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Hudson River Almanac May 24 - May 31, 2012

OVERVIEW

For a change, fish entries exceeded birds this week, the result of many river visits by Hudson Valley school students. It is easier to explain the abundance of Hudson Valley life when we can see trees, flowers, birds, and butterflies. But seeing fish, largely hidden members of this community of life, requires a net in the water and patience.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/24 - Manhattan, HRM 1.0: Over the last month in our River Project (Pier 25) species monitoring study, we have captured three spotted hake (Urophycis regia) in "killie pots" (cylindrical wire traps). Spotted hake are found from the Canadian Maritimes to Florida, usually in deep offshore water, but come inshore to spawn in winter.

- Kathryn Eddins

[The spotted hake is one of eight members of the cod family (Gadidae) documented for the Hudson River estuary. The other seven include some familiar names such as the Atlantic cod, the Atlantic tomcod, and pollock, as well as silver hake (whiting), red hake (ling), white hake, and the ephemeral fourbeard rockling. All are considered to be marine strays except for the tomcod, a migratory species that enters the estuary each fall to spawn under the winter ice. Tom Lake]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/24 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Four classes of seventh graders from Rhinebeck helped us sample the river with our seine. We explained the value of this effort to see who was home in the river today as an ongoing inquiry into the health of the Hudson. The usual candidates were there: tessellated darters, pumpkinseed and redbreast sunfish, white perch, and male banded killifish resplendent in their breeding colors. One "new" fish showed up, fathead minnows 60-70 millimeters [mm] long, new in that we had not seen them here before.

- Tom Lake, Alice Magnusson, Brook LaRoche, Leeann Haubrich, Carmella Fountain

[There may not be prettier fish in the river than courting male banded killifish with iridescent blue, lavender and silver highlights in their bands. A favorite name for the male is "blue-banded mudminnow," coined by riverman Everett Nack. As the females are a drab brownish-green, this fish offers a good example of sexual dimorphism. Killifishes in general feed on insect larvae, mosquito larvae in particular. They have been used as a biological control on mosquitoes and the spread of West Nile virus. Tom Lake.]

5/24 - Chelsea, HRM 65.4: While enjoying my morning coffee, I peeked out on my balcony and saw three families of Canada geese. One family had seven goslings, another five, and the third three, all of various stages of growth. The families were walking and eating the grass together. What a precious sight.

- Elizabeth Athanasiou

5/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The new leaves in the forest were making it difficult to see much around the eagle nest (NY62). From what we could see, the eaglets were bumping around; the adult male was in and out, once with a fish, then off to the river when the nestlings seemed to get a bit rambunctious. We have not yet seen much of the "exploring" of the tree that last year's pair demonstrated around this time.

- Tom Lake, TR Jackson

5/25 - Chelsea, HRM 65.4: I had a birds-eye view from my balcony of a male ruby-throated hummingbird at my feeder. After he enjoyed a drink of red nectar, he sat on a very small branch and preened for ten minutes. It was an amazing opportunity to observe such a secret routine.

- Elizabeth Athanasiou

5/25 - Crugers, HRM 39: The red-bellied woodpecker that usually frequents our peanut feeder decided to spend some time at the safflower feeder today. As we watched it pecking away, our attention was drawn to the base of one of the large evergreens in our backyard. We were delighted to observe a northern flicker poking around. Although we've seen this bird before, in parks and wooded areas, this is the first time we've had one in our yard.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

5/25 - Alpine, HRM 18: We caught an extraordinary number of hogchokers (218), one of which was the biggest I have ever seen: seven inches long and five inches wide. We didn't keep her long because she had some "buns in the oven."

- Jocelyn Bertovich

Hogchoker

[Hogchokers are delightful little soles, ranging in size from a penny to the palm of your hand (or in Jocelyn's case, a large hand). They are found in the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Panama and July is the peak of their spawning season in the Hudson. Their brown coloring is broken up by light and dark squiggly patterns of perfect camouflage and, like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two are exactly alike. If you stroke these little flatfish from head to tail, they are incredibly smooth. However, if you run your finger from tail to head, it will feel like fine teeth on a saw. Wise predators have learned to swallow them head first. Tom Lake. Photo by Steve Stanne.]

5/25 - Staten Island, New York City: An adult Mississippi kite made two brief appearances over the Royal Oak section of Clove Lakes Park. I watched it fly north and later south.

