit less than the average of 32-35. The warm March may have sped up the process.

- Tom Lake

[NY62 is only one of perhaps 30 active bald eagle nests in the Hudson River watershed. Most are likely experiencing a similar late-March, early April hatch. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/28 - Minerva, HRM 284: I took a hike with the dogs this evening - out the back door to the swamp beyond - and enjoyed at least a tad more of spring. The weather was much less unnerving than the 80-degree balminess last week; the air temperature was 32 degrees Fahrenheit and there was light sleet descending from the skies. At the swamp I heard one of those sounds that I've been listening for - the "bad plumbing" bird or American bittern. Just a few days ago I heard something just as spring-like and wonderful, a pied-bill grebe. Along with the bittern I heard song sparrows, red-wing blackbirds, tom turkeys, and a brown creeper. It was a veritable festival of fun spring sounds.

- Mike Corey

3/28 - Milan, HRM 90: An afternoon game of catch was interrupted by a raven flying low over our house into our backyard, then leaving with something round in its beak. We followed the bird after it returned for a third time to find it was making off with our chicken eggs!

- Dan Miller, Haley Miller, Hudson Miller

3/28 - Yorktown, HRM 44: Today was so windy that the American flag at Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park wrapped itself twice around the flagpole and didn't want to come down. It was fun, though, to watch the crows play with the air currents, looping, swooping, and being blown upwards and even sideways! They seemed to enjoy the wildness of the air, as they didn't even try to land anywhere or find a sheltered spot.

- Susan Butterfass

3/28 - Crugers, HRM 39: Upon hearing a loud thud, we went out to the porch to investigate and discovered a common grackle lying on its side on the floor. He had hit the windowpane and was stunned. As we watched him regain consciousness, we couldn't help but admire his beautiful yellow eyes and the blue and purple sheen of his feathers. We were happy that it seemed he was going to survive. Then, in an instant, a Cooper's hawk came out of nowhere, scooped up the grackle and took off with it. Maybe the hawk had been pursuing the grackle in the first place. Immediately after the hawk took off, 40 other grackles swarmed the area squawking loudly. It was like something out of a Hitchcock film.

- Dianne Picciano, Kay Martens

3/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Five great blue herons passed overhead, leading me to spot a small flock of bluebirds headed north across the Tappan Zee and flying in a V-formation.

- Christopher Letts

3/28 - Croton River, HRM 33: Two dozen green-winged teal had appeared overnight and were now splashing in the shallows of the Croton River marsh.

- Christopher Letts

3/29 - Dutchess County: HRM 74: I was traveling from Pleasant Valley to Red Oaks Mill and spring was busting out all over the countryside: green fields freshening, yellow explosions of forsythia, fruit trees bursting white and pink, and millions of little blue wild meadow flowers. I enjoyed the scenery and then spotted a large dark flyer ahead with a wing-silhouette flatter than a vulture's "V," with occasional large slow flaps. I grabbed my binoculars and, at its next go-around, I confirmed the white head and tail of an adult bald eagle. My heart soared with it. This was my second ever non-Hudson River eagle.

- Dave Lindemann

3/29 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: During the Student Conservation Association's training days at the Taconic Outdoor Education Center, we surveyed several woodland pools in search of amphibian breeding activity. We found one cold wood frog, and while we had no success finding any of the mole salamanders, we did see signs of their presence in the form of spermatophores and egg masses (probably spotted and Jefferson/blue spotted). The tops of some egg masses that were attached to submerged twigs were already above the pool's surface - unusual for so early in the spring, but not surprising given the dearth of rain. There have been many reports of water depth in woodland pools being lower than typical for this time of year.

- Laura Heady, Lan Tran, and SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps Members

3/29 - Manhattan, HRM 7-5: Over the last two days, it was most evident that a fair migration of early spring bird species had moved through, most evident in Central Park at the far north end (nearest 110th Street) with the mix including a couple of osprey flyovers. Among the smaller birds, I saw eastern phoebe (in concentrations that were suggestive of just-arrived birds), brown creeper, and hermit thrush. Among the warblers were orange-crowned, pine, and palm. An American woodcock was seen in the park and there still could be some more yet to pass through. I made a very brief and unsuccessful search for the rufous hummingbird from the West 81st Street entrance area of the American Museum of Natural History. This will have to be among the more interesting winters for which to try and sort out what and how many birds that normally don't successfully winter in our region, did, this time, or at least made it into February.

