Hudson River Almanac April 18 - April 24, 2012
This week's Almanac may seem excessively "birdy" due to the number of songbird entries. That tends to be the nature of spring, when many nature observers focus on the return of warblers and other birds that have wintered as far away as South America. Spotting a bright yellow-headed male prothonotary warbler that may have spent our winter months (their summer months) in Colombia can give a birder chills.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
4/21 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: I was working in my basement near midnight with a steady, heavy-at-times rain falling outside. I noticed a tree frog in the basement and put it outside through the "cat" door. A few minutes later, I noticed another frog and placed it outside. Then I began to notice several red-backed salamanders of various sizes that I also put outside. Another two frogs soon joined them, one a tree frog and the other a pickerel frog. Just when I was beginning to wonder if maybe the light in the basement was attracting the amphibians, the "mother" of all salamanders walked slowly toward me. The seven-inch-long spotted salamander was huge compared to the red-backs. I carefully picked it up and, surprisingly, it put up less of a struggle than the red-backed salamanders. I placed it outside and shut the cat door. Though I thoroughly checked the basement in the morning, no amphibians were in sight. There were no aftermaths from my night experiencing a minor version of one of the "10 Plagues" from the book of Exodus.
- Reba Wynn Laks
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
4/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302 -Some new avian arrivals this week included broad-winged hawk, chipping sparrow, yellow-bellied sapsucker, hermit thrush, ruby-crowned kinglet and blue-headed vireo. The dry weather to date has not been kind to our amphibians that have been trying to reproduce in the vernal pools. Many of our vernal pools have already dried up; what egg masses were deposited in them by green frogs and spotted salamanders are dried up as well. The amphibians that moved on to beaver ponds for egg-laying seem to be doing better. Azure bluet (Houstonia caerulea) was in flower.
- Charlotte Demers
4/18 - Hudson Valley: The advance of springtime up the Hudson Valley has long been measured by the appearance of flowers. Those who worked on the river came to associate certain blooms with events unseen, such as the shadbush with the arrival of American shad and river herring from the sea. They move in an orderly progression from shadbush through magnolia to dogwood with lilac being the final signal that spring is ready for summer. Not too long ago, the lilac bloom was a mid-May event, cautioning commercial shad fishers to take their nets out - the season was over, the shad had spawned. In recent years, however, perhaps due to milder weather, the lilac has become a mid-to-late-April bloom and may have lost its connection to the fish.
- Tom Lake.
[Phenology is the study of nature through the appearance of seasonal phenomena. The word phenology comes from the Greek word "phaino," meaning "to appear," or the Latin "phenomenon," meaning "appearance, happening, display, or event." Tom Lake.]
4/19 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I was lured outside at dusk to better hear the nearby barred owls' nightly scuffle. As I did, a bright light in the sky caught my eye, and then a streak of light. Was it a planet, a shooting star? No, it was a lone firefly. Looking around I then spotted another few.
- Lisa Weinstein
4/19 - Peekskill, HRM 43: It happens each year. I was going about my daily business when I realized that I was hearing a song that I hadn't heard since last spring - the unmistakable warble of a house wren. It had returned, looking for a suitable nesting site and marking its territory. I keep hoping that it will take up residence in my yard, but even if, as in years past, it nests nearby, I will still benefit from hearing its lovely voice each morning.
- Carol Capobianco
4/19 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The day had just gained full sunlight which made the moment even more unusual. As I watched the swallows, sparrows, and other species on the cap of the Croton Point landfill, there was a sudden explosion of birds, hurriedly scattering in all directions. At almost the same instant a coyote trotted over the summit and loped along on a mission that apparently did not include birds.
- Tom Lake
4/20 - Woodstock, HRM 102: I was standing in front of a bank in Woodstock when I noticed a squirrel across a side street that seemed to have a something in its mouth. It put the "something" down and readjusted its hold on the now more easily discernible baby squirrel. The mother squirrel dashed across the road, passing within six feet of me, and quickly ran up a nearby oak tree. I am guessing the mother was in the process of moving her babies to a new nest.