- Howie Fischer

[The Mississippi kite is admired for its acrobatic and graceful flight. A rare visitor and breeding species in New York, it is most common in the Southeast and the southern and central Great Plains. Steve Stanne.]

5/26 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: On a warm and humid Memorial Day weekend 35 anglers lined the patio and boardwalk at the Norrie Point Environmental Center for an afternoon of fishing. Along with fewer people came fewer fish (35) caught as the river (73 degrees Fahrenheit) seemed to be resting. The shallow cove next to the center, however, was literally "percolating" at 77 degrees F. The spawning carp did not seem to mind as their "bombing run" continued. We caught the usual fish, pumpkinseed and redbreast sunfish, white and yellow perch, golden shiner, and several eels. The best show was put on by a northern water snake (30 inches long) that perused the rocky east side of the patio at the waterline in search of prey.

- Tom Lake, Ryan Coulter, Indie Bach

5/26 - Rockland County, HRM 35: Our Saw Mill River Audubon field trip spotted a perched Mississippi kite at the Sterling Forest State Park Visitors Center.

- Anne Swaim

Seahorse
5/26 - Brooklyn, New York City: We had the delight of trawling aboard the schooner Mystic Whaler on the Bay Ridge Flats, a triangle of shallow water in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor just south of Red Hook. Before the net even came aboard, two summer flounder as big as restaurant menus flashed white bellies from its meshes. Picking through the trawl's cod-end for the catch, we ended up with four young-of-the-year [YOY] spotted hake, 19 red hake, one YOY winter and summer flounder, one hogchoker, one northern pipefish, three northern sea robins (ranging 50-125 mm), five two-inch YOY Atlantic tomcod, and the prize of the day, two beautiful lined seahorses, four and five inches long. They were healthy and active, and when we released them back into the harbor they immediately righted themselves and cruised for the deep. Invertebrates included over a hundred shrimp (both sand and shore varieties), nine adult male blue crabs and one female, a tiny hermit crab (in a shell the size of a rice crispy) and a red-beard sponge the size of tennis ball. Salinity was about 21 parts-per-thousand [ppt], water temperature was 66 degrees F, and the half dozen discarded plastic bags in the net served as a gross reminder to make our everyday choices count. We were awestruck by the diversity and beauty of life in New York Harbor just a few stone's throws from the Gowanus Canal and Owl's Head sewage treatment plant.

- Chris Bowser, Shannon McMulkin, Paige Manos, and the crew of the Mystic Whaler. Photo by Chris Bowser.

5/27 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I heard a dimly familiar high-pitched buzz, like a distant string-trimmer. It buzzed on and on, with pauses between the buzzes, the pitch dropping briefly at the end of each buzz. I finally recognized the sound - a single 17-year cicada calling at the bottom of our hill above the Wallkill River, heard for the first time since the 1996 emergence.

- Lynn Bowdery

5/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie: In early morning, both eaglets (NY62) were perched on the nest edge perfecting their balancing skills. After photographing them from a distant blind I decided to track the constant wild turkey "clucking" and, to my surprise, was able to find them. It appeared that even some of the females had beards.

- Tom McDowd

[According to DEC's wild turkey webpage (http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7062.html), less than 10% of female wild turkeys have beards. Steve Stanne.]

5/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It was a hot and humid mid-morning and the forest was filled with birdsong: phoebe, veery, and common yellowthroat. The NY62 eaglets were panting like puppies as they perched, shoulder-to-shoulder, on the rim of the nest, facing out to the river and "cheeping." They were looking for their next meal - it always seems to be meal time for baby eagles. Somewhere out there were the adults, hopefully hunting. As I left the field, I picked two deer ticks off my eyebrow - scary.

- Tom Lake

5/27 - West Point, HRM 52: I was on the North Dock at the United State Military Academy when an eagle flew up from near the rugby field and landed in a white oak. I watched him for thirty minutes and got a very nice photo. The eagle was still perched when I left.

- Doug Gallagher

5/27 - Peekskill, HRM 43: A lone cricket began chirping throughout last night and tonight. It is a bit disconcerting to hear a single chirp, when in mid- to-late summer one hears a chorus of crickets mixed in with katydids that creates a soothing white noise.

- Carol Capobianco


5/28 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was out in the evening walking my dogs, swatting at a few mosquitoes, and enjoying the warm weather. We heard our American bittern, red-winged blackbirds, green frogs, peepers, yellowthroats, bullfrogs, a pair of Canada geese on the pond, and grey treefrogs. The bullhead lilies were out full on the pond, and the air was still. Despite the rowdy and clueless dogs, it was a fine place to be on a calm Sunday evening.

