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Hudson River Almanac June 8 - June 14, 2012

OVERVIEW

Over the last ten weeks, and especially this week, we have focused on the Dutchess County bald eagle nest designated as NY62 for several reasons. The activities there are typical of almost any other Hudson Valley eagle nest; while there are more than two dozen, we have been avoiding mention of the others to keep them out of the public eye. We have been following the NY62 pair for thirteen years, accumulating much data and establishing a one-way "connection" to them, though eagles rarely return the feeling.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/13 - Selkirk, HRM 135: As I was getting ready to settle down for the night I noticed a flicker of light outside my window. There were fireflies throughout the yard. I had to sit and watch for a time on the stoop. This is such a magical world we live in.

- Roberta S. Jeracka

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The active eaglets of NY62 were "branch hopping." On several occasions they hopped far up a limb and then jumped back to the nest, flapping their wings. One jump had a three-second flutter before landing. We could hear the adult male above us but the thick canopy of leaves made it impossible to see him.

- Tom McDowell, Terry Hardy

[As nestlings near their time to fledge, they become very active and vocal. The exercise of branch hopping, mini-flights to limbs adjoining the nest, are an important means of getting familiar with their wings, their wingspread, and the role they play in providing lift. Having never flown, these are important issues for a ten-week-old eaglet. They also complain a lot, almost never content with the frequency of food delivered by the adults. Tom Lake. Photo by Tom McDowell.]

6/8 - Beacon, HRM 61: While on an evening stroll at Madam Brett Park, I enjoyed seeing various birds, including barn swallows doing their aerial swoops over Fishkill Creek, a male blue-winged warbler singing, and a Baltimore oriole carrying food or nest material in its beak. However, the highlight of the evening was the chance to watch a doe and her very young fawn placidly stepping their way along the shoreline of Fishkill Creek. Their coats of burnt sienna were aglow in the evening's soft light and their glowing images were duplicated in the shimmering waters of the creek. It was a special moment.

- Ed Speath

6/8 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: We stood on the village pier looking through binoculars for falcons, ravens, or eagles across the river at Crow's Nest. The schooner Mystic Whaler sailed past followed a few minutes later by the Coast Guard cutter Line. Midway in that quarter-mile break a sturgeon jumped completely out of the water and then crashed back with a splash. From the apparent size (six feet) it had to be an Atlantic sturgeon. Before we left the pier, a pair of black vultures drifted overhead, twirling in the blue sky.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

6/8 - West Nyack, HRM 29: I must admit that I love woodpeckers, but I always think of them busily working high in a tree. Yet, twice this week my eye has been caught by their quick movement low to the ground. The first sighting was the bright red head of what I have often considered the misnamed red-bellied woodpecker. It caught my attention as it worked busily on a low stump, red head bobbing up and down. The second sighting was the rapid movement of a northern flicker with the bright red V on the back of the head as it breezed by close to the ground before landing and digging in for a snack - bugs, I presume.

- Margie Turrin

[The northern flicker typically feeds on the ground; ants are a major part of its diet. Steve Stanne.]

6/8 - Manhattan, HRM 7.0: While biking on the Greenway Bike path through Riverside Park, about a half mile north of the West 100th Street access path, I came upon a five-foot-long dead sturgeon lying along the shore. There were some parallel lacerations on the top of the fish where it looks creased or folded. My first thought was "propeller," but the lacerations were pretty fine, so maybe someone cut it with a knife after it was ashore.

- Kaare Christian

6/8 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: I came across a dead sturgeon on the rocks past the anchored sailboats just north of the 79th Street Boat Basin. It was enormous but I was unable to measure it. It was my first sturgeon, dead or alive, in six years on the Hudson and it totally knocked my socks off.

- Diana Szatkowski

[If anyone comes upon a dead sturgeon either floating in the Hudson River or washed up on the shore, please notify the NYS DEC Region 3 Fisheries Unit by calling 845-256-3071 (Kathy Hattala) and 845-256-3073 (Amanda Higgs). We need the following information:

- Specific location.

- Condition: really rotted or a fresh kill?

- Signs of trauma and, if present, where on the fish.

- Estimate (or measure) its total length (nose to tip of upper tail fin) or whatever is left of the carcass.

- Look for any external tags, usually a yellow streamer at or near the base of the dorsal fin; a second external mark might be that the left pelvic fin has been clipped off.

- A digital photo of the entire fish and any injury; a photo of the head and mouth (from below) to verify identification.