- Tom Fiore

3/30 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Another impressive wave of early migrants were evident in the Great Vly Wildlife Management Area marsh this evening as more than 2,000 tree swallows assembled at the south end to roost for the night on small deciduous trees and shrubs just above the water. A few minutes earlier, six first-of-season northern rough-winged swallows were in the company of a group of tree swallows hawking insects overhead, and a small flock of six palm warblers approached to within ten feet, providing outstanding views. A very vocal flock of 26 rusty blackbirds had also assembled at the top of a tall deciduous tree.

- Steve M. Chorvas

3/30 - Shawangunk Grasslands, Ulster County, HRM 78: I birded the National Wildlife Refuge for the first time and it was well worth the visit, even though I was too late to pick up some of the wintering birds such as short-eared owl that commonly occur here. Among my "best" birds were eastern meadowlark, a pair of northern harriers, a pair of kestrels, and a barn swallow among dozens of tree swallows.

- Bruce Horwith

3/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day three of what appears to be a successful hatch of eaglets at nest NY62. The adults alternated standing in the nest or leaving for up to five minutes. This behavior argues for the likelihood that all eggs have hatched.

- Terry Hardy, Tom Lake

3/30 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released two carp today, estimated at 8 lb. each. I also caught and released three channel catfish and one small brown bullhead. I was very pleased with the channel catfish. They weighed 5.0, 3.8, and 2.0 lb. each. All three were males, with the typical larger head, stronger jaw structure, pronounced over-bite, and dark gray breeding coloration.

- Bill Greene

3/30 - Ossining, HRM 33: The Ossining Police patrol boat reported that the osprey were back on the Tappan Zee and had begun to build a nest of sticks. This pair, or another in the same location, has had some success in recent years fledging young.

- Scott Craven

3/30 - Brooklyn, New York City: It was a blustery day and I was at the edge of a dilapidated pier watching a lone bufflehead working the rough waters of the East River, diving over and over. The pier is in Brooklyn Heights alongside the elevated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in a not-yet-constructed area of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park.

- Robert Sullivan

3/31 - Saugerties, HRM 102: The recent lack of precipitation, combined with exceptionally mild temperatures, has resulted in greatly reduced water levels in the vernal pools at the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve. The larger pool still retains a small area of water, where we observed clusters of wood frog eggs and numerous small wood frog tadpoles during today's vernal pool walk. Given the projected dry weather forecast, conditions do not look very promising for a successful metamorphosis to adulthood for many vernal pool inhabitants this year.

- Steve M. Chorvas

[Spring rains are associated with reproductive success from amphibians to migratory fishes to bald eagles. A lack of precipitation coupled with warm days can impact vernal pools critical to amphibians, eliminate spawning pools above tidewater for herring, and disrupt the arrival of forage for newly hatched eaglets. The National Weather Service in Albany reported that March precipitation was less than half the normal amount, an observation reflected in these U.S. Geological Survey hydrographs for the Wappinger Creek and Wallkill River in the Mid-Hudson Valley. The blue line shows discharge - the volume of water flowing past the gauge - compared to daily median figures computed from more than 80 years of data at each site. (Note that the Y axis scale is logarithmic.) By month's end, discharge had dropped to about 25% of the median flows. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

A USGS graph showing that rainfall was half the normal amount at Wappinger Creek near Wappingers Falls, New YorkA USGS graph showing that rainfall was half the normal amount in March at Wallkill River, Gardiner NY

3/31 - Columbia to Dutchess County, HRM 80: It was a gray day. Driving south from Hillsdale to Dover Plains on Route 22, I noticed that to the east, the mountains had snow on them. Crossing from Columbia County into Dutchess County, I noticed some snow in places on the level ground. First we had 80 degree F weather and now a return to winter bleakness.