- Mike Corey

5/28 - Milan, HRM 90: I have a new bluebird nest for what I think is the second brood of a pair that nested in a different box (four fledged from the first brood). I decided to place my mealworm feeder on top of the adjacent empty box (I normally wait for the hatch) and soon I had three baby bluebirds on the feeder. They camped out, eating-resting, eating-resting. It appears that I will need a larger supply of mealworms this season.

- Frank Margiotta

5/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: This morning I watched a flock of about eighty cedar waxwings enjoying a food frenzy eating the berries on the trees of a farm market.

- Andra Sramek

5/28 - Peekskill, HRM 43: It is so important to be in tune with the sounds of nature because they alert you to nearby wildlife that otherwise might go unnoticed. On returning home from a walk just past noon today, I heard a lot of soft, high-pitched buzzing call notes - cedar waxwings were in my yard. The flock had descended on the mulberry tree and eagerly gulped the berries that were not ripe enough for my liking but were fueling these birds that were apparently passing through on their northward migration.

- Carol Capobianco

5/28 - Cortlandt Manor, HRM 38.5: A lone hen wild turkey and her ten poults, each no bigger than my closed fist, took their sweet time crossing the street this evening from one lawn to another. I've never seen such tiny turkey chicks, let alone ten out in the open, in broad daylight.

- Peter Schechter

5/29 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: On a sweltering day (air temperatures in the 90s) four classes of seventh graders from Van Wyck Junior High in Wappinger Falls helped us sample the river with our seine. The water was 73 degrees F, so getting wet was a relief. The catch was fairly predictable (pumpkinseed and redbreast sunfish, tessellated darters, banded killifish) except for a species that we do not see very often: fathead minnows. One of them was a breeding male in his "coppery" red color phase.

- Ryan Nameth, Jessica D'Aura, Julian LaPine, Tom Lake

[Fathead minnows are not native to the Hudson watershed. Their home range is mid-America, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi. While they may have found their way here through the canals that connect the Hudson watershed to the Great Lakes (Erie Canal, Barge Canal), it is more likely they were bait bucket releases. Fathead minnows, known colloquially as "hardheads," are popular live bait for anglers. Bait suppliers import them, anglers use them, and when the day is done, they frequently release those not used into the water. Tom Lake.]

5/29 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Sam Williams is a serious carp angler and today he showed his stuff. Over the course of half a day, Sam hooked, landed, admired, and released eleven carp, the largest being 27 lb. His "special blend" bait also caught a similar number of rudd, another nonnative minnow species, the largest of which was fourteen inches long.

- Tom Lake, Jim Herrington

5/29 - Ulster County, HRM 78: I heard another 17-year cicada in the distance from Shawangunk Ridge (near Trapps on the Mohonk Preserve). Next year (2013) should be their big year, so these early buzzers have their alarm clocks miss-set.

- Lynn Bowdery

[These are a Magicicada species that emerge in huge swarms on a 17-year clock. While the next brood is still a year away, for some reason cicadas who miscount tend to miss by either one year either side of the 17-year target. The last big cicada brood in our area occurred in 1996. They sounded like a flying saucer winding up to full power in your backyard. Before that it was 1979, and I remember them that way as a child in 1962. Karl Beard.]

5/29 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Just before dusk, a white-tail fawn that couldn't have been more than a couple of hours old, was trying to follow its mother across the road. It looked like it was still struggling to lift its body weight as it walked with almost spider-like steps. Its mother waited nervously on the other side. I stopped the car to make sure it got across the road and watched it slowly find its mother who had now gone into the brush.

- Michael Paul

5/29 - Rockland County, HRM 35: Both Mississippi kites were present this morning at the Sterling Forest State Park Visitor's Center. There were quite a few birders enjoying the show that included snagging insects (seemed like dragonflies), carrying sticks, and just being "kites."

- Corey Finger

5/29 - Bronx, New York City: We conducted a fish survey in the Bronx River to prove that life abounds downtown. We started our electroshock survey just downstream of the first good-sized dam. Three passes uncovered 38 American eels ranging from 1.5 to 14 inches long, a trio of sunfish (bluegill, pumpkinseed, redbreast), several tessellated darters, 14 spiny-cheeked crayfish, a blue crab (5-inch carapace width), and the shell of a freshwater mussel. We repeated our efforts, well upstream of the dam at the Bronx Zoo. This time we had only nine eels, four darters, and three crayfish. We also spotted several large carp cruising the shallows.