Leave the fish where it was found. Possession is not allowed by federal law. Please e-mail your information and photos to the Hudson River Fisheries Unit: r3hrf@gw.dec.state.ny.us]

6/9 - West Hurley-Lake Hill, HRM 95-100: It was a two-red fox-night (as opposed to a Three Dog Night). The first one quickly crossed Route 28 in West Hurley; I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting it. The second one was engaged with something at the side of the road along Route 212 in Lake Hill.

- Reba Wynn Laks

6/10 - Piermont, HRM 25: A royal tern made a few passes off Piermont Pier this morning at low tide.

- Evan Mark

[Although it is difficult to know for sure from a three-second video, the bird looks much more like a Caspian tern than a royal tern from the shape of the head and the dark under the primaries. Hugh Guinness.]

[Both the Caspian and royal tern are coastal species seldom seen inland in our area. A bit more common, the Caspian tern is found throughout the Great Lakes, south along the Atlantic Coast into the Southeast. In 2011, a Caspian tern was sighted at Piermont (9/2) and a royal tern was seen at river mile 5 (Manhattan) on 8/28. Tom Lake.]

6/11 - Town of Hyde Park, HRM 82: I thought that possibly nature had taken its course when the new-born fawn I saw on May 29 wasn't seen again. Coyote sightings have been numerous in the same area. Tonight, about dusk, I saw them again on the same grassy knoll. The fawn was still so tiny. It was running, jumping and enjoying the evening. Mother deer was tensely monitoring everything she could see. They both looked at me for fifteen seconds and then into the brush they went.

- Michael Paul

6/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The NY62 eaglets were branch-hopping high in the tree now, all kinds of wings and tail feathers fluttering. One was so active I thought it might just take off, but they both managed to stay.

- Terry Hardy

6/11 - Manhattan, HRM 6.0: The Hudson River sloop Clearwater otter-trawled with a group from New York City. Among the fish we caught was a seven-inch-long hogchoker. While the passengers were not terribly impressed (to them it looked like a small flounder), this was one of the biggest hogchokers any of us had ever seen.

- Tom O'Dowd

[Hogchokers are delightful little soles, ranging in size from a penny to the palm of your hand (maximum size eight inches). They can be found anywhere in the estuary, from fresh water to salt. They are a flatfish, but unlike flounder they lack pectoral fins. Hogchokers have an intricate pattern of black squiggles on a brown background that gives each one a unique look. It has been observed that like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two hogchokers are ever the same. Tom Lake.]

6/11 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The warm and shallow inshore waters seemed to be teeming with young-of-the year [YOY] alewives. Each haul of our seine accounted for another hundred fish. These tiny river herring, 32-44 millimeters [mm] long are very delicate and cannot tolerate even moderate handling, so we carefully eased each haul back into the water, allowing them to swim free. The water was 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

6/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 77. Watching eagle nest NY62 was made more difficult through a growing canopy of green and early dusk. A steady rain and a darkening sky did not help. Yet, the two nestlings were still there; there would be no flight today. One was perched fifteen feet above the nest in what has become its niche; the other was ten feet above the nest, also on a regular perch. It is not easy to tell if this is a type of nestling hierarchy, yet the more assertive bird always seems to get the highest perch. It may result from whoever hatches first, their sex, or something we do not understand. Assertiveness is tricky to interpret. Today was the average fledge date for eagles from this nest (based on 12 years of study). They look ready.

- Tom Lake

6/12 - Manhattan, HRM 6.5: For several hours last week I watched a pair of red-tailed hawks on and around a fire escape on a nearby building. One of the hawks sat on a railing near the top of the building, while the other made multiple trips to the eleventh floor landing. The worker hawk appeared to be bringing nest materials to the landing and, on several occasions, spent time arranging a sparse collection of leaves and sticks on the landing. When things fell through the metal grillwork to the landing below, the worker hawk flew down, retrieved the material, and flew back up to the "nest" level (I put nest in quotes because this is not a real nest at this point). I saw the hawks bring a few small sticks and leaves, but they spent most of their time sitting on the fire escape railing and watching the river flow. The pair was present the next morning, but over the past few days they haven't made any progress. It was fun to see them spend time nearby, but they don't seem to have made a commitment to this neighborhood. Maybe a poor coop board interview?

- Kaare Christian

6/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 78. The two NY62 nestlings were still there, one in his "top-side" perch, the other in its "bottom-side" perch. They are physically ready - as big as Mom and Dad - but they just need the inspiration. The adult female did make a surprise visit. Terry Hardy was photographing a youngster and Mom flew into her view; she was just a blur but we could see the bands (N42). Neither nestling reacted to her, not a peep or any movement; they just watched her fly by.

