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Hudson River Almanac April 3 - April 9, 2012

OVERVIEW

Spring weather returned to more moderate (usual) levels this week, but still no precipitation. By week's end, we had only 18% of normal rainfall for the month. Birds and flowers were again most prominent as both brightened up the April landscape. Most successful bald eagle nests in the watershed should have nestlings by now.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/5 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Across three hours of birding I noted 61 species. Among these were 25 American kestrels, with pretty much one on every post on the landfill. At one point almost all of them were hovering above the hill.

- Lewis Lolya

[Gerard Manley Hopkins' 1877 poem The Windhover (quoted in part below) spoke of the European version of this small falcon. Tom Lake.]

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-

dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/3 - Schodack Island, HRM 139: On a sunny but cool morning I heard a barred owl call several times: "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?" While most owls are nocturnal, the barred owl is one of the few that can be heard during the day.

- Mary Ellen Grimaldi

4/3 - Crugers, HRM 39: The resident great blue heron finally returned to Ogilvie's Pond. We watched it walk along the concrete wall of the pond, its neck stretched, until it reached the pair of Canada geese that frequent the pond. Then, knowing its limits, it spread its wide wings and flew over to the other side of the pond where it began to walk in the water.

- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

4/4 - Troy, HRM 152: It was early afternoon and the tide had turned to flood, probably bringing herring up the river. A lone double-crested cormorant was fishing, diving repeatedly just south of the Hoosick Street Bridge.

- Regina Keenan

4/4 - Schodack Island, HRM 139: In keeping with what an odd winter and spring it has been with the weather and early appearances of blooms and birds, this morning I heard the sweet song of the eastern meadowlark from the neighboring pasture. I usually do not hear them until early May.

- Mary Ellen Grimaldi

4/4 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132: It was early morning as I watched an adult bald eagle flying below the tree tops with a fish in its talons, navigating the Hannacroix as an aerial highway heading toward the Hudson.

- Jean Bush

4/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie: For the second year in a row, the adults in eagle nest NY62 have produced two eaglets. While the male is often the primary food provider, in early morning, the female brought a bird to the nest, possibly a duck. In midday, for variety, she delivered a squirrel.

- Terry Hardy, Tom Lake

[This makes a total of eleven eaglets from three nests across the twelve years we have been monitoring this pair. Tom Lake.]

4/4 - Highland Falls, HRM 50: A big tom turkey with full tail fan on display was strutting around a hen this morning in the woods outside O'Neill High School.

- Scott Craven

4/4 - Fort Montgomery, HRM 46.5: Late in the day I watched an immature bald eagle fight the wind over the old Fort Montgomery site before heading back into the woods, I assume to roost.

- Scott Craven

4/4 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: Due to the non-winter, we have seen very few eagles this year. However, as we drove across the Annsville (Route 9) Bridge today, we saw a magnificent adult circling overhead, his white head and tail gleaming in the sunlight.

- Dianne Picciano

4/4 - Manhattan, HRM 7.5-5.5: It was a good day in Central Park for early April migration. A fairly wide variety of species were seen including a few on the very early side as well as few less common species. The least-expected, a monk parakeet, was actually one that has been seen in the park a number of times, just not recently despite being a breeding resident species in New York City. An uncommon but annual migrant seen only early-on was a vesper sparrow. A nice feature of many bird observations was the birdsong that was heard from a wide variety of species including winter wrens and hermit thrush. The arrival of Louisiana waterthrush has been rather emphatic; never an abundant migrant, a minimum of five, and quite likely six or more, were seen. Other migration notes should include the sheer numbers of some very expected yet heretofore not-too-common migrants, such as the ruby-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush, palm warbler, pine warbler, and eastern towhee. There was also one white-crowned sparrow and several common loon flyovers.

- Tom Fiore

4/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: While the above average temperatures in March fooled humans into thinking that summer had arrived, the birds and animals in the central Adirondacks were not tricked by balmy sunny days and were not exceptionally early in their arrival dates or behavioral mileposts. There were a few exceptions and most of them were water birds as the lakes did lose ice early and have been open for about a week. Common loon, great blue heron and bufflehead all had early arrival dates but other avian species were mostly within their usual arrival dates.

The chipmunk that lives in our side yard was still on its winter schedule, even with a food source (bird feeder) less than ten feet from its burrow. It seems to be staying below ground, likely dropping into torpor for two or three days at a time and then emerging on day three or four to raid the sunflower seeds from the feeder. Judging from the size of the debris pile and large stones pushed out of the burrow, I'm convinced that it has a small excavator in there for its burrow expansion project.

Green frogs have just begun to vocalize and we have seen some of their egg masses in the vernal pools, but the cooler temperatures have slowed them down at bit. Two years ago, when the snow cover was also gone by mid-March, the green frogs were breeding the first week of April. On the vegetation front, the non-native coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) was in bloom and the leaves of the trout lily (Erythronium americanum) were above ground but with no blossoms yet.

- Charlotte Demers

4/5 - Ulster County, HRM 78: Beginning at Millbrook, continuing our peregrine falcon observations at Mohonk Preserve, we saw sustained peregrine falcon activity including one chasing a raven. Human rock-climbing activity in the area appears to be conflicting with this year's eyrie, and may be keeping the peregrines away. At the Trapps, we watched a prey exchange (male catches the prey and then "hands off" to the female in mid-air) that may have been a starling. As the female fed, the male went to the eyrie to care for the eggs. At Bonticou, we heard a pair of barred owls and watched a pair of ravens carrying what appeared to be food to their nest. One peregrine was seen flying near the raven nest and then among several turkey vultures.

- Thomas J. Sarro, Joe Bridges

[Dr. Thomas J. Sarro, Professor of Biology at Mount Saint Mary College, has been assisting with the peregrine monitoring project at Mohonk Preserve since 1999 and is currently its coordinator. Peregrine falcons returned to the Shawangunks in 1998 after decades of near-extirpation due to pesticides in the food chain that compromised the birds' ability to reproduce. Tom Lake.]

4/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It an unusual behavioral switch, the adult male spent most of both yesterday and today in the nest. Ordinarily, the female tends to the nestlings as much as 90% of the time. I could see both eaglets bobbing their heads above the nest rim, one a bit higher than the other.

- Terry Hardy

4/5 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: It was great, bring-a-smile-to-almost-any-face news! The first barn swallow returned mid-day and flew promptly down the basement stairwell to the sheltered nesting locale of many swallow families over many years. My casual phenology notes indicate that the return is early by maybe a week. Their return usually correlates with the presence of "shad flies" or blackflies that have not been abundant yet this spring.

- Nancy P. Durr

4/5 - Manhattan, HRM 7.5-5.5: We estimated that as much as 75-90 percent of all the migrant birds had cleared out of Central Park overnight. Given that the majority had only just arrived, that was a bit of a surprise.

- Tom Fiore

4/5 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: Although the swamp sparrow is named after its favored habitat, I can't help projecting its other connotations, its hiding and lurking around on the ground, its coloration muddied like a ruined brown-gray watercolor. I spotted one earlier in the week at Bryant Park during the colder, damper days, hiding in the underbrush. Most of last week's song sparrows were gone. This morning, however, one surprised me, perched atop a bush and breaking out into song, sharing happiness in the return of warm weather.

- Alan Drogin

4/5 - Manhattan, HRM 2.7: During an afternoon walk in Hudson River Park from Canal Street north to 25th Street, I saw several small groups of brant geese eating "seaweed" (algae) from old pilings and sections of rip-rap. I believe these geese are part of the 40 I saw near here on March 2. I find it just amazing that these normally fairly reclusive waterfowl have found such a safe niche to winter. There are hardly any raptors to speak of here and there is plenty of forage at the river's edge. They have seemingly become accustomed to the occasional helicopter taking off, water taxis, and the sound of traffic on the West Side Highway. I'm wondering when they will head back north.

- Caleb Davison

[The late Dery Bennett, longtime director of the American Littoral Society, used to mark the seasons by noting how brant, a small species of geese, left Sandy Hook on Memorial Day. In his words, they would "shove off for the Canadian Arctic where they will breed, fledge young, and return around Columbus Day." Tom Lake.]

4/6 - Germantown, HRM 105: I looked up from large shadows moving over my yard to see as many as six turkey vultures overhead. I do not normally see them that close, nor over my yard. I went out a while later and saw them feeding on a road-killed rabbit. I looked again in a few hours and saw not a scrap of rabbit remains on the road. Turkey vultures may not be pretty, but they seem very efficient.

- Mimi Brauch

4/6 - Ulster County, HRM 78: Continuing our Mohonk Preserve peregrine falcon observations at Millbrook, we spotted a peregrine flying with a raven until it zoomed off for a quick prey exchange with its mate. The male peregrine soared with vultures, flying vigorously and taking several aggressive swipes at one. Later we saw the male falcon quickly copulate with the female. It is my belief that at Millbrook we are seeing an attempt to breed by a mature male and an immature, one year old female (darker plumage and lighter cere). Tom Cade, founder and director of The Peregrine Fund, believes that in North America, female peregrines do not become sexually mature until their second year, with some taking long as three years.

A peregrine flew through my field of vision later at the Trapps and landed on a snag. A turkey vulture flew right under its nose with no response. The vulture then tried to land on the ledge with the snag but was quickly driven away. The behavior we are seeing at the Trapps is indicative of a female being on eggs and the male guarding from optimum vantage points on the cliff. If our observations are correct, egg-laying may have taken place March 20-22, in which case hatching should occur between April 17 and 24. We will see.

- Thomas J. Sarro

4/6 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 15: While hiking through Van Cortlandt Park, my co-worker thought she spotted a cat on the trail. When we got closer we realized that it was actually a great horned owl fledgling on the ground. As we were leaving to give it some space, the fledgling puffed up into a huge scary ball and clicked its beak at us. One of its parents, perched in a tree overhead, quickly swooped past us to a lower tree to keep a closer watch.

- Kathryn Boula

4/6 - Manhattan, HRM 7.5-5.5: A breeding-plumage common loon was again on the Central Park Reservoir this morning. Sharing the reservoir were a hooded mergansers, northern shovelers, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, gadwalls, the usual mallards, American black ducks, some American coot, double-crested cormorants, and three gull species - ring-billed, herring and great black-backed - plus at least one brightly-plumaged pied-billed grebe.

- Tom Fiore

4/7 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: We frequently watch as the adult eagles bring food to the nestlings in the NY62 nest, but far less often see them acquire the catch. I watched at sunrise as the male dove repeatedly into the low tide shallows at the mouth of Wappinger Creek before finally connecting with a river herring, an alewife. As has been his habit for the last eleven years that we have watched him, he perched in a cottonwood and had his fill before addressing the needs of the nestlings. One more stoop, another herring, and then off to the nest.

- Tom Lake

4/7 - Manhattan, HRM 11: Further evidence of the renewed ecology and cleanliness of the Hudson River in New York City - a muskrat I saw last week swimming and landing on the city shoreline near the Little Red Lighthouse underneath the George Washington Bridge. The muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is a medium-sized semi-aquatic native rodent and was a source of both food and fur to the native Algonquian people who lived here before the Europeans arrived 400 years ago. The meat is said to be tender and similar in taste to duck. In the early twentieth century, coats made of muskrat fur were labeled as "Hudson seal fur." Growing up to two feet in length, they are smaller than beavers that can also be found in this region.

- Mark Gluck

4/8 - Mid-Hudson Valley: The forests and hillsides along the river were beginning to gain color, mostly white as wild cherry and shadbush, as well as the first dogwood, were blooming.

- Tom Lake.

[Shadbush or serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), a native species, has been, at least colloquially on the East Coast, considered a harbinger of spawning American shad arriving in estuaries. However, in the last several decades either shadbush is blooming later, shad are arriving earlier, or our observations are becoming more precise. From early April to early May, this wildflower has been a dependable indicator of advancing springtime inland up the estuary. Shadbush tends to be recognizable by the white glow it gives off, a softer, hazier white than flowering dogwood. In bloom, shadbush tends to have a horizontal aspect; dogwood seems to be more vertical. Since 1994, it has bloomed in the Mid-Hudson area as early as 3/31 (1998) and as late as 4/27 (2011). Tom Lake.]

4/9 - Troy, HRM 152: The ebb tide was nearly low in early afternoon and four double-crested cormorants were fishing in the Hudson just south of the Hoosick Street Bridge.

- Regina Keenan

4/9 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: My first brown-headed cowbird was at the feeder today - it seems early for them. The male cowbird joined a group of five or six white-throated sparrows. I have seen a lot of these beautiful little birds in the past few weeks and I love their distinctive markings.

- Kathy Kraft

4/9 - Highland Mills, HRM 50: We spotted a small, gray dog-like animal running across our lawn this afternoon. It was a coyote. This is the second one we've seen here in our 1960s development. The other was a few years ago. It looked a little lost, ran up the street across other neighbors' lawns, and I lost sight of it after the fourth house. It seemed in good condition, maybe a little scraggly, but had no trouble loping along. I think that distinctive movement is the most telling difference between a dog and a coyote.

- Alan Groth, Janice Groth

4/9 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: This was our first New York City Audubon Bryant Park bird walk of the season Bryant Park continues to amaze with the abundance and diversity of its bird-life. The winter's white-throated sparrows were still lingering and singing. We had several sparrow species in grassy lawn in the center of the park: numerous song sparrows, a pair of chipping sparrows, and a field sparrow. We were later treated to the field sparrow singing his bright bouncing-ball song from a London plane tree, alongside his chipping sparrow cousin who was singing as well. We also heard a winter wren singing his amazing song, which I almost never hear in the city. He later popped out of the English ivy and gave us a great look.

- Gabriel Willow

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