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Hudson River Almanac May 16 - May 23, 2012

OVERVIEW

A welcome sense of wilderness could be felt this week as migrating loons and brant dominated the sky over the river. Hudson Valley students helped us sample the river with seines, producing only modest results. The unexpected fish of the week were adult Atlantic needlefish, caught in places we would never have suspected.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/17 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Sixth graders from Kinry Road School once again helped us sample the river with our seine. For the first few hours we caught very little as we watched the tide drop. In our final haul of the day, in water shallow enough to seine properly, we caught fish: white perch, a dozen spottail shiners, nearly as many banded killifish, most of them males in iridescent blue breeding colors, a pumpkinseed sunfish, and an unusual hybrid cross between a bluegill sunfish and a pumpkinseed. However, the star of the day was John Plass, an angler who - while fishing for striped bass - caught a 17-inch-long Atlantic needlefish.

- Tom Byrnes, Tom Lake

[Natural selection designed the Atlantic needlefish to be the consummate predator. They are sight-feeders with over 20% of their adult length taken up by slender, tooth-studded jaws. Adults can reach nearly two feet in length and will frequently leap out of the water in pursuit of prey. Known more as a temperate to tropical marine species, their presence in the Hudson went largely unnoticed until about 25 years ago. They seem to have adapted well; since larval needlefish have been captured more than 50 miles upriver, it is likely that they are spawning in the estuary. In July 2009, Chris Bowser and Brittany Burgio seined up a three-inch Atlantic needlefish at river mile 85 (Norrie Point). A needlefish oddity occurs when you cook them: They are delicious smoked, and their bones turn Kelly green. Tom Lake.

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/15 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: A flight of an estimated 2,000 brant went by, northbound, not long after sunrise. They went by quickly, so I had to try to get as good an estimate as I could by counting by hundreds. Later in the day I counted several following flocks of brant, numbering 350, 900, and 500. They were uncharacteristically quiet, only a few "honking," which made it difficult to get out there to catch them going by.

- Rich Guthrie

5/15 - Cheviot, HRM 106: A light rain was falling on the river; I could sense the wonderful fresh, green, muddy, slightly fishy smell of spring on the water. I spotted a small flock of waterfowl on the river floating north of the jetty. Ducks? When I checked with the binoculars, I saw nine common loons, all preening their feathers and flapping up half out of the water in typical loon fashion. What a wonderful treat for a gray day.

- Jude Holdsworth

5/15 - North Germantown, HRM 109: While doing my usual eagle check in late afternoon at North Germantown Landing, I thought I caught sight of a cormorant on the river. Then I took a more careful look and saw a common loon fairly close to the shoreline. I saw no eagles, but had my first sighting of a loon on the river.

- Mimi Brauch

5/16 - North Germantown, HRM 109: The common loon was still there this evening in nearly the same spot near the red channel marker. As a bonus, two bald eagles were there as well, a perched adult and an immature flyover.

- Mimi Brauch


5/16 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Kinry Road sixth graders (Wappinger Central School District) helped us seine the river today. The contrast between spring and fall seining was never more evident: From late summer through fall, the river is filled with young-of-the-year [YOY] fishes and the nets correspondingly bulge as they come ashore. Today we had many empty nets and others that were fish-poor. At the end of the day, with much effort, we had caught and released a few banded killifish, redbreast sunfish, and a largemouth bass. There were two surprises: an adult male alewife - a species of river herring - 260 millimeters [mm] in length, unusual but not extraordinary, and a YOY alewife (44 mm) that was quite out context. Baby alewives of this size usually do not show up until late June. Its presence indicated possible early spawning by some river herring. The river was 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Tom Lake, Tom Byrnes

[Seines are commonly mentioned in Almanac observations about fisheries research and education. A seine is a net with a line of floats along the top, a line of weights along the bottom, and tight meshes in between. The word seine is French, from the Latin sagëna, which means a fishing net designed to hang vertically in the water, the ends of which are drawn together to enclose the fish. Most referenced in the Almanac range in length from 15-250 feet long and 4-8 feet in depth, with mesh size from one-quarter to two-and-a-half-inches depending upon how they are being used. They are an excellent tool for collecting aquatic animals, generally without injuring the catch. Haul seines, long nets that required a boat to set and many strong arms to haul, were used in Hudson River commercial fishing from colonial times until the last decade of the twentieth century. They are use by DEC's Hudson River Fisheries Unit in annual assessments of adult striped bass and American shad populations but have been banned for commercial use; in the hands of competent fishers, they are simply too efficient. Tom Lake.]