- Reba Wynn Laks
4/20 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: We were walking on the tree-lined trail that leads from the Franklin D. Roosevelt home to Route 9. This is the same path, lined with several shagbark hickories, where F.D.R. practiced walking during his rehabilitation from polio. We are usually accompanied by bluebirds and they always keep two trees ahead of us as we walk. But this evening we were surprised to see a different species, five turkey vultures sitting on the ground and lowest branches of a white oak on the other side of the white fence delineating the meadow. The grass prevented us from seeing the focus of their attention. We think it was probably a family grouping; the last to fly away seemed smaller and more hesitant than the others. We usually see low-flying black vultures at the Vanderbilt estate in the evening, so this was unique for us.
- Pat Joel, Bill Joel
4/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie: "Mom" eagle caught a large fish today and as she flew in from the river she could only manage to make it halfway to the nest (NY62), setting down in the grass to rest. She finally took it to the nest and fed the two, not yet three-week-old nestlings.
- Terry Hardy
[Terry Hardy supplied a superb digital photo revealing that the fish was a 7-8 lb. striped bass, a notable catch for a human angler. Tom Lake.]
4/20 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: There is a cottonwood at the base of the Point that looks out over the shallow bay created by the delta of Fishkill Creek. It is a favorite feeding and lounging perch for eagles and especially osprey. We had been watching all spring for the first one and today was the day as an osprey perched in the morning sunlight at low tide. When we looked ninety minutes later, an adult bald eagle was lounging on the same popular perch.
- Tom Lake, TR Jackson
4/20 - West Point, HRM 52: The cliff swallows returned this morning in front of Mahan Hall, or at least today was the first time I had seen them since last fall.
- Doug Gallagher
4/20 - Senasqua, HRM 36: I was chatting with herring netters at Senasqua Beach, who told me that the river herring (alewife and blueback) catch was dwindling fast, but that menhaden catches had dramatically increased over the past week. Water temperature and salinity levels were still well above normal for the season.
- Christopher Letts
4/20 - Croton River, HRM 34: Carp spawning activity had begun. Geysers of water were erupting in the shallows at the edges of Phragmites beds. While several people had reported seeing osprey in this month, the bird perched on a grounded log 200 yards west of the railroad bridge was the first I had seen this season.
- Christopher Letts
4/21 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Judging from my car windshield, some insects were now active and taking to the skies. This had brought the tree swallows back for the summer as well. Yesterday I even saw a dragonfly also taking advantage of the early aerial insects.
- Charlotte Demers
4/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Rainfall for the month, through today, was 0.26", less than 10% of the April average to this date.
- National Weather Service
4/21 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Forty-eight eager anglers lined the patio and boardwalk at the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center for an afternoon of fishing. With the water high the action was slow, at first, until the tide turned to ebb. From then on we had a difficult time keeping up with the cycle of fish-off-the-hooks, back into the river, and subsequent re-baiting. By the time the program ended we had hooked and landed 65 fish of nine species, including white perch, golden shiner, American eel, yellow perch, spottail shiner, brown bullhead, white catfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, and rock bass. Elizabeth Athanasiou was "high hook" with nine fish, including a huge white catfish. The river temperature was 58.5 degree Fahrenheit.
- Ryan Coulter, Tom Lake
4/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Near midnight, after three weeks, the rains came (0.22"). For the first time in 21 days, we had measurable precipitation.
- Tom Lake
4/21 - Central Park, HRM 7.5-5.5: There was clearly a good push of neotropical migrants overnight with some rather early-birds, such as a female prothonotary warbler. There was a female blue grosbeak at the north end of Central Park along with a male indigo bunting.
- Tom Fiore
[Neotropical migrants include song birds, such as warblers and others, that winter far to the south, some to the Caribbean, Central America, and even South America. Tom Lake]
4/21- East River, New York City: Both a red-throated and a common loon were spotted at Hell Gate in the East River.
- Tom Fiore
4/22 - West Hurley, HRM 93: At 5:30 AM, I woke to a loud bang outside. Birds feeding on their seed and suet abruptly stopped. A fully mature black bear was foraging for food as he knocked over the trash can and ran off with the suet feeder. This particular bear seems to be a regular spring visitor in this area. My neighbor's bird feeders were also relocated.
