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Hudson River Almanac May 8 - May 15, 2012

OVERVIEW

This was the week when brant made their move from wintering locations in the Mid-Atlantic to breeding areas in the Arctic. Ruby-throated hummingbirds have reached the Adirondacks and Baltimore orioles have added their exquisite color to our forests.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/13 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: At 10:00 PM I heard several large flocks of brant going by in the darkness. The flocks kept passing by even as I turned in later in the night. Earlier, around 7:00 PM, I watched a flock of about 90 brant going by quickly. Curiously, in amongst the brant were eight double-crested cormorants trying to keep up. The cormorants eventually broke ranks and fell behind.

- Rich Guthrie

[The brant is a small goose that winters along the coast and breeds on the slopes of the Arctic Ocean. Each year about this time, thousands of them migrate northward, many of them following the Hudson River. For some reason, they seem to prefer late afternoons and night for their flights. When fishing for striped bass, we often watch them go by low over the water just before we call it a day. Rich Guthrie.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/8 - Clermont, HRM 103.5: I did a bird walk today for the Germantown Garden Club. We had good birds in gloomy weather. Among the stars were Baltimore orioles, American redstarts, wood thrush, black-throated blue warblers, and great crested flycatchers.

- Mimi Brauch

5/8 - Jackson Corners, HRM 100: An acquaintance of mine spotted a mountain lion on Church Road near Jackson Corners. There have been others spotted, all within a twenty-mile radius.

- John Patterson

[The Eastern cougar, or mountain lion, is listed as an endangered species in New York. This animal was historically present in the state, but has been absent since the late 1800s. It remains quite an enigma in our area. People contend that they see them, yet no one ever has bona fide evidence - a good photo, scat, fur, paw prints, or even a road kill. All this evidence exists where mountain lions are found, but not here. Most, if not all, mountain lion observers have never seen one before, so descriptions tend to wishful, perhaps, rather than accurate. We had one in Connecticut last year that had wandered over from North Dakota, and there have been "pet" releases, but none that seem to be either home-grown or Canadian strays. Given the human density in the Hudson Valley, coupled with the way people drive, it seems odd that - if they are around - none have been struck by vehicles. While these sightings certainly rise above Sasquatch, Nessie, and UFOs (all of which also suffer from the same lack of evidence) it would be nice to have tangible proof. For more information, go to DEC's website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/44564.html. Tom Lake.]

5/8 - Brockway, HRM 62: This was the second early morning low tide after the "king tide" of a couple of days ago. And as with yesterday, it was an extremely low tide. The river had receded to a point where old timbers, piers, and pilings, as well as old sunken barge hulls, had risen from the river to feel their first sunlight in a long time.

- Tom Lake

5/8 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Just ahead of the rain, I finished a second "hilling" of potatoes. A scarlet tanager and a warbling vireo witnessed this earliest-ever final hilling and applauded with lovely songs from the maple tops.

- Christopher Letts

5/8 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: George Hatzmann took a nice 19 pound striped bass on a bunker chunk today. But he was not greatly aided by the abundance of #1 Jimmie blue crabs hacking at his bait. On receipt of this news, a couple of local crabbers set pots and harvested good catches, unheard of in mid-May, until this year.

- Christopher Letts

[Atlantic blue crabs have several colloquial names known mainly to rivermen and crabbers. Adult males are called "Jimmies," mature females are called "Sooks," and immature females are known as "Sallys." They are graded by size (carapace width) for both personal consumption and marketing. Jumbos are the biggest and the best of the catch, the prime market crab (seven inches plus). #1 Jimmies are the next largest crab and most commonly caught size (six inches plus). #2 are smaller crabs but marketable, the minimum market size (five to five-and-a-half-inches). Throwbacks are less than five inches. Tom Lake]

[In order to keep a blue crab, state regulations require that the carapace width be at least four and one half inches for hard shell blue crabs, three and one half inches for soft shell blue crabs, and three inches for "peeler" or "shedder" blue crabs. The daily catch limit is 50 crabs. NYSDEC.]

5/8 - Philipse Manor, HRM 29: On the far side of the river I could see a modest flock of brant (50 birds) winging upriver not far off the deck. Directly offshore I counted eight brant bobbing in the swells from the Big Red Barge.