5/16 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: This morning I heard my first yellow warbler singing in the trees: "Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet." A welcome sound - I love that they stay all summer.

- Kathy Kraft

5/16 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: An adult black-crowned night heron was perched on the railing over a storm drain on King's Ferry Road next to Lake Meahagh. I stood there for five minutes watching this magnificent bird watch the lake. When he flew off the silhouette of his flight took my breath away.

- Viki Goldberg

5/18 - Minerva, HRM 284: While walking behind the house we came upon our local Canada geese. "Mama" goose was out on the pond with her four babies. At our approach she stretched her whole body out with her chin in the water so that she became a screen that we could not see through. They swam that way for quite a distance with the goslings hidden from view. At twilight, we saw an osprey swoop into the middle of Minerva Lake while a loon swam nearby. Very dramatic!

- Sue Montgomery Corey

5/18 - Hudson River Estuary: The data from our spring glass eel monitoring have been compiled. We had ten nets (fyke nets and eel "mops") in tributaries from Staten Island to Greene County from late February through mid-May. We followed the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's methods and time-frame (6-9 weeks). From February 22 (when our first glass eels were taken in Yonkers) to date, we have captured an astounding 84,617 juvenile American eels; in 2011, with two fewer nets, we caught 7,000. When you do the math to calculate the average number of eels caught per day across all sites, we caught 23 eels per day in 2010, 17 per day in 2011, and 173 per day in 2012. Peak migration was also several weeks earlier this year and we likely missed the early immigrants in the lower estuary.

- Chris Bowser

5/18 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The two nestling eagles were nearing seven weeks old and beginning to show their special blend of curiosity and courage. While much of the time they are content to sit (or lounge) in the nest waiting to be catered to by the adults, they also seem to be allotting time to perching on the rim of the nest and looking at the adjacent limbs with interest. It will not be long before the tree will be their playground.

- Tom Lake

5/18 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The creek had warmed enough to trigger carp spawning. Along a mile reach of tidewater, it seemed like cement blocks were dropping out of the sky. There were small explosions here and there as the 10-15 lb. carp rushed into the shallows to consummate their goal.

- Tom Lake

[In the early 1980s, video footage purported to be that of "Champ," Lake Champlain's version of the Loch Ness Monster, was given to C.L. Smith, curator of fishes at the American Museum of Natural History, for his evaluation. Champ is described as a large reptilian animal that some believe to be a descendant of the now extinct ichthyosaur. After a painstakingly careful, frame-by-frame analysis, Dr. Smith concluded that the footage showed scores of common carp spawning. The fish created such a commotion, swimming and leaping over each other across the water, that the result looked like the undulating neck of a 50 foot-long sea creature. Tom Lake.]

5/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a beautiful day with the temperature reaching 80 degrees F. Warm temperatures had brought out a few blackflies but they were still very low in number. Some more spring ephemerals were in full bloom: three-leaf goldthread (Coptis trifolia), heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), and dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolium), while Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) and bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) were just starting to bloom. The flowers of woodland and other varieties of strawberry (Fragaria spp.) were abundant and if the weather cooperates, it should be a good fruiting year for them. I counted at least a dozen eastern tiger swallowtails in a beautifully blooming apple tree down by the river. Apples and crabapples (Malus spp.) were in full bloom if not a little past full. Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) was also flowering, giving a pungent scent to the air. All in all, it has been a spectacular spring so far.

- Charlotte Demers

5/19 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: My son, a birder, and I saw a non-breeding adult red-throated loon at Norrie Point. It was alone and seemed in no hurry to leave.

- Lyn Burnstine

5/19 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: The carp spawning season was in full throttle as an adult bald eagle glided over the dropping tide looking for something manageable. Eagles can catch and carry surprisingly large fish but the mass of most carp are too much for them, particularly the size of those spawning. I once watched an eagle latch onto an eight-pounder off Denning's Point (river mile 60), only to find it too heavy to lift and carry. Instead, he set down in the river and used his wings to paddle the 12-15 feet ashore where he did his best to consume it.

- Tom Lake

5/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie: While we do not have data on all of the two dozen or so eagle nests along the tidewater Hudson, quite a few seem to have produced two nestlings this spring. The numerical recovery of the bald eagle in the Hudson Valley has been so successful in the last decade that its increase has seemingly moved from arithmetic (1,2,3...) to geometric (2,4,8 ...). NY62, in its 100-foot-high tuliptree, for the second year in a row has produced two nestlings and is a perfect example of the type of tree and setting that eagles prefer. "Eagle trees" are easy to spot, even when eagles are not in them. They are large, open canopy trees, like cottonwoods, oaks, tuliptrees, sycamores, and white pines, on or near the river or a tributary, with a view of the water. Some of these trees have large horizontal limbs that make perfect feeding perches. Many are in sheltered locations, out of the prevailing wind, with a sunny exposure. The formula for a good eagle tree is "easy in, easy out."

- Tom Lake

5/21 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: It was evening when I stepped out onto the porch to see if the rain had stopped and heard a clamor. Thinking that some neighborhood kids were yelling, I walked into the yard listening intently - the noises came clearly from overhead. It was completely overcast so I could see nothing in the gloom, but what I heard were many geese "clamoring" overhead. They must have landed on our lake, because I could hear them a while later, into the night.

- Joanne Engle

5/21 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: At 4:00 AM this morning I was awakened by a barred owl calling the standard "who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?" It was very loud, coming from a pine tree right outside my bedroom (I had all the windows open on a warm night). He sounded like he was in my room with me. A few minutes later I heard a second barred owl also calling, with a slightly higher pitch. Then I heard some loud screaming between the two which shortly settled back into dueling "who cooks for you" calls - kind of chilling. Perhaps the two were courting?

- Kathy Kraft

5/22 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: While docked at King Marine, we caught a baby snapping turtle with our dip net as it swam next to the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. We also caught 301 hogchokers (by count) and some eels with the Clearwater's otter trawl just south of Verplanck in Haverstraw Bay.

- Tom O'Dowd

[An otter trawl is a net, a collection device used by researchers, educators, and commercial fisheries to capture aquatic life. The net is generally pulled behind a vessel under way operating much like a seine hauled along a beach. The trawl has a "bag" at the end where fish collect. The mouth or sides of the net are held open by pressure exerted on two rectangular boards, or "doors," one on either side. The depth it fishes can be regulated depending on the speed of the vessel and how much line is played out, called the "scope." As the scope increases, the distance between the vessel and the otter trawl increase, and the net fishes deeper. Tom Lake.]

5/23 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: While searching the lower Fall Kill for river herring today, we caught a foot-long Atlantic needlefish.

- Gregory Zifchak, Associate Professor Culinary Institute of America

[When you look closely at fishes, many have interesting physical adaptations to fit their lives from being a predator to hiding from predators. A fish's lateral line is a sense organ that helps them navigate in water, complementing their vision and serving as an early-warning system of approaching danger. Needlefish, skilled predators, are sight feeders often appearing like scattered twigs floating on the surface. To allow them to be on the surface while still having their lateral line in contact with the water, they have a unique, ventrally-adjusted lateral line, halfway toward their abdomen. Needlefish are piscivores (fish eaters) and they particularly target YOY river herring that share the upper end of the water column with them in summer and fall. Tom Lake.]

5/23 - Beacon, HRM 61: Eleventh and twelfth grade marine biology students from Beacon High School helped us sample the river at Long Dock. While this is a prime beach for such investigations, the emerging Eurasian water chestnut would soon be closing off the bay, making it nearly impossible to net until fall. Our catch was meager as springtime hauls usually are (very few YOY fishes around), but among them were a foot-long American eel, white perch, pumpkinseed sunfish and, most surprising, two bay anchovies (33-34 mm) possibly a remnant of brackish water upriver earlier in the spring. Afterwards, it took more than a half hour to clear the 85-foot seine of water chestnut seeds. The river was a warm 66 degrees F. We were treated to a flock of cedar waxwings moving through the trees as we left the beach.

- Tom Lake, Cara Smith, Greg Crusie, David Robertin, Laura Thomas

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