- Roberta Jeracka
422 - Ulster County, HRM 78: Continuing our peregrine falcon observations at Mohonk Preserve, we reflected on the past two weeks as being as confusing as ever at two sites, while typically routine at the other.
Millbrook: More and more we are becoming convinced that the female of this peregrine pair is immature. As a result, she is going through the motions but we suspect the pair's attempt to breed will prove to be unsuccessful. They are showing fidelity to one site, but it seems that there is much too much time when both of them are out and about. We believe that she has either not laid her eggs yet or, if she has, she is not incubating them properly. A reconnaissance climb later in the season will hopefully answer this question.
Trap: While the behavior here is anything but exciting it is all indicative of a successful breeding attempt. One can spend over an hour observing and possibly never see the female except for an occasional bobbing of her head from the eyrie ledge. The male typically can be found on one of his favorite perches occasionally going after a turkey vulture and visiting the eyrie ledge just to check on things. This being the case we anticipate young within the next few weeks and then things should really begin to pick up.
Bonticou: The situation here is very similar to what we are seeing at Millbrook with one exception. The pair here appears to be very interested in a ledge but, unlike Millbrook, we all agree that the ledge they have selected (who knows what a falcon is looking for) has very little chance of success. It is a large flat area with no overhang and is exposed on three sides with what appears to easy access for all types of predators. We believe that it is getting too late in the season so that even if eggs were laid, they would not prove to be successful.
- Thomas Sarro
4/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Just a light covering of snow this morning but 1.65 inches of rain fell over the weekend. The grass has greened up almost overnight and tree buds are opening and unfurling their various shades of green leaves.
- Charlotte Demers
4/23 - Kingston, HRM 92: As I was leaving a parking lot after shopping, I noticed a raven pulling at and eating some type of refuse lying on the ground. I went within about eight feet of it to get a better look. Its overall size, thick bill, slight ruff under the neck, and feathers sticking up on its forehead confirmed that this was a common raven and not a more sleeker-looking crow. I was hoping to hear a "croak," but it flew off to a nearby roof top with its food in its bill. The wedge shaped tail also confirmed its status as a raven. It was exciting to see one so close up. A couple of crows flew around the raven, which was a good size comparison.
- Reba Wynn Laks
4/23 - Brooklyn, New York City: While brant have been wintering in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, I found fifteen of them near the East River in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. They were enjoying the abundant green algae growing on the rocky rip-rap that makes up much of the inner city waterfront. I had never noticed them anywhere else except in the Hudson River near my home in lower Manhattan. Thinking like a true "Manhattanite," I wondered why these small geese would want to hang out in Brooklyn. Of course they don't care about borough or state lines so I now wonder how many other places in the New York City urban area had brant on their waterways this winter.
- Caleb Davison
4/23 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: Matthew Rymkiewicz spotted and reported a prothonotary warbler in mid-day at the southeast section of Bryant Park. The bird was seen moving in trees behind the New York Public Library's main branch building.
- Tom Fiore
4/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Once a week I check under the tree (NY62) for signs of discarded food tossed from the nest. It is not difficult to appear non-threatening to the adults if you walk slowly and silently, head down (no eye contact allowed), and do not linger. Today I recovered the remnants of either a large brown bullhead or a small white catfish. All the good parts had been eaten and only the jaws and skull remained.
- Tom Lake
[Bald eagles seem fairly tolerant of humans if they are not loud and demonstrative in their movements. Engine noise of loud and variable pitch, such as chain saws, outboard motors, jet skis, motorcycles, and trail bikes make them exceedingly nervous to the point of fearing for their own safety. Tom Lake.]
4/24 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: The prothonotary warbler was still present at Bryant Park. I found it after 30 minutes of looking, low in a London plane tree's branches at the north side of the large open lawn.
- Tom Fiore
4/24 - Queens, New York City: A white-faced ibis was spotted foraging on the edges of the West Pond at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It appeared as I was working over a flock of 23 glossy ibises. A smaller group of 14 ibises flew in from the marsh and I was able to pick out a nicely marked adult white-faced ibis in that bunch.
- Andrew Baksh