- Tom Lake

[For rivermen, the Big Red Barge (of which there were several) was an iconic vessel. In the days of commercial shad fishing we had to keep a wary eye out for this Atlantic Cement Barge. It would come plodding up and down the river, laden with cement, pushed or pulled by a tug. If your drift gill net was in its way, the barge would simply slice the net in half. Unlike many other commercial vessels that might swerve or slow down, the Big Red Barge, given its mass, had much less maneuverability and was committed to the deep water channel. Tom Lake.]


[The three Big Red Barges - Maria T (shown here at Poughkeepsie), Adelaide, and Alexandra - are now owned by LaFarge Cement. About 400 feet long with a beam of 80 feet, they carry powdered cement from the LaFarge loading dock at HRM 134 in Coeymans to ports all along the East Coast. Steve Stanne.]

5/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I was greeted by the song of a house wren as I left my house this morning. One house wren has been a consistent visitor to my backyard the past few years, trying to make use of one of the bluebird boxes. He has never been successful in finding a mate to appreciate his nest-making qualities. They are not a common resident in the central Adirondacks, or at least have not been in the recent past. I'll let you know if this is the year he finds a mate. Red-eyed vireo and American redstart were also heard for the first time today.

- Charlotte Demers

5/9 - Milan HRM 90: A flash of orange and black announced the arrival of the first Baltimore oriole of the season. Our first hummingbird arrived this evening. I could not determine the sex due to poor lighting.

- Marty Otter

5/10 - Croton Point, HRM 35: After nearly two inches of pounding rain, all night long, I found the hen wild turkey still sheltered in the woods on the north side of the Point. I see it venturing out to feed on the grassy margins of the landfill at dawn and dusk. The blue jay migration was in full career; continual flocks of a dozen to 200 birds passing over and headed north. Harriers were coursing the landfill.

- Christopher Letts

5/10 - Bryant Park, HRM 3.5: This evening's New York City Audubon Bird Walk was quite productive. We were treated almost immediately to the sight of a male hooded warbler flitting about in the plane trees. Soon after, we encountered a prothonotary warbler and witnessed the amazing sight of him catching a red admiral butterfly. He couldn't fly with it, and fluttered down to the ground, where he bashed it into submission and swallowed it with apparent gusto.

- Gabriel Willow

5/11 - Kingston, HRM 92: We have lived in our home for 12.5 years and this morning we had our first black bear encounter. Although all of our neighbors have had countless run-ins, the bears have never bothered us - until today. At 5:45 AM, a 200 lb. bear got into our carport, dumped the garbage can and carried off the bags one by one. Some were taken into the woods, while others were ripped open in the backyard. Bears are cool to see, but a mess to clean up after.

- Scott Davis, Lisa Davis

5/11 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: While mowing the lawn, I saw something wriggling and red in the grass. I looked more closely and saw that the red was a good-sized northern red salamander, apparently finding the relatively long grass and leaves to its liking.

- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

5/11 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Between 7:00 PM and dark this evening, while striped bass fishing off the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, we saw five different flocks of brant flying north, each flock was in excess of 100 birds. We also caught and released four stripers.

- Andrew van der Poel

5/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Along with Bill Steele and Tom McDowell, we monitored the bald eagle nest for two hours today. The two eaglets chirped from time to time but except for a brief visit by Mama, they were on their own. At seven weeks old, they are quite capable of lazing about between meals. After we saw one or two we began to count, and by the time we left we had counted eleven red admiral butterflies. Their numbers have been high this spring and almost balance out the brown marmorated stink bugs.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This was truly a beautiful day in the Adirondacks. I was birding early this morning along the railroad tracks east of town and got a great look at an American bittern as it flew about ten feet over my head. In the same wetland complex I spotted what was either a hen mallard or black duck. The surprising thing was the size of the three chicks that were following her into the emergent vegetation. They were approaching half the size of the adult. I am sure the early ice-out on the lakes and ponds allowed for returning waterfowl to get a head start on nest building and egg-laying. Later I saw two eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies and a large number of red admiral butterflies. When I got home at the end of the day, eastern bluebirds and ruby-throated hummingbirds were in the yard - the first of the year. The bluebirds spent the late afternoon in a highly contested real estate squabble with some tree swallows over a bird box in the yard. It is time to go purchase another bird box or increase the rent.