- Tom Lake, Terry Hardy, Bob Leak

6/13 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: While coming into our driveway at Rabbit Island, I spotted a turtle sitting on the ground, apparently a female looking for a nesting area. I went to move it and was surprised: instead of a snapping turtle, many of which I had previously seen around our island, it appeared to be something else. I did not measure the carapace but it appeared to be more than ten inches across. It was so big that I had to use gloves and pick it up with both hands.

- David Cullen

[At ten-plus inches, the Hudson River turtle candidates are few. The snapping turtle is the largest turtle regularly found here, but easy to identify, and David Cullen is certain this wasn't a snapper. In spring, DEC fisheries biologists working on the nearby lower Wappinger Creek saw and photographed a similarly large turtle. On studying those pictures, Erik Kiviat - director of Hudsonia Ltd and an expert on Hudson Valley turtles, suggested that it was a red-eared slider, saying "It is not rare for the red 'ear' to disappear on larger/older individuals. And they get pretty large. The only estuarine population I know is in Denning's Point Bay... It would be interesting to know if there's a population in Wappinger Creek estuary. This of course is a nonnative species and people release them a lot; they establish and breed fairly well at this latitude."]

6/13 - Croton River, HRM 34: Tree swallows as well as barn, cliff, and bank swallows were all present - a "swallow convention." Near the boat launch at the mouth of the Croton, only feet from shore, a common loon in crisp breeding plumage was shopping for breakfast. At one point it surfaced with a small blue crab, perhaps a case of biting off too much to chew. I could not be certain if the loon succeeded in swallowing the crab though I have frequently watched loons dine on them.

- Christopher Letts

6/13 - Rockland, HRM 23: As we sailed up the Hudson River from New York City to Ossining today, we spotted a pair of adult bald eagles perched in a dead tree at the base of the Palisades along the river directly across from Dobbs Ferry. As I wondered if they might be a breeding air, they took off in flight together.

- H.C. Atterbury

6/14 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: My daughter and I went outside on the deck of our house at night with a flashlight. Suddenly, a fluttering creature crashed into my daughter's chest. It took us both by surprise (especially my daughter) but we quickly realized that it was a large moth attracted by the shine of the flashlight. We turned off the light and the moth flew over to a lit window where we able to identify it as a luna moth. My daughter and I were very excited as it had been a few years since we had last seen one.

- Reba Wynn Laks and Bayla Laks

6/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 77: I saw a barred owl in flight this evening, being pursued by a mixed flock of robins, blue jays, cardinals, warblers and kinglets. It flew right toward me but landed in a large tree on a branch with plenty of leaves for cover. The mixed flock of smaller birds jumped from limb to limb, flew all over the tree from branch to branch, on top of, under and all around this owl, chirping and squawking. The owl seemed oblivious and uninterested. I don't know if the owl was attempting to raid nests, but whatever it did, the mixed group of birds was not happy. After ten minutes, another barred owl soared in with a pack of songbirds right behind him. It landed on the same branch, next to the first owl. Again the smaller birds were going wild. After five minutes, and seeming bored with the entire ordeal, both owls took off, back the way they came, with at least a dozen birds in pursuit. I never saw so many different species of songbirds band together like that to mob a bigger foe.

-Michael Paul

6/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 79. The nestlings were still in the NY62 tree, if not the nest, wings flapping furiously every few minutes. Each let out loud and frequent vocalizations - more like plaintive cries - from a combination of hunger and frustration. The adults were out either hunting or hiding. Every day feels like "the day" they will leave. This is a waiting game that is being played out at more than two dozen other eagle nests near and along Hudson tidewater.

- Tom Lake, Terry Hardy

6/14 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The warm and shallow inshore waters again seemed to be filled with YOY alewives. Each haul of our seine accounted for 75-100 river herring and every time we never allowed the net to clear the swash but instead took a quick estimate of numbers and then carefully eased the net back into the water. We collected 56 alewives for age analysis. There were also several male mummichogs in breeding colors in the net. The water was 76 degrees F.

- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[I constantly revise my choice of the handsomest fish in the Hudson. Today it was no doubt the male mummichog, a gorgeous killifish in breeding colors: steel blue on top, bright lavender vertical bars on the side, intense yellow-orange underside, yellow edging on the lower fins, orange spot at the front and a large black spot on the back of the dorsal fin. They look like a party favor. Tom Lake.]

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