- Chris Bowser, staff and students from Wildlife Conservation Society, Queens College, NYC Parks, Dutchess Community College, NYSDEC

5/30 - Hudson to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge: HRM 118-114: During our electro-shocking survey, selectively across four miles of estuary, we encountered two different fishes with bright red fins. One was a native species and the other has been introduced. The native species was a shorthead redhorse, a moderately large sucker that is relatively common in the Mohawk River and found in the Hudson around Troy. We caught this one just south of Hudson. It was bright silver with large scales and, of course, red fins. The second species was a rudd, a European minnow that has been in the Hudson watershed since the 1920s. This species seems to be getting more common in the estuary. It is a stubby deep-bodied fish with really bright red fins including the tail. We saw two of them, about 14 inches long, just north of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

- Bob Schmidt, Dan Miller, Erik Decker

5/30 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: This was the same school as yesterday, Van Wyck Junior High in Wappinger Falls, but a different group of seventh grader. The high heat and humidity had gone overnight and left us with a gorgeous blue-sky day. Our catch with the seine was similar with pumpkinseed sunfish, tessellated darters, banded killifish, fathead minnows, and a new one for the students, a small hogchoker (34 mm). The river was 72 degrees F.

- Nestor Gomez, Victoria Dena, Janelle Murray, Tom Lake

5/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: It was just getting dark following a ferocious, pounding thunderstorm and I could see frogs jumping all over and across the roads. As I was driving, I spotted a barred owl that must have lined up a nice meal. It landed twenty feet in front of my car in my headlight beams, legs fully extended to grab the frog. I stopped; the owl looked at me for a second, pumped his wings and took off with his frog.

- Michael Paul

5/30 - Alpine, HRM 18: Tappan Zee High School's Environmental Science students joined us to explore the trails and sample the Hudson River with the Palisades Interstate Park Commission education and trail crew. The students caught a great assortment of river life in the seine including several YOY Atlantic croaker, white perch, hogchokers, Atlantic tomcod, bay anchovies, sand shrimp, a couple of feisty blue crabs, and an assortment of mud crabs. On the incoming tide, the salinity was about 11 ppt; the water temperature along the shoreline was 73 degrees F. In the aftermath of heavy rains, the river's visibility had been reduced to 6 cm.

- Margie Turrin, Christina Fehre, Patti Kilkelly, Peter Dene

5/31 - Athens, HRM 116: We were along the river with a second grade class from Coxsackie Elementary at Cohotate Preserve. The students cycled through stations with such topics as fishes of the river, where in the estuary are we (?), a river-theme scavenger hunt, and birds of the Hudson Valley. During our fishes station, we caught in our seine a gorgeous male mummichog, a species of killifish, in brilliant breeding colors.

- Liz LoGuidice, Larry Federman, Jean Cardany

[Mummichog is a derivation of an Algonquian (river Indian) word that means "fishes that go in crowds," an observation of their tendency to form large schools. The prehistoric Native Americans at Cohotate were the Mohicans and their ancestors. Tom Lake]

5/31 - Hudson River Estuary: With help from ten volunteers, I just finished a survey of the rare and beautiful plant goldenclub (Orontium aquaticum) in the Hudson River tidal wetlands. Although we found some good stands (20-100 plants each) at Barrytown, Tivoli, Saugerties, and Hudson, several stands surveyed in the 1970s have declined or disappeared. Some of the stands observed this spring showed substantial damage from large grazers (white-tailed deer? beaver? geese?). If you have ever seen this plant on or near the Hudson River, I would love to know when and where. Please send observations to Erik Kiviat (kiviat@bard.edu).

- Erik Kiviat, Hudsonia

5/31 - Crugers, HRM 39: Ogilvie's Pond was almost completely strangled by spatterdock. There were many snail shells scattered atop the cement wall on the road side of the pond. They have been mysteriously appearing here over the past few months, even though someone swept them into the pond on several occasions. We were delighted to see the great blue heron that we haven't seen in weeks. It slowly made its way across the pond and, as we watched, it quickly snatched a big goldfish from the pond and swallowed it whole. The highlight of our visit was spotting a beautiful wood duck pair perched on a curved branch jutting out of the water on the far side of the pond. The stunning colors of the male glowed in the afternoon sunlight.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

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