- Charlotte Demers

5/12 - Saratoga County, HRM 177.5: It was here in the heavily forested wetland Victory Woods portion of the Saratoga National Historic Park that the British soldiers had retreated in October 1777 after their battles with the Colonial Americans. Today, however, as the overhead trees were slowly leafing out, my walk on the boardwalk revealed various understory plants, such as fiddlehead ferns, blooming mandrake, wild geranium and jacks-in-the-pulpit. Story boards along the path noted that Native Americans (Mohicans) also encamped in these woods prior to Colonial times.

- Ed Spaeth

5/12 - Voorheesville, HRM 145: Baltimore orioles have nested in our trees for the past ten years and we've had white-tailed deer, both red and gray fox, coyotes, and beaver. We have regularly had Canada geese and wood ducks and currently have two pair of wood ducks though we have yet to see any ducklings. Today, for the first time, we saw a common merganser with at least 12 babies. It was very exciting!

- Kathy Ricci

5/12 - Germantown, HRM 105: As I was watching two male mallards in a small pond my eye caught what I thought was a tall dark plant. On closer view, it was a green heron standing by the edge of the water. Throughout the day, I returned several times to watch this lovely wading bird and its various behaviors. It took several short flights to a branch of a nearby birch tree perching and preening itself. Later I was lucky to see it carefully stalk and catch several tadpoles, with its long graceful neck fully extended, swallowing them whole. It was a delightful way to spend a beautiful afternoon.

- Cynthia Reichman

5/12 - Milan, HRM 90: While birding for the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club census I came across an adult eastern box turtle that looked in very good condition. I've seen many different turtle species (wood, spotted, bog, Blanding's, painted, snapping) since moving to the Hudson Valley but this was my first box turtle.

- Frank Margiotta

5/12 - Westchester County, HRM 45.5: I stopped by the Route 6/202 overlook today, across from Iona Island, hoping to get some photos of vultures heading back to their night roost. When the wind is out of the north, as it was today, they sometimes skim the side of Anthony's Nose. While I waited, I was joined by a vivid scarlet tanager, one of my favorites.

- Scott Craven

5/12 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: My lawn has been a spectacle of wildflowers this spring. First the tender greening, then a sweep of spring beauties, mixed in with several types of violets, then ajuga, and now buttercups. The grasses have grown high enough to tickle my knees - perhaps it will be mowing time soon. When I looked out at the ajuga-lawn today, I saw swarms of orange butterflies hovering. Dozens of painted ladies were feeding on the last of the misty blue of the ajuga flowers.

- Robin Fox

5/12 - Millwood, HRM 35: At 7:20 this evening, we spotted an estimated 120 snow geese flying low over Pruyn Audubon Sanctuary, only 200 feet above tree-top level and heading due north.

- Anne Swaim

5/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34: It must have been "oriole day." Both orchard and Baltimore orioles seemed to be everywhere, flashing through the air, calling and feeding. Most of the females I saw had beaks full of nesting material. We can look forward to a good number of gracefully swaying nests this season.

- Christopher Letts

5/13 - Saratoga County, HRM 179: When I first started walking along the towpath of the Old Champlain Canal, it seemed as if there wasn't much bird life in this quiet retreat along the nearby Hudson River. However, as I walked a short distance and then remained stationary, all manner of birds seemed to appear. Among them were solitary sandpipers, Canada geese, great blue herons in the pools and overhead, an American robin, a gray catbird, several grackles, a northern flicker foraging in the mud, yellow warblers in the trees and a swamp sparrow along the shore.

- Ed Spaeth

5/13 - Saratoga County, HRM 177.5: In a driving tour of this decisive battlefield of the American Revolution at the Saratoga National Historic Park, I saw various birds along the way. Crows and grackles were at several places and a lone black vulture was perched in a tree in the Great Ravine. A male red-winged blackbird and a male bobolink were visible in a field below the Nielson House. Two male goldfinches were at the Great Redoubt as I surveyed the view of the Hudson and distant mountains from the overlook.

- Ed Spaeth

5/13 - Papscanee Island, HRM 141: The fishing was great at Papscanee Island. The first pull of our seine brought in a roiling net full of spottail shiners, white perch, banded killifish, and two big chain pickerel 380 millimeters [mm] long. We set the net a second time, and found more of the same, but no pickerel. Instead we caught lovely bluegills and pumpkinseed sunfish. The pH was 8.5 using a meter, and the oxygen a bit low at 6 PPM using Lamotte Test Tabs. I'm pleased to have found another good spot for seining.

- Fran Martino

5/13 - Selkirk, HRM 135: There was a female hummingbird at the feeder this morning. Later in the day I noticed two males flying around the feeder, one chasing the other. The competition had begun; although small, these birds are very territorial and aggressive.

- Roberta S. Jeracka

5/13 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We caught a good-sized (about 205 mm) adult male alewife this morning while seining with a group of students from New York City. It was a beautiful day, and the fish caused a lot of excitement due to its sheer size.

- Lia Harris

5/13 - Beacon, HRM 60: The Hudson River Estuary Program in collaboration with Scenic Hudson conducted a public "Trees for Tribs" planting along Fishkill Creek in Madam Brett Park. Traveling along the boardwalk was a trip through a bouquet of invasive fragrances: Japanese honeysuckle, Dame's rocket, and multiflora rose, all visited by an army of red admiral butterflies. The forest held a kaleidoscope of color, with Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, and yellow warblers. From the planting site along the tidemarsh at the mouth of the creek, we watched a great egret fly low across the phragmites and an osprey made tight circles in the sky over our heads. Behaving like red-winged blackbirds, orioles were perched on every stickup along the marsh edge. About twenty of us planted native trees and shrubs such as swamp white oak, river birch, and tuliptree. Looking at a five-foot-high tuliptree about to be planted, we could envision its limbs embracing a bald eagle nest in 50 years.

- Beth Roessler, Dan Sorensen, Tom Lake

["Replanting the Streams of the Hudson Valley" is the goal of the Hudson Estuary Trees for Tribs initiative conducted by NYSDEC's Hudson River Estuary Program through a partnership with the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell University. The initiative is in its fourth year and is dedicated to the protection and restoration of streamside - riparian - buffers. These are an important aspect of maintaining healthy streams and protecting water quality. Trees for Tribs offers free native trees and shrubs for qualifying projects in the Hudson River Estuary watershed. See http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/43668.html. Beth Roessler.]

5/14 - Schodack Island, HRM 134.5: We were canoeing on the east side of Schodack Island, and with the tide rising, we made it into a backwater channel. There we spotted a young bald eagle up in a half-dead cottonwood. We drifted closer, shared a long bout of mutual scrutiny, and then paddled quietly back to leave the bird in peace. But, its curiosity apparently piqued, it followed us along, flying over and perching ahead, twice, the second time carrying what looked like nest material, and always giving us the eye.

- George Robinson

5/14 - Black Creek, HRM 85: As we trenched down the half mile path to the net in the rain on our final day of eel sampling at Black Creek Preserve, we encountered not one, not two, but three huge dobsonfly larvae (hellgrammites) on the road. I had never seen them so large and also never seen them out of water. It must have been their time to metamorphosis into adult dobsonflies. On another note, we ended the season catching seven glass eels in the fyke net.

- Zoraida Maloney, Dixon Onderdonk, Kingston High School volunteers

5/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adult female was at the eagle nest (NY62) in mid-morning when the adult male brought back a fish from the river. From a distance, the flopping silhouette looked to be a catfish. The two eaglets pounced on the fish immediately with no aid from either adult. The two nestling were quite active, getting big (already more than half the size of their parents), and were beginning to explore. Before long they will be all over the nest tree, venturing out to some of the highest and farthest limbs. The ground around the nest had broken out in a profusion of color: Dame's rocket wildflowers in white, pink, and purple.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[One of the signs of the waning spring season is the appearance of Dame's rocket along the river and its tributaries. This non-native wildflower comes in white, pink, violet, and purple. Carried by spring breezes, its wonderfully sweet fragrance fills the air in mid-to-late May. Tom Lake.]

5/14 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: As if by magic, the shoreline of this small tributary of Wappinger Creek burst into color today with a profusion of yellow flag.

- Tom Lake

[Despite its showy appearance, yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) is an invasive wetland plant native to Europe, the British Isles, North Africa and the Mediterranean area. Tom Lake.]

5/14 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: As I was walking my dog under low clouds in a misting rain, I heard a loon calling, over and over, from mid river. I looked out and spotted a flock of about 40-50 brant flying north past Stony Point. I'm seeing better numbers of brant this spring than I have in the past couple of years.

- Ed McKay

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