- Wilma Johnson

3/31 - Manitou Marsh, HRM 46.5: The cattail marsh, alive with the chatter of marsh wrens and male red-winged blackbirds, had warmed to 48 degrees F. Schools of small fish moved in unison through the marsh creeks. These were probably banded killifish or mummichogs, although we have taken (seined) similar-looking central mudminnows here as well.

- Tom Lake

3/31 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: Two weeks ago the new lawn was laid down in Bryant Park and the daffodils were in full bloom. By the time the lilacs and tulips joined in, the cold weather returned and caused everything to droop like a bed of rag dolls. Could the gray catbird in the northwest corner of the park have been the same one that survived the winter? It sat out in the open on the curb watching the return of the crowds. Meanwhile, only a handful of white-throated sparrows were left and I have not seen the variety of sparrows recently arrived to Central Park. Song sparrows were abundant, with more than two dozen of them flitting about the new lawn, still off limits to pedestrians. I thought I saw a savannah sparrow a couple of weeks ago, and then saw it again today. It lacked a yellow eyebrow (Ipswich variety) but it was finely streaked, the tail forked, and it was kicking up dirt with its pink legs.

- Alan Drogin

4/1 - Rensselaer County, HRM 151: We had received word of a moose sighting just upstream of our house on the Wynants Kill. Despite being quite suspicious that we were falling for an April Fool's Day prank, we decided to take our chances and try to catch a glimpse. It turned out that we were not being "pranked," and we got to watch a small juvenile moose wander from yard to yard. After chatting with some neighbors in the area we were told that there have been several sightings of this juvenile moose and a larger female over the last week.

- Bryan Weatherwax and Family

[Moose were common when the first Europeans arrived 400 years ago, but retreated as settlements expanded; the animal was gone by the 1860s. They re-entered the state on a continuous basis in the 1980s, and DEC biologists estimated that there were about 500 to 800 moose in the state as of 2010. Along the estuary, however, they are still quite uncommon. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

4/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adult eagles were busy today bringing fish to the nest (NY62). It appeared that the fish were mostly river herring and at least one catfish.

- Terry Hardy, Tom Lake

4/1 - Pearl River, HRM 26: I was standing by the marsh on the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory grounds listening to an approaching kingfisher. It came into view and hovered over the open water chattering, then dove and came up with something dark (fish? frog?). It flew over to a branch sticking up out of the water and was soon joined by a female kingfisher. The male presented the prey to the female and then flew off chattering while she enjoyed the gift.

- Linda Pistolesi

4/2 - Columbia County, HRM 121: For several weeks yellow flowers have been blooming on both sides of the road as I drove down the hill on Route 9 before the bridge over Stockport Creek. I knew that they were too large to be coltsfoot and not in a wet enough place to be marsh marigolds. Today I stopped and brought a plant home. I checked but could not find it in my wildflower guides. Through other sources I discovered that it was the fig buttercup (Ficaria verna) an alien invasive from Eurasia. It has basal, heart-shaped leaves and buttercup-like flowers with 8-12 yellow petals. They like to form a ground cover in a shady area and that was exactly what they were doing.

- Wilma Johnson

4/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Male goldfinches in breeding plumage had turned our shrubbery into a grove of "lemon trees."

- Tom Lake

4/2 - Piermont, HRM 25: I headed out onto the Pier near mid-morning. Most of the fishermen were sheltered from the buffeting winds where the pier reaches into the Hudson, watching their rods from their cars. Halfway out a kestrel crossed my path, struggling northward into the wind low over the white-capped river. I watched it disappear towards the Tappan Zee Bridge. I reached the end of the pier as the wind seemed to grow even stronger. Two more kestrels flew over; one could barely move an inch against the wind and instead drifted eastward toward the opposite shore. I wondered at the power of the migratory instinct to make these tiny raptors struggle so instead of hunkering down until the wind abates. On my return, at the point where the pier roadway turns into the shelter of the marsh, a larger raptor struggled slightly less against the wind - a "gray ghost," or male northern harrier!

- Linda Pistolesi

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