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Hudson River Almanac April 10 - April 17, 2012

OVERVIEW

For many birders, the spring arrival of warblers, especially the neotropicals that winter far to the south, is a special time. With trees leafing out, many of them have to be identified through song and calls. Spring migration in the river and in the air was reaching a pinnacle that ordinarily does not occur until May.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/12 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I paused to admire a drift of Dutchman's breeches with creamy, dreamy flowers above lovely ferny foliage. Here and there full bloom violets were snuggled with the taller flowers. Both of these are waging a no-win battle with Japanese knotweed, being pushed farther and deeper up the ravine with each year. Before the ravine was denuded of huge old hemlocks by the hemlock wooly adelgid, the deep shade thwarted the knotweed. The hemlocks have fallen, rotting hulks now, and the sun streams into what had been a shaded tunnel for a century and more.

- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/10 - Lower Hudson River Estuary: This entry has been parsed from a much longer essay published 100 years ago this month and half a century before the debilitating effects of DDT extirpated peregrine falcons from the Hudson Valley. The falcon's later return is one of the success stories of modern conservation. Thanks to Robert DeCandido for this contribution.

- Tom Lake

"The Duck Hawk on the Palisades," from Bird Lore 14(2): 81-86 (March-April, 1912)

It may interest many in Manhattan to know that occasionally a peregrine falcon, or duck hawk, comes to town for the pigeons that have their homes on certain buildings in the city. This bird can easily come down from the Palisades, across the Hudson, to the center of the city in ten minutes - he travels with such vigor and swiftness.

In late August, twenty-seven years ago (1885), some haymakers in a Jersey meadow, just west of the Palisades, were amazed to see a duck hawk, that was pursuing a bird, plunge nearly at their feet into the long grass and bushes. The falcon, in his haste, became entangled, and was caught before he could free himself.

Several falcon couples nest, even today, on the face of the Palisades, particularly near Clinton and Ruckman's Points. For those familiar with the location of a falcon's nest, it is possible in the breeding-season, by standing on the cliff over one of their regular homes, such as the projection of rock just north of Clinton Point, to see a swift peregrine dive from the ledge into the air immediately beneath. The bird, wheeling and circling with incredible rapidity, rarely sailing, emits a harsh, frequently repeated call of one note. Promptly the mate seems, since he possesses such speed, to jump into sight out of space, and as the pair circle the female is seen to be the larger. So long as one chooses to remain upon the edge of the Palisades, the two birds may be observed wheeling and shooting about, now out over the river and now close by; they pass with the speed of an arrow, impelled by rapid wing-beats, and at the same time calling loudly.

When viewed in the natural state and usually at some distance, the dark colored, pointed wings, shapely body, short squat neck and head, great speed, and general fearlessness, serves to identify this medium-sized bird of the falcon family. The general configuration of pointed wings, constantly flapping, and short neck, causes a duck hawk to simulate a huge Swallow, especially a Tree Swallow.

- William Cogswell Clarke

4/10 - Hudson Valley: The air temperature for March 2012 was 11.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the average for the month. This eclipsed the previous record set in 1973 by almost five degrees. It was the warmest March recorded since keeping began in 1820.

- National Weather Service

4/11 - Green Island, HRM 153: A curtain of clear water spilled over the federal dam at Troy. The lack of rainfall in the watershed had the river looking nearly crystal clear. I spotted at least two common loons and more cormorants than I could count. Shoreline anglers as well as boaters out in the current were catching fish. The best show was watching the variety of fish that followed my lure as each retrieve neared the shore: a foot-long smallmouth bass, a buck American shad, a gizzard shad, a dinner-plate sized sunfish, a small striped bass, and more than once a small school of river herring, probably bluebacks. The river was 49 degrees F (9.4 C).

- Tom Lake

4/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 69: To them it was serious business, to me it was comedy. Three tom turkeys in full regalia were lined up, five feet apart, with all attention aimed at a lone hen turkey foraging twenty feet away. She had her back to them, her head down, and gave no indication that she even noticed them. They would strut a few feet, flare their tails, and do a little hop-step. But the hen was having none of it. After five minutes of being the subject of their audition, she wandered into the tree line and out of sight.

- Tom Lake

4/11 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Over the years, I have seen great horned, barred, screech, long-eared and snowy owls here, and once heard a barn owl. Riverman Cal Greenberg, born on the Point, recalls northern saw-whet owls, half a century ago. For all that, some of these are resident and rarely heard or seen. I felt fortunate this morning when a great horned owl ghosted through the oak grove and landed a hundred feet from me. Later, on the marsh road, I came upon a hen wild turkey, only the third I'd seen in more than thirty years. I wished her well; the coyotes are formidable hunters.

- Christopher Letts

4/11 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: I spotted our first returning barn swallows today, only a week earlier than usual.

- Terry Milligan

4/12 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: From my office overlooking tiny Pine Lake, I watched a shadow sweep over the water, and then another. The barn swallows were back, and I was glad. Blackflies were active and will soon be in a biting mood.

- Christopher Letts

4/12 - Croton Point, HRM34: Bluebirds. The male, so bright, so trusting, was almost at my feet and engrossed in foraging. His little dumpling of a mate stayed in the crown of a dogwood, playing it safe.

- Christopher Letts

4/13 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was inspired after talking with a colleague yesterday. He was sure that he had seen a mountain lion crossing the highway, and then loping along the median on the Northway (I-87) at 3:30 in the morning. I commented on the time of day and that it may have been a hallucination, but he was convinced.

- Mike Corey

[Mountain lion "sightings," such as this one, have been on the increase in the Hudson River Valley this spring. So far they have all been anecdotal with no unambiguous evidence. Many occur in low light or involve inexperienced observers. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we have a small number of them in our midst, but mountain lions are highly mobile and cover vast territories. If here, they seem to be surprisingly adept at consistently eluding automobiles and hunters. Tom Lake.]

4/13 - Town of Knox, Albany County HRM 138: We call our home Turtle Hill Farm, and not without reason. This afternoon I counted upwards of 20 turtles sunning themselves on the muskrat lodge in the marsh that borders the west side of our driveway.

- Bob Price

4/13 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Nine days ago five purple martin scouts were singing their wake-up morning songs and giving the house sparrows a run for their money. Today, we had 40 more. They were about ten days early but there seemed to be enough bugs flying for them.

- Charlie West

4/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I flushed an upland sandpiper from the top of the landfill this morning. It flew around a couple of times, giving its awesome flight call, and then settled down on the other side.

- Benjamin Van Doren, Lewis Lolya

4/14 - Minerva, HRM 284: Phoebes have been calling for the past week, likely passing through. Coltsfoot has been blooming in area road ditches and two male common mergansers have been seen on the beaver-dam-flooded Minerva Stream.

- Mike Corey

4/14 - Milan HRM 90: Spring is in the air! This morning my wife and I watched as a pair of wood ducks went from tree to tree in search of the perfect nest site. This evening I watch two male painted turtles pursue a somewhat larger female around my pond.

- Marty Otter

4/14 - Millbrook, HRM 82: Chipping sparrows arrived today.

- John Askildsen

4/14 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 68: I went for a four mile walk on the Dutchess Rail Trail and as I was passing Lake Walton, I counted 24 turtles lined up in a row, all facing the same direction and all basking in the sun on a log sticking out of the water.

- Elizabeth Athanasiou

4/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: New faces with rusty caps showed up at the feeders today - chipping sparrows.

- Tom Lake

4/14 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Fisherman Stan Drisek helped me get ready for my fish morphology programs (a.k.a. "funny fish") by sharing his morning catch with me. Most of the fish were alewives, and most of those were roe, or females, with eggs. A few blueback herring had arrived and, way ahead of schedule, some mossbunker (Atlantic menhaden). Twenty years ago, we never saw menhaden until May; this year they were in the nets in March. Stan pointed out that this is a rare spring indeed with considerable salt so far north in the estuary - about 7.0 parts per thousand (ocean salinity is 32-33 ppt). No snow melt and a paucity of rain surely have been responsible for that. A wave of kestrels had arrived as well as several harriers. As I was leaving the park I thought I saw another kestrel along the edge of the woods, but this bird was larger, darker, with more presence: a merlin.

- Christopher Letts

4/14 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 15: It was a "birdy" day at Van Cortlandt Park, highlighted by two uncommon species for the area: an eastern meadowlark and a red-necked grebe in gorgeous breeding plumage. The meadowlark is listed as "rare" on the Van Cortlandt Park bird checklist. The red-necked grebe is not even listed and could very well be a first record for the park.

- Andrew Baksh

4/14 - Manhattan, HRM 12.5: There was a yellow-throated warbler at Inwood Park this morning near the central wooded path that leads from the lagoon up to the highest ground. The warbler was singing high in the canopy of the oak trees, thus a very difficult bird to see.

- Tom Fiore

4/15 - Minerva, HRM 284: While hiking with the dogs to the swamp in the back forty this evening, I could hear the clear and lovely notes of a red-eyed vireo in the woods. Upon arriving at the swamp, we inadvertently flushed our American bittern from a small patch of brown and beat cattails not twenty feet away. Soundlessly, this fine bird took off across the swamp.

- Mike Corey

4/15 - Black Creek, HRM 85: There were six volunteers at the eel monitoring site this morning as we collected, analyzed, and released 39 glass eels. We also discovered a dead (cause unknown) great blue heron across the creek from the eel fyke net. Farther up the creek we saw a school of about 50 river herring, a largemouth bass (12-14 inches long), and three white suckers. A belted kingfisher was calling and flew around in the trees.

- Elizabeth Athanasiou

4/15 - Stormville, Dutchess County, HRM 67: A healthy-looking red fox visited my backyard this morning. I have seen this red fox, or another one, going through my yard in summer for the last few years. Two years ago it seemed to be stalking a herd of white-tailed deer, with no success. Last week a coyote wandered through my yard.

- Sudhir Sharma

4/15 - Fishkill, HRM 61: As I was watching the usual birds at the feeder, I heard a rustling in the leaves under the feeder and out popped my first spring sighting of a rufous-sided towhee. It came out in the open and we were able to watch its beautiful color variations for a few minutes.

- Alan Kartholl

4/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I spent four hours birding Croton Point and sensed a noticeable difference in bird density and variety from two days ago. Highlights included a great horned owl, a dozen hermit thrushes, two palm warblers, a blue-gray gnatcatcher, a blue-headed vireo, an eastern meadowlark, great and snowy egrets, two broad-winged hawks, large numbers of savannah and chipping sparrows, and two vesper sparrows - both in a rocky ditch on the landfill.

- Lewis Lolya

4/16 - Minerva, HRM 284: With the air temperature this evening at 70 degrees F - very unusual for mid-April - I was drawn to the swamp. There were millions of spring peepers searching for love, and the sound was deafening. Nevertheless, I was still able to hear our American bittern and a pied-billed grebe, and caught just the hint of a green frog. What a beautiful night. We were still missing bats.

- Mike Corey

4/16 - Hyde Park, HRM 82.5: This was a nice day for fish-spotting at Crum Elbow Creek. Not only did we catch more than 500 glass eels in our fyke net, but we also spotted nine river herring, six yellow perch, one sunfish (bluegill or pumpkinseed), three white suckers, and two smallmouth bass.

- Sarah Mount, Dave Lindemann, Stacie Bacchiocchi, Sean McNeill, Tracy Stinebrickner

4/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 91 degrees F today, a record high for the date.

- National Weather Service

4/16 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Warbler activity had begun and I spotted a yellow-rumped warbler and a small flock of palm warblers. Off the north side beach, a trim common loon was riding not ten yards from shore. I watched it swallow a large white perch and then gape and preen for quarter of an hour. In its crisp breeding plumage, it looked like someone on the way to the country club in a new tuxedo.

- Christopher Letts

4/16 - Manhattan, HRM 7.5-5.5: By evening, the warbler tally for the day in Central Park was at least a dozen species: Nashville, orange-crowned, northern parula, yellow, yellow-rumped, pine, prairie, palm, black-and-white, worm-eating, northern waterthrush, and Louisiana waterthrush. We still had a few common loon fly-overs, many great egrets, a few snowy egrets, green heron, and black-crowned night heron. Among the uncommon sightings were a glossy ibis fly-by, and a yellow-billed cuckoo.

- Tom Fiore

4/17 - Crugers, HRM 39: While driving along we caught a glimpse of a red moving object alongside the road. It was a female pileated woodpecker, on the ground, pecking frantically at a rotting log. It resembled a jack-in-the-box with its head bobbing up and down from behind the log as it picked out insects.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

4/17 - Manhattan, HRM 7.5: An American bittern was spotted in the north woods of Central Park. They have become increasingly uncommon in Central Park, not quite annual, with less and less quiet and appropriate habitat. This bird was in a tree, the more usual way they've been found in the past decade or so in this urban park.

- Tom Perlman

4/17 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: Things began slowly on this morning's New York City Audubon Bryant Park Bird Walk. We had the resident gray catbird, a hermit thrush, but not much else. Just after 8:00 AM, sparrows started popping out of shrubs and dropping from the trees to hop on the lawn and glean for insects. First two swamp sparrows, then white-throated sparrows, song sparrows, a field sparrow, chipping sparrows, a savannah sparrow, and an eastern towhee. We also had at least two brown thrashers flying back and forth high in the London plane trees, as well as a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets and a yellow-bellied sapsucker. Surprisingly, still no warblers spotted in the park yet.

- Gabriel